German bashers M.I.GOD. have been kicking around for close to 20 years, releasing albums as time and resources allow, earning themselves a small but respectable following along the way. The international market was never the focus so there was never a serious push in that direction, but after the release of the Floor 29 album in 2012 things went quiet, messing up any forward momentum they may have had. This year the band returned with Specters On Parade, an album unlike anything in the M.I.GOD. catalogue. Meant as a concept record, reviews have been all over the map, with one reviewer going so far as to simply call the album “shit.” The band good-naturedly shared said small-minded review via social media, knowing full well that no matter how poorly some people react to Specters On Parade, it is most certainly not the slab of crap they would have you believe.
In actual fact, Specters On Parade is the best album M.I.GOD. has released to date and it’s worthy of international attention.
Vocalist / founder Max Chemnitz discussed the new prog-metal monster a few days after a harrowing live experience – “all kinds of technical problems, I couldn’t hear anything” – that turned out far better than anticipated, with the crowd chanting “M.I.GOD.” at the end of the band’s set.
“Some of the reviews for Specters On Parade, you can tell that the people are just listening to the music because they are curious about what we’re doing, and after that first listen they wrote the review,” says Chemnitz. “There are some journalists that say the album is good, the parts are well played and all that, but they didn’t get the concept, they didn’t get what we intended to do.”
Continue reading M.I.GOD. – Crossing The Threshold
By Carl Begai
Germany’s M.I.GOD. have been kicking around since 2001, having released a handful of albums worthy of their small and loyal following, but nothing to make the jaded journalist stand up and take note for more than a few heartbeats. Until now. Specters On Parade is not only the best album of their career – their first since 2012 – it’s one of those records where people in-the-know wonder why in the hell M.I.GOD. hasn’t been picked up by a big label and put on a well-deserved promo pedestal.
Specters On Parade is a bold concept album featuring 20 tracks – ten full songs separated by brief soundscapes – that focuses on the protagonist’s internal battle with his mind. Heavy, melodic and dark, vocalist Max Chemnitz proves to be remarkably versatile with his mid-range, which is two steps shy of being one of those smoky goth voices yet all metal right up to hitting the highs, and using death metal growls as a nuance rather than part of the big picture (brilliant decision). Likewise, guitarists Uli Holzermer and Dan Hess shine from beginning to end, whether it’s charging in as riff monsters, playing it soft, or soundtrack atmospheric. Guitar riffs and tones range anywhere from Queensryche to Dream Theater to Devin Townsend to Static X depending on the song, and it has to be said that drummer Eric Wunderlich stands out in a very Portnoy / Rockenfield way, providing a solid metal backbone without being overbearing. Continue reading M.I.GOD. – Specters On Parade
By Carl Begai
One of the big metal events of 2015 was the highly anticipated Savatage reunion show at the world renowned Wacken Open Air. Many fans were sceptical of the band’s return to the stage when the buzz first started, however, as Savatage’s sister-act the Trans-SiberianOrchestra had absorbed the band members on its rise to arena rock mega-fame following Savatage’s Poets And Madmen tour in 2002. It was TSO’s continuing success as one of the highest grossing annual tours in North America that had presumably stalled any further output from the Savatage camp and effectively put them on hiatus. The press discovered over the course of 2015 that a Savatage reunion at Wacken was very much a reality in the making, with band members sworn to secrecy by management during press engagements for their own projects; it affected guitarist Chris Caffery and Circle II Circle vocalist Zak Stevens in particular, as they both had new albums come out in 2015.
“That was right up to the day of the show,” says Stevens. “You know how management is; everything has to be top secret (laughs). We really felt is was that way right up until we hit the stage. It was crazy, yeah, but everyone did a pretty good job. The consensus among some people is that we could have done better, we could have taken it more seriously. I think we had a little bit of a chip on our shoulder because we’re older, we did the rehearsals and figured out that we’re a lot better now than we were back in ’97 when we played the main stage at Wacken. And everybody in the band fell in love again. That was fantastic because it was clear that everybody missed it.”
