Friday, December 21, 2012

Happy Yule!

I know the posts have been a little lot thin around here lately, but the largely unavoidable trauma of the season has been taking a toll on my writing schedule. The reviews and interviews are piling up, so it won't be long before the posts will be churned out with some semblance of regularity once more. But for now, I want to wish you a very merry Yule. As the sunlight begins to increase, I hope so too does your fortune. Be safe.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Interview: Alison Thunderland of Axxion

The renewed popularity of traditional heavy metal has brought with it a fresh generation of wild and crazy bands, one of which is Canada's Axxion. Based in Toronto, Axxion has been making an impact on the trad metal scene with their energetic live performances and their recently released self-titled EP. The band's drummer, Alison Thunderland (ain't that one helluva metal name?), spent a few moments answering questions about the band, the EP, and  everyone's favorite elven ranger - Legolas.

[HMM] For those who may be unfamiliar with Axxion, would you introduce the band?
Alison Thunderland of Axxion

[Alison Thunderland] Axxion is a good old fashioned Heavy Metal band from Canada! Dee’s the singer and guitar player, Shred’s also on guitar and Chris Riley on bass and I’m the drummer…but come on, no one cares about the drummer.

How and when was Axxion formed?

I guess you could say it all started in July of 2011. I had just left my last band and Dee and just left his as well, and I’d known him for a long time so we just started jamming me and him in the hourly rental jam spaces goofing off playing tunes, then we found our first guitar player Inti and bass player, who both ended up leaving pretty early on, and now we’ve finally got the final line-up.

Your debut, self-titled EP was just released this past Halloween. How as the feedback been so far?

I’m honestly so friggen surprised! Haha I’ve only heard good things so far, people seem to be loving it, but then again who’s gonna call me up and say “Hey I just got the new album…it sucks!” Who knows maybe someone will do it haha!

Where was it recorded, and how long was Axxion in the studio?

It was recorded all by Shred, he did everything man; record, mix, master! This is a legit basement recording haha. We were too damn poor to pay for a studio and he offered to record us (when Inti was still playing guitar). The drums were done in a day and then we just hit obstacle after obstacle. First we had our bass player leave, then the guitar player not long after but once we got the solid line-up with Shred, Chris, Dee and myself it all fell into place in a couple weeks and voila! We changed up a couple songs once Shred came along and just went for it.

Is the songwriting process for Axxion a group effort?

The writing is one of the best things about this band; I call it the democracy rule haha but really everyone has an equal say in everything from riffs, to lyrics to drums fills. Usually we go with what the majority of us want but you’d be surprised how many times one person manages to convince the other three! It makes writing a lot easier and a lot more fun, because everyone feels included in the whole process.

Original Axxion guitarist Init Paredes left the band just a couple of months before the EP's release. Does he still make an appearance on the album, or did your new axeslinger Sir Shred handle all of the lead six-string duties during recording?

Yea after Inti left, we got Shred in there and he and Dee got everything finished up as quick as possible so it’s just those two guys on the album.

Is the band already looking ahead to a follow-up release?

Yea we’re gonna be working on a full length in the new year, hopefully we can get it recorded quick after all the songs sound nice and tight, so maybe we’ll have something out by early spring?

Are there any tour plans in the works?

No tours planned yet; maybe in the new year, we’ve gotta see what opportunities come up and I think we’re all hoping to tour in Europe instead of North America, but right now it’s a bit off on the horizon.

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

Hmmm. Well we’ve only had a few shows so nothing too crazy yet; there is this guy in Toronto who comes out to every show and he looks like a legitimate gangster but he loves the shit! He kills everyone in the mosh pit haha!!!

Is there a particular song that you love to perform live?

I think my favourite might have to be "Stallion" because I get to do a lot of my favourites in that one. I mean, come on, it starts with a drums fill of course I love it haha! And there’s a nice part in the pre-chorus where I just get to ride the bell of my ride, I love that, bell riding that’s where it’s at! I’ve also got a couple cool fills in that one as well and I get to sing back ups, I’m not the greatest singer but I actually like doing it, it’s like a mental activity moving all four limbs and singing.

Before joining Axxion you were in another traditional metal band called Skull Fist, which you recorded an EP with. Were you in any metal bands prior to Skull Fist?

I actually recorded the full length as a favour to Jackie as well….not like anyone cares haha. But no nothing serious before Skull Fist, I jammed with a couple people, I used to jam with a couple people that I knew from a recording studio I worked at when I was like 16 but that ended pretty quick. It was tough I never knew anyone playing metal growing up, so I was a loner for a long time haha, playing alone in the basement.

