By Carl Begai
Get past the sexist slant of the title and take a serious listen to Epica’s new album, The Quantum Enigma; particularly if you’re one of those people (like yours truly) that’s fed up with the female-fronted symphonic metal trend. Coming down from the buzz of celebrating their 10th anniversary, the Dutch sextet abandoned the business-as-usual approach that made them famous – and an inspiration to far too many bands around the world – and coughed up an album that, if it doesn’t win you over outright, will at least earn Epica some respect. Yes, their orchestral backbone is still very much intact, but it now belongs to a guitar-heavy drum pounding monster that tears the band free of those lingering comparisons to Nightwish and Lacuna Coil.
“There was one guy I did an interview with today and he said, ‘Before, Epica was a band just for my girlfriend. This new album, I love it too…’ laughs guitarist/founder Mark Jansen. “We wanted to refresh the sound of the band and judging by all the positive reactions, we’ve succeeded.”
“After Retrospect (the concert) we decided that since we had celebrated our first 10 years as a band, we should do something to refresh the sound for the next 10 years,” he explains. “The more we thought about it, the more we realized we had to make some drastic changes. The first one was looking for another producer. Sascha Paeth (Kamelot, Avantasia, Rhapsody Of Fire) has always done a great job in the 10 years we worked with him, but we needed someone to take us out of our comfort zone. We knew exactly what we were going to get from Sascha and he knew what he’d get from us, so we wanted someone who would make us see a different side of ourselves. We chose Joost van der Broek (ex-After Forever) because he’s still quite new to the production world but he’s done a lot. He’s gained a lot of experience but he still has this youthful energy around him, which makes you happy to work with him. That was the kind of energy we were looking for.”
The Quantum Enigma isn’t nearly as musically dense as some of Epica’s previous albums, which sometimes seemed to choke on the layered choir/symphonic bombast shoe-horned into the songs. There’s a whole lot of space in the music this time out, making Epica seem almost naked but most definitely stronger. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Nightwish keyboardist/founder Tuomas Holopainen’s first official solo album, Music Inspired By The Life And Times Of Scrooge, isn’t metal by any means. The record is full blown big screen soundtrack music, which falls directly in line with Holopainen’s trademark songwriting over the last several years. The fact that its focus is the comic book character Scrooge McDuck in a book penned by artist Don Rosa, on the other hand, is not what one might expect from the man who turned female operatic vocals into a metaldom staple and crossed over into movie-making with the Nightwish epic from 2011, Imaginaerum. Holopainen is unashamed by his pet project and very proud of how it turned out; if the music convinces some fans to go out and pick up the book that inspired him, so much the better.
“It’s been stated pretty clearly from the start that this is a marginal solo album that has nothing to do with metal or Nightwish,” says Holopainen. “It hasn’t been that big of a surprise to people. The biggest surprise seems to be why I’m being so childish (laughs). Of course, that can be expected if you choose to do and album based on a children’s comic book. It’s just ignorance though, because people don’t know what they’re talking about.”
If you’re a comic book geek you can appreciate the lengths Holopainen has gone to in bringing the Scrooge stories to life, having taken time away from his world famous day job. he makes no secret of the fact that he made the album to satisfy himself and nobody else.
