Sabaton – “Carolus Rex”

Sabaton – “Carolus Rex” (Nuclear Blast)

Majestic power metal is what Sweden’s Sabaton play and certainly rousing it is! “Carolus Rex” may the existing band’s final album but it is also their finest hour. From heart pounding vocals to operatic choirs to glorious melodies to exquisite violins, songs like ‘The Lion From the North’, ‘A Lifetime Of War’ and ‘Long Live The King’ resonate tales of glory told with passion and classical fervor. This is the stuff that military bands dream of playing and Sabaton have it drilled to perfection! Traditionally basing their material on historical wars, this time they have returned home to tell the tale of Sweden’s ‘Stormaktstiden’ – essentially how Sweden became an empire – and its last proponent, Charles XII (aka Karl XII or Carolus Rex) who spent over half his life at war. Like I said, it’s chest beating stuff and not without contention given its modern day associations with Swedish nationalist movements, but politics aside, “Carolus Rex” is as regal as its title and befitting of an empire itself!

Candlemass – “Psalms For The Dead”

Candlemass – “Psalms For The Dead” (Napalm Records)

After 28 years, this will be Candlemass’s 11th and final studio album, after which the band will continue only as a touring band, although I believe vocalist Rob Lowe has already left them LOL! Well, the good news is that they are going out on a high note, if a lighter one in terms tempering their dark, evil tones in favour of returning to their roots of Black Sabbath. It’s still very much doom, but Lowe is actually singing songs like ‘Prophet’, ‘Waterwitch’ and ‘Black As Time’ very much like Ozzy rather than in the classic operatic soprano vein that defined Candlemass. Furthermore, the use of hammond organ and some light harmony vocals is definitely more in the 70s style and maybe giving a nod towards the stoner market – well, it’s their last album so why not milk it LOL. Still, it’s been a magnificent career for these guys right from when we first heard “Epicus Doomicus Metallicus” in ’86 to being the defining band of Swedish doom – Candlemass, I salute thee!

Grand Magus – “The Hunt”

Grand Magus – “The Hunt” (Nuclear Blast)

I used to think that these Swedes were a pretty good stoner metal band but along with changing their label for this album, they seem to have gone back to their heavy metal roots. Remaining a three piece although now with Spiritual Beggars drummer Ludwig Witt to replace Sebastian Sippola, JB still possesses a fine voice and on songs like ‘Silver Moon’, ‘Valhalla Rising’ and ‘Son Of The Last Breath’ he now has the opportunity to showcase his ability to handle soulful and melodic stuff along with their more aggressive tones. Rhythmically the band is as tight as ever allowing them to ably handle the groovier and more harmonious material that I wouldn’t have imagined on their previous releases, so “The Hunt” has definitely progressed them now more into the realms of a traditional viking HM band. Grand Magus continue to remain grand, but they’ve cleaned up their act, taken a bath and emptied the ashtray on this one.

Dark New Day – “New Tradition”

Dark New Day – “New Tradition” (Goomba Music)

DND is a hard rock supergroup made up of guitarist Clint Lowery (Sevendust), bassist Corey Lowery (Eye Empire), drummer Will Hunt (Evanescence), Troy McLawhorn (Evanescence) and vocalist Brett Hestla (Virgos Merlot). It’s been almost 7 years since we last heard from these guys with their debut ‘Twelve Year Silence’, yet unbelievably all the songs making up “New Tradition” were written only a year after that album! Whatever the case, the good news is that songs like ‘Take It From Me’, ‘I Don’t Need You’ and ‘Fiend’ don’t sound dated despite the agit cover and song titles, which related to some label beefs at the time. With a similar, if groovier sound to that of Alter Bridge with big Americana power rock riffs and soulful vocals, DND may have picked an opportune moment to release these tracks to a brand new market!

Natur – “Head Of Death”

Natur – “Head Of Death” (Earache Records)

These Rhode Island stoners continue where Sabbath left for the dark world of doom. Playing early 70s occult rock amped up for today characterized by heavy fuzz guitar, booming bass and Weibust’s high wailing vocals, they also appear to live in a marijuana plantation judging by their far out songs like ‘Goblin Shark’, ‘Spider Baby’ and ‘Mutations In Maine’! Along with Hour Of 13, Cauldron, Barn Burner etc there seems to be quite a revival in ‘old metal’ and Natur are right up there with them, along with their own brand of upbeat stoner rock and given their fascination with the sea, could give the likes of Alestorm a run for their ale!

