Thursday, November 29, 2007

Interview: Age of Evil

With an appearance at Germany's Bang Your Head festival and a debut album that is drawing praise from critics, Arizona's Age of Evil  are poised to break open the metal scene. I recently had an opportunity to fire off some questions to the guys about their album and plans for the future.

[HMM] Living A Sick Dream has been out since spring and has been generating extremely good feedback. Since then you've played a few gigs locally and earned a spot at Germany's Bang Your Head Festival. What has Age of Evil been up to lately?
[ Age of Evil ] As of now we are mostly writing new material and will get back to playing more shows starting early next year. We are also going to be shooting a music video very soon for the title track of the album, "Living A Sick Dream". The video should be done sometime in January and we are very excited for the ideas and images that we will be able to capture on film, expanding our creativity beyond just music.

The winter months are understandably difficult for Age of Evil to tour. You've been invited back to the BYH Festival next summer, but are there any plans for a U.S. tour?
We plan on touring all throughout Europe this summer with the Bang Your Head Festival as our main performance so far. There are no official dates set up but the goal is to attack every major country overseas. We would like to tour the U.S. but nothing is official yet.

I'd like to talk for a minute about the origins of the band, and where you find your inspiration. The original moniker for the group was Mortuary Tribute. What prompted a name change, and what factors led to the ultimate decision of Age of Evil?
Some of the bands that inspire us are Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Yngwie J. Malmsteen and Pantera. The 80's metal scene has always been a huge influence on us. As for the name, it was something we just had to do. We felt like Mortuary Tribute didn't portray the message we wanted to send out to fans and it was not strong enough. We wanted a name that defined what we were about. Age Of Evil is to the point and needs no explanation. We live in an age of evil every day and that can be interpreted many different ways.
Age of Evil
Is there a process that you guys follow when it comes to writing songs?
For our current CD, we would usually have a band practice and just take it from there. If one of us happened to write a riff or had an idea, we would bring it to the practice. Sometimes we would write a song in one day and others took weeks. Now that we have written and recorded one album, we are much more experienced and our process has changed a bit. We can write drums on the computer and experiment with different ideas and then take those ideas to practice after much thought has already gone into the song. This way our ideas and songs are much more developed and well thought out.

What are your usual sources of inspiration when it comes time to lay down the lyrics?
Common in our lyrics are events, ideas, or theories that we believe change the lives of millions of people. We want to connect to our listeners and write about topics that they can relate to. Some of the songs on our album are politically influenced and others stress the importance of finding what is important in life and give a more hopeful message. Our inspiration comes from whatever we may feel at the time we decide to write the lyrics.

Your sound is firmly rooted in traditional metal. With most young bands embracing what I'll call the modern trend in metal (and I'll leave it at that), what prompted you to rejuvenate the classic metal sound?
We write what we want to hear and we grew up on old traditional metal. When we incorporated our influences with a modern sound we ended up with Living A Sick Dream, an album with melody and heavy riffs that isn't just noise for people to mosh to. One goal of ours is to also continue to raise the flag of old-school metal and never let it die.

You earned a glowing recommendation from Marty Friedman, who also guests on Living A Sick Dream. What was your reaction when you first read his praise?
Marty has been a big influence on all of us through all of his bands such as Megadeth, Cacophony, and his solo projects. It is an honor for an idol such as him to agree to play on our album and take the extra step to write so well and sincere about us. Hopefully it is not the last time we work with him and we look forward to meeting him.

What sort of feedback have you received from other notables in the genre?
We have received feedback from so many people including artists in Germany, Los Angeles, and here in Phoenix. All feedback is good and helpful, from nobles or not, and we are thrilled to hear that it is all positive.

How about labels? Are you actively looking to sign?
We've been in contact with a few labels, but nothing official yet. We don't want to rush into the first opportunity we get and then get raped by our first impulse. Also, with the change of how music is being sold and the change in power of the label going to the artist, we are trying to anticipate how the music industry is changing and decide how we want to be represented. We do plan on putting out the new record with a label or a backing of some kind.

