Held By Horses – “In History”

Held By Horses – “In History” EP (www.facebook.com/heldbyhorses)

Wow, these guys (and one plucky lass) haven’t been together for even 2 years and they’re already creating quite a stir with songs like ‘The Last Word’ (featuring Never Means Maybe’s Renz Byrne)! Although rock in their roots, Held By Horses actually have a fair amount of gallop especially in their guitar work which also blends in some very cool alternate and emo core melodies like on ‘Down And Out’, leaving the listener with something to stay in their minds. Vocalist Harriet Reynolds also has the power, but opts wisely to use it thriftily, and instead concentrate on deepening her sultry femme vocals to bring real substance to songs like ‘Little Water’, which have enough emo passion to tame a wild stallion.

MIDNIGHT “Complete and Total Hell”


MIDNIGHT “Complete and Total Hell” CD/Double LP (Hells Headbangers)

Fuck yeah! This is the kinda “black” heavy metal I can get into. It’s as if Motorhead impregnated Venom and they had a punk rock baby. Fusing all the best elements of filthy satanic metal with the energy of hardcore and you get a highly charged and  energetic album with a bright open sound, not  “dark” and muddled.  I can envision gigs with punks and metallers both enjoying this band a great deal.  Complete & Total Hell compiles all of Midnight’s 21 tracks of  material off EPs and split albums from before the release of the excellent Satanic Royalty album. This CD is also available in a double LP gatefold on silver (and black) vinyl for the collectors. The label is even putting out a fucking cassette tape edition – you bastards!

SPECTRAL LORE “Sentinel”

SPECTRAL LORE
Sentinel CD
(Stellar Auditorium)

Much of Spectral Lore’s output on this CD seems to built on the one string black metal foundation with keyboards and lots of reverb over the top. The music contains a mountain of tempo and time changes  but perhaps due to the wild smattering of riffing through each song,  none of the tracks on Sentinel really stands out as memorable or “catchy”.  The band is able to create a “spectral”  atmosphere in the slower sections which is pretty good but these parts also suffer from being too short or too varied. The last two tracks of this six track CD are basically dark ambient. Overall some of their riffing is quite good in the metal parts, I guess for me there isn’t enough subtle repetition to become a hook and get me into the groove of their songs.  There’s a level where technical riffing and cramming as much into one song as you can just becomes a chaotic mess (with keyboards and reverb thrown over the top) and this album has reached that level for me.

Korn – “Live At The Hollywood Palladium”

Korn – “Live At The Hollywood Palladium” CD/DVD (AFM Records)

I’m not a big fan of the nu metal genre but I think it would be reasonable to say that Korn pioneered that style back in the early 90s. Now, almost 20 years on, this live album shows Korn revolutionizing yet another sound, that of metal with dub and drum n bass. From what I can hear, the first seven songs like the Grammy nominated ‘Kill Mercy Within’ are from their last award winning album, “The Path Of Totality” that saw the band collaborate with a number of electronic producers like Shrillex and Datsik, and this is reflected in this live set, with each collaborator taking his turn onstage to spin out his respective track. Definitely not your usual show! However, for those of us who haven’t yet made the leap of faith, Korn also offer their usual pleasing hits – judging by the crowd’s roaring response – like ‘Freak On A Leash’ along with some early and less frequently played songs like ‘Predictable’. With the crowd groovin’ Jonathan Davis pushes out the envelope further with an ambitious cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ and a 1 minute rendition of Metallica’s ‘One’ – both slapped either side of ‘Shoots And Ladders’ – before closing with their first single ‘Blind’. You may not have been there, but by all accounts this musta been a kick ass show!

Liv Kristine – “Libertine”

Liv Kristine – “Libertine” (Napalm Records)

Norway’s Liv Kristine is probably better known to most people as the vocalist of Leave’s Eyes and the former vocalist of Theater Of Tragedy. However, this solo release is something of a departure from both those bands, being more modern rock despite being released on a metal label like Napalm. I guess a clue to this solo material came from Liv’s cover of Kate Bush’s ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes’, which she incidentally does fine justice to, and in a way tracks like ‘Meet Me In The Red Sky’ and ‘Wait For The Rain’ seem to also follow in succession, whilst utilizing elements from her past like light electronics, dual male harmonies and soft gothic rock to enhance her material still further. Like Bush, whose eclectic style saw her break the boundaries of rock conventionality, Kristine is also attempting to do the same here with the aptly titled “Libertine” which offers us unmitigated pleasure for those open enough to receive it.

