Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Sonisphere Festival 2010, Knebworth UK 30/7/10 - 1/8/10

(Again, this is to be printed in Powerplay Magazine. All blurry pictures taken by me.)

Friday 30th July


Playing a brand of female-fronted symphonic metal akin to Within Temptation, Delain's set was a slow beginning to the festival. One of the few moments of energy in the otherwise melodramatic proceedings seemed to be track 'The Gathering'. On the plus side, front-woman Charlotte Wessel had a great voice and the stage presence to match it. Opening a festival is never an easy feat and Delain were hardly a bad act, but not quite the kick-start I was expecting.


Opening with the storming 'To Holmgard and Beyond', Turisas' set was one filled with beer-swilling gang chants and raised fists. Teasing the crowd with the beginning of their now well known 'Rasputin' cover, Turisas instead opted to drop in a well adapted version of Black Sabbath's 'Supernaut' before front-man, Mathias Nygård, went on to continue ranting about how bad Carlsberg is and ending with their mantra song, 'Battle Metal'.

Gary Numan

Expecting something more new wave, I was blown away by the sheer heaviness of Gary Numan's set. Focussing mostly on his recent material, each song was a brooding synth elegy that saw Gary stalk the stage with a gothic careen and the occasional cheeky grin. Even upbeat Numan stalwarts, 'Cars' and 'Are 'Friends' Electric?', were given a far more crushing treatment. To the credit of Numan and his band, they really delivered a powerful set that saw the audience enamoured.

Alice Cooper

Scarcely straying from the content of the Theatre of Death tour, Alice's set spanned his entire career with the crowd being treated to garage rock classics such as 'Be My Lover' alongside modern tracks such as 'Vengeance Is Mine'. Of course, this being Alice Cooper, the audience were here for more than just the music. When Alice impales someone on a cane several songs in, you know you're in for a good night. But Cooper himself was hardly a lone star – the titular character of 'Nurse Rozetta' made a fiery appearance before her eventual strangling and welcome surprise 'Feed My Frankenstein' saw a giant monster take the stage to torment Alice. Furthermore, throughout the set, Alice's band did more than justice to the wealth of strong material, making sure that even without the theatrics, an Alice Cooper show would be hard to beat.

Saturday 31st July


Opening with the storming 'Ghost Division', Sabaton's set was fast and furious. Established classics such as 'Primo Victoria' and 'The Art Of War' were joined by new song 'Coat of Arms', all inter-spliced by Joakim Brodén's hangover focussed crowd banter. As expected, the staccato piano of 'Cliffs of Gallipoli' and its rousing chorus went down a storm. Closing with the heavy metal tribute medley of 'Metal Machine' and 'Metal Crue', Sabaton ended on a high note having energised the morning crowd.

Tim Minchin

Being a fan of Tim Minchin's musical comedy, I was curious as to how it would come across at a festival. Although playing amusing skits such as 'Prejudice', the environment just wasn't right for enjoying the Australian’s set properly. Whilst the songs are indeed good, when a comedian's humour is derived from witty lyrics, being able to hear the words clearly is pivotal – however, the sound quality simply didn't allow for great enunciation. It wasn't all bad though. 'Rock and Roll Nerd' saw Tim unexpectedly joined by Evile guitarist, Ol Drake, creating quite a surreal pairing.

Mötley Crüe

Despite opening with a variety of sound issues during a shaky 'Kickstart My Heart', the Crüe managed to deliver. Whilst Vince Neil may have taken to skipping select words in the verses of 'Dr. Feelgood' and 'Shout at the Devil', he remains a capable front-man, bounding across the stage in every song and keeping the crowd lively. Furthermore, Mick Mars' guitar playing was mesmerising, despite the show clearly taking its toll on him. Amongst the staples 'Girls, Girls, Girls' and 'Same Ol' Situation', the Crüe also saw it fit to mark the occasion by throwing in a few rarely played tracks; the sleazy 'Ten Seconds To Love' and the infectious 'Rattlesnake Shake'. Coupled with a wealth of pyrotechnics and fireworks, Mötley Crüe put on an all round good show.


Before Therapy? even began to play their acclaimed album Troublegum, the Bohemia tent had met its capacity, with many people being turned away by security. Eventually overcoming the sound issues that led to two false starts, the band stormed through Troublegum with sheer intensity and the crowd clearly loved every moment of it. Filled to the brim, the tent pulsated with fans singing along and rocking out. With Therapy? playing so well and the audience actively participating, not only did Therapy? do their album justice, they also created the most euphoric moment of the festival.

