“I wanted the orchestral parts to be overblown, with a lot of guitars” – Symphony X’s Michael Romeo talks to Lotsofmuzik about his solo album “War of the Worlds Part I”
One of the most influential guitar players of the last fifteen years, Michael Romeo is back with a new release. While his band Symphony X Is in hiatus, he took time to record his first solo album, entitled “War of the Worlds Part I”. It’s a concept album, which uses the famous H.G. Wells novel of the same name as a starting point, but expands on the story and addresses all kinds of conflicts that humanity is going through right now: religion politics, differences of opinion etc. As the title indicates, there will be a sequel to this release, which is partially recorded already. Lotsofmuzik’s collaborator Rodrigo Altaf had a chance to discuss the new album with Michael Romeo, and talk about the current state of the music business, the idea of touring in support of the new album, future plans for Symphony X and much more. Check it out below:
Lotsofmuzik: First of all, congratulations on the new album “War of the Worlds” (notorious H.G. Wells novel), which for me has a mesmerizing effect – I can’t stop listening to it since I got it!
Michael Romeo: Thanks so much, that does mean a lot!
Lotsofmuzik: This is not exactly a sequence to your first solo effort, “The Dark Chapter”, right? It’s a completely different beast!
MR: Yeah the Dark Chapter was just a demo, really. I did it in 1991 or something like that, and I did it at home! I didn’t have any gear, and just did it for fun. But when Symphony X got the first deal with a Japanese label I had sent them that demo, and they said “can we put it out?” and I said “sure, go ahead”. But I didn’t have a nice studio or good equipment or anything like that. So to me, “War of the Worlds Part I” really is my first solo record. The production is professional, we have real guys playing on the album, and some good equipment nowadays, and guitars that stay in tune [laughs], so it’s “the real deal” now.
Lotsofmuzik: In this record you have also of John “JD” DeServio (bass) and John Macaluso (drums), and Rick Castellano on vocals. How did each piece of the puzzle in the lineup came into the band?
MR.: I just wanted guys I knew, and friends. Guys I hang out with and that I know are great musicians. I’ve known John Macaluso for years, and when I thought of doing a solo record, it made sense to invite him, nad I called him as soon as I decided to record this album. With JD, I went to high school with him, so we’ve known each other forever. He lives nearby and we’ve always thought about doing something. And Rick, again, we’re friends. We’ve known each other for six years or something like that, and I met him just jamming with some friends one day. Every once in a while I catch up with old high school friends to jam and have a few beers, and Rick came down one day. I remembered him being really good and we got along well. As soon as I thought of doing a solo record, I thought of inviting him to sing. So it was pretty mcuch dudes I’m friends with. It was all about having a good environment during the recording and having fun.
Lotsofmuzik: The starting point for the album were the choice of title and the general musical direction. To what extent were the other musicians allowed to contribute to the writing of the album?
MR.: Mostly recording. When I write my material I usually use a drum machine and some bass here and there, but it’s kinda rough, like a sketch. But the song will be the song. I sent the stuff over to Macaluso and told him “add your own thing. Don’t change the song totally, but if you have a cool fill or a beat, just do it!”. And the same with JD, “if you have a little something, go for it, and add your own thing – maybe at the end of the song, do a big finale riff or something”. But with the lyrics and the melodies, me Rick and I collaborated. We sat down here in the studio for a little bit, went through every song, and tried all kinds of different stuff. So yeah, when it came to lyrics and melodies, Rick and I worked together.
Lotsofmuzik: Regarding the lyrics, you mentioned that the "War of the Worlds” is not necessarily Earth versus aliens, but also war in religions, politics etc. It seems to be the appropriate time to talk about how divisive our society has become, right?
MR.: Wow, yeah, it is, dude…everything’s all fucked up right now!!! [laughs]. With the music, I knew I wanted to have this big cinematic thing, a little it of the Star Wars thing going on. And with the lyrics, I didn’t want to retell the novel exactly, or sing about flying saucers in the lyrics, and ray-guns etc. It would get to be too much of the same thing over and over. Me and Rick were just talking and we said “what else can we do”. And we thought, what if the “words” meant all these other things and wars and conflicts that are going on. Like you said, everything is so divided now, there’s so much conflict going on with the littlest things…so we could still keep the War of the Worlds and keep the backdrop of the sci-fi thing, but maybe throw a couple of lines here and there that kind of put a little bit of light on some of this other stuff. I’m not a political or religious dude, I’m just making an observation, I’m not preaching anything.
Lotsofmuzik: I guess from a lyrical standpoint, the songs that addresses that headfirst on the album is the aptly called “Differences”, right?
M.R.: Oh yeah! I mean, they all have a little bit. Djinn has a little bit of that as well – religion and politics primarily, between all of us there’s always differences of opinion and problems with someone else all the time.
Lotsofmuzik: “Believe” for me is the song where you get closer to the prog metal soundscape – but did you feel conscious during the writing process to distance yourself from the Symphony X sound?
M.R.: Yeah, I didn’t want it to sound exactly like Symphony X. Some of the riffs and other things I do kind of sound like Symphony X obviously, but I didn’t want it to be exactly the same. I didn’t really want keyboard solos on the album, but wanted the guitar and the orchestra to be playing a lot. Even in “Believe”, there’s that prog and melodic thing going on, but right in the middle I thought “I’m gonna break into the orchestra here with the guitar and go off on a tangent”. And there’s some electronic stuff with the robots’ thing and even some dubstep! I though Symphony X would never do such a thing, so I said “I’m gonna do that!”. I did want it to be different.
Lotsofmuzik: You just touched on the song I was going to address now, so let’s talk about probably the most controversial song in this release – from the title to the dubstep sounds – “Fucking Robots”. Do you think fans will have a hard time understanding that track?
M.R.: [laughs] I think it’s a cool song, we all had fun with it. It’s just a different thing, and a mix of different stuff. There is a little bit of dubstep, but also some heavy guitars, the orchestra is there too, and it’s just something different than usual. I think that at first people will might think it’s really weird, but if you listen to it, it sounds really cool. But that’s what you gotta do – be creative, try different stuff, or else, it’s just the same old shit. I love that track, I sit and listen to it these days and it makes me laugh, because it’s so different and so ridiculous, but it’s fucking fun, man, it’s just music!
Lotsofmuzik: What was the inspiration behind the three skulls on the cover, and who drew it?
M.R.: I was working with this artist I know, his name is Drake Mefestta, and he’s done some covers for other bands too. I told him what the album was and that I wanted a sci-fi vibe, a little dark and kind of alien-ish and maybe a little Geiger. When I said Geiger he brought the skulls and the alien texture thing in the sketches, and what he came up with really fits.
Lotsofmuzik: Just like many of the Symphony X albums, there’s a lot of orchestration and film score sounds, but here it’s blown out of proportion really – have you ever considered doing an actual movie soundtrack?
M.R.: Oh yeah, I’ve done a couple! And I’m just kind of getting it going right now, I did a horror film back in September, a TV show and another film, and had lots of fun doing that! It’s hard to make money with music these days, so I’m just trying to do whatever I can. Eventually these things will be released, and I can talk about it a little more. The horror movie was really fun, it’s an old school horror film with an 80’s vibe, kinda like Jaws or Friday the 13th. I grew up with that type of movie, so I was really excited to do that! That’s fun to do as well.
Lotsofmuzik: And have you had a chance to sit down with your hero John Williams yet?
M.R.: That will never happen man! [laughs]
Lotsofmuzik: Maybe it will, who knows?
M.R.: I would never waste his time man…he’s gotta keep writing and keep it going man! There’s a lot of dudes that really inspired me growing up: Randy Rhoads of course, Van Halen and Yngwie, Sabbath and Priest...that was a big part of my life, and with the classical music too, I was into Stravinski and guys like that. But even since I was a kid, I loved film music: Star Wars, Superman, E.T., Indiana Jones and Jaws…those are classics ingrained in everybody’s brains. So he’s a genius! I totally respect him, just like all my guys, it doesn’t matter if they’re shredders, metal guys, prog guys or film guys…if it’s good shit, it’s good shit!!! [laughs]
Lotsofmuzik: And t bring back he subject of “War of the Worlds” again, apparently Part II is almost halfway through, right?
M.R.: Yeah. When I started to write, I was writing every day, and I knew what I wanted to do, I wanted to have like you said, I wanted a little more orchestra, and the orchestration to be overblown, and with the guitar a lot too. Everyday I had a new idea, and things were moving. And after five months or so, I went back and looked at everything, it was like, more than two hours. And I said “what the hell man, let’s start recording everything”. We did the drums for everything, bass and rhythm guitars and some of the vocals. But when it came to the lyrics, it was kind of getting tough – there was so much stuff! So we said maybe let’s just work on the first bunch of songs, and then at some point we’ll come back and finish. Let’s just try to make this first half as good as we can. So yeah, most of it is done, and if this album does well and people dig it, then the other one really wouldn’t require too much time to be done. But part II is in the same vein – obviously the songs are different, but everything was written at the same time, so a lot of of the themes come back, or the theme is backward, and there’s some kind of variation on something, an all our musical tricks are there, so it’s the same vibe.
Lotsofmuzik: I think it’s a great strategy to release part I and then part II because it’s not too demanding on the listener. It’s a concept and a story but it’s not difficult for the listener to absorb.
M.R.: I think that doing a double record is just too much, even for me. That’s a lot to take in, so yeah, we decided to split it. I want people to absorb the first one for a while, and then we’ll put out the second record. They’ll complement each other, but they’ll also be a bit different
Lotsofmuzik: And you also said that initially you didn’t really have expectations to play this material live, but now you’re considering doing a tour or a few shows here and there.
M.R.: Yeah, it depends on a lot. When I started the record, I thought of having fun and invite some buddies. And even recording, it was ok to put the orchestra everywhere, and all these extra guitars, and the synths everywhere, because we didn’t know if we were ever doing this live. We said “let’s just make it sound good now, and if we do it live, we’ll worry about that later”. But it’s not written in stone. We’re waiting to see what’s going on with Symphony X. We’ve been talking about what our next move is going to be, so there are a lot of pieces being moved around the board, so to say. So we’re taking it day by day, and figuring out what the plan is going to be.
Lotsofmuzik: I can only imagine the headaches you’re going to have while trying to make the material work on a live setting, right?
M.R.: I mean, it would be hard to do, because I kinda like to have an orchestra live, even if it’s a small one, because so much of it IS the orchestra. I would hate to have four dudes playing along with a tape recorder. I’d rather have more human beings on stage. But then we get into money and other aspects, so it’s really impossible to say right now. A lot of it depends on what Symphony X’s next move is gonna be. I mean I just got this thing done, it didn’t even come out yet! [laughs]. So let’s take it day by day.
Lotsofmuzik: You’re regarded as one of the main guitar players of our generation - to what extent do you care or listen to those compliments, and who do you measure yourself against these days?
M.R.: I don’t go looking for compliments, I’m just doing my thing! I’m a chill guy who likes to write and play, and try to be creative and challenge myself when I’m writing or playing. I’m probably my toughest critic. When I’m tracking or playing or even just writing – I’m constantly asking myself “how can I make it the best I can make it”. I’m pretty tough on myself all the freaking time. But you gotta be, or else the stuff you write or play will just be tired-sounding and not exciting. I still get excited from writing – thank God! [laughs]
Lotsofmuzik: What fascinates me in your playing is how gritty you sound when you're riffing, and how clear you sound doing solos. What's your secret to achieve that, especially in a live setting?
M.R.: I don’t know, I just play! [laughs]. I really don't know. Usually the sound is basically one sound dialed in and obviously it's a little heavy but it's not too dirty where there's no clarity. So yeah, if I'm setting up my amp or whatever, it's just finding that balance. With the rhythm stuff I can dig in a little, make it heavy, but the solo stuff I can kind of move around and it's kind of fluid sounding and, and the notes are popping out. So yeah man, no crazy trick just, and even on the rhythms, like I said, maybe playing a little harder digging in to get it a little more of that aggressive sound and on the solos a different approach. Yeah, no magic tricks man! [laughs]
Lotsofmuzik: Do you find that your career path is exactly what you envisioned when you first started or not? And would you consider playing other styles of music?