“We had this really aggressive plan to hit the two stages at once, using fiber optic technology so we wouldn’t have any signal loss, and we brought all the pyro that we use in a season with two companies in TSO and blow it all off on one night… without trying to blow anybody up (laughs). We had one pyro meeting before the show and you would have loved that. You would have laughed your ass off because it was like ‘Okay everybody, gather round. We’ve got all this pyro from the TSO tours, we’re going to blow it all up tonight, these are the places you don’t want to stand…’ They asked how many people on stage were new to pyro and about 40% raised their hands. I raised my hand because I’ve never been involved with that kind of pyro (laughs). Because I’m a frontman and one of the elder statesman they pulled me aside and said ‘Look, definitely don’t stand here, here, here and here…’ (laughs).” Continue reading SAVATAGE Vocalist ZAK STEVENS Comes Full Circle – “You’re About To Do The Biggest Show Of Your Life”
By Carl Begai
Regardless of whether you like ’em or don’t give a damn, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra is a big deal. The two-headed troupe’s annual east and west coast road trips through North America – leading up to Christmas and beyond – are consistently ranked as top-grossing concert tours year after year, and the production seemingly gets bigger each time out. It’s fair to say that TSO has become a tradition for many a metal and/or music lover. If there’s one misfire in this success story, however, it’s the lack of attention to the European market. Not that they necessarily need the exposure, but given that the legendary Savatage is the foundation for everything TSO has become and Europe embraced Savatage with the equivalent of a bone-crushing bear hug early on, some folks figure the Orchestra owes those fans some attention. Thus, 2014 began (literally) with an exclusive performance at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany on New Year’s Eve followed by a stripped down but still impressive European tour; only their second in a 15 year history as a live act. Guitarist Chris Caffery and drummer Jeff Plate sat down to discuss the stripped down TSO production when the band hit Nuremberg, Germany…
Jeff: “It’s very comfortable. We came over to Europe a few years ago with the Beethoven’s Last Night tour (in 2011) and it’s a great story, but I think some of it was too much for the European audiences. We had to trim that down quite a bit, and the Savatage element is much more present in the show this time. And for myself, being able to work with Chris, Johnny (Middleton/bass) and Al (Pitrelli/guitars) again is a blast. This is an arena show and we just happened to squeeze it into a theater.”
Chris: “The biggest difference for me is that I’m not nearly as tired as I am during the big production we do (laughs). We do one show a day and it’s stripped down, and we don’t have the wings that we have on the North American stage. The big stage has at least another 30 feet on each side, so you run the arena and do two shows a day. The European tour is more like doing the old Savatage concerts in many ways except the people are sitting. In a lot of ways it’s the same because I put my in-ears in and what I hear is the same as always. I don’t really hear a difference. The band is different in that I’ve got Johnny and Al there, which is always great. I usually play with Jeff and the singers rotate, so it’s not really that different of a TSO show for me.” Continue reading BW&BK Interview: TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA Live In Europe – From SAVATAGE With Love
By Carl Begai
During the last quarter of 2013 and into the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s North American tour, guitarist Chris Caffery took time out of his busy schedule to tease and please his fans with a few new songs released as digital singles. It was a long time in coming for Caffery’s diehard followers, who have been waiting for more music since his House Of Insanity record from 2009. The new tracks are a precursor to his forthcoming full length album – dubbed The Twisted Truth for the moment – and Caffery’s ongoing development as a do-it-yourself artist. As in, doing as much as possible on his own, creating a down-to-the-bone solo album in fact as well as name.
“I think I’ve grown a lot as a businessman and as a musician,” Caffery says of his solo career, which has been on the go since 2004. “I learned a lot of things that I don’t think I would have learned if I hadn’t done things on my own. You always respect where you are more when you go off and do things on your own. Now I’m able to approach writing and playing music more creatively. My singing has gotten a lot better, and that’s the cool thing about doing these new songs before the TSO tour. I had people listen to the songs and a lot of reactions were ‘That’s awesome! Who’s singing?’ (laughs). I know now when I do this stuff that my voice is at a level where it’s able to express what’s in my head. My voice has matured, and I’ve matured as a writer and a singer. I know that if I could have taught myself to sing when I was 20 I’d be headlining this arena myself (laughs). I thought singing was something you either had or you didn’t. I didn’t know you could train your voice, so I spent all those years looking for a singer that I already had.”
