By Carl Begai
In 2016, Canada’s former Metal Queen turned rock icon Lee Aaron released what was viewed by many as her comeback album, Fire And Gasoline. Not particularly accurate in that she’s been releasing music and touring ever since she went “away” in 1996 – more on that later – but the album was in fact her first full-on rock release since 1994. Whether it was as strong as her work from the ’80s and early ’90s is a matter of taste, but Fire And Gasoline laid the groundwork and kicked open a few doors to allow for renewed interest in her career and an impressive follow-up album, Diamond Baby Blues. It’s a record that serves up no-nonsense blues-heavy rock n’ roll and shows off yet another side of Lee Aaron’s musical personality. It’s also a message that says she’s still in it for the long haul thanks to Fire And Gasoline, ready to take another bold step forward.
“It feels fantastic because I’m making records that I really love and really want to make,” Lee says of Diamond Baby Blues. “There’s no record company pressure like there used to be to create art that fits into a mold. I’m able to create art that I like and I love, and work with the people I want to work with. The biggest stressors for me these days are balancing family, my children, because they’re still in school and they need a lot of support. And not only are the navigating academia, they’re dealing with social dynamics and hormones so they really need their parents to be around. I strive to keep a balance between my personal life and music. It’s always a delicate dance. It certainly keeps your feet on the ground, it keeps you humble because just when you think you’re pretty special, you’re not (laughs).”
It turns out that Fire And Gasoline was the jump-off point for the creation of Diamond Baby Blues, but not in the traditional sense of album release / feedback / tour / feedback = renewed energy and inspiration.
“Believe it or not, this album was already recorded and mostly finished when we went on tour last summer,” Lee reveals. “We recorded it on Spring Break because everyone had some time; we went out to the studio and laid down all the bedtracks, and I had most of the vocals done before the tour. From there it was just some small things to fix up like backing vocals and extra keyboard parts. We were just so excited from the response we got for Fire And Gasoline, so I just booked some studio time and said ‘Okay, we’re going in on March Break…’ but we didn’t know what we were going to do (laughs). I talked about doing some covers that I always wanted to record, and the suggestion of doing an album of half covers, half originals came up. Then came the question of how we wanted to approach that. Some people do covers records that are an homage to a certain artist, like doing all David Bowie songs or all Led Zeppelin songs, but our idea was to take these songs we’d chosen, deconstruct them and make them our own, and we made that the template for the (original) songs we wanted to write. But, we knew we were going in more of a rootsy, hard blues direction before we even wrote the material.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Ayreon mastermind Arjen Lucassen has returned to form with his progressive metal opera project’s ninth album, The Source. In 1995 he introduced his “more is more” mindset with The Final Experiment, setting the tone for each future production stamped with the Ayreon name, garnering a loyal cult following and high expectations from those fans. It was the third album, Into The Electric Castle released in 1998, that laid a solid foundation for Lucassen’s multi-vocalist epics, and The Human Equation in 2004 that put him on the metaldom map as a creative force to be reckoned with, or respected at the very least. There have been a few missteps along the way depending on who you talk to – 01011001 from 2008 and The Theory Of Everything from 2013 are not the easiest albums to get into – but the fans are responding well to The Source. In fact, the constant comparisons to The Human Equation and Into The Electric Castle suggest that Lucassen may have struck musical gold once again.
“I know what you mean,” Lucassen agrees. “I had that feeling a twice before because everything came together so easily. The cast came together, the music came together, the story was easy, which are things I had with The Human Equation and Into The Electric Castle. Sometimes that happens and I just try to steer things in the direction they need to go.”
The ease with which the material The Source came together could have and probably should have been a bit frightening for Lucassen. How many musicians have boasted about new music coming together effortlessly only to be carved by the press once it goes out to the public?