M.R.: Man, that's a good question. I think kind of. When I was young I just wanted to be in a band and play music and so it's like, oh, I guess I'm doing that now. So no, I didn't know that, you know, none of us knew that the whole music industry was going to get turned upside down and financially now for a lot of guys I know and myself and everybody, it's just like, it's really hard to be musician now and make money and do it. It's just a different time. So yeah, I didn't see that coming [laughs].
Lotsofmuzik: I don't think anybody saw that coming to be honest. It is a complete shift in the music industry like 10 years ago or 15 years ago, right?
M.R.: Over the last ten years I would say is when I really noticed it. And the thing that sucks is I don't see a lot of new metal bands, like the big army of metal bands that…when Symphony x was getting going, every time you turned around there was a new band. And it was just an exciting time. But a lot of the kids now like their phones and their video game and they like electronic music and DJs, and everybody wants to be a DJ. And guitar shops are in financial trouble because these kids just aren't buying music instruments. That's scary. But I get it because it would be really hard, with the way that the business is now for bands to start fresh and really go through the normal way that it was years ago, when all the bands were doing that kind of thing. Now it's, just different.
Lotsofmuzik: And with Symphony X, these days you’re the torchbearers of the more traditional side of prog metal – which bands of the new batch of prog metal you listen to?
M.R.: I mean over the last couple of years, I can't think of too many that I've heard that are new. Honest to god. I mean I can't, and I don't even know what we would consider prog these days - there's just so many sub genres of that! So that's a tough one to answer. Even if you asked me whatever new bands I heard in the last year or two? I don't know if I can name any. I'm serious. I mean there's a few out there, but you know, it was just talking to my buddy about this yesterday: Slayer’s going to be gone, Sabbath and Rush are done, and eventually everyone's going to start to dip out and then where's the next Slayer? Where’s the next Rush, you know? I don't really see the whole new generations of kids carrying the torch for whatever, for metal and prog or whatever it is. It just seems like a different time, you know, things are kinda changed. A little scary.
Lotsofmuzik: I’m a long time fan, and saw Symphony X in Rio in 2016. The long time fans are wondering if/when we’re gonna have a live DVD release!
M.R.: Oh God, I don't even know man. I mean it's something that we had always talked about and it just never materialized. And then the whole last year was really a difficult time for the band because Russel [Allen, singer] said he wanted to spend a little time with his band Adrenaline Mob, and try to get that moving a little. And it's like, okay. And then our bassist [Mike] Lepond did a solo record. I decided to do this one and then this terrible tragedy happened with those guys and the accident [the Adrenaline Mob tourbus had an accident which ended up with the tour manager and the bass player passing away]. And I can't even imagine what they all went through. I talked to Russ a couple of weeks ago and when you go through something so awful, it kind of puts your life in perspective, in maybe changes your priorities a little bit, right? So we were talking, I said, “hey man, I get it dude”. You've been through a lot, so take some time to yourself and sort it out. Just sort out whatever you're thinking and then you just kind of let us know, you know what we're going to do. So right now we’re taking it easy and I'm kind of giving him some space to sort things out. But no definite thing. At some point we'll regroup and, and get everything back in.
Lotsofmuzik: That’s great to hear! And have you listened to the other endeavours of your bandmates in Symphony X? Silent Assassins, Adrenaline Mob, Pinella’s solo albums etc.?
M.R.: Yeah man, I hear all their stuff! When Russ finished their last album he played a little bit for me. And Lepond’s band, we did a lot of recording here - I helped them out a lot doing it. So yeah, I heard, I heard it a lot! [laughs]. And it's all good. Everybody's got their different things, Lepond likes old school metal and, Pinella, you know, he likes the keyboard stuff obviously, and I hear a little bit of Yes. And you can tell what I like – metal riffs, Stravinsky and John Williams stuff. Everybody in Symphony X has their own little thing, just trying to be creative. But yeah, like I said, at some point, we're going to regroup. I just talked to Lepond the day before yesterday, he was checking in. So we're all talking and they know that I just finished this new album too. So they've given me a little time just to do what I need to do. So it's a healthy thing, you know, after so many years of us together all the time, everybody just took a little break to do some other things that they've always wanted to do. So totally a normal thing.
Lotsofmuzik: Would you consider some sort of vehicle to pass your knowledge along – maybe Skype lessons, or more clinics?
M.R.: I might. I would rather try to put everything I know into some kind of master class series or something. Some could be about theory and some could be about guitar and picking or tapping and it could be about how to think about building a solo or a riff or putting a song together in harmony and theory. It would be cool to do that. It would take a shit ton of time to put it all together, but I’s one of those things I always think about. I'm always thinking about those things and again, it's like a time thing and I finally had time to do this solo record and at some point, you know, with Symphony X we're going to be moving ahead again. With Symphony X I just spent so much time writing and we're doing all the recording here at my place, so it's a full time job every day. But yeah, I consider anything.
Lotsofmuzik: Thank you so much for your time, and all the best with the new release! I hope to see you back on the road at some point, either with Symphony X or promoting your solo album!
M.R.: Yeah, at some point, either with Symphony X, or with the new album, it’s gonna happen.
Lotsofmuzik: I'll keep my fingers crossed. All the best, man!
M.R.: Yeah, nice talking to you, man, Take care!
Michael Romeo’s “War of the World’s Part I” comes out in July 27th, via Music Theories Recordings / Mascot Label Group. The tracklisting and personnel is shown below:
02. Fear Of The Unknown
04. F*cking Robotos
08. War Machine
Michael Romeo - Guitars
Rick Castellano – Vocals
John Macaluso – Drums
John “JD” DeServio - Bass
“Live Over Europe” is the first live release featuring the current line-up of Prog Metal pioneers FATES WARNING. Featuring 23 songs in a playing time of 138 minutes, it was recorded at various European locations (Aschaffenburg / Germany, Belgrade / Serbia, Thessaloniki and Athens / Greece, Rome and Milan / Italy, Budapest / Hungary as well as Ljubljana /Slovenia) during their January 2018 headlining tour for “Theories Of Flight”.
After the great studio album “Theories Of Flight”, which made several lists of “album of the month” and “album of the year”) in various media outlets, it makes perfect sense to celebrate the momentum once again gathered by the band. The tracklist is quite comprehensive, and will equally please the fans of the early eras of the band, when they were a blend of Rush and Iron Maiden, as well as their mid to late period, when they incorporated more industrial/ambient elements into their sound.
The live-album features the stellar line-up of Ray Alder (Vocals), Jim Matheos (Guitars), Joey Vera (Bass and vocals), Bobby Jarzombek (Drums) as well as Mike Abdow (Guitars and vocals). And just like “Theories Of Flight”, "Live Over Europe" was once again mixed by Jens Bogren (Opeth, Kreator, Symphony X,Haken). Jens went through dozens of recordings of the band’s European tour to choose the best performances, or best parts of performances, and the end result is a collage which sounds surprisingly organic and cohesive. If it wasn’t for Ray Alder mentioning the name of each different city at the beginning of each track, one could easily assume that all tracks came from the same show. That is as much a testament of the production values as well as plain evidence of how rehearsed and locked in the band is.
It should be noted that this lineup has some particularities: Mike is a new addition to the band, who joined as a touring member after long time guitarist Frank Aresti scaled down his involvement. Frank has a steady career as a Product Manager of companies like Dunlop and D'Addario, and for the time being chose to only be involved in the studio releases. And although he joined in 2007, Bobby Jarzombek only had two releases with the band until this live offering, and is still widely known as “the new guy on the skins”, such was the hypnotizing presence of former drummer Mark Zonder. And while Mike is significantly faithful to Frank’s leads, Bobby takes significantly more creative liberty, adding his own touch to several of Mark’s original fills. Both of them left their mark in this release though, and for a long time fan like me, it is quite reassuring to see them carry on with the band’s legacy in such a respectful and yet expanding manner.
I fell in love with Fates Warning just before their concept album “A Pleasant Shade of Grey” came out, and one of the things that stood out for me was Ray’s voice. There’s no denying that his voice has changed with age, but the whole band did an incredible effort to accommodate the change and rearrange the songs. In some cases, such as “Silent Cries”, “Point of View” and most significantly on “Acquiescence”, the new direction adopted was rather beneficial, and these particular versions actually sound better than the original.
Jim Matheos (rhythm guitar, and main composer) and Joey Vera (bass guitar) are their usual reliable selves in this release, and I should praise Joey in particular for his timekeeping abilities in “Monument”, a highlight of this tour which I had the fortune to witness in Toronto. The perfect blend of old and new material should also be mentioned. Honestly, after A Pleasant Shade of Grey I somehow got alienated from the band, and never fully appreciated their releases in the mid-2000’s. But adding songs like Pieces Of Me” and “One” (from 2000’s “Disconnected”) or “Wish” (from 2004’s “FWX”) was a great move. I’m finally able to enjoy them as much as the material that made me fall in love with them – the albums “Perfect Symmetry”, “Parallels” and “Insie Out”, which are also represented here.
It’s also worth mentioning what a resurgence the band has been experiencing with the last two studio albums, and both are represented here. The lengthy “And Yet It Moves" sadly is the only track from “Darkness in a Different Light”, but many songs from “Theories Of Flight” have their live debuts. The only sour note for me in the tracklist was the omission of Part XI of “A Pleasant Shade of Grey”, one of my favourites off of that release. But that’s a minor quibble, and there’s already a full release where the whole “A Pleasant Shade of Grey” is represented. Never mind me!
“Live Over Europe” is meant to be a form of retribution for the fans, and whether you’re a new fan or someone who like me has enjoyed them for more than two decades, there’s plenty to enjoy and be proud of here. Grab you copy as soon as possible and join me in singing the “whooo” part of “The Eleventh Hour” pronto!
Mixed by Jens Bogren and mastered by Tony Lindgren at Fascination Street Studios, Fates Warning’s “Live Over Europe” will be released in June 29th, and will be made available as 2CD Mediabook (Limited to firstpressing!), 3LP Gatefold + 2CD and as Digital Album all across the globe via InsideOutMusic.
Ray Alder – Vocals
Jim Matheos – Guitars
Joey Vera – Bass and Vocals
Bobby Jarzombek – Drums
Mike Abdow – Guitars and Vocals
Fates Warning “Live Over Europe (137:56) Track Listing:
CD 1 (76:39):
1. From the Rooftops (Live 2018) (07:45)
2. Life in Still Water (Live 2018) (05:11)
3. One (Live 2018) (04:35)
4. Pale Fire (Live 2018) (04:10)
5. Seven Stars (Live 2018) (05:40)
6. SOS (Live 2018) (04:27)
7. Pieces of Me (Live 2018) (03:57)
8. Firefly (Live 2018) (05:04)
9. The Light and Shade of Things (Live 2018) (09:26)
10. Wish (Live 2018) (04:22)
11. Another Perfect Day (Live 2018) (04:18)
12. Silent Cries (Live 2018) (03:31)
13. And Yet it Moves (Live 2018) (14:05)
CD 2 (61:17):
1. Still Remains (Live 2018) (15:06)
2. Nothing Left to Say (Live 2018) (07:13)
3. Acquiescence (Live 2018) (04:21)
4. The Eleventh Hour (Live 2018) (08:12)
5. Point of View (Live 2018) (05:00)
6. Falling (Live 2018) (01:49)
7. A Pleasant Shade of Gray, Pt. IX (Live 2018) (04:17)
8. Through Different Eyes (Live 2018) (04:11)
9. Monument (Live 2018) (06:04)
10. Eye to Eye (Live 2018) (05:00)
Fates Warning online:
Night On Bröcken – 1984
The Spectre Within – 1985
Awaken The Guardian – 1986
No Exit – 1988
Perfect Symmetry – 1989
Parallels – 1991
Inside Out – 1994
A Pleasant Shade Of Gray – 1997
Disconnected – 2000
FWX – 2004
Darkness In A Different Light – 2013
Theories Of Flight – 2016
Live Over Europe – 2018
Lotosfmuzik continues to honour the mission statement of being curators of good music around the world, and we are pleased to present Brazilian prog rockers Maestrick. Their new album "Espresso Della Vita: Solare" is the successor of the acclaimed debut album, "Unpuzzle!", and the EP "The Trick Side Of Some Songs" which included new versions for classics of Beatles, Yes, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, Queen and Rainbow.
