By Carl Begai
During Masterplan’s recent European tour in support of their new album, Novum Intium, I caught up with guitarist / founder Roland Grapow (ex-Helloween) to discuss the current state of the band, which went through some major line-up changes between the recording of the new record and Time To Be King from 2010. Not only did At Vance singer Rick Altzi replace original vocalist Jorn Lande, but somewhere along the way Grapow managed to pick up ex-Stratovarius bassist Jari Kainulainen and current Cradle Of Filth drummer Martin Skaroupka.
“I’m just searching for the best musicians,” says Grapow. “Jari contacted me three years ago on Facebook and mentioned that if Masterplan needed a bassist he was available. I told him no, that I wasn’t interested, but when Jan (S. Eckert) left I contacted Jari because if somebody wants to be a part of the band, they have experience, and he’s a nice guy I’ll welcome him on board. I knew Jari from when Stratovarius toured with Helloween and from doing a solo show with Stratovarius in Paris. I want good musicians, not egotistical people or troublemakers, and Jari is a great guy.”
Kainulainen is also cut from the same musical cloth as Grapow, making for an easy partnership. Skaroupka’s presence in the band both in the studio and on the road is harder to grasp given his black metal day job with Cradle Of Filth.
“I was recording a band from the Czech Republic who told me their drummer was in a famous band called Cradle Of Filth,” Grapow says of bringing Skaroupka on board. “I’d heard some of the Cradle albums because I’m always checking out different productions, but I kind of rolled my eyes at that. Then I saw some rehearsal room footage on YouTube – no tricks – and I thought ‘What the fuck? This guy is amazing.’ He’s such a tight and powerful drummer, so I invited him to come down to the studio. He told me it was an honour because he was a big Masterplan fan. I was like, ‘What?!’ But it’s true, he’s in Cradle Of Filth and he loves Helloween, Gamma Ray and Stratovarius. In fact, when Jörg Michael left Stratovarius, Martin was interested in playing for them.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
During the last half of the ’90s, Stratovarius ruled the roost when it came to top-notch A-game power metal. Over the course of three albums in three years – Episode (’96), Visions (’97) and Destiny (’98) – the band set a standard that was hard to match. Guitarist Timo Tolkki was elevated to the status of guitar god, new vocalist Timo Kotipelto (as of ’95) cemented his position as the band’s frontman in spite of initial fan misgivings, and the quintet was deemed pretty much unstoppable. That wasn’t the case, and Stratovarius’ fall from grace in the years that followed was well documented, with the brakes finally being applied to halt complete self-destruction when Tolkki departed once and for all in 2008. Three albums into what has been touted since 2009 as a fresh start with axe-monster Matias Kupiainen in Tolkki’s place and the band have hit one out of the park with new album, Nemesis. It’s a record based on change of a tried and true formula, and nobody – not even vocalist Timo Kotipelto – could have predicted the wave after wave of positive feedback that’s come down since the press got a hold of it.
“The reactions haven’t been like this in about 12 or 15 years,” says Kotipelto. “I’m always excited about releasing a new album when it’s done, of course, but this time it feels like a fresh new start. Not just because we have a new drummer (Rolf Pilve) but because things also clicked together in a good way.”
Which is a huge understatement to the ears of anyone that has followed Stratovarius since the ’90s. Kotipelto is hard pressed to identify what it was about the creative process this time out that coughed up a record worthy of their late ’90s run.
“When I had the demos there weren’t any vocals, just guitar melodies or weird keyboard melodies from Jens (Johansson). At that stage it’s hard to tell if it’s going to be a good song or not. I can recognize of there’s a melody in there that makes some sense that I can work with, but it can be difficult. Especially with Matias’ songs because he doesn’t compose with vocals and lyrics in mind; a lot of the time I end up thinking ‘What the fuck is this…’ when I hear his stuff (laughs). And sometimes when we’re recording Matias sometimes suggests we change things about the vocals because he has a vision in his head of what he wants. We give each other feedback in the studio, and it really works. When Jens composes he has a more melodic approach from a singer’s perspective, and I guess that’s because we’ve been in the band together for so long. For the last couple albums we made demos and Matias mixed them in the studio so we could hear how the songs would sound. They weren’t perfect but they gave us a better picture of where we were going. Of course, by the time I get to do my vocals two or three months have passed and the songs have changed a bit.” (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
It has taken Stratovarius three albums since their 2008 split with guitarist/songwriter Timo Tolkki to find solid footing again. Not that their “comeback” record Polaris (’09) and follow-up Elysium (’11) were particularly bad; they simply felt too tentative, as if the band was being extra careful about not stepping outside the box. Nemesis, on the other hand, sees Stratovarius throwing out their own rulebook on what makes for a solid album. Guitarist/producer Matias Kupiainen has fleshed out his role as Tolkki’s replacement, while frontman Timo Kotipelto and keyboardist Jens Johnasson have come into their own as songwriters, making for an album loaded with hooks and double-take moments. And with the entrance of drummer Rolf Pilve in place of Joerg Micheal, Stratovarius is back to sounding fresh and stoked about their collective day job.
Put it this way; Stratovarius hasn’t sounded this good or this together since the Episode (’95), Visions (’97) and Destiny (’98) albums.
Off the top, gotta say it’s a huge pleasure having to wait 10 out of 11 tracks for the album’s lone ballad (‘If The Story Is Over’) to surface. Very un-power metal of them to make the move, and Nemesis is better for it. The band dishes out some out-of-character heavy on ‘Abandon’, ‘One Must Fall’ and ‘Stand My Ground’ – welcome Mr. Pilve – with ‘Halcyon Days’ marking Stratovarius’ most adventurous song to date thanks to some unexpected trance elements (that actually work). (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Ever since Guns N’ Roses and Tesla made it cool for hard rockers and metalheads to mess around with acoustic guitars – with G’N’R Lies and Five Man Acoustical Jam respectively some 20+ years ago – it seems every band has flirted with the unplugged concept. Hell, at press time Mpire Of Evil had kicked off their first ever Japan tour with an in-store featuring a set of acoustic Venom classics (!). So, when word got out a few years ago that Stratovarius frontman Timo Kotipelto and ex-Sonata Arctica guitarist Jani Liimatainen had teamed up for a dynamic duo acoustic tour through their native Finland it wasn’t an earthshattering surprise. Their respective fanbases went suitably mad searching for footage on YouTube, of course, and the resulting requests, demands and yammering over the years for an album’s worth of acoustic material from the pair have finally been answered. Working under the Kotipelto & Liimatainen moniker, they’ve put together a collection of bare bones covers on Blackoustic, an album made for the fans rather than trying to cash in on a still-popular musical format.
“I’ve been doing these acoustic gigs with Jani for about two-and-a-half years now, and it did start like that,” says Kotipelto. “We basically got fed up with people complaining and decided to go to the studio and do it (laughs). We were laughing about it at first because nobody puts out acoustic albums like this, and as a duo it really doesn’t make any sense especially since we do mostly cover songs at the gigs. Why would we do it, really? And the problem is that when we do the live gigs, a third of the songs are ballads and the rest are rock songs. We did an acoustic version of ‘Speed Of Light’ (Stratovarius), for example, and we could play it at the proper tempo but that wouldn’t make any sense. We actually had to consider what was important in the song, try to find that red line, and make a good arrangement of it. The album is a little different from what we play live because there’s more energy at the live show because of the audience.” (continue reading…)