One of the most important bands for the prog metal scene, Fates Warning has had an extensive career since the mid 80’s, and recently released an all-encompassing live album. “Live Over Europe” was reviewed by Lotsofmuzik’s collaborator Rodrigo Altaf here. In an exclusive interview to Lotsofmuzik, their singer Ray Alder reflects on the state of the band right now, the gap between studio albums and how his voice has changed over time, amongst other interesting topics. Find the interview below:
Lotsofmuzik - First of all, tell us all about the new live album, “Live Over Europe” – it’s your first live album since 1998’s “Still Life” – not counting “Awaken the Guardian Live”, which was a different beast, right?
Ray Alder: Yeah, “Live Over Europe” is totally different. And it's cool, man! It was fun, something we wanted to do which we hadn't done one in over 20 years and it was kind of an idea, you know, we were still out promoting the new album “Theories of Flight” and we figured while we're out maybe we can go ahead and record the shows and have some fun with it. We got to play some of our favorite places and make some new friends around the world. It was cool. It was a really great experience but very tough because it’s so long - the set was two hours long. We played five nights in a row and it was really, really rough. But in the end it was great. I think it sounds great. I think that Jens Bogren did a wonderful job mixing. The album has a really live feel to it.
Lotsofmuzik: I saw that tour here in Toronto, but before that my first Fates Warning experience was in 2011 when you played with Mike Portnoy in Sao Paulo – what kind of memories do you have of that show?
Ray Alder: Yeah, that was a while ago. I can totally remember that – it was a tour we did with Queensryche, and that night was when the arguing between them reached a peak. Yeah, we were just talking about that last night. So funny you mentioned it today! I remember everything that happened with Queensryche for sure - I'll never forget that. And then playing with Mike was great, but challenging - we had just one night to rehearse and everything got messed up with his flights. He ended up getting in really late and we ended up going to rehearsal at like 11:00 at night or something and we were there until three or four in the morning. That's what I remember. It was really tough, you know, and I was so used to playing with Bobby [Jarzombek, drums] all those years and then Mike comes in and everything's completely different. So it was, it was a little strange, you know, because Mike kind of does his own thing. So that was weird, but it was a pleasant experience. I got to see São Paulo first time. So it was cool.
Lotsofmuzik: Coming back to “Live Over Europe”, why did you include tracks recorded in different cities and not just one show?
Ray Alder: It was Jim's idea actually. It was an interesting idea because, you know, most bands just go do a live album somewhere, you know, maybe it's a festival or maybe it's one venue, their hometown or something, you know. But we figured it would just be cool if we could record in different cities and keep it live. We could pull different parts in different songs instead of having to overdub something. So in certain songs, instead of overdubs what you hear is actually a live part that was just pulled from another show in case I fucked up. I’m probably the one that messes up the most [laughs]. So it happens, but it was really cool to have different audiences represented in the album.
Lotsofmuzik: Was it demanding to listen to hours and hours and similar versions of the same song in order to choose what to use and what not to use?
Ray Alder: Jim [Matheos, guitarist] did all of that. I felt so bad for him, man. It's all of those shows, hours and hours of material, and you're going from one song to another pulling parts here and there. I'm sure it was a horrible experience for him, you know, and it took him weeks, weeks and weeks to do. But, you know, I guess it was a labor of love.
Lotsofmuzik: And the end result sounds incredibly cohesive and organic, even if you're mixing parts of songs here and there. Aside from you saying a different name of the cities you’re playing at in each track, it sounds very much a consistent effort, right?
Ray Alder: Yeah, that is a great thing because of our sound guy, Rene - wonderful guy, man, he’s just absolutely amazing. And when we play live, we, we stick to the script, you know, we don't really change things up that much, we try to stay as close to the original album as possible. And we played to a click, so every song is exactly in time. Every song is pretty much exactly the same. Maybe someone plays a little better than on another night or you know, or something like that. But, you know, it's, it's pretty much all the same thing. What you see is what you get!
Lotsofmuzik: Are there any particular songs you or other band members find challenging to play live? For me, Monument would be quite challenging for example.
Ray Alder: Monument, yeah! And it's funny, again, I had this conversation last night with a friend of mine and we were talking about the drums in that song, that Mark Zonder messed up the drums once, and I think Bobby's messed up the drums at one point. And before that, Mike Portnoy I think messed up the drums in São Paulo too!! [laughs]. There's a certain part in the song, we call it the reggae part, and for some reason drummers get thrown off there. The funniest thing, man, you know, happened in LA. Mark was playing with us in the Parallels tour and during that part it turned into, we call it the kick drum solo because he just kept hitting the kick drum, “boom, boom, boom”. And everyone was trying to catch their place, everyone's looking at each other going “one, two, three…NO, NO.NO!!!” [laughs]. I was on the side of the stage just going, “Holy shit…oh my God, I'm glad I'm not up there!!!” [laughs]. But I mean, it happens sometimes, and nobody's perfect. I think if you're a normal band playing at 4/4, then maybe you're not going to mess up as much, but I think with our music, if you lose concentration for a second, you could end up in another world, you know, you have to pay attention. You have to. No getting around it. But other than that, yeah, I mean difficult songs…the nuances on “The Light and Shade of Things” are really difficult for me. There's a lot of high parts and there's really no part to breathe, you know, it’s singing the whole time and it's hard to catch a breath but it's still fun. It's a challenge and I enjoy it.
Lotsofmuzik: You seem much happier now with your vocal output than you were in the mid-90’s, right? It kinda feels like the way you sing the old songs now is the way they were supposed to sound in the first place!
Ray Alder: Exactly, yeah. I mean, that was the thing back then, you know, as I got older, my voice started changing and I had a lot of problems with it and I was going to doctors and they were like, “oh, you need to quit smoking and quit drinking, and stop eating spicy foods” and all this. And I was like, “well, why don't I just shoot myself now then”? [laughs] Yeah, what else is there? You know, no kidding. But, you know, my voice was changing. I was a kid when I first started - early twenties, or nineteen. And then I found my voice. I like my voice much better now the way it is, you know, like I don't like the high screams. Yeah, I can't do them anymore, but it's,fine with me. I don't miss them at all.
Lotsofmuzik: and there are certain songs like “Nothing Left to Say” where you changed the arrangement to fit the way you sing now, and they sound so cool. It’s like the songs got a more “current” and modern sound as opposed to sounding dated, right?
Ray Alder: Yeah. And even “Silent Cries”, you know on the live album. I like this version better than the original. Yeah. When we listened to it, we were all like, “Holy shit, this is actually really cool! We should have done it like this the first time!” The original was just too “whoaaaaaa!!” [screams in the original song arrangement]
Lotsofmuzik: Wait a minute, you still got it!!!
Ray Alder: Yeah, I’ll throw a scream or two in every now and then…[laughs]
Lotsofmuzik: And there’s great blend of old material with the more recent output in the new live album – what kind of process do you guys have in place to choose a set list?
Ray Alder: A lot of emails back and forth…but mainly we wanted to do songs that we hadn't already included on the original live album. So we had to all move the set around and change songs, add songs here and there so that we were not redoing the same live album, you know, so that was it. And we've had a few albums since then, so we were able to choose from them. But to put 12 albums worth of music in one live album was kind of a pain in the ass to pick which ones we wanted to do. But in the end it worked out. We would switch the set slightly in different cities. Some cities we do more and some less, and in Athens we did everything that was like two hours – it almost killed me, man! [laughs] Two, two and a half hours or something, I think.
Lotsofmuzik: I think you have a lengthy following in Athens ways. Is that in particular?
Ray Alder: I don’t know! Probably because Jim's Greek, but I really don't know. It wasn't always that way - when we first started going there it was just kinda normal, like every other country, but over the years it just became a thing. It's amazing. Every European tour now we always end up playing there last, because it seems that from the fan’s reaction, every other show in Europe pales in comparison.
Lotsofmuzik: There was a lengthy period between “FWX” and “Darkness in a Different Light” where you didn't release studio albums. What generated such a lengthy hiatus?
Ray Alder: I don’t know! It's funny when we think about it. At some point everyone was doing their own thing - I was doing Redemption and Jim was doing solo albums and other things and time just got away from us. Everyone was involved with different projects, Joey [Vera, bassist] was doing things and finally, at one point we were on tour, and Jim and I were talking and said “let's all sit down, concentrate and write another album”. And that's what happened. And originally the first Arch/Matheos album was supposed to be a Fates Warning album, and it just, I don't know what it was about it, I just couldn't grasp it. It's the weirdest thing - I worked on a bunch of songs and in the end Jim was like, “you know, it just seems like you're just not into this”. And I was like, “It’s not that I’m not into this, it’s just that I’m not feeling it as much”. So he did the Arch/Matheos thing and then we did “Darkness in a Different Light” and we got back on track. It's nice to come out and actually play new material after all these years.
Lotsofmuzik: and I think that since “Darkness in a Different Light” there's a new focus in the band, right? “Theories of Flight” came out with a smaller gap between two albums. What changed for you guys to have more of a drive to carry on?
Ray Alder: I think it comes down to going out again on tour but playing new material. This brought a lot of new life into the band - it was so much fun to play something new! Something we hadn't played live before, but I think that feeling just carried over. “Let's just do another album, you know, continue down this road!”. And it was great. I was, I loved “Theories of Flight”, to me it’s one of my favorite albums we've ever done and I'm glad that we did it, you know, hopefully we can keep it up. Hopefully we can do another one. I can't tell you that right now! [laughs]
Lotsofmuzik: You’re at a point in your career where you can reflect on the past with some distance whilst still having a number of years ahead - would you have done anything different through the years?
Ray Alder: I think I would rather not have taken such a long break in between and kept going. I think unfortunately maybe we lost a few fans along the way. But then also coming out with the new stuff, I think we've gained a few, so it kinda evens it out. With any band, losing momentum is not a good thing - people forget about you easily. Especially nowadays, there's so much coming out, there's so many different bands and if anything I would rather we had just kept putting albums out at least every two or three years, instead of nine. But other than that, I like all the music we've ever done. We're very happy with the guys in the band - Bobby's great, Joey’s fun and we have a great time together.
Lotsofmuzik: When you guys started to create your early albums and forming the blend of what today is known as prog metal, was it a conscientious decision to blend the likes of Iron Maiden and Rush, or did it come naturally?
Ray Alder: No, that was always Jim. He always wrote the music, so I just kinda went with it. Of course, he would give us something and ask “what do you think of this?” and we'd offer our opinion, liked it or not, but it was always Jim's ideas and what he wanted to do. I didn't even know what the hell prog metal was when I first joined the band! [laughs] I had never heard the two words together, but it was cool, it's different. That's why I liked it so much and that’s why I’m still in the band after all these years!
Lotsofmuzik: Do you follow much of what prog metal has become today? Bands like Haken, Leprous, Between the Buried and Me etc?
Ray Alder: I know then, but I don’t really listen to that stuff – actually I don’t really listen to prog very much at all, to be honest with you. “Between the buried and Me”, that band is nuts, man! I saw them a couple of times with Slagel. I was hanging out with Brian Slagel [founder of Metal Blade records] at one point and we saw them. But man, holy crap, they’re just absolutely technical wizards, man! I thought what Fates Warning was doing was complicated, but it’s nowhere near what those guys are doing! But they’re cool guys, and super talented. Haken I don’t know very much about them. I know there’s a big buzz about them – they’re from England, right? I find myself listening to different stuff. My new thing now is Volbeat, I don’t know why, but I like Volbeat a lot!
I saw them at the Download Festival here in Madrid and they’re fucking awesome, man! One of my favorite bands to see live. The singer is amazing – his voice sounds exactly like it does on the album. It was really, really cool. So I like that band a lot. Other than that, you know, I put on Pink Floyd or things like that at home, and just relax.
Lotsofmuzik: What was it like working with Terry Brown on “Parallels” and “A Pleasant Shade of Grey” - Rush worked with him until “Signals”, and then decided to move on. He seems still hurt by that decision!
Ray Alder: It wasn’t like Rush didn’t like him anymore, It’s just that they needed something different. They’d been with him for so long…we had a conversation with Terry, we had late night talks forever and ever and he’s a wonderful guy. We had such a great time with him, and we’ll never forget that. I mean I was starstruck when I met him, like “Oh, shit, it’s Terry Brown hanging out with me, and he’s telling me, I’m doing it wrong!” [laughs]. I worked with him into the wee hours of the morning and it was great working with him, it really was. I remember him telling us he had all these stories and we would sit and listen for hours talking to the guy. But it was great. He would come to rehearsal when we were writing Parallels he would come to the rehearsal room and you know, and give us ideas like, “what about this”, “what if you changed that”? Like he actually produced, you know, it was really, really cool. And obviously it’s our biggest selling album ever, “Parallels”. So it was a lot of fun. I’ll never forget it, and that’s a cherished memory.
Lotsofmuzik: What is the situation with Frank Aresti - is there a chance of him coming back to the band as a touring member? He has a steady day job, right?
Ray Alder: Yeah. Who knows? You never know. You know, sometimes if we're playing San Francisco or something he'll come out and do a song or maybe one day he will come with us. Maybe he'll play on another album if we have one. I don't know. If someone's out of the band doesn't mean they're gone forever.
Lotsofmuzik: Michael Abdow does such an amazing job live - would you guys consider having him, Frank Aresti and Jim Matheos as a writing team in upcoming albums?
Ray Alder: I would like to. Mike's a great writer, man. He writes some really cool stuff. If he were ever to write some stuff for Fates Warning, I'd be happy with that too.
