By Carl Begai
Get past the sexist slant of the title and take a serious listen to Epica’s new album, The Quantum Enigma; particularly if you’re one of those people (like yours truly) that’s fed up with the female-fronted symphonic metal trend. Coming down from the buzz of celebrating their 10th anniversary, the Dutch sextet abandoned the business-as-usual approach that made them famous – and an inspiration to far too many bands around the world – and coughed up an album that, if it doesn’t win you over outright, will at least earn Epica some respect. Yes, their orchestral backbone is still very much intact, but it now belongs to a guitar-heavy drum pounding monster that tears the band free of those lingering comparisons to Nightwish and Lacuna Coil.
“There was one guy I did an interview with today and he said, ‘Before, Epica was a band just for my girlfriend. This new album, I love it too…’ laughs guitarist/founder Mark Jansen. “We wanted to refresh the sound of the band and judging by all the positive reactions, we’ve succeeded.”
“After Retrospect (the concert) we decided that since we had celebrated our first 10 years as a band, we should do something to refresh the sound for the next 10 years,” he explains. “The more we thought about it, the more we realized we had to make some drastic changes. The first one was looking for another producer. Sascha Paeth (Kamelot, Avantasia, Rhapsody Of Fire) has always done a great job in the 10 years we worked with him, but we needed someone to take us out of our comfort zone. We knew exactly what we were going to get from Sascha and he knew what he’d get from us, so we wanted someone who would make us see a different side of ourselves. We chose Joost van der Broek (ex-After Forever) because he’s still quite new to the production world but he’s done a lot. He’s gained a lot of experience but he still has this youthful energy around him, which makes you happy to work with him. That was the kind of energy we were looking for.”
The Quantum Enigma isn’t nearly as musically dense as some of Epica’s previous albums, which sometimes seemed to choke on the layered choir/symphonic bombast shoe-horned into the songs. There’s a whole lot of space in the music this time out, making Epica seem almost naked but most definitely stronger. Continue reading BraveWords Interview: EPICA – Not Just Your Girlfriend’s Band Anymore
By Carl Begai
This interview took place towards the end of Kamelot’s 2013 European tour in support of their latest album, Silverthorn. By all accounts – band, fans, YouTube footage – it was a successful run that saw the band play to packed houses every night. The show on this particular night, in Munich, went off without a hitch as far as anyone on the floor could tell, with Kamelot attacking the stage like the seasoned veterans they are, playing to the audience rather than merely for them, accompanied by one of the most impressive lightshows ever seen in a rock club (seriously… and without pyro). It was a far cry from the band’s first European tour – their first road trip ever, in fact – back in 1998 with Elegy, which showcased a band that was understandably green performing to half empty rooms. A potentially demoralizing experience on one hand, but the taste was enough to make Kamelot want to push forward. Success at a level where the band became a day job was along time coming, but it’s a testament to what can be accomplished when you focus on and devote your time and energy to something you really want.
“You don’t have any pictures from that ’98 tour, do you?” laughs guitarist Thomas Youngblood.
Actually, I do. I’ll wait to be tapped for the Kamelot biography to publish them.
“When you get started you want to be like Iron Maiden, but then you start realizing how difficult that is,” says Youngblood with regards to the band’s success. “But the way things are nowadays in the industry, there aren’t a lot of bands that can get to that level. I think we’re fortunate we’ve been able to grow and maintain this band over the past 15 years. That’s pretty amazing. I think it’s a testament to working hard and making some smart decisions, and having killer fans.”
Kamelot’s biggest test came with the surprise departure of vocalist Roy Khan in September 2010, mere days before the Poetry For The Poisoned tour was due to begin. The band downplayed the seriousness of the situation at the time – they could realistically have lost their collective shirt financially due to pre-tour expenses and unfulfilled contracts – and managed to save face by finding the best possible replacement for Khan in Swedish singer Tommy Karevik.
“We didn’t think anything bad about that in terms of coming out of it intact,” Youngblood insists. “I’ve seen a lot of bands do that successfully, and I think a lot of people forget how many acts have actually had to do that. We’ve grown into different territories since then. We played Australia for the first time with Silverthorn, we’ve done different parts of Asia like Korea and Taiwan, and the US is a much bigger market for us now.” Continue reading KAMELOT – Water To Wine, Silver To Gold
By Carl Begai
During a recent interview for the as-yet-untitled follow-up to his HDK album from 2009, System Overload, former After Forever guitarist Sander Gommans discussed his involvement on the new metal solo album from singer/songwriter and Avantasia / HDK vocalist Amanda Somerville. Gommans enjoys being his own boss, but he freely admits the creative process for the Trillium debut, Alloy, made him realize that even the master of the universe has to take the back seat once in a while.
