Thursday, June 26, 2008

Opeth Delivers a Beautiful Beast with Watershed

by Dan Solera.

Album cover courtesy of Roadrunner Records.

Leave it to Opeth to surprise us with every new album. Riding on the momentum built by their last two albums and recent successful tours, the Swedish quintet released in May their ninth studio album, Watershed. Known for their wall-of-sound compositions and overall crushing tone, the album starts off with "Coil", a 3-minute acoustic song featuring diverse instrumentation, Mikael Ǻkerfeldt's softer side, and a cameo by female vocalist Nathalie Lorichs. It's quite a bold move for a progressive death-metal band, but it pays off as it leads into the merciless "Heir Apparent", arguably an upcoming single.

From there we are treated to a diverse tapestry of sound, most of which we can call "vintage" Opeth, with several surprises thrown in the mix. The band had received some criticism on their previous studio album, 2005's Ghost Reveries, namely that their trademark loud-to-soft transitions were becoming too forced. Whether or not they chose to acknowledge this criticism is moot, but the transitions in this album are much more fluid and graceful. Songs like "Hessian Peel" grow slowly from folk-inspired acoustic passages to the chthonic assault that makes Opeth such a powerful force. Along the way the band makes use of flutes, ("Porcelain Heart"), and strings to create dramatic effect ("Burden").

Though their 70's-prog influences are still shining in this album, the Swedes are far from going soft. "Heir Apparent" and "The Lotus Eater" (Ed Note - or is it the "The Louts Eater"...hmm...) contain some of the roughest, fastest riffage heard since My Arms, Your Hearse. This is no surprise - Ǻkerfeldt has been saying for a long time that it was a worthy successor to the album, released a decade ago. In between, it is clear how tightly the band has honed their craft. Even with a lineup change, replacing longtime guitarist Peter Lindgren with Frederik Akesson and drummer Martin Lopez with the aptly-named Martin Axenrot, there is a definite sense of consistency in the band's catalog. The dynamic, and often frantic, balance between intense and soothing is still there, but not as deliberate and self-aware as it was in Ghost Reveries.

With Watershed, Opeth have created an eponymous album that vastly exceeded my expectations. Much like prog-metal peers Symphony X and their release of 2007's Paradise Lost, they have perfected their style and created a remarkable work of power, consistency, and beauty. Though not perfect, as exemplified by the album's lackluster closer ("Hex Omega"), it is a solid musical statement, driven by Ǻkerfeldt's intricate and disciplined songwriting. Whether you're a fan of the dark side of distorted metal or the serene landscape created by lush acoustics, Opeth will deliver.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Legend of the Devil's Orchestra

And so the tale begins... there once lived a legendary orchestra in Sweden that produced music so beautiful and virtuosic that it inspired the formation of an early equivalent of groupies-- hordes of followers who trekked across Scandinavia to indulge in the divine melodies and harmonies played by what would later be known as "the Devil's Orchestra."

The year is 1501. The Church makes it rain more than Fat Joe himself. As generations passed, the Church became increasingly pissed (and rich.) Despite the Church's global influence via continuous funding through gifts and control over real estate, the orchestra had a way of striking a chord with the people and gave them an alternative outlet that did not directly involve religion. Consequently, the Church fire-and-brimstoned the shit out of the sixteenth century Swedes and labeled the enormously popular orchestra as the spawn of Satan. Forced to live and travel as fugitives, the orchestra eventually realized that its career was coming to an end... but before disassembling, the sextet signed a pact, agreeing that their descendants had the mission of reviving the orchestra in 500 years. They disseminated six sealed envelopes to trusted family members and played one final concert. Upon ending their epic grand finale, the members of the orchestra were arrested, incarcerated, and sentenced to death by hanging.

Flash forward to the year 2003. The reign of Britney Spears is coming to an end and iPods are about to get huge. Two complete strangers individually browse through a music store in Stockholm and bump into each other, prompting a conversation about about instruments, music, and life...until [imagine a pathetic explosion of thunder] they realize that they are both descendants of two of the original members of the Devil's Orchestra. Having each inherited the responsibility of reuniting the Devil's Orchestra, they embarked on a mission to find the remaining successors-- a goal they accomplished within three months of hard searching. Coincidentally, each successor happened to play music.

As the original scores were permanently destroyed by the Church, the descendants agreed to create a modern, rock version of the original orchestra. The sound would be a unique, but relatable combination of metal, swing, and opera. With a drummer, guitars, bass, and a celloist handy, the band recruited a talented female opera vocalist to front the group. Their lineup, and hence, their mission was finally complete. And so, Diablo Swing Orchestra was born... [imagine some more pathetic fallacy here... only this time, in the form of DSO's original "Balrog Boogie"]

Balrog Boogie - Diablo Swing Orchestra

Help Diablo Swing Orchestra take the world by storm again-- buy their album "The Butcher's Ballroom."

