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.
Available for digital download from these fine online retailers who pay us money for our hard work
For more info, lyrics etc go to:
Alive to breathe another day
It seems that, no matter what happens, there’s no stopping the Beard. This band has developed into what appears to be a force in the music business with no intention of resting or pausing whatsoever. The departure of their frontman, singer and main-Beard Neal Morse in 2002 left the band without the creative input that dominated the first six albums of the band. Morse’s distinctive style almost single-handedly revitalized the attention for a musical style first developed in the late 1960s by pioneers like King Crimson, Genesis and Yes and launched a new sub-genre of Progressive Rock in the 90s: a movement now known as Retro-Prog. Many artists followed this example and the Beard continued to release highly acclaimed albums. When Morse announced his departure from the band after the opulent double album Snow, fans feared that it would be the end of Spock’s Beard.
But as indicated earlier: there’s no stopping this band - and that was the first proof of that. Drummer Nick D’Virgilio pulled a classic „Phil Collins“ and took the big step to the microphone. What followed was not a series of single hits and sold out concerts at Wembley, but a series of moderately received, but experimental and - in my personal opinion - underrated albums. It wasn’t until their fourth album as a quartet, X, that they seemed to finally have found their niche; a proggy, yet hard-rocking fusion of old influences and recently (re-)acquired tendency for experiments.
It was just then that Spock’s Beard got hit by the next stroke of fate: Nick D’Virgilio pulled the next „Phil Collins“ and not only left the band without a fantastic drummer, but also without a very charismatic frontman that fans had learned to accept and love as such. But help was on the way. Ted Leonard, singer and guitarist for fellow Retro-Prog band Enchant, and Jimmy Keegan, the band’s fabulous tour drummer for the last eight years, came to the rescue and Spock’s Beard seamlessly followed their style with Brief Nocturnes & Dreamless Sleep and The Oblivion Particle. As if destiny intended it that way, Jimmy Keegan’s departure last year left the band no breather - and yet again incomplete. Well, every other band would have taken a time-out, or produced a 3- part soap opera in search for a new drummer, but who is a better replacement than the guy who was originally replaced? So, Spock’s Beard’s new album marks their reunion with the dearly missed Nick D’Virgilio, who kindly returned as a guest member for this album. Which brings us to Noise Floor.
Ted Leonard revealed that after Brief Nocturnes’ release, each of the members got very busy with their own lives and projects, which resulted in The Oblivion Particle being composed to a large extend by long-time collaborators Stan Ausmus and especially John Boegehold. The new album was supposed be largely written and composed by the band members again, if still in cooperation with Boegehold and Ausmus. After all, every member had proven with X that they are well capable of creating unique music on their own. Especially bass player Dave Meros had shown on that very album that his last name may not be an anagram to „Morse“ by accident.
Ted Leonard revealed that after Brief Nocturnes’ release, each of the members got very busy with their own lives and projects, which resulted in The Oblivion Particle being composed to a large extend by long-time collaborators Stan Ausmus and especially John Boegehold. The new album was supposed be largely written and composed by the band members again, if still in cooperation with Boegehold and Ausmus. After all, every member had proven with X that they are well capable of creating unique music on their own. Especially bass player Dave Meros had shown on that very album that his last name may not be an anagram to „Morse“ by accident.
Despite of that, the first song on Noise Floor is indeed a song written by Boegehold, but arranged as a classic Spock’s Beard uptempo rocker with contributions in the arrangement from all of the members. „To Breathe Another Day“ opens up the album optimistically, rocking and straight forward. Still, there are some rhythmical difficulties that the band now have learned to build into songs in a discreet way, as if it was totally normal to play most of a rock song in 7/4. The approach of connecting progressive influences with a very down-to-earth hard rock sound and multilayered vocals draws a line to the early Kansas albums, as well as the Drama-lineup of Yes. In fact, there’s probably only one bass player who can reproduce that insane bass sound found on Drama apart from Chris Squire himself, and it’s Dave Meros. „To Breathe Another Day“ follows a conventional structure, but reveals a lot of attention to detail after a few listens, such as the short instrumental freak out or Ryo’s mellotron-melody in the second chorus. Talking of Ryo, this song is not the only one he shines on. He really brought his a-game for this record. But then again, this can be said about all the band members. Even Nick D’Virgilio, who is „only“ a guest on Noise Floor, amazes me with the craziest breaks and the most tasteful grooves. He doesn’t get to shine on the opener that much, but don’t worry, he will. What am I saying? It’s Nick D’Virgilio!