Sunday 1st August


Anyone who has seen Slayer knows exactly what to expect – Slayer is as Slayer does. Playing new tracks off 'World Painted Blood' amongst staples 'South of Heaven' and 'War Ensemble', Slayer capably thrashed their way through a short set. Ending with 'Angel of Death', the crowd erupted towards the front and Slayer reaffirmed their status as a band who don't need to try anything new to please their fans.

Alice In Chains

Whilst Lane Staley is arguably irreplaceable, William DuVall does his legacy justice with Alice In Chains seemingly invigorated. The band played a good mix of old and new, incorporating slower numbers 'Your Decision' and 'Would?' with rockers like 'Them Bones' and 'Man In The Box'. Closing their set with the powerful 'Rooster', it was clear that the new Alice In Chains have a great chemistry and it was a delight seeing Jerry Cantrell take the microphone for a good portion of the set.

Iron Maiden

Preceded by a melodramatic video of travelling through space and a lunar stage set to match, Iron Maiden opened with 'The Wickerman', thus setting the standard for a set filled with recent material. Whilst occasionally dropping in classics like 'Wrathchild' and 'Fear of the Dark', Bruce Dickinson was adamant to prove that Maiden aren't a “nostalgia band”. The results were a bit of a mixed bag. The epic 'Dance of Death' was a fantastic choice whereas the lacklustre 'Wildest Dreams' was not. The Dio-tributed 'Blood Brothers' fell somewhere in-between whereas new song 'El Dorado' came off much better live than recorded.

I understand what Iron Maiden were going for with this set, but it wasn't without issue. Most of these songs were just too long; frequent instrumental interludes aren't suitable for a festival environment. I applaud the band for giving their more recent material a deserved airing, but the balance became skewed, creating a set that alienated the many casual fans in the audience. Whilst the encore did help save the show (you can't beat 55,000 people singing along to 'Running Free'), Maiden could have been more diplomatic in their choices and not omitted some of their most famous numbers. I probably remain the only person to have seen Maiden twice and not heard flagship songs 'Run To The Hills' or 'The Trooper' performed. Though the set-list was occasionally dubious, the band still put on a great show filled with energy and it's always fun watching Eddie getting beaten with guitars.

Indica - A Way Away

(Written for Powerplay Magazine)

An odd signing for a predominantly metal label like Nuclear Blast, the perpetually labelled ‘all-girl band’ Indica play an almost gothic brand of pop rock. As ridiculous as it may sound, Indica are like the missing link between Nightwish and Girls Aloud. It’s catchy pop embroiled in a pseudo-dark image and symphonic orchestration. Listening to A Way Away, it’s no surprise that its producer was Nightwish’s own Tuomas Holopainen, who clearly brings his penchant for the grandiose in to the Indica formula.
Although it may sound like a musical identity crisis on paper, A Way Away is surprisingly listenable. The twee pop chorus of 'Precious Dark' is almost contagiously catchy, with lyrics straying between pretentious melancholy and Alexander Ryback fairy tales (you know, the Eurovision 2009 winner… no?). Similarly, the curiously poetic melancholy of 'In Passing' or the title track are enough to stay in the listener’s ear long after their conclusion. 'Scissor, Paper, Rock'sees Indica momentarily flirt with the up-beat, but only in its guitar driven instrumentation; the lyrics are as bleak as the rest of the album, but who cares when the chorus is this addictive?
There are certainly enjoyable moments throughout the album, but a lot of A Way Away seems to plod along rather drearily with many tracks sounding little more than a very simplistic funeral march. The strongest moments are when Indica step back slightly from their relentless elegy and deliver weirdly infectious gothic pop.

Liv Kristine - Skintight

(Written for Powerplay Magazine)

Those expecting something akin to Leaves’ Eyes from Liv Kristine’s solo output should probably avoid Skintight as the music here is an exercise in European pop-rock and a far cry from Kristine’s symphonic metal outfit. Clearly, the main draw of the album is meant to be Kristine’s floating vocals which remain consistently gentle throughout. However, when most of the material is as ironically lifeless as tracks such as 'Lifeline', it doesn’t matter how good the singer’s voice is. That’s not to say it’s all terrible – 'Emotional Catastrophes' makes great use of a slightly rocky and haunting set of melodies, 'Boy At The Window' boasts a driven, partially spoken verse section and 'Versified Harmonies's drifting chorus is well enunciated by quiet guitar siren calls and subtle sitars. But these moments aside, the lion’s share of the album remains monotonous acoustic pop that lacks any particular direction or excitement and as a result, Skintight, whilst listenable, is probably really only one for diehards of Kristine’s admittedly dazzling voice.