[Author's Note: Doesn't DSO kind of sound like the Max Rebo Band in Star Wars?!]

Sunday, June 15, 2008

On the Guest List with Katy Perry

by Dan Harpaz.
Photo Courtesy of Capitol Records.

Few people kiss a girl and actually like it. Well, not really. But few people can turn that experience into an infectious hit song and also catch the attention of Madonna… yes, the Madonna. We spoke on the phone with LA based singer-songwriter Katy Perry, whose singles “I Kissed a Girl” and “Ur So Gay” have reaffirmed her place as “The Next Big Thing” (as originally dubbed by Blender in 2004.) But her hit singles aren’t the only thing she has going for her. Listen to her debut album One Of The Boys and you’ll hear a very catchy and emotional blend of pop, punk, and even smoky jazz vocals.

Dan: Hi Katy. How are you doing?

Katy Perry: You know what’s funny is I literally just got home. I took a flight at 6:30 this morning. I’m back in LA and about to go miniature golfing.

Mini golf is one of my favorite pastimes actually.

Mine too actually.

So how was your trip to New York?

It was really amazing because so much came out of it. We just started doing press for the first single “I Kissed a Girl.” …The response is just really overwhelming— radio stations are already playing it before they were really supposed to play it… It was fantastic. I played my first public show. Even though it was only 300 people, it was sold out. And it was awesome, and I wanted to cry because everybody knew the words to the songs it was so weird, like, have you ever had that situation? The record’s not even out yet. I’m sure there’s some downloaders in that audience…

I think I would get hunted down if I leaked anything.

No, you don’t get hunted down— I’ll personally hunt you down and probably write a song about you [laughs.]

I’ve been listening to the album a lot, and I’ve gotta say I dig it. And this is coming from a metalhead too.

You’re a metalhead? …That’s so cool, like here you are and you don’t mind my record?

No, I dig it— so that’s taking it even a step further.

That’s cool. It kind of makes me feel like that girl at high school that could [hang out with] all the different groups rather than having to have only one clique.

Your album is pop, but it’s also rock at the same time, jazz, and even punk. Do you notice that your fans are just a big eclectic group?

I think the sound is very representational of who I am, I mean, California girl— a bit poppy, a bit punky, you know, chill with a little bit of the smoky jazz vocals every once in a while. I think that initially I get a lot of female girls, like my audience, but like you said, lately there’s just so many different people. I have people in their 40’s, and moms, or women in their 30’s [who] relate to the songs a lot.

And apparently 3 or 4 year old boys jumping on chairs on your MySpace [laughs.]

Yeah I get a lot of that too [laughs.] I got a couple of moms say, “Yeah my son loves ‘I Kissed a Girl’ and he doesn’t even know what he’s singing.” It’s all across the board, and I’m lucky to have that, you know? Because it’s not usual.

I think it’s great if an artist can appeal to a broad spectrum of people and not tie themselves down.

I think that this record is really all… a lot about songwriting. It’s about the songs and actually having songs, rather than just a good beat or something that will come and go on the radio. I like both a good beat and a purpose for having a song. Like, tell a story you know? That’s how I was inspired growing up when I started music. It was like the Beach Boys, it was Queen. You practically didn’t even have to have eyes to hear the music— you could close your eyes and you could have a picture painted in front of you.

Have you ever recorded anything independently before One Of The Boys?

I recorded an independent gospel record when I was really young, when I was like 15, 16. But it was definitely representational of my age then. I’ve been making [One Of The Boys] for like four years or so. And you have so many different ups and downs. I’ve been signed, I’ve been dropped. I thought every year that I was making this record that this record would come out. When I was 19…20… 21… I thought that it would come out… and [it] never did. At the time it seemed like a disappointment. But I’m so happy I had the chance to develop and grow, and mature even as a person outside of the craziness of what we call “Hollywood.”

Having worked with independent artists, I completely understand that.

Dude, you know the days of “pop-tart” overnight stardom [are over.] It’s just not how it used to be, and it’s not overnight, and there’s not really any more room for people that are in the music industry that actually aren’t musical. So you really gotta work hard, and honestly, the one thing that I believe so much is just never give up. Because there have been so many fucking times where I had negative lots of money in my account [laughs.] And I was depressed, or I should have just left Hollywood. I had my parents calling me, asking me, “What are you doing?” And all my friends saying, “Oh yeah sure you’ll have a record out… errr… yeah right, call us when that happens.” You don’t have to be a bitch about it, but you just gotta know deep within yourself that this is what you’re meant to do, and you need to know that you have talent, and you know that your close friends are [there to support] you… Don’t listen to the anonymous commenters or the bystanders because there’s a lot of them. Those people have totally given up.