Freitod – “Regenjahre”

Freitod – “Regenjahre” (Van Records)

Wow – like, if you crossed Katatonia with Emperor, the result could be Germany’s Freitod! Created by the sullen duo of R. Seyferth on Gruff Vocals/Drums and G. Eisenlauer on Clean Vocals/Guitars/Bass, Freitod takes trademark black metal riffing and raw vocals and runs it thru a melodic melancholic mix to produce a temperate but no less atmospherically powerful sound. While black metal relies on its evilness and intensity, Freitod concentrate on the inner soul and especially human emotions such as sadness, depression and ultimately, as the band name suggests, suicide. Ironically, songs like ‘Der Traumsturm’, ‘Nichtssagend’ and ‘Wenn Alles Zerbricht’ aren’t in themselves actually bleak, but the way they build within you thanks to the powerful vocals and harmonies is something else – quite a tribute if I might say so to Freitod’s powerful songwriting, that truly frees the spirit from within!

Three Hour Ceasefire – “Cry Havoc”

Three Hour Ceasefire – “Cry Havoc” (Savour Your Scene Records)

Get the feckin’ riot squad!! Hailing from Stab City (i.e. Limerick) in Ireland, THC are a juggernaut of a noise core band set to plant a metallic shamrock right in your goddamn skull! Tortured, glass in throat screaming ‘vokills’ courtesy of DC set the tone for the pummeling of KC’s brutal drumming and AL’s booming bass barrage. But it’s MM’s thick as Guinness guitarwork that proves that all you need is one heavy fucker shredding to bring it all home – and this guy does so unrelentingly on songs like ‘Trench Knife’, ‘Fall Under Foot’ and ‘Trial Of Wounds’. Completely no holds barred, “Cry Havoc” does exactly what it sez on the tin of this veritable Irish blast bomb!

Kyshera – “Made In China”

Kyshera – “Made In China” (www.kyshera.com)

LOL – if this was manufactured in China, it would truly be the end of the world! Kyshera actually come from Wales of all places but play some of the most off the wall fusion rock that owes more to the 70s prog and psychedelic inspirations of Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa and even David Bowie, but all wrapped up in a funky, eclectic modern groove also incorporating rap and grunge like elements! With an equally explosive live show and blatant political lyrics, Kyshera’s desire to escape the norm is reflected in their drive towards the undefinable on songs like ‘Mannequins’, ‘The Game’ and ‘Messiah Mask’ featuring space age keyboard sounds, slapping bass and radio mike vocals all cemented together by some equally diverse guitar work. For a trio, Kyshera certainly make a big sound, not just in depth but also in breadth and whilst genre purists may dismiss the talents of these young upstarts, I feel that “Made In China” has what it takes to bring modern prog to the masses.

Grand Alchemist – “Disgusting Hedonism”

Grand Alchemist – “Disgusting Hedonism” (Lydfella Records)

With such a catchy band name I’m surprised these guys aren’t known better outside of their native Norway, given they’ve been going since the mid 90s, and even more so when listening to their amazing symphonic black metal! With elements of Emperor, Arcturus and early Children of Bodom, there is clearly a lot going on in this complex band and it’s all brought to life by the brilliant musicianship of Grand Alchemist. Listening to superb songs like ‘Synthetic Physical Intercourse’, ‘Deserted Apocalyptic Cities’, and ‘Touching The Course Of My Muse’ the passion is abundant in the dark drawling vocals, passionate folk harmonies, black / prog riffs, delicate middle eastern melodies, goth keyboard atmospherics, heaps of heavy technical drumming – and so much more! Thoroughly pleasurable, this is an album that doesn’t hold back in giving it all to you!!!

BONRUD

I can’t say that I’m that familiar with BONRUD. In order to get to know more I thought an interview would be in order. Anders Ekdahl ©2012

Does anybody not say that this is my best work when they present their new album? What is it that makes this better than your previous ones albums?
-I’m sure most people do usually say that their new CD is their best work and most probably believe that. I certainly believe the new Bonrud “Save Tomorrow” CD is my best work! Art is very subjective and ultimately it will be up to the fans and journalists to decide for themselves. All of the reviews I have seen thus far have been extremely favorable. I strongly feel that the song writing, performances, production, and artwork are all major steps forward. More time and effort was certainly focused in all of those areas. Keith Olsen produced the new Bonrud “Save Tomorrow” CD with me and it was very carefully produced whereas the self-titled Bonrud CD Frontiers and Marquee Avalon released a few years ago was essentially a bunch of home-made demos I recorded myself that Keith mixed for me. I’m still very proud of the self-titled Bonrud CD and I know a lot of people really enjoyed that CD but my hope is that all of those fans will enjoy the new Bonrud CD even more. A lot of blood, sweat, tears, and love went into the “Save Tomorrow” CD, that’s for sure! It’s truly the best CD I could make.

