AN INTERVIEW WITH BJORN LODIN OF HARD

Known for the best of part of 2 decades as the vocalist and leader of Baltimoore, Bjorn Lodin is currently a Swedish ex-pat earning his keep in Hungary with the hard rock outfit HARD. In what is becoming an annual event, Virtuosity One caught up with Bjorn to discuss the new HARD release “Even Keel”.  Promising in advance to be freshly shaven we hope that Bjorn’s conversation is as sharp as his razor.

Bjorn, once again we are discussing another album.  Do you really have nothing better to do?

Hello! Na, not really much else out there to feed my needs… I’ve been at it for so long that this has become my comfort zone – gotta have the pain and frustration as well as the recognition and pleasure. Where else can you start with nothing, make shit up, start believing its true, loving it and hating it..? Making a record the way I do, is for me a total “hanging out with myself” experience. It’s addictive and I’m an addict! A slow but yet sure fix.

Your second album with HARD entitled “Even Keel” was released a few weeks ago, how has the initial reaction been from fans and press?

It’s been mainly positive so far! We’ve picked up some new fans and it seems that people in general like the rougher approach we have on ‘Even Keel’. Media feedback is still coming in and we get picked up on radio playlists all over the world.

It seems you caused quite a stir when you joined the band early last year for “Time Is Waiting For No One” with a lot of exposure on MTV and the like, along with a support slot for Kiss.  Did you anticipate this sort of reaction?

Well, I didn’t know what to expect… To me it was a funky thing joining these guys… I suppose it had some news value and we worked it the best way we knew how. It’s not that common that a Swede joins a Hungarian band, after all. And it got me to shake hands with Gene Simmons – I didn’t see that one coming J Then again, you hardly see anything coming anymore… just gotta go for it.

Since your first album with the band you’ve moved from Sweden to Hungary, how has the change been and how are you adapting in your new country?

It was a major decision but a necessary one. Going back and forth wasn’t an option in the long run. I’m also working with some other artists here doing song writing and production work. I’ve built a studio here so I have all I need to get things done. I’m not planning on staying forever but right now I’m enjoying the former Eastern European way of living… slowly getting the hang of it.

Hungary isn’t a country that would be on many peoples lists of hard rock havens so was their any reticence on your part about joining the band and ultimately moving?

Not at all. This is a natural stop for me. I can’t think of a better opportunity to explore and get inspired. I have no idea of where I’m heading and I make my list as I go.

Bjorn boasts to the audience.

It must be gratifying to be picking up the accolades and praise the band is over there?

It’s nice to get positive feedback anywhere, sort of makes taking all the crap easier. I suppose we stand out a little bit here, due to the English lyrics and the somewhat ‘traditional’ approach in rock music, since most Hungarian ‘traditional’ rock bands sing in Hungarian. This is not an easy barrier to break through but I feel we’re sharing the same fans as they have.

Our review of “Even Keel” was praiseworthy (thanks for the cheque) stating the new album is “more streamlined and straight-ahead hard rock than its predecessor, being all about accessible rock with a healthy dose of deft touches to move it nicely out of derivative”. Is this a fair assessment in your, one of the key songwriters eyes?

Hehe, sure is. (Don’t spend it all at once) Just crank it and your feet will start tapping!

Was this direction intentional or was this a comfortable and natural shift in attention compared to “Time…”?

Yes and yes. These songs pretty much wrote themselves. ‘Time…’ was our first effort together and I was taking on the role as the producer rather than the song writer. The guys had a lot of ideas that we made into songs. Before I joined the band, HARD was a more AOR influenced act. I never could stand too much of that style – predictable major pussy harmonies with ‘angry’ guitars, or whatever… so I tried to get some, as I see it ‘real musical danger’ in there and get a nice mix of them both J. I also produced ‘Even Keel’ and I wanted to let the hair down a bit. I co-wrote all the songs with our guitar player Zsolt Vámos, and we sort of found a common ‘backyard spot’ were we ended up writing and arranging the songs. I can’t wait to get started with the 3rd one!

The album sounds like you are having a ball with this material.  Your voice is oozing attitude and seems very at home in this setting. Vocally, is this the most fun you’ve had in a while?