Serenity Dies - Hacksawcracy

(You know the deal by now. This one's for PowerPlay Magazine.)

Serenity Dies’ amusingly titled Hacksawcracy is a thrashing platter of metal, with its Annihilator-esque stop-start riffery and spiked, Mille Petrozza styled vocals making for an acidic mix. There are few dull moments on this album and variety is pleasingly rife throughout. The slunked riffs of 'In Devil’s Symmetry' are followed by clever little flourishes such as the intricate guitar pattern behind the chorus’ screams, a vigorous dialogue interjection and a fantastic set of solos. 'Psycho Ride' showcases an unexpectedly melodic chorus that is especially atypical to this brand of thrash but is masterfully implemented, whereas the almost Lamb of God stylistic flair of 'Dystopian Law' shows a willingness to be more than just a retro-thrash act.
Indeed, Hacksawcracy is short, sharp and hard hitting. In its modest 29 minutes, the album shows Serenity Dies to be skilled thrashers who have the oft-overlooked skill of not outstaying their welcome, offering quality over quantity.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Kiske / Somerville Album Launch Coverage

(To be printed in a future issue of PowerPlay Magazine, but in a very edited format as this is far too lengthy for normal publications - be warned, it's a long one)

Navigation has never been my strong point and having made it to Cologne, getting to the area of Ehrenfeld was more of a challenge than I expected. Easily baffled by German train signs and maps and despite having been given very concise travel instructions, I found myself walking the streets of Cologne for much longer than anticipated. One thing that was abundantly clear, even through travel induced exhaustion, was that Cologne is a city passionate about its rock music. In central Cologne and Ehrenfeld itself, the walls were plastered with posters for upcoming tours and releases ranging from the likes of Motörhead to The Pogues. Furthermore, the city centre of Cologne was filled with kids clearly in to their music – I’ve never seen so many goths in one place, and I’ve been to a 69 Eyes concert. With such blatant musical passion in its community, I wasn’t surprised that the launch for an album whose personnel included rock and metal stalwarts Michael Kiske, Amanda Somerville and Mat Sinner was to take place here later this evening.

Having arrived at the hotel with enough time for a power nap, I made my way to Ehrenfeld's Underground Club for the Kiske & Somerville launch event. After a bit of room-changing within the venue, we are all led in to what appears to be the club dance floor area where we were treated to the Kiske / Somerville record in its entirety and, honestly, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from the album. Michael Kiske, still perpetually associated with his former band Helloween, and Amanda Somerville, whose own solo material is a far cry from metal, are amongst the best singers in the business but neither are exclusively heavy musicians – it’d be fairer to say that they both dabble in the metal world. That’s why when the album started, I was surprised by just how “metal” the proceedings were. Of course, with Mat Sinner as one of the key songwriters and producer, it made sense.

Opener 'Nothing Left To Say' is disarmingly heavy from the start. And yet, despite its furious drumming and pounding chords, the song remains highly melodic throughout; the chorus in particular, which sees Kiske and Somerville’s soaring vocals intertwine with one another in harmony over an exceptionally hooky chorus.
Similarly, the next track '
Silence' opens with jabbed violins before an interjection of thundering guitars. From a restrained verse, it leads in to a suitably epic vocal trade-off of a chorus between the two singers.
Follower '
If I Had A Wish' has a power metal opening of twinned guitar leads, setting the stage for an all around anthemic track. Whilst a tad repetitive, the strength of the hooks is more than enough to sustain it.
'Arise' is amongst the heaviest tracks on the album, boasting pinch harmonic riffs and a groove-metal breakdown that sees the weighted guitars well juxtaposed by serenely smooth vocals.
The sweeping orchestration of '
End of the Road' provides the track’s foundation, with neat flourishes of percussion and extra instrumentation cementing the track as one of the album’s highlights.
'Don’t Walk Away' sees an almost AOR styled addition to the album with a more upbeat chorus providing a welcome change from the rather brooding melodies that seem to encompass the rest of the album. The track is very rocky and very catchy.
Another lead driven number, '
A Thousand Suns' has a slow chorus that is made brilliant by the meticulous vocal harmonising. Furthermore, the flamenco guitar solo, whilst unexpected, is a great touch.
'Rain' fleets from soaring guitars to another infectious chorus and a very heavy bridge, creating another strong track
Slowing down a bit, '
One Night Burning' is a piano led ballad that again, really takes off at its bombastic and tuneful chorus.
Another album highlight, '
Devil In Her Heart' sounds sort of like a ballsier, European Evanescence. The two part chorus consists of one of the album’s best vocal trade-offs before moving in to doomy cries of “I’m going under”. Furthermore, the duel of guitar and keyboard solos provides a great finish.
The official album closer '
Second Chance' is another ballady number, but unfortunately falls a bit flat. It is having saved by a well placed, melodious solo.
Finally, bonus track '
Set A Fire' is heavier than anything that came before it, with its slow, thrashing intro subsiding to thumping drums and serene vocals from Somerville. The almost Eastern sounding acoustic guitars coupled with a haunting bass supplement Amanda’s interlude vocals fantastically, creating one of the best moments of the album. It’s a surprise that this track was only relegated to bonus material.