Nick’s presence becomes evident in the second song already. „What Becomes Of Me“ starts off with a poignant melody from Alan Morse’s guitar that indicates the following of a huge, melancholic ballad - which is exactly what this song is not. The intro is the first showcase of Dave Meros’s unique bass lines. The combination of vast mellotron layers and catchy Rickenbacker riffs brings back memories from a similar part in „Heart Of The Sunrise“. It’s another Yes influence that is incorporated in such a subtile fashion that it still sounds a hundred percent like Spock’s Beard. The intro to „What Becomes Of Me“ could easily have fit into a packing blockbuster if instrumented differently, and it builds up a lot of expectations to where this might be going. Shortly after, the song seems to change its mind and the mood becomes more light hearted. The tune turns into an optimistic groover with perfectly integrated string arrangements, which is not exactly what it was built up to be by the intro. But the darker touch and the haunting mellotron harmonies come back later in a bridge where Alan Morse plays one of his unique guitar solos. This song is the first of many highlights on Noise Floor.
„Somebody’s Home“ is a strong 6/8 AOR-powerballad with a very memorable hooklines and imaginative instrumental arrangements. Its main theme is first presented by somewhat of a mixture of camp fire guitars and a baroque sounding oboe, before the whole band kicks in on a huge offbeat that hits the listener like a slap in the face. The verses are dominated by beautiful acoustic guitar licks, a commenting cello and mellotron flutes. The instrumental interlude convinces with multiple cleverly interplaying electric and acoustic instruments and yet another haunting solo by guitar master Alan Morse. „Somebody’s Home“ seemed kind of mediocre to me at first, but it gets better with each listen and suddenly you’ll find yourself not being able to get its main theme and chorus out of your head.
While the next song „Have We All Gone Crazy Yet“ is the longest song on the album, it still clocks in at „only“ a little over eight minutes. But Spock’s Beard seem to have realized that their real strengths lie within songs between six and nine minutes. Great achievements like „On A Perfect Day“ (self-titled album), „Ghosts Of Autumn“ (Feel Euphoria) and „A Better Way To Fly“ (The Oblivion Particle) have proven this. And this may be a simple coincidence, but Noise Floor’s longest song is actually one of my least favorite - which doesn’t mean too much. With its 5/4 rhythm, upbeat mood and grande finale, „Have We All Gone Crazy Yet“ could almost have been written by Neal Morse. And this is - as we all know - never a bad thing to say. The way in which the themes are variated and reprised, sent through different moods and harmonic contexts, brings up a lot of memories from the old Spock’s Beard days. But the jazzy, shuffling middle part explores new harmonic territories and sways between super cool keyboard melodies and hard rocking guitar riffs. Nick’s playing is also truly unique in this part. The only thing I can’t really connect with is the soft snare sound he is using during this song. It fits perfectly into its jazzy middle section, as well as mellow ballads, as become evident in „Shining Star“ (Feel Euphoria) and the following „So This Is Life“. But for the rich, bombastic parts I would have preferred his usual crisp snare. Still, this is just a minor flaw. „Have We All Gone Crazy Yet“ is a great song and saying that it is one of my least favorite songs on the album only means that the other ones are even better
The above mentioned „So This Is Life“ is a melancholic ballad hovering somewhere between The Beatles and Pink Floyd and a true gem hidden between two prog monsters. Spock’s Beard have shown that they are able to write even better ballads without Neal Morse than with him and this song underlines that statement. „So This Is Life“ is just a few philosophical thoughts about life and people around you, connected with music so inconspicuous and fragile that I fear it’s going to be overseen among fans. However, it’s a hauntingly beautiful little song with a majestic, yet moderate string crescendo near the end, multilayered vocal interplay and soaring guitar solos that could have been played by Gilmour, Hackett or Rothery. By the way, I think it’s about time I mentioned Alan’s overall fantastic guitar work on the whole album. Especially his lead sounds and solos have improved and gotten more present over the last albums and he has never been better than on Noise Floor.