Negative or positive, it’s always important to stick to what you love and keep going.

For sure. Because God knows that “cutiepiecaliforniaxx1212” loves to send anonymous comments about how you should stop singing or go die in a river. They would never say that to your face, because they know they’re never gonna get caught. It’s like road rage almost, like you know you’re never gonna see that person again, so you [turn into] the devil. That’s what anonymous commenting on the Internet is.

I feel kind of bad for the child stars, like Miley Cyrus and all the negative comments she gets in the press. It takes some strength…

I always say, it really, really takes a superhuman to be a pop star. Unfortunately, as much as I don’t agree with the drugs and the use of whatever the fuck any of these girls like Britney or Amy Whinehouse is doing, I understand why they can be led to something that would take them out of the world that they live in, because that world that they live in is so intense and filled with so many people telling them what they should and shouldn’t do, and it’s vicious. They want to snap out of that world and they turn to drugs, unfortunately, which is not the right thing to do. But… it takes a superhuman to be a pop star.

Onto a lighter topic—

Hold on one second sweetheart. [Katy leaves and returns in a few seconds.]

By the way, let me know if we’re going a little long.

No, no! Probably like 5 more minutes… they’re taping me play miniature golf—how hilarious is that?

I have to ask you about this big Madonna comment on your MySpace that Perez Hilton apparently freaked out and called you about.

Yeah, it was amazing. Imagine being blessed by the Pope of Music. What happened was, I slept in late, the phone kept ringing. I thought, “Okay, maybe something’s wrong, maybe someone really needs to get a hold of me… I’ll answer it.” So I answered it and it was Perez and he was screaming. And [I asked,] “Well what happened?” [He answered] “I’m crying.” I’m like, “Oh no…”

“Who died?”

“Who diiied?” I said that to him and he goes, “No— no one died, Madonna just said her favorite song is your song!” And then I proceed to black out. I’m like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” And then he sent me the clip of it, and… you should have seen, my fingers have never typed so fast on my little phone. I just called and I was like, “Madonna!” (click, off)… “Madonna!” (click, off.) Half the people probably didn’t even know what I was talking about.

Was it the radio station that sent a clip over?

Yeah, I guess the radio knew that Perez is a believer in the Katy Pizzle team. So they were like, “Wow, we gotta send this to Perez, that’s pretty amazing.” Because it wasn’t like she was just saying, “Oh yeah, I like that one ‘gay’ song.” She knew about the song like she had done her homework, and I was just like, “Oh my God.”

Has she gotten in touch with you herself or is there any chance you’ll be working with her in the future?

I have no idea. They haven’t contacted us. I think her whole initial plan with that comment was just to reply to what the people asked, you know? So I don’t think there’s conspiracy or anything, I just think that— God, if she invited me over for dinner, I would freak out and have to figure out something fabulous to wear. I hope to meet her in the future, most definitely, because she definitely represents to me persistence and just a true artist that can change with the times and the climate and generations and be relevant at all times… and that’s a lot without looking retarded.

Random question— is it ever okay for a man to wear guyliner?

Is it ever okay for a man to wear guyliner… I think it is. Marcus? [referring to a man sitting next to her] Marcus wears a little bit of guyliner! I think it’s fine. As much as I’m taking the sheer piss out of it with the song “Ur So Gay,” I think honestly it’s fine. So long as you can win a fistfight too. And change a tire. If you can change a tire and wear guyliner, then you’re set for life.

I saw the [“Ur So Gay”] music video and thought it was hilarious. I’ve never another music video with little Barbie dolls in vegan cafés.

Yeah, there’s this thing you can YouTube actually—it’s the “Story of Karen Carpenter.” It was done either in the late 70’s or early 80’s, and it was done with all Barbie Dolls, and a friend of mine saw it and said “You should really do something like this.” And I’m just like, “Oh! Yeah.”

That honestly brought the song to a new level for me.

Aw, that’s amazing! It’s really true to life, I mean, what girl hasn’t played with a Ken doll and at the end of the day when she’s changing him and his clothes [are] gone, [and she goes,] “What the fuck?”

What are your ultimate goals with the next album or just down the road?

