EMPIRE – TRADING SOULS

Out now on Lion Music

Another release in Lion Music’s Limited Edition Digipack reissue series, this review originally ran on the old Virtuosity One website in 2006.

If your musical interests do not expand beyond those of super technically proficient then you may as well stop reading this review right now. If you are a rock fan then read on. ‘Trading Souls’ is guitarist Rolf Munkes second album under the Empire name. The bands debut album featured Mark Boals on vocals on several tracks, but this there second see ex Black Sabbath vocalist Tony Martin handle all vocal responsibilities. Anders Johansson plays drums on a two tracks – hence the link to Yngwie.

Empire basically specialise in classic sounding hard rock that runs the gamut of commercial to classic. The songs all have very strong melody lines and Martin’s vocals are impeccable throughout. Rolf Munkes guitar work is very much in the vein of ‘for the song’ as opposed to boosting his own personal ego and he proves himself to be a very competent player with a good knack for knocking out a memorable riff and chord progression. Don Airey (Deep Purple/ex Rainbow) handles all keyboards and he makes nice use of a variety of sounds – hammond to orchestral backing, all giving the tracks a nice atmospheric base. The rhythm section is held down by bassist Neil Murray (Whitesnake/Black Sabbath amongst many others) and drums are handled by the aforementioned Johansson and Gerald Kloos. The production of the album is very clear and powerful, the mix is impeccable.

My personal favorites are the heavier darker numbers, “Pay Back Time” has a great chorus that whilst not being radio commercial is catchy enough to have you humming it back to yourself later on.

The second half of the album is where the band really hit their stride with some well worked out classic rock that convey the darker element once again whilst managing to keep an eye on melody. “You” manages to combine the Swedish hard rock pound of bands like Damned Nation. “Perfect Singularity” (cool title) which allows room for Martin’s vocal to breathe to maximum effect and its quite Dio in phrasing before the pre-chorus see the mood lighten a listen which in turn changes again for the commercial chorus.  “Wherever You Go” sees the album really hitting its stride and the elements of the bands sound seem to come together here, the chorus is superb and sounds very original, Munkes throws in some nice dirty guitar work and wah drenched unison bends to create a Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath) vibe and its my favourite track of the album.

The only thing that lets this album down are the ballads which are a little sickly and Bon Jovi esque in places. Tony Martin even sounds like Jon Bon in places! These are easily enough skipped past, but hey it may make your girlfriend let you listen to some rock!?

Overall ‘Trading Souls’ is a strong album in the classic rock mold yet with a modern edge and great production.

Hot Spots : Wherever You Go, Perfect Singularity, Pay Back Time
Rating : 74%

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH BOGUSLAW BALCERAK OF CRYLORD

Boguslaw Balcerak is the super talented guitarist of newcomers Crylord.  Blessed with not only formidable technique but an ear for writing a winning song, the debut “Blood Of The Prophets” is one of the surprise releases of the year and a contender for debut of the year and a release we heartily recommend.  We caught up with Boguslaw to discuss the album and his history in depth.

Your debut release Crylord – Blood Of The Prophets hit the streets in October.  It’s an exceptional slice of metal. Please tell us how the band came together as you have some other very talented musicians with you.

It was not easy because in Poland it is hard to find good musicians in this genre. As for the rhythm section I asked my musical friends :  Kamil Wyzinski (bass and sound engineering) and Marcin Kwasny on drums. These guys provide a good rhythm section and they have great musical feeling. At the end I met Lukasz  Dybalski who is a keyboardist  and he just played my arrangements for this album.

The album is home to 3 fine vocalists in Carsten Schulz, Mark Boals and Goran Edman. How did you get these 3 vocalists involved and what sort of freedom did they have with the material?

I arranged melodic lines for each song and backing vocals. Of course, singers sometimes get swept away by emotions and sang them more in their own way, but it was so good that I decided not to be exactly as I wanted. Each of them has added something unique and it was good.

Especially Göran sometimes strongly modulate melodies, sometimes even like soul style. He never sings the same way twice, if a fragment is repeated he recorded it again, and always in different way. He made his own and amazing versions of choirs.