Sonata Arctica – “Stones Grow Her Name”

Sonata Arctica – “Stones Grow Her Name” (Nuclear Blast)

These Finns have been through quite an evolution in their time starting off as hard rock before becoming a Stratovarius inspired power metal band. On this album they have evolved yet again into a decidedly lighter direction that incorporates new styles from country to renaissance to medieval although it remains upbeat with Tony Kakko’s trademark high end vocals, chundering rock guitar and keyboard atmospherics all of which add up to make for strongly melodic songs that are both energetic and actually sound like the band are having fun! Rather than go for complexity, ballads like ‘Alone In Heaven’ sound like they’ve been composed acoustically before switching on the power, whilst the likes of ‘Wildfire Part III’ see SA almost going into Queen rock opera territory resplendent with loads of piano and tweeting birdsong LOL. If that isn’t strange enough then try ‘Shitloada ‘O Money’, which is a throwback to 80s LA rock n roll although the prize has to go to ‘Cinderblox’ – a country toon no less complete with fiddle and banjo so much so that I was expecting C.W. McCall to be rappin’ in – c’mon! Definitely one of the more bizarre releases this year….

A Silent Escape – “A Silent Escape”

A Silent Escape – “A Silent Escape” (www.asilentescape.com)

Get ready for the big one. From the ashes of Sweden’s Union Square comes A Silent Escape, who fuse punk pop vocals with In Flames guitar power melodies and Guns N Roses soloing! With over 11 years experience already under their belt, I wouldn’t say A Silent Escape are exactly new to this and the breathtaking confidence at which they belt out songs like ‘Final Chapter’, ‘God’s A Liar’ and ‘My Habit’ reflects those years as well as their talent to include some piano and electronics craftily without giving the game away. As Union Square only folded for contractual reasons with Warner (a major label no less), A Silent Escape is pretty much the continuation of a band that won best unsigned act from Bandit Rock (Sweden’s biggest rock radio station), MTV Sweden & ZTV!

DAMA

I knew nothing about DAMA when I saw their name surfing the web. But I liked what I heard so much that I knew that I had to interview them. Anders Ekdahl ©2012

Tell us about the origin of Dama? What was it that made you want to form a goth/drama metal band in the first place?
-I can say that the real beginning of this project is my lucky encounter with our arranger and drummer Piero Tarantino.. after having listened to a few of my songs he immediately proposed a collaboration. Our artistic feeling was evident from the first moment! In a short time Danilo Di Lorenzo, the keyboard player and sound engineer, the bass player Roberto Gelli and the guitarist Cristian Comizzoli joined us to complete the line up. Piero and me wanted to form a band to play the music I was written that period of my life and yes, it presents a fusion of sounds.. metal influences are mixed with gothic, pop and rock.

Being Italian and playing some very dramatic metal how much has the musical past
of Italy played a part in the forming of the Dama sound?
-Surely as italians we have a musical collective unconscious which acts inside of us influencing our creativity, our songwriting and the way we play our music, but I can tell that everyone of us have a wide musical culture, from classical music to hard rock from all over the world.. so it’s difficult to state that our italian roots have predominated.

In a country that has brought us Zucchero and Eros Ramazotti what kind of influence has that more romantic side of music had on you as musicians?
-My melodic lines surely have a romantic taste, but I don’t think that this is an italian prerogative nowadays.. I’ve grown up listening to international artists such as Tori Amos, Kate Bush, Alanis Morisette, Patty Smith and so on.. I’m not a real consumer of the italian pop music..

Singing in Italian adds to this whole romantic feeling. How much of a conscious move was that?
-It’s not usual to match metal and goth music with italian lyrics ’cause it presents the risk to sound weird or a bit ridiculous.. you should be italian to really understand it. What happened for the album “Eirwen” is that some of my songs came out spontaneously in my native language and I wrote them without thinking ’bout the matter.. then, after the composing step, we decided to leave them the way they were born and took up the challenge to use italian in this music genre. It has contribute to create the world of “Eirwen”, the words I used in the italian part of the album creates a particular and well-defined “immaginario”.

