Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Samhain

As a special treat for you on this hallowed day, here is the video for "Trick or Treat" from Detroit's heavy metal horror show - Halloween. Look closely in the crowd, can you see yours truly?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Interview: Patricia San Martin of Celtibeerian

As their name implies, Spain's Celtibeerian is a folk metal band with two goals in mind - create boisterous music that's rooted in their Celtic heritage, and have a helluva good time while doing it. It's been nearly a year since Celtibeerian released their debut album, Tirikantam, but the band has been very busy bringing their music to stages all across Spain. Even so, Patricia San Martín (Patri for short), the band's violinist, donated a bit of her time to participate in Harvest Moon's Women of Heavy Metal interview series.

[HMM] For readers unfamiliar with Celtibeerian, would you introduce the band and describe your role?

Patricia San Martin of Celtibeerian
[Patri] Celtibeerian is the result of a project that Gustavo [Infantes] and Julián [Yagüe] had in mind. They were playing (and still they do) in a Spanish rock band called Mala Fortuna, and they wanted to create a new band within the European folk metal frame. The band was formed in January 2011, when Gustavo, Julián, Victor [Fernández], David [García] and Alex made the very first line-up with drums, bass, two guitars, bagpipe and flutes. Alex left the band and not much time later, in spring, and I came to be part of the final line-up. It's a happy band, with quite danceable music and generally a party on the stage. My role in the band is basically the little crazy violinist.

According to the Celtibeerian bio, the band formed in 2010 and you joined in 2011. How did you come to be involved with the band, and were you involved in any other heavy metal projects at that time?

Well, as I said before, the band was actually formed in January 2011, although the idea started to move in 2010. Truth be told, I came to be involved with the band out of a coincidence: a friend of mine told me about a “violinist needed” event in a social network, I contacted Gus with the advert and he sent me two songs to prepare (one of them was Korpiklaani's “Wooden Pints”) and we settled an audition meeting with the band's rehearsal. The day of the rehearsal I felt pretty good, in the mood, playing with them, and they enjoyed also the sound we made, especially being our very first time playing together with me. I've played other music styles, from classical to Greek folklore and even reggae and ska, but I had never played anything metal-related before joining Celtibeerian. That's why I thought it'd be an interesting challenge, and in fact, I've learned a lot and I found this is a style I love.

Celtibeerian's debut album, Tirikantam, was released at the end of 2011. How has the feedback been so far?

The feedback for this first album has been very good, really. We released the album with a little live concert in our city, Ciudad Real, in a pub called Route 66. People could barely move because it was completely full of them! At Cuenca and Madrid (bar “Callejón de los Gatos” and “Excalibur Metal Bar”) had also lots of people. People wanted to see us live, and according to what we heard from different people, they enjoyed it a lot, and so did we as well. Seriously, seeing the people enjoying so much with our work is a feeling which description is beyond words. I hope we continue with this kind of feedback in the future.

Have you received feedback from other parts of Europe and the world?

More than we expected, actually. When our songs started to sound here and there over the Internet we received album orders from Germany, France, UK... Einheit Produktionen, German distributor, ordered some copies to distribute, and they're sold also away in Japan. We've received offers to participate in festivals abroad, the farthest, USA next March, but unfortunately we can't go due our lack of money to cover the trip. We're present in several forums and social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Myspace...), and mainly to have our work in English within a purely European style metal has made it easier to have more feedback abroad than inside Spain at the beginning.

How does the word Tirikantam translate into English?

Actually, this question should be asked to David, since he's the one who does all about the “weird languages” hahahaha. But this I know: “Tirikantam” means “To the assembly” in Celtiberian language, an old (and dead) Celtic language spoken in Spain quite a long time ago.

The lyrics to the song "Full Moon" tell the tale of a warrior's longing for his new bride as he marches to war, with his story carrying over to the song "Riding Home". What was the inspiration behind the story?

Again, this one should go to David... and Gus. They both are the lyrics writers. David told us a story from an old Castilian romance, and this story of the soldier longing for his bride was adapted and rewritten until we got "Full Moon"'s lyrics. David and Gus also thought it was a good idea to use a common legend between Germanic and Celtic myths, about a man who rides to his love's place and runs into an elven, or goblin (depending on the culture), settlement when he crosses some forest or mountains. This legend was also adapted to "Riding Home"'s lyrics, carrying on the story from "Full Moon". Also, in "Riding Home", Gus and David added a pinch of humor with the goblins' curse nature and an open ending of this story.

Has the band begun working on new material for a follow-up to Tirikantam?

Indeed. In fact, David and Julián started to bring new drafts (music and some lyrics) back in October 2011, two months before the first album released! Hahaha. Today we have a good bunch of drafts, ideas, melodies, full songs, lyrics, structures... the new album is being forged and it'll be more professional, longer, deeper... if everything goes on schedule and we have enough money, we might go to studio next spring-summer.

Is the songwriting process for Celtibeerian a collaborative one? If so, what are your contributions?