You recently had a starring role in Cauldron's video for "Nitebreaker". How fun was that, and how did the opportunity come about?
Alison Thunderland of Axxion

Dude that video was so fun! We shot all night from like 5:30pm until 8:30am the next day but man was it cold overnight and we had to do all the cool shots overnight. Well one night Decay asked if I would be interested in being chased by some Cauldron zombies and I said hell yea! So we went out into the woods and ran around all night. It was awesome working with the Cauldron guys, they’re all super cool guys it was definitely an experience to remember. And I got to beat the shit out of some zombies too haha!

There seems to be a fair number of classic metal outfits emerging from Canada recently. Do you think there's more of a hunger for old-school metal in Canada than, say, the U.S.?

It seems to be that way doesn’t it? I guess I’d have to agree with that, I always say there’s this “American Metal” scene they’ve got going on down there with bands like Lamb of God and Meshuggah style bands. Not to say that we don’t have it here, it’s just not as big. We’ve got a fair bit of thrash over here as well, I think like 2/3 bands here play some form of thrash/ death metal, so maybe that’s why the old-school stuff stands out more; not everyone’s doing it and when people hear it they’re thinking “Oh damn! It’s good.”

The "denim & leather" scene holds a lot of nostalgia for metalheads of a certain age (like myself). What is it about this particular era in heavy metal history that appeals to you?

I think it’s the way the music feels when you listen to it. If I listen to an album and it makes me want to run away and quit my job and just go to festivals all year long it’s a damn good album!! There are so many bands that got shafted because they didn’t have media appeal so they never got big, but some of my favourite bands just have that OOMPF! You know? And I never look at a band based on one member; I don’t care if you have the best guitar player in the world if the songs aren’t good then the band’s no good. And everyone in that era was way cooler, no one gave a damn, there was no internet to go complain on, if you wanted to say something you said it face to face like a man, and if you got punched in the face so be it! That’s life, the age of technology has given us a lot but it’s also taken away a lot of face to face stuff. Speaking of Denim and Leather we’ve been playing a cover of the Saxon song with the same name, gotta stay true to your roots!

How long have you been playing the drums, and what led to your involvement in heavy metal?
Alison Thunderland of Axxion

I’ve now hit the nine year time flies! Well, when I was growing up I didn’t have anyone to show me music, or at least no one who wanted to so I just listened whatever was on the TV, and I’m not sure why but one day I went into my brother’s room and found this Metallica album and that was the first time I heard heavy metal and I was thinking where can I get more!? Then I started listening to whatever I could get my hands on, a lot of thrash in the early days then Megadeth, Yngwie Malmsteen, Iced Earth, it all starts to branch off, I didn’t know how to get my hands on music so whatever my brother had. The day my life changed was probably when I found Blind Guardian, I think I crapped my pants that day, and the first time I heard Iron Maiden and I’ve never looked back.

Are there any specific drummers who inspire or influence you?

Ok ok here comes the generic everyone loves him drummer but, Nicko Mcbrain. Just his footwork and the way he plays that ride it gets my blood going! When I was like 13 my dad bet me $20 that I would, in his words “never be able to play "Run to the Hills"”. Let’s just say he was $20 poorer within the week. You should have seen his face when I got my double kicks. Anyways, everything Nicko’s done I just eat it up, sorry to be cliché but he’s my hero! Also my drum teacher, Neal Busby; coolest guy ever. I’m not doing lessons with him anymore, been a couple years, but he’s a WICKED drummer and an amazing teacher. I owe everything I know to him; he made me get out of my comfort zone and really play, not just smash everything in sight haha. He used to play in a band called Slik Toxic and now he’s doing a project with his wife called Twirl. Another one of my heroes hehe.

I read in an interview you did a while back that you consider yourself to be a true Lord of the Rings fan (as are most metalheads, of course). What do you think about Peter Jackson's handling of The Hobbit?

I dunno about over there but it’s not out here yet! I’m really stoked to see it though. The Lord of the Rings trilogy has got to be my favourite movies of all time (the original Star Wars comes in a close second). I actually watched the first one like…yesterday haha, my tapes are going to stop working soon I watch them so much. He did a really amazing job with the first three and I only have high expectations for the Hobbit. I hope Legolas makes an appearance, what a hottie haha, though I don’t think he does, at least not in the book which I also read last week- wow do I sound like a super nerd yet? When I first saw Lord of the Rings I thought his hair was real and when I found out it wasn’t…..not a happy camper.

I also read that you were studying archaeology. Is that still true?