As if Ryo was tapping on my shoulder just as I’m praising Alan’s work, the first real keyboard showcase comes with the next song. The sounds dominating here are just fantastic and way too many to count. A song that wouldn’t be out of place on Kansas’ Leftoverture, „One So Wise“ is so packed with ideas and moods, that it would be hard to keep track of all that’s happening, if it wasn’t for the main theme being reprised in all sorts of ways the whole time. It is so expertly composed that it overplays the fact that it doesn’t even have a real chorus. Somewhere in the middle, the song breaks down and arises anew with some very cool 80s keyboard sounds that indicate that something awesome is about to go down here. And what follows are some raging keyboard and guitar solos that leave the listener not one single second to catch a breath. While Ryo Okumoto is all over the place here, the other band members deliver stunning performances as well. Nick D’Virgilio and Dave Meros are as perfect as a rhythm section can get, Alan Morse fires up some wild guitar solos and Ted Leonard… man, Ted Leonard’s long, dramatic vocal acrobatics send shivers down my spine every time I listen to them.
And as if this wasn’t enough, Spock’s Beard send the wacky „Box Of Spiders“ along our way, an instrumental piece that at times really gives us the picture of a man in a box filled with spiders trying to get out. Indefinable time signatures, tricky unisono lines played by the whole band, disastrous mellotron harmonies and a furious rhythm section dominate this song. Ryo once again goes the whole nine yards and brings every keyboard sound to the table that he could find. Nick can finally show what he’s capable of and shows why he has been missed the last years. Jimmy Keegan is a fantastic drummer, but no one grooves like Nick D’Virgilio. I already feel bad for the drummer who has to learn this tour de force for the (hopefully) upcoming concerts. Maybe it’s my own weirdness, but in a strange way, „Box Of Spiders“ would have been an awesome opener for Noise Floor as well. But what could be a follow up to a song like this?
Well, the one actually following it. The abrupt ending of „Box Of Spiders“ makes it almost seem like an introduction to „Beginnings“, and the first vast chord feels like a redemption after this instrumental freak out. The first time-out of the last ten minutes. It takes some imagination to close an album with a song called „Beginnings“. But really, its bombastic, melancholic character and the lyrics drawing somewhat of a circle from beginnings to ends make it the perfect closer for this album. After „Have We All Gone Crazy Yet“, „Beginnings“ is the second song on here that comes close to what can be called an epic. And it does everything right. The majestic arpeggios and melodically-orientated instrumental sections remind of what Tony Banks was composing for Genesis around the Wind & Wuthering days. Alan, Ted and Nick provide some back and forth vocals and it’s good to hear Nick’s voice on a Spock’s Beard album again. As it should be, the tune is brought to an end by a big gesture during the finale. Truly majestic.
This marks the ending of the regular album, but Spock’s Beard threw in a little goodie for their fans: a four song EP named Cutting Room Floor, which consists of songs that didn’t make it on the album. I can see why those particular songs were chosen for the EP instead of the album. It’s definitely not because of a drop in quality, but rather a change in style. At least the first two songs have a slightly more pop-oriented singer-songwriter vibe. „Days We’ll Remember“ is yet another 6/8 power ballad in the vein of „Somebody’s Home“, but it stays in the pop/rock territory. It has a very sunny, uplifting chorus that I’ve found myself humming a couple of times already. That’s a big quality of the Beard. Not only are they capable of performing crazy instrumental sections, but they also have a sense for catchy, yet not silly melodies. „Bulletproof“ follows the Beatles-influenced style of „So This Is Life“, but is way more extroverted and opulently arranged. I love Ryo’s piano playing in this one, as well as the string ensemble, which is are yet again perfectly integrated into the arrangement. There’s a lot of great ideas concisely packed into less than five minutes here, but it doesn’t feel overloaded one bit. A great song for the spring season.