Yes, composition is collaborative and open, every one of us can provide ideas, music, lyrics, whatever. Sometimes it is like brainstorming also, and then we select and evolve ideas. Usually, the initial music drafts are provided by Julián and David, and the lyrics by Gustavo and David, but then everyone works on it and everything is put in common. My main contribution is not in composition so far, but in rehearsals, seeing if everything sounds OK for me, if the violin line needs to be polished... mainly because when I entered the band, the first album was already quite finished and we were just some weeks ahead from entering to the studio, but some arrangements in vocals and violin are my contributions, added just before recording. But as I said, we never argue about who said this or who should write or not and blah blah... the process is very open.

It seems like Celtibeerian has been very busy playing many live shows. Are there any interesting stories from previous gigs that you’d be willing to share?

Wow, we've been very busy hahaha. There's a lot of situations and stories, on stage, off stage... some of them are, for example: At Galicia, when our car broke down twice on the road the same day (8 hours for 40 km), at Cuenca we forgot our merch case under the stage (it was a stage on the street, so... open) and we found the case just in front of our door the morning after (whew!), the time when Gus spilled almost the entire wineskin on him accidentally on stage at Madrid, the flood of people going onto the stage at the Keltoi Fest when we were playing Gallaecia to dance with us up there... and more recently, at Córdoba, with a very good local band, Mörrighan, the pub's owner was going up and down the stage like a little forest goblin offering us to drink from a canteen, we thought it was wine (we're used to drink it :D), but it tasted stronger... we didn't know the owner mixed absinthe with the wine, and when we had played about the half of our set list we all felt a little dizzy, got drunk “faster than it should” and thinking “what the...?” hahahaha it was actually a very funny party that day hahaha.

Is there one song in particular that you love to play live?

I like every song we have, but if I have to choose, there's always one I do love to play live: "An Dro". I think it's a lovely Breton instrumental song and I remember that at the beginning it was hard for me to learn it, I thought it was complicated in some parts, but nowadays it's just as natural as breath to me and I really enjoy playing it. I also need to mention "Riding Home" and "Praise to the Vineyards", I like them very much too.

How long have been playing the violin?

Patricia San Martin of Celtibeerian
Photo: Constantine Agüirre
Well, I'm 21 and I started when I was 11, so if maths went well I've been playing for 10 years, 8 of them between Ciudad Real and Cuenca conservatory. And I intend to continue playing the rest of my life.

Do you play any other instruments?

There has been always a very musical environment at home: my mother sings, my father sings too, and plays several instruments such as Greek bouzouki, guitar, recorders, harmonica, clarinet... so I'd always played a little of recorder, I can play a little guitar too and I love to sing.

Are there any specific musicians who inspire or influence you?

I love music and I like several styles and a lot of musicians, but if I had to say some specifics, one of my favorite violinists is Ara Malikian, a Lebanese with Armenian ancestry. Another one is the classical Paganini, the Italian violinist who was said to be possessed by the devil because of his playing style. I find also outstanding the new violinist of Korpiklaani, Tuomas, I think he's brilliant.

If there was one bit of advice that you could give to a woman with aspirations to play in a heavy metal band, what would it be?

Mainly to anyone, man or woman, who wants to play in a metal band I'd say: make sure that this is what you want. You're going to invest real time from your life and you have to enjoy it. Keeping it short, work hard, try new things, lose fear to do it and go for it if that makes you happy.

Finally, do you have any parting words for your fans and for those who may be reading about Celtibeerian for the first time?

First of all, thank you very much for making me participate in these series of interviews, I appreciate it very much, and I love to communicate my experiences with the people. And to whoever does not know Celtibeerian, I encourage them to look for us through the Internet, listen to our work and try to go to our shows and enjoy something we've created, and we created it not only for us, but to assure the enjoyment of music and party to everyone. Cheers, hugs and kisses to everyone!!

Thank you Patri for those great answers! I can't wait to hear what Celtibeerian has in store for your second album.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Review: Tiamat - The Scarred People (2012)

Tiamat [ Website | Facebook ]
The Scarred People
Napalm Records

Tiamat - The Scarred People
With autumn winds beginning to blow and the smell of burning leaves now upon the ever-chilling air, I'm more than ready for the start of the Samhain season. To enhance my enjoyment of this - my favorite - time of year, among other things I like to immerse myself in the sonic sea created by some of my most revered Gothic metal acts. In that not-so-small list of artists, Tiamat ranks highly. It just so happens that those Swedish purveyors of melodious gloom are about to release The Scarred People, their tenth full-length album since they crept onto the scene way back in 1990. Their first couple of albums charted the seas of straightforward death metal, but since 1994's groundbreaking Wildhoney album Tiamat has been full Goth, albeit with varying degrees of progressive and experimental flourishes. I'm sure it goes without saying that The Scarred People sits high among my most anticipated albums of 2012, but I've gone ahead and said it anyway. So deal with it. Just like I have to deal with the fact that Tiamat's new album falls far short of my expectations.