Lotsofmuzik: You moved to Spain not too long ago – has this affected the band’s routine in any way? You all live in different cities, right? Do you have a system to make this work?
Ray Alder: Everyone has a little recording studio in their house. Whatever we need to do is easier than the old days of sending cassettes back and forth. So now we just email mp3s or wav files to each other and that's much simpler. If I have to go to the States it's kind of a pain in the ass, I have to get there a day or two before to acclimate etc. But it's the same with the guys when they come to Europe, you have to get here the day before at least and relax, get your shit together. But everything's fine. I mean with touring and everything it's the same system. For me it's just a pain in the ass to travel alone to South America or somewhere else, because it takes forever. But it's all cool. Everything's the same. Nothing has changed.
Lotsofmuzik - Would you consider writing another concept album like A Pleasant Shade of Grey? And how about a tour playing it in its entirety?
Ray Alder: We talked about a tour playing A Pleasant Shade of Grey in full before. We would want to do it with Mark Zonder, but he's just not into touring. Maybe he'll do a show or something here and there but he's just not into the whole touring thing. If we were to play that album in full, the only way it would really do justice to the album is to have Mark there. We brought it up with Bobby and he wasn't very excited about the idea. And we kind of understand the idea of keeping it pure – Mark’s style is very distinctive, particularly on that album. But we enjoy doing the songs live, and it would be great to do the whole thing live again. And as far as recording something new like that, I'm not against it. Who knows, we'll see what Jim comes up with next time!
Lotsofmuzik: What’s the next step for the band, a new album/tour cycle soon?
Ray Alder: At the moment we really don’t know – there may be more shows announced soon, but we can’t discuss that just yet – maybe in a few weeks! [laughs]
Lotsofmuzik: Ok, man, great chatting as always!
Ray Alder: Cheers, man! Bye!
Michael Romeo’s War of the Worlds / Pt. 1 Exceeds Expectations
By: Bosk1 of www.dreamtheaterforums.org
Listening to Michael Romeo’s solo album, War of the Worlds / Pt. 1, I realized for perhaps the first time what a unique and distinctive guitar playing style Romeo has. The guitar tones, chord progressions, and solo runs felt familiar and instantly-recognizable. But do not misunderstand—this album is not a retread of Romeo’s prior work. And it does not at all sound like a collection of Symphony X leftovers. Although War of the Worlds often feels reminiscent of Symphony X, and it is impossible to avoid comparisons to that band, this album is its own unique animal.
It is obvious from listening to Romeo’s writing on Symphony X that he has a flair for the dramatic. His songs typically feature multiple layers of guitars and orchestration, with lots of classical influences. War of the Worlds follows in that vein. The ten songs on War of the Worlds are definitely heavy. But they are also complex, huge sounding, and cinematic. And while Symphony X’s albums have progressed more and more to the heavier side through the years, War of the Worlds is melodic and catchy. Some of the hooks are huge and infectious, and manage to stay with the listener long after the album is over.
The heavy guitar riffing, frantic double bass drumming, and classical sounding keyboards that Symphony X fans are familiar with are all here. From a guitar perspective, the album often feels somewhat predictable. The heavy riffing and classically-influenced guitar solos are here in abundance.
But Romeo also experiments with and incorporates some other diverse influences that often take these songs in different completely different directions. F*cking Robots is perhaps the most obvious example. The song is, by far, the most daring, experimental song on the album. In a recent interview, Romeo described the song as incorporating elements of dubstep. And it does. But in ways I found to be very unconventional and different from traditional dubstep. The song begins with keyboards and orchestration that would be the norm as a track intro on any Symphony X album. From there, we get some interesting machine effects over guitar riffs that make the song immediately stand out as something truly different and experimental. The vocals are also very unique and different, being drenched in effects to make them sound somewhat artificial and mechanical. This all adds to the unique atmosphere of the song to make it something truly different.
Speaking of vocals, the vocals on this album are performed by up-and-coming Long Islander, Rick Castellano. And Castellano absolutely nails it. He shows tremendous range and sense of melody, combining the almost-operatic range and power one would expect of the typical power metal vocalist with the cleanness and sweetness of a pop star. For heavy music, I generally prefer vocals with more grit and edge. But Castellano’s cleaner style just works with these songs. Castellano may not be well known yet. But he delivers his performance on this album with the conviction of a veteran.
Castellano really shows off his range in the Eastern-inspired Djinn. His vocals soar over Arabic scales and orchestration that conjures up images of far away lands. Romeo delivers a blazing guitar solo. But this should not be surprising.
At first listen, Believe is perhaps the most straightforward, mainstream-sounding song on the album. And yet, it clocks in as the longest at 8:22. The song starts softly and takes its time before getting to some of its main themes and, eventually, its vocal passages. The song then builds into a huge power-ballad section, and then some complex orchestration that is reminiscent of The Odyssey. Romeo does not wait long to remind us that this is, after all, a guitar-driven album by delivering a signature solo before the song returns to its big, soaring, multi-layered chorus. I would not expect a “ballad” of sorts to be one of the standouts on a Michael Romeo solo album. But this song absolutely grabs the listener and does not let go. At times, it sounds like something from a movie score. At other times, it sounds like 1980s AOR. And Romeo somehow brings it all together in a compelling and satisfying way.
Oblivion is perhaps the most “traditional” song on War of the Worlds. The song features one of Romeo’s signature nasty guitar riffs. The riffing is repetitive, but that is because the song calls for a solid, repeating backbone over which Castellano can deliver a catchy, but attitude-laden vocal performance. Oblivion is that song where you catch yourself midway through bobbing your head and having a great time. This song does not really bring anything new or unexpected to the table. But it is fun nonetheless. And with the amount of variety and diversity on this album, this song does not need to do anything new and different. Sometimes, there is nothing wrong with a song that just rocks and makes you smile.
The production on War of the Worlds also bears mentioning. The mix on this album is excellent. The guitars and heavy and percussive. The keyboards and orchestration are huge. The vocals are well-defined and up front. And the drums are crisp and clear. None of the instruments step on each other. This is the ideal type of mix for such a heavy but layered album.
Overall, War of the Worlds is a pleasant surprise. I went into this album with a lot of preconceptions about what I thought a Michael Romeo solo album should sound like. In some ways, War of the Worlds was consistent with those expectations. But the album also had more than its fair share of unexpected twists that make it a much more fun and fulfilling listening experience than I imagined.
War Of The Worlds / Pt. 1 is due out July 27th on Music Theories Recordings
Michael Romeo Online:
Melody, emotion, and heaviness. These are the three words that most come to mind when listening to Redemption’s seventh studio album, Long Night’s Journey Into Day. The new album has all three of these elements in spades. And they work together to provide a listening experience that keeps me wanting to come back for more.
Long Night’s Journey Into Day sounds like classic Redemption. And at the same time, it manages to sound like something completely new. I was nervous about whether I would like this album. I will just go ahead and be direct: I LOVE IT.
Perhaps the most jarring bit of “newness” is the addition of vocalist Tom Englund (Evergrey) in place of Ray Alder. I admit feeling a great deal of trepidation when I heard that Ray had been replaced. For as long as I had been a fan up to this point, he had been the voice of Redemption. When I heard the first promo single, Little Men, I was not sure what to think. There was certainly nothing wrong with Tom’s singing. But it was jarring hearing music that was so obviously Redemption and hearing someone other than Ray Alder singing.
After letting that song sink in, and now hearing the album in its entirety, I can confirm that Tom was the right man for the job. His voice suits the material perfectly. He not only sings the lyrics—he sells them and gives them a deep sincerity and emotional impact. And he strikes a very nice balance between familiar and new, which is a theme I cannot help repeating. His voice suits the music perfectly, and he sings the songs as someone who has been in the band for years. He also knows how to emote without over singing. And it is obvious from the level of emotion he conveys that he truly connects with the lyrics.
It is also worth noting that other changes in the band include contributions from Simone Mularoni and Chris Poland on guitar and Vikram Shankar on keyboards. All three make their presence felt and take the music to new levels.
The songs range in length from more traditional “radio friendly” track lengths (And Yet at 3:47 is the shortest) to long, progressive epics (Long Night’s Journey Into Day at 10:30 being the longest). It speaks to how well these songs are written that the short songs do not feel too short, and the long songs do not feel like they overstay their welcome. As is typical of Redemption’s music, each of the songs tells a story. Those stories are deep and often very introspective. They frequently present a bit of a story arc that involves a conflict and resolution of sorts. For that to work and not come across as too trite or pithy, songs often need time to breathe and let the lyrics fully play out. To put it another way, these songs take you on a lyrical journey that takes time to unfold. Unlike some modern progressive metal acts, the solos and instrumental passages enhance and add texture to the atmosphere created by the lyrics, rather than distracting or detracting from it.
The album starts with an eerie 15-second intro at the beginning of Eyes You Dare Not Meet in Dreams before launching into a blistering up-tempo guitar riff reminiscent of the opening tracks of Redemption’s past two albums, This Mortal Coil and The Art of Loss. From there, the song alternates between heavy and melodic. But the focus is on heavy, and this song sets the tone that this is beyond any doubt a metal album.
But the album is not all thick-as-a-brick riffs, blistering solos, and breakneck speed. And Yet is an example of the haunting and melancholy moods Redemption is known for. The song showcases some gut-wrenching piano and keyboard parts that are nothing short of beautiful. Tom’s softer vocals compliment the somber mood of this track perfectly.
Indulge In Color is a great example of the band at their most melodic and upbeat. The song feels very much like a successor to Snowfall On Judgment Day’s Black and White World, and Nick Van Dyke has acknowledged that the songs share much in common.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the cover of U2’s New Year’s Day. When I first saw the title in the track list, it did not immediately register, and I did not realize it was a cover. But once the song started, I recognized it immediately. The band does a phenomenal job of both being true to the original and bringing something new to the table. There is some very creative heavy riffing and double bass drumming that bring a heaviness that the original version of the song obviously did not have. And yet, it also has the signature keyboard parts and melodies from the original that make it instantly recognizable. I felt that the covers CD included with This Mortal Coil really showcased Redemption’s ability to take familiar songs in different genres and present them in fresh and exciting ways. They do that here and absolutely nail this U2 song. I might just prefer this version to the original.
The closing epic and title song spans a wide range of emotions. The clean guitars and soft, subdued vocals the beginning start the song on a mournful tone. But as a lot of Redemption’s songs tend to do, the track builds, and as it does, it constantly transforms and evolves, and takes the listener on a journey. It is fitting that it ends the album on an uplifting and hopeful note. It is reminiscent in many ways of Snowfall On Judgment Day’s Love Kills Us All / Life in One Day.
I hate to go this far after having the album for such a short period of time, but I will go out on a limb and say that Long Night’s Journey Into Day is going to be a contender for 2018’s album of the year. The album is just that good.
Release Date: July 27, 2018 - Metal Blade Recortds
01. Eyes You Dare Not Meet in Dreams
02. Someone Else's Problem
03. The Echo Chamber
05. Indulge in Color
06. Little Men
07. And Yet
08. The Last of Me
09. New Year's Day
10. Long Night's Journey into Day
Review by: Bosk1 of www.dreamtheaterforums.org
Saints Will Conquer – A review of Armored Saint’s concert in Toronto and an interview with singer John Bush
One of the most underrated bands of the late 80’s/early 90’s, Armored Saint has experienced a resurgence in recent years. Released in 2015, their album “Win Hands Down” was a welcome return to form, and yet another clear evidence that these Californians should have had better luck in their heyday. On their current tour they are playing what is arguably their best effort, “Symbol of Salvation”, in full, along with other highlights of their career. Having just finished a successful trek in South America, they are now playing a handful of dates in the US and Canada. Lotsofmuzik’s Rodrigo Altaf witnessed their show in Toronto and was able to catch up with their legendary singer, John Bush. Find the interview and concert review below.
Part I – Interview with John Bush
Those who say “you should never meet your heroes” clearly haven’t met the guys in Armored Saint. As I stood inside The Mod Club in Toronto waiting for the interview with John Bush, I was able to watch the soundcheck and the meet and greet. The lucky few who paid for this experience were greeted by the band, who patiently signed every piece of memorabilia brought in, shared stories, posed for pictures and were genuinely interested in the fans’ perspectives. I even shared a story with their guitar player Jeff Duncan about another one of their concerts I witnessed – their show in Perth, Australia in 2009, where John Bush got so sick that he had to miss it. Jeff and bassist Joey Vera shared vocal duties on that show, and that is still remembered as a dramatic occasion in the band’s lengthy career. If you’re used to meets and greets where artists seem disengaged and in a hurry, the experience with Armored Saint will change your views completely – these are genuine and down to Earth guys, who have a genuine appreciation for the fans’ interest in the band.
After the soundcheck and meet & greet I was led to John Bush’s dressing room, and chatted for a few minutes:
Lotsofmuzik: Welcome to Toronto! So on this tour you’re playing Symbol of Salvation in full – what kind of memories does that album bring to you?
John Bush: Wow, lots of memories. You know, recording it was a lot of fun. We worked with Dave Jerden, whom I ended up doing back to back records with, because he did the Sound Of White Noise album with Anthrax when I joined them. He's a great guy, an amazing person and he's very dry and he had done a bunch of records before that – with Alice in Chains, Jane's Addiction. So we were really excited to work with him, and his engineer Bryan Carlstrom, who has unfortunately passed away since then was awesome as well. And so it was fun to be in the setting with them. The Studio Eldorado used to be Marvin Gaye’s studio way back in the day. So that was really cool. And we had regrouped by then and we were feeling really confident about the material and the record. I don't think we thought it was going to come out as cool as it really did, but it was just a fun moment of recording, and knowing that no matter what we went through with Dave [Prichard, guitarist] dying and everything else that we were kind of on our way.
