STAR WARS: The Force Awakens – An Open Letter To J.J. Abrams

Note: This post DOES NOT contain spoilers. Sorry, you’ll have to go and ruin your chance of being surprised and entertained via a website with zero appreciation for the concept of suspense.


Dear J.J.,

Given the runaway success of The Force Awakens it’s safe to say you don’t have to worry about being called Jar Jar from here on out. Congratulations on one hell of a victory, and thank you for giving me and a legion of first generation Star Wars fans the chance to relive our wide-eyed younger years while looking forward to the saga’s future.

Is it a perfect movie? No.

Did I enjoy it? No. I loved it

Would I see it again? In a heartbeat.

Of course, there are plenty of people who feel the Star Wars fans that are currently losing their minds (meaning the vast majority of us) should get a grip. The Force Awakens is just a movie, after all. Those people are absolutely right. It is only a movie, and the hype of the past year or more has gone beyond ridiculous.

I snorted in derision during the making of The Force Awakens when media pages started reporting on the über-nerds that had managed to snag a photo of a photo of a photo of the Millennium Falcon on your desk. I shook my head in disbelief at the fucking idiots who issued death threats against Fox News correspondent Katherine Timpf because she wasn’t on board with Star Wars geek love. I laughed out loud at the morons who debated and argued and spewed nerd drivel hither and yon about why Kylo Ren’s lightsaber sports a laser-fied crossguard (how about it just looks pretty damn cool, you nerf herders…).

And still, I’m a diehard fan that is singing your praises for creating what is, for me, a wonderfully entertaining and gratifying return to what made Star Wars (it will never actually be known as A New Hope in my world), The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi such beloved movies. Continue reading STAR WARS: The Force Awakens – An Open Letter To J.J. Abrams

JAPANESE METAL – Life With The Beast From The East

I was recently asked to contribute to a book known as The Dig showcasing Japanese metal. I was initially approached by veteran journalist Takashi Kanazawa for an interview offering up one person’s western world view on Japanese bands, but he decided to take it up a level and asked me to compose an actual article. Published exclusively in Japan by Shinko Music, the issue came out at the end of June. The original English text is below.

Die-hard Japanese metal fans may be put off by the fact that I only mention some of the most popular / best known bands. Note that if I’d been given the space the story would have been a lot longer, and I would have paid worthy attention to many of the Japanese bands that fly below international radar a lot of the time. Fact is that Loudness, Anthem, EZO and X Japan were the building blocks for my interest in the Japanese metal scene; this is a story about that.

I am by no means an authority on Japanese metal, so take this as one fan’s tribute to that scene.

By Carl Begai

My love affair with Japanese heavy metal began as it did for the vast majority of western world metalheads: Loudness.

It was 1986, and during an episode of the weekly Power Hour on MuchMusic (Canada’s answer to MTV) the band’s video for their new song ‘Let It Go’ was aired for the first time. I was immediately enthralled. Everything about the song was magic – the guitar riff, the vocals, the melodies, the solos – and I wanted more. The next day I bought the cassette version of the Lightning Strikes album from Sam The Record Man in downtown Toronto and, during the drive home, I was introduced to a band that captivates me to this day.


Hell, it was because of ‘Let It Go’ that I decided I wanted to learn how to play guitar. After over 25 years of practice I can almost play the whole song. Almost.

It was the purchase of Loudness’ Disillusion album several weeks later, however, that made me a Japanese metal addict for life. I found the vinyl LP at the Record Peddler import store, unaware the band’s label Music For Nations had pressed Japanese and English language versions of the record. I didn’t realize until I put it on at home that I’d picked up the Japanese version. It was the strangest and most amazing thing I’d ever heard. As a Canadian I come from one of the most culturally enriched countries in the world, yet the exposure I’d had to Japanese at that point in my life never prepared me for the metal blasting out of my stereo. Everything about it was unique to my ears, and so damn heavy. Even the ballad. I was amazed, and I must have played it 100 times in the first month.