“I wanted to make an album that would do these beautiful stories justice, and an album that I’d care to listen to myself. The music came out incredibly easy. I think it was probably, if not the easiest, one of the easiest albums I’ve ever produced because whenever I read this wonderful book my head is filled with music immediately. It was all about channelling it and getting it out, finding the right arrangements and the right instruments to perform it. I’ve had the dream of doing this soundtrack since 1999, so it’s about time that it saw daylight.” (continue reading…)
DELAIN Goes Voice-To-Voice With ALISSA WHITE-GLUZ For The Human Contradiction – “Versatile And Innovative”
By Carl Begai
Dutch bashers Delain are gearing up for the international release of their new album, The Human Contradiction, in April. A buzz has been growing around the album for the last couple weeks, particularly with the news that it will feature guest appearances by vocalists Marco Hietala (Nightwish, Tarot), George Oosthoek (ex-Orphanage) and Alissa White-Gluz (The Agonist, Kamelot). Catching up with singer Charlotte Wessels for a BW&BK interview, we kicked things off with discussion of mutual friend Alissa’s efforts on The Human Contradiction’s closing track, ‘The Tragedy Of The Commons’:
“I was, of course, aware of what The Agonist does and I know some of the songs, so I knew what Alissa was capable of vocally,” Charlotte says of asking Alissa on board. “Back then I’d just spent a month with her on the Kamelot tour, and what she does with them is such a different thing. After I saw The Agonist play for the first time I told her that I was amazed those two voices actually come from the same person (laughs). I’m very impressed by that because seeing Alissa on YouTube and seeing her perform live are two very different things. And as I’d only seen her perform with Kamelot up to that point there was a big difference, and that did surprise me (laughs).” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
There’s no doubt that the controversial firing of former Nightwish vocalist Anette Olzon in October 2012 made her out to be the bad guy, turning any press she does for her forthcoming solo album into a potential exercise in character assassination. It doesn’t help her situation in that the Nightwish camp has been quick to refute many of her recent accusations of backstabbing and mismanagement that have appeared online. Quite frankly, I was prepared to be stonewalled when asking questions about Nightwish due to the fact Olzon came across as a self-centered diva when she slammed the band for playing to a Denver, CO audience in 2012 with stand-in vocalists Elize Ryd (Amaranthe) and Alissa White-Gluz (The Agonist) after she fell ill. Turns out I was way off the mark and had to give Olzon the benefit of the doubt.
Thus, in the interest of giving her solo album Shine a fair shake we’re getting the Nightwish debacle out of the way first, to be followed soon by a full story on the new record.
Rather than dig for the scurvy details and assorted dirt kicked up before and after her firing, the focus is on Olzon getting booted in the middle of the North American tour for Imaginaerum. It’s not a move most bands can afford to make in today’s music industry economy, sure as hell not without a back-up plan. And yet, 48 hours after Olzon was cut loose former After Forever vocalist Floor Jansen had taken over her post on stage, becoming the band’s permanent singer less than a year later.
“It’s hard for me to say why the firing happened when it did because I don’t really know what happened behind my back,” says Olzon. “I think there were some thing happening that I didn’t know about. It has become clearer to me now that they had some sort of a plan when I told them I was pregnant. I actually think they had some suspicions I was pregnant during the summer festivals, so I think they may have had a back-up plan.”
Olzon pegs the band’s reaction to her pregnancy as the primary reason for the falling out. She also claims Jansen wasn’t as much of a last minute consideration for the Nightwish line-up as people think, albeit in a temporary capacity.
“We had some discussions during the tour in America about how to cover the remaining gigs for the tours that were coming up, and we did have something of an argument before that. I didn’t want to have a substitute singer in the band, I wanted to do the South American shows. I would have been too pregnant to go to Australia so I wanted to push the dates back, but Tuomas (Holopainen / keyboards, founder) didn’t want that. Discussions about a substitute came up and at first I was like ‘Yeah, well…. okay…’ but when they mentioned Floor it was an automatic ‘No’ from me. I didn’t think it was a good idea because I knew what would happen; I knew the fans would love Floor because she’s a metal singer and I’m a pop singer, and I wanted to keep my job. Because I couldn’t do the Australian tour, I think that’s when they started thinking about a new singer. We had a bit of an argument, then I got ill, and after that…. I don’t know if they planned this.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
This interview took place towards the end of Kamelot’s 2013 European tour in support of their latest album, Silverthorn. By all accounts – band, fans, YouTube footage – it was a successful run that saw the band play to packed houses every night. The show on this particular night, in Munich, went off without a hitch as far as anyone on the floor could tell, with Kamelot attacking the stage like the seasoned veterans they are, playing to the audience rather than merely for them, accompanied by one of the most impressive lightshows ever seen in a rock club (seriously… and without pyro). It was a far cry from the band’s first European tour – their first road trip ever, in fact – back in 1998 with Elegy, which showcased a band that was understandably green performing to half empty rooms. A potentially demoralizing experience on one hand, but the taste was enough to make Kamelot want to push forward. Success at a level where the band became a day job was along time coming, but it’s a testament to what can be accomplished when you focus on and devote your time and energy to something you really want.