Lotsofmuzik: Almost 30 years on, and that album still has tremendous punch – I dare say that it doesn’t sound dated even after so much advance in recording technology. To what do you credit the lasting power of those songs?
JB: Well, I just think it's the songs, you know what I mean, because sound changes, but the songs are eternal. So I think that that's probably the thing that keeps it going. When Dave wrote the bulk of those songs and we wrote them we knew about him being sick. So the future of the band was always kind of in doubt at that point and his life was in doubt. So I think it allowed us to really dig deep the material and kinda take chances. We always took a lot of chances as a band really - Armored Saint has always been a very diverse band. At that point we had no record company and when we started writing those songs we just were like “it doesn't matter, let's just do what feels good to us and have fun with it!”. So I think that those songs kind of reflect that carefree feeling and attitude.
Lotsofmuzik: Almost like Rush’s 2112 because similarly for them it was do or die at the point they made that album, right?
JB: We were free at that point. So for us it was fun to just experiment and if you listen to some of the demos and stuff that were done during that recording, those were even more diverse stuff we had sent out. A song like “People”, for example, which we later released in the “Nod to the Old School” album of rarities probably shouldn't be on the record, but you know, we always were willing to take chances. I think that's good.
Lotsofmuzik: Would you be able to pick a favorite song off the album?
JB: [long pause] Ummm no…[laughs]. No, because it's always changing for me. But I am enjoying playing some of the deep tracks that we didn't always play. “Reign Of Fire”, “Last Train Home” and “Tribal Dance” we of course play those all the time. But “The Truth Always Hurts”, “Burning Questions” and “Hanging Judge” for instance, we haven't played those songs in a long time, so it feels fresh and fun to play them on this tour.
Lotsofmuzik: The Symbol of Salvation era was a time of change for the band, in more ways than one – not only Dave Prichard would soon pass away, but also with the music industry taking a huge shift, right?
JB: Well, yeah, sure. The whole scene was changing dramatically. So you know, we were probably caught up in that change as well. For Armored Saint, you know, the conundrum always for us was that we weren't a thrash band and we weren't a hair metal band. We were from L.A. but we didn't sound like, you know, Poison or Warrant and those bands. We’re powerful and heavy, but we probably weren't as heavy as Metallica and Slayer. So we were always this kind of band that had some identity issues, believe it or not. Eventually we finally said “okay, let's just do what we do and that's it and that's all that matters”. But it took a while for us to figure that out. Especially in our twenties.
Lotsofmuzik: Would you have done anything different in your career from the time Symbol of Salvation came out and now?
JB: Well, no, because I felt like my life went the way it was supposed to go. I joined Anthrax and made some really great music with them and it was sad Armored Saint to end back then, but then we came back and we showed resilience and we’ve been together since then. And we've made some really incredible music, especially with “Win Hands Down”. We think it's amazing record and for us the key component is the family unit. That's the thing that drives us and we've known each other since we were eight, nine years old. So it's a long history of friendship.
Lotsofmuzik: It must be a bit of a strange dynamic having two brothers in the band. Did they ever gang up on you when it was time to make an important decision for the band?
JB: Not really, but one brother was fired at one point, so there’s that! [laughs]. That was weird, you know? I'm sure Gonzo [Sandoval, drummer, brother of Phil Sandoval, guitarist] was never really too happy with that decision. Of course Phil wasn’t! [laughs] But again, it was all part of the way the story goes, and Phil's great. He's such a mellow, easygoing guy, and he's a pivotal part of Armored Saint.
Lotsofmuzik: The last album “Win Hands Down” received a lot of praise, and for me, it’s surely one of the best in the band’s career – a huge step up from the previous one, “La Raza”. It’s been reported that you’re working on a follow up, with four or five songs already in progress – how’s that progressing?
JB: I think there wouldn't be a “Win Hands Down” if there wasn't ‘La Raza”. That was a step to get to “Win Hands Down”. That's my personal opinion. And to follow up “Win Hands Down” is not going to be an easy feat because we think it's really one of our best records. At the moment we're writing songs and we think they sound great. We just got to really, you know, without taking an eternity like Armored Saint does, we've got to make sure it's great before we say “here it is”.
Lotsofmuzik: And you're preparing a live DVD for this tour - any idea of where it's going to be recorded?
JB: We recorded in New York and Boston so far. We're going to do a little recording in LA, and we also recorded outside of Philly. We are capturing the audio every night and for the video we’re going to use those shows I mentioned. But I don't know, it’ll probably be a combination of things.
Lotsofmuzik: You in particular have been known for doing things at your own pace, especially since 2009, which was the last time you sang with Anthrax – do the other members travel at the same pace, or do they wish you guys were a bit more prolific?
JB: I'm sure everybody would probably rather work a little more than me. I have the most invested outside of the band because I have two kids. Phil has two kids now too. But you know, it's hard for me. I love touring and I love playing shows, but I hate being away from my family. I really loathe it. And I miss things and my kids are growing – I’m sure Joey [Vera, bassist] feels the same. It's a hard decision to make. So I think that in a perfect setting we’ll do things the way we've been doing: a couple of weeks here, three weeks there, and being more selective. I think it keeps the hunger for Armored Saint and makes people excited.
Lotsofmuzik: Fans have noticed that your voice has been much stronger and you're singing extremely well over the last several years. Have you changed anything in the way you take care of your voice, such as vocal training or different techniques?
JB: I have! I changed my diet a lot: I stopped drinking coffee, I haven’t been drinking any alcohol. It only gets harder! This shit's demanding, you know, so I'm just trying my hardest to sing as well as I can. I know at the end of the day that all that really matters is to sing good. So any extracurricular activities, I've done all that - I've done it all. So I'm a little raspy right now, but whatever. I'm just digging down deep and pulling it out of me and I think my voice sounds pretty good right now. So I try to keep it up.
Lotsofmuzik: After so many years in the music business, you must have many of stories to tell – would you consider writing an autobiography at some point?
JB: Well, we have an idea to do that with somebody. We have somebody that actually wants to do a documentary with us, so we'll see if that comes to fruition. We have a couple of guys in mind that we've done things with - a couple of guys from England who want to do it and they have a bunch of footage. So who knows. I mean maybe if it really happens, it'd be really cool to actually do a movie or a documentary of Armored Saint. Because the story is actually really cool and there's a lot of interesting aspects of it. So we'll see what happens.
Lotsofmuzik: And there’s been talk of a tour where you sing the Anthrax material from your era, or even a joint tour with Anthrax and Armored Saint, which would be amazing to see. Since you mentioned this in the press, there are probably many calls from promoters already to discuss this, right?
JB: Well, there aren’t too many calls, which is funny…but one day it’ll happen. I don't want to do a ton of shows. I would like to do just maybe a handful of shows where that happens, but I’m not sure with whom or how that goes down. I don't know. I'm not too concerned about it. Really, it'll happen when it's supposed to happen, is the way I look at it.
Lotsofmuzik: Do you have a song or two from your time in Anthrax that you really miss performing?
JB: Well, I always loved “Catharsis”. I always thought that was a rad song and we didn't play it that much live. It's probably with the one record from my time in Anthrax that people think of the least, but I think there's some really great songs – “Inside Out” is another one too.
Lotsofmuzik: Thanks so much for your time, and have a great show tonight, man!
JB: Cool, thanks buddy!
Part II: Concert Review
The night started with Act of Defiance, the band formed by ex-Megadeth members Chris Broderick (guitar) and Shawn Drover (drums) after they quit Dave Mustaine’s band on the same day. In true do-it-yourself form, vocalist Henry Derek and bass player Matt Bachand fixed their setlist on the stage floor and helped roadies put together their gear. Their show kicked off with “M.I.A.”, and Henry instantly won the crowd. Chris seemed way more relaxed than during his time with Megadeth, and looked genuinely happy to be on stage, fist-bumping many excited fans. The brutal assault of “Overexposure”, from their most recent effort “Old Scars, New Wounds” came next, with great drumming from Shawn. “Lullaby of Vengeance” followed, with Henry putting his vocal chords through an extreme workout, with incredible growls. Chris’ arpeggios were impressive throughout, and on songs such as "Birth and the Burial" and “Legion of Lies”, they proved to be a force to be reckoned with. By the time that the last note of set closer “Reborn” was played, one could tell a lot of people in the crowd were won over, and willing to check out their catalogue.
Armored Saint hit the stage with the classic and summoning chords of “March of the Saint”, followed by “Long Before I Die” and a blistering version of “Chemical Euphoria”. They soon kicked into “Symbol of Salvation” in full. One would think that playing the songs in the same sequence as they appear on the album would take out the spontaneity, but that certainly wasn’t the case here. And as mentioned by John Bush in his interview, they seemed really excited to revisit the not-so-obvious songs from that album. The funky rhythm session of “Dropping Like Flies”, for example, gained a completely new lease of life on this tour. And after being absent from Toronto for eighteen years, it’s no surprise that the crowd was hungry for them. The almost AOR classic “Last Train Home” was sung in unison, as well as the syncopated chorus of the latin-tinged “Tribal Dance”, where Gonzo showed all his percussion prowess.
On the bluesy groove of “The Truth Always Hurts” they proved their versatility, and before the duo of “Half Drawn Bridge” and “Another Day”, John mentioned the absence of Dave Prichard, who passed away of leukemia during the writing sessions of the album. And if anyone needed evidence that John’s voice is at its peak, his performance on the title track more than proved that he’s still got it and then some.
After the heavy title track, two deep cuts from the album were played: “Hanging Judge”, with an almost hard rock vibe, and the Gulf War-inspired “Warzone”, where Phil and Jeff’s fretwork cut the air like a knife. The dynamic bass lines of “Tainted Past” and the thrashy “Spineless” closed the revival of Symbol of Salvation, to unanimous acclaim from the raucous Toronto crowd. And without leaving the stage, the band went straight into the encore, comprised of “Left Hook From Right Field”, one of the best songs off “La Raza”, the title track of “Win Hands Down” and “Can U Deliver”. Some of the fans looked puzzled at the omission of “Madhouse”, but other than that, no complains. Here’s hoping the band really takes advantage of the momentum now gathered, and doesn’t take too long between albums and tours like they did in the past.
Act of Defiance Setlist:
Lullaby of Vengeance
Legion of Lies
Birth and the Burial
Rise Of Rebellion
Armored Saint Setlist:
March of the Saint
Long Before I Die
Reign of Fire
Dropping Like Flies
Last Train Home
The Truth Always Hurts
Half Drawn Bridge
Symbol of Salvation
Left Hook from Right Field
Win Hands Down
Can U Deliver
Act of Defiance gallery:
Armored Saint gallery:
“I wanted the orchestral parts to be overblown, with a lot of guitars” – Symphony X’s Michael Romeo talks to Lotsofmuzik about his solo album “War of the Worlds Part I”
One of the most influential guitar players of the last fifteen years, Michael Romeo is back with a new release. While his band Symphony X Is in hiatus, he took time to record his first solo album, entitled “War of the Worlds Part I”. It’s a concept album, which uses the famous H.G. Wells novel of the same name as a starting point, but expands on the story and addresses all kinds of conflicts that humanity is going through right now: religion politics, differences of opinion etc. As the title indicates, there will be a sequel to this release, which is partially recorded already. Lotsofmuzik’s collaborator Rodrigo Altaf had a chance to discuss the new album with Michael Romeo, and talk about the current state of the music business, the idea of touring in support of the new album, future plans for Symphony X and much more. Check it out below:
Lotsofmuzik: First of all, congratulations on the new album “War of the Worlds” (notorious H.G. Wells novel), which for me has a mesmerizing effect – I can’t stop listening to it since I got it!
Michael Romeo: Thanks so much, that does mean a lot!
Lotsofmuzik: This is not exactly a sequence to your first solo effort, “The Dark Chapter”, right? It’s a completely different beast!
MR: Yeah the Dark Chapter was just a demo, really. I did it in 1991 or something like that, and I did it at home! I didn’t have any gear, and just did it for fun. But when Symphony X got the first deal with a Japanese label I had sent them that demo, and they said “can we put it out?” and I said “sure, go ahead”. But I didn’t have a nice studio or good equipment or anything like that. So to me, “War of the Worlds Part I” really is my first solo record. The production is professional, we have real guys playing on the album, and some good equipment nowadays, and guitars that stay in tune [laughs], so it’s “the real deal” now.
Lotsofmuzik: In this record you have also of John “JD” DeServio (bass) and John Macaluso (drums), and Rick Castellano on vocals. How did each piece of the puzzle in the lineup came into the band?
MR.: I just wanted guys I knew, and friends. Guys I hang out with and that I know are great musicians. I’ve known John Macaluso for years, and when I thought of doing a solo record, it made sense to invite him, nad I called him as soon as I decided to record this album. With JD, I went to high school with him, so we’ve known each other forever. He lives nearby and we’ve always thought about doing something. And Rick, again, we’re friends. We’ve known each other for six years or something like that, and I met him just jamming with some friends one day. Every once in a while I catch up with old high school friends to jam and have a few beers, and Rick came down one day. I remembered him being really good and we got along well. As soon as I thought of doing a solo record, I thought of inviting him to sing. So it was pretty mcuch dudes I’m friends with. It was all about having a good environment during the recording and having fun.
Lotsofmuzik: The starting point for the album were the choice of title and the general musical direction. To what extent were the other musicians allowed to contribute to the writing of the album?