From the moment I dropped the needle on the record I was hooked, and the hunt began… Continue reading JAPANESE METAL – Life With The Beast From The East

ROCK MEETS CLASSIC 2014 – Würzburg, Germany: “A Brilliant High Quality Ass-Kicking”

By Carl Begai

What started five years ago as an interesting concept of mashing a rock band with an orchestra live on stage in support of popular vocalists of yesteryear, Rock Meets Classic has set a new standard for itself and anyone dumb enough to try and rip them off. Following successful runs through select parts of Europe – primarily Germany – with stars such as Ian Gillan (Deep Purple), Paul Rodgers (Bad Company), Steve Lukather (Toto), Dan McCafferty (Nazareth), Chris Thompson (Manfred Mann’s Earth Band) and Eric Bazilian (The Hooters) to name only some of ’em, the 2014 edition of Rock Meets Classic serves up its most diverse line-up yet with unexpectedly positive results. As in, a brilliant high quality ass-kicking.

In all honestly, hearing that Alice Cooper, the Uriah Heep duo of Mick Box and Bernie Shaw, and Joe Lynn Turner were going to share the stage with the likes of ’80s popsters Kim Wilde and Midge Ure (Ultravox) for the tour left me scratching my head in disbelief. As in, I was curious as to who was smoking what when they dreamed up a supposed musical car crash. It’s supposed to be ROCK Meets Classic after all, and although The Mat Sinner Band and the Bohemian Symphony Orchestra Prague have never disappointed in the past, I wondered who the hell would even care about Kim Wilde and Midge Ure.

A whole hell of a lot of people as it turns out. And rightly so, as the duo stood toe-to-toe with their rock pedigree tourmates.

So, rather than penning an overblown review with too many windbag adjectives, the following is a list of highlights from Rock Meets Classic’s fifth show of 2014 on March 14th Würzburg, Germany:


– the Würzburg show and audience crushed the Nuremberg production from the night before.

– backing vocalists Amanda Somerville, Tiffany Kirkland, Kolinda Brozovic, Ralf Scheepers and Sascha Krebs were given the deserved opening spotlight with a great rendition of the Queen classic ‘Show Must Go On’. It was also nice to see they still have their own individual looks and a minimal choreography rather than being decked out like penguin clones. Scheepers still looks metal, and nobody is trying to hide Kirkland’s rather awesome haircut (especially the lady herself).

– Midge Ure’s voice is amazing, and the symphonic rock version of the Ultravox hit ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’ is a keeper. Thank the appropriate diety for YouTube so you can experience it.

– Joe Lynn Turner wore a vest that looked like the couch my parents had back when I was a kid in 1975. He sounds just as good as he ever did, which is bloody amazing.

– seeing and hearing four of five Primal Fear members out of their metal comfort zone is always a blast. They set a new benchmark for themselves this year.
Continue reading ROCK MEETS CLASSIC 2014 – Würzburg, Germany: “A Brilliant High Quality Ass-Kicking”

TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA – Blowing Up Europe Real Good 2014

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

SAM THE RECORD MAN – Farewell To The King

Sam Sniderman passed away on Sunday, September 23rd 2012. He was 92 years old.

I didn’t know the man. I never met him. When I saw him in passing there was a sense of reverence that came with the experience. As in “That’s him, that’s the guy.”

Simply put, the gentleman who was known as Sam The Record Man played a huge part in fuelling the music-obsessed soul trapped inside this 43-going-on-18 year old. Opened in 1961, the iconic flagship store on Yonge Street in Toronto that launched a cross-Canada chain was a haven and a world of discovery. It was also the place I happily dropped thousands of dollars over the course of my teen years and into my 20s without thinking twice.

When the store closed down in 2007 it was heartbreaking for anyone that had spent significant time weeding through the vinyl, cassettes and CDs. The weekly off-day visits, the obligatory stop-ins on the way to a pub, club, the movies or a restaurant on the weekends, the late night visits – which the Barenaked Ladies wrote about in ‘Brian Wilson’- on the way home… it was hard to believe it had come to an end.

Sure, there were other record stores on the same strip, but Sam’s was the place, particularly through the ’80s and into the ’90s. Didn’t matter if Cheapies sold certain albums cheaper on any given week, didn’t matter if A&A’s next door was bigger on selling the soon-to-be-impossible-to-find 12″ singles (that even the Record Peddler didn’t have in stock), didn’t matter if the HMV down the street was big and flashy; Sam’s was tradition. It had the old off-white tiled floors that should have been replaced at the end of the ’70s. It had plastic dust jackets over the vinyl LPs for a reason. It had that record store smell.

It was the ultimate mom & pop record store. Supersized.