Living A Sick Dream is quite a collection of great metal songs. Were there others that didn't make it onto the album, and if so will they ever see the light of day?
There were only two songs that didn't make the cut. The first one entitled, "Shadow Of An Angel" was written almost 3 years ago. It was the first song that we had ever written and we had outgrown it by the time we recorded Living A Sick Dream. The other was a ballad called, "Story Of Mine". Our producer, John Herrera, was very set on having the album heavy and straightforward all the way through and we agreed. The song would not translate well live and it did not fit in with the rest of Living A Sick Dream.

Are there any songs on the album that you consider your favorites?
We are all proud of every song on the record. Each song has its own unique sound and the listener will notice how no two songs sound alike. In a live setting we enjoy playing "Call Me Evil" because it is bursting with energy for three minutes and forty-one seconds and is fast paced. Along with that song comes our title track featuring Marty Friedman and "Fingertips Of Fate", a heavy and melodic song with a grand uplifting end.

I wrote in my review that "The Storm" was my favorite on the album. Very melodic with a lot of atmosphere. Tell me a bit about the inspiration for that track.
Jordan and Jeremy just sat down one day and decided to write a song that incorporated melody and a type of catchiness, while keeping the song metal. Garrett wrote most of the lyrics and the song is very metaphorical. We like putting ideas and thoughts into our listeners' minds for them to interpret themselves. This allows everyone to connect with the song on a more personal level.

Do you see yourselves altering your sound in any way on the next album?
Age Of Evil is currently writing new material and our sound and songs have matured in a way that no one will expect. We are keeping the new album heavy and melodic, while incorporating ideas and new directions that we have never experimented with before. We look forward to the day that new songs are released and can tell you that the future for Age Of Evil is a bright one. Fans of Age Of Evil will become bigger fans and no one will be disappointed.

Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. Do you have any parting words for the fans out there?
We love you all and would not be where we are without you. We promise to write new music that blows your mind because you all deserve it. Cheers!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Review: Beggars Ball - 1321 (2007)

Beggars Ball [ MySpace ]

Combining two parts Southern Stoner Rock and one part Hollywood sleaze, Los Angeles rockers Beggars Ball have unleashed an intriguing concoction with their sophomore album 1321. Influenced heavily by bands such as Monster Magnet and Saliva, and to an only slightly lesser extent by Guns n' Roses and Sabbath, the music offered up by Beggars Ball is primarily bottom-tuned, groovy rock with an abundance of attitude.

After a very Doomy intro right out of Tony Iommi's best nightmare, the next five tracks run the gamut of Beggars Ball's sub-genre of choice. Guitarist and founder Eddie Brnabic features prominently on each track, delivering chunky riffs and notable leads. While not flashy, his solos fit comfortably within the context of each track and do very little to distract from the core sound. One could argue that the purpose of a guitar solo is to "steal the thunder" for a brief moment, and that unquestionably has its place in certain styles of metal, but Beggars Ball is no less impactful sticking with Eddie's style of play. Dropping Eddie's riffs to the sub-basement is bass player Luciano Ferrea. Joining the band after the release of their first album, Luciano's style fits in seamlessly as he slaps out some truly heavy lines. While the majority of the first few tracks are at the trudging pace typical of the genre, "Binge" earns a spot as my favorite due to its up-tempo drive and simple, memorable riff. Slightly reminiscent of AC/DC in style and lyrical content, the song also features one of Eddie's most florid - and brief - solos.

Fronting Beggars Ball is D.K. Revelle, who possesses not only a rough-around-the-edges vocal style perfect for the alcohol-and-narcotic inspired lyrics, but sports a look straight out of the Los Angeles sleaze rock scene of the late '80s. Whether with a raw-throated scream or a slight drawl dripping with attitude, Revelle personifies the raucous nature of the music. As this review is going online, however, I learned that the band has parted ways with him.

I mentioned earlier that the first five songs ran the gamut of Beggars Ball's sound. The next five tracks are acoustic versions of the first five, effectively making 1321 feel like two EPs compressed together to make a full-length. The acoustic versions are groovy, mellow, occasionally psychedelic, and quite fit for an evening of chillin' with your "buds". "Binge" still stands out as my favorite, even acoustically. Piano and a slightly Cajun vibe make this a real toe-tapper. Both the plugged and unplugged versions of the songs stand well on their own, but together on one album they result in too much of a directional shift.