„Vault“ could easily have been on the main album. As hinted by Ted Leonard in an interview, it was initially supposed to be longer, but in the end remained unfinished somehow. The song leaves the pop/rock territory introduced by the former two and returns to the classic progressive rock sound of the main album. Another irresistible chorus can be found here, along with beautiful acoustic guitars and vocal arrangements. While I wonder what would have become of „Vault“ if it had been developed into an eight minute prog monster, it doesn’t give me the impression of an unfinished song and functions perfectly fine as a four and a half minute tune. „Armageddon Nervous“ is one last little wink by Ryo in the shape of another wacky instrumental tune that reminds me a bit of „Skeletons At The Feast“ (self-titled album). Songs like these are perfect vehicles for Dave Meros’ and Nick D’Virgilio’s grooving abilities. You can’t help but nod your head to the 13/16 and 7/8 time signature changes and it’s all thanks to this hell of a rhythm section. And of course, Ryo fires up all kinds of sounds again. I can see this song very well on the stage, as an opportunity for extended improvisations. It’s a very good one, but I can see why it lost its place on the regular album to „Box Of Spiders“.
But fans don’t really have to worry about that, because no matter which version you buy of this album, the EP is included in every one of them. Which is good, because you don’t want to miss those four songs.
In my opinion, Spock’s Beard have release their best album since X, maybe even since Snow. But this is yet to be proven by the test of time. Every member shines on their respective instrument and gets the chance to have an influence on the result. This makes Spock’s Beard come across as more of a unit than in the Neal Morse days and it fits the band well. Even if people had their doubts if the Beard would ever grow back out again after the departure of the mighty Neal Morse - I think by now it’s safe to say that they can finally relax. Because the Beard is definitely back.
Favorites: "So This Is Life“, "What Becomes Of Me“, "One So Wise“
REVIEWER: Friedrich Stenzel
Three years after “IV”, Madrid instrumentalists Toundra are back with a new and exciting effort. Breaking the trend of naming the albums with numbers, “Vortex” is set for release on April 27th via Inside Out Music
In their own words, Toundra´s sound blends powerful riffs, beautiful deep melodies and intricate atmospheres, all wrapped up in elongated electric songs. They are currently one of the most sought after instrumental bands in Europe, with their previous album “IV” reaching number 2 in the Spanish general charts. An extensive tour followed, reaching more than 150 shows in 18 countries, including the US. ‘IV’ was eventually chosen as 'Album Of 2015' in Spain's influential Mondosonoro magazine.
Lotsofmuzik´s Rodrigo Altaf interviewed Toundra´s bass and synth player Alberto Tocados, and the chat can be read below:
Lotsofmuzik - The cover art for all your albums is quite inspiring. The latest one in particular, is impressive. Who is the artist behind them, and what kind of input did he get input from the band to draw it?
Alberto Trocados - The artist is Fran lacabezaenlasnubes. We gave him total freedom, but the desert theme, geometry and surrealism were three concepts we wanted to have represented on it.
Lotsofmuzik - How do you choose the names of your songs, since they are all instrumental? Do you pick the names before or after writing the songs?
AT - Sometimes we have a bunch of names we like and we assign them to the songs when these are finished. But with Vortex song names came last, even after the artwork.
Lotsofmuzik - What other bands or artists have inspired you when you decided to become musicians?
AT - Fugazi, Cave In, At the drive-in, Refused... We have a strong hardcore/posthardcore background.
Lotsofmuzik - For the people who never heard the band, how would you describe your sound?
AT - Instrumental rock meets post-hardcore maybe...lots of energy mixed with expansive soundscapes.
Lotsofmuzik - How did you come up with the idea to mix the Latin rhythms to rock and ambient music?
AT - It's something we learned since we were kids from Spanish bands like Triana who mixed psychedelic music with Spanish traditional music.
Lotsofmuzik - You interrupted the “sequence naming” of you albums, and after I, II, III and IV, here comes album number five, entitled “Vortex”. What motivated that change, and why “Vortex”?
AT - This feels like an entire new era to us. We needed to break with the past somehow. The name Vortex is a tribute to the tour life, it's the name of one of the most important venues in Europe for us.