“You don’t have any pictures from that ’98 tour, do you?” laughs guitarist Thomas Youngblood.
Actually, I do. I’ll wait to be tapped for the Kamelot biography to publish them.
“When you get started you want to be like Iron Maiden, but then you start realizing how difficult that is,” says Youngblood with regards to the band’s success. “But the way things are nowadays in the industry, there aren’t a lot of bands that can get to that level. I think we’re fortunate we’ve been able to grow and maintain this band over the past 15 years. That’s pretty amazing. I think it’s a testament to working hard and making some smart decisions, and having killer fans.”
Kamelot’s biggest test came with the surprise departure of vocalist Roy Khan in September 2010, mere days before the Poetry For The Poisoned tour was due to begin. The band downplayed the seriousness of the situation at the time – they could realistically have lost their collective shirt financially due to pre-tour expenses and unfulfilled contracts – and managed to save face by finding the best possible replacement for Khan in Swedish singer Tommy Karevik.
“We didn’t think anything bad about that in terms of coming out of it intact,” Youngblood insists. “I’ve seen a lot of bands do that successfully, and I think a lot of people forget how many acts have actually had to do that. We’ve grown into different territories since then. We played Australia for the first time with Silverthorn, we’ve done different parts of Asia like Korea and Taiwan, and the US is a much bigger market for us now.” (continue reading…)
So, once again, a wrap-up of the Hots and Nots from the year gone by courtesy of my day job at BW&BK. The whole rundown of Brave Embarrassments, Best Concerts, assorted predictions and pleas to stop music industry stupidity can all be found here.
Below you’ll find my Top 10 list of favourite albums of 2013 and a long-winded summary of why the year didn’t suck for music… at least in my world.
Top Ten – 2013
1) ANNIHILATOR – Feast (UDR)
2) CHILDREN OF BODOM – Halo Of Blood (Nuclear Blast)
3) STRYPER – No More Hell To Pay (Frontiers)
4) QUEENSRŸCHE – s/t (Century Media)
5) HEADSTONES – Love & Fury (Universal/Frostbyte)
6) DUSKMACHINE – Duskmachine (Massacre)
7) THE NEW BLACK – III: Cut Loose (AFM)
8) JAMES LABRIE – Impermanent Resonance (InsideOut)
9) THRAWSUNBLAT – Wanderer On The Continent Of Saplings (Ignifera Records)
10) HELLOWEEN – Straight Out Of Hell (Sony)
By Carl Begai
In spite of what you may have heard, Mephisto is in fact French Canadian. And female.
This is a well worn fact amongst Kamelot fans, as vocalist Alissa White-Gluz – best known for fronting The Agonist – has played the role for the band’s epic set-closing ‘March Of Mephisto’ for over a year. And with all due respect to the other singers that have taken on the part since the song came to life on The Black Halo album – Shagrath (Dimmu Borgir), Snowy Shaw (Therion), Mark Jansen (Epica), Alexander Krull (Atrocity, Leaves’ Eyes), Paul Zinay (Blackguard) – Alissa owns it, hands down. You’d be hard pressed to find a Kamelot fan to argue against the suggestion that she’s become an integral part of the show.