Beggars Ball tip their hat to their Southern rock influences by way of a hidden cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Simple Man". Shinedown's version has obviously garnered more attention, but pales in comparison to what Beggars Ball have put forth. True to the original, sung with palpable emotion, and closed with Eddie's most prolific solo. Very much a highlight of the album.

For fans of Southern rock doused with Stoner Rock/Doom, 1321 is a solid album that I'm sure you will enjoy. Keep an eye out for Beggars Ball.

Track Listing
1 1321 1:49
2 Helluvaride 3:56
3 Binge 2:53
4 Burnout 3:53
5 Reject 3:53
6 Dragpipe 3:13
7 Helluvaride [acoustic] 4:22
8 Binge [acoustic] 3:44
9 Burnout [acoustic] 3:58
10 Reject [acoustic] 3:49
11 Dragpipe [acoustic] 3:43
12 Simple Man 6:52
Total Runtime 46:05

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Review: Age of Evil - Living a Sick Dream (2007)

Age of Evil [ Website | MySpace | Facebook | Twitter ]
Living a Sick Dream

Age of Evil's debut album, Living A Sick Dream, finally offers something to be excited about in a world that bombards us with tedium on a daily basis. Phoenix, AZ has a solid reputation for producing highly talented thrash metal outfits (Flotsam & Jetsam and Sacred Reich being perhaps the most well-known) so it comes as no surprise that Age of Evil calls nearby Scottsdale home. This young outfit, formalized as a band only this year, consists of two sets of brothers - Jeremy and Jacob Goldberg on vocals/rhythm guitar & bass, and Garrett and Jordan Ziff on drums and lead guitar. Perhaps it's this familial bond that heightens their cohesion to a truly intense level. Whatever the secret, prepare to be blown away by Living A Sick Dream.

The first round out of the chamber is "Call Me Evil", a blistering tune co-written by Tom Gattis (Tension, Wardog, Ballistic). No time is wasted introducing the extremely talented Jordan Ziff as he lights into whiplash leads and screeching solos. Each and every member of the band overflows with talent, but it's Jordan's mesmerizing fretwork that captures your attention right out of the gate. Jordan's brother Garrett is also featured prominently on the opening track, pounding out epic beats and crushing breakdowns. Musically Age of Evil exhibits strong early-period thrash elements the likes of which haven't been executed so flawlessly since the days of denim vests and studded wristbands. When not exploding into a searing lead or solo, Jordan teams with frontman Jeremy Goldberg for some truly jawdropping riffs. Besides the inherent appeal in the music, Jeremy's vocal style injects Age of Evil with a distinctly contemporary edge that allows Living A Sick Dream to bridge the metal generation gap. His voice is everything you'd expect from the early days of thrash/speed metal - sort of a Hetfield-Mustaine hybrid with a modern alt-metal edge to it. He has an iron-fisted grasp of the concept of vocal hooks and melodies, adding yet another dimension to the multi-layered success of the album.

The title track is yet another fiery song that features not only a superb performance from Jordan,
but also the distinctive noodling of Marty Friedman (Megadeth). As much as I admire Marty, I certainly mean him no disrespect when I say that his performance takes a back seat to the young prodigy. Marty's solos are a treat to hear, but it's Jordan who drives this song and this album through chamber after chamber of guitar wizardry. My favorite track on Living A Sick Dream is "The Storm". Here the band mellows out just a bit and brings a highly melodic, atmospheric piece of meat to the table. A little on the dark side (which is why I probably like it so much), the riffs are infectious and keep you riveted.

While I was able to choose a favorite track, it wasn't because that particular song stood above any of the others - it was simply a matter of personal taste. The remaining 9 tracks are each outstanding in their own right, and contain slight variations which keep the album from ever becoming repetitive. Strings are used on "Fingertips of Fate", while female backing voclas are introduced on "Glimpse of Light". It's also on that track, as well as on "You Can't Change Me", where Age of Evil's early punk roots are most obvious. Around each bend is a surprise, but all are pleasant and only increase the enjoyability of this disc.

