Black Star Riders frontman Ricky Warwick will tell you he’s made the most of the downtime shoved down our collective throats by the ongoing pandemic. Having spent a huge portion of his life on the road going back to his days with The Almighty, if he wasn’t busy writing and recording new music, Warwick could be found on a tour bus or on stage somewhere in the world. Instead of going out to promote the latest Black Star Riders record, Another State Of Grace, Warwick has been forced to satisfy himself and the fans with Instagram livestream shows, writing new music, and promoting his latest solo album, When Life Was Hard And Fast. It’s been a long time coming, what with When Patsy Cline Was Crazy (And Guy Mitchell Sang The Blues having been released in 2014 followed by a cover album, Stairwell Troubadour, in 2015. The new album is not, however, the result of COVID-19 keeping him locked up. It was finished a good year-and-a-half before the official release, all according to plan.
“I’ve been looking at it positively,” Warwick says of the pandemic forcing him to stay put. “I have my daughters and I’ve spent so much time away from them over the years – pretty much their whole lives – so to be at home for a year has been lovely. It’s been amazing to just be home every day; I’ve really enjoyed that. But, it’s been a year and I live for playing live, going on tour is what I do. It’s my job and I’m certainly ready to get back out there, but it hasn’t been the worst year of my life. My family doesn’t seem to be sick of me which is a good thing (laughs).”
“The solo albums are very much dictated by Black Star Riders and getting involved with Thin Lizzy right after Belfast Confetti (2009),” he continues. “And what a great problem to have. I’ve been sitting on a lot of these songs for quite a while and really just waiting for a worldwide pandemic to come along to give me time to put them out there (laughs). I’m always writing so I’ve always got a wealth of ideas on the go, and when I got together with Keith Nelson we actually started demoing this new stuff in 2018. The album was actually recorded in April 2019, so it was in the can before this pandemic started. We were supposed to be touring last year to promote the new Black Star Riders album, but this solo album was always slated to come out in February 2021. We just stuck to the plan.”
Norwegian Viking metal pioneers Einherjer have a career spanning close to 30 years, boasting nine studio albums, three EPs, history with four record labels, and an odd break-up between 2004 and 2008 when they reformed as the thrash act Battered for one album before putting Einherjer back together. Through all of this their sound has remained constant, with any major discernable changes between the early days and latter years coming from changing production values rather than musical focus. This chat with frontman Frode Glesnes began by addressing the head-scratching Wikipedia entry claiming “some of the band’s albums are heavily folk influenced, while others have a more traditional symphonic black metal sound.” Everyone knows that Wikipedia descriptions can be painfully inaccurate for the artists in question, but in Einherjer’s case Glesnes can only smirk and suggest the person who posted the information mixed them up with another band.
“Honestly, I don’t care about the labels we get, but sometime I wonder ‘What the fuck are people thinking?'” Glesnes laughs. “Since the start we’ve had this Viking metal stamp and that’s okay because in the beginning it was something fresh and new. We felt it was very fitting for the stuff we were doing at the time, and as time went on other bands began using the Viking metal label as well. Many of those bands were quite different from us because we are basically a heavy metal band; we were the old school and they were the new school. In the later years we haven’t actively avoided the term Viking metal, but these days we’re just using the term Norse heavy metal. It’s what we do, and we add our spice to it. There is a small amount of influence in our sound from Norwegian folk music and Norwegian composers like Edvard Grieg, but we are basically a heavy metal band.”
Vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen made a name for herself in the ’90s with Dutch metallers The Gathering, and since the leaving the band in 2007 her career has blossomed as a solo artist. It has also grown to include repeated collaborations with Devin Townsend and Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon, The Gentle Storm), session work with some of metal’s finest, and the launch of her progressive metal band VUUR in 2017. When the world isn’t being plagued by a global pandemic, Anneke is also known for doing live solo acoustic shows regularly – most often in her native Netherlands – but up until now she had never committed to recording an acoustic album. The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest is her first and likely not het last shot at doing so, and for fans of the lady’s work it will come as no surprise to discover this isn’t your average paint-by-numbers slow burn acoustic record. It is next level organic music powered by Anneke’s unmistakable voice and unwavering drive to create something that stands out from the crowd.
So yeah, when it comes to Anneke’s mindset going in, this is the most metal acoustic record you’ve heard.