MR.: Mostly recording. When I write my material I usually use a drum machine and some bass here and there, but it’s kinda rough, like a sketch. But the song will be the song. I sent the stuff over to Macaluso and told him “add your own thing. Don’t change the song totally, but if you have a cool fill or a beat, just do it!”. And the same with JD, “if you have a little something, go for it, and add your own thing – maybe at the end of the song, do a big finale riff or something”. But with the lyrics and the melodies, me Rick and I collaborated. We sat down here in the studio for a little bit, went through every song, and tried all kinds of different stuff. So yeah, when it came to lyrics and melodies, Rick and I worked together.
Lotsofmuzik: Regarding the lyrics, you mentioned that the "War of the Worlds” is not necessarily Earth versus aliens, but also war in religions, politics etc. It seems to be the appropriate time to talk about how divisive our society has become, right?
MR.: Wow, yeah, it is, dude…everything’s all fucked up right now!!! [laughs]. With the music, I knew I wanted to have this big cinematic thing, a little it of the Star Wars thing going on. And with the lyrics, I didn’t want to retell the novel exactly, or sing about flying saucers in the lyrics, and ray-guns etc. It would get to be too much of the same thing over and over. Me and Rick were just talking and we said “what else can we do”. And we thought, what if the “words” meant all these other things and wars and conflicts that are going on. Like you said, everything is so divided now, there’s so much conflict going on with the littlest things…so we could still keep the War of the Worlds and keep the backdrop of the sci-fi thing, but maybe throw a couple of lines here and there that kind of put a little bit of light on some of this other stuff. I’m not a political or religious dude, I’m just making an observation, I’m not preaching anything.
Lotsofmuzik: I guess from a lyrical standpoint, the songs that addresses that headfirst on the album is the aptly called “Differences”, right?
M.R.: Oh yeah! I mean, they all have a little bit. Djinn has a little bit of that as well – religion and politics primarily, between all of us there’s always differences of opinion and problems with someone else all the time.
Lotsofmuzik: “Believe” for me is the song where you get closer to the prog metal soundscape – but did you feel conscious during the writing process to distance yourself from the Symphony X sound?
M.R.: Yeah, I didn’t want it to sound exactly like Symphony X. Some of the riffs and other things I do kind of sound like Symphony X obviously, but I didn’t want it to be exactly the same. I didn’t really want keyboard solos on the album, but wanted the guitar and the orchestra to be playing a lot. Even in “Believe”, there’s that prog and melodic thing going on, but right in the middle I thought “I’m gonna break into the orchestra here with the guitar and go off on a tangent”. And there’s some electronic stuff with the robots’ thing and even some dubstep! I though Symphony X would never do such a thing, so I said “I’m gonna do that!”. I did want it to be different.
Lotsofmuzik: You just touched on the song I was going to address now, so let’s talk about probably the most controversial song in this release – from the title to the dubstep sounds – “Fucking Robots”. Do you think fans will have a hard time understanding that track?
M.R.: [laughs] I think it’s a cool song, we all had fun with it. It’s just a different thing, and a mix of different stuff. There is a little bit of dubstep, but also some heavy guitars, the orchestra is there too, and it’s just something different than usual. I think that at first people will might think it’s really weird, but if you listen to it, it sounds really cool. But that’s what you gotta do – be creative, try different stuff, or else, it’s just the same old shit. I love that track, I sit and listen to it these days and it makes me laugh, because it’s so different and so ridiculous, but it’s fucking fun, man, it’s just music!
Lotsofmuzik: What was the inspiration behind the three skulls on the cover, and who drew it?
M.R.: I was working with this artist I know, his name is Drake Mefestta, and he’s done some covers for other bands too. I told him what the album was and that I wanted a sci-fi vibe, a little dark and kind of alien-ish and maybe a little Geiger. When I said Geiger he brought the skulls and the alien texture thing in the sketches, and what he came up with really fits.
Lotsofmuzik: Just like many of the Symphony X albums, there’s a lot of orchestration and film score sounds, but here it’s blown out of proportion really – have you ever considered doing an actual movie soundtrack?
M.R.: Oh yeah, I’ve done a couple! And I’m just kind of getting it going right now, I did a horror film back in September, a TV show and another film, and had lots of fun doing that! It’s hard to make money with music these days, so I’m just trying to do whatever I can. Eventually these things will be released, and I can talk about it a little more. The horror movie was really fun, it’s an old school horror film with an 80’s vibe, kinda like Jaws or Friday the 13th. I grew up with that type of movie, so I was really excited to do that! That’s fun to do as well.
Lotsofmuzik: And have you had a chance to sit down with your hero John Williams yet?
M.R.: That will never happen man! [laughs]
Lotsofmuzik: Maybe it will, who knows?
M.R.: I would never waste his time man…he’s gotta keep writing and keep it going man! There’s a lot of dudes that really inspired me growing up: Randy Rhoads of course, Van Halen and Yngwie, Sabbath and Priest...that was a big part of my life, and with the classical music too, I was into Stravinski and guys like that. But even since I was a kid, I loved film music: Star Wars, Superman, E.T., Indiana Jones and Jaws…those are classics ingrained in everybody’s brains. So he’s a genius! I totally respect him, just like all my guys, it doesn’t matter if they’re shredders, metal guys, prog guys or film guys…if it’s good shit, it’s good shit!!! [laughs]
Lotsofmuzik: And t bring back he subject of “War of the Worlds” again, apparently Part II is almost halfway through, right?
M.R.: Yeah. When I started to write, I was writing every day, and I knew what I wanted to do, I wanted to have like you said, I wanted a little more orchestra, and the orchestration to be overblown, and with the guitar a lot too. Everyday I had a new idea, and things were moving. And after five months or so, I went back and looked at everything, it was like, more than two hours. And I said “what the hell man, let’s start recording everything”. We did the drums for everything, bass and rhythm guitars and some of the vocals. But when it came to the lyrics, it was kind of getting tough – there was so much stuff! So we said maybe let’s just work on the first bunch of songs, and then at some point we’ll come back and finish. Let’s just try to make this first half as good as we can. So yeah, most of it is done, and if this album does well and people dig it, then the other one really wouldn’t require too much time to be done. But part II is in the same vein – obviously the songs are different, but everything was written at the same time, so a lot of of the themes come back, or the theme is backward, and there’s some kind of variation on something, an all our musical tricks are there, so it’s the same vibe.
Lotsofmuzik: I think it’s a great strategy to release part I and then part II because it’s not too demanding on the listener. It’s a concept and a story but it’s not difficult for the listener to absorb.
M.R.: I think that doing a double record is just too much, even for me. That’s a lot to take in, so yeah, we decided to split it. I want people to absorb the first one for a while, and then we’ll put out the second record. They’ll complement each other, but they’ll also be a bit different
Lotsofmuzik: And you also said that initially you didn’t really have expectations to play this material live, but now you’re considering doing a tour or a few shows here and there.
M.R.: Yeah, it depends on a lot. When I started the record, I thought of having fun and invite some buddies. And even recording, it was ok to put the orchestra everywhere, and all these extra guitars, and the synths everywhere, because we didn’t know if we were ever doing this live. We said “let’s just make it sound good now, and if we do it live, we’ll worry about that later”. But it’s not written in stone. We’re waiting to see what’s going on with Symphony X. We’ve been talking about what our next move is going to be, so there are a lot of pieces being moved around the board, so to say. So we’re taking it day by day, and figuring out what the plan is going to be.
Lotsofmuzik: I can only imagine the headaches you’re going to have while trying to make the material work on a live setting, right?
M.R.: I mean, it would be hard to do, because I kinda like to have an orchestra live, even if it’s a small one, because so much of it IS the orchestra. I would hate to have four dudes playing along with a tape recorder. I’d rather have more human beings on stage. But then we get into money and other aspects, so it’s really impossible to say right now. A lot of it depends on what Symphony X’s next move is gonna be. I mean I just got this thing done, it didn’t even come out yet! [laughs]. So let’s take it day by day.
Lotsofmuzik: You’re regarded as one of the main guitar players of our generation - to what extent do you care or listen to those compliments, and who do you measure yourself against these days?
M.R.: I don’t go looking for compliments, I’m just doing my thing! I’m a chill guy who likes to write and play, and try to be creative and challenge myself when I’m writing or playing. I’m probably my toughest critic. When I’m tracking or playing or even just writing – I’m constantly asking myself “how can I make it the best I can make it”. I’m pretty tough on myself all the freaking time. But you gotta be, or else the stuff you write or play will just be tired-sounding and not exciting. I still get excited from writing – thank God! [laughs]
Lotsofmuzik: What fascinates me in your playing is how gritty you sound when you're riffing, and how clear you sound doing solos. What's your secret to achieve that, especially in a live setting?
M.R.: I don’t know, I just play! [laughs]. I really don't know. Usually the sound is basically one sound dialed in and obviously it's a little heavy but it's not too dirty where there's no clarity. So yeah, if I'm setting up my amp or whatever, it's just finding that balance. With the rhythm stuff I can dig in a little, make it heavy, but the solo stuff I can kind of move around and it's kind of fluid sounding and, and the notes are popping out. So yeah man, no crazy trick just, and even on the rhythms, like I said, maybe playing a little harder digging in to get it a little more of that aggressive sound and on the solos a different approach. Yeah, no magic tricks man! [laughs]
Lotsofmuzik: Do you find that your career path is exactly what you envisioned when you first started or not? And would you consider playing other styles of music?
M.R.: Man, that's a good question. I think kind of. When I was young I just wanted to be in a band and play music and so it's like, oh, I guess I'm doing that now. So no, I didn't know that, you know, none of us knew that the whole music industry was going to get turned upside down and financially now for a lot of guys I know and myself and everybody, it's just like, it's really hard to be musician now and make money and do it. It's just a different time. So yeah, I didn't see that coming [laughs].
Lotsofmuzik: I don't think anybody saw that coming to be honest. It is a complete shift in the music industry like 10 years ago or 15 years ago, right?
M.R.: Over the last ten years I would say is when I really noticed it. And the thing that sucks is I don't see a lot of new metal bands, like the big army of metal bands that…when Symphony x was getting going, every time you turned around there was a new band. And it was just an exciting time. But a lot of the kids now like their phones and their video game and they like electronic music and DJs, and everybody wants to be a DJ. And guitar shops are in financial trouble because these kids just aren't buying music instruments. That's scary. But I get it because it would be really hard, with the way that the business is now for bands to start fresh and really go through the normal way that it was years ago, when all the bands were doing that kind of thing. Now it's, just different.
Lotsofmuzik: And with Symphony X, these days you’re the torchbearers of the more traditional side of prog metal – which bands of the new batch of prog metal you listen to?
M.R.: I mean over the last couple of years, I can't think of too many that I've heard that are new. Honest to god. I mean I can't, and I don't even know what we would consider prog these days - there's just so many sub genres of that! So that's a tough one to answer. Even if you asked me whatever new bands I heard in the last year or two? I don't know if I can name any. I'm serious. I mean there's a few out there, but you know, it was just talking to my buddy about this yesterday: Slayer’s going to be gone, Sabbath and Rush are done, and eventually everyone's going to start to dip out and then where's the next Slayer? Where’s the next Rush, you know? I don't really see the whole new generations of kids carrying the torch for whatever, for metal and prog or whatever it is. It just seems like a different time, you know, things are kinda changed. A little scary.
Lotsofmuzik: I’m a long time fan, and saw Symphony X in Rio in 2016. The long time fans are wondering if/when we’re gonna have a live DVD release!
M.R.: Oh God, I don't even know man. I mean it's something that we had always talked about and it just never materialized. And then the whole last year was really a difficult time for the band because Russel [Allen, singer] said he wanted to spend a little time with his band Adrenaline Mob, and try to get that moving a little. And it's like, okay. And then our bassist [Mike] Lepond did a solo record. I decided to do this one and then this terrible tragedy happened with those guys and the accident [the Adrenaline Mob tourbus had an accident which ended up with the tour manager and the bass player passing away]. And I can't even imagine what they all went through. I talked to Russ a couple of weeks ago and when you go through something so awful, it kind of puts your life in perspective, in maybe changes your priorities a little bit, right? So we were talking, I said, “hey man, I get it dude”. You've been through a lot, so take some time to yourself and sort it out. Just sort out whatever you're thinking and then you just kind of let us know, you know what we're going to do. So right now we’re taking it easy and I'm kind of giving him some space to sort things out. But no definite thing. At some point we'll regroup and, and get everything back in.
Lotsofmuzik: That’s great to hear! And have you listened to the other endeavours of your bandmates in Symphony X? Silent Assassins, Adrenaline Mob, Pinella’s solo albums etc.?
M.R.: Yeah man, I hear all their stuff! When Russ finished their last album he played a little bit for me. And Lepond’s band, we did a lot of recording here - I helped them out a lot doing it. So yeah, I heard, I heard it a lot! [laughs]. And it's all good. Everybody's got their different things, Lepond likes old school metal and, Pinella, you know, he likes the keyboard stuff obviously, and I hear a little bit of Yes. And you can tell what I like – metal riffs, Stravinsky and John Williams stuff. Everybody in Symphony X has their own little thing, just trying to be creative. But yeah, like I said, at some point, we're going to regroup. I just talked to Lepond the day before yesterday, he was checking in. So we're all talking and they know that I just finished this new album too. So they've given me a little time just to do what I need to do. So it's a healthy thing, you know, after so many years of us together all the time, everybody just took a little break to do some other things that they've always wanted to do. So totally a normal thing.