Lotsofmuzik - A lot of your songs have a cinematic aspect to them. Have you guys ever considered writing songs for a particular movie?
AT - We were told recently to make “Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari” music re-interpretation live recently. This movie really gives a lot of ideas and a new approach to making different music.
Lotsofmuzik - The album has one long piece called “Mojave” which has a hypnotic and syncopated beat, starting off gently and evolving into a dramatic and heavy song. Clocking in at 11 minutes and ten seconds, do you feel that this is one of the most ambitious song you´ve ever written so far?
AT - It is one of the most important songs we ever made, mainly because it has an entire new ingredient we didn't explored properly until now: electronic music. It's definitely ambitious and it will shape the way we create music from now on.
Lotsofmuzik - Five albums in, is it the time for a live album after this tour?
AT - It's a work in progress at the moment. It will be released someday, hopefully in vinyl.
Lotsofmuzik - Is it difficult for you to reproduce the albums live in a way that you´re satisfied with the end result?
AT - Not at all. We thought of Toundra as a live band from the very beginning. I'm not comfortable with overproduced music if you're a 4-piece band.
Lotsofmuzik - Instrumental music is quite broad and without boundaries. Is it tough to know when to stop expanding when writing a song?
AT - Not really. We usually record the songs before entering the studio to test the impact they have on us as listeners, and we rearrange them, make it shorter (or longer) depending on how it feels listening to them right after "finishing" them.
Lotsofmuzik - You hit number 2 in the Spanish charts with the album “IV”. Top what do you credit such an unexpected success?
AT - Hard work, nothing more. We have a great team behind us. We were in a great moment of popularity back in 2015.
Lotsofmuzik – Nowadays, bands can do their thing independently, and you did that for the first three albums, then got signed by Century Media. What difference do you think being signed to a huge label like that made in Toundra’s career?
AT- We're reaching new territories and we feel more pressure from ourselves to make a better work in each album. Besides that, everything feels pretty much the same. They look after us actively, like an independent label.
Lotsofmuzik - Is there any country you haven’t played yet that you would like to visit? And what are the current touring plans after “Vortex” is released?
AT - We want to go to both South America and Asia. Brasil would be great, since we always had a lot of support from people and labels there!!! The current plans are just Europe/Spain, but hopefully we will play a lot more later this year.
Toundra´s “Vortex” is set for release on April 28th via Inside Out Music. The tracklist, along with the band lineup and discography can be seen below:
TOUNDRA – Vortex (49:21)
1. Intro Vortex (01:30)
2. Cobra (06:30)
3. Tuareg (08:14)
4. Cartavio (02:16)
5. Kingston Falls (04:16)
6. Mojave (11:10)
7. Roay Neary (02:04)
8. Cruce Oeste (07:21)
Alberto Tocados: bass, synths
Álex Pérez: drums, drum machine
David López: guitars
Esteban Girón: guitars, piano
Thirteen years after their debut, neo prog band Kino is releasing their sophomore effort “Radio Voltaire” on March 23rd. Formed by Pete Trewavas (bass guitar, Marillion, Transatlantic), John Mitchell (guitar and vocals, It Bites, Frost*, Lonely Robot), and Craig Blundell (drums), the band counted also with a guest musician, John Beck (keyboards, It Bites) adding textures and melodies to their sound.
After the first few listens to “Radio Voltaire”, the first thing that caught my attention was how the band was able to establish their identity, even with thirteen years between two releases. The new album carries a perfect blend of influences from their core members´ main bands, while covering new ground. It´s also worth noticing the nods to other British pop/rock bands such as The Who, The Beatles and The Police, on a number of tracks.
The album kicks off with its title track, announced by a robotic voice and a keyboard melody which reminds the listener of some of Marillion´s early work – “Jigsaw” and “Punch and Judy” come to mind. A great opener and an uplifting song, setting the tone for the upcoming numbers.