What kind of process do you go through when you record a new album? Is everything ready when you enter the studio or do you improvise and improve in the studio?
-When we go into the studio, we have usually sketched out the songs and arrangements to the point where we can record the drums and then build up the song from there. However, there is a lot of improvisation incorporated in the recording process. Drum fills are adlibbed, guitar solos are improvised and arranged as they are being recorded, vocal melodies and lyrics change. In a nutshell, the songs evolve as we record them. The song that evolved the most on the new CD was the song “We Collide”. The entire song was completed in demo form with the original drums but Keith rearranged the song completely. I quite literally had to make a flow chart to figure out what parts went where and what was removed. It blew me away! We then used the new arrangement as a guide, went back into London Bridge Studio in Seattle to record new drums, and proceeded to re-record the entire song. That song even acquired last minute changes as we were mixing it. If you listen very closely to the outro on that song, beneath the shredding guitar lead you will hear a melodic motif being played by a pair of guitars where the melody is played in octaves (I call these things “Octave ID’s” and use that technique from time to time in my songs). Originally, that melodic motif appeared by itself at the beginning of the song, after the first chorus, and at the end of the song. However, Keith liked my ripping middle guitar solo so well that while he was mixing that song, he was indicating he would like me to give him something else for those motif parts. That whole discussion came after us talking about John Sykes and the Whitesnake 87 album for about a half hour. Keith told me he wanted me to give him some shredding for those parts so at 2am, I recorded those shredding leads for the intro, end of 2nd chorus, and outro on my Marshall half stack. “We Collide” is a great example of Keith’s production techniques and how he pushed me to always give him my very best. That’s why you work with a world class producer like Keith Olsen. He knows how to bring out the best of an artist.

Is there ever any danger of overdoing it in the studio? How do you know when enough’s enough?
-Did Keith put you up to asking me this question? My personal opinion is that you keep working on a song in the studio until you think it’s right so that you achieve your artistic vision. Each one of the songs on the new Bonrud CD has in excess of 100 tracks. (Keith says these songs were all as complicated if not more so than every song he recorded for the Whitesnake ’87 album). Now, a lot of that is tons of backing vocals, quadrupling my rhythm guitar parts (per Keith’s request – double tracking wasn’t enough according to Keith), enhancing all of the real studio drums with additional samples to make things go boom a bit more. We used 8 tracks for every snare hit…2 tracks for the real studio drums we recorded and 6 manually phase aligned samples at the sample level (meaning 44,100 samples per second level). Kick drums always had three additional samples tucked underneath the real kicks and we used three mikes when recording the kick at London Bridge Studio so the kick drum required 6 tracks. I believe the thickest point on the CD guitar-wise was about 13 guitar tracks going simultaneously. There is a lot of stuff going on in these songs and everything was very carefully recorded. I really wanted to make this CD the best it could possibly be and I kept going until I was satisfied. Keith completed some mixes where we thought we had it in the can but we ended up redoing the songs again after coming up with additional backing vocals or wanting to add more keys, change guitar parts…all of this took a lot of time and an awful lot of money but in the end, all of that extra work helped make the CD as great as it is. All of that extra time and expense was worth it to me to satisfy my artistic vision. However, in the current market, the extra money spent was an unwise business decision (this was an expensive CD to make) but obviously, if I cared about making money at this, I would be catering to a larger audience base with more wide-spread popularity. This was the CD that I wanted to make…the artistic vision that most truly represents me…that’s why I did this. I just hope a few people enjoy the CD!

For as long as I’ve been into hardrock (30 years) Japan has been the holy grail of “making it”. Does it actually mean anything in the rest of the world if you are successful in Japan?
-It means a lot if you are successful anywhere these days! I’d be thrilled if Bonrud was the most popular rock band in the Arctic or Antarctic…seriously! If the igloos rocking, don’t bother knocking! Japan is a huge market and it has been a very important territory for rock music for several decades now and it continues to be a very important market for music. The fans in Japan are great!