I didn’t realize it at the time but, looking back now, in a way Sam’s was like home. Not in a cheesy nerd outsiders-got-no-place-else-to-go way, but rather one of those mandatory visits one made when in the neighbourhood. Five or 10 kilometers was still close enough to demand a music run. Or else. And I know I wasn’t alone in my thinking. Continue reading SAM THE RECORD MAN – Farewell To The King

BW&BK Report: Heavy T.O. 2012 – Here’s Mud In Yer Eye!

By Carl Begai

For the record, I love Toronto.

Sure, the public transit system isn’t fit to service Legoland let alone a bustling metropolis, the cost of living has punched a hole through the roof, and we have a mayor with less credibility than your average high school junkie hall monitor, but it’s my home. I was born and bred here, I got my metal skooling during the righteous and never-to-be-repeated Gasworks/Rock N’ Roll Heaven era. Even so, when word came down in 2011 that Hogtown was going to echo Montreal’s highly successful weekend metal festival Heavy MTL – launched in 2008 – with a two day thrash-and-burn open air of its own in Downsview Park, I was skeptical. I had no doubt the organizers would pull things together in order to make it happen, but far less confident it would last more than a single “nice try” run.

Having lived in Germany since the tail end of 1995 as BW&BK’s European correspondent, I’ve attended my share of metal festivals great, good, bad and painfully ugly. Every weekend between May and September the classic metal festival model is put into action somewhere on the continent, attracting rivet-heads from all walks of life by the thousands and tens of thousands for two or three days of distortion and debauchery. It’s this model on which Heavy MTL was based – and succeeded – thanks to the European mentality of the Québécois. I didn’t see Heavy T.O. having the same impact in a city where metalheads are about five steps less committed to getting off the couch when a show hits town (sorry, it’s sad but true).

Heavy T.O.’s 2011 line-up turned out to be a ray of hope. Megadeth, Children Of Bodom, Opeth, Diamond Head, Volbeat, Mastodon, Slayer, Death Angel and Exodus on the same bill? Hard to believe but a European festival had come to town and landed with a bang, featuring a bill more than merely strong enough to drag the metal masses out into the light. By all accounts it was a rousing success beyond the expected and inevitable screw-ups that come with organizing anything for the first time. When the dust had settled it was a done deal: there would be Heavy T.O. 2012, with a legion of fans waiting in the wings brandishing piggybanks in hand when tickets finally went on sale. Continue reading BW&BK Report: Heavy T.O. 2012 – Here’s Mud In Yer Eye!

WOODS OF YPRES – Rae Amitay And Voldamares Pay Tribute To David Gold

Folks that spend any time on this site – and to those that do, thank you – are aware that the passing of Woods Of Ypres frontman/founder David Gold last year affected a lot of people on the Canadian metal scene, myself included. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend the tribute shows that took place at home earlier this month, but drummer Rae Amitay – who was gearing up to tour with Woods through 2012 – and Eclipse Eternal frontman Voldamareshave issued their own special recaps of the events dedicated to David’s memory. They both appear below.

Rae issued the following via Metal Review:

“When I try to put my experience from Ypres Metal Fest into words, everything from that night and the days leading up to it seems to blur together into a mess of emotions that I can’t properly articulate. As those reading this may know, David Gold had asked me to play drums for Woods of Ypres in support of the brilliant album Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light. I accepted without hesitation, and my days quickly filled with practicing and making plans with him, Joel Violette, and Brendan Hayter. For each of us, being in Woods was a dream come true, and we were greatly looking forward to being a part of the band together. It all felt like the beginning of something extraordinary. Continue reading WOODS OF YPRES – Rae Amitay And Voldamares Pay Tribute To David Gold

SVEN GALI Guitarist Dee Cernile Loses Battle With Cancer – “An Illness That Was Bravely Challenged And So Valiantly Fought”

By Carl Begai

The Canadian metal scene has bid farewell to another hero.

On February 25th, Sven Gali guitarist Dee Cernile lost his three year battle with cancer. I didn’t know him personally, but I had the pleasure of seeing him and his band tear up the Toronto club scene for a number of years in the early ’90s. Good times indeed, with Sven Gali one of several hopefuls on the Toronto scene at the time that managed to secure a record deal and go places beyond the nearest downtown watering hole. Thanks to my early involvement with M.E.A.T Magazine, I had the opportunity to interview Cernile on a couple occasions, and one of my earliest “I’m with the band” experiences took place at the legendary Gasworks in T.O., when myself, Cernile, Sven Gali vocalist Dave Wanless and a couple Killer Dwarfs partied into the wee hours of the morning… because we could.