If the title track were all I had to measure what The Scarred People would deliver over its eleven tracks (and until recently it was all I had), I would not hesitate to declare the album to be a fine compliment to previous releases such as Prey and Skeleton Skeletron. Johan Edlund, the mastermind behind all that is Tiamat, opens the song (and album) with robust orchestration, ominous riffs, and mournful piano runs - all of which are well within the band's expected core sound. Edlund's baritone vocals are in fine Gothic form, enhanced by gripping monastic chants and exquisite synth accents. Anders Iwers keeps the rumbling pace with finely strummed bass lines, and the track closes with the fading sound of a sorrowful churchbell - an element that Edlund has carried across multiple Tiamat releases. Indeed, "The Scarred People" is everything that Tiamat fans have come to expect. As the album moves on, though, expectations become a distant point in the rearview mirror as Edlund takes listeners in a direction that is not wholly unfamiliar, but somewhere just beyond Tiamat's known boundaries.

Before explaining in further detail how The Scarred People differs from previous Tiamat releases, it's worth noting that there is plenty about this album that will please longtime fans. Edlund's masterful songcraft remains top-notch, though some of his decisions might be questioned. He still creates lush soundscapes with layered synth patterns and engaging choruses, aspects common to all tracks on The Scarred People, but enhances his vision this time around with considerable variation to his guitar tones and vocal styles. Together with Roger Öjersson, Edlund puts together a number of riffs that bounce between bluesy rock and a more contemporary, alternative sound. "Winter Dawn" and, more conspicuously, "Messinian Letter" bear witness to the alt-rock stylings while the solo on "Radiant Star" and the entirety of the instrumental "Before Another Wilbury Dies" (which is pretty much just one long solo) showcase Edlund's blues-rock leanings.

Edlund also takes an opportunity to depart from his usual confident baritone for a style that's something more Bowie-esqe on songs such as "The Sun Also Rises". There's more than a hint of an Oriental melody to this track, bringing to mind (to my twisted mind, anyway) Bowie's '83 hit "China Girl". Another vocal play that Edlund has executed on previous albums surfaces again on the song "Thunder & Lightning", where an uncredited female singer provides ethereal background vocals. It may be a familiar trick, but in the Tiamat scheme of things it's a definite winner and something that I'd really like to hear more of. As such, "Thunder & Lightning" ranks behind the title track as the second best song on the album.

The progressive/experimental avenues presented on previous releases resurface here as well on tracks such as "Tiznit" and album closer "The Red of the Morning Sun". The former song is an instrumental zen journey comprised of a mellow acoustic guitar sound gently pierced by a chimes, all of which is accompanied by pleasant birdsong. The Scarred People closes out with "The Red of the Morning Sun", the most Pink Floyd inspired song on the album. It's a meandering composition filled with urgent whispers, somber bass lines, and a guitar sound that is slightly discordant but bolstered by a rich orchestration that builds to a robust finish.

Taken as a whole and held against Tiamat's already impressive catalog, The Scarred People fails to live up to expectations. It's by no means a lousy album and Edlund's songwriting is as interesting as ever, but there's a disjointed feel to it as the familiar Tiamat style competes with a sound that is rather unlike anything the Swedes have put forth so far. If you're a Tiamat devotee, like myself, you're still going to want to add The Scarred People to your collection. For those (very few) unfamiliar with the band, start with an earlier release.
Track Listing
1The Scarred People7:40
2Winter Dawn5:14
4Radiant Star4:47
5The Sun Also Rises6:08
6Before Another Wilbury Dies2:42
7Love Terrorists6:44
8Messinian Letter5:21
9Thunder & Lightning5:35
11The Red of the Morning Sun5:23
Total Runtime58:14

Monday, October 22, 2012

Review: Vext - Impermanence (2012)

Vext [ Facebook ]

Vext - Impermanence
Former Snot frontman Tommy Vext, whose departure from Dino Cazares' Divine Heresy outfit in 2008 resulted in a bit of a sensation for the metal tabloids, has overcome considerable adversity to form a new project called simply Vext. Besides the Divine Heresy incident, Tommy Vext was brutally attacked during a 2010 robbery and left with severe injuries and monumental medical bills. A benefit concert was arranged, at which talk of a new project began with Mutiny Within's Andrew Jacobs. Joined later by drummer Bill Fore (Mutiny Within) and guitarist Angel Vivaldi, the group set about recording their debut EP Impermanence. Fans of the groups mentioned so far will find Impermanence to be quite a different album than they'd expect, given the musicians' backgrounds. The four songs presented on this EP instead explore the sound that has become the mainstay of modern rock radio.