Lotsofmuzik: Would you consider some sort of vehicle to pass your knowledge along – maybe Skype lessons, or more clinics?
M.R.: I might. I would rather try to put everything I know into some kind of master class series or something. Some could be about theory and some could be about guitar and picking or tapping and it could be about how to think about building a solo or a riff or putting a song together in harmony and theory. It would be cool to do that. It would take a shit ton of time to put it all together, but I’s one of those things I always think about. I'm always thinking about those things and again, it's like a time thing and I finally had time to do this solo record and at some point, you know, with Symphony X we're going to be moving ahead again. With Symphony X I just spent so much time writing and we're doing all the recording here at my place, so it's a full time job every day. But yeah, I consider anything.
Lotsofmuzik: Thank you so much for your time, and all the best with the new release! I hope to see you back on the road at some point, either with Symphony X or promoting your solo album!
M.R.: Yeah, at some point, either with Symphony X, or with the new album, it’s gonna happen.
Lotsofmuzik: I'll keep my fingers crossed. All the best, man!
M.R.: Yeah, nice talking to you, man, Take care!
Michael Romeo’s “War of the World’s Part I” comes out in July 27th, via Music Theories Recordings / Mascot Label Group. The tracklisting and personnel is shown below:
02. Fear Of The Unknown
04. F*cking Robotos
08. War Machine
Michael Romeo - Guitars
Rick Castellano – Vocals
John Macaluso – Drums
John “JD” DeServio - Bass
“Live Over Europe” is the first live release featuring the current line-up of Prog Metal pioneers FATES WARNING. Featuring 23 songs in a playing time of 138 minutes, it was recorded at various European locations (Aschaffenburg / Germany, Belgrade / Serbia, Thessaloniki and Athens / Greece, Rome and Milan / Italy, Budapest / Hungary as well as Ljubljana /Slovenia) during their January 2018 headlining tour for “Theories Of Flight”.
After the great studio album “Theories Of Flight”, which made several lists of “album of the month” and “album of the year”) in various media outlets, it makes perfect sense to celebrate the momentum once again gathered by the band. The tracklist is quite comprehensive, and will equally please the fans of the early eras of the band, when they were a blend of Rush and Iron Maiden, as well as their mid to late period, when they incorporated more industrial/ambient elements into their sound.
The live-album features the stellar line-up of Ray Alder (Vocals), Jim Matheos (Guitars), Joey Vera (Bass and vocals), Bobby Jarzombek (Drums) as well as Mike Abdow (Guitars and vocals). And just like “Theories Of Flight”, "Live Over Europe" was once again mixed by Jens Bogren (Opeth, Kreator, Symphony X,Haken). Jens went through dozens of recordings of the band’s European tour to choose the best performances, or best parts of performances, and the end result is a collage which sounds surprisingly organic and cohesive. If it wasn’t for Ray Alder mentioning the name of each different city at the beginning of each track, one could easily assume that all tracks came from the same show. That is as much a testament of the production values as well as plain evidence of how rehearsed and locked in the band is.
It should be noted that this lineup has some particularities: Mike is a new addition to the band, who joined as a touring member after long time guitarist Frank Aresti scaled down his involvement. Frank has a steady career as a Product Manager of companies like Dunlop and D'Addario, and for the time being chose to only be involved in the studio releases. And although he joined in 2007, Bobby Jarzombek only had two releases with the band until this live offering, and is still widely known as “the new guy on the skins”, such was the hypnotizing presence of former drummer Mark Zonder. And while Mike is significantly faithful to Frank’s leads, Bobby takes significantly more creative liberty, adding his own touch to several of Mark’s original fills. Both of them left their mark in this release though, and for a long time fan like me, it is quite reassuring to see them carry on with the band’s legacy in such a respectful and yet expanding manner.
I fell in love with Fates Warning just before their concept album “A Pleasant Shade of Grey” came out, and one of the things that stood out for me was Ray’s voice. There’s no denying that his voice has changed with age, but the whole band did an incredible effort to accommodate the change and rearrange the songs. In some cases, such as “Silent Cries”, “Point of View” and most significantly on “Acquiescence”, the new direction adopted was rather beneficial, and these particular versions actually sound better than the original.
Jim Matheos (rhythm guitar, and main composer) and Joey Vera (bass guitar) are their usual reliable selves in this release, and I should praise Joey in particular for his timekeeping abilities in “Monument”, a highlight of this tour which I had the fortune to witness in Toronto. The perfect blend of old and new material should also be mentioned. Honestly, after A Pleasant Shade of Grey I somehow got alienated from the band, and never fully appreciated their releases in the mid-2000’s. But adding songs like Pieces Of Me” and “One” (from 2000’s “Disconnected”) or “Wish” (from 2004’s “FWX”) was a great move. I’m finally able to enjoy them as much as the material that made me fall in love with them – the albums “Perfect Symmetry”, “Parallels” and “Insie Out”, which are also represented here.
It’s also worth mentioning what a resurgence the band has been experiencing with the last two studio albums, and both are represented here. The lengthy “And Yet It Moves" sadly is the only track from “Darkness in a Different Light”, but many songs from “Theories Of Flight” have their live debuts. The only sour note for me in the tracklist was the omission of Part XI of “A Pleasant Shade of Grey”, one of my favourites off of that release. But that’s a minor quibble, and there’s already a full release where the whole “A Pleasant Shade of Grey” is represented. Never mind me!
“Live Over Europe” is meant to be a form of retribution for the fans, and whether you’re a new fan or someone who like me has enjoyed them for more than two decades, there’s plenty to enjoy and be proud of here. Grab you copy as soon as possible and join me in singing the “whooo” part of “The Eleventh Hour” pronto!
Mixed by Jens Bogren and mastered by Tony Lindgren at Fascination Street Studios, Fates Warning’s “Live Over Europe” will be released in June 29th, and will be made available as 2CD Mediabook (Limited to firstpressing!), 3LP Gatefold + 2CD and as Digital Album all across the globe via InsideOutMusic.
Ray Alder – Vocals
Jim Matheos – Guitars
Joey Vera – Bass and Vocals
Bobby Jarzombek – Drums
Mike Abdow – Guitars and Vocals
Fates Warning “Live Over Europe (137:56) Track Listing:
CD 1 (76:39):
1. From the Rooftops (Live 2018) (07:45)
2. Life in Still Water (Live 2018) (05:11)
3. One (Live 2018) (04:35)
4. Pale Fire (Live 2018) (04:10)
5. Seven Stars (Live 2018) (05:40)
6. SOS (Live 2018) (04:27)
7. Pieces of Me (Live 2018) (03:57)
8. Firefly (Live 2018) (05:04)
9. The Light and Shade of Things (Live 2018) (09:26)
10. Wish (Live 2018) (04:22)
11. Another Perfect Day (Live 2018) (04:18)
12. Silent Cries (Live 2018) (03:31)
13. And Yet it Moves (Live 2018) (14:05)
CD 2 (61:17):
1. Still Remains (Live 2018) (15:06)
2. Nothing Left to Say (Live 2018) (07:13)
3. Acquiescence (Live 2018) (04:21)
4. The Eleventh Hour (Live 2018) (08:12)
5. Point of View (Live 2018) (05:00)
6. Falling (Live 2018) (01:49)
7. A Pleasant Shade of Gray, Pt. IX (Live 2018) (04:17)
8. Through Different Eyes (Live 2018) (04:11)
9. Monument (Live 2018) (06:04)
10. Eye to Eye (Live 2018) (05:00)
Fates Warning online:
Night On Bröcken – 1984
The Spectre Within – 1985
Awaken The Guardian – 1986
No Exit – 1988
Perfect Symmetry – 1989
Parallels – 1991
Inside Out – 1994
A Pleasant Shade Of Gray – 1997
Disconnected – 2000
FWX – 2004
Darkness In A Different Light – 2013
Theories Of Flight – 2016
Live Over Europe – 2018
Lotosfmuzik continues to honour the mission statement of being curators of good music around the world, and we are pleased to present Brazilian prog rockers Maestrick. Their new album "Espresso Della Vita: Solare" is the successor of the acclaimed debut album, "Unpuzzle!", and the EP "The Trick Side Of Some Songs" which included new versions for classics of Beatles, Yes, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, Queen and Rainbow.
"Espresso Della Vita: Solare" is the first part of a conceptual album that makes an observation of the human life by the perspective of a train trip. The album was produced by Adair Daufembach (Tony Macalpine, Hibria, Hangar), who also recorded all the guitars of the album.
In Brazil, "Espresso Della Vita: Solare" will be released on June 28th during a closed event for journalists only at Central Panelaço in São Paulo. Two official release shows, one electric and one acoustic, will also be announced soon as part of the releases schedule. Maestrick is currently formed by Fabio Caldeira (vocal/piano), Heitor Matos (drums), Renato Montanha (bass) and Neemias Teixeira (keyboards).
Our contributor Rodrigo Altaf had the chance to talk to Fabio and Neemias via Skype, and the transcript of the interview can be seen below:
Lotsofmuzik: First of all, tell us a bit about how the band started, and the path you guys went through until the lineup was formed.
Fabio Caldeira: The band was formed in 2006. Myself and Renato Montanha (bass) have played together since we were ten years old, we had another band and were looking for a drummer. A common friend recommended Heitor Matos, and since our first rehearsal, I can say Maestrick was formed – the chemistry was undeniable, and we started to talk about ideas for songs straight away. On that same rehearsal we wrote a song that would be seminal for our sound and concept – it did not make it into our first album, but it gave the idea for the whole concept of our first album, “Unpuzzled”. That song was called Electroshock, and I believe we’re going to use it at some point. It talked about a man observing a painting and empathizing with it, and we ended up creating some characters who would have been in that painting and the whole concept of the Unpuzzled album was born. Musically though, it wasn’t in the same vibe as the other songs we had, so it was a common decision to leave it out of our first album.
Lotsofmuzik: What’s the story behind the name of the band?
F.C.: That’s a funny story, because even if we consider the beginning of Maestrick in 2006, the name came a bit later, when we started to record our first album. We were thinking a lot about it, because the old name we had was Ramses II, and it didn’t exactly match the songs and style we wanted to have. When we recorded our first EP in 2010, we started asking ourselves: “do we REALLY need to use this name?”. We had several meetings to discuss the band name – some VERY long ones, in fact – and one of the names we suggested was Maestry. We also used to talk about our shows being theatrical and with lots of tricks, so another name we had was Trickycal. In one of the meetings to discuss the band name, I had just read Maestry and the next on the list was Trickycal, so we agreed on Maestrick. It clicked instantly, and we wanted a band that represented us as people and artists. I think the name has the pomp and seriousness of a maestro, and the sarcasm and irony of a trick. It’a perfect name for what we do.
Lotsofmuzik: From listening to your new album “Espresso della vita: Solare” I could probably guess, but what are some of the main influences you guys have?
Neemias Teixeira: I have many influences, but the main ones I should mention are Dream Theater, Haken, Leprous which I’ve been listening to a lot recently. I also listen to many other things that don’t necessarily have to do with our sound, such as Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson, Opeth etc.
F.C.: My favourite band is Queen, and I really like post-Peter Gabriel Genesis – not the pop phase, but the proggy side of them: Wind and Wuthering, A Trick of the Tail etc. I also like Gentle Giant, a band that I started to research and discover this year. I also like a lot of more recent European prog bands; Haken, Circus Maximus, Seventh Wonder. When it comes to Brazilian music, I like Novos Baianos, Tropicalia, Mutantes. Also Danny Elfman and Camille Saint-Saëns, soundtracks etc.
Lotsofmuzik: And I think that your preference for soundtracks is reflected in the new album right? Explain us the name of the album and the concept behind it.
F.C.: The concept of this album came when I was having coffe with my mother. We were talking and sharing sroties, and both my grandfathers worked in a rail company in the night shift in the beginning of the 20th century. I always heard stories from both of them, about ghosts but also good stories as well. At some point my mother said “life is like a train ride. When you’re born you hop on the train, then you meet other people on the same train whom you like but they need to get off before you at some point, while others you don’t like who follow you until the end of your journey, and so on. We started to develop this idea, but wanted to write the record in a way where we could express all kinds of emotions in the journey. We decided to make this album as a train journey lasting one day. “Espresso della vita: Solare” represents the first half of this journey, from 6am to 5pm. I was reading a lot about Dante Alighieri when we wrote this album, and his Divine Comedy is also a metaphor for life. The name of the album is in Italian as a homage to his work. We split the album in three parts: heaven, purgatory and hell. Our next album will be a follow up called Lunare, and will start in hell, go through purgatory and end in heaven, making both albums together a 24 hour clock.
Lotsofmuzik: Wow, that’s an ambitious concept for sure! So you’re already thinking of the next album?
F.C.: Yeah, we’ll start the pre-production as soon as we come back from Europe in October.
Lotsofmuzik: So what are the touring plans for now?
NT.: We’ll have a release party in late June, and in October we have a tour scheduled in Europe including a festival in Russia. We’ll also play in the Czech Republic, Estonia, Letonia, Lithuania, Switzerland, Germany and Italy.
Lotsofmuzik: Are you planning to play the new album in full on tour?
NT.: At the release party concert we will play the full album. We haven’t fully decided the setlist, but we’ll probably not play it in the same sequence – it will be a diverse setlist, with songs from our first album as well. In the European shows there will be more focus on the new album, but the shows will be shorter because we’re playing with other bands in festivals, so we’ll have around 40 minutes to play every night. The whole new album has over an hour, so we’ll have to think about that.