Rest in peace, Dee, and thanks for the memories. Here’s one of them, back when I was learning how to use a camera…

Dee’s passing has hit much closer to home for people on the Toronto that worked, played, and occasionally butted heads with Sven Gali. Famous Underground vocalist Nick Walsh – who made a name for himself fronting Slik Toxik at the same time Sven Gali was raising hell – paid tribute to Dee when he received word of his death: Continue reading SVEN GALI Guitarist Dee Cernile Loses Battle With Cancer – “An Illness That Was Bravely Challenged And So Valiantly Fought”

DAVID GOLD – Finding Peace In The Woods Of Ypres

By Carl Begai

I don’t have much use for God these days.

With that in mind, when December 25th, 2011 rolled around I decided that I wouldn’t be celebrating the birth of some overblown, fictitious, omnipotent phantom as I gave gifts to my loved ones, turned the music up louder than usual, and drank more than I should have. Hell no. I chose instead to celebrate the life of my friend, David Gold.

David was taken from us on December 21st, 2011. He was 31 years old.

He was the voice and mind behind the band Woods Of Ypres. Not to discount or dumb down the invaluable contributions of the band members that worked with him over the years, but thanks to David’s efforts – seemingly superhuman and borderline insane at times – his music touched people around the world. He put Canada on the map amongst doom metal fans, and for anyone fortunate enough to lock into Woods Of Ypres, the name joined the likes of Rush, Annihilator, Voivod and Strapping Young Lad as a band to be revered when discussing metal spawned on Canuck soil.

I was introduced to David via a suspicious package that arrived on my doorstep in 2002. Living in Germany as BW&BK’s European correspondent, packages in the mail are nothing new, but a parcel sent from Toronto that I didn’t request or wasn’t warned about beforehand was odd. The name on the return address rang a bell, but I couldn’t place it. Inside was the first Woods Of Ypres CD with a hand-written note from David, introducing himself and the band, asking me to take a listen and offer my thoughts.

To this day I have no idea how he got my address, but I’m grateful to whoever gave it to him.
Continue reading DAVID GOLD – Finding Peace In The Woods Of Ypres

Beer, ICE, And A Honeymoon Suite

A blast from the past, posted a few years ago on Facebook and resurrected here in the now because it’s one of those fond memories that never gets old for me. Any Canadians reading this will appreciate the irony that wraps this tale up…

Some names have been changed to protect the presumed innocent…

A few years back, my best bud Paco decided he was going to visit me in Germany. He was overdue for a vacation and worked out a trip where he’d spend time in Holland with friends, then come visit me in Nuremberg, and cap things off with a jaunt through the pubs of Ireland (I’m happy to report he survived the last bit). I was all for it and was looking forward to four days of playing tour guide, talking metal, drinking copious amounts of beer, and (as it turned out) adopting the word “SMORE!” to express our appreciation of the opposite sex. We used it a lot.

Things began in Munich where, following the 45 minute subway trip from the airport into the city, I dragged Paco to the infamous Hofbräuhaus, a tourist trap armed to the rafters with beer. In other words, our version of Disneyland. We stashed his bags in a locker at the train beforehand and took our time doing The Walk downtown. We had a good two and a half hours to kill before our train to Nuremberg was due to leave, so no rush, everything was cool. Good weather, awesome scenery of the female variety – there’s something to be said for German engineering after all – and when we finally got to the ‘Haus, great malt beverages. We killed a liter each, shot the shit, I think I may have ordered a second beer (dumb idea). We took our time leaving, even getting one of the girls working there to show us her rather large pretzels (no, really) figuring 20 minutes was plenty of time to get back to the station.

My dear friend Audrey will tell you this is one of the dumbest assumptions person can make when travelling around Munich…

Paco and I quickly realized I’d made a “slight” error in judgment with regards to time versus distance, a fact we were reminded of by the clocks that were seemingly hanging on every street corner and on the side of every building. We were forced to run for our train; not a fun exercise when you’ve really gotta pee and you’re buzzing. Continue reading Beer, ICE, And A Honeymoon Suite