Whatever your thoughts about the sound that Vext has chosen to embrace with his new project, his vocal talent is to be respected. Compellingly passionate, Vext's voice soars and swoops with emotion that is unquestionably genuine. Three of the four songs on Impermanence are designed to play to Vext's strengths behind the microphone, being contemporary equivalents of the '80s power ballad. The first, "Exit Wounds", is a slow burner that builds tension over its runtime without significantly increasing the tempo. Instead, Vivaldi drops plenty of pinched riffs that have a bit of a Tool swirl to them while Jacobs adds a number of weighty bass lines. "Crush" is the song most poised for Clear Channel success, with strong doses of pop-rock structure and vocal melodies. The post-rock guitar tones are nice, as is Vivaldi's screeching solo, so don't be surprised to soon hear this number on the FM airwaves (for those who still listen, that is). Impermanence wraps up with "Hourglass", where Jacobs' grinding bass is the strongest element next to Vext's prominently processed vocals. Jacobs has since left Vext, so the impact of the bass on future releases is in question.

"In The End" is by far the band's best work. In opposition to the three other tracks, the pace here is aggressive with pounding double-kick and gritty riffs. Vext ups the ante as well, his performance often bordering on screamcore though the refrains remain clean and highly melodic. Being as ill-disposed to what passes for rock these days, it should come as no surprise that I would be eager to hear more of this sort of output from Vext.

To be perfectly honest, most metal fans won't find much on Impermanence that will get their blood flowing. But if there's a place in your heart for modern rock, then by all means track down a copy of Vext's EP and keep an eye out for more from this New York outfit. There's no denying that the guys are talented.

Track Listing
1Exit Wounds4:19
2In The End4:06
Total Runtime16:37

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Interview: Isa of Carnal Decay

When it comes to grindcore, Switzerland's Carnal Decay is not your average gore-obsessed band. Their music is undeniably brutal, but hidden within the pummeling beats is a sense of melody and lyrical maturity. Perhaps what sets Carnal Decay apart is their former punk rock guitarist or hardcore frontman. More than likely it's both, along with the band's tendency to take their music seriously without losing that sanguinary edge that their chosen style requires. Isa, the band's former punk rock guitarist, graciously took the time to answer a few questions about the band's recent line-up changes, their latest album On Top of the Food Chain, and what's next for Carnal Decay.

[HMM] For readers who may be unfamiliar with Carnal Decay, would you introduce the band and describe your role?

Isa of Carnal Decay
[Isa] We’re a brutal death metal band from Switzerland and Germany. Our style is a mix of fast, aggressive death metal and groovy hardcore parts with a lot of  "drinking-Jäger"-breaks. We toured in Mexico, Russia, Ukraine, Malta, USA and all around Europe. We played festivals like Las Vegas Death Fest, Gothenburg Death Fest, NRW Death Fest, Malta Death Fest and three times the Mountains of Death Festival. These are our full-lengths: Carnal Pleasures (2006, Fastbeast), Chopping off the Head (2008, Fastbeast) and On Top of the Food Chain (2011, Sevared Records). We’re also on a split named Grotesque First Action and on some samplers like the new Gentle Carnage. I’m the guitar player!

How and when was the band formed?

Our singer and former bass player Michael started the band in 2001 with two other guys as a project. At the same time, I decided to stop playing in this punk rock band I had and I accidentally passed by Carnal Decay's rehearsal room. I just went in and was very impressed about them and their sound. They were looking out for a second guitar player and so I was in the band! This was 2002. A year later the drummer changed, Reti was coming, and in 2005 the other guitar player left the band. We played then as a three-piece till 2010, when Michael broke his arm while he was snowboarding. Then Nasar joined the band on bass (first only as a session member) and Michael's now concentrating only on the microphone.

Your performance at this year's Malta Death Fest was the last live appearance with drummer Reti, who departs the band after nine years behind the kit. I'm sure that gig was special for Carnal Decay. What were you feeling as you progressed through the set?

During the set I was very happy and deeply grateful, that Reti's last show with us was such a cool Festival like the Malta Death Fest, with so dedicated people in the audience who really shared their blood and sweat with us! It was one of our best shows I think , a great peak for Reti. The real separation happened months before and was a long process for all of us. That was the hard and sad part of it. Sounds dramatic, but  imagine nine years of rehearsals, touring and drinking together and then he is leaving!

The band is now moving forward and searching for a new drummer. How have the auditions been going?

They start end of October. I’m looking forward to it! Important for us is that he's a cool guy with dedication, willing to travel around for less money, and no straight-edge, haha!

On Top of the Food Chain, Carnal Decay's third full-length album, was released in 2011 on American label Sevared Records. How did your deal with Sevared come about?

Carnal Decay
We met Barret from Sevared at the Central Illinois Metal Fest. We played there and Barret was asking us if we want to bring out our next full-length on his label. Sure we wanted!

Where was the album recorded, and how was the studio experience compared to your first two albums?

We recorded On Top of the Food Chain and Chopping off the Head in our own studio in the rehearsal room. It's placed in an old chicken farm; sometimes you still smell it. Carnal Pleasures, our first full-length, was recorded in a external studio in Switzerland. Working in our own studio is always comfortable, no time limit... and no stress if you don't arrange the release party before finishing recording, even before finishing songwriting like we did, haha!

Your website describes several shifts in style across your three albums - first technical death metal, then "American" death metal, and now more of a groove-oriented sound. Do you expect there to be more changes on the next Carnal Decay release?