“Welcome to the Dead Club” has a riff with an intricate time signature and dissonant keyboards, with heavy guitars in the background. The band chose this song as the first one to be shown to the public, and it can be listened to on Inside Out´s Youtube Channel:
“Idlewild” changes the pace slightly, and is a slow ballad which talks about airport goodbyes – the song title used to be the name of JFK Airport until 1963. Mitchell mentions loss and sadness with a beautiful and raspy voice, and also provides an emotional guitar solo.
“I Don´t Know Why” sounds as if The Beatles wrote a prog song, with its romantically silly chorus and an upbeat feel, even though the lyrics talk about a lost love. Once again, a great solo by Mitchell, and tasty drum fills by Craig Blundell.
“I Won't Break So Easily Any More” kicks in with bits and pieces that reminded me of The Who´s “Who Are You” and Marillion´s “Incommunicado”, with several tempo changes, a keyboard-driven chorus melody and inspired solos by Mitchell and John Beck.
“Temple Tudor” is another welcome change of pace, a short acoustic number. It is followed by “Out Of Time”, where Pete provides a bass solo that perfectly matches his personality: not a bombastic and flamboyant affair with a million notes per second, but a cool, enticing and jazzy sound complimented by Mitchell´s open chords and rim clicks from Blundell.
“Grey Shapes on Concrete Fields” is arguably the catchiest song in this release, and it is telling that they chose this song to be the first lyric video from the album – it can be seen here:
The album ends with a sad song, “The Silent Fighter Pilot”, which carries a lot of meaning for Mitchell on a personal level – more details on this later in the article. Overall, this is an engaging release, which goes by smoothly and quickly, never overwelcoming its stay. There are no official plans of a Kino tour as of now, but it will be a shame if those songs are not performed in front of an audience – most of them would gain new life in a live setting. And let´s hope they don´t take too long between releases again!
In promotion of the new record, guitarrist John Mitchell was quite gracious and gave us half an hour of his time to talk about this release, even though he was suffering from a cold. Our chat is transcribed below:
Lotsofmuzik – “Radio Voltaire” is Kino´s new album. Is it true that you wanted to use those songs for the third Lonely Robot album?
John Mitchell – No, that was never the intention. I finished the second Lonely Robot album and wanted to keep working, because I´ve spent so long in my life producing other bands and sitting in the studio with other artists, and in recent years I just enjoyed doing my own music. So, after two Lonely Robot albums, instead of spending three more months working on the studio with other bands, I decided to carry on writing. The label suggested another Kino record, and I said “why not!?”, and here we are! I´m going to be working on a third Lonely Robot album next and I´m looking forward to that, but I was on a roll in the writing process, and Pete Trewavas and I decided it was time for another Kino record. I always say never say never!
Lotsofmuzik – Kino´s first album was reissued last year, and now we have Radio Voltaire. It seems the perfect timing for a tour, and yet there are no plans to hit the road…would you consider touring if the opportunity presented itself though?
JM – The thing about touring is that it´s the easiest thing in the world for people to say “yeah, come on tour”, but the logistics of it is quite complicated. Pete is very busy with Marillion, and Craig Blundell is on tour with Steven Wilson at the moment. It´s not that we don´t want to tour, but the logistics of getting everyone together is quite complicated. That´s the downside of playing with very good musicians – they´re always busy! (laughs).
The other thing is that the album has to sell well enough to make a tour financially viable. We´re expecting it to sell well, but I don´t know if it will be enough to guarantee a tour through all places where people say “come to our country”. But the reality is that there´s gotta be an audience for the tour to be financially feasible.
Lotsofmuzik – You have two albums that were written and released 13 years apart, and yet you seemed to have established an identity to Kino´s sound. What do you think contributed to that?
JM – The things I write are quite different from Pete´s – I write more introspective stuff, while he brings the more joyous side of our songs. That combination, along with John Beck´s dramatic keyboard style, is the sound of Kino. It´s nice that people can identify our sound and say that there´s a musical theme running through both albums. It means we have a voice, and as a musician, that´s all you can ever really want. It´s like Brian May´s guitar playing – you can always tell it´s him playing those notes. So if Kino sounds like Kino, I´m happy!
Lotsofmuzik – The album cover was made by Paul Tippet – and it´s very cool by the way. How was the process of drafting that cover, did Paul get any input from the band, and is it related to a particular song off the album?