“I’m insecure as hell about that,” he admits. “I start with 50 ideas and I hate most of them, really (laughs), because I figure they’re not good enough. The ones that I do like, I’ll play them to Lori (Linstruth / girlfriend, ex-Stream Of Passion guitarist) and she’ll be like “Well, yeah, okay…” So, I’m completely insecure until the very last moment, which is what makes me a perfectionist. That’s what makes me work so much harder, especially when I hear other stuff like the new Opeth or the new Devin Townsend. That’s when I’m thinking ‘Oh my God, my stuff doesn’t even get close to that…’ (laughs). The reactions to The Source have been so good that the insecurity is gone, and usually it’s always there.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
It’s been seven years since Norway’s #1 loved and loathed black metal export Dimmu Borgir released their ninth album, Abrahadabra. Not the best record in the band’s catalogue according to many a fan, but more than enough time has passed to warrant a crushing return to glory… which makes Dimmu Borgir’s decision to release a live DVD / Blu-ray package featuring performances over five years old confusing. Make no mistake; Forces Of The Northern Night is a beautifully crafted memoir for diehard followers featuring the band performing two special shows with a full symphony orchestra and choir, but after this amount of time people were expecting brand new music. According to guitarist Silenoz, the fans only need to stretch their collective patience until the end of the year because there is in fact a method to their current madness.
“We did some touring with Abrahadabra but not that much, and we took a break that just got longer and longer,” Silenoz says of Dimmu Borgir’s prolonged silence. “We’ve never been the typical run-of-the-mill band that records an album, goes on tour, records an album, goes back on tour. We’ve always taken our time and it works for us, which is the only formula we have.”
The break from touring and recording played a big role in enabling the band to pull off the two shows featured on Forces Of The Northern Night – first in 2011 with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra and Schola Cantorum Choir (KORK) in Oslo, then with the Czech National Orchestra at the Wacken Open Air 2012 – and compile the material for official release.
“It really takes a lot of preparation to pull off something like the orchestral shows, and it’s been a dream of ours for many years to be able to perform with a live orchestra since we’ve utilised symphony orchestra on our albums. It was just a matter of time until it happened, and it was great that the orchestra approached us about doing it rather than the other way around. That’s what made it feasible for us to be able to do it. Then the Wacken Open Air asked us if we could do a special orchestra show in 2012, and because we did it the year before one thing just led to another. Next thing we know, we’re playing this epic show in front of 80,000 people with 100 people on stage, and we didn’t really have a soundcheck (laughs).” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
In 2014, Sanctuary fans celebrated when the legendary metal outfit made their four year reunion official with the release in The Year The Sun Died. The music was distinctly Sanctuary courtesy of guitarist Lenny Rutledge’s style, albeit fatter and heavier thanks to modern day production values, but some people were put off by the absence of frontman Warrel Dane’s – formerly of Nevermore – signature ’80s high end vocals and assorted shrieks. It was an unfair criticism given Sanctuary’s classic albums Refuge Denied and Into The Mirror Black were released in 1988 and 1990 respectively – the man’s voice had simply aged with him – and it certainly wasn’t enough to halt the band’s forward momentum. Work is building slowly for a follow-up, tentatively titled Dead Again, but in the meantime Sanctuary fans can feast on Inception. Dubbed a prequel to Refuge Denied, the record features remixed and remastered demo recordings from 1986 that were all but forgotten until Rutledge stumbled across them by accident.
“I didn’t realize they were stored where they were stored,” Rutledge says in what has become a well worn story by this point. “I did some recordings of other bands in the mid-’90s, so I would find miscellaneous tapes here and there; they weren’t stored in any organized fashion. I’d forgotten about the Sanctuary tapes. I have a two-storey barn and the top floor is all messed up, it leaks, there are squirrels and birds up there… it’s just like a barn on any property. The lower part was converted into a studio, which is really nice, so going upstairs you’re in a completely different world (laughs). I happened to be up there looking for some stuff and I came across the box that had those particular Sanctuary tapes in it. It was a surprise to find them, and to find them in the condition they were in. My heart kinda sank because those tapes had been up there for 15 years, and when I discovered them I was sure I made a big mistake by not keeping track of them.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Since the October 2016 release of Amaranthe’s fourth album, Maximalism, vocalist and co-founder Jake E. has been conspicuous in his absence from the touring trail and in the press. The band’s triple vocalist attack remained intact for the band’s 2016 European tour, however, thanks to Smash Into Pieces singer Chris Adams, who had stepped in for Jake on previous tours when he was honouring other commitments. In November 2016, Jake issued a statement hinting that he had run out of steam, announcing that he was taking a break from the band for an unknown amount of time. In an exclusive interview with BraveWords, Jake makes his departure from Amaranthe official and final. Read on…