Yeah I actually am finishing up a degree in Biological Anthropology and Archaeology so I get to do everything from fossils, to animal biology to human evolution. Unfortunately university here is really expensive but it’s something that I’m also really interested in, now I have  to go watch the Indiana Jones trilogy you got me all riled up! haha

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

Practice your ass off! Don’t be a chick that sells her ass, sell your forearms! The biggest insult anyone could say to me would be “you play good for a girl”. I’m not down with that at all. Yea yea the media wants to sell your tits but if you can kick ass people will RESPECT you, and that’s way more important than wanting to sleep with ya. Look at Doro she’s the coolest chick ever, queen of metal (sorry Lee Arron) and she’s got the pipes to prove it! Another one of my life heroes.

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

Yea, if you’re a musician and you’re getting down about not having anyone to jam with and think you’ll never form a band, don’t quit! People are out there, they’re looking for you too. I played alone in my basement for years before I even found someone who could play heavy metal. If you quit no one will ever hear it, we need heavy metal to stay alive, keep the flame burning!

Thanks for the excellent interview Alison! I can't wait to hear what Axxion has in store for your next release.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Review: Victorians Aristocrats' Symphony - Revival (2012)

Victorians Aristocrats' Symphony [ Website | Facebook | ReverbNation ]

Victorians Aristocrats Symphony - Revival
Performance art, when combined with heavy metal, can be a very powerful experience. Alice Cooper, in my opinion the progenitor of shock rock/metal, so integrated his stage persona and theatrics with his music (and does so still) that the sum of the entire experience far exceeds its parts. In the modern symphonic/Gothic metal world, most outfits make only a cursory attempt to establish a visual image beyond the occasional frilly cravat or heavily mascaraed frontwoman. Poland's Victorians - Aristocrats' Symphony (VAS for simplicity's sake), on the other hand, have taken the unique approach of placing emphasis on image and theatrics. The band's music, as evidenced by their debut album Revival, is enjoyable and meets all of the stylistic prerequisites, but it's the VAS backstory and stage presence that sets this band apart from the numerous second-tier outfits hitting the live circuit these days.

As the VAS story goes, over a century ago the ancestors of the current band members founded a secret society known as the V-Lodge. Read into that what you will, I certainly did, but the band's official bio seems to allude to the V referring to either the Victorian Age or vampirism - probably both - but not the kind of V that I was thinking of. Anyway, the band members came together in 2010 to resurrect the aristocratic and somewhat debauched ideals of this secretive Victorian society through classically-inspired arrangements and semi-operatic vocals. The band members fully immerse themselves into their theatrical world by donning period costumes and adopting mysterious-sounding pseudonyms, each with an equally fanciful personal backstory, for a completely integrated musical and visual creation.

Victorians Aristocrats Symphony
Although a great deal of importance is obviously placed upon the visual aspects of VAS, the music does not suffer because of it. Fronted by the striking personality of Eydis, the band creates a robust, symphonic metal soundscape rife with classical references and instrumentation. Eydis delivers a throaty, enchanting performance with just a hint of an Eastern European accent. Her range is impressive, and while not quite as polished as the Tarja Turunen and Monika Pedersen crowd, Eydis is only a notch below the elite singers due in large part to her versatility. The first song on Revival, "Descent of Your Destiny", contains her most engaging performance of the album as she skillfully employs Middle-Eastern vocal melodies in her delivery. Elsewhere, Eydis deftly maneuvers from crisp high notes to sultry near-whispers, underscoring her ability to match whatever mood the band chooses to set.

The most Gothic-sounding song on Revival, "In the End", employs familiar chugging riffs as a foundation for a mournful piano arrangement and a plucky string accompaniment. The remainder of Revival is an exercise in symphonic metal execution, with lush keyboard effects combining with synthesized orchestral compositions to enshroud the driving riffs and martial beats in a a gilded glaze.

While executed with precision and bolstered by interesting vocal variety, the music of Revival possesses little to set VAS apart from many of their symphonic metal peers. The story, therefore, is in the band's devotion to their visual presentation. Fans of Nightwish and the like will still want to explore Revival further, and those fortunate enough to have the opportunity to attend a VAS live performance will want to be sure to do so.

Track Listing
1Descent of Your Destiny5:18
2In the End (Love Me Now)3:53
3Voice of Eternal Love3:55
4Who Never Loved5:26
6Servants of Beauty3:39
7Prince of Night3:43
8Don't Let Them Cut My Wings3:40
9Juliet's Tale5:51
Total Runtime45:10

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Interview: Andrea Weiss of Black Daffodils

Embracing all of the qualities that have led to success for bands such as Nightwish, Lacuna Coil, and Within Temptation, Germany's Black Daffodils have made the transition from cover band to releasing their own identifiable material on their debut album Broken Flower. The band's charismatic frontwoman, Andrea Weiß, spent a few minutes with Harvest Moon Music for the latest installment of the Women of Heavy Metal interview series.

[HMM] For readers unfamiliar with Black Daffodils, would you introduce the band?