The production on Living A Sick Dream is pristine, except that I would have preferred hearing a bit more of Jacob's rumbling bass. He's at the forefront on "Eye For An Eye", and just under the surface elsewhere, but I think he's also a major contributor to the band's tight sound and should be heard just a bit more. That very minor criticism is all I could come up with after listening to this album repeatedly for the last 2 weeks. It never gets stale, I'm always finding little enjoyable nuances that I'd missed on previous listens, and that is why I don't hesitate to bestow a five-star rating on this debut. As a parting side note, the band would like to downplay their youth (they range in age from 16-18), but it's simply incredible that they possess such refined talent and are still in high school. These guys are good, and they're going to be around for a while.

Track Listing
1Call Me Evil3:41
2You Can't Change Me3:03
3A Call to Arms3:59
4Living A Sick Dream4:53
5The Storm3:05
6Land Of Yours3:51
7Fingertips of Fate5:53
8Glimpse of Light4:36
9Dawn Of A New Era4:10
10Eye For An Eye4:54
Total Runtime42:05

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Review: Battalion - The Fight for Metal (2007)

Battalion [ MySpace ]
The Fight for Metal

The Fight for Metal, the debut album from Swiss traditional metallers Battalion, is a no-frills example of what made heavy metal the most powerful genre of music in the modern age. Formed in Z├╝rich in 2001 under the name Corpus Delicti, the band released a short demo before changing bass players - and their name. Two years later and their full-length debut hits the streets thanks to Swiss label Quam Libet Records.

While judging an album by its cover is never recommended, in the case of The Fight for Metal first impressions are dead on. Paul Raymond Gregory of Studio 54 has obviously been inspired by the album covers of the early '80s metal scene and has created a fine piece of artwork that captures the essence of not only the album, but the band as well. Moving on to the the album title, as well as song titles such as "Headbangers" and "Gods of Metal", you're left with little doubt as to what will leap forth from your speakers as you insert this disc. As long as you understand what you're in for, and are a fan (like me) of the Golden Age of metal, then The Fight for Metal is an album you must definitely give a try.

The title track sets the tone of the album, opening with a frantic solo from Silvan Etzensperger. Silvan also handles the vocals, possessing a steady mid-range voice with a slightly throaty quality that works well to impart the "pump your fist" aggression given off by the music. He stays well below the upper ranges, remaining firmly in his comfort zone. While not an outstanding singer, he does an admirable job and fits well with the overall mood and atmosphere. My favorite track on the album, "Headbangers", is a delightfully simple track that does what it's designed to do - get your head banging. The chugging, meaty riffs from Silvan and brother Cyril are given a powerful deep-end from bass player Dejan Terzic. Add a memorable sing-a-long chorus and it's hard not to get involved in this track. Taking a page from Iron Maiden's book of historical epics, "Stalingrad" is an ambitious track focused on that fateful campaign of World War II. Silvan and Cyril broker a twin-guitar attack with adept time changes and fairly complex riffs, while drummer Samuel Riedener keeps time admirably. Silvan adds a little more grit to his voice for this track while serving up several melodic solos as the song makes its way through a nearly eight minute course. Included in the track is a spoken-word interlude, from a German soldier's point of view, that sounds quite like Maiden's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (without the German lyrics, of course). Another highlight is the bonus track, a reworked version of "Headbangers". Musically identical to the original, the vocals are instead handled by Cyril who delivers with a definite Death metal growl that makes for an interesting listen.

The one point where Battalion fails to deliver is the ballad "Through the Night". Silvan is obviously uncomfortable on this track, and comes off as sounding forced and a bit awkward. Musically the track is fine, but still comes across as painfully out of place with the rest of the album.

Strongly influenced by bands like Saxon, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and early Scorpions, Battalion have crafted a collection of blistering leads, galloping riffs, catchy choruses, and gritty vocals. Fans of classic metal absolutely should give The Fight for Metal a listen.

Track Listing
1 The Fight for Metal 2:57
2 Headbangers 3:24
3 The Raven 4:19
4 Gods of Metal 3:06
5 Through the Night 3:19
6 Find Our Way 5:14
7 Stalingrad 7:53
8 Defenders 5:57
9 Headbangers (Special Version) 3:37
Total Runtime 39:46

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