“Me and Olof (Mörck / guitars) started the band seven or eight years ago, and everything took off in a way we couldn’t have imagined,” Jake begins. “Amaranthe became a huge success and we toured the world, and we had a lot of fun doing that. The first two albums (self-titled debut and The Nexus) were exactly what I wanted the band to sound like; a mix between those Soilwork-like guitars and melodic Bon Jovi-type vocals combined with a female voice. Different elements combined, but the main thing in the music was the metal base. On the Massive Addictive album it started to change into something else that I didn’t really control, and you can hear the songs that I was more involved in working on are very metal. When we started working on the Maximalism album I found that it wasn’t the Amaranthe I had helped create at the start. It wasn’t my vision at all and I realized that I had to be true to myself. That was back in March 2016. I love to tour, I love the fans, but I felt that if I wasn’t true to myself.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
On the one hand, big budget live DVDs seem like a pointless investment now that YouTube is king. Then again, with hundreds of hours of bootleg footage online showcasing or plaguing a band until the end of time once uploaded, there’s an artistic need for an artist to present their work in the best possible light. Nightwish started releasing live DVD material long before online video sharing became the entity it is today, issuing material in three year cycles (approximately) to capture each chapter on their journey to greatness. Folks paying attention to that particular aspect of the Nightwish catalogue, therefore, weren’t surprised when news came down that the band was releasing Vehicle Of Spirit to commemorate their Endless Forms Most Beautiful world tour. Just how necessary it is can be debated, particularly since the Showtime, Storytime DVD from 2013 – shot at the Wacken Open Air in Germany – is a very hard act to follow if you’re a fan of live retrospectives. It’s doubtful the diehard fans are complaining, however, with shows from 2015 shot in Tampere, Finland and London, England featured along with live clips from around the world.
“We started planning the Vehicle Of Spirit DVD as we planned the tour for Endless Forms Most Beautiful,” says vocalist Floor Jansen. “We knew that we didn’t just want to document one concert, but rather to show more faces of Nightwish on tour around the world. We have a varied setlist, we play different sizes of stages – in Germany, for example, it’s massive, and in the US things are much smaller – and a show in China looks different from a show in Finland. We wanted to document the world tour, and as the planning of the show evolved we chose the London show at Wembley because it was the biggest and very special. This was definitely something that was planned from the beginning.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
When Swedish pop-metallers Amaranthe dropped the first single from their new Maximalism album, “That Song”, the mastermind behind Billy’s Metal Mulisha on YouTube, Billy Kasper, was one of the first to weigh in. Like many Amaranthe fans, yours truly included, he was weaned on old school metal (Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth) and now boasts a wide spectrum of metallic taste (Stone Sour, In Flames, Suffocation, and on and on…), leaving plenty of room for Amaranthe’s presumably lighter fare. Kasper was put off by the track, and for all the fans that voiced their lust and support for “That Song” there seemed to be an equal number that echoed his reaction above. In much the same way The Agonist has been lambasted by some of their followers for the changes in the band’s sound on their new Five album, there is some resistance amongst the Amaranthe faithful in accepting their sonic update. Their trademark pop elements are more pronounced than ever, and the death metal growls that have been a not-so-subtle nuance have finally taken a solid third of Amaranthe’s three vocalist spotlight, making for all kinds of discussion as to what should and should not be allowed as part of the band’s aresenal. In the end – and it took repeated listens to figure this out – Maximalism is all about contrasts and Amaranthe’s evolution rather than phoning in a predictably successful formula-fed album.
“Exactly,” says guitarist Olof Mörck- “I think you got it perfectly. People are intrigued by the record because it’s obviously different from what we’ve done before. For us, when we started to write the album it was all about diversity because I still love The Nexus (2013) and the first album (2011), but they did have a very firm concept and we went with that conecpt 100%. And since we were so early into our career there wasn’t a huge need for variation. On the Massive Addictive record (2014) we felt that we maybe had to throw some things around a little bit. At the outset of Maximalism, I think we were trying to throw a lot of different things around because one of the main points with the first two albums is that they were in context when they were released. They were very fresh and people didn’t react overly enthusiastic about the music, just like yourself, but they realized we’re a real band that can play our music live. The thing is that if we kept on releasing albums that sounded similar we would have lost that freshness. We were trying to find new perspectives on what is actually fun with Maximalism so the music is new and fresh for us.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Take a look at the viewer comments left as (burnt) offerings for the three videos The Agonist posted in the weeks prior to the release of their new album, Five – “The Chain”, “The Moment” and “The Hunt” respectively – and you’ll find the band has a very loyal yet painfully divided fanbase. Understandable given the parting of ways with original singer Alissa White-Gluz (now with Arch Enemy) in 2014 and the addition of Vicky Psarakis in her place, but the haters aren’t merely complaining about the vocals this time out. No, it would seem that those who would try to do The Agonist harm with insults and assorted trolling when Eye Of Providence was released in 2015 are taking issue with the songwriting on Five, the riffs, the production, the mix, even the promo photos, as well as the vocals. Guitarist Danny Marino isn’t one to let the negativity that has surfaced get to him because he knows Five is a bold step forward for The Agonist, and the band still has a legion of open-minded supporters.
