Saturday, January 5, 2013

Interview: Devallia of Bloody Hammers

North Carolina occult rockers Bloody Hammers have really caught my attention with their self-titled debut release. What began as a studio project of Anders Manga has evolved into one of the more exciting retro rock bands to have emerged in the last couple of years. Bloody Hammers' keyboard player Devallia took a few moments out of her schedule to answer a few questions about the band the their debut album.

[HMM] For readers unfamiliar with Bloody Hammers, would you introduce the band and describe your sound?

Devallia of Bloody Hammers
[Devallia] Anders Manga writes and records all of the songs. I play the organ and assist with recording and mixing. Zoltan plays guitar, and we are currently between drummers.

The sound is heavy and melodic, with lots of fuzz and psychedelic riffs. Lyrically, the songs are inspired by horror. The inspiration not only comes from horror films, but also real life horrors of the past such as witch hunts, and other disturbing subject matter that emerges from the human experience.

How did you come to join the Bloody Hammers ranks?

That is a long story, but the short version is that I met Anders in late 2003 through a business venture not related to music, and we eventually got married. About a year after we met, he started doing a music project called Anders Manga, and we worked together on music videos. After a few gigs, he lost one of his keyboard players. He knew that I had some experience with keyboards when I was younger, so he asked if I could play the string sounds. I gladly accepted, and began learning the parts for his songs. When Bloody Hammers came about, it was released on the internet just for fun. When SoulSeller approached him with a record deal, it became more serious and we felt it was necessary to put a full band together.

Had you been involved in heavy metal prior to joining Bloody Hammers?

Memphis had a strong metal scene when I lived there in the 1990s, and still does. In 1995, some friends asked me to play bass in their band, but my participation in the project was short lived due to breaking gear and my own frustration with my level of skill. I didn’t get involved with playing music again until 2005.

Is there a story behind the band's name?

It was a name that Anders had lying around from years ago before doing Anders Manga, which was inspired by Roky Erickson. We both felt it was a good choice for this project.

The band's self-titled debut album was just released in November and the feedback thus far seems to be all positive. I'm sure you're happy with the results! Has the majority of the feedback been from Europe or North America?

There has been a tremendous amount of feedback from Europe, and also from the United States. That’s the great thing about the internet, so many people can find out about what you are doing in a very short amount of time.

Are there any plans to release the album on CD here in the States?

Bloody Hammers
Yes, the release date for the United States is February 2013. All of our copies are sold out, so we might have to try to import more from SoulSeller. It would not be a good plan to play shows with no CDs. The vinyl was limited to 300 worldwide, and a couple of stores have already had to reorder CDs, so a reprint might be necessary by the time we get on the road.

Who came up with the concept for the album cover?

The album cover was my doing. Anders was spending the day writing Bloody Hammers songs, and I had scheduled a photo shoot with model Veronica Steam. We shot for most of the day, and she had already put on her street clothes when I remembered the goat mask in our living room. I asked if she would be interested in wearing it for a few pictures, and she agreed. When Anders saw the results, he knew right away that one of the pictures would be used for the album art.

Are there any plans to take the Bloody Hammers experience on the road?

We would love to play a festival or go on tour, but no such plans have materialized yet. This band is still very new, so right now we are concentrating on getting the word out. We have had some requests to play shows, but it would be inefficient to do one-offs. We are taking note of the invitations and hope to make it to those cities during a tour.

Is there a specific song on the album that you enjoy playing more than the others?

There were not many songs on Bloody Hammers that originally had keys, though most of the songs will have some organ parts when we play live. We wanted to add a new facet to the listening experience for the audience instead of playing the same exact arrangement as the album, but that is all that will change. "Fear No Evil" is really fun to play, as well as "Say Goodbye to the Sun" and "Souls on Fire".

As with many genres of music, heavy metal is a cyclical beast and it seems that psychedelic, occult-oriented heavy rock is definitely on the upswing. Why do you think that is?

There are followers of the occult, fans of psychedelia, and of course there will always be rock. It is the confluence of these elements that makes it so appealing. I don’t think any of these things were ever in a downswing. Psychedelic music in general never went away for me. There are fans of psychedelic music and art around the world, spanning generations. The enthusiasts are always there, but as a style, it doesn’t always have the spotlight.

A number of recent occult rock bands, Blood Ceremony and Castle for instance, feature female singers. Is that an element that might be incorporated in future Bloody Hammers releases?

It is unlikely that there will be any female vocals for Bloody Hammers unless there is a change in lineup. Anders writes all of the songs himself, so it really makes sense that he would sing them as well. My singing would be best described as auditory assault.

Is Bloody Hammers' style of rock and imagery something that you were personally into before joining the band?

I have always been drawn to dark or unusual art. Psychedelic elements are necessary for me to appreciate it. That is just the type of work that I genuinely enjoy. My personal musical tastes have been primarily electronic due to the versatility of synths, but when done right, rock is equally fulfilling for me. For Anders this all comes very naturally. He has always been inspired by classic rock. Though he is adept at electronic music, guitar oriented rock is his true calling.