How much do you think it limits the potential of Dama that you sing in Italian, even though there are lyrics in English too? Can it in fact add to the exoticism of the band that you sing in Italian?
-It has limited us when we were searching for a contract because some labels asked us to choose between english and italian and other labels to sing only in english. Dave Smith from Ravenheart Music Records has thankfully an open mind and he published “Eirwen” in its total version. People from all over the world is writing to us everyday expressing their love for our italian songs.. finally I can say that the choice of a double album in two different languages hasn’t been a limit!

The album “eirwen” is a double disc release. Why did you do it that way?
-As I said before some of the songs I was writing for “Eirwen” came out from me in italian and other in English. Some of them were perfect to be sung in both languages. We’ve just supported my instinct.

How much of an organic process is the song writing? Do you sit in your chamber and achingly force it out or does it come to you in dreams and everyday doings?
-Well it depends. I use to play my piano and, if it’s a good day and I feel myself inspired, I’m able to write something satisfying. But the inspiration can suddenly arrive. For example I wrote the refrain of “Regina d’Inverno” after a swimming training, I was in the changing room and I started to sing the melody, fortunately I had my phone and I could record it!

I can feel that we are about to lose the whole idea of albums today with people just downloading individual songs. What are you views on the idea of an album being an entity of its own?
-I can define myself a traditionalist. Usually I love to have and to listen to the whole album of an artist. I love concept albums and I hate the commercial habit that forces an artist to have two or three powerful singles and not to care about the rest of the album, It’s a common habit in pop music. Maybe they’re right, I’m not good as a trader.
What other ways are the get people to return to the idea of the album being the main source for music consumption?
-If the whole album tells a story maybe. If the album is linked to a movie as Nightwish have made for their masterpiece “imaginaerum”.

Where do you intend to take Dama now?
We’re working on a soundtrack for a book of a young italian writer.. you will listen to the new single “Echoes” very very soon! We hope to have the opportunity to bring our music to a lot of people in the world. Thanks for this interview and keep supporting us!

EMPIRES OF EDEN

Honestly I have a hard time understanding all these supergroups that constantly seem to pop up. EMPIRES OF EDEN is another one. To find out more why I had to interview the mind behind it, Stu Marshall. Anders Ekdahl ©2012

Today it seems that every month we get a new super group collaboration. What was it that made Empires Of Eden become a reality? How did you get somebody to agree releasing it?
-Empires of Eden started in the summer 2007, I had collected some material from the writing sessions in my last band “Dungeon” that never made those CD’s but I thought were strong. From there we are into album #3 now and things are going great. Getting a deal for this new album was very easy as the guest list is very large and the project is unique to other “supergroups”. All singers write their own lyrics and melodies unlike most other situation. Japan was the first country interested and we have a great deal for Japan.

I guess the logistics of a project like this are insurmountable. How long and how hard was it to get it all done?
-We were lucky to embrace the technology of today, now skype is excellent and it can be like writing in the same room with people. So I personally found it very easy to handle this aspect. We have 11 singers on this album who recorded at all different studios for vocals, again, this is fine because most studios have excellent “cutting edge” gear and that made the process much easier. Much of the work is for me with composing and recording all the music. I play all the guitars and bass. My studio in Sydney “Frontier Studio” is perfect for the larger scale productions now, I think this total process took 18 months.

When you have a project like this in mind how do you go about choosing the right people and more importantly how do you get them to agree doing it?
-In the choosing, it’s a process of me literally, going through my vinyl collection, asking “who I want to dream to write for?”. You know as metalhead could you ever think to work with UDO? It’s SO cool. So this desire is the same for me, I am a metal fan. This is how I find the names I wish to work with. Also Rob Rock I was a fan from Driver and Impelliteri, Steve Grimmett from his work in Onslaught, Mike Dimeo from his work in Riot and Masterplan was excellent. Getting them to agree is the business angle. Yes, there are fee’s and budgets but it’s important to me they really connect to the material and really feel an ownership of the songs. For some singers, they will not agree to do these projects unless they like the songs, lucky for me I am able to connect to their singing and create something, I as a fan, would want to hear.