“People are always asking me about going out and doing a solo tour, but I have a very successful band that I tour with every year. I want to do solo shows, but to put it up and get it going is a lot of pressure. I know what Paul (O’Neill / TSO director and co-founder) deals with; everybody looks to you for everything. It can be stressful when you’re trying to go out there and play music and enjoy it. For me, it’s more important right now to be the artist just making the music. I’m going to finish my new record this year and I want it to be great. If there’s a demand for me to do shows I’ll approach that when the time comes. I’ve got my own studio, I’m doing it myself, and we’ll see where it goes from there. I just want to make a record that I’m really happy with.” Continue reading CHRIS CAFFERY – No Bitchin’ In This Kitchen
By Carl Begai
On January 10th, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra kicked off a short European tour featuring a stripped down version of their monstrous annual North American road trip. It was only the troupe’s second time through Europe – their first time being March 2011 – and I have it on good authority that it wasn’t their last.
I had the pleasure of attending the January 20th show in Nuremberg, Germany and I was NOT disappointed. The performers, the pacing of the show, the pyro, lots of Savatage tunes in the set, and easily one of the finest crews around… it all made for one huge highlight.
So, a picture gallery featuring some half-decent shots below. I’m saving the totally decent ones for a book….
Continue reading TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA – Blowing Up Europe Real Good 2014
By Carl Begai
When Trans-Siberian Orchestra / Savatage guitarist Chris Caffery refers to Tears Of The Sun, he’s not talking about a new sadboy love song he’s just written, or taking a shot at launching a Broadway play. Nope. Tears Of The Sun is, in fact, a Caffery-created hot sauce that has gone from his kitchen to the stores through a series of fortunate coincidences. And unlike a lot of “celebrity” marketed products – which usually feature little or no actual input from the star in question even though his/her name is slapped on the label – Caffery can lay claim to having created Tears Of The Sun hot sauce from scratch.
“All of it is my recipe, actually, because I’ve been cooking my entire life,” says Caffery. “Steve Seabury at High River Sauces is responsible for getting it out there. The whole idea of making the hot sauce company that he has came about while he was managing some of my solo stuff and dipping his feet into the food business at the same time. I gave him some of the hot sauce I’d made at a business meeting, and he really liked it. From there Steve eventually got into doing it as a business, but this recipe is 100% mine. I measured the ingredients and sent it to the guy that was making it; they cooked it off of that. I had them tweak it a little bit because I wasn’t completely happy with the way it came out, and we ended up with the hot sauce we have now.”
“It’s not like I’m just stamping my name on a bottle,” he continues. “In fact, I didn’t put my name on it at all because I didn’t want it to be presented as ‘Here, a musician put his name on some salsa.’ I wanted to make something that would actually get taken seriously, and it won two really big national hot sauce awards since it hit the market; Best New Hot Sauce Of The Year and Best Fruit-Based Habanero Sauce. I think that if we would have said it’s Chris Caffery’s Hot Sauce, that wouldn’t have happened.” Continue reading CHRIS CAFFERY – Tears Of The Sun: “You Can’t Download Hot Sauce”
By Carl Begai
In North America the Trans-Siberian Orchestra has become as traditional at Christmas as Santa Claus, coloured lights and holiday parking. Even if you’ve never attended one of their seasonal shows – which usually hits a city near you anywhere from November through January – you’ve definitely heard of them, as the TSO rock opera format appeals to people from all walks of life, to everyone from children to the elderly. Plain and simple, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra has proven for well over a decade that you don’t need to be metal to ride this ride, regardless of the outfit’s Savatage-rooted history.