"Espresso Della Vita: Solare" is the first part of a conceptual album that makes an observation of the human life by the perspective of a train trip. The album was produced by Adair Daufembach (Tony Macalpine, Hibria, Hangar), who also recorded all the guitars of the album.
In Brazil, "Espresso Della Vita: Solare" will be released on June 28th during a closed event for journalists only at Central Panelaço in São Paulo. Two official release shows, one electric and one acoustic, will also be announced soon as part of the releases schedule. Maestrick is currently formed by Fabio Caldeira (vocal/piano), Heitor Matos (drums), Renato Montanha (bass) and Neemias Teixeira (keyboards).
Our contributor Rodrigo Altaf had the chance to talk to Fabio and Neemias via Skype, and the transcript of the interview can be seen below:
Lotsofmuzik: First of all, tell us a bit about how the band started, and the path you guys went through until the lineup was formed.
Fabio Caldeira: The band was formed in 2006. Myself and Renato Montanha (bass) have played together since we were ten years old, we had another band and were looking for a drummer. A common friend recommended Heitor Matos, and since our first rehearsal, I can say Maestrick was formed – the chemistry was undeniable, and we started to talk about ideas for songs straight away. On that same rehearsal we wrote a song that would be seminal for our sound and concept – it did not make it into our first album, but it gave the idea for the whole concept of our first album, “Unpuzzled”. That song was called Electroshock, and I believe we’re going to use it at some point. It talked about a man observing a painting and empathizing with it, and we ended up creating some characters who would have been in that painting and the whole concept of the Unpuzzled album was born. Musically though, it wasn’t in the same vibe as the other songs we had, so it was a common decision to leave it out of our first album.
Lotsofmuzik: What’s the story behind the name of the band?
F.C.: That’s a funny story, because even if we consider the beginning of Maestrick in 2006, the name came a bit later, when we started to record our first album. We were thinking a lot about it, because the old name we had was Ramses II, and it didn’t exactly match the songs and style we wanted to have. When we recorded our first EP in 2010, we started asking ourselves: “do we REALLY need to use this name?”. We had several meetings to discuss the band name – some VERY long ones, in fact – and one of the names we suggested was Maestry. We also used to talk about our shows being theatrical and with lots of tricks, so another name we had was Trickycal. In one of the meetings to discuss the band name, I had just read Maestry and the next on the list was Trickycal, so we agreed on Maestrick. It clicked instantly, and we wanted a band that represented us as people and artists. I think the name has the pomp and seriousness of a maestro, and the sarcasm and irony of a trick. It’a perfect name for what we do.
Lotsofmuzik: From listening to your new album “Espresso della vita: Solare” I could probably guess, but what are some of the main influences you guys have?
Neemias Teixeira: I have many influences, but the main ones I should mention are Dream Theater, Haken, Leprous which I’ve been listening to a lot recently. I also listen to many other things that don’t necessarily have to do with our sound, such as Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson, Opeth etc.
F.C.: My favourite band is Queen, and I really like post-Peter Gabriel Genesis – not the pop phase, but the proggy side of them: Wind and Wuthering, A Trick of the Tail etc. I also like Gentle Giant, a band that I started to research and discover this year. I also like a lot of more recent European prog bands; Haken, Circus Maximus, Seventh Wonder. When it comes to Brazilian music, I like Novos Baianos, Tropicalia, Mutantes. Also Danny Elfman and Camille Saint-Saëns, soundtracks etc.
Lotsofmuzik: And I think that your preference for soundtracks is reflected in the new album right? Explain us the name of the album and the concept behind it.
F.C.: The concept of this album came when I was having coffe with my mother. We were talking and sharing sroties, and both my grandfathers worked in a rail company in the night shift in the beginning of the 20th century. I always heard stories from both of them, about ghosts but also good stories as well. At some point my mother said “life is like a train ride. When you’re born you hop on the train, then you meet other people on the same train whom you like but they need to get off before you at some point, while others you don’t like who follow you until the end of your journey, and so on. We started to develop this idea, but wanted to write the record in a way where we could express all kinds of emotions in the journey. We decided to make this album as a train journey lasting one day. “Espresso della vita: Solare” represents the first half of this journey, from 6am to 5pm. I was reading a lot about Dante Alighieri when we wrote this album, and his Divine Comedy is also a metaphor for life. The name of the album is in Italian as a homage to his work. We split the album in three parts: heaven, purgatory and hell. Our next album will be a follow up called Lunare, and will start in hell, go through purgatory and end in heaven, making both albums together a 24 hour clock.
Lotsofmuzik: Wow, that’s an ambitious concept for sure! So you’re already thinking of the next album?
F.C.: Yeah, we’ll start the pre-production as soon as we come back from Europe in October.
Lotsofmuzik: So what are the touring plans for now?
NT.: We’ll have a release party in late June, and in October we have a tour scheduled in Europe including a festival in Russia. We’ll also play in the Czech Republic, Estonia, Letonia, Lithuania, Switzerland, Germany and Italy.
Lotsofmuzik: Are you planning to play the new album in full on tour?
NT.: At the release party concert we will play the full album. We haven’t fully decided the setlist, but we’ll probably not play it in the same sequence – it will be a diverse setlist, with songs from our first album as well. In the European shows there will be more focus on the new album, but the shows will be shorter because we’re playing with other bands in festivals, so we’ll have around 40 minutes to play every night. The whole new album has over an hour, so we’ll have to think about that.
Lotsofmuzik: What is the connection between the name of the album and the cover art, and who Drew the cover?
F.C.: The artist who drew this cover has won international awards, and her name is Juh Leidl. She was responsible for the “Woman In Art Exhibition 2013” at the Ward Nasse Gallery in New York, and also sings in a band called Threesome. We sent her the concept and developed it through time. Not just the cover, but the booklet as well, is a great representation of the story we tell on the album.
Lotsofmuzik: Can we do a quick track by track of the album? By the way, I love the fact that you start certain songs in one place and end up moving in a completely different direction.
F.C.: Origami is an overture, which is influenced by soundtracks. The idea was not to do a complicated instrumental, but to have an opening track that sounded like a Broadway music score. “I a.m. Living” is the sequence, and it’s influenced by funk, which is a rhythm our bass player is influenced by, and it is quite cinematic. “Rooster Race” has a “Hot for Teacher” vibe, and also what we call “country metal” [laughs]. It has animal sounds recorded and local rhythms like catira and vaneirão. “Daily View” is our “Pet Sounds of the Opera”, with tinges of Sgt. Pepper [laughs], and with acid lyrics but sonically it has a great feeling. “Water Birds” is also “country metal”, with influences of the music of the state of Minas Gerais. It’s a song where we used an actual orchestra, as opposed to other songs where we used keyboards.
NT.: “Water Birds” has a lot of mood changes – it starts in a joyful mood, but transitions into a dark vibe.
F.C.: Next up is “Keep Trying”, which is rooted in the 80’s, with a lot of synths and an AOR vibe, with influences of Toto and Journey. “The Seed” is an odyssey, probably the most complex one we did, with Asian vibes and a chorus of more than 32 voices, and it’s essencially symphonic prog metal. “Far West” is influenced by Ennio Morricone, who wrote soundtracks for many Westerns. It talks about being nostalgic about things we never experienced, and it also hints at Mr. Big. “Across the River” is a country song influenced by old gospel songs. “Penitencia” has lyrics in Portuguese and mixes influences of Chico Science – and the female voice in the middle of the song is from my grandmother! “Hijos de la Tierra” came from my perception that we are very isolated from the other countries in South America due to the language barrier. I felt impressed with the perception the Chileans have of themselves and how they are aware of political issues and so on, and after playing a festival there, and we spoke with one of the bands in the same bill called Crisalida. We invited their singer to participate in this song, which is influenced by Andean music. She was up for it, and in this song she interprets a shaman in this song who speaks for mother nature. “Trainsition” is a play on words between train and transition, and the lyrics talk about a friend of our drummer Heitor, who wanted to be a flight attendant, but suffered a car accident. This song starts with this person talking to the paramedic, and tells about her recovery, and the times when she dreamed she was flying. Towards the end we talk about her road to recovery. It means also transition because in the full story, we are transitioning from day into night.
Lotsofmuzik – And what would you say has been the highest point in the band’s career so far?
F.C.: I’d say the highest point is the release of this new album, because it has the state of the art of what we could do. In terms of production, arrangements, composition, we are much more mature and aware of what we can do, and being able to translate our confidence and self-awareness into these songs is certainly something to celebrate. We just received the news that Burn Magazine evaluated our new record with an even better score than Angra’s new album.
Lotsofmuzik – I’ve never listened to your first album, “Unpuzzled”, but from what I was told, the new one is clearly a step up in terms of quality and complexity.
F.C.: When we recorded “Unpuzzled”, our drummer was 19 years old and I was 20! It represented well what we were at the time, but we evolved a lot since then, and I think the step up is a consequence of how we developed.
N.C.: I joined the band not too long ago and got to know Maestrick after the release of “Unpuzzled”. When it was released I thought it was really good, but in fact the new album is certainly a step up, particularly in terms of production.
Lotsofmuzik – You also released an EP not too long ago, entitled "The Trick Side Of Some Songs", with some interesting choices of covers and medleys. Tell us about that release.
F.C.: We tried to avoid having a long hiatus between two albums, and in 2016 we knew we would take two more years until Espresso Della Vita: Solare" was released. So we thought about releasing a covers album. The cover is a homage to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and has our “mascot” tricker. The EP was meant for us to clear our heads and meant a vacation period for us. There’s very little editing on that album, and we wanted to get a feel for how it was done when The Beatles, Yes and Pink Floyd recorded their albums in the 60’s and 70’s. We added also the little vignettes that Pink Floyd used in their albums, to give a sense of beginning, middle and end to this EP, and it worked almost like a parody. We didn’t actually put it for sale, but made it available for free in our website. Aside from the Yes medley we already played all those songs live, and as a bonus track we added Rainbow Eyes from Rainbow, which we recorded with an orchestra and paid homage to Dio.
Lotsofmuzik – With only one guitar player, it must be challenging to reproduce your songs live. How do you guys get around that challenge?
F.C.: For the rhythm part, our bass player holds the fort – sometimes I think there could be an additional guitar, but mostly I’d say we handle that pretty well.
N.T.: Yeah, even Dream Theater – hen they record an album, John Petrucci records rhythm guitar underneath, but live John Myung fills that gap quite well, along with Jordan Rudess. We try to do something similar.
Lotsofmuzik - On Saturday Fabio is travelling to Italy to record his vocals for the international project Holy Tide, which he is already the vocalist and Will include other big names of the rock/metal scene – What can you tell us about this project?
F.C.: I was caught by surprise with the invitation. Joey Caputo is the bass player, leader and main composer of this project. He already had a guitar player in mind and was looking for a singer. He’s playing with a band called Sunrunner, and they’re managed by our same agent, Som do Darma. Through that connection we were introduced and that’s how I was invited for it. I’m travelling to Italy this week to record it, and the sessions will last around nine days.
Lotsofmuzik – And Neemias was the winner of a contest launched by Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess – what kind of contest was that?
N.T.: In 2013, Jordan released an app called EarWizard, which works as a training for musical perception – I think it’s still available at the app stores. At the time I was studying music theory in college, and I went through all the levels of the app. Soon after he put up a contest in which whoever finished all the levels would get a half hour class with him. I had already finished and sent it, and won the contest. The class ended up lasting a lot longer, and he was very considerate. We kept in touch after that, and we met in person in 2014 in one of the Dream Theater concerts in Brazil, and met again at NAMM in 2016.
Lotsofmuzik – And how can the fans follow the most recente updates on Maestrck?
F.C.: Our website is being updated, so the best source right now is our Facebook page. Also our management at Som do Darma.
Lotsofmuzik – Thanks for your time, and I’m hoping you guys book a tour in North America.
F.C.: Our hope is to be there in September next year.
Lotsofmuzik – Fingers crossed. Take care guys!
F.C.: You too, thanks for the interview!!!