It will probably not go to pop or hiphop, but with a new drummer, I would be surprised if it's exactly a On Top of the Food Chain follower. All in all it went and hopefully always goes to a simple and straight sound without frills, suitable to our level.

Has the band begun writing material for a follow-up to On Top of the Food Chain?


Is the band's songwriting process a collaborative one? If so, what are your contributions?

Isa of Carnal Decay
It’s mainly a collaboration between Michael and me. Beside bass, he is also playing guitar. With the riffs everyone of us got by ourselves, we trying to figure out a song together, or just a song structure, a theme. With this unfinished song we’re jamming around with our drummer. Sometimes there is soon a cool song, sometimes we change everything or work on it again and again, just to throw the whole song away or keep only one part and start a new song with it. Then the story starts again...

Some Carnal Decay lyrics aren't quite as "gore" oriented as those of most brutal death metal outfits. Where does the band find inspiration for their words?

The lyrics are mainly Michael's thing. Could be there is a rough idea for a theme from my side, or during recording sessions I cross out some lines, but he really wants to shout out things he can totally stand for. His affinity to hardcore is a reason for these serious backings for sure. Beside that, he is adding some funny parts to his lyrics quite often, which fits our songs and us very well.

Back in June of this year, Carnal Decay embarked on a short tour of the western and mid-western United States. Was that the band's first trip to the US?

It was the first real tour in the US, before that we just had a little side trip on our second Mexico tour in 2010 to the Central Illinois Metal Fest. And also in 2001 the former Carnal Decay line-up went to Water Music Studios in New Jersey to record their demo with Billy Milano.

Did playing shows in the US meet, or not meet, your expectations?

What I learned from  my first tour ever was having no expectations at all! We heard a lot of stories about touring in the US from bands from different countries who already made this experience. So we were a bit prepared about the looong distances you have to drive (in our case in a car with no AC, also through the desert) and the circumstance, that as a band you don‘t get food or beers for free like we know it from most of the other places we've been. Anyway, I won’t miss these experiences. It was amazing and we had so much fun with our touring mates in Vomit God, Devour the Unborn and Coprophiliac.

Are there any interesting stories from the road that you'd be willing to share?

Maybe the best stories I don’t remember... It's not one certain story, but it's surely a great night when Nasar's puking in the bus in Kiev, Michael's puking all over the walkway in Vienna, Reti's falling asleep in a hedge in Berlin and I pass out on a table in a bar in Cancun!

How long have you been playing guitar, and what led to your involvement in heavy metal?

Isa of Carnal Decay
I'm playing now for around 17 years, two years with lessons with the acoustic guitar. I was not interested in being able to read music, so I stopped the lessons, got an electric guitar and start with - of course - Nirvana and punk songs, just what I've listened to in that time. Soon I had my first bands, thrash metal, punk rock... And I accidentally passed by Carnal Decay's rehearsal room... you already know that story.

Are there any specific guitar players who inspire or influence you?

Not only in the metal scene, although there a lot of great musicians. I'm extremely impressed from Mark Knopfler – who's not? – but also from guitar players like Courtney Love... She may be don’t always find the right tone and it's not perfect at all, but she's playing very straight and dirty. I like it straight and dirty!

If there was one bit of advice that you could give to a woman with aspirations to play guitar in a heavy metal band, what would it be?

You don’t have to be perfect!

Finally, do you have any parting words for your fans and for those who may be reading about Carnal Decay for the first time?

For our fans: Thank you so much for all these cool parties we had and hopefully will have with you!
For all the others: Hope to see you guys once on a show... Let's drink a beer together!
To you: Thank you for all these well prepared, serious questions... It's a big support for underground bands. I never take it for granted! Thanks also for not starting every question with: How is it as a woman…?

And thank you for the excellent answers! Hopefully Carnal Decay will be back in The States soon. I'll take you up on that beer!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Review: Paragon - Force of Destruction (2012)

Paragon [ Website | Facebook ]
Force of Destruction
Napalm Records

Paragon - Force of Destruction
In the realm of classic German power metal, the rise to royalty for bands like Grave Digger, Helloween, and Accept is well documented. Perhaps not as well known are the bands that fill the ranks of the minor nobility such as Chinchilla, Mob Rules, and Paragon - all of which have toiled in the scene nearly as long (or longer) than the greats but for whatever reason have never usurped the throne. Hamburg's Paragon, for instance, was formed in 1990 and has issued album after album of Accept-like heavy metal (10 LPs in all) yet never managed to emerge as more than a second-tier act. This year's Force of Destruction release continues the trend for Paragon, being an enjoyable example of Teutonic power metal that sticks to the tried-and-true formula without taking many risks.

What I liked most about Paragon's Force of Destruction was not so much the music itself, but the production values employed by Piet Sielck (Iron Savior, ex-Savage Circus). Eschewing flawless polish for a more rough-around-the-edges approach, Sielck manages to give the album a tone that resurrects the glory of mid-'80s metal. The production, coupled with Andreas Babuschkin's vocal style making it impossible not to mistake him for Udo Dirkschneider, sets the stage for Force of Destruction to be a hit with fans of vintage power metal.