Producer/composer Paul O’Neill is known for pushing the envelope with every project he devises. It was his collaborative efforts with Savatage frontman Jon Oliva in the late ’80s, in fact, that slowly but surely transformed the legendary metal band into something much more theatrical in nature, which eventually spawned the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. And while TSO established itself as a Christmas-themed project when it launched in 1996, O’Neill got rid of the sleigh in 2000 for Beethoven’s Last Night, an album telling the fictitious tale of legendary composer Ludwig van Beethoven’s last night alive. TSO finally toured for the album in North America in 2010, went to Europe the following year, and 2012 sees the band on the road again, this time supporting a fully narrated re-release of Beethoven’s Last Night.
Guitarist Chris Caffery, a long time member of Savatage and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, offered his views on the current Beethoven’s Last Night tour versus the annual winter shows during some rare and fleeting post-soundcheck downtime:
“It’s a very different vibe. The winter tour has the holiday and runaway theme to the story line, the music marries that story. This tour is the complete Beethoven’s Last Night album, and it’s not like the winter show isn’t a rock concert, but the Beethoven show has a darker feel because of the story and the theme. Beethoven is battling the devil to save his soul and his music, it’s a pretty intense story. For me personally it feels more like I’m performing a rock concert because of the way the songs and the album is structured. It’s a little bit more to where my roots were when I performed growing up. Continue reading BW&BK Interview: TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA – There’s Something You Should Know About Last Night…
By Carl Begai
Savatage is dead.
The band’s music is alive and well thanks to the existence of Jon Oliva’s Pain, Circle II Circle and guitarist Chris Caffery’s solo career, but as a recording / touring entity Savatage will only ever exist from this point on as a pipe dream. For vocalist / founder Jon Oliva it’s an ongoing battle trying to convince the diehards that the band won’t be making a return in spite of the fact he’s released four albums with Jon Oliva’s Pain in six years. The release of a Savatage compilation entitled Still The Orchestra Plays, issued earlier this year, hasn’t helped matters. So it goes that as Oliva settles in to discuss his new JOP album, Festival, he’s forced yet again to snuff the rekindled rumours of an impending Savatage comeback.
“That compilation is something Paul (O’Neill / producer, Trans-Siberian Orchestra director) helped put together, I didn’t have much control over it,” says Oliva. “I just wanted to get something out there to kind of cap things off because I’ve moved on. Those reunion rumours… some people have been saying things they probably shouldn’t have. There was talk about doing a show to kind of give Savatage a send-off but the logistics of doing so just made it impossible. The guys have the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, I have my JOP stuff, there’s a lot of other things keeping us busy. It’s pretty aggravating, though, with people always asking about when it’s going to happen and pushing to have one. I mean, Savatage hasn’t done anything in almost 10 years! It’s just a small group of people, but they just won’t let it go and I can’t figure out why. You have the Savatage guys in the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which was spawned from the Dead Winter Dead (1995) and Wake Of Magellan (1997) era of the band, you have Jon Oliva’s Pain doing a lot of the old Savatage material, what more do you want?” Continue reading JON OLIVA’S PAIN – Welcome To The Show
By Carl Begai
News that guitarist / vocalist Chris Caffery had signed with AFM Records for the European release of his new album, House Of Insanity, came as no surprise to the diehard fans. With his Savatage bandmates in Circle II Circle and Jon Oliva’s Pain having called the German record label home for the last several years it was considered a move long overdue. So it goes that while the focus is on House Of Insanity as far as Caffery and the label are concerned, Savatage fans clamouring for a reunion believe his signing with AFM is another step towards that goal. And while Caffery has gone on record saying he’d take part in a Savatage reunion without hesitation, his primary goal is to remind people he has his shit together as a solo artist. By all accounts the fans are enjoying what they hear. Reactions to House Of Insanity since its 2008 digital release have been positive for the most part, which has added up to bigger sales in comparison to Caffery’s last outing, Pins And Needles. He isn’t rolling in money (yet), but pushing the album more or less on his own has definitely paid off.
Continue reading CHRIS CAFFERY – A Declaration Of Independence