“There you go, my work is done,” Anneke laughs. “Like you said, I do a lot of acoustic shows but I’ve never ever made an acoustic album. It surprised me because my last effort was a progressive metal album (VUUR’s In This Moment We Are Free – Cities from 2017), so I would think that everybody would be totally weirded out by this album. Not only is it a much softer album, it’s a different kind of album, much more folk influenced… or a song like ‘I Saw A Car’ (laughs). But for some reason all the metalheads are into it and the music comes across, so they stop thinking in terms of genre. That’s a very nice thing for me.”
The one constant in Moonspell’s career is that a new album will always piss off some of the band’s fans; fans that have most likely abandoned ship at some point only to return out of a mix of curiosity and loyalty. This has been the case since the 1997 release of the band’s breakthrough second record, Irreligious, when Moonspell traded in the black metal-isms of their 1995 debut album, Wolfheart, for a distinctive gothic metal sound that became the foundation of their career from that point forward. Even so, the band hasn’t been shy about messing around with their musical / metal dynamics and either twisting or straight up ignoring the “gothic” stamp they were branded with thanks to Irreligious. Their twelfth album, Hermitage, continues this tradition, and anyone who is a fan of Moonspell’s previous two albums are in for a shock. The straightforward goth metal of Extinct (2015) has been trimmed back and the monstrous tribal / symphonic attack of 1755 (2017) is gone, with Moonspell serving up a record that demands to absorbed rather than devoured. Credit or blame these latest changes, as always, on frontman Fernando Ribeiro, who is the self-proclaimed catalyst for the new musical direction on Hermitage.
“The first time I wrote down ‘hermitage’ as an idea was 2017,” says Ribeiro. “I have this mania or routine, or whatever you want to call it, that when we finish an album I’m already thinking about the next one. I don’t even know what will be going on in six months, never mind a year from now, but when I close a chapter I open a new one. Hermitage was an idea that struck me in 2017 because when I was thinking about the lyrical part of a new album, the poetic part, I was already looking at people social distancing. I got away from social networking because I think that awareness brought division, connectivity brought solitude, and people were stonewalling themselves without the imposition of a viral crisis. Our values are the exact opposite of what we are feeling. I don’t think people have ever felt so alone, there’s no sense of community, and one thing led to the other. I started reading about hermit saints, modern day hermits, and one of the things I learned that really inspired me was that contrary to what a lot of people think, hermits don’t go to the desert or to the mountains and mind their own business. Most often these old time hermit saints took a break from their community and then returned to hopefully improve it. On the other side, modern day hermits leave an oppressive society where they have to work to fit into the system. I felt very deeply that we should write an album about that because this is what’s happening in our world.”
If a musician is fortunate enough to write a song – never mind a full album – that continues to resonate with fans years and decades after its release, he or she has every reason to be proud. Particularly in this day and age, when attention spans have been seemingly reduced to nanoseconds and music comes off as being as disposable for some people as used tissues or what passes for food at McD’s. When vocalist Sarah Jezebel Deva and guitarist / keyboardist Chris Rehn, the brains behind Angtoria, saw the release of the band’s one and only album in 2006, they never imagined God Has A Plan For Us All would embed itself so firmly in the hearts of those that discovered the music. By no means was the record a million seller, but Sarah’s and Chris’ respective histories – her with Cradle Of Filth, The Kovenant, Mortiis to name a few, him with Abyssos and Takida – guaranteed from the outset that people would be paying attention. Sadly, after a solid response to the album Angtoria just faded away without an explanation. Fourteen years later, however, Sarah revealed she and Chris had decided to take a stab at releasing new music for the Angtoria fans that have continued to hold the band so dear, albeit under the project’s original name, Torn Between Two Worlds. The first sign of new life is the single “The Beauty Of Deception”, a song that would be well at home on God Has A Plan For Us All… which is just what the diehard Angtoria fans wanted.
BraveWords: How long has this comeback been in planning even though you aren’t using the Angtoria name anymore?
Chris: “In planning… well, Sarah and I met back in 2001 and started talking about working together, so it’s been in planning ever since then. We’ve did some demo tracks with this particular project back in 2003, and that escalated and evolved into Angtoria in 2006. This particular track has been in planning for the last five years; not five years in the making, just in the planning. Sarah and I are both busy with our families and work, so trying to find the time to do things for fun versus for work… those are two different things. And when you’re working 18 hours a day and trying to set time aside to do music for fun, it isn’t easy.”