I love the soundtracks to movies like Top Gun and St Elmo’s Fire. That to me is what AOR/radio friendly hardrock is all about. What would you say is the main influence on your sound?
-I grew up loving melodic rock. My favorite band is Journey and Neal Schon is my favorite guitarist. I learned how to play guitar by copying Neal’s solos and guitar parts so without a doubt, Journey is my biggest influence. I also loved Boston, Van Halen, Bryan Adams, Whitesnake, Sammy Hagar, Ozzy, Bon Jovi, and Def Leppard. These days, I enjoy bands like Alter Bridge, Shinedown and Daughtry. The soundtracks you mentioned both contain exceptional anthems. I love the melodic guitar theme for Top Gun and the main theme song for St. Elmo’s Fire was a feel-good commercial hit.

How bad has American rock radio become? Can you still have a radio hit with loud guitars?
-You can definitely still have a radio hit with loud guitars in the US if it conforms to the “modern rock” formula. The hard part is getting the airplay in the US because most of the radio stations are owned by the same corporation who are paid by the big record companies to play the same 30 songs over and over again. The DJ’s are given absolutely no leniency to being able to play what they want and while most listeners believe they are hearing DJ’s “live on the air”, all of the programs are scripted and pre-recorded. One of my friends is a DJ on the biggest modern rock/hard rock radio station in Minneapolis so I’m very familiar with the ins and outs of rock radio in the US. The one place where we can get rock radio airplay in the US is on the “Loud and Local” shows. That helps but it is still very limiting. Radio would be a lot more fun if it could be more dynamic the way it once was.

Do you have to look harder to find people into the kind of melodic rock you play or do they come out by themselves?
-They definitely come out by themselves. The fans of melodic rock are still there and are always eager to hear great new melodic rock. I do think many people are surprised when they hear great new melodic rock though because it’s become a niche genre in the US especially and people just aren’t used to hearing about cool new melodic rock bands anymore because it’s gone underground.

I’ve always wondered what having different people coming into the recording session bring to the overall sound. Why do people have guest performers on their records?
-Great question! First of all, every musician has their own sound, style, and unique sense of creativity. Whenever a guest performer appears, they are going to add their own flavor into the mix that can add a new dimension to the music. If done properly in small doses, it can enhance a CD. All of the lead vocals and backing vocals on the new Bonrud CD were performed by Rick Forsgren. The only exceptions were that I had my friend Clyde Hannah sing half of the background vocals on “Liquid Sun” (Clyde and I wrote that song together and thus I thought it was fitting to have his voice in the background) and I had my friend Sean Smith add additional background vocals on the chorus of “You’re the One”. All of the guitars on the CD are performed by me and most of the bass lines with a few exceptions. All of the drums on the CD were performed by Paul Higgins with the exception of one song where I did the drums myself. The keys were all performed by Richard Baker, Dave Gross, and Eric Ragno, all of whom are friends of mine and exceptional session keyboardists. I decided to have real keyboard players play on the new CD since they are all exceptional at what they do. I enjoyed playing the keys on the self-titled Bonrud CD that Frontiers and Marquee Avalon released a few years ago but by letting real pros play the keys for me this time, it freed me up to concentrate on my guitar playing and bass playing. I played bass on 9 of the songs on the new Bonrud CD but my friends Brian Timpe and Rob Potoshnik both played bass on a couple songs. Brian and I both favor very smooth, round bass tones and are very precise with our playing. My buddy Rob played on “Bullet in the Back” and “Liquid Sun”. Rob has a very aggressive bass style and tone…far more aggressive than my own bass playing. Rob would never be mistaken for a professional session bassist because he has always been a live rock bassist. Having said that, I really think his aggressive bass playing and tone stand out on the CD and bring an additional level of excitement to the two tracks he played on. That was a very interesting revelation to me because I would not have thought the rawest/roughest bass playing would stand out as being the most interesting but really in the end result, it may have been the most effective. I really thought that was cool. So, the least professional musician on the whole CD may have contributed the most artistic edge. His performances worked for those particular songs.

Would you say that there is a difference between the American and European audiences? How does that difference manifest itself?
-European audiences are more hungry for melodic rock…that’s the biggest difference. Melodic rock is more popular in Europe and the people there are exposed to it more often than the people in the US and thus the flame burns much stronger in Europe. Having said that though, a fan is a fan no matter where they happen to live and I’m very appreciative of every fan we have!

What does the future hold for you guys?
-We’re currently recording some new songs and we are planning on shooting a music video in about a month. Thank you so much for taking the time to interview me and thank you to all of the fans who support Bonrud!