First of all it’s a new key for me. The whole guitar is tuned down a whole step. This got me to make vocal lines having a much wider range than I’ve sung before. I suppose that combined with the straight forward guitar oriented songs gave it a bit of a new touch. It’s all about being inspired and this was a new thing for me so… I’ll admit it wasn’t easier to sing with lower tuning… took quite some time getting used to.

The reason I ask the last question is in a few interviews for the last couple of Baltimoore albums you stated you’d consider having another vocalist take over, and on the last Baltimoore record (Quick Fix) included all the tracks in instrumental form asking for those brave enough to offer up their own vocal takes.  I wonder if this was a period of your career where you perhaps weren’t over joyed with your voice, whereas on this new album it sounds strident and full of a cock-sure attitude that works really well with the material.

Hmm, well… I love and hate my voice. The voice is the ultimate instrument and a great vocal performance overshadows everything. However, being impotent doesn’t mean you can’t give directions for multiples… 😉

LMAO, How has the writing for the new album gone? Was this material written mostly since your move to Hungary?

We started right after ‘Time…’ was released last spring and recorded in Sweden in July and August. We had plans for an autumn release but things kept pushing the release until March this year. I mixed and mastered here in Budapest.

Who are the principle writers in the band and how did the tracks generally get created?

Zsolt and I wrote all songs this time. Zsolt came on board right after we finished ‘Time…’ and had a lot of material pretty much ready to go. We’ve very different taste and influences, which creates a healthy tension when we sit down to work.

I know you are a very strong rhythm guitarist so how much influence did you have with main guitarist Zsolt Vámos on this new material?

He adjusted to the spanking rather quickly!

The guitar work is excellent with some superb tones once again.  What was the main guitar setup this time around?

Main rhythm guitars were tracked using Les Paul Standard/2002 and Fractal Audio Axe-Fx Ultra. I don’t remember what was used for lead guitar…

What was the lyrical influence stemming from this time round?

I don’t remember that either… I’m sure it was something that made perfectly good sense at the time J. The lyrics are in the booklet – you tell me!

The lyrics are a little saucier in places than I’ve heard previously from you. Are the spicy national dishes of Hungary heating up your blood pressure?

Aha, well I suppose I’m getting to that infamous ‘dirty old man’ stage… There sure is some good spicy food here! I’d be surprised if it didn’t influence me one way or the other.

How do you personally view the new material from an insiders perspective and what is it about being in Hard that excites you?

Well, the new album has added another colour to my pallet, if you like. I haven’t made a record sounding like this before. Now when it’s done it only feels natural to open more doors in this genre. HARD is where I do my thing right now and I’m surrounded by people who every day wants to keep the fire going. That is all one can ask for. HARD is a good band to be in!

The production is powerful yet stripped down sounding rather live, this kind of production is rapidly becoming your trademark, are you getting closer to perfecting it to your ear?

This is a constant battle but I think I’m getting the hang of it. Making a record is about planning ahead and making decisions about all kinds of stuff. Sometimes you make the right decision… Anyway, it’s a learning curve that seems never ending and is very song dependant. It’s great fun though and a big reason to why I do music in the first place. Without the production and creativity part I’d never do the singing and dancing.

What was your personal aim with “Even Keel”?

To finish it J You never know what you’re gonna end up with. I think it turned out very well and it will find its listeners.

Click cover to read V1's review of "Even Keel".

I see you have some festival appearances lined up over the Summer, and have a live video available for “Scream out to be heard”, I know one of the main frustrations you had with Baltimoore was the lack of live activity. Was the chance to play live a lot more with Hard a fundamental reason for you hopping onboard a plane to Hungary?

Certainly! Playing the songs live is the icing on the cake. Yes, we have some concert dates this summer and we’ll continue in the autumn and winter.

Does the challenge of getting in the leather trousers, working and winning over a live audience hold a challenge to you, scare you or excite you?

Right now we are very well rehearsed and can hardly wait for the next gig. We’re all very excited – and I have new tailor made leather pants!

How does that challenge compare to creating an album – which in theory is something will be around forever?