Andrea Weiss of Black Daffodils
[Andrea Weiß] Black Daffodils is a female fronted rock and metal Band from Kronach, Germany. We are five musicians: Björn on the guitar, Chris on keys, Micha on bass, Markus on drums and me as the lead singer. Our songs are filled with great emotions like passion, rage or loss – feelings every one of us is familiar with. The listener is taken on a thrilling ride of heaviness, progression, drama and deep melancholy.

How and when did the band come together?

The band was formed in 2007 as a cover band for a party. At that time we did not know that we would do an album one day. We had a lot of fun and continued to play together. We covered bands like Within Temptation, Nightwish or Evanescence and other bands of this genre. One day we started to try to write own songs and felt like this was the right thing for us to do. At our live shows we got great reactions on our own songs and decided to focus on that.

How did the band come to be named Black Daffodils?

To be honest – there is not a big explanation for the name. We just tried to find an extraordinary name and when we found the name Black Daffodils we liked the sound of it. It is special and it fits our music.

Your debut album, Broken Flower, was just released in October. How has the feedback been so far?

Black Daffodils
The feedback was really positive. The people who have the album seem to like the diversity of the songs. When we ask our listeners which songs they like most almost everyone names a different one.

Have you received much feedback from outside of Germany?

Up to now unfortunately not, but we hope this will change soon.

Where was Broken Flower recorded, and how was the experience?

The drums and vocals were recorded at the Backyard Studio in Bayreuth. It was a lot of fun to record there and we learned a lot. Chris recorded the keys on his own and also recorded the guitars together with Björn. Micha also recorded his bass at home. It took almost a whole year from recording the first note to the final mastering. The mixing and mastering was done by our former band technician Johannes Fischer.

Who created the cover art?

Black Daffodils - Broken Flower
That was me. I tried to find the right idea which fit the music. As you can see now the black daffodils on the cover refer to the band name and also to the album title. The picture looks very sad, dark and romantic just like the songs on the album.

How long had the band been writing the material for the album?

I think that was about one year until all the songs were written and arranged completely. Unfortunately we cannot make a living out of our music and we all have normal jobs so it took a little time until we were satisfied with each song.

Is the songwriting process for Black Daffodils a group effort?

Yes, definitely. I think this is what makes our music special. Every one of us brings his own ideas and influences into the songs. On Broken Flower you can hear that. The songs are very diverse. There are the melodic melancholic tunes and topics and also the heavy parts or the symphonic orchestral songs as well as the catchy elements.

Does the band have any upcoming tour plans?

Black Daffodils
Of course we plan to play live concerts constantly. At the moment we are planning the next concerts for 2013 but I cannot say anything concrete yet.

Have you had the opportunity to tour outside of Germany?

Unfortunately not yet, but if we get the chance to do that we will.

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

Yes. The first time we played in Nürnberg we got to know Harald who became our first real fan! Now he comes to almost every BD-concert, even if he has to drive very far. He even made his own CD cover for the album. That is something very cool that we do not want to miss.

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

My favorite song live is "The One I was" cause it is so dramatic. We often feel that the audience is really surprised when the first so soft and sad song takes this unexpected change to a really heavy ending.

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

Andrea Weiss of Black Daffodils
I already loved singing as a child and I had my first band experience at the age of 14. But this band did not last very long. So I sang a lot at home and together with my sister. I always loved rock music and wanted to sing in a rock or metal band because that felt like freedom to me. I did not plan to found a band when I met my BD-guys and it also was not planed what kind of music we would do later. Musically Black Daffodils is the perfect band for me as a musician and as singer because that is the kind of music I want to do.

Are there any singers in particular who inspire or influence you?

As a teenager I listened a lot to bands like Aerosmith, Guns 'n' Roses and Bon Jovi – real rock singers. Later I discovered Sheryl Crow and still she is a great singer for me. I also listened a lot to Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons. Their singing really touches and inspires me even though it has nothing to do with metal. If I have to name a singer from a metal band who is an inspiration for me it would be Sharon den Adel of Within Temptation.

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

Do not compare yourself with others and try to find your own voice.

What do you enjoy most about being in a heavy metal band?

I really love the power of this music and it is a great feeling to create songs together with a very creative team and to rock live.

Andrea Weiss of Black Daffodils
Finally, do you have any parting words for your fans and for those who may be reading about Black Daffodils for the first time?

I thank all the BD-fans out there for your support. For those who might not know us yet: If you like bands like Nightwish, Evanescence or Within Temptation then check us out, you might like our music! Thanks for the interview.

Thank you for your time and wonderful answers, Andrea. Black Daffodils has a sound that is a favorite here at Harvest Moon Music, so I'm looking forward to what the band has in store!