The first proper song on the album, "Iron Will", lures listeners with galloping riffs and no-holes-barred solos before springing a trap of infectious gang choruses. "Tornado", "Bulletstorm", and essentially the remainder of Force of Destruction follows the trail blazed by "Iron Will" with slight variations here and there to help hold interest. Guitarists Wolfgang Tewes and Jan Bertram, both newcomers to Paragon since the band's previous album Screenslaves, execute their duties skillfully and with noteworthy flair. Neither of the two are excessively flagrant with their leads or solos, both instead complimenting their bandmates to produce a tight, cohesive assault.

While most of the album is well-executed, but somewhat nondescript, tracks such as "Gods Of Thunder" and "Dynasty" rise above the rest to give a glimpse of what Paragon could accomplish...if only. The chugging, impressively hefty riffs of the former track are delivered at a slightly reduced paced than the preceding songs. Underscored by robust bass lines courtesy of Jan Bünning,  Babuschkin does his best Udo impression to cement the overall Accept-worship that this track exudes. The rousing refrains, classic sounding solos, and twin-guitar noodling further propel this track to the album's top spot. "Dynasty", while not as expansive as "Gods Of Thunder", still stands out for its nicely crunchy riffs and sweeping refrains. This track also contains a smattering of keyboard accents, further adding to the '80s appeal.

Setting the two standout tracks aside, there's still nothing on Force of Destruction to derail the album from being considered a quality slab of German power metal. The only knock that can be made against the album is the same issue that Paragon has had with all of their releases - the album is just too generic. What Paragon does, is done well. It's just that so many other bands of their ilk do it as well or better. Nevertheless, if this is your style of metal then by all means add Force of Destruction to your shelves.
Track Listing
1The Last Day On Earth1:52
2Iron Will5:50
4Gods Of Thunder5:24
6Blood & Iron8:40
7Blades Of Hell4:10
9Rising From The Black5:20
10Demon's Lair6:32
Total Runtime58:54

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Review: Heretic's Dream - The Unexpected Move (2012)

Heretic's Dream [ Website | Facebook | ReverbNation ]
The Unexpected Move

Heretics Dream - The Unexpected Move
Heretic's Dream is a young UK-based, all-Italian metal outift delivering a sound that mixes Gothic-styled vocals with predominantly straightforward and contemporary riff structures. Their debut release, The Unexpected Move, highlights the band's ability to craft interesting vocal and guitar melodies. It also reveals that there's room for improvement.

The dominant features of the Heretic's Dream sound are the vocal skill of frontwoman Francesca Di Ventura and the scratchy riffs of guitarist Andrej Surace - both founding members of the band. Di Ventura is an able singer with a strong mid-range style, but she often falls victim on The Unexpected Move to her own self-restraint. The soothing vocal harmonies she crafts on album opener "Forgiveness" are a highlight and underscore what she's capable of when venturing beyond her comfort zone. So too are the whispy vocal accents of "Honey I'm Home" and the catchy, sing-a-long chorus of "Shades Of Grey". The majority of the album, however, finds Di Ventura almost cemented in her primary tone - which is enjoyable, but could use further variation. On "Golden Cage", Di Ventura's soft voice is joined by the growls of either Surace or bassist Emiliano Baccini (it's not quite clear which) to add a bit of an Evanescence or Lacuna Coil touch to the Heretic's Dream style. The male vocals return on "Through The Unlocked Door", though with less of an impact than on "Honey I'm Home".

Heretics Dream
The band's press materials make mention of the progressive tendencies to be heard on The Unexpected Move, but while the song structures are far from pedestrian there isn't much that I would consider to be truly "prog" in nature. Surace does places an emphasis on variety, however, never letting a riff linger too long or resurface too often. The album is most engaging when he spices up his gritty style with the occasional classic rock lead ("She Said") or Pink Floyd atmospheric flourish ("Golden Cage"). His thrashy solo during "Through The Unlocked Door" is a standout momement, and his experimentation on "Shades Of Grey" with riffs that border on reggae hints at the proggressive tendencies that lie just under the surface of the Heretic's Dream sound. Proof of what the band can do when throwing caution to the wind comes on the album's final track, "Hollow". This instrumental number drifts recklessly into a Jethro Tull / Frank Zappa vortex with its abundance of groovy flute playing (courtesy of drummer Maurilio Di Stefano) and considerable proggish complexity. Hell, I think I can even hear some beat box action going on.