In 2010, German metal legends Accept ended a 14 year hiatus with Blood Of The Nations, an album that went over a storm in spite of the band doing the unthinkable (again) by replacing original vocalist Udo Dirkschneider. News that former T.T. Quick singer Mark Tornillo was fronting the band created a nasty buzz amongst Accept diehards, many of whom regarded the Eat The Heat record from 1989 a monumental bomb due to the addition of David Reece in place of Accept’s iconic original singer. Blood Of The Nations was anything but a failure, however, silencing the naysayers with band’s strongest record since 1993’s Objection Overruled and serving as a launchpad for a decade of metal mayhem. Too Mean To Die is Accept’s latest offering five albums in from their comeback, and it’s fair to say anyone who has stuck around since then or was weaned on the Restless And Wild, Balls To The Wall and Metal Heart albums will find it delivers the expected goods.
Asked if it registers that a decade has indeed passed since the Blood Of The Nations comeback, guitarist Wolf Hoffmann says “it sounds like a long time, but really, it goes by so quickly. But, sometimes I’m amazed at how much we’ve done in the last 10 years. Five albums, I made a solo album, we made a live album, we’ve toured all over the world. Yeah, we’ve done a lot (laughs).”
One of Accept’s last road trips before getting to work on Too Mean To Die was 2019’s Symphonic Terror Tour through Europe with the Orchestra Of Death. It was an important tour for several reasons and in truth was meant to be a Wolf Hoffmann solo tour. It simply grew to become an entirely different animal during the planning stages.
“That tour was really a lot of fun” says Hoffmann. “I have to say it’s one of the best tours I’ve ever done in my life from a musical and personal standpoint. It was very satisfying. And the funny thing is, yeah, it was supposed to be a Wolf Hoffmann tour; Accept snuck in as an afterthought. Originally I was going to go on tour with my solo project and an orchestra, but then it happened step-by-step that everyone said ‘Well, if you’re going to be on stage you’re going to play ‘Balls To The Wall’, right? You’re going to play ‘Metal Heart’, right?’ And you can’t really do that without a singer, which is how the Accept guys ended up getting involved. It was hard to communicate with the outside saying that it was an Accept show with an orchestra, because I was playing all these instrumentals during the show, but what are you gonna do? I just wanted to play stuff from my solo album (Headbanger’s Symphony) and we wanted to play some Accept stuff, so we did a 50-50 thing.”
Blame Soilwork guitarist David Andersson for the band’s new EP, A Whisp Of The Atlantic. It’s all his fault. And he’s proud of it.
Of course Andersson’s bandmates were all present and accounted for when Soilwork put the EP together over the summer, but it was the 45 year-old guitarist who fired up the machine again and put everyone back to work. A Whisp Of The Atlantic offers up some startling work from the band, spearheaded by the monstrous 16-minute title track that, once again, makes a bold statement with regards to collective talent that Soilwork bleeds into their music. For Andersson it was a chance for the band to continue exercising this creativity rather than waiting for the world to get back to something resembling normal before releasing a follow-up to their previous spotlight-worthy album, Verkligheten.
“We released Verkligheten early last year, and this line-up of the band has a really good time together, so we’re very creative and enthusiastic about what we’re doing,” Andersson explains. “I thought it would be a waste to wait two or three years before we record something new, so I wrote a few songs starting with ‘Feverish’. I made a few more and everyone seemed to like them. Since I joined the band in 2012, I’ve always had this idea of writing one long epic, progressive song. Just because I loved prog rock growing up, and I also think that Soilwork is a bit underestimated as a band. People think of us as writing catchy Swedish melodic death metal but we’re more than just that. With this line-up we’re pretty much able to play any kind of music and it would be really nice to just be able to show people that we’re much more than they think.”
Guitarist / vocalist / self-styled hand model Jason Bieler was a founding member and the main songwriter for Saigon Kick, launched in 1988. The band’s on again / off again career had more twists, turns, ups and down than a drug-addled rollercoaster designer’s masterpiece, but longstanding fans agree to a man (and woman) that Saigon Kick’s first two albums – the self-titled debut (1991) and The Lizard (1992) – are untouchable works of distortion heavy art (your arguments are invalid). While the band has since been laid to rest Bieler continues to make music, and in fact he never stopped even when they were in a holding pattern for years at a time. Most of it has been released independently over Bandcamp under the Owl Stretching moniker, but Bieler decided towards the end of 2019 to work on a second full blown solo album rather just single releases. The end result is Songs For The Apocalypse featuring a literal truckload of guest musicians playing to and for Bieler’s unique vision. And even though it will satisfy many a Saigon Kick fan’s want for something heavy from the man – this is the loudest he’s been in ages – one should leave all preconceived notions at the door before going in.