“I’m doing what Elize was doing before,” Alissa says of her work with Kamelot, referring to Amaranthe vocalist Elize Ryd. “I do her parts as well as my own, like on ‘Sacrimony’, backing vocals, and the female voices that turn up in the band’s other songs. It’s a totally different show from The Agonist, which is funny because Kamelot toured with Delain in the US and the first show of The Agonist’s European tour was where Charlotte (Wessels/vocals) from Delain lives. She came to see us play and she was like ‘What the hell? You’re a completely different person up there…’ (laughs). She saw me doing the Kamelot thing for a month, so she was shocked to see how the whole death metal vocals are a big part of what I do outside of Kamelot. It was a lot of fun.”
Anyone familiar with The Agonist never would have figured on Alissa taking a job with a symphonic power metal outfit. Take a listen to any song in their catalogue other than her a capella rendition of ‘Swan Lake’ and you can’t hear the connection. Alissa will tell you different, however, and that she’s actually drawn to Kamelot’s sound.
“I think it’s because even though I perform the death metal stuff I’m not a death metal person. As much as I love the heaviness of The Agonist’s songs, it’s fun to actually be able to hear what’s going on in the music (laughs).”
As for switching from her hell bent Agonist attack to a slightly more civilized approach for Kamelot, Alissa reveals that switching gears wasn’t a problem ever after jumping from one European tour to another in the space of a week.
“I thought it would be hard to switch between the two but it was actually super easy. The thing is, I’ve always wanted to be a drummer or something where I could just sit back and watch the show, and not have too much attention on me. Now I’m kind of doing that with Kamelot, which is cool.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
When it was announced in July 2013 that Nightwish would be filming their Wacken Open Air show for a future DVD release, it was a no-brainer hint that stand-in vocalist Floor Jansen had been elevated beyond temporary status. No band, not even a moneymaker like Nightwish, is going to blow their wad on a massive production like Showtime, Storytime featuring a singer with her days numbered. Keyboardist / mastermind Tuomas Holopainen confirmed as much in a separate interview (found here), admitting the decision to keep Jansen around was made during the summer even though Nightwish waited until October to make the news official. An exercise in patience and sitting on her proverbial hands for Jansen, to be sure.
“It was a challenge keeping it quiet, that’s for sure,” she agrees. “That’s the sort of thing where you just want to scream it to everybody, but even on the day itself I couldn’t really share the news with anyone. Only a few people knew. I’m happy the DVD is out now so I don’t have to worry about hiding the news anymore.”
“The DVD is a great way for people to sort of get used to my sound and hear how Nightwish has been part of my life for the last year,” Jansen adds. “It’s also a nice introduction for the new studio album. The documentary is a fantastic look behind-the-scenes because there’s so much mystery around Nightwish, so it gives a little peek at the guys. These days everyone can anonymously throw shit at people online, and I think the DVD shows a certain humanity and a different face of the band.”
For anyone living under a rock, Jansen got the job fronting Nightwish in the wake of the mid-tour booting of previous Nightwish singer, Anette Olzon, in October 2012. Jansen’s entrance was a troubleshooting effort that paid off as she gradually made the songs and the stage – and ultimately the band – her own. Quite the accomplishment considering she’d been sidelined since 2011 recovering from a burnout that put her post-After Forever band ReVamp on ice. And there’s nothing quite like recovering from being a mess by joining one of the most popular metal bands on the planet at the last minute.
“(Laughs) Definitely, but the peaks of the mountains seem even higher when you’ve been down really, really low. There was a period of a year-and-a-half where I wasn’t able to do anything. Getting asked to join Nightwish for the tour put everything back in balance and forced me to really consider what I want to do. At the same time it was really difficult because I was burnt out. When I slowly got my energy back and was able to think straight, I started to feel a lust for music. My normal levels of ambition started to come back, and just as I was making plans for ReVamp I got the call from Nightwish. That was a year ago and it’s been a non-stop run since. Hard work and doing a lot has never been a problem for me; it’s just the way of doing things that can be a challenge.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
During a recent interview with Nightwish keyboardist mastermind Tuomas Holopainen about the band’s forthcoming DVD Showtime, Storytime and their decision to make vocalist Floor Jansen a permanent member, he discussed his orchestral project currently on the go, The Life And Times Of Scrooge McDuck. At press time the album was being mixed and a release date was tentatively slated for April 2014. Described by Holopainen as “somewhere between film music, folk and classical, echoing distantly the works of Vaughan Williams, Enya, Mike Oldfield and Michael Nyman”, he’s in the process of bringing another one of his dreams to life.