Songs / Tracks Listing1. Origami (2:13)
2. aI .m. Living (6:29)
3. Rooster Race (6:10)
4. Daily View (2:31)
5. Water Birds (4:32)
6. Keep Trying (5:02)
7. The Seed (15:34)
8. Far West (4:31)
9. Across the River (5:12)
10. Penitência (4:48)
11. Hijos de la Tierra (7:50)
12. Trainsition (11:07)
Total Time 75:59
Line-up / Musicians- Renato Somera / Bass
- Heitor Matos / Drums
- Fábio Caldeira / Vocals, Keyboards
- Adair Daufembach / Guitars
The first album of The Sea Within is set for release on June 22, and by now you’ve read all about it in our thorough review. If you haven’t, check it out here: https://lotsofmuzic.weebly.com/home/the-sea-within-the-sea-within-album-review-by-friedrich-stenzel
An ambitious mix of each members’ style and influences, The Sea Within may not be an album that grabs your attention at first. Like many great prog albums, it is best digested in small doses, where you can enjoy its twists and turn properly, and allow yourself to be slowly engulfed in their harmonies, riffs and melodies. Give it a spin and let it all sink in, then try again. We guarantee this will be a rewarding experience.
Lotsofmuzik’s Rodrigo Altaf had a chance to discuss this new release with their guitar player Roine Stolt. He spoke about the other band members and special appearances on the album, as well as his other plans with Transatlantic, Anderson/Stolt and many other endeavours. Check out the interview below:
Lotsofmuzik: First of all, congratulations on the release of The Sea Within’s first album – I’ve been enjoying it non stop since I received it. Tell us how the choice or scouting of each member of the band was made?
Roine Stolt: Let’s put it this way. I have played on record and live with three of The Sea Within members. Jonas (Reingold, bass) has been a member of The Flower Kings for a very long time, Daniel Gildenlow was also a member for two years, and he also was a touring member of Transatlantic around the time we did The Whirlwind. Most people know Tom Brislin (keyboards), from touring with Yes Symphonic, and he’s also played with Meat Loaf and Camel. He also has his own band called Spiraling, which is piano-driven pop music with touches of prog. We worked together in the Anderson/Stolt album, which we did two years ago. Marco Minneman I had never played with before, but we met in North America at some point, and we were in contact to discuss some touring before Felix Lehrmann joined the Flower Kings. He had some other touring commitments, I think with Joe Satriani or Steven Wilson at the time. It didn’t work out then, but we kept in touch. I was talking to the record label about doing something new and take a break from The Flower Kings for a while. Also, there wasn’t anything going with Transatlantic at the time, and I’m working with a second album with Jon Anderson right now, but as you know Jon is touring with his version of Yes, with Rick Wakeman and Trevor Rabin and they’re making a new album. So it seemed like a good time to try something new – new writing partnerships and playing with other guys on stage, so this is basically how this band was put together.
LOM: It’s an interesting blend of talents for sure. Was there any situation though, where there were conflicting ideas or opinions about songs? How to balance the egos and overflow of ideas?
RS: Definitely! We all have egos, no doubt (laughs). This is bound to happen when you put five people in the studio. I can’t think of a band that I’ve been in where everyone was totally on the same page. Sometimes it’s a bit more smooth, and sometimes it’s a bit more difficult to get to a point when we can all agree on something. I would be lying to you if I said that this time we agreed on each and every detail of the lyrics, the album cover, the mix…we didn’t. But at the same time it’s interesting to have a little bit of friction and to have someone stand up for their opinions. When we were recording the basic tracks in London, we had some great times and great dinners, and everyone got along really well, so that’s a great foundation to build on. If a band can play together but can’t be on stage together, then we have a problem, but this time I think we got along just fine.
LOM: You recorded almost two hours of music – did anything NOT make it to the album, and if so, has it been kept for a second release, or has it been discarded completely?
RS: I think we recorded a lot. There was something we did towards the end – possibly the last day – we worked on an experimental track that we didn’t use on the album. And I think we didn’t use it not because it wasn’t good, but because we didn’t finish it really. It was probably too experimental, so there was too much work needed to get all the pieces of this theme together and make it sound coherent. But we used everything else and experimented a lot. None of us really had a strong conviction when we finished those songs about them being in the album or about the sequence in which they’d be presented in the album. We got together, experimented a lot and played as best as we could.
LOM: The songs are split in the first “main” disc and in a bonus disc as well. What was the rationale behind having disc 2 not as part of the album?
RS.: To be honest, that was entirely the record company’s decision and recommendation. I wasn’t against it or for it, I thought they probably had a good reason to present the album that way – they kno the market better than I do. The four songs on the second disc are not second grade, it’s just the order in which they placed after we decided on the order of songs, and they ended up on the second disc.
LOM: You wrote the songs through a span of six months, and not always with everyone involved present – I guess this is the modern way of recording albums, but it still very much an organic effort, right?
R.S.: I think it is because we went to London together and sat down in the studio and played, jammed and recorded. Some bands these days are recording things on a computer and sending files to one another. I spoke to a journalist the other week and he said he spoke to a musician about a band, and this guy didn’t even know who the other musicians in the band were! That’s kind of weird – playing on an album when you don’t know anything about the other guys in the band. I’m not saying it can’t be made that way and be successful, but we’re slightly older and like to make records in the old fashioned way. The bulk of the album was finished in London and certain bits were finished at a later stage – some vocals and acoustic guitar here and there. But the bulk of the album was done together.
LOM: Of course we’re saddened by the news that Daniel will not join you guys for the first run of shows. At what point did you guys realize or discuss that he would not be available for the first run of shows?
R.S.: It was in London when we first got together and started to discuss the album. Once we sat in the same room we started to talk and realized that he’s planning a tour and some studio time with Pain of Salvation. He also has a young family – three boys at home. It’s a different case for me – my oldest son is almost 30 years old and they all have their own lives – but in Daniel’s case it’s understandable, he as to be there for them. He has Pain of Salvation which is essencially his band. And once we sat together and started to talk about touring, his preference was to continue with Pain Of Salvation, and I do understand that.
LOM: Did you invite Casey Mcpherson to sing on the album already in preparation for Daniel’s absence?
R.S.: Yes and no. Casey was in the plan even before Daniel, actually. I wanted Daniel in – I knew him from Flower Kings and Transatlantic as I said. I didn’t know Casey before this project, but he came on recommendation from other friends. When we realized that Daniel wasn’t going to be able to tour, Casey was fast in responding and helped us finish a few songs on the album, so that’s how things developed over time.
LOM: On many songs there’s a significant change from the starting point – there’s the saxophone solo on Ashes of Dawn and the jazzy breakdown on “An Eye For An Eye For An Eye”, just to mention a few examples. It makes it difficult to categorize the band, right?
R.S.: There were a lot of things that we weren’t in agreement about, but there was one thing we WERE in agreement about: we didn’t want to be a stereotype progressive rock band. We didn’t want to be another Yes clone or a Genesis or King Crimson clone. So we mixed all kinds of things together. Sometimes we sounded like a new age band, other times like a jazz band, a folky or psychedelic band…we mixed everything together, and out of the mix comes something hopefully a little bit more unique. We didn’t put any lids or limits on anything, and our composition was not by the book. If someone suggested a piano solo, like we did on “An Eye For An Eye For An Eye”, we went for it – it sounds like a crazy idea because that’s a very upbeat and rocking song, but it worked. I think that’s the case with great prog bands. King Crimson was the mother of all prog bands, and they wrote “21st Century Schizoid Man”, which is probably one of the first metal songs, and in the middle they have this crazy fusion jazz thing going on. The Beatles were also masters of that towards the end – they mixed a bit of everything.
LOM: Funny enough, the one song I thought was the most “straight ahead” songs of the album is Broken Cord, and it’s the longest one with almost 15 minutes – did you guys made a conscious decision to write one long song, or is this just how it turned out to be?
R.S.: That song was even longer – I think it had 25 minutes at least. This was something I sent in the beginning to Jonas and we were trying to make more concise songs. I remember working quite a bit on that song to try and make it more cohesive.
LOM: Let’s talk a bit about what I think is the secret weapon of the band - Marco. Are you used to working with a drummer who’s so prominent on guitar? He recorded some guitars on the album, right?
R.S.: The guitar he plays on this album was on the song “An Eye For An Eye For An Eye”. But if you listen to Marco’s own albums, he plays a lot of guitar. He has a style, and he varies between heavy riffs and some twangy 60’s sounding playing as well.
LOM: Jordan Rudess played on “The Hiding of Truth”. How did you guys think of collaborating with him? He’s in Levin Minneman Rudess with Marco, so I’m guessing that’s how the connection was made, right?
R.S.: Jordan was actually in the plan for the band in the beginning. He was asked to join and accepted to be in the band. But I think he was probably on a flight to Europe with Dream Theater, and the management team, when he dropped the news, someone was a little bit upset – I don’t know, but I guess that too many commitments for a guy like Jordan may not be a good thing, so he had to decline. And he has other commitments, he’s involved in developing new synthesizers and things like that, so he’s a busy guy. So he said he couldn’t commit to recording an album or touring and offered to play something on the album, and we accepted it. I’ve known Jordan for a long time, I thought it was a good time for us to do something together, and he played piano on one song, which is great. We’ll probably have a chance to play this song together on Cruise to the Edge, because he’s also going to be there, and hopefully he can join us.
LOM: And of course there’s a VERY special appearance by Jon Anderson which you mentioned earlier on, and I guess it stemmed from the fact that you already collaborate together, right? What can you tell us about the next album you’re working on with him?
R.S.: We started working on album number two about half a year ago, and we’re making good progress, but because of my commitment with The Sea Within, this has been put on ice. I also know that Jon is putting a live album and a studio album with Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman, so for the time being that’s where we are. Jon even brought in his son and they wrote a song together – a really beautiful song which has almost hit single potential to be honest. I hope we can carry that song all the way to the finished product, but I can’t really say when we’re going to finish it. I guess that once we do the first tour with The Sea Within I’ll get a bit more time and will be able to finish it – we’ll see.
LOM: Regarding disc 2, I think the most surprising one is “Denise”, which I thought was going to be a ballad, but it’s so dramatic, very tense in feel and execution – what can you tell us about that song?
R.S.: The initial idea for that song came from Jonas. He had the melody and some lyric ideas. I can’t remember now how developed the lyric idea was – if it came all from him or not. I remember I took the lyrics and rewrote some of it. The general idea was that of farewell – a father who committed some crime, went to prison and was going to the electric chair, so there was a dramatic effect to it. So we worked on that, and when Daniel came in he added some melody lines towards the end and started to build on the song. When we were in London to record we found this old keyboard – a harmonium, which has a distinctive sound, more like an organic sound rather than a sample. It was slightly out of tune and we used it anyway. I think this song works like a compliment to the more “streamlined” songs on the album so to speak.
LOM: The album has a beautiful cover art, done by Marcela Bolivar. What kind of input did she get from you guys to design that cover?
R.S.: Actually the cover was finished before we came along, and we were looking at a potfolio of the art she had done over the years. I don’t know Marcela personally, it was something we found on the internet. I found her some time ago and pointed it to my friend Nad Sylvain who now sings with Steve Hackett, and he used her art for an album called “The Bride Said No”. We were looking around for something that would work for the music we were making. In this case the cover works well on an LP cover and also on a backdrop.
LOM: I’m surprised that you guys didn’t give Marcela any direction, because the cover fits the name of the band and the sound so well!
R.S.: Yeah, and I think exactly like you, and this is what I said to the guys – it works almost like magic. I think that once you connect with the music, ten or fifteen years after you’ll look at an album cover and you’ll think that it fits with the music, but most of the time it’s just a coincidence. Why did The Beatles choose Klaus Voormann to design the Revolver album, or why did Yes choose Roger Dean to draw their covers? He made a career out of it and was connected to Yes forever with these wonderful covers. So I think you can’t really predict that, and there’s a little bit of magic involved. So I said to the guys: let’s not be too picky – look at it and see if it fits and if you get a good feeling and think about our music. If you get a gut feeling that this works, let’s go with it!
LOM: What can you tell us about the live set - will you prepare other songs to play live, or will your set be comprised of songs from the first album only?
R.S.: I think it will be the songs from the first album, and we’ll take certain sections of some of the songs and we’ll expand them a little bit. With wonderful musicians like Marco, Tom and Jonas, we can expand certain things to make them even more adventurous and interesting live. Once you have someone like Marco playing drums it sounds like a symphony on drums! We can play a few chords on guitar, and if Marco plays on top of it, it just sounds like a symphony (laughs). I think it would be stupid not to use these fantastic musicians to do something unique for our live performance. And we won’t be using any backing tracks. Without naming names, there are certain successful prog musicians touring out there who have everything on click track, pre-recorded vocals, people counting for them in their inner ears…for me personally that’s weird. I’m not speaking for the other guys in the band because they may have a different opinion, but I think the magic happens when you play for real on stage and take chances and risks and stretch and improvise – eventually you play a wrong note here and there, but it’s all about taking chances and inbetween the wrong notes, the magic happens.