That’s a whole different ball game. Making an album is easy compared to getting the act on the stage, which incorporates other people and other problems. They do need each other, though… in order to be complete. This is why I’m a fan of arranging and producing a record so it will make a smooth transition into the live scene.

Do the band have any other promo events coming up?

We’ll probably make another video…

Bjorn, many thanks for your time. Any parting messages?

Thanks for the questions and be sure to check us out at:

http://www.hardhungary.com

http://www.facebook.com/hardhungary

http://www.myspace.com/hardhungary



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BOREALIS – FALL FROM GRACE

Released 20th May 2011 on Lion Music

“Fall From Grace” marks the label (Lion Music) debut for Canadian progressive power metallers Borealis after one well received independently released offering “World Of Silence”.  The new offering sees a step up in every area from production to presentation (excellent artwork) to song craft with the album being home to 9 tracks that only offer 1 track of repsite from a full on metallic delivery.

The  first thing to hit you is that this a damn good sounding release, powerful with excellent clarity between instruments and arguably one of the best to have surfaced on Lion Music so kudos to the band and Jordan Valeriote at Sundown Studio.  Fortunately the album doesn’t just sound good as the quality of song is also exceptionally high.

Opener “Finest Hour” kicks off at a frantic pace, but let’s up a little for its melodic chorus.  “Words I Failed To Say” is slower and more groove orientated with a nice balance between guitar and keyboard orchestration, the vocal melodies of Matt Marinelli once again impress and his voice which stays more in mid-range territory is a nice change to a lot of the high end warblers the genre often produces.  The title-track will keep heads banging frantically in the live arena whilst album preview track “Where We Started” is a nice track that fuses all the traits heard so far.

Album highlight to these ears is “Breaking The Curse” which is one of the more melodic mid tempo numbers and again with a chorus that is exceptionally strong – and original with it.  “Regeneration” is back to beating the living shit out of you with some fine double bass drum work of Sean Dowell being particularly praiseworthy and locking in well with the guitar duo of Ken Fobert and Matt Marinelli (yes the clever bugger handles guitar and vocals duties).  “Watch The World Collide” is the only track to offer some respite from the full on delivery elsewhere and its acoustic guitar and orchestrated strings make a nice bed for the vocals before the closing brace of “Take You Over” and “Forgotten Forever” sees the album go out with a bang with more potent riffs and high energy delivery from all involved.

With “Fall From Grace” you can easily see why Borealis caused such an impression at ProgPower USA 2010with this new material. All tracks are concise in length with the focus being firmly on the song.  The performances are for the most part excellent, one might argue the lead guitar work is lacking a little character but there are no real complaints here as the riffing is first class.  Overall this is a very impressive offering and I have a feeling Borealis may well make quite an impression worldwide with “Fall From Grace”.

Highly recommended.

Rating – 90%



GUITARSNAKE – AROUND THE WORLD

Out now on Mad Guitar Records

Guitarsnake aka Nicolas Notarianni is a French guitarist who first came to my attention on the Mad Guitar Records compilation ‘Melodic Soloists’, now we get to see what the man can do across a whole album with “Around The World”.

The first thing to strike me is that this album doesn’t follow the general guitar instrumental formula, the guitar is not always the dominant instrument and “Around The World” is much more about the song than the guitar work.  This is to be praised as strong songs always serve lead guitar work better.

Opening with the 4 part “My Religion” we get a lush modern sound with good depth and width of production and a nice clean warm sound.  Nicolas’ guitar work stays restraint through parts II and III of the 4 tracks and is none existent on the tracks I and IV bookends; it’s a strong opening piece and one that is superb as background music in the small hours of night. The title track serves up an almost West Coast AOR vibe is a nice bright tune, again very melodic on the guitar front (can anyone say Neil Schon?) whilst the more modern “In The Shadow” with its keyboard textures from Nicolas Notarianni is again easy yet enjoyable on the ear. “Somewhere In This World” would be the perfect accompaniment to a film recap where the love interests look back over their relationship blossoming.  The tempo and heaviness is upped a little for “Surrounded” which again is full of strong melody and nice orchestration from the keyboards whilst “Last Goodbye” sees the new material out in tender fashion.  Two remastered tracks “I Have a Dream” and “On The Road” are the heaviest offerings on the album and end this fine release.