“This particular graphic novel called The Life And Times Of Scrooge McDuck would be my desert island book,” says Holopainen. “That or Lord Of The Rings, I’m not sure. It had such a huge impact on me ever since I read it for the first time in 1996, and I had the idea for Scrooge back in 1999. It’s been there for 14 years. Every time I read those wonderful stories by Don Rosa my head is filled with music, and at some point it just needed to come out. Then I had the idea of doing a soundtrack to the graphic novel, and it was an idea that just sounded so awkward and far off that I had to do it (laughs). I can’t think of too many albums that are made as a soundtrack to a book; there was a guy in the ’70s that did it for Lord Of The Rings but that’s the only one that comes to mind. So this project is quite innovative in that sense.”
It sounds like an odd undertaking, no question, but Holopainen is known for thinking outside the box. When word came down that Nightwish would release a movie based on his concept for the Imaginaerum album a lot of people – critics and fans – were left wondering why they’d bother. Ultimately, anyone who asked Holopainen why he and the band would bother to invest time and a couple million dollars on the project received what amounted to “because we want to” as an answer. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
The day after it was announced that Nightwish touring vocalist Floor Jansen (Revamp, ex-After Forever) had been made an official band member, BW&BK was given the opportunity to speak with keyboardist/mastermind Tuomas Holopainen about the band’s forthcoming live/tour documentary DVD Showtime, Storytime. Good thing they took care of business before press began, because if they hadn’t most of this conversation would have consisted of yours truly telling Holopainen he would have to be a special kind of insane to let Jansen slip away. But really, it’s no surprise that Jansen was asked to stay considering her monumental efforts since coming on board at the last minute to replace the booted Anette Olzon back in October 2012.
“I know it didn’t come as a surprise to anybody,” Holopainen says of the news. “We wanted to make it official at this point because we knew we were going to do a lot of promotion for the upcoming DVD. It’s just easier to do things this way; we don’t need to keep our mouths shut.”
The documentary portion of the DVD begins appropriately with footage from Denver, Colorado as Nightwish makes a mad scramble to put together some semblance of a setlist in the wake of Olzon falling ill. With their singer unable to perform and an audience willing to stick around for whatever the band can come up with, Nightwish enlist support band Kamelot’s backing singers Elize Ryd (Amaranthe) and Alissa White-Gluz (The Agonist). The rest is a pretty amazing piece of history. Holopainen is caught on camera after the show stating that he’d never been as scared as he was two hours earlier.
“That was the truth,” he admits. “The whole day is just a hazy dream to me now. It was such an awkward moment. A big hand to Elize and Alissa… they were amazing. But that’s what doing live shows is all about. Sometimes these things happen and it’s really memorable stuff; a mass karaoke with those two lovely girls joining us, doing some instrumental stuff as well. It was something different and I don’t think anybody left the venue upset or annoyed.”
Olzon, on the other hand, was genuinely upset and took to her official website to air her feelings. She made it clear she thought the band was wrong to go ahead without her. On October 1st the band released a statement announcing Olzon’s departure and that Jansen would be filling in for the rest of the tour.
“We got quite a bit of criticism for doing the show without Anette,” Holopainen reveals. “Some people asking us how we could be so selfish and do the show without her. It was quite the opposite. We had to think about the 1,600 fans, the promoter, the crew, everybody. Seriously, if something happened to me or any of the other band members, I’d do anything to still make the show happen. We offered the money back from the tickets. We told the fans how the show was going to be, so of course if they wanted to leave they should get their money back. It was seven refunds out of 1,600 so that was pretty good.” (continue reading…)