“It’s hard to judge positive and negative reactions based on comments made on a video,” he says, “but even if they’re mainly positive the negative comments speak louder because they jump out at you. I think it’s important for any band to look at it that way. For example, I remember when Opeth went through their musical shift a couple albums ago and decided to continue on that path. It wasn’t pleasant for them (laughs) but I think they’re more successful now than they’ve ever been in their career. It took some time for people to adjust to their new direction. It’s very subjective. All we can do is keep putting out music and seeing people show up to watch us play. That’s how we know we’re doing something good.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
The lads and lady that make up Epica are far from stupid. They wear the symphonic metal tag proudly even though it automatically paints them into a corner – at least on paper – yet they make serious efforts with every release to re-invent themselves to some degree. Just how successful they are ultimately depends on the fans rather than the journalists in their pseudo-ivory towers, but seven albums in it’s fair to say even from a press-rat point of view that The Holographic Principle is Epica’s most unexpectedly diverse album to date. In fact, it’s hard to write the intro to this piece and not have it deviate into a full-on album review. Currently playing in this office at a volume deadly for fans of Bieber pap or Kanye pomp, Epica’s new record serves as a reminder that string sections and choir arrangements do not a killer symphonic metal album make when the folks behind it are constantly thinking far beyond the confines of the genre.
Or, in simple terms, The Holographic Principle pretty much smokes every symphonic metal album released over the last two years.
“Overall the reception has been really good, and people actually seem overwhelmed,” says vocalist Simone Simons. “The Holographic Principle sounds more brutal than anything we’ve done but still with the same classic Epica elements. The guitars are more prominent, the vocals are more versatile, and I think there’s just a lot of information to process, which you can’t do in just one listen. Even myself, I heard the finished songs a few times and it was a lot to take in.”
“The record is kind of a wake-up call because there’s the stigma of a female singer in the band defining the sound of the band,” she adds. “You have Arch Enemy, Nightwish, Otep, Epica, and we all sound different even though there’s a woman singing in the band.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
As loyal followers of the Devin Townsend Project immerse themselves in the band’s latest opus, Transcendence, there’s plenty of lip service being paid to the musical genius that is Devin Townsend. Standard routine some 20+ years into his career, but even though it’s the man’s name on the marquee Transcendence isn’t a solo affair featuring his long time backing band. This time out Townsend opened up his creative process to input from his Project mates – Dave Young (guitars, keyboards), Brian Waddell (bass), Ryan van Poederooyen (drums) and Mike St. Jean (keyboards) – to create what many fans and critics have said is DTP’s strongest album in years. Together since 2008, this is the Devin Townsend Project’s seventh album to date but only their first working as a unit in building an album from the ground up, perhaps making it seem that Townsend is a late bloomer when it comes to the concept of teamwork. As one might expect of a musical genius…
“The Devin Townsend Project didn’t start with writing together as the intention” says Townsend. “If we had started with that intention and it took me 10 years to finally implement it I’d be an asshole, but it started as the Devin Townsend Project playing all sorts of stuff from different stages of my career live, and everybody was on board for that. The decision to open things up in the way that I did for Transcendence was moreso out of ‘What do we do now?’ I’ve got all these projects that I’m really excited about doing, but DTP had gone pretty okay for us. It’s a healthy environment in a lot of ways; it’s not toxic emotional content, it has an audience, so to not continue it would have been a mistake for me professionally let alone musically. But, in order to make it count in ways I can still get behind I need a theme of some sort, something to sink my teeth into, and collaborating with the other guys became that something. After I wrote the book (Only Half There) and being able to look objectively at these things I’d written down, my objectives musically or otherwise are that I don’t want to keep doing the same thing over and over and over again. It seemed like an interesting thing to do, plus these guys have put in a ton of work and a lot of money into DTP, so it made sense.” Continue Reading