Whilst occasionally a tad formulaic in some of its song writing, nearly every track on “Kiske / Somerville” contains something memorable. Furthermore, it is nothing short of a treat to hear two talents such as Kiske and Somerville performing together so well. Following the album, we are shown the two promotional clips and then the the journalists get their chance to conduct interviews After a few drinks with the fellow attendees, I’m led to another building on the Underground’s property, where the talents of the album await to be interviewed. Unfortunately, Amanda had fallen ill by this point so I was left in the capable hands of Michael Kiske and Mat Sinner to discuss the album.

“I actually listened to it for the first time today as well,” Michael opens. “Of course I knew the songs, but I hadn’t heard the mix.” Asking what he thought of the finished product, Michael continues. “It’s very nice. The sound system was kind of unclear, so it had an almost ‘live’ sound. When you listen to it on a normal system, it’s going to sound clear. Indeed, having already heard samples, it was clear this was the case. So, how did the project come together? “Serafino Perugino, the owner of Frontiers Records, asked me if I’d be interested in singing a full duet record with a female voice,” Michael recalls. “I did it once on the Indigo Dying record and it was a beautiful track. I really liked that song, so I said yeah, that I’d love to do it, if it’s the right kind of music. And then he…” Michael gestures towards Mat. “He asked me. He said ‘Mat, I really liked your last productions – are you interested in producing an album with Michael and a female singer?’ And I said yeah, of course, because I’ve loved Michael through all the stations in his career. I like his voice and he has a great background. So we were in need of a singer, a girl singer. We were searching and had a list of singers and we came to the point that Amanda came in to the picture. We’d worked on Avantasia and another project and there had already been a project where Michael and her had been singing together.”

Of course, Amanda Somerville was one of the key personnel behind orchestrating the Aina “Metal Opera”, on which Michael had sung a few tracks. However, Mat is quick to point out that “Michael didn’t recognise her in the first place.” Detailing of the circumstances, Michael adds “It’s a funny story. When I did the Aina album, I was sent a very beautiful thing on that called 'Silver Maiden'. Sascha Paeth sent me a demo with her singing on it. And I said to him, ‘Man, this sounds so good. Why don’t you take her voice? Why should I sing it? I can’t do any better, it’s awesome!’ You can ask her, I didn’t even know who she was, just this awesome vocalist – it was perfect! Then when we came to do the project, I didn’t know of the Aina connection. The thing is, after we did the video shoot – that’s when I found out it was the same girl.” Both Mat and Michael are quick to sing Amanda’s praises in her absence. “She’s very professional and very easy going,” Mat starts. “She’s very sweet and great to work with. With some girls, sometimes you have problems, but not with Amanda. She’s always sweet,” Michael adds. So how was the recording as a whole? Did you ever record together? “No, no. I would perform the songs, the instrumentation and whatever. Then Amanda would record her vocals and then I’d send the songs to Michael to record,” Mat details. Michael elaborates, “I love to record the vocals separately because then I can do it on my own time. Sometimes you’re just not in the right frame of mind to record and if you have people watching you, expecting you to perform, looking at the time… it’s a lot of pressure. I had some health problems in January, I had an operation for a hole in my diaphragm and it affected my singing.” So recording on your own gives you space to work around your health problems and record when you’re best prepared? “Yes, exactly.”