Well there’s a couple of things. I think especially with my live show, I want that to change and grow and develop. It’s so fun, it’s like a fun game to me, to see all these people come in with the perception of, “Here’s a girl, on a major label, pop tart—bubbly, fun, cheeky. She probably can’t sing. She probably can’t play. I’m probably going to blog about how lame she was.” And then all of a sudden, I speak to them as my own, you know? “I’m not hiding anything— I’m just trying to make music and tell you the story of my life. Just bring it.” Especially to entertain you, because that’s definitely important to me. With all the people that have influenced me, singers, they’ve always been huge, theatrical entertainers, and I definitely want that to be part of my show. So it’s nice to see people’s perceptions of what used to be the norm for a pop act singer to be lame or couldn’t bring it, and hopefully I can turn that perception around and make true musicianship the standard.

Yeah, I noticed you actually sing live, and you’re still pretty spot-on with the heavier, diaphragm rock vocals.

Yeah, there’s bands popping up here and there that can actually still do it. Like Paramore— I really like Paramore, because [Hayley Williams] always sings her fucking heart out and she always brings it. And that’s the thing, is that people like that don’t let anything else besides the music get in the way, I mean, there’s nothing getting in the way. There’s no like, “Okay, who’s she dating,” and that’s gonna make her more of a celebrity. Or, “who’s she fucking?” Or where she shops. Leave all that to the C and D listers, I mean, [Paramore] cares about the music.

It’s all about the music.

I mean I have all that other stuff going on in my life for sure, but if any of that other stuff gets in the way or takes away from [the music,] then it won’t be there.

Well I really appreciate your time— have fun at mini golf. I’ll be rooting for you.

Thank you! First, I’m rooting for me…and Marcus.

Always look out for #1— that’s the right way to do it.

Awesome Dan, thank you so much.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

On the Guest List with Alter Bridge

We take you to the front row of the sold out Alter Bridge concert in Chicago on May 3, 2008 and bring you backstage for an interview with Mark Tremonti and Myles Kennedy!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

It's All about the Breakdowns with All Shall Perish

by Jake Serek

(Ed note: we sent writer Jake Serek to Reggie's Rock Club on Monday to catch the Chicago stop of the "Sun Your Bunz" tour and interview All Shall Perish. I hereby declare this "Metal Month of May...and a Half." All photos courtesy of the author and his photographer Ross.)

What better way to cure the Monday blues than by assaulting your brain with heavy, raucous, metal music and slightly-less-than-suicidal hardcore dancing? I wasn’t the only one with this idea when I decided to catch All Shall Perish with headliners The Acacia Strain and supporters The Warriors and Since the Flood. I entered Reggie’s Rock Club just as Since the Flood was walking off stage (sorry fellas— here’s a shout out anyway.) I then proceed to the alley behind the stage to find Matt Kuykendall and Mike Tiner, respectively the drummer and bassist for All Shall Perish. They were sitting in folding chairs surrounded by their equipment, chowing on some local good eats like a pair of campers (or hobos) around a fire.

Both Matt and Mike were gracious enough to let me ask them a few questions, although as you will see, Mike is clearly incapable of emitting any serious responses. “Our bassist (Mike) is the worst dude,” warns Matt in a half joking, half concerned tone.

Jake: So there is about a month left on this tour. How has it been thus far?

Matt: Great, the turnout is incredible, the dudes are fuckin’ awesome.

What’s your favorite band on this tour?

Mike: Acacia [Strain]! (Howls)

Have you found that they have been rubbing off on you at all?

Mike: Only when we sleep with them… they’re fuckin’ heavy as fuck.

For those unfamiliar with your music, could you sum up the ‘essence’ of All Shall Perish in a few words?

Matt: We are a death metal band that enjoys melody and breakdowns as well.

Mike: And dudes….and fat girls with fat asses.

How did you come upon this style of music?

Matt: Well, we all used to listen to a lot of New York death metal like Internal Bleeding and Suffocation. We really like Pantera, Hate Breed, Blood Has Been Shed, and Irate. We also like Weezer and Michael Jackson a lot.

Mike: And Britney Spears!

Matt: But we’re also really influenced by the Swedish bands: In Flames, Dimmu [Borgir], Dissection, and Opeth….and Abba (laughs).

Mike: Ace of Base!

Matt: These days we released a few death metal, breakdown records and we’re just trying to keep writing interesting and innovative music. Our new record is really different— really diverse. It is us paying homage to more of our other influences, some of the Swedish influences.

So would you say the new album is a radical departure from your last album, The Price of Existence?

Matt: I wouldn’t call it radical, but just generally very, very different.

How is recording? Are you still in the process?

Matt: Done, we’re done. It’s being mastered right now.