LOM: When it comes to writing songs and lyrics, how do you know where it’s going to fit, since you’re involved in so many different bands and projects?
R.S.: I don’t actually, and I don’t think in terms of who’s going to perform it. All the time, I don’t know if I’m writing for Transatlantic or the Flower Kings. I remember writing something for a Transatlantic album which ended up on a Flower Kings album. Then one time on a tour bus someone put on the latest Flower Kings album and Mike Portnoy turned to me and said “hey, that’s OUR song!”. And I said “no, that’s a song that we rejected and I used it for The Flower Kings!” (laughs). So that’s how I do it, I just write music and present it and see whoever accepts it, and then I shape the music to fit whoever will be playing it, and they make it their own.
LOM: One question a lot of fans have been wondering about is – does The Sea Within mean the end of Transatlantic, or is another album in the cards?
R.S.: That’s impossible to tell really. I think that as it is now, Neal is busy with his stuff, Mike is out with Sons of Apollo to try to build and establish it as a new band, and he has a lot of other things too. So I can’t really see anything happening in the next year or two. For me, let’s keep it open – never say never! (laughs). I’m actually meeting Neal in Stockholm soon – he’s playing a concert in Stockholm soon, so I’m going to join him on stage and we’ll play a few songs. So we’ll meet and talk, and let’s see If something comes up.
LOM: So far there are only two confirmed appearances - Night of the Prog Festival 2018 at Loreley, and Cruise to the Edge in early 2019. What can you tell us about the other touring plans?
R.S.: There are touring plans, and we have a booking agent working on it now. Once we have the tourig plans set up we will announce the dates. We’re looking into Europe first and then North America and possibly South America. And there are also plans for Japan too. But that’s for next year. The general idea within the band was to release the album and let it sink it, and let people really get to know the songs, and then we’ll tour next year. That’s a new way of thinking – I’m used to just releasing an album and go on tour, but I guess this is how it’s done nowadays.
LOM: I think it makes sense, because it took me at least four or five listens to properly understand this album, and I still find new things here and there at every listen.
R.S.: Absolutely! I think there are songs on the album that probably stick faster – you listen to them two or three times and you start loving them. But there are other songs that will take ten or fifteen listens, and in time they will grow. Thinking back on music from the 70’s, how many times have you heard those songs until now? Think about Queen – when I first heard Bohemian Rhapsody, I wasn’t crazy about it, but every time you hear it, you start noticing all those little details, and it has a different impact than something you just heard last week. So it makes sense for us to let those songs sink in with the fans and then tour to support the album.
LOM: To finish off, where can the fans be aware of all things The Sea Within?
R.S.: We have a website set up, but it’s still under construction – www.theseawithin.net. Around mid summer it will look more like a complete website, with the band member’s bio, merchandise, links to the social networks etc.
LOM: Thank you so much Roine, I wish you all the best with the new release, and I hope to catch you guys on the road soon!
R.S.: Thank you, bye!
Ladies and gentlemen, Lucifer is amongst us. But before you run to the nearest church and ask for cover, let me clarify: rather than talking about an evil entity, I’m referring to the amazing 70’s revisionist band originally formed in Berlin, which are now experiencing a second incarnation. Fronted by Johanna Sadonis (ex-The Oath) and with her now-fiancée Nicke Andersson (The Hellacopters, Entombed) on drums, they are influenced by Blue Oyster Cult, Steppenwolf and Black Sabbath, and are ready to release their sophomore album, entitled “Lucifer II”, in July 2018.
Lotsofmuzik’s Rodrigo Altaf had the chance to catch up with Johanna S and Nicke, and they spoke about how the second incarnation of the band came to fruition.
Lotsofmuzik: Johanna and Nicke, nice talking to you! To start things off, tell us how Lucifer was formed.
Johanna Sadonis: I formed Lucifer right after The Oath ended, because I wanted to do music right away and thought I had something to give. I had a concept for Lucifer, which, honestly has more to do with what we’re doing now on the second album. Then Gaz Jennings was recommended to me and he was up for it, so we released the first album.
LOM: How did you chose that name, and are you aware that there are other acts called the same – have you guys been in trouble for that yet, are you expecting any kind of trouble?
JS: Of course there are other bands named Lucifer. If you look into metal archives, any word you might be interested in as a potential band name, there are twenty bands who already used it! With Lucifer I found five or six. And just after we recorded the first album, I got a message from a German thrash band saying that THEY would change their name. Honestly, I didn’t find any other band who could be bigger than us at this point, only bands that didn’t even exist anymore. I just thought it was a great and catchy short name that begged to be taken, so I used it!
LOM: The first thing that came to mind when I looked at the material was that the font in Lucifer’s name is EXACTLY the one used on Rush’s first album – has anyone else made that connection? Are you Rush fans in particular?
JS: Not in particular, just the first album. And that was kind of on purpose – I like the songs and the artwork of Rush’s first album. I contacted Alan Forbes, he’s a screeenprint artist from San Francisco and asked him to use that in the same font in our logo. But at the same time, there are other bands who used a similar font!
Nicke Andersson: Yeah, it’s also on Elton John’s self titled album – it was a pretty common font then, but the on that sticks out is the Rush one.
LOM: Lucifer II is a very different animal from your first album, so tell us a bit about the lineup changes that occurred between the two releases.
JS: After the last European tour last year Gaz left, and I had no songwriting partner. Meanwhile, Nicke and I saw each other the same day that Gaz said he’d leave, and pretty much there and then Nicke asked if we could write together.
LOM: Nicke, when you started writing for this album did you refer back to the first one as a starting point, or did you start from scratch?
NA: Well, first of all, since we started seeing each other, I almost interrogated Johann about the process of writing together, because I always wrote songs on my own. At some point during a Lucifer show I even asked Gaz how that worked, because I was generally interested – it seemed like something I’d want to do but simply didn’t know how to do it. When we started writing together, we discussed a lot about the direction the band was going to go and Johanna’s vision of it. I understood what she wanted, and agreed that we would stay down tuned to C#, which is the classic Black Sabbath tuning, and not change things dramatically.
JS: And after the initial surprise when Gaz left I took this as an opportunity because I thought “ok, now I can rethink what Lucifer should be”. I guess we are now reshaped to reflect what Nicke and I like musically – it’s diving deep into the music crate of the 70’s. At the same time we don’t steer away too far from our approach on the first album, because you don’t want to alienate fans completely. I’m really happy with how the album turned out, and I think it’s a step up.
LOM: What do you intend to play live when you go on tour? Any material from The Oath?
JS: No – Entombed doesn’t play Hellacopter songs, so why should Lucifer play The Oath songs, right? (laughs)
NA: We played four shows so far with the new lineup, and we mixed the first and second album in our set.
JS: I wanted to focus just on the second one, but Nicke said that we cannot leave the songs form our debut behind, because a lot of fans still want to hear those songs. So we balanced it out.
LOM: Tell us about the video for the first song on the album, “California Sun”. I couldn’t help but think about that movie Death Proof by Tarantino – was that the intention?
JS: Not really. Tarantino is great, but I think he’s too contemporary. My idea was more to draw inspiration from the videos that Deep Purple and Steppenwolf did in the 70’s with the green screen and the primitive special effects of that era, with all the psychedelic motifs. It was also a good opportunity to let loose and not seem too serious or dark. We had fun and to me it was a good chance to show that Lucifer is not all doom and gloom.
LOM: And Johanna, you directed the video yourself, is this something new for you, and did it come naturally?
JS: Well, I had the idea in my head of how I wanted it to look, with the motorcycle, and we hired one guy who had all sorts of different ideas that weren’t what we wanted. Eventually we decided to do our own thing. And Nicke and I have a very strong and similar vision of the aesthetics we want. That’s why we decide everything concerning the artwork by ourselves
NA: Also because we can’t afford to hire someone else! (laughs)
JS: That’s for sure! (laughs)
LOM: One of my particular favourite songs of the album was the cover of the Rolling Stones, “Dancing with Mr. D.”. In your version it has a distinctive Black Sabbath vibe, right?
JS: Yeah, it was my idea to cover that one, which is on Goats Head Soup. It has a creepy vibe – Mr. D is the devil of course, and Nicke picked up right away that this could sound like a Black Sabbath song with the right tuning.
LOM: Faux Pharaoh is another song you seem to be particularly proud of – tell us about the title of that song and what it’s about?
JS: I think it’s maybe the heaviest and doomest of the album. A pharaoh is a king in Egypt of course, and I made this expression “faux pharaoh” up, about someone who takes himself too seriously.
LOM: Nicke, you played most of the instruments on the album – did you feel challenged in any way to do that, or did you feel comfortable to do it?
NA: I am a bit of a control freak, so I guess it has its advantages sometimes. We were really eager to record the album, and instead of auditioning guitar players and bass players, we thought “let’s work with what we have so far” – that was me, Johanna and Robin on guitar. I love playing all instruments and it was in no way to show off, but just to get the album ready.
JS: And nowadays I live with Nicke in Stockholm, but when we recorded the demos for the album, every time I came to visit him we used the studio in his house and it was just much quicker to do it that way.
LOM: And now you have new members in the band for the upcoming tour, right?
JS: Yeah, after we recorded the album we knew we had to get more members, because we have to play live. And now we have Martin Nordin on guitars and Alexander Mayr on bass, Robin Tidebrink on guitars and Nicke is taking on drums. They are permanent members of Lucifer now, and for the next album we’ll record everything together.
LOM: Revisioning the sound of the 70’s seems to be a trend these days, with many bands not just paying homage to that era, but almost acting like we’re still in the 70’s, with the clothing, the looks, the tones…why do you guys think that that became a trend?
NA: I’ve looked the same for twenty years, maybe even more (laughs)! I think that trends come and go, and like you said this is trendy right now, but for me it has nothing to do with it – I’ve always prefered this type of music – as a sound engineer, I think the sound of the albums from the 60’s and 70’s are better than any other decade.
JS: Yeah, in modern recording technique, everything is so slick and polished, there are click tracks, and to me it’s horrible, because it takes the life out of music, it loses its charm and doesn’t sound organic. For us, looking back at the 60’s and 70’s is not a trend, this is a timeless thing. Even the bands who are not engaged in this “retro” thing, even more modern-styled bands, mention other bands from the 70’s as influences heavily, because this is where good music was. There aren’t many bands out there than can match up the craftsmanship of the late 60’s and 70’s.
NA: I have many albums in my collection which are from the 70’s, and they’re so dramatically superior to anything that came before or since! And I guess the secret is that you shouldn’t try to emulate that if it’s not in your heart – if it doesn’t come from within and you’re doing something just because it’s a trend, you’re always going to be late.
LOM: What would you say is the secret to achieve that perfect vintage tone? Is it about the pedals or effects you use, and/or how the recording is made, or the mix?
NA: I think it’s a combination of everything and even more so the mindset. I don’t go for the tone or the mix with a specific frame of mind, I just do it and to me it sounds right. My sonic preference usually falls into that, and that’s what I usually try to achieve. With guitars, I think it’s more the style of playing rather than the right use of pedals. I have tons of pedals, just because I’m a nerd (laughs), but they won’t help you if you don’t play the guitar a certain way. There are no shortcuts really. If you wanna sound like Ace Frehley, you gotta play like Ace Frehley!
LOM: You’re playing Hellfest this year – what are the expectations for the festival, and what other bands are you eager to see while you’re there?
JS: We’re excited, and we just booked our flights to that festival! I can see The Hellacopters, because we’ll play and then I get to see other bands. But Nicke will play drums with us and then he’ll play with The Hellacopters, so he won’t get a chance to see much.
NA: We heard it’s going to be really hot because it’s in the French desert (laughs). And one of the bands I’d like to see if I get a chance is Gluecifer, because they’re having a reunion.
LOM: What else is planned in terms of touring this year for the band?