How long have you been playing the keyboards?

Devallia of Bloody Hammers
Ever since childhood, I was infatuated with pianos, organs and keyboards. My grandmother had a piano at her house, and I would drive her crazy with it. She would ask if I could “at least try to play something that sounds like a song”. I was only 5 years old, and we could not afford piano lessons, so she never got a proper song out of me. Due to my obsession with her piano, I eventually got a Casio sampling keyboard as a gift from my father, and played it for years. My bedroom in the basement flooded at my mother’s house, and destroyed my little Casio, so I didn’t own another keyboard until 2005.

Have you tried your hand at any other instruments?

There were times through my teenage years, and also fairly recently that I have played bass. The truth is I’m not very good at it. My first bass was a 1972 Les Paul recording bass that I bought from my uncle’s pawn shop. There was a tiny crack and warp in the neck that eventually got worse, and I was too broke to get it fixed, so I sold it and went years without owning another bass. I now have a Brownsville bat bass that Anders gave me when we first met, but I feel it’s better to leave the bass playing to the professionals.

Are there any particular musicians who inspire or influence you?

Anders, of course, has been the biggest influence in my life, and the greatest inspiration to me. I don’t write any of the music myself, but have always loved music with a darker or more sinister feel. Coil would probably be my top choice because of the psychedelic element and dark subject matter. Pete Christopherson and Jhonn Balance had the ability to create fascinating and beautiful music that could also scare the hell out of me.

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

There is a variety of listeners out there, and there will be a full spectrum of reactions to you and what you are doing. Be prepared for any type of feedback. Go out there and do what you love to do. This advice could apply to anyone really.

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

Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down...

Thanks for your time! I look forward to catching a Bloody Hammers show in the (hopefully) near future.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Review: Katya - Rock Lives! (2010)

Katya [ Website | Facebook | ReverbNation ]
Rock Lives!

Katya - Rock Lives!
Armed with both six-string prowess and exotic good looks, California guitarist Katya has her sights set on earning the right to be counted among the rock goddess elite. With her debut album Rock Lives!, Katya makes a compelling case to be mentioned in the same conversations as the legendary Lita Ford and Joan Jett.

Joined by guest musicians such as drummers Gonzo Sandoval (Armored Saint) and Stephen Perkins (Jane's Addiction), Katya devotes the majority of the Rock Lives! to exploring several styles of guitar-driven rock. The lead-off track, "The Power of Rock and Roll", proves to be one of the album's most powerful songs as it fires on all cylinders with an interesting use of harmonics and a crushing, balls-out groove. Katya's vocal performance is equal to the music in tenacity and attitude, though she does tend to unnecessarily bury herself in reverb. As good of a rocker as "The Power of Rock and Roll" is, I was a bit disappointed to hear the phrase "off the hook" uttered a couple of times. Not very rock 'n' roll, if you ask me. And by reading this, you did in fact ask me.

Moving right along, Katya pushes that minor gripe aside by launching into a burning rendition of Janis Joplin's "Mercedes Benz". Now, I'm not a Joplin fan but I really dig what Katya has done with this track. Up-tempo and overflowing with six-string flash and snarling vocals, "Mercedes Benz" earns a spot among the album highlights. The other track that ranks among the Rock Lives! standouts is "Laying In My Bed", a groovy slice of punky attitude with a nice extended solo thrown in for good measure. This song, as well as "JLY (You Gotta Rock That Roll)", shifts away from pure hard rock into more of a pop-punk/riot grrl territory. There's a distinct The Offspring sound to some of the riffs on "JLY..." as Katya's vocals take on more of a punkish, barked essence.

Most of the remaining songs on Rock Lives! explore various types of ballads. "Plugged In" is more of a power ballad with a touch of Liz Phair gruffness to the lyrics to offset the lush orchestral arrangements. "Like A Dream (A Love Song)" is a piano and string heavy ballad, while "Hey Sister" ratchets up the passion just a bit to reach very close to something Lita Ford could have composed. While perhaps not truly a ballad, "We Never Say Goodbye" is the best of the slower songs with its easy pace and '80s-rock guitar sound.

Rock Lives!, while showcasing Katya's guitar and vocal versatility through a variety of rock styles, is nevertheless consistent in delivering songs that are enjoyable and easy to absorb. I think the opportunity exists for Katya to narrow her focus just a bit, but her debut album is definitely worth checking out for fans of solid, guitar-driven rock.

Track Listing
1The Power of Rock and Roll5:25
2Mercedes Benz4:17
3Plugged In3:43
4Like A Dream (A Love Song)5:11
5We Never Say Goodbye4:59
6Vicious Little Brat4:03
7JLY (You Gotta Rock That Roll)4:40
8Hey Sister4:16
9Laying In My Bed3:56
10Bitch & Moan4:11
12Like A Dream (Acoustic)4:30
13Plugged In (Acoustic)3:43
14Hey Sister (Acoustic)4:11
Total Runtime1:00:13

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Top Ten Albums of 2012

It's time once more to call attention to what I feel are the ten albums released in 2012 (which I have personally heard) that are most praise-worthy. There were a fair number of highly anticipated metal and hard rock releases in 2012 that wound up being more disappointing than remarkable, with Lacuna Coil, Katatonia, Dokken, and Tiamat topping that notorious list, but there were enough diamonds in the rough to cobble together a list of ten of the best. So with that....