As far as writing new songs, could you walk me through the typical process you guys use?

Matt: Everything starts with a riff, and from there we start making sections, and then we turn it into either a beginning or a middle, you know. And we just work from there. A lot of times we’ll have a song that we thought was a beginning forever and it ends up being an end.

Mike: A lot of times we end up with a riff that we thought was awesome, and it sucks.

Matt: Yeah. And lyrics and vocals are always last. They are written once the song is done.

How do you go about forming the set list for a show?

Mike: Whatever is clever, just like sex with dudes.

Do you ever play songs from your first album Hate.Malice.Revenge live?

Mike: No, are you kidding me? That’s the fucking worst album.

I saw on your MySpace page that you have the option for fans to vote for the songs they want to hear you play at your concerts. Do you take these polls into consideration when making set lists?

Matt: We do. Really the way we make a set list is whatever makes sense for the tour. This is a fucking heavy ass tour, so we play all the breakdown songs.

It’s all about the breakdowns. Have you been playing any of the new, unreleased songs at these shows?

Mike: Yeah, three of them.

Have you found that by playing new songs live, you can tell what works and what doesn’t so you can go back into the studio and alter the songs?

Matt: We never play a song unless its 100% done and 100% practiced.

Ok, now a serious question: In your opinion, what is the first metal band?

Matt: First metal band? Probably [Black] Sabbath. (Looks to Mike) Sabbath right?

Mike: Do I have to say Sabbath? I don’t really want to. I’m going with Slayer.

Kyle the Sound Guy: Beethoven.

There you go. Wagner (laughs).

Mike: (To Kyle) You said metal band, Beethoven’s one dude, that’s not a band. I’m telling you it's fuckin’ Slayer….Judas Priest, there we go. Done. It’s over. I win.

Matt: Our bassist [Mike] is the worst dude.

What do you guys have coming up after the new album is released?

Matt: We’re going to Europe to play some festivals and some Carcass reunions. We are also going to go on tour with Job for a Cowboy.

Okay! Anything else you guys want to say?

Mike: Send nudes.

(Laughs) Thanks for your time, have fun tonight.

After a few laughs with the rhythm section for All Shall Perish, I returned inside to the sounds of The Warriors, a hardcore outfit from California. Their tight, mid-rangy sound and mammoth, plodding riffs suggested Rage Against the Machine, but with less rapping and more screaming. Despite this somewhat complimentary comparison, the riffs were stock and the band lacked any charismatic stage presence.

Now to fast forward to headliners The Acacia Strain’s set. One guitar shy of All Shall Perish’s lineup, they had no problem rocking out just as much low end. A benevolent bunch, Acacia threw water bottles into the crowd before their set. The same water would later be sprayed onto the crowd via the mouth of lead guitarist DL. As if the stage wasn’t enough of a pedestal for them, DL and bassist Jack Strong brought additional risers on stage to heighten their stage presence. The Acacia Strain were slightly more gloomy and sluggish than All Shall Perish, but similar nonetheless.

For All Shall Perish’s set I moved to the balcony, which not only provided refuge from thrashing arms and legs, but it was also fully equipped with plush seating— a perfect haven to sit back and soak in all the details. Don’t get me wrong about the hardcore dancing. I love the idea of punching perfect strangers in the head, but I would at least want to look cool doing it.

All Shall Perish’s set starter did not destroy my eardrums as I had expected it would. It might have to do with the fact that they are the seventh band that I have heard perform in the past two days, but I am going to go ahead and blame Reggie’s Rock Club. But in the band’s defense, a measly five minute sound check is hardly enough to ensure proper inner-ear abuse. So, all the sonic kinks weren’t worked out until at least the second song, which, with its relentless streams of lead guitar notes and double trouble bass drums was a veritable adrenaline junky’s wet dream. Did I mention that lead guitarist Chris Storey can shred? Like E.V.H.? Yeah.

Song three was basically an extended breakdown complete with security guards wrestling youngsters out of the dance pit to salvage lives. The band saved some of its more popular numbers for the end. This included “Eradication” which earned sufficient approval by the crowd just at its mention. I’m always moved when death metal and grindcore vocalists find it in their hearts to give front-row audience members a taste of fame by letting them scream some lyrics into the microphone. Although, it was a bit distracting, even humorous, to hear lead man Hernan ‘Eddie’ Hermida’s beast roars interrupted by a squawky pre-pubescent male voice. Along with Hermida’s hefty stage presence, Mike Tiner’s jokey personality transferred well onto the stage, adding a lively energy to the set. Luckily, no one "perished" in the dance pit, but in being aurally pummeled, we certainly all did.