JM – Paul got input from me, and it´s worth pointing out that he´s done every album cover of all the bands I´ve been involved with. The first time he ever did a cover for a band was the first Kino record – he approached me and wanted to get involved in doing album covers. Since then he´s become one of the most in-demand graphic designers in the world of music. He´s done a book for the Rolling Stones, cover albums for Black Star Riders and Europe…I like to take credit for the fact that I gave him his first break (laughs). Regarding “Radio Voltaire”, I said to him that I wanted the cover to look like a cross between “Moulin Rouge” and “Live and Let Die” – whatever came to his mind when he heard that. I didn´t interfere too much, but thought it looked pretty cool. It would look really good on a scarf too!
Lotsofmuzik – You love your scarves, don´t you? You´re wearing one of them in almost every photo or video I´ve seen! (laughs)
JM – I do like a scarf yeah. And when I looked at the cover he presented I thought that was perfect!
Lotsofmuzik - Judging by the name RADIO VOLTAIRE, is there a connection with the band Cabaret Voltaire, who coincidently, have a song named Kino? What is that connection, since they don´t sound like ANYTHING a prog fan would go to in the first place?
JM – I didn´t know they had a song named that, and it´s interesting that you made that connection! I honestly didn´t know anything about Cabaret Voltaire. I just liked the word Voltaire, and after doing some research, I noticed what an interesting person Voltaire was – very controversial for his time, against slavery and anti-establishment in many ways. I thought about how interesting it would be if there was a radio station that spoke nothing but the truth – he was a man in search for truth. That´s what the title comes from and the lyrics to the title track come from. I´m fascinated with words, and “Radio Voltaire” sounded like quite a curious combination of two words.
Lotsofmuzik - The first song to be shown to the fans was “Welcome to the Dead Club”, one of the shortest ones, which features the work of John Beck and Craig Blundell quite prominently. Did they actively contribute to the compositions on the album, and to that song in particular?
JM – The way that song came about was quite unusual. Whenever I write an album we have to book John a few months in advance, because he has a very limited window. For that particular song, all I had was that main riff, which is in 7/8. I said to Craig “play 7/8 for five minutes and play 5/4 for another five minutes”, and I kinda wrote the song to match that beat. John added the atonal keyboards, and I wrote the lyrics and basic chords. The contribution of those guys was rather significant to arrange most of the songs, and cannot be understated! “Welcome to the Dead Club” was the one we chose to show the world first, and it´s quite an unusual number – I´m all for unusual!
Lotsofmuzik - The song “Idlewild” has a very cool part that talks about “shooting vapor trails at the sun”. Could you tell us what the lyrics are about?
JM – Funny enough, somebody was asking me about this the other day in an interview, and they thought it was about the Scottish rock band Idlewild, but no, it has nothing to do with it. What a lot of people don´t realize is that the airport that is now known as the John F. Kennedy Airport used to be called Idlewild. That song is about people saying goodbye to each other at airports, and how much importance is put on the emotion of the moment. “Shooting vapor trails at the sun” is then a reference to jet flights. It made me think about a time a couple of years ago when I was flying to Australia with a friend, we were saying goodbye to our partners at the time, and my friend´s wife was so deeply distraught, even though we were only going way for three weeks! It´s a strange fascination I have with the fact that when people say goodbye to each other at airports they tend to get a lot more emotional than when someone just walks out the door of the house. That´s what this song is about.
Lotsofmuzik – The song “Out of Time” has a bit of a surprise for long time Marillion fans – a jazzy solo from Pete Trewavas. How did hat come to be, since he´s always been primarily about keeping time so well, and adding the well placed note here and there to fill up spaces?
JM – We were writing that middle section of that song, and after we finished that “fanfare” middle section I didn´t know what we were going to do after that bit, and jokingly suggested to Pete “why don´t you do a bass solo, it would be quite Spinal Tap to add a bass solo there!” (laughs). He started laughing, and decided to go for it. I don´t know if Pete had ever done a bass solo on record before – to be honest, I can´t remember the last time I heard a bass solo. It´s got a jazzy thing to it too, doesn´t it, that bass solo? It´s quite tongue-in-cheek the way we did it – it´s cool, it´s unusual, so there you go, it´s a first! Pete´s a very melodic musician, so it fits perfectly.