“In the beginning it was hard for me because normally you wrote something for somebody and let it go, but since Amanda and I are partners, I didn’t let it go that easily. I wanted to make the best out of it, and I wanted Amanda to make the best choices. I helped her out with some of the administrative stuff and I wrote a few songs, but it was really Amanda’s project and I had to get used to her big involvement. Not so much in the writing of my songs, but in the vocal arrangements and lyrics. She had a really good idea of how the album should sound and what she wanted, and I kept telling her ‘It’s not metal enough… it needs to be more metal.’ And she would tell me, ‘This is my project, I want to have it exactly the way I want to have it…’ (laughs).”
“She made the choices in the creative aspects of the album, and now that it’s out, it’s about surprising to me how cool it is. It offers so much more than the average metal band, and it has so much more to it that you can really see what a talented person Amanda is when it comes to having her own vision. In my arrogance, I found out that I should stop being arrogant and shut up sometimes (laughs).” Continue reading SANDER GOMMANS And TRILLIUM – …By The Power Of The Flower
By Carl Begai
Back in July, vocalist Amanda Somerville spilled the beans on her first official metal solo project, Trillium (interview available here). With the release of the debut album, Alloy, only weeks away she shot a video for the song ‘Coward’, and we got together the following morning over tea to delve a little deeper into the new album.
It’s safe to say Somerville efforts will surprise a lot of fans – in a good way – and earn her some new ones along the way as Trillium plays out. And while it’s a no-nonsense metal album, anyone that’s followed Somerville’s decade-long non-metal career will wonder if some of the songs were consciously tweaked from a singer / songwriter / acoustic state to the tough-as-nails tracks we’re hearing now. Take away the distortion and the tracks in question would easily fit on her 2009 solo album, Windows.
“It was very conscious, actually,” Somerville reveals. “Songs like ‘Path Of Least Resistance’, ‘Purge’ and ‘Mistaken’ were pretty dark, and I’d planned to put them on my next solo album, which was going to be darker and heavier than anything I’d done before anyway. I had all this material that was building up, and since I’m a piano player and not a guitar player, it was clear to me I’d have to work with someone who played guitar as their main instrument like Sascha (Paeth / producer) or Sander (Gommans / HDK) so they could metal it up. That was the idea from the start, and the way things progressed led to those songs being on this album.”
“The songs that I wrote with Sander – and he’s a prolific songwriter, cranking them out like crazy – we already them had in mind for this project. Sander was totally into it, and every time he sits down with his guitar a song comes out of it. The way we typically work, he writes the instrumental parts and then I come in and suggest whatever changes I think should be made. Then I take the song and write a vocal line and lyrics to it. Sander likes a good challenge as well, though, and when he heard the piano / vocal demo I had for ‘Machine Gun’ he asked if he could work on it. He came up with the big main riff, which really supplements the running theme through the whole song.” Continue reading TRILLIUM – Act Your Rage
By Carl Begai
There was a time when Amanda Somerville’s name was merely another footnote in the metal biz. Her career as a solo artist had legs as of 2000, but in the world of greasy long-haired distortion and debauchery Somerville was a behind-the-scenes helper, credit given where it was due on a guest artist roster or in a thank you list. In 2003 she took the daring plunge into a realm that was still something of a mystery to her, creating the Aina – Days Of Rising Doom metal opera with her Gate Studios colleagues, finally putting a voice and face to her name. Since then, Somerville has become a popular member of the metal world, garnering a fanbase that follows and her work even if it may not always float their respective hull-of-steel boats. Now, after years of offering her voice and knowledge to acts like Epica, Avantasia, HDK and Kiske/Somerville, “the blonde chick” has stepped into a spotlight of her own making.
And it’s very, very metal.
“I’ve been throwing around the idea of doing this over the last few years,” she reveals. “It really kind of tipped the scales doing HDK. There’s a saying in German, ‘I licked blood,’ which is disgusting but appropriate I guess, since there’s a song about vampires on the album (laughs). I’ve always done my own thing. People know me mainly from collaborations I’ve done with and for other bands, but I started out as a solo artist and I stayed one throughout. Having done all of this stuff in the metal scene for more than a decade now, it’s only natural that it rubbed off on me. I like it, and the songs that I’ve written in the last several years have been very dark and gotten heavier. Basically, I was just going to make my next solo album more metal, but then I decided I’d prefer to keep the waters a little cleaner in terms of doing a metal project. It’s a little weird if I say I’m going to do a metal album and then throw in a jazz ballad (laughs). I don’t want to compromise, and I’ve got so much material now that I might as well do a total metal album and keep my solo stuff completely separate. That way I can do what I want and not have to apologize to anybody.”
Sounds suspiciously like a typical day at the office for former Strapping Young Lad mad scientist Devin Townsend, another prolific singer / songwriter / musician prone to switching musical gears and doing so effortlessly. Somerville is in good company.
“Yeah, like that. It’s me, Devin and Garth Brooks doing his Chris Gaines thing (laughs). It’s us funky musicians and our split personalities.” Continue reading TRILLIUM – …By Any Other Name