How much of a factor has your past played in getting the people to agree doing this? UDO is like a German metal god. Did you know all the people before?
-I have never known UDO before this album and yes he is a metal god! My past perhaps has little involvement for these guys as I compose specially for each singer, so they are hearing something that was built especially for them, I think this plays the biggest role in their involvement. Some of the local singers here in Australia I have been friends with before and Steve Grimmett, Sean peck, Carlos Zema all sang on my last album.

When you have so many different voices do you have to write with them in mind or do they add their personalities to the finished songs?
-Definitely. It’s the exact way I write songs. I will think.. “Ok.. Zak Stevens” – I’m a huge fan, I love the Savatage material, so I will start to think about my own musical vision for him and start writing. It’s the same with Udo on the track “Hammer Down” as I was very influenced by Accept but I write with my own musical voice as well, so you can see a style developing here.

How rewarding is it to be able to get so many different persons contribute to an album? Do you sit in your studio assembling the album with a big grin on your face?
-Always. You know the success for me is when the album is finished. It’s an amazing feeling to know everyone has had a great time making the music, put their own emotion into the songs and that I am proud of the final product. The sales and things like that have no bearing on the music I make. I try to keep the art pure.

When you have so many different voices and so many different singing styles to consider how do you go about getting a cohesive album out of it?
-It’s not easy, and for some people who live in a “fast food music world” it possibly will confuse them. Metal fans want the experience, the journey not a 2 minute Madonna puke song. All of the songs are my writing, so you have a total composition from my style and feel. Sure, they variances are there in tones and style but that is what makes the product unique. Each singer does their own thing which is very unusual for this style of thing, especially when some people are hired for large money, the artist wants control.. I want to harness what makes each singer brilliant.

Where did the band name Empires Of Eden come from? What kind of concept is there behind it?
-The concept was built around the fact that mankind needs to wake up. I think most people walk around in a dream state of ignorance, fed by new media lies and government smoke and shadow. Metal people are generally highly intelligent, do not conform and will ask questions.

Now that the album is done what future do you see for Empires Of Eden? How do you take it from here?
-I am in talks now with my German management company for touring Empires of Eden for Europe. It could be so great and yes, similar to Avantasia in style live. Nine singers screaming onstage.. Sounds good? All of the singers have agreed to tour so now we just need a good promoter to make it all happen.
But next for me is back to the studio as I mix and master many bands.

Do you see another Empires Of Eden album in the future and what would that one be like?
-Yes, I can guarantee there will be. I have a larger guest list I would like to compose for so hopefully that can happen. To say what it would be like is very hard with no material composed yet, but I can assure you it will be continuing the spirit of art in the first instance. Please come and visit http://www.empiresofeden.com – we have limited presale signed UDO packs available and these are VERY limited.

HEATHER LEATHER

You might have seen the name HEATHER LEATHER when you’ve surfed the net. I sure have. As I wanted to know a bit more I tried contacting the band. This is what I got back in return. Not too long but see it as an introduction. Anders Ekdahl ©2012

From what I understand you have been at this for a long time. What is the motivation to still keep doing it?
-Hola dude It all started in the late 1978, I walk in the store, and look at the magazine, and saw the runaways pictures, playing the guitars.

What made you want to be in a band in the first place? Was there one pivotal moment that made you start a band?
I wanted to be just like Joan Jett or Lita Ford. Being the first girl band in San Antonio, TX since the 1980’s it’s was fun and now still rockin’.

When you’ve seen trends come and go and bands go up like a sun only to fall down like a pancake does that make the choices you’ve done seem more right?
-Yes it is a lot of hard work went practicing original songs because you want to be yourself .

What kind of exposure do you get from the local fans and media? How often do you play live? What sort of hardrock/metal town is San Antonio?
-Yes I help bands sometimes. Now I finally am getting married after all these years. He is also a musician and a studio soundman. But I will still be jamming.

When you live so close to another country’s border does that bring along a larger understanding of people outside of your comfort zone? Can you benefit from Mexico being just on the other side of the border?
-Performing in Mexico (three shows) and being interviewed by two radio stations. It was sold out concerts. Also arrival on the records store was very busy so many peoples in line. Just for autographs. It was amazing.

What future do you envision for Heather Leather?
-We are going back to the studio record. And in the future I plan to work with kids to teach guitar lesson, for the communities. Help bands