The Unexpected Move is a respectable debut from a young band that is in the process of defining themselves. Heretic's Dream is armed with a capable and charismatic singer backed by talented musicians and songwriters who, as they gain confidence in their abilities, can establish the band as a force in the Gothic/symphonic scene.
Track Listing
2She Said4:41
3A Kiss From The Sun4:42
4Golden Cage4:40
5Shades Of Grey4:00
6Through The Unlocked Door5:34
7Honey I'm Home5:29
8I Need Your Love5:28
9A Question Of Coincidence4:23
Total Runtime49:40

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Interview: Viola of Camion

Embracing both the whiskey-fueled rock 'n' roll of Motörhead and the fuzzy, herbacious doom metal of Kyusss, Italy's Camion are churning up the Roman landscape with their raucous style of Southern Doom. The band's second release, the A Serenade for Yokels EP, has been out for a year and garnering praise for the band among global critics. Bass player Viola graciously agreed to spend a few minutes answering questions for Harvest Moon Music's Women of Heavy Metal interview series.

[HMM] For readers who may be unfamiliar with Camion, would you introduce the band and describe your role?

Viola of Camion
Photo: Davide Starinieri
[Viola] Camion is a four member stoner metal band from Rome, Italy. Or, at least, we like to call ourself stoner metal. Some agree, some do not. I'm the bass player and beer buyer of the band. If it wasn't for me they would be always sober and totally not groovy.

The bio on your Facebook page says simply "we met. we play." There's gotta be more to it than that, right?

Not really… We were friends, we shared a passion and we had a lot of spare time. So why not start a band? Well, we wanted to be a proper stoner band, but we are hopelessly metalheads. So basically we started playing with a regularly stoner attitude, but then the singer (Fede) started singing… and never has been the same anymore. After a few years Massimetto and his Moog joined us and there we are. So, in the end, we met, we play.

How long had you been playing bass, and were you involved in any other musical projects before Camion?

It's been a while. I had my first bass when I was 14. Now I'm a little bit older. Not that much, just a bit. Never went to solfeggio class and never really studied the instrument. I just started playing trying to follow the bands I liked. Since then I always had bands. Some school projects, a female punk band and a nu metal band. Nothing that last that much.

Camion's sophomore release, the A Serenade for Yokels EP, came out in 2011 - five years since the band's first demo. Why such a long break?

Ah, we started working and time went by. No money saved and one of us (Tix) is a live sound engineer. He has weird working hours…similar to Batman. Sometimes it's difficult even having a beer all together. We kept rehearsing and writing and recording, but then I left Italy for a year. When I came back we had all the songs recorded and we decided that, yes, they were good. It was time to let the world know that we are still here to rock!

Is the songwriting process for Camion a collaborative one? If so, what contributions to the writing of A Serenade for Yokels did you make?

Photo: Davide Starinieri
It all starts with riffs. Riffs that come from the drummer. Yes, the drummer. No mistake. Usually he comes along and plays some stuff. Then we just keep playing since something comes out. So basically it all goes on and ends with riffing and improvisation. Now that we are writing with Massimetto, we had to change our attitude a little bit because the Moog is not an arrangement anymore but is part of the song… it's gonna be the "melodic" part. That is something that we always missed a bit. Hard times are when we have to decide how to start the song and how long a riff should be played. It's quite a collaborative way to make music but sometimes someone just decides the way the song should go…even me.

Where does the inspiration for the band's lyrics come from?

Usually from movies, Lobo (the comic!), zombies and rock 'n' roll. Basically what we do all day.

"Can A Truck Splat A Lollypop" is one of the more oddly titled songs I've come across lately. Is there a story behind it?

In our minds the song should have been kind of a 'summer' song. So Camion should have tried to write something softer. We just couldn't. So we splatted something that should have been sweet.

How has the reaction to the EP been in Italy?

Viola of Camion
Pretty good! We had lots of reviews and some live reviews that are really good. We even had a radio interview that gave us the opportunity to share our music to people that didn't know us. It was pretty good moving outside the usual circle. We didn't expect that much. Probably because we listen to the EP so long that we were not that sure anymore. Lots of people were still exited about our music that we were quite touched.

Have you had much feedback from other countries in Europe and elsewhere?

Yep yep. We had few reviews from around Europe and a review even in Canada… and I've got this personal interview that put me at the top than the other members of the band!

What is it about Southern Doom that drew you to this style of metal?

Sincerely I don't know. It all comes out by itself. We have common influences like Kyuss and Motörhead… but we never thought to walk on a peculiar path. It just happened.

What bands do you feel influence the Camion sound?

Someone compared us to Entombed or to the Unsane jamming with Kyuss. Some other said we are something like Motörhead of Orgasmatron if they came out on Amphetamine Reptile. We are proud and we thank all those crazy people that compared us to all those unreachable giants of music. We all love those bands and we still listen to good music that inspires us every time we rehearse.

Are there any bass players in particular who inspire or influence you?

Oh well. My very first love was Steve Harris. I'd like to say that I follow his steps but, sadly, I didn't.

Do you have any upcoming gigs lined up?

I think so. I mean, I usually take a look on our FB page to remember the gigs we planned. As I'm reading it right now, our next show will be on the 16th November @ Porky's near Rome.

Are there any interesting stories from previous gigs that you'd be willing to share?