Lotsofmuzik: What is the connection between the name of the album and the cover art, and who Drew the cover?
F.C.: The artist who drew this cover has won international awards, and her name is Juh Leidl. She was responsible for the “Woman In Art Exhibition 2013” at the Ward Nasse Gallery in New York, and also sings in a band called Threesome. We sent her the concept and developed it through time. Not just the cover, but the booklet as well, is a great representation of the story we tell on the album.
Lotsofmuzik: Can we do a quick track by track of the album? By the way, I love the fact that you start certain songs in one place and end up moving in a completely different direction.
F.C.: Origami is an overture, which is influenced by soundtracks. The idea was not to do a complicated instrumental, but to have an opening track that sounded like a Broadway music score. “I a.m. Living” is the sequence, and it’s influenced by funk, which is a rhythm our bass player is influenced by, and it is quite cinematic. “Rooster Race” has a “Hot for Teacher” vibe, and also what we call “country metal” [laughs]. It has animal sounds recorded and local rhythms like catira and vaneirão. “Daily View” is our “Pet Sounds of the Opera”, with tinges of Sgt. Pepper [laughs], and with acid lyrics but sonically it has a great feeling. “Water Birds” is also “country metal”, with influences of the music of the state of Minas Gerais. It’s a song where we used an actual orchestra, as opposed to other songs where we used keyboards.
NT.: “Water Birds” has a lot of mood changes – it starts in a joyful mood, but transitions into a dark vibe.
F.C.: Next up is “Keep Trying”, which is rooted in the 80’s, with a lot of synths and an AOR vibe, with influences of Toto and Journey. “The Seed” is an odyssey, probably the most complex one we did, with Asian vibes and a chorus of more than 32 voices, and it’s essencially symphonic prog metal. “Far West” is influenced by Ennio Morricone, who wrote soundtracks for many Westerns. It talks about being nostalgic about things we never experienced, and it also hints at Mr. Big. “Across the River” is a country song influenced by old gospel songs. “Penitencia” has lyrics in Portuguese and mixes influences of Chico Science – and the female voice in the middle of the song is from my grandmother! “Hijos de la Tierra” came from my perception that we are very isolated from the other countries in South America due to the language barrier. I felt impressed with the perception the Chileans have of themselves and how they are aware of political issues and so on, and after playing a festival there, and we spoke with one of the bands in the same bill called Crisalida. We invited their singer to participate in this song, which is influenced by Andean music. She was up for it, and in this song she interprets a shaman in this song who speaks for mother nature. “Trainsition” is a play on words between train and transition, and the lyrics talk about a friend of our drummer Heitor, who wanted to be a flight attendant, but suffered a car accident. This song starts with this person talking to the paramedic, and tells about her recovery, and the times when she dreamed she was flying. Towards the end we talk about her road to recovery. It means also transition because in the full story, we are transitioning from day into night.
Lotsofmuzik – And what would you say has been the highest point in the band’s career so far?
F.C.: I’d say the highest point is the release of this new album, because it has the state of the art of what we could do. In terms of production, arrangements, composition, we are much more mature and aware of what we can do, and being able to translate our confidence and self-awareness into these songs is certainly something to celebrate. We just received the news that Burn Magazine evaluated our new record with an even better score than Angra’s new album.
Lotsofmuzik – I’ve never listened to your first album, “Unpuzzled”, but from what I was told, the new one is clearly a step up in terms of quality and complexity.
F.C.: When we recorded “Unpuzzled”, our drummer was 19 years old and I was 20! It represented well what we were at the time, but we evolved a lot since then, and I think the step up is a consequence of how we developed.
N.C.: I joined the band not too long ago and got to know Maestrick after the release of “Unpuzzled”. When it was released I thought it was really good, but in fact the new album is certainly a step up, particularly in terms of production.
Lotsofmuzik – You also released an EP not too long ago, entitled "The Trick Side Of Some Songs", with some interesting choices of covers and medleys. Tell us about that release.
F.C.: We tried to avoid having a long hiatus between two albums, and in 2016 we knew we would take two more years until Espresso Della Vita: Solare" was released. So we thought about releasing a covers album. The cover is a homage to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and has our “mascot” tricker. The EP was meant for us to clear our heads and meant a vacation period for us. There’s very little editing on that album, and we wanted to get a feel for how it was done when The Beatles, Yes and Pink Floyd recorded their albums in the 60’s and 70’s. We added also the little vignettes that Pink Floyd used in their albums, to give a sense of beginning, middle and end to this EP, and it worked almost like a parody. We didn’t actually put it for sale, but made it available for free in our website. Aside from the Yes medley we already played all those songs live, and as a bonus track we added Rainbow Eyes from Rainbow, which we recorded with an orchestra and paid homage to Dio.
Lotsofmuzik – With only one guitar player, it must be challenging to reproduce your songs live. How do you guys get around that challenge?
F.C.: For the rhythm part, our bass player holds the fort – sometimes I think there could be an additional guitar, but mostly I’d say we handle that pretty well.
N.T.: Yeah, even Dream Theater – hen they record an album, John Petrucci records rhythm guitar underneath, but live John Myung fills that gap quite well, along with Jordan Rudess. We try to do something similar.
Lotsofmuzik - On Saturday Fabio is travelling to Italy to record his vocals for the international project Holy Tide, which he is already the vocalist and Will include other big names of the rock/metal scene – What can you tell us about this project?
F.C.: I was caught by surprise with the invitation. Joey Caputo is the bass player, leader and main composer of this project. He already had a guitar player in mind and was looking for a singer. He’s playing with a band called Sunrunner, and they’re managed by our same agent, Som do Darma. Through that connection we were introduced and that’s how I was invited for it. I’m travelling to Italy this week to record it, and the sessions will last around nine days.
Lotsofmuzik – And Neemias was the winner of a contest launched by Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess – what kind of contest was that?
N.T.: In 2013, Jordan released an app called EarWizard, which works as a training for musical perception – I think it’s still available at the app stores. At the time I was studying music theory in college, and I went through all the levels of the app. Soon after he put up a contest in which whoever finished all the levels would get a half hour class with him. I had already finished and sent it, and won the contest. The class ended up lasting a lot longer, and he was very considerate. We kept in touch after that, and we met in person in 2014 in one of the Dream Theater concerts in Brazil, and met again at NAMM in 2016.
Lotsofmuzik – And how can the fans follow the most recente updates on Maestrck?
F.C.: Our website is being updated, so the best source right now is our Facebook page. Also our management at Som do Darma.
Lotsofmuzik – Thanks for your time, and I’m hoping you guys book a tour in North America.
F.C.: Our hope is to be there in September next year.
Lotsofmuzik – Fingers crossed. Take care guys!
F.C.: You too, thanks for the interview!!!
Songs / Tracks Listing1. Origami (2:13)
2. aI .m. Living (6:29)
3. Rooster Race (6:10)
4. Daily View (2:31)
5. Water Birds (4:32)
6. Keep Trying (5:02)
7. The Seed (15:34)
8. Far West (4:31)
9. Across the River (5:12)
10. Penitência (4:48)
11. Hijos de la Tierra (7:50)
12. Trainsition (11:07)
Total Time 75:59
Line-up / Musicians- Renato Somera / Bass
- Heitor Matos / Drums
- Fábio Caldeira / Vocals, Keyboards
- Adair Daufembach / Guitars
The first album of The Sea Within is set for release on June 22, and by now you’ve read all about it in our thorough review. If you haven’t, check it out here: https://lotsofmuzic.weebly.com/home/the-sea-within-the-sea-within-album-review-by-friedrich-stenzel
An ambitious mix of each members’ style and influences, The Sea Within may not be an album that grabs your attention at first. Like many great prog albums, it is best digested in small doses, where you can enjoy its twists and turn properly, and allow yourself to be slowly engulfed in their harmonies, riffs and melodies. Give it a spin and let it all sink in, then try again. We guarantee this will be a rewarding experience.
Lotsofmuzik’s Rodrigo Altaf had a chance to discuss this new release with their guitar player Roine Stolt. He spoke about the other band members and special appearances on the album, as well as his other plans with Transatlantic, Anderson/Stolt and many other endeavours. Check out the interview below:
Lotsofmuzik: First of all, congratulations on the release of The Sea Within’s first album – I’ve been enjoying it non stop since I received it. Tell us how the choice or scouting of each member of the band was made?
Roine Stolt: Let’s put it this way. I have played on record and live with three of The Sea Within members. Jonas (Reingold, bass) has been a member of The Flower Kings for a very long time, Daniel Gildenlow was also a member for two years, and he also was a touring member of Transatlantic around the time we did The Whirlwind. Most people know Tom Brislin (keyboards), from touring with Yes Symphonic, and he’s also played with Meat Loaf and Camel. He also has his own band called Spiraling, which is piano-driven pop music with touches of prog. We worked together in the Anderson/Stolt album, which we did two years ago. Marco Minneman I had never played with before, but we met in North America at some point, and we were in contact to discuss some touring before Felix Lehrmann joined the Flower Kings. He had some other touring commitments, I think with Joe Satriani or Steven Wilson at the time. It didn’t work out then, but we kept in touch. I was talking to the record label about doing something new and take a break from The Flower Kings for a while. Also, there wasn’t anything going with Transatlantic at the time, and I’m working with a second album with Jon Anderson right now, but as you know Jon is touring with his version of Yes, with Rick Wakeman and Trevor Rabin and they’re making a new album. So it seemed like a good time to try something new – new writing partnerships and playing with other guys on stage, so this is basically how this band was put together.
LOM: It’s an interesting blend of talents for sure. Was there any situation though, where there were conflicting ideas or opinions about songs? How to balance the egos and overflow of ideas?
RS: Definitely! We all have egos, no doubt (laughs). This is bound to happen when you put five people in the studio. I can’t think of a band that I’ve been in where everyone was totally on the same page. Sometimes it’s a bit more smooth, and sometimes it’s a bit more difficult to get to a point when we can all agree on something. I would be lying to you if I said that this time we agreed on each and every detail of the lyrics, the album cover, the mix…we didn’t. But at the same time it’s interesting to have a little bit of friction and to have someone stand up for their opinions. When we were recording the basic tracks in London, we had some great times and great dinners, and everyone got along really well, so that’s a great foundation to build on. If a band can play together but can’t be on stage together, then we have a problem, but this time I think we got along just fine.
LOM: You recorded almost two hours of music – did anything NOT make it to the album, and if so, has it been kept for a second release, or has it been discarded completely?
RS: I think we recorded a lot. There was something we did towards the end – possibly the last day – we worked on an experimental track that we didn’t use on the album. And I think we didn’t use it not because it wasn’t good, but because we didn’t finish it really. It was probably too experimental, so there was too much work needed to get all the pieces of this theme together and make it sound coherent. But we used everything else and experimented a lot. None of us really had a strong conviction when we finished those songs about them being in the album or about the sequence in which they’d be presented in the album. We got together, experimented a lot and played as best as we could.
LOM: The songs are split in the first “main” disc and in a bonus disc as well. What was the rationale behind having disc 2 not as part of the album?
RS.: To be honest, that was entirely the record company’s decision and recommendation. I wasn’t against it or for it, I thought they probably had a good reason to present the album that way – they kno the market better than I do. The four songs on the second disc are not second grade, it’s just the order in which they placed after we decided on the order of songs, and they ended up on the second disc.
LOM: You wrote the songs through a span of six months, and not always with everyone involved present – I guess this is the modern way of recording albums, but it still very much an organic effort, right?
R.S.: I think it is because we went to London together and sat down in the studio and played, jammed and recorded. Some bands these days are recording things on a computer and sending files to one another. I spoke to a journalist the other week and he said he spoke to a musician about a band, and this guy didn’t even know who the other musicians in the band were! That’s kind of weird – playing on an album when you don’t know anything about the other guys in the band. I’m not saying it can’t be made that way and be successful, but we’re slightly older and like to make records in the old fashioned way. The bulk of the album was finished in London and certain bits were finished at a later stage – some vocals and acoustic guitar here and there. But the bulk of the album was done together.
LOM: Of course we’re saddened by the news that Daniel will not join you guys for the first run of shows. At what point did you guys realize or discuss that he would not be available for the first run of shows?
R.S.: It was in London when we first got together and started to discuss the album. Once we sat in the same room we started to talk and realized that he’s planning a tour and some studio time with Pain of Salvation. He also has a young family – three boys at home. It’s a different case for me – my oldest son is almost 30 years old and they all have their own lives – but in Daniel’s case it’s understandable, he as to be there for them. He has Pain of Salvation which is essencially his band. And once we sat together and started to talk about touring, his preference was to continue with Pain Of Salvation, and I do understand that.
LOM: Did you invite Casey Mcpherson to sing on the album already in preparation for Daniel’s absence?
R.S.: Yes and no. Casey was in the plan even before Daniel, actually. I wanted Daniel in – I knew him from Flower Kings and Transatlantic as I said. I didn’t know Casey before this project, but he came on recommendation from other friends. When we realized that Daniel wasn’t going to be able to tour, Casey was fast in responding and helped us finish a few songs on the album, so that’s how things developed over time.
LOM: On many songs there’s a significant change from the starting point – there’s the saxophone solo on Ashes of Dawn and the jazzy breakdown on “An Eye For An Eye For An Eye”, just to mention a few examples. It makes it difficult to categorize the band, right?