Lotsofmuzik – “Grey Shapes on Concrete Fields” is my favourite song off the album, and it has a The Police vibe – I could easily see Sting singing that song. Can you tell us what that song is about?
JM – I grew up with The Police, and Pete grew up with the Beatles, so we both write songs you´re always going to recognize a bit of both. For that song, I remember walking in London and pretty much as far as I could see there was concrete. I started thinking that at some point in the future, literally everywhere you look, all you´ll see is concrete. I remember being quite depressed about it, but in a strange way it came out beautifully. I wanted this song to be cold sounding, and the vocal effects in the verses are the same ones used by Imogen Heap in one of her albums, and I was fascinated by how it sounds robotic. I write songs to a title, and “grey shapes on concrete fields” was a name that came to my mind which I thought was quite curious and the song kinda wrote itself.
Lotsofmuzik - You were vocal about “The Silent Fighter Pilot” being your favourite off the new album, and it has all the elements of a prog epic, clocking at less than five minutes! Tell us a bit about that one.
JM – When I start working on a new album, all I have is a list of song titles I want to develop – not a single note of music in my head. I was missing a title, and while talking to Paul in a pub – that´s Paul Tippet, the album cover artist anyway – he suggested the title “the silent fighter pilot”. I thought it was an interesting title for a song, but started to think about what would that even mean! Then I remember my mum telling the story about my great uncle Sydney who died in World War II because his plane ran out of petrol – you know, like in the film Dunkirk. Unlike the film though, my uncle unfortunately crashed and died in Northern France. I wanted to write about the last three minutes of his life, so it´s quite a personal song. Sadly, my mother is no longer alive, but she told me about this story, and Paul came up with that title so it all came together. So, that´s the song that means the most to me because it´s the most personal one.
Lotsofmuzik – You´re involved in It Bites, Frost*, Lonely Robot and Kino – when you find inspiration to write a song, how do you know in which band it´s going to fit in?
JM – Clive is the chief writer in Arena, so when I have an idea for a riff I send it to him and he incorporates it into his songwriting process. With It Bites, I grew up with them, so I have an idea in my head of what they should sound like – more like choppy guitars and less heavy. I don´t write songs unless I have to write songs, so I commit to a project as and when it happens. Lonely Robot is about the mood, the atmosphere and ambient soundscapes in the background, with detuned heavy metal riffs. Kino doesn´t really sound like that – on the Lonely Robot albums, all guitars are down a whole tone, so it sounds a bit heavier. Kino´s a bit more old school rock and roll, and you can write about anything, whereas in Lonely Robot the themes are focused on the human condition, so it´s quite serious. With Kino, you could write a song about the decline of the textile industry and you´d be fine! (laughs).
Lotsofmuzik – Thank you for your time, and hopefully we´ll see you guys on the road soon!
JM – Thank you very much, nice speaking to you!
Kino´s “Radio Voltaire” will be released on March 23 via Inside Out Music. The tracklist is as follows:
KINO – Radio Voltaire (56:10)
1. Radio Voltaire (7:06)
2. The Dead Club (4:12)
3. Idlewild (6:03)
4. I Don't Know Why (5:25)
5. I Won't Break So Easily Any More (5:30)
6. Temple Tudor (4:32)
7. Out Of Time (6:22)
8. Warmth Of The Sun (1:50)
9. Grey Shapes On Concrete Fields (4:42)
10. Keep The Faith (5:38)
11. The Silent Fighter Pilot (4:50)
- Bonus tracks -
12. Temple Tudor (Piano Mix) (4:29)
13. The Dead Club (Berlin Headquarter Mix) (4:02)
14. Keep The Faith (Orchestral Mix) (5:34)
15. The Kino Funfair (1:00)
Picture (Vinyl re-issue 2017)
Radio Voltaire (2018)
John Mitchell – vocals, guitars
Pete Trewavas – bass, synths
Craig Blundell – drums
John Beck – keyboards
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