JS: There’s gonna be quite a few festivals. We were invited for a show in Las Vegas and we’re planning an European tour in the fall and then maybe Japan later in the winter. We want to go to the U.S. and Canada, but not this year, because it’s really expensive and time consuming to organize the visas and flights over there. But we’ll make it happen!
LOM: How can the fans become aware of news about Lucifer?
JS: We’re on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and the addresses are:
LOM: Thank you so much guys, and all the best with the new album!
JS and NA: Thanks!
Lucifer’s second album “Lucifer II” comes out on July 06th via Century Media. The lineup and tracklist can be seen below:
LUCIFER II tracklist (42:00)
01. California Son (03:26)
02. Dreamer (04:46)
03. Phoenix (05:47)
04. Dancing With Mr. D (04:11)
05. Reaper On Your Heels (05:06)
06. Eyes In The Sky (04:30)
07. Before The Sun (03:38)
08. Aton (05:05)
09. Faux Pharaoh (05:25)
Johanna Sadonis - Vocals
Nicke Andersson - Drums
Robin Tidebrink - Guitar
Martin Nordin – Live Guitar
Alexander Mayr – Live Bass
Haken has evolved into a strong force in the genre of progressive rock. Their debut album was already too perfect to be a debut album, and every following album has explored something new, without missing that typical Haken sound. The band has reached a first creative climax with their critically acclaimed 2013 effort The Mountain, only to improve themselves with the following album, Affinity. This 2016 release connects the band’s poppy vocal lines and heavy rocking, slightly djent-influenced guitar riffs with newly incorporated influences from the 80's to form a combination that I never would have thought would work. Affinity was the first compositional group effort, while the former albums were mainly written by Richard Henshall. Especially keyboard wizard Diego Tejeida and drum monster Raymond Hearne provided loads of crazy sounds and insane rhythmical pattern that made me wonder if all of this was even possible to reproduce during concerts. Of course, a visit to one of the band’s following concerts proved those doubts unnecessary, because this is Haken we’re talking about. Everyone who has seen one of their concerts knows that they’re definitely worth visiting. The band not only plays with perfection, but with a lot of passion and contact with the crowd. Fans have been waiting for an official release of live music for quite some time now, and it seems the band has heard their wishes.
The L-1VE package includes the last show of their tenth anniversary tour in Amsterdam on CD and DVD, as well as a few songs from their performance at the Prog Power Festival 2016 and three music videos on a second DVD. As it should be at an anniversary concert, the setlist covers each of the band’s albums. Even the long debate between fans if either Visions of Crystallized is the better encore has been solved by including the latter’s performance at the Prog Power Festival on the second DVD. The minimalistic design of the package clearly follows the 80's oriented flair of Affinity.
Haken started each of these tour’s concerts with the „affinity.exe“ intro and the opener „Initiate“ from their last studio album. When the first sound effects kicks in after the barely audible morse codes, the band goes on stage and the crowd greets them with a big applause. As the rocking Initiate heats up the place, I wondered if this was just the studio version dubbed with some audience noises. Especially the Affinity songs „1985“, „The Architect“, „The Endless Knot“ and the mentioned „Initiate“ are performed extremely close to their respective studio recordings, which of course is a huge effort, with respect to performance and to recording and production. Even the insanely complex „The Architect“ (probably my favorite Haken song overall) is played with sheer perfection and holds some of the best moments of the concert. Still, these songs don’t miss the typical live atmosphere. The heavy bridge in „Initiate“, the infamous A-Team part in „1985“ and the dubstep section in „The Endless Knot“ find a lot of resonance within the crowd and are appreciated with lots of applause and cheering. During the latter one, there is even a moshpit evolving, which is happily appreciated by singer Ross Jennings. Speaking of Ross Jennings. When the first single of the album, The Mountain’s „In Memoriam“, was released, some criticism were expressed about Jenning’s voice having been overdubbed or edited in the studio. I have seen nights where Ross pulled off a performance just as good as this one. There are non-processed live recordings of the band all over the internet in which he sings just as brilliantly. And even if there was some editing done, that’s nothing reprehensible. It’s the band’s first live release and of course it’s supposed to be a good one. Ross Jennings delivers a stunning performance, as do all the others. Although everyone is concentrating on their respective instrument, they all seem to pull off their performance without any effort and still find time to smile to the audience or make some jokes with the other musicians between all the whacky riffs and complex solos.
The songs from The Mountain seem to have developed an individual live dynamic. Especially „The Cockroach King“ is always met with the crowd cheering and joining in with the Gentle Giant inspired vocal sections. The song has evolved into the band’s signature song and is an absolute highlight at every Haken concert. The mellow „As Death Embraces“ represents the only ballad and is positioned cleverly in the middle of the concert. While not being my favorite ballad of the band, it creates a welcome breather between the epic „Aquamedley“ and the progressive openers from The Mountain.
And this brings us to another highlight of the concert. The band decided to celebrate their debut album during this 10th anniversary tour and rearranged the whole thing into a 23 minute long „Aquamedley“ that features important parts from six of the album’s seven songs. The songs keep their order, but some sections are repositioned to fit into the flow of the medley. Since Aquarius was a concept album and themes were constantly reprised, this shortened version works very well.
The concert is being concluded by the opulent „Visions“, another fan-favorite and majestic finale for every Haken concert. The song’s bombastic end is truly breathtaking and frequently brings tears to the listeners’ eyes. I have attended several concerts where the crowd would just continue singing the final singalong-chorus after the band finished the song. Sadly, the recorded concert wasn’t one of those. Still, „Visions“ is the optimal closer for this progressive tour-de-force and I personally even prefer it over Crystallized.
But fans don’t have to worry about that. Because along with „Earthrise“ and the two 10 minute monsters „Falling Back To Earth“ and „Pareidolia“ from The Mountain, „Crystallized“ is included on a second DVD. Unfortunately, my promo version of the album only includes the main concert, but I have the feeling that the performances from the Prog Power Festival aren’t any worse than the ones from Amsterdam.
In the end, fans will get a great all-round package with L-1VE. The only thing missing is a vinyl release, which hopefully will follow one day after enough fan demand. The sound of these recordings is amazing for a live release, although Ross Jenning’s voice could have been a little louder in the mix. Richard Henshall’s and Charlie Griffiths’ guitars are spread to the right and left side, respectively, so listening with headphones is definitely recommended. It gives a good idea about which guitarist plays what and reveals a few details in the arrangement that wasn’t clearly recognizable on the studio records. The lightning is kept moderate but the changes perfectly match what the band is playing. While the camera work is not very spectacular, it mostly focuses on the respective main protagonist of the section and is well directed. I would have loved to see a little more of Ray Hearne though, for example by an overhead camera. His drumming on this release is insane and it doesn’t only deserve to be heard, but to be seen too. But the criticism I am expressing here is on a very high level, as basically Haken has once again managed to do everything right. Of course, this release doesn’t compensate for the ultimate Haken live experience, but it comes close, very close.
Personal favorites: Cockroach King, The Architect, Visions.
HAKEN - L1VE
Release date: June 22nd, 2018
L-1VE CD 1 (0:49:00)
1. affinity.exe/Initiate – Live in Amsterdam (06:00)
2. In Memoriam – Live in Amsterdam (04:42)
3. 1985 – Live in Amsterdam (09:21)
4. Red Giant – Live in Amsterdam (06:31)
5. Aquamedley – Live in Amsterdam (22:26)
L-1VE CD 2 (1:05:26)
6. As Death Embraces – Live in Amsterdam (03:50)
7. Atlas Stone – Live in Amsterdam (07:12)
8. Cockroach King – Live in Amsterdam (08:17)
9. The Architect – Live in Amsterdam (15:59)
10. The Endless Knot – Live in Amsterdam (06:34)
11. Visions – Live in Amsterdam (23:34)
L-1VE DVD 1 (1:54:31)
1. affinity.exe/Initiate – Live in Amsterdam (06:02)
2. In Memoriam – Live in Amsterdam (04:40)
3. 1985 – Live in Amsterdam (09:24)
4. Red Giant – Live in Amsterdam (06:26)
5. Aquamedley – Live in Amsterdam (22:33)
6. As Death Embraces – Live in Amsterdam (03:46)
7. Atlas Stone – Live in Amsterdam (07:13)
8. Cockroach King – Live in Amsterdam (08:18)
9. The Architect – Live in Amsterdam (16:01)
10. The Endless Knot – Live in Amsterdam (06:33)
11. Visions – Live in Amsterdam (23:35)
L-1VE DVD 2 (1:01:40)
1. Falling Back To Earth – Live At Prog Power 2016 (12:10)
2. Earthrise – Live At Prog Power 2016 (05:08)
3. Pareidolia – Live At Prog Power 2016 (10:20)
4. Crystallised – Live At Prog Power 2016 (20:14)
5. Initiate – official video (04:16)
6. Earthrise – official video (04:48)
7. Lapse – official video (04:44)
Ross Jennings – vocals
Richard Henshall – guitars, keyboards, backing vocals
Raymond Hearne – drums, backing vocals, tuba
Charles Griffiths – guitars, backing vocals
Diego Tejeida – keyboards, backing vocals
Conner Green – bass guitar, backing vocals
Here are a few things that can’t be mistaken: When Chris Squire plays that first mighty note, when Phil Collins introduces a song with one of his huge fills, when David Gilmour doesn’t need more than just a few notes to say it all. When Roine Stolt composes harmony sequences, when Marco Minnemann amazes with his insane use of cymbals, when Daniel Gildenlöw reaches unknown heights with his voice, when Jonas Reingold enchants you with his fretless bass lines. I wish I could say the same about Tom Brislin, but I honestly don’t know most of his work. And after hearing this album, I realized what a shame that is. Tom knows his craft extremely well and he has that incredible taste for retro-like yet fresh and organic keyboard sounds. He fits into this band perfectly and delivers flawless contributions. But so do the other members. And when these people come together to form one band, one can expect something awesome. You can hear everybody’s compositional and instrumental influence on this record. It doesn’t sound entirely like The Flower Kings, Pain Of Salvation or The Aristocrats, but you can definitely hear the personnel overlap of these bands at some bits and pieces of the album.
The band first came together last September to start working on material provided by everyone. Here lies the first of many qualities of the album: Everyone contributed, composed, played different instruments, sang, wrote lyrics and vocal melodies. According to Roine, the basic recording process took about six months, but the work on the album was not finished after that. Everyone added some nuances in instrumentation and arrangement later in their home studios. This is the second of many qualities of the album: It’s not rushed. It wasn’t written and recorded within a week; the songs were given time to be developed and listened to with some distance. Not one song is being faded out, every ending is composed and thought through. The arrangements are colorful and rich. But still - and that’s actually a third quality - it’s no Chinese Democracy, ideas weren’t overthought and overproduced, it still has some kind of spontaneity and freshness to it, with some parts even sounding like first takes.
The albums kicks off with a cannonball of a song. „Ashes Of Dawn“ evolves from a distant augmented chord and some sound effects, before Marco introduces the mighty main riff by one of his characteristic tom-tom rolls. The riff itself is one of the heaviest of the album, reminiscent of the Red-era King Crimson. The vocal line of the verse is quite simple, but it leaves enough space for the instruments to vary the arrangement with every repetition. Plus, Daniel can make every melody sound great. Jonas’ bass lines are far from just providing root notes, Marco’s cymbal use is extraordinary as usual and Toms hammond organ sounds retro and dramatic. The song’s chorus is catchy and a bit apocalyptic and reminds me of Pain Of Salvation’s Road Salt albums. A first climax is reached with Roine’s guitar solo, before Tom’s organ introduces a wild saxophone solo reminiscent of King Crimson’s „Starless“ and David Jackson’s saxophone escapades on the early Van Der Graaf Generator albums. It was provided by Rob Townsend from Steve Hackett’s band and fits so well into the music that I actually wish we had gotten to hear more of him on the album. „Ashes Of Dawn“ is the perfect opener that already shows a lot of the band’s potential, but doesn’t give it all away
The next two songs tone it down a little bit. „They Know My Name“ has one of those hooklines you won’t get out of your head for days. It builds up delicately with a simple, yet beautiful piano pattern, a fragile Daniel and a very mellow atmosphere. Marco adds an unconventional touch to the later verses by a shuffled, slightly busy groove. The chorus appears very often in this song, but each time it’s played, it’s concluded differently. Roine plays one of his very finest solos toward the end and Toms keyboard sounds are very versatile and tasty. „They Know My Name“ is one of the more unobtrusive songs on the album. Either its characteristic melodies appeal to you or they don’t. They definitely do to me.