Prior to the making of Songs For The Apocalypse, Bieler began moving away from the Owl Stretching name in favour of his own. Devised as a one-man project with the goal of bringing a song to life within 24 hours of coming up with an idea, Owl Stretching was an ongoing experiment used to refine his craft. Sadly, not as many people were aware of it as there should have been, but the new album may change that by putting the Jason Bieler name in lights.
“That could happen,” agrees Bieler. “Having the label I’m with now (Frontiers) and talking to different people that I work with, they all told me ‘Dude, you don’t realize you’re already obscure, so by naming it Owl Stretching you aren’t helping the cause in any way, shape or form. You’re making looking for a needle in a haystack the logical choice compared to what you’re doing.’ And they were right, of course. I decided to just change it to my name to make it a little bit easier for those people that were looking.”
Diamond Head may not be a household name, but their influence on the metal world is undeniable. They don’t share the spotlight with the likes of Iron Maiden, Def Leppard or Motörhead, but they are a recognized part of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal circle that took the distortion-loving world by storm in the ’70s and into the ’80s. A prime example is Metallica who spent the early part of their career cranking out and covering no less than five Diamond Head songs – “It’s Electric”, “Helpless”, “Am I Evil?”, “The Prince” and “Sucking My Love” – taken from the band’s debut Lightning To The Nations, an album that turns 40 this year. Listening to Metallica’s first three records in particular, the Diamond Head references are easy to find if you’ve been paying attention.
Commercial success eluded Diamond Head because they were seemingly only able to keep things together for a few albums at a time over the course of four decades. Still, they’ve managed to put out eight albums and keep their name alive. To celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Lightning To The Nations, founding guitarist Brian Tatler and his bandmates decided album #9 should be a re-recording, figuring the updated version would appeal to the younger generation(s) of metal fans as well as the old guard. Particularly since there has been a renewed interest in Diamond Head in recent years.
“I think that’s partly due to our new singer, Ras (Rasmus Bom Andersen), who joined in 2014,” Tatler says of the band garnering new found and long overdue attention. “We released the self-titled Diamond Head album in 2016 and then The Coffin Train last year. Now we’ve got management (Siren), a label (Silver Lining) and an agent, so everything seems to be going really well. We realized it was creeping up to 40 years for Lightning To The Nations, and we could have just done some live shows – we did that in 2010 for the 30th Anniversary – but Karl (Wilcox / drums) suggested we re-record the whole first album with this line-up and this sort of modern sound and technology. I thought it sounded like a good idea.”
If the name Mark Mangold sounds familiar, it’s no small wonder given that the pop singer / songwriter / producer has a career dating back to the early ’70s. He has written songs with / for Michael Bolton, Cher, Paul Rodgers, Jennifer Rush and Laura Branigan to name a few, as well as making waves of his own with the band Touch in the early ’80s. Most recently, he co-wrote the song “Lost In Time” for Swedish melodic metallers Cyhra’s second album, No Halos In Hell. Prior to all of this, however, Mangold released three albums between 1974 and 1977 with the keyboard-dominated outfit American Tears, and the end of 2020 sees him returning to his old stomping grounds. The new album, Free Angel Express, is a massive 14-track romp of ’70s prog rock for folks that grew up in the era of warm and organic headspace-moving music, when challenging the listener was normal rather than being a contrived move for shock value. It’s a far cry from the realms of writing formulaic big money pop hits, and Free Angel Express makes it clear that Mangold is most certainly in this business for music.
“I really missed playing synthesizer solos, the freedom of American Tears,” Mangold says of resurrecting American Tears, although he is the sole remaining founding member. “I don’t know if you can call it prog, but whatever it is, it’s not normal music, it’s not formula. You don’t have a safety net. It’s very free, so this is almost like I’m rebelling against the pop music and all the generic stuff that’s out there. With all due respect to Whitesnake, Foreigner and all those great bands, how many songs ripped off from those guys do we need to hear? And the record companies, that’s all they want, and I’ve done some of those records. I’m trying to do something original with American Tears, and it was always a case of doing whatever the fuck we wanted to do and being creative.”