Looking at the credits, it’s quite noticeable that most of the album was written by Mat Sinner and Magnus Karlsson. With the key performers being Amanda and Michael, the album ended up heavier than I would have expected. “It’s heavy with a positive vibe,” Mat tells me. “It’s melodic. To me, it’s not heavier than expected, it’s just normal. It’s how I write, it’s very personal to me.” Michael adds, “It’s very positive and melodic. Just like with those Helloween songs, they were always positive and melodic.” Asking about how he felt not being part of the creative process, Michael states, “I didn’t write any of it, but I’m happy with my imprint on the album. Working with duet harmonies was very different to my previous collaborations but I think the record is an artistic success.” Mat nods.

With this slightly heavier offering and your current band, Unisonic, do you feel you’re re-entering the world of rock and metal again, Michael? “This project is heavy, yes but Unisonic are more rock, not metal. I like metal, but it’s too narrow for what we want. We want to be more open.” Michael has been known to be vocal about the metal crowd in the last decade, he assures me this is “in the past. I like metal, I still listen to some of those classic rock and metal albums.” At this point, Michael shows me his iPod and the wealth of varied music on it ranging from Oasis and Keane to Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. So does he feel that his animosity towards the metal audience was founded in perhaps bad marketing? After all, his solo releases were far from metal but were pedalled to the Helloween crowd. “The record label jumps on past successes, so yes that wasn’t great. But when I was doing signing with Unisonic at festivals… yes, there was a lot of Keepers and Place Vendome but every third album was one of my solo albums so even some of the metal crowd were buying them.”

After listening to the album, we were also shown the videos for 'Silence' and 'If I Had A Wish'. How did you find that? “I was uncomfortable,” Michael admits. “It was my first time on screen in… 16 years? You can see me being uncomfortable in the videos, I’m just sitting down. Amanda was great though, she was the real performer!” Of course, this was the first time the Kiske & Somerville band had properly been in a room together, so nerves were understandable, as Mat points out. “We had to start somewhere. The videos were done before we had relaxed in to it so it doesn’t quite seem like a band.” Michael corroborates, adding, “The second video was better because we were more comfortable.” So, now that the band are used to each other, is there any chance of a tour? “A tour for Kiske & Somerville depends on the record’s response. We have to have the right feed back for it,” Michael states. Mat elaborates, “Live, we want to present the music on a very good level. It’s more like an opera, It’s too big for small clubs. We need a stage where everyone would fit! It would have to be very theatrical.” “Mat’s invested a lot in this, it’s very personal to him so we would want to do it right. It needs a nice foundation to keep it going, live or on record,” Michael adds. “But I think it’s a success, whatever happens. If it’s a success personally, that’s the most important thing.”

Finally, I ask Mat and Michael what their current commitments are from now. Michael is of course continuing on with his new band, Unisonic. Mat tantalisingly mentions that his next commitment is working on the solo album of another talent of the German metal scene, Ralf Scheepers. Teasingly, he reveals that there will also be a lot of interesting guests on the album and it’s with that little snippet we conclude the interview. However, immediately after the interview, we somehow slipped in to a rather lengthy conversation about U2 – apparently both Michael and Mat are big fans of the band – providing probably the most surreal exchange of the evening.

With the interview over, it’s back in to the main club for a generous amount of German beer, loud music and good times. The feeling seems to be mutual that the Kiske / Somerville album is a strong platter that displays the talents of its namesakes brilliantly. Only time will tell how well the album will be received on a wider scale but for me, it was a delight to hear such skilled singers working together so well. I’m sure I won’t be the only one wishing to see this project performed live, especially considering how meticulous Mat Sinner is about presenting the music properly, so hopefully the feedback will be as positive as the launch experience.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Triosphere - The Road Less Travelled

(To be printed in PowerPlay Magazine Issue 122)

Triosphere play a particularly ferocious brand of power metal, clearly putting to shame the claims of “flower metal” that plague the genre. Opener 'Ignition' misleads the listener with its mellow start before quickly collapsing into a rampant flurry of powerful tremolo picked riffs, wailing guitars and relentlessly blasted drums that serve to set the tone for the rest of the album. The Road Less Travelled’s primary strength lies in the well executed mix of heavy riffs and melodic tendencies, all of which are brilliantly exemplified by the impressive pipes of Ida Haukland. The operatic projection of Ida’s voice is made all the more enjoyable due to its sheer clout, perfectly complementing the heavy / melodic dichotomy that defines Triosphere’s music. The album remains hugely over the top but manages to just about get away with it through the utter bravado the band applies to every track. Whilst there are some dull moments ('Marrionette' being a prime example of this), the extra touches like the spiky-violin guitars of 'Watcher' or the frenzied chorus of the title track make it a worthwhile listen to those who want some metal that lives up to the title of ‘power’.