#10 - Legacy by Oakenshield (Einheit)

Although the sophomore album from British multi-instrumentalist Ben Corkhill, aka Oakenshield, doesn't approach groundbreaking status, it is nevertheless a flawlessly executed example of undiluted Viking folk metal. Many bands already established within this sub-genre of music have strayed from the core sound and values that put this style on the metal map, leaving Oakenshield's Legacy as a refreshing return to the basics. (Full review here)

#9 - Evil Deeds by The Graviators (Napalm Records)

It could reasonably be said that 2012 was the year of retro rock releases. From occult rock to stoner doom, innumerable bands produced album after album of groovy, fuzzed out psychedelia. Sweden's The Graviators joined the fray with their sophomore album Evil Deeds. What separates this album from the conquering horde of others released during the year is frontman Niklas Sjöberg's willingness to sing outside of the box, giving the album that spark of variety to set it apart. (Full review here)

#8 - Excess All Areas by Hollywood Burnouts (Rock Road)

The abundance of stoner doom and occult rock albums released in 2012 was matched by the number of albums resurrecting the sleazy hair metal sound. Excess All Areas, the debut full-length from German rockers Hollywood Burnouts, exemplifies the sound perfected by bands such as Poison, Ratt, and L.A. Guns. Many of the sleaze metal albums released in this day and age tend to drift into either modern rock or classic rock territories, and sometimes both, but Excess All Areas remains pure, unadulterated fun. (Full review here)

#7 - Alpha Noir / Omega White by Moonspell (Napalm Records)

Portugal's Moonspell have established themselves as one of the leaders of the Gothic metal genre, as well as one of my personal favorites. The band's ninth studio album is an epic, two-disc release that serves as a career retrospective of sorts as the band incorporates all of their various stylings from their twenty-year existence. Alpha Noir / Omega White is an ambitious album that trumps many of the other albums released by Moonspell's peers in 2012. (Full review here)

#6 - 1986 by The Order (Massacre Records)

Switzerland has churned out a good number of melodic metal bands over the years, most of which straddle the line between old-school AOR and Euro-style power metal. With 1986, the band's fourth album, The Order skillfully recreate the sounds of mid-'80s Sunset Strip hair metal. While similar in style to the aforementioned debut full-length from Hollywood Burnouts, 1986 presents a tighter package and slightly more nostalgic listen - thus edging higher on this year's Top Ten list.

#5 - Death of a Hero by Bakken (self-released)

Hailing from Northern Ireland, Bakken burst onto the metal scene this year with their debut release Death of a Hero. With the traditional metal resurgence in full swing, there were a number of releases in 2012 by well-established acts such as Cauldron and 3 Inches of Blood - but Bakken's skillful musicianship and excellent songwriting ability propels their contribution to the genre ahead of those more well-known outfits. This is a band definitely worth keeping an eye on. (Full review here)

#4 - Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light by Woods of Ypres (Earache Records)

Canada's Woods of Ypres has been perhaps one of the most overlooked dark metal outfits. Their style is a gripping blend of lush atmospheres, somber Gothic accents, and brutal highlights. Just before Christmas 2011, tragedy struck the band when iconic frontman David Gold was killed in an auto wreck. Woods 5, released just two months after Gold's death, stands as a heart-wrenching eulogy for one of metal's most underrated vocalists. Guitarist Joel Violette has stated that Woods 5 will be the last Woods of Ypres album, and rightfully so.

#3 - The Hunt by Grand Magus (Nuclear Blast)

The sixth full-length album from Sweden's Grand Magus serves as an example of how to pay homage to the greats of heavy metal's past while still maintaining a fresh perspective. The Hunt resurrects the familiar sounds of bands like Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, and Saxon while adding enough of a unique flair to give Grand Magus a sound that is identifiably their own.

#2 - Tragic Idol by Paradise Lost (Century Media)

As one of my most anticipated albums of 2012, Tragic Idol was one of the few albums I was looking forward to that did not disappoint. While not as monumental as some of the band's previous efforts, Paradise Lost's thirteenth studio long-player nevertheless tops the Gothic metal releases for the year and shows the band to still be at the top of their game. (Full review here)

#1 - Dismal Hollow by King Giant (Path Less Traveled)

The only album by an American band to crack my Top Ten list this year, Dismal Hollow's supreme  ranking is due in part to its uniquely American sound. Virginia's King Giant have mastered the "Southern Doom" niche with their sophomore album, infusing rather straightforward stoner doom with a sound that is moving and unmistakeably Appalachian. (Full review here)

And there you have it. Of the albums that I heard in 2012, there just weren't enough remarkable efforts to make choosing the ten best much of a chore. Hopefully the task will be much more difficult this time next year.