R.S.: There were a lot of things that we weren’t in agreement about, but there was one thing we WERE in agreement about: we didn’t want to be a stereotype progressive rock band. We didn’t want to be another Yes clone or a Genesis or King Crimson clone. So we mixed all kinds of things together. Sometimes we sounded like a new age band, other times like a jazz band, a folky or psychedelic band…we mixed everything together, and out of the mix comes something hopefully a little bit more unique. We didn’t put any lids or limits on anything, and our composition was not by the book. If someone suggested a piano solo, like we did on “An Eye For An Eye For An Eye”, we went for it – it sounds like a crazy idea because that’s a very upbeat and rocking song, but it worked. I think that’s the case with great prog bands. King Crimson was the mother of all prog bands, and they wrote “21st Century Schizoid Man”, which is probably one of the first metal songs, and in the middle they have this crazy fusion jazz thing going on. The Beatles were also masters of that towards the end – they mixed a bit of everything.
LOM: Funny enough, the one song I thought was the most “straight ahead” songs of the album is Broken Cord, and it’s the longest one with almost 15 minutes – did you guys made a conscious decision to write one long song, or is this just how it turned out to be?
R.S.: That song was even longer – I think it had 25 minutes at least. This was something I sent in the beginning to Jonas and we were trying to make more concise songs. I remember working quite a bit on that song to try and make it more cohesive.
LOM: Let’s talk a bit about what I think is the secret weapon of the band - Marco. Are you used to working with a drummer who’s so prominent on guitar? He recorded some guitars on the album, right?
R.S.: The guitar he plays on this album was on the song “An Eye For An Eye For An Eye”. But if you listen to Marco’s own albums, he plays a lot of guitar. He has a style, and he varies between heavy riffs and some twangy 60’s sounding playing as well.
LOM: Jordan Rudess played on “The Hiding of Truth”. How did you guys think of collaborating with him? He’s in Levin Minneman Rudess with Marco, so I’m guessing that’s how the connection was made, right?
R.S.: Jordan was actually in the plan for the band in the beginning. He was asked to join and accepted to be in the band. But I think he was probably on a flight to Europe with Dream Theater, and the management team, when he dropped the news, someone was a little bit upset – I don’t know, but I guess that too many commitments for a guy like Jordan may not be a good thing, so he had to decline. And he has other commitments, he’s involved in developing new synthesizers and things like that, so he’s a busy guy. So he said he couldn’t commit to recording an album or touring and offered to play something on the album, and we accepted it. I’ve known Jordan for a long time, I thought it was a good time for us to do something together, and he played piano on one song, which is great. We’ll probably have a chance to play this song together on Cruise to the Edge, because he’s also going to be there, and hopefully he can join us.
LOM: And of course there’s a VERY special appearance by Jon Anderson which you mentioned earlier on, and I guess it stemmed from the fact that you already collaborate together, right? What can you tell us about the next album you’re working on with him?
R.S.: We started working on album number two about half a year ago, and we’re making good progress, but because of my commitment with The Sea Within, this has been put on ice. I also know that Jon is putting a live album and a studio album with Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman, so for the time being that’s where we are. Jon even brought in his son and they wrote a song together – a really beautiful song which has almost hit single potential to be honest. I hope we can carry that song all the way to the finished product, but I can’t really say when we’re going to finish it. I guess that once we do the first tour with The Sea Within I’ll get a bit more time and will be able to finish it – we’ll see.
LOM: Regarding disc 2, I think the most surprising one is “Denise”, which I thought was going to be a ballad, but it’s so dramatic, very tense in feel and execution – what can you tell us about that song?
R.S.: The initial idea for that song came from Jonas. He had the melody and some lyric ideas. I can’t remember now how developed the lyric idea was – if it came all from him or not. I remember I took the lyrics and rewrote some of it. The general idea was that of farewell – a father who committed some crime, went to prison and was going to the electric chair, so there was a dramatic effect to it. So we worked on that, and when Daniel came in he added some melody lines towards the end and started to build on the song. When we were in London to record we found this old keyboard – a harmonium, which has a distinctive sound, more like an organic sound rather than a sample. It was slightly out of tune and we used it anyway. I think this song works like a compliment to the more “streamlined” songs on the album so to speak.
LOM: The album has a beautiful cover art, done by Marcela Bolivar. What kind of input did she get from you guys to design that cover?
R.S.: Actually the cover was finished before we came along, and we were looking at a potfolio of the art she had done over the years. I don’t know Marcela personally, it was something we found on the internet. I found her some time ago and pointed it to my friend Nad Sylvain who now sings with Steve Hackett, and he used her art for an album called “The Bride Said No”. We were looking around for something that would work for the music we were making. In this case the cover works well on an LP cover and also on a backdrop.
LOM: I’m surprised that you guys didn’t give Marcela any direction, because the cover fits the name of the band and the sound so well!
R.S.: Yeah, and I think exactly like you, and this is what I said to the guys – it works almost like magic. I think that once you connect with the music, ten or fifteen years after you’ll look at an album cover and you’ll think that it fits with the music, but most of the time it’s just a coincidence. Why did The Beatles choose Klaus Voormann to design the Revolver album, or why did Yes choose Roger Dean to draw their covers? He made a career out of it and was connected to Yes forever with these wonderful covers. So I think you can’t really predict that, and there’s a little bit of magic involved. So I said to the guys: let’s not be too picky – look at it and see if it fits and if you get a good feeling and think about our music. If you get a gut feeling that this works, let’s go with it!
LOM: What can you tell us about the live set - will you prepare other songs to play live, or will your set be comprised of songs from the first album only?
R.S.: I think it will be the songs from the first album, and we’ll take certain sections of some of the songs and we’ll expand them a little bit. With wonderful musicians like Marco, Tom and Jonas, we can expand certain things to make them even more adventurous and interesting live. Once you have someone like Marco playing drums it sounds like a symphony on drums! We can play a few chords on guitar, and if Marco plays on top of it, it just sounds like a symphony (laughs). I think it would be stupid not to use these fantastic musicians to do something unique for our live performance. And we won’t be using any backing tracks. Without naming names, there are certain successful prog musicians touring out there who have everything on click track, pre-recorded vocals, people counting for them in their inner ears…for me personally that’s weird. I’m not speaking for the other guys in the band because they may have a different opinion, but I think the magic happens when you play for real on stage and take chances and risks and stretch and improvise – eventually you play a wrong note here and there, but it’s all about taking chances and inbetween the wrong notes, the magic happens.
LOM: When it comes to writing songs and lyrics, how do you know where it’s going to fit, since you’re involved in so many different bands and projects?
R.S.: I don’t actually, and I don’t think in terms of who’s going to perform it. All the time, I don’t know if I’m writing for Transatlantic or the Flower Kings. I remember writing something for a Transatlantic album which ended up on a Flower Kings album. Then one time on a tour bus someone put on the latest Flower Kings album and Mike Portnoy turned to me and said “hey, that’s OUR song!”. And I said “no, that’s a song that we rejected and I used it for The Flower Kings!” (laughs). So that’s how I do it, I just write music and present it and see whoever accepts it, and then I shape the music to fit whoever will be playing it, and they make it their own.
LOM: One question a lot of fans have been wondering about is – does The Sea Within mean the end of Transatlantic, or is another album in the cards?
R.S.: That’s impossible to tell really. I think that as it is now, Neal is busy with his stuff, Mike is out with Sons of Apollo to try to build and establish it as a new band, and he has a lot of other things too. So I can’t really see anything happening in the next year or two. For me, let’s keep it open – never say never! (laughs). I’m actually meeting Neal in Stockholm soon – he’s playing a concert in Stockholm soon, so I’m going to join him on stage and we’ll play a few songs. So we’ll meet and talk, and let’s see If something comes up.
LOM: So far there are only two confirmed appearances - Night of the Prog Festival 2018 at Loreley, and Cruise to the Edge in early 2019. What can you tell us about the other touring plans?
R.S.: There are touring plans, and we have a booking agent working on it now. Once we have the tourig plans set up we will announce the dates. We’re looking into Europe first and then North America and possibly South America. And there are also plans for Japan too. But that’s for next year. The general idea within the band was to release the album and let it sink it, and let people really get to know the songs, and then we’ll tour next year. That’s a new way of thinking – I’m used to just releasing an album and go on tour, but I guess this is how it’s done nowadays.
LOM: I think it makes sense, because it took me at least four or five listens to properly understand this album, and I still find new things here and there at every listen.
R.S.: Absolutely! I think there are songs on the album that probably stick faster – you listen to them two or three times and you start loving them. But there are other songs that will take ten or fifteen listens, and in time they will grow. Thinking back on music from the 70’s, how many times have you heard those songs until now? Think about Queen – when I first heard Bohemian Rhapsody, I wasn’t crazy about it, but every time you hear it, you start noticing all those little details, and it has a different impact than something you just heard last week. So it makes sense for us to let those songs sink in with the fans and then tour to support the album.
LOM: To finish off, where can the fans be aware of all things The Sea Within?
R.S.: We have a website set up, but it’s still under construction – www.theseawithin.net. Around mid summer it will look more like a complete website, with the band member’s bio, merchandise, links to the social networks etc.
LOM: Thank you so much Roine, I wish you all the best with the new release, and I hope to catch you guys on the road soon!
R.S.: Thank you, bye!
Ladies and gentlemen, Lucifer is amongst us. But before you run to the nearest church and ask for cover, let me clarify: rather than talking about an evil entity, I’m referring to the amazing 70’s revisionist band originally formed in Berlin, which are now experiencing a second incarnation. Fronted by Johanna Sadonis (ex-The Oath) and with her now-fiancée Nicke Andersson (The Hellacopters, Entombed) on drums, they are influenced by Blue Oyster Cult, Steppenwolf and Black Sabbath, and are ready to release their sophomore album, entitled “Lucifer II”, in July 2018.
Lotsofmuzik’s Rodrigo Altaf had the chance to catch up with Johanna S and Nicke, and they spoke about how the second incarnation of the band came to fruition.
Lotsofmuzik: Johanna and Nicke, nice talking to you! To start things off, tell us how Lucifer was formed.
Johanna Sadonis: I formed Lucifer right after The Oath ended, because I wanted to do music right away and thought I had something to give. I had a concept for Lucifer, which, honestly has more to do with what we’re doing now on the second album. Then Gaz Jennings was recommended to me and he was up for it, so we released the first album.
LOM: How did you chose that name, and are you aware that there are other acts called the same – have you guys been in trouble for that yet, are you expecting any kind of trouble?
JS: Of course there are other bands named Lucifer. If you look into metal archives, any word you might be interested in as a potential band name, there are twenty bands who already used it! With Lucifer I found five or six. And just after we recorded the first album, I got a message from a German thrash band saying that THEY would change their name. Honestly, I didn’t find any other band who could be bigger than us at this point, only bands that didn’t even exist anymore. I just thought it was a great and catchy short name that begged to be taken, so I used it!
LOM: The first thing that came to mind when I looked at the material was that the font in Lucifer’s name is EXACTLY the one used on Rush’s first album – has anyone else made that connection? Are you Rush fans in particular?
JS: Not in particular, just the first album. And that was kind of on purpose – I like the songs and the artwork of Rush’s first album. I contacted Alan Forbes, he’s a screeenprint artist from San Francisco and asked him to use that in the same font in our logo. But at the same time, there are other bands who used a similar font!
Nicke Andersson: Yeah, it’s also on Elton John’s self titled album – it was a pretty common font then, but the on that sticks out is the Rush one.
LOM: Lucifer II is a very different animal from your first album, so tell us a bit about the lineup changes that occurred between the two releases.
JS: After the last European tour last year Gaz left, and I had no songwriting partner. Meanwhile, Nicke and I saw each other the same day that Gaz said he’d leave, and pretty much there and then Nicke asked if we could write together.
LOM: Nicke, when you started writing for this album did you refer back to the first one as a starting point, or did you start from scratch?
NA: Well, first of all, since we started seeing each other, I almost interrogated Johann about the process of writing together, because I always wrote songs on my own. At some point during a Lucifer show I even asked Gaz how that worked, because I was generally interested – it seemed like something I’d want to do but simply didn’t know how to do it. When we started writing together, we discussed a lot about the direction the band was going to go and Johanna’s vision of it. I understood what she wanted, and agreed that we would stay down tuned to C#, which is the classic Black Sabbath tuning, and not change things dramatically.
JS: And after the initial surprise when Gaz left I took this as an opportunity because I thought “ok, now I can rethink what Lucifer should be”. I guess we are now reshaped to reflect what Nicke and I like musically – it’s diving deep into the music crate of the 70’s. At the same time we don’t steer away too far from our approach on the first album, because you don’t want to alienate fans completely. I’m really happy with how the album turned out, and I think it’s a step up.
LOM: What do you intend to play live when you go on tour? Any material from The Oath?
JS: No – Entombed doesn’t play Hellacopter songs, so why should Lucifer play The Oath songs, right? (laughs)
NA: We played four shows so far with the new lineup, and we mixed the first and second album in our set.
JS: I wanted to focus just on the second one, but Nicke said that we cannot leave the songs form our debut behind, because a lot of fans still want to hear those songs. So we balanced it out.
LOM: Tell us about the video for the first song on the album, “California Sun”. I couldn’t help but think about that movie Death Proof by Tarantino – was that the intention?
JS: Not really. Tarantino is great, but I think he’s too contemporary. My idea was more to draw inspiration from the videos that Deep Purple and Steppenwolf did in the 70’s with the green screen and the primitive special effects of that era, with all the psychedelic motifs. It was also a good opportunity to let loose and not seem too serious or dark. We had fun and to me it was a good chance to show that Lucifer is not all doom and gloom.
LOM: And Johanna, you directed the video yourself, is this something new for you, and did it come naturally?