“Around The World” is a mature and extremely enjoyable offering, immediately listenable, well suited to a variety of moods and an album that can lift one out of the deepest depression.  The guitar work is mostly melodic, perfectly suited to the track and incredibly praise worthy.  On the whole an excellent release and an early contender for guitar instrumental of the year – check it out.

Rating – 92%


TOMMY VITALY – JUST ME

Out now on Ice Warrior Records

Italialian guitarist Tommy Vitaly is perhaps best known for his work with power metal band Seven Gates, yet has stepped out on his own for “Just Me”, a neo-classically inspired slice of metal. Backed up by some impressive names in vocalist Thomas Vikström (Stormwind), drummer Rhino (ex Manowar), bassist Andrea Torricini (ex Vision Divine) and some guest keyboard solos from Vitalij Kuprij (Artension, TSO) and Mistheria (solo, Rob Rock) the omens look good.

Unfortunately the hype suggested by the personnel is never really lived up to. The first thing to hit you is a poor mix which sees clipping on the bass guitar and bass drums and a very narrow sound spectrum. When the guitar is a dominant force like it is in neo-classical metal this has better be good, yet Tommy’s tone lacks harmonic content and depth and is as bland as dry toast.

On the song front vocalist Thomas Vikström screeches his way through the formulaic “Fly High Touch The Sky” which is home to every stock power metal motif in the book and sounds like a bad Helloween cover band truth be told. The other vocal track, “Ready To Die” fares a little better but once again the song writing is generic with a repetitive chorus that never really sells itself and on the whole its nothing special.  The instrumental side of things does fare better with “Storm Of Fire” being Malmsteen-esque in approach and the anthemic “Finally Free” showing off a nice melody. “The Fury” does what it says and is high in energy and showcases that Tommy can play having some nice unison runs with Kuprij.

Overall a fairly average debut, Tommy can play though and hopefully the quality control in production will be higher and the song writing will showcase more originality next time round.

Rating – 60%

M.ILL.ION – SANE AND INSANITY

Out now on Metal Heaven

Swedish band M.ILL.ION’s six former albums failed to register on my radar. Basically what’s on offer is melodic hard rock with a very European slant. Think Shakra or Pretty Maids’ less metallic output.

M.ILL.ION isn’t a bad band, just not an especially interesting one. An underwhelming singer (he goes flat on his face in the title track) and a somewhat ramshackle production could all be forgiven if the songs were really killer. Unfortunately, they aren’t. Note that they aren’t bad either. “Bland” is the best description I can come up with. Nothing jumps out.  Instrumentally speaking, the band is beyond reproach. A couple of nice guitar leads help the final score.

The record label promotes this album as being “for fans of Whitesnake, Gotthard, Kiss and Deep Purple”. I suppose you could say the keyboards take care of the Deep Purple comparison. Gotthard? If Gotthard had a mediocre singer and mediocre songs, yeah, I could see it…

This release hasn’t exactly made me curious about their earlier work.

Rating – 60%
Review by Million Dollar Baby Sancho. 

CHINA – LIGHT UP THE DARK

As Alpine countries go, Switzerland is quite productive when it comes to quality hard rock. In Gotthard and Krokus they even produced two bands that could more than keep up with the big boys. China may not be quite up to that level, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to like.  I remember seeing the band opening for Yngwie Malmsteen somewhere in the very early nineties. If you do a guitar solo spot when you’re opening for Yngwie you’ve got decent size balls!

Groovy heavy rock is the order of the day, as if the band never took a break.  Tracks like “She’s So Hot”, “Lonely Rider” and “Deadly Sweet” are a good showcase for the catchy brand of hard rock this band peddles. “Gates Of Heaven” is a serviceable ballad, if not an exceptional one. Is that a distinct Mötley Crüe flavour I detect in “Girl On My Screen”? If it is, it’s countered by the Mavericks stylings of “On My Way”!

This band achieves what many young Swedish bands can only dream of: no-nonsense quality hard rock. Not every song is equally strong but there are no real duffers to be found.

Rating – 83%
Review by Sancho