„The Void“ lacks those appealing hooks, but it has that unmistakable melancholic, unsettling atmosphere that I only know from the mellow songs on Pain Of Salvation’s Road Salt albums. In fact, the vocal melody reminds me a bit of „1979“. Daniel’s performance is simply outstanding, reaching from fragile to mighty and ominous, sometimes within seconds. The song is constantly building up energy during verses and pre-choruses, but never unloads it in a hymnic or huge chorus. Instead, the only time the tune breaks out is yet another great guitar solo by Roine Stolt, before it returns to the fragile calmness of the beginning. The lack of the mentioned chorus gives the song the impression of a sketch, a short episode or the expression of a feeling.
„An Eye For An Eye For An Eye“ and „Goodbye“ are two perfect Retro-Progressive rockers, with the former as one of my personal favorites of the album. This impulsive, straight forward song starts off with a hectic tom-tom roll and a melody that - I could have sworn - has Stolt written all over it (remember the faster middle section from The Flower Kings’ „Love Is The Only Answer“?). But it was in fact written by Marco Minnemann, and he gets the chance to show what exactly he’s capable of by pushing the rhythm forward with his insane breaks and ride cymbal attacks. While having a slight Alternative rock vibe to it, the song completely changes its direction after a few minutes into a piano-driven uptempo swing section that is not only incorporated as a gimmick, but as an integral part that lasts for over two minutes. That’s exactly the amount of jazz I sometimes miss in prog music. Marco proves that he wouldn’t be out of place in a jazz trio (which is absolutely not a usual thing for a drummer of rock origin), and interlinks perfectly with Jonas’ walking bass. Tom’s open position chords and fast inside and outside lines remind me of the late Esbjörn Svensson and make me wonder what this guy is NOT capable of.
„Goodbye“ is introduced by long, spheric keyboard and guitar notes that imply the following of a soft ballad. But that expectation is soon smashed by a Chris Squire-like 7/8 bass line and a kinky main theme that sounds a bit like a darker version of „Monkey Business“ by The Flower Kings. For a second I was perplexed by the vocals, until I remembered that The Sea Within actually announced a second lead singer: Casey McPherson. While Daniel could have pulled this song off just as well (duh), Casey’s voice fits into „Goodbye“ perfectly. The song takes its time to build up after the main riff, only to fool the listener once again and NOT end up in a huge chorus. Instead, the following optimistic chorus creates a strong contrast to the darker verses and pre-choruses of the song. „Goodbye“ also benefits a lot from the musician’s instrumental performances, especially Tom’s romantic piano, organ and mellotron, as well as Marco’s hammering double bass drum and Jonas’ pumping bass. The song is somewhat cut off in the middle of a newly introduced bridge and ends with something sounding like an off switch. A very cool idea that rounds this song up in a weird way.
„The Sea Without“ is a short instrumental piece in which Jonas Reingold can finally shine at one of his signature fretless bass solos. It’s based on somewhat of a 7/8 variation of the famous march-like „Bolero“ rhythm by Maurice Ravel, which has already been given attention by several other bands of the prog genre, like Emerson, Lake & Palmer and King Crimson. Yet it sounds completely sounds like The Flower Kings (because, as indicated earlier, you can’t misinterpret a Jonas Reingold fretless line), if still with a slightly darker, more apocalyptic touch. Although the rhythms and harmonies of „The Sea Without“ are not reprised in the following „Broken Cord“, it functions well as an introduction for this 14-minute centerpiece of the album. It begins with a quite conventional verse-chorus section that, while clearly inspired by later Beatles efforts, can’t hide having had Roine Stolt’s hands in its harmony progression. The mixolydic-b13 based vocal melody with its simple, uplifting character is one of my favorite of the whole album, and so is Daniel’s job presenting it. Bass, piano and drums do a good job supporting the melody by adding accessory kicks and thrown in lines. The song shortly breaks down into a mellow section consisting almost completely of Daniels lone voice and revealing what later turns out to be the actual leitmotif of „Broken Cord“. Apart from this short interlude, the song keeps its poppy vibe for almost five minutes, before evolving into a crooked, triplet-based shuffle rhythm. A second breakdown completely changes the song’s mood into unsettling and mystical, and reprises the initial vocal line and the leitmotif, closing the first circle of the song and opening up another. Casey takes over the lead vocals here, and we can hear dozens of harmonizing Jon Andersons; a contribution that, while „only“ serving background purposes, is crucial for the vast, mystical character of the section. The band kicks in again, but doesn’t lead into a whacky instrumental section, that would have ruined the wonderful atmosphere. Another Yes-reference („Awaken“) is created by rich major chords ascending in fourths, before a newly introduced triumphing vocal theme preludes the finale of the song. During the slowly evolving closing section, Daniel’s vocals return, before the same ascending chords as before lead into a fading coda consisting of innuendos of the leitmotif and richly layered Jon Anderson vocal-chords. Truly beautiful.
„Broken Chord“ is not the usual „epic“ you’ll find plenty of in the prog genre. There is not one huge theme in the beginning that is reprised in a huge finale in the end. Themes are mostly presented by the two singers in a very discrete way or even just hinted, only to be continued and finished minutes later. I was a little disappointed in „Broken Chord“ at first listen, but once I recognized and re-recognized all the motives and themes in this piece, it grew to become my favorite song of the album.
„The Hiding Of The Truth“ evolves directly from the spheric coda of „Broken Cord“. Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess is featured on piano here and it’s clearly audible. His characteristic voicings and fast arpeggios are all over the place and contribute to this bright and flowing song. It’s the only track on the album that follows a completely uplifting vibe. While it’s probably my least favorite one on the album, it does a very good job closing the first disc on an optimistic note.
But of course, the story doesn’t end here. Not unlike Spock’s Beard’s latest release, The Sea Within comes with a 26 minute long second disc. No statement on the purpose of this splitting has been made by the band or the label. The songs on the extra disc are just as good as the ones on the main album. In fact, it holds some of my favorite tracks of this release. „The Roaring Silence“ is a dark, straight prog-rocker, evolving from keyboard and wordless vocal layers. An 80s like, percussive keyboard pattern introduces the song’s rhythm and could have lead into a groovy artpop-song. The arrangement is very rich and versatile and dominated by Tom Brislin’s synths, organ and piano, as well as Daniel’s vocals. It’s probably also the song where the most background vocals by the other band members can be heard. This tune is very cleverly composed. Many different sections are introduced, but always lead back to the verse. While the actual chorus is introduced early, the song continuously works towards a catchy, hymnic closing section that has never been introduced before, but works perfectly as a finale.
A fragile piano pattern and what I believe to be Tom Brislin’s voice introduce „Where Are You Going?“. His fragile, almost wailing vocals makes the beginning sound a little eery. The Gildenlöw/ Brislin composition seems to be inspired by both The Beatles and Muse and is equipped with a melancholic, nostalgic, yet strange atmosphere. Tom’s keyboard arsenal is versatile and once again very tasteful, reaching from synth sounds, mellotron and Tony Banks-like piano to a George Harrison inspired cembalo solo. What I said a about „They Know My Name“ also applyies to this song: It lives off catchy hooklines that either appeal to you or not. And once again, they do to me.
„Time“ is a very dark song about the transient nature of life. While of course not being a cover, its thematic approach is similar to the 1973 Pink Floyd song of the same name. „Months turn to years, years turn to lives“, „This was my life - as if it really mattered“ - lyrics about one’s impact on the world that make you think. The music to these lyrics yet again sound like a mixture between the Road Salt albums and a darker version of The Flower Kings. While the chorus line has the potential to be presented in a big, vast gesture, a reggae-like bass line keeps the rhythm a little funky and unconventional.
The last song, „Denise“, is a hauntingly beautiful song that probably no one could have performed better than Daniel. He sings about a man saying farewell to his loved one, because he is leaving for a place he can’t come back from, probably a prison. A slow, march-like rhythm indicates regret, nostalgia, the sad, dramatic ending of something loved, just like in Pink Floyd’s „High Hopes“ and Pain Of Salvation’s „Sisters“. A soaring guitar represents sorrow, a continuously ascending bass line a glimpse of hope or a last look back. „Denise“ gives this great album the epic ending it deserves.
The Sea Within’s debut album is one of progressive rock’s finest efforts of the year. These musicians have come together to fuse their compositional and instrumental talents and create an album that I am not really able to compare to anything else. Of course, occasional influences can be heard, and some passages can’t hide their composer’s main formation, but everything is incorporated very well to form something new. It’s amazing to (finally) hear Marco Minnemann in a retro-progressive rock band where he can bring in his ideas or to know how Roine Stolt’s harmony sequences function in a darker context. I am also overwhelmed by Tom Brislin. I loved his work with Yes, but I did not expect this guy to completely comply with my idea of what a keyboard player should do and how keyboards should sound like. The guest musicians were not only invited to perform for their names, but add the last cherry on top of this album. Casey McPherson will take over the role of the lead singer on the band’s upcoming tour, since Daniel will be touring with Pain Of Salvation. While it might seem a little weird that a band goes on their first tour without their lead singer, I think that Casey will do a very good job performing those tracks live.
In the end, there’s only one thing left to hope: That this „amalgamation of talents“ doesn’t remain a one time thing.
Favorites: Broken Chord, Denise, An Eye For An Eye For An Eye
The Sea Within – The Sea Within (77:21)
1 Ashes of Dawn 00:06:00
2 They Know my Name 00:05:10
3 The Void 00:04:55
4 An Eye For An Eye For an Eye 00:07:00
5 Goodbye 00:05:30
6 Sea Without 00:02:27
7 Broken Cord 00:14:20
8 The Hiding of Truth 00:05:30
1 The Roaring Silence 00:08:00
2 Where are you Going? 00:05:50
3 Time 00:07:12
4 Denise 00:05:10
Marco Minneman: Drums, Percussion, Vocal, Guitar
Jonas Reingold: Bass
Tom Brislin: Keyboards, Vocals
Roine Stolt: Guitars, Vocals, Add. keyboards
Daniel Gildenlow: Vocals & additional guitar
Casey McPherson: Vocals (Broken Cord, The Hiding of Truth, Goodbye)
Jon Anderson: Vocals (Broken Cord)
Jordan Rudess: Grand Piano (The Hiding of Truth)
Rob Townsend: Soprano Saxophone (The Ashes of Dawn)
Introducing The Sea Within:
The Sea Within is a new art-rock group/community. Pictured here ; from left : Marco Minnemann (The Aristocrats, Steven Wilson, UK, Joe Satriani) - Jonas Reingold (The Flower Kings, Karmakanic, The Tangent), - Tom Brislin (Yes Symphonic, Renaissance, Camel, Spiraling, Meat Loaf) - Roine Stolt (Anderson & Stolt, Transatlantic, The Flower Kings) - Daniel Gildenlöw (Pain of Salvation)- With a few familiar high profile faces/guests/collaborators onboard - Casey McPherson, Jordan Rudess, Jon Anderson, Rob Townsend - they will release the powerful debut album on June 22nd - 2018 on InsideOutMusic/Century Media/Sony. Prepare to get excited.
The just released the first single Ashes of Dawn and you can listen to it here:
Interview with Orphaned Land’s Chen Balbus and Concert Review of Týr, Orphaned Land, Aeternum and Ghost Ship Octavius – Toronto, May 09th 2018
It’s no secret to our readers that we’re avid fans of Orphaned Land here at Lotsfmuzik. We interviewed their singer Kobi Farhi just before their new album “Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs” was released, and still think this is a strong candidate for album of the year. Therefore, when we heard they were coming to Toronto, home of one of our main collaborators Rodrigo Altaf, we just had to make sure we witnessed their live show. Even better, they came to town in support of Scandinavian metallers Týr, who brought the house down on a warm Wednesday night at the heart of the city.
Rodrigo was able to secure a face to face interview with their guitar player Chen Balbus – the interview and concert review are shown below.
Part I – Interview with Chen Balbus
I arrived at the Velvet Underground around 5pm for my interview with Orphaned Land just before they finished their soundcheck, and was able to listen to the fine tuning of the mix while they played a couple of songs. Until then there was no definition of who I’d be interviewing, but catching up with their guitar player was a great way to get more insight into the current state of things in the realms of Orphaned Land. Here’s the transcript of the interview:
Lotsofmuzik: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Is the reception to the new album “Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs” exactly as you expected?