We drank 'till 5 a.m. with William Mecum from Karma To Burn. I don't remember that much, but it was awesome. We opened their gig in Rome and it was just like winning the lottery since we are fans of K2B! After the show we just kept drinking and joking and talking with William. And I have his signature on the vinyl that says "hope to play with you again". WOW!

Do you have a favorite song to play live?

I love playing "Route 666". After all this time this song still moves something inside me.

Has Camion begun writing material for a follow-up to A Serenade for Yokels?

Viola of Camion
Photo: Davide Starinieri
Of course! We are half way through a new album that should be ready next spring. This time will be little bit different since we are planning a concept album. We are gonna tell you a story. A splatter story.

If there was one bit of advice that you could give to a woman with aspirations to play bass in a heavy metal band, what would it be?

Just wield your bass, give him or her a name and start playing. Look at all those bands that are having fun whilst playing on stage… it's quite motivating!

Finally, do you have any parting words for your fans and for those who may be reading about Camion for the first time?

If there is any fan out there I wanna thank you. If there are any possible future fans out there click here and listen the full album, because we believe "try before buy". If there is any zombie out there check this out. Last but not least I wanna thank you for your interest in our music and for giving me the opportunity to answer these questions. Horns Up for all of you!

Thank you very much Viola!  I'm looking forward to the new material from Camion and hearing about that splatter story.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Review: Ensiferum - Unsung Heroes (2012)

Ensiferum [ Website | Facebook | ReverbNation ]
Unsung Heroes
Spinefarm Records

Finland's Ensiferum, for those not already familiar with the band, have established themselves as a folk metal juggernaut by combining Norse-inspired concepts with traditional melodies, blackened vocals, and gate-crashing power metal. As much of a sucker for folk metal that I am, I've never been drawn to Ensiferum's take on the style. I chalk that up to my general aversion to Euro-styled power metal. For the band's fifth album, Unsung Heroes, I threw caution to the wind and decided to experience Ensiferum first hand. What I found was an album that appealed  to me much more than I anticipated it would, which probably means that long-time fans will be somewhat disappointed with it. Be that as it may, Unsung Heroes has the capacity to reach a broader audience of folk metal aficionados.

Ensiferum scales back the flowery power metal during the initial stages of Unsung Heroes. Although the album kicks off with an intro ("Symbols") that sounds like it belongs in a movie score, the band puts their best foot forward right away with "In My Sword I Trust". This mid-tempo power metal beauty delivers meaty, galloping riffs accentuated by heroic leads and a nicely discernible bass presence. The harsh vocals that are a defining element of Ensiferum's style are here as expected, but they're overshadowed by the superb clean refrains and fist-pumping gang vocals. The vocal variety, combined with more traditional metal riff structures, cement "In My Sword I Trust" as the standout track on Unsung Heroes. This masterwork is followed by the rich folk melodies (the catchiest on the album) of the title track. Retaining the deliberate pacing of the previous song, "Unsung Heroes" makes pleasant use of traditional instruments before delving into some Phantom of the Opera theatrics as the song concludes. The very compelling vocal refrains on "Burning Leaves" adds further fuel to the argument that Ensifreum should drop the blackened vocals entirely. Although there are some missteps with the clean vocals (see "Star Queen" for proof), Unsung Heroes is a much stronger release when the harsh vocals are minimized in favor of the wide range of clean vocal elements the band employs.

With "Celestial Bond", a female-led acoustic ballad, Unsung Heroes begins a shift back to the formula most Ensiferum fans are accustomed to. "Retribution Shall Be Mine" is a blistering power metal track overflowing with the requisite double-kick and frantic riffing that are signatures of the genre. Proggy synth passages blend with masturbatory guitar solos  designed to make Blind Guardian fans squeal with girlish delight before the cold shower of "Star Queen" puts an end to the debauchery. The medieval melodies of "Celestial Bond" carry over to this track, which graduates from acoustic to full-blown power metal balladry. To be fair, the song does have a rather nice groove to it and stands out as the best of the three ballads present on Unsung Heroes.

After more uninspiring power metal, the album closes with the truly epic 17-minute "Passion, Proof, Power". Ensiferum pulls out all the stops here, blending the three stylistic realms of this album together with some complexities that remind me of both Amorphis and Trans-Siberian Orchestra (their secular work). It's ambitious, for sure, and for the most part succeeds in providing an appropriately majestic exclamation point to an above average album.

Unsung Heroes took a number of spins to reveal all of its intricacies. I suspect that both long-time Ensiferum fans and folk metal lovers checking out the band for the first time will experience the same slow burn that I did. Unsung Heroes is not a classic of the genre, but the band's willingness to broaden their appeal make it a solid offering.
Track Listing
2In My Sword I Trust5:38
3Unsung Heroes6:13
4Burning Leaves6:22
5Celestial Bond4:33
6Retribution Shall Be Mine4:45
7Star Queen (Celestial Bond II)6:14
9Last Breath4:48
10Passion, Proof, Power17:17
Total Runtime1:04:22