JS: Well, I had the idea in my head of how I wanted it to look, with the motorcycle, and we hired one guy who had all sorts of different ideas that weren’t what we wanted. Eventually we decided to do our own thing. And Nicke and I have a very strong and similar vision of the aesthetics we want. That’s why we decide everything concerning the artwork by ourselves
NA: Also because we can’t afford to hire someone else! (laughs)
JS: That’s for sure! (laughs)
LOM: One of my particular favourite songs of the album was the cover of the Rolling Stones, “Dancing with Mr. D.”. In your version it has a distinctive Black Sabbath vibe, right?
JS: Yeah, it was my idea to cover that one, which is on Goats Head Soup. It has a creepy vibe – Mr. D is the devil of course, and Nicke picked up right away that this could sound like a Black Sabbath song with the right tuning.
LOM: Faux Pharaoh is another song you seem to be particularly proud of – tell us about the title of that song and what it’s about?
JS: I think it’s maybe the heaviest and doomest of the album. A pharaoh is a king in Egypt of course, and I made this expression “faux pharaoh” up, about someone who takes himself too seriously.
LOM: Nicke, you played most of the instruments on the album – did you feel challenged in any way to do that, or did you feel comfortable to do it?
NA: I am a bit of a control freak, so I guess it has its advantages sometimes. We were really eager to record the album, and instead of auditioning guitar players and bass players, we thought “let’s work with what we have so far” – that was me, Johanna and Robin on guitar. I love playing all instruments and it was in no way to show off, but just to get the album ready.
JS: And nowadays I live with Nicke in Stockholm, but when we recorded the demos for the album, every time I came to visit him we used the studio in his house and it was just much quicker to do it that way.
LOM: And now you have new members in the band for the upcoming tour, right?
JS: Yeah, after we recorded the album we knew we had to get more members, because we have to play live. And now we have Martin Nordin on guitars and Alexander Mayr on bass, Robin Tidebrink on guitars and Nicke is taking on drums. They are permanent members of Lucifer now, and for the next album we’ll record everything together.
LOM: Revisioning the sound of the 70’s seems to be a trend these days, with many bands not just paying homage to that era, but almost acting like we’re still in the 70’s, with the clothing, the looks, the tones…why do you guys think that that became a trend?
NA: I’ve looked the same for twenty years, maybe even more (laughs)! I think that trends come and go, and like you said this is trendy right now, but for me it has nothing to do with it – I’ve always prefered this type of music – as a sound engineer, I think the sound of the albums from the 60’s and 70’s are better than any other decade.
JS: Yeah, in modern recording technique, everything is so slick and polished, there are click tracks, and to me it’s horrible, because it takes the life out of music, it loses its charm and doesn’t sound organic. For us, looking back at the 60’s and 70’s is not a trend, this is a timeless thing. Even the bands who are not engaged in this “retro” thing, even more modern-styled bands, mention other bands from the 70’s as influences heavily, because this is where good music was. There aren’t many bands out there than can match up the craftsmanship of the late 60’s and 70’s.
NA: I have many albums in my collection which are from the 70’s, and they’re so dramatically superior to anything that came before or since! And I guess the secret is that you shouldn’t try to emulate that if it’s not in your heart – if it doesn’t come from within and you’re doing something just because it’s a trend, you’re always going to be late.
LOM: What would you say is the secret to achieve that perfect vintage tone? Is it about the pedals or effects you use, and/or how the recording is made, or the mix?
NA: I think it’s a combination of everything and even more so the mindset. I don’t go for the tone or the mix with a specific frame of mind, I just do it and to me it sounds right. My sonic preference usually falls into that, and that’s what I usually try to achieve. With guitars, I think it’s more the style of playing rather than the right use of pedals. I have tons of pedals, just because I’m a nerd (laughs), but they won’t help you if you don’t play the guitar a certain way. There are no shortcuts really. If you wanna sound like Ace Frehley, you gotta play like Ace Frehley!
LOM: You’re playing Hellfest this year – what are the expectations for the festival, and what other bands are you eager to see while you’re there?
JS: We’re excited, and we just booked our flights to that festival! I can see The Hellacopters, because we’ll play and then I get to see other bands. But Nicke will play drums with us and then he’ll play with The Hellacopters, so he won’t get a chance to see much.
NA: We heard it’s going to be really hot because it’s in the French desert (laughs). And one of the bands I’d like to see if I get a chance is Gluecifer, because they’re having a reunion.
LOM: What else is planned in terms of touring this year for the band?
JS: There’s gonna be quite a few festivals. We were invited for a show in Las Vegas and we’re planning an European tour in the fall and then maybe Japan later in the winter. We want to go to the U.S. and Canada, but not this year, because it’s really expensive and time consuming to organize the visas and flights over there. But we’ll make it happen!
LOM: How can the fans become aware of news about Lucifer?
JS: We’re on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and the addresses are:
LOM: Thank you so much guys, and all the best with the new album!
JS and NA: Thanks!
Lucifer’s second album “Lucifer II” comes out on July 06th via Century Media. The lineup and tracklist can be seen below:
LUCIFER II tracklist (42:00)
01. California Son (03:26)
02. Dreamer (04:46)
03. Phoenix (05:47)
04. Dancing With Mr. D (04:11)
05. Reaper On Your Heels (05:06)
06. Eyes In The Sky (04:30)
07. Before The Sun (03:38)
08. Aton (05:05)
09. Faux Pharaoh (05:25)
Johanna Sadonis - Vocals
Nicke Andersson - Drums
Robin Tidebrink - Guitar
Martin Nordin – Live Guitar
Alexander Mayr – Live Bass
Haken has evolved into a strong force in the genre of progressive rock. Their debut album was already too perfect to be a debut album, and every following album has explored something new, without missing that typical Haken sound. The band has reached a first creative climax with their critically acclaimed 2013 effort The Mountain, only to improve themselves with the following album, Affinity. This 2016 release connects the band’s poppy vocal lines and heavy rocking, slightly djent-influenced guitar riffs with newly incorporated influences from the 80's to form a combination that I never would have thought would work. Affinity was the first compositional group effort, while the former albums were mainly written by Richard Henshall. Especially keyboard wizard Diego Tejeida and drum monster Raymond Hearne provided loads of crazy sounds and insane rhythmical pattern that made me wonder if all of this was even possible to reproduce during concerts. Of course, a visit to one of the band’s following concerts proved those doubts unnecessary, because this is Haken we’re talking about. Everyone who has seen one of their concerts knows that they’re definitely worth visiting. The band not only plays with perfection, but with a lot of passion and contact with the crowd. Fans have been waiting for an official release of live music for quite some time now, and it seems the band has heard their wishes.
The L-1VE package includes the last show of their tenth anniversary tour in Amsterdam on CD and DVD, as well as a few songs from their performance at the Prog Power Festival 2016 and three music videos on a second DVD. As it should be at an anniversary concert, the setlist covers each of the band’s albums. Even the long debate between fans if either Visions of Crystallized is the better encore has been solved by including the latter’s performance at the Prog Power Festival on the second DVD. The minimalistic design of the package clearly follows the 80's oriented flair of Affinity.
Haken started each of these tour’s concerts with the „affinity.exe“ intro and the opener „Initiate“ from their last studio album. When the first sound effects kicks in after the barely audible morse codes, the band goes on stage and the crowd greets them with a big applause. As the rocking Initiate heats up the place, I wondered if this was just the studio version dubbed with some audience noises. Especially the Affinity songs „1985“, „The Architect“, „The Endless Knot“ and the mentioned „Initiate“ are performed extremely close to their respective studio recordings, which of course is a huge effort, with respect to performance and to recording and production. Even the insanely complex „The Architect“ (probably my favorite Haken song overall) is played with sheer perfection and holds some of the best moments of the concert. Still, these songs don’t miss the typical live atmosphere. The heavy bridge in „Initiate“, the infamous A-Team part in „1985“ and the dubstep section in „The Endless Knot“ find a lot of resonance within the crowd and are appreciated with lots of applause and cheering. During the latter one, there is even a moshpit evolving, which is happily appreciated by singer Ross Jennings. Speaking of Ross Jennings. When the first single of the album, The Mountain’s „In Memoriam“, was released, some criticism were expressed about Jenning’s voice having been overdubbed or edited in the studio. I have seen nights where Ross pulled off a performance just as good as this one. There are non-processed live recordings of the band all over the internet in which he sings just as brilliantly. And even if there was some editing done, that’s nothing reprehensible. It’s the band’s first live release and of course it’s supposed to be a good one. Ross Jennings delivers a stunning performance, as do all the others. Although everyone is concentrating on their respective instrument, they all seem to pull off their performance without any effort and still find time to smile to the audience or make some jokes with the other musicians between all the whacky riffs and complex solos.
The songs from The Mountain seem to have developed an individual live dynamic. Especially „The Cockroach King“ is always met with the crowd cheering and joining in with the Gentle Giant inspired vocal sections. The song has evolved into the band’s signature song and is an absolute highlight at every Haken concert. The mellow „As Death Embraces“ represents the only ballad and is positioned cleverly in the middle of the concert. While not being my favorite ballad of the band, it creates a welcome breather between the epic „Aquamedley“ and the progressive openers from The Mountain.
And this brings us to another highlight of the concert. The band decided to celebrate their debut album during this 10th anniversary tour and rearranged the whole thing into a 23 minute long „Aquamedley“ that features important parts from six of the album’s seven songs. The songs keep their order, but some sections are repositioned to fit into the flow of the medley. Since Aquarius was a concept album and themes were constantly reprised, this shortened version works very well.
The concert is being concluded by the opulent „Visions“, another fan-favorite and majestic finale for every Haken concert. The song’s bombastic end is truly breathtaking and frequently brings tears to the listeners’ eyes. I have attended several concerts where the crowd would just continue singing the final singalong-chorus after the band finished the song. Sadly, the recorded concert wasn’t one of those. Still, „Visions“ is the optimal closer for this progressive tour-de-force and I personally even prefer it over Crystallized.
But fans don’t have to worry about that. Because along with „Earthrise“ and the two 10 minute monsters „Falling Back To Earth“ and „Pareidolia“ from The Mountain, „Crystallized“ is included on a second DVD. Unfortunately, my promo version of the album only includes the main concert, but I have the feeling that the performances from the Prog Power Festival aren’t any worse than the ones from Amsterdam.
In the end, fans will get a great all-round package with L-1VE. The only thing missing is a vinyl release, which hopefully will follow one day after enough fan demand. The sound of these recordings is amazing for a live release, although Ross Jenning’s voice could have been a little louder in the mix. Richard Henshall’s and Charlie Griffiths’ guitars are spread to the right and left side, respectively, so listening with headphones is definitely recommended. It gives a good idea about which guitarist plays what and reveals a few details in the arrangement that wasn’t clearly recognizable on the studio records. The lightning is kept moderate but the changes perfectly match what the band is playing. While the camera work is not very spectacular, it mostly focuses on the respective main protagonist of the section and is well directed. I would have loved to see a little more of Ray Hearne though, for example by an overhead camera. His drumming on this release is insane and it doesn’t only deserve to be heard, but to be seen too. But the criticism I am expressing here is on a very high level, as basically Haken has once again managed to do everything right. Of course, this release doesn’t compensate for the ultimate Haken live experience, but it comes close, very close.
Personal favorites: Cockroach King, The Architect, Visions.
HAKEN - L1VE
Release date: June 22nd, 2018
L-1VE CD 1 (0:49:00)
1. affinity.exe/Initiate – Live in Amsterdam (06:00)
2. In Memoriam – Live in Amsterdam (04:42)
3. 1985 – Live in Amsterdam (09:21)
4. Red Giant – Live in Amsterdam (06:31)
5. Aquamedley – Live in Amsterdam (22:26)
L-1VE CD 2 (1:05:26)
6. As Death Embraces – Live in Amsterdam (03:50)
7. Atlas Stone – Live in Amsterdam (07:12)
8. Cockroach King – Live in Amsterdam (08:17)
9. The Architect – Live in Amsterdam (15:59)
10. The Endless Knot – Live in Amsterdam (06:34)
11. Visions – Live in Amsterdam (23:34)
L-1VE DVD 1 (1:54:31)
1. affinity.exe/Initiate – Live in Amsterdam (06:02)
2. In Memoriam – Live in Amsterdam (04:40)
3. 1985 – Live in Amsterdam (09:24)
4. Red Giant – Live in Amsterdam (06:26)
5. Aquamedley – Live in Amsterdam (22:33)
6. As Death Embraces – Live in Amsterdam (03:46)
7. Atlas Stone – Live in Amsterdam (07:13)
8. Cockroach King – Live in Amsterdam (08:18)
9. The Architect – Live in Amsterdam (16:01)
10. The Endless Knot – Live in Amsterdam (06:33)
11. Visions – Live in Amsterdam (23:35)
L-1VE DVD 2 (1:01:40)
1. Falling Back To Earth – Live At Prog Power 2016 (12:10)
2. Earthrise – Live At Prog Power 2016 (05:08)
3. Pareidolia – Live At Prog Power 2016 (10:20)
4. Crystallised – Live At Prog Power 2016 (20:14)
5. Initiate – official video (04:16)
6. Earthrise – official video (04:48)
7. Lapse – official video (04:44)
Ross Jennings – vocals
Richard Henshall – guitars, keyboards, backing vocals
Raymond Hearne – drums, backing vocals, tuba
Charles Griffiths – guitars, backing vocals
Diego Tejeida – keyboards, backing vocals
Conner Green – bass guitar, backing vocals
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