Chen Balbus: It’s even more than we expected, actually! We worked five years on the album, it took us a lot longer than we thought it would, but we really took the time to make the best of it. We knew our fans would love it, but it would be hard to get used to the new members of the band – you can call it the “new generation of Orphaned Land” – but apparently the album exceeded its predecessors.
LOM: We’re already seeing comments here and there about it being the album of the year.
CB: I guess you could say we’re on a roll so far! (laughs)
LOM: You’re touring together with Týr, and it’s a somewhat odd pairing. How did that tour come to happen, and to what extent does a band have a say in picking tours, opening acts etc?
CB: In most cases, we try to pick bands which are somehow related to our kind of music. When it comes to opening acts, we receive hundreds of requests and tapes, but it’s important for us to choose bands that have an affinity with us but which are also different from what we do.
LOM: Very often people ask “hey, why don’t you play in my country”, not realizing how little influence you have on that, right?
CB: We almost have NO choice on that! We get offers from many countries, and sometimes the offers are simply ridiculous. We have to make sure that promoters accept our terms and conditions, our requests in terms of equipment, sound and accommodation. It takes a lot of effort and time to book a proper tour, and sometimes the fans and promoters tend to forget that or maybe they’re even not aware of that.
LOM: Is touring exhausting for you in particular, or is it something you look forward to?
CB: I’m 25 years old, so I’m still very enthusiastic about being on the road, but it does get tiring. We’re carrying equipment here and there, we’re in different conditions and different places everyday, so it’s almost like being in the army! (laughs). Everyday you’re expecting a new surprise – sometimes a good one, sometimes a bad one. I honestly love it, life isn’t always perfect.
LOM: What are the best and worst parts of being on the road?
CB: I would say the worst part, or the most unpredictable part is the food! You get to some places where you don’t get a good choice of food…sometimes you get to places where they don’t even give you water, we have to pay for it! The best part of course is being on stage.
LOM: What can you tell us about the setlist on this tour?
CB: Since we’re special guests with Týr, we’re doing an abbreviated set, focused mainly on the new album but with some of our “greatest hits” so to speak.
LOM: I don’t think you’re playing songs from the first two albums though, right?
CB: We play an extract of “Ornaments of Gold” from “Sahara” at the end of the show, but no songs from our second album “El Norra Alila” this time.
LOM: What’s the typical day to day routine while on tour?
CB: If there are no interviews, it’s a very basic kind of day. We arrive at the venue at around noon and have lunch, do the soundcheck and then you’re free until showtime.
LOM: Are there any particular bands you’d like to tour with that you haven’t yet?
CB: We want to have a tour with Ghost, which we love. Personally, I got into them not too long ago, probably around their second album. At first, because of the imagery, I thought they were a death metal band, but when I heard them, it blew my mind! They certainly don’t play what they look like (laughs). I love their show and their music, and I think this would make a great double bill – with our concept and their Satanism, it would be a fun show for the fans to see.
LOM: Orphaned Land’s big break was when the movie Global Metal (directed by Sam Dunn) was released – actually I don’t think you were in the band when it came out, but do you still get recognized by people who see the movie?
CB: Technically I’m in that movie, but as a fan! If you look very carefully, I’m in the crowd. There are still many people who come and talk to us and mention that movie, so thank you, Sam Dunn!
LOM: You’ve all been very vocal about how angry the new album is – was there an intention to convey that anger in the live setting as well – the lights, stage clothes, the live arrangements of the songs etc...
CB: Yeah, particularly in the way we dress these days. We were very plain in our previous tours when it comes to how we dressed, but now it’s a bit more aggressive, more “bad boys” (laughs). We want to provoke and we want people to open their eyes, so we try to show something that’s much stronger, not only musically but also visually for sure.
LOM: On the song “We Do Not Resist” off the new album, you talk about how brainwashed by media and stupid shows we are. How does it feel to be in North America, basically the TEMPLE of crappy TV, reality shows, junk food and junk entertainment?
CB: Personally for me, if you disregard that aspect of the entertainment, I love America! I always wanted to live in Los Angeles or New York…I understand that it’s a different lifestyle than what I’m used to, but as long as we have some fans here, it’s worth playing here, for sure.
LOM: Like Orpheus obviously has a different arrangement live because you don’t have Hansi Kusch with you tod o the vocals on tour – how did you guys solve that?
CB: We just told Kobi “you MUST sing that!” (laughs). He can’t avoid it, because there’s no chance of us bringing Hansi with us on tour to sing just one song. So he really pushed his limits and he’s trying to do his best version of Hansi.
LOM: What’s the song off the new album you like playing live the most?
CB: I love playing The Cave – it’s the opener of the album, and it opens the show as well. It’s my favourite of the new album too, because it has everything – it more or less summarizes all we wanted to say in the album in just one song.
LOM: Do you feel 100% comfortable interacting and singing in English on stage, or do you think you would convey your message in a different way if you spoke in your original language?
CB: I don’t really talk on stage, but in Israel most of us are fluent in English – I don’t think Kobi has an issue to convey our message anyway.
LOM: In 2012 there was an online petition for Orphaned Land to be awarded a Nobel Prize. Has there been any situation where your presence was not so well received, and generated protests or anger?
CB: I wouldn’t say there was a time or place where people were against our message, but there’s been times when they just didn’t get the hang of it. They’re in a different kind of dimension or headspace…not that they don’t understand it, they just don’t see it. Sometimes it seems they are brainwashed to hate and that’s all they know.
LOM: Orphaned Land is known for addressing some humanitary and political themes, and that is addressed of course in a very serious way. But do you think there’s room for lighter topics in your music? Maybe a ballad sometime?
CB: I wish there was…there are of course many happier topics to talk about, and we sometimes try to show that in our music here and there, but it’s kind of difficult to show a lighter side when our reality is what it is.
LOM: What else is planned for Orphaned Land on the second half of 2018 and onwards?
CB: We have a few European shows, one show in Puerto Rico, and we need to debut our live show in Israel – our last show there was delayed due to rain. It’s a busy year for sure.
LOM: Thanks again for your time Chen, and enjoy your break until showtime!
CB: Thanks, and I hope to see all of you on the road this year!
Part II – Concert review – Ghost Ship Octavius, Aeternam, Orphaned Land and Týr
While the crowd was still finding their way inside the venue and hitting the merch stands, Ghost Ship Octavius hit the stage. They had some technical issues, but presented a heavy and energetic set comprised of five songs that showcased their proggy roots with significant distortion and influences of doom and gothic metal. The best songs in their set were “Saturn and Skies” and “Alive”, and for relatively newcomers in the scene, it was reaffirming to see some fans in the crowd who knew the lyrics to many of their songs.
Coming from Quebec City and with three albums under their belts, Aeternam came next and certaintly raised the bar, from a sonic and energy level. I had no idea what to expect, and must say I was absolutely floored with the dedication those guys put in their performance. Vocalist and frontman Achraf Loudiy summoned the crowd, and it suddenly felt like I was witnessing an early Opeth show. Their unabashed death metal roots were clear on songs like “Esoteric Formulae” and “Hubal, Profaner of Light”. As they left the stage, audience members were looking at each other saying “what the fuck just happened?” – that’s all you can ask when you’re still not that well established. A few more years on the road and this band can surely aim higher.
Orphaned Land hit the stage, and singer Kobi Farhi intantly won applause by screaming “Shalom, Toronto!”. Their set started with “The Cave” from the new album, and followed with the title track of “All Is One”. Up next were the frantic “The Kiss of Babylon” and “Ocean Land”, both from “Mabool”. Kobi summons the crowd and commands clapping and screaming, in true messianic form. Before “We Do Not Resist” he explains that Orphaned Land is not just about “peace and holding hands”, and it’s palpable how the band’s message resonates with the fans. Their sound mix was clearly (and deservingly) a step ahead from the bands that came before, and Uri Zelcha’s tasteful bass notes were clearly heard, along with Matan Shmuely’s solid drumming.
The most challenging song on their show was “Like Orpheus”, where Kobi plays to his strengths and wisely does not try to emulate Hansi Kürsch’s performance, but delivered his own interpretation. Chen Balbus and Idan Amsalem provided razor-sharp guitar work throughout their set, and the newer songs truly gained a new dimension live. Screams of “album of the year!” from the crowd were heard more than once, and clearly they’re ready for bigger stages.
With a set that balanced old and new but tilted slightly towards the most recent album, they triumphantly closed the proceedings with “In Thy Never Ending Way” and the heavy and poignant “Norra el Norra”. Going against the norm seems to be finally paying off for these Israelis, and they managed to reach the mainstream in a way that doesn’t deny their roots or ideals.
I must admit that I wasn’t sure that pairing a Middle Eastern metal band with a Scandinavian one was such a good idea, but as soon as Týr hit the stage, I was sold. Their blend of power metal with viking mythology worked incredibly well in a live setting, and such a diverse musical pairing proved bigget than the sum of their parts. Kicking off with the new song The Gates of Hell was a rather bold move, and the Faroese band made it clear from the onset they’d hold no punches on the show.
After playing in Toronto recently as a supporting act, Týr made a triumphant return, and in the words of muscular singer Heri Joensen, “now we can play more than just 25 minutes for you”. And play they did, with the crowd of poutine enthusiasts being transformed into Scandinavian warriors, if only for one night.
By the time the one-two punch of “Mare of my Night”/”Grindavísan” was played, all one could see in the house was a sea of avid headbanging fans. The haunting and Celtic-tinged “Flames of the Free” was another fan favourite, as well as the quasi-thrash “Lady Of The Slain”, with a galloping pace and epic chorus.
Celebrating 20 years of career, Týr are clearly proud of their roots, as evidenced in song titles such as “Regin Smiður” and “Gandkvaedi Trondar. The latter has a long narration in Faroese and culminates in an intense and heavy instrumental march. At some point during their set I was expecting a horde of savages to invade the stage, but instead the audience was greeted with grinning smiles from mainman Heri Joensen and bassist Gunnar H. Thomsen. And with the Viking theme permeating their lyrics, it doesn’t come as a surprise that a couple of mentions of a hammer are made – both “Hail to the Hammer” and “Hold The Heathen Hammer High” had great live renditions, gathering a great response from the crowd.
Between shouts of skohl and singing as if he never stopped grinning his teeth, Heri commanded the show from beginning to end, but the contribution of Terji Skibenæs on guitar was just as pivotal to their set. Check out live versions of songs like “By The Light Of The Northern Star” and “Wings of Time” on YouTube and you’ll soon realize why my ears kept ringing even days after the concert. Týr’s encore consisted of “Shadow Of The Swastika” and “Ramund Hin Unge”, and it was time to bid those warriors farewell. Exhausted and with ears ringing, the fans made their way out of the venue with plenty of souvenirs from the intense night – most bands were kind enough to pose for photos at their merch stands, and weren’t shy to throw picks and drum sticks from the stage. Judging by their performances tonight, all four acts deserve better luck and bigger stages to play next time.
We Came From Space is a small collective of super hero types. We Came From Space is flesh and blood guys that do what they can to bring a little light, heat, and volume to a sometimes dark, chilly, and silent world.
Now, we here at WCFS are aware that the concept of a ‘regular’ super hero is novel and does not fit into most people’s conveniently standard way of thinking. Relax; there is no wearing of capes or leaping of tall buildings with us (but one of those underground lairs would really kick ass). We will leave that to the ‘Super’ super heroes (maybe that’s you!) that wear capes and leap tall buildings (and have totally cool underground lairs).
We Came From Space uses loud rock and roll to generate righteous vibes and good time grooves! We are free thinkers in life and stand shoulder to shoulder in the certainty that MUSIC STILL MATTERS. It’s true! Someone’s just written it.
We Came From Space doesn’t fly the flag of any particular musical genre (although the set list is REALLY light on country-opera) and are proud of the poppy, proggy, punky, rocky, songs we’ve written. Life has taught us that limitations are nothing if not ummm…. limiting. So, to that end, WCFS defies easy musical classification. If it rocks, it’s right. Nobody puts We Came From Space in a corner!! Each member contributes to the writing, arranging, and overall rocket sauce that keeps the heat on here at WCFS.
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