I think you did a nice job of picking songs to suit each vocalist’s strengths. Was this intentional or something that just worked out?

Their vocal skills are so high that I’m sure that each of them can sing no matter which song on the album, but obviously I thought about it who is to sing which song and reported to a concrete proposal.

When did you begin writing the music that appears on ‘Blood Of The Prophets’ and over what timescale was the music completed?

Music was written in 2008 and then it was the beginning of recordings.

Changing the recording studio and long mixing was the reasons why the album was ready until spring of 2011.

Can you remember what the first track you wrote was?

The first composition on the album was “Blind Dance” which is an instrumental song. It was the time when I was just dreaming about great vocalist and composing instrumental music.

Whilst there are elements of other bands, there is a very definite original voice within the material as well.  It’s an exciting sounding record, full of energy and vigour; I guess it must be a relief to finally get something out to the public?

I’m glad you think so. It is hard to do something original in neo-classical music, because it seems that everything has already been done by someone else. If the material is fresh is to say that it can appeal to people. It is important to me because for years I wanted to record my own music. I did not think, however, that it would be possible to record an album with such good singers.

Often I meet with the opinion that “Blood of the Prophets” is not revealing. Probably its true but it appears a lot of albums worse than “Blood of the Prophets”  have better reviews, and nobody there, no negative comments that it’s not revealing, though it is.

Your guitar work is exceptional, a superb technique yet with a strong dose of emotion in your play.  Can you tell us who your influences are and what you believe you have taken from their style and added to your own ideas to make your own voice?

I think the emotions are not only in the solo parts but also in the vocal lines and in the whole music.

Of course, Malmsteen as the biggest inspiration for me is still the most important. It’s a beautiful example of emotional music. There is no sense, however, to be another clone of Malmsteen. My playing is contaminated with Malmsteen’s style, but was expanded with a lot of elements such as: string skipping, more arpeggios, tapping, picking with the wide gauge of fingers, chromatic scales etc..

For years however I have been interested in guitar technique not only Malmsteen’s. Since many years I am inspired by albums from Shrapnel Records and Lion Music. Also there are newer virtuosos as George Bellas, Rusty Cooley and Francesco Fareri, from whom I’m still learning techniques, but in conjunction with my own feeling. At these times the level of guitar playing throughout the world is very high, and never can you say that you can play everything.

There are a few various styles on the album and there is a very strong flow to the music.  Do you have any personal tracks or performances and if so why?

It’s hard to say which of the songs I like most. Sometimes it is “The Healing Hands”, sometimes “Grave of Love” or “Bard’s Tale” but also “The Heretic” is very personal for me.

What guitar/amp/effects equipment did you use and is anything modded in any way?

Amp: Marshall 800, Messa Boogie Stiletto,

Guitar: Fender Stratocaster Standard, Ibanez RG2550 Prestige (),

All used without additional effects when recording

What are you looking for in your guitar sound and are you totally happy with the final sound on record?

I’m still looking for strong sound in riffs and crystal Fender sound in the solo parts. Of course I have a few comments about sound on the album but it’s not time here for that;)

Another great guitarist Andy LaRocque mastered the album. How did this come about and what did Andy bring to the sound?

Because of recording instruments at many sessions, and several studios the effect was such that each song had a different sound and different equalization.  Andy LaRocque proved to be invaluable here.

Andy is my guitar idol since the time of my elementary school, even before I heard Yngwie. I’ve watched his production of music for some time now, so finally I ask him for mastering the album. I’m happy that he found time to master the album, despite the flood of work he already had.

People might raise an eyebrow when they hear of a Polish metal band as its not a genre the country is really know for, so is Crylord the only band playing this form of music in your homeland or is there a sizeable scene for metal?

In Poland metal music is limited to very brutal like death, thrash metal or soft pop rock that is played at radio stations. Bands in the centre are missing, that is hard rock, classic metal, etc.. It is regarded as the relic and something funny. I do not know any other neo-classical metal band in Poland except Pathfinder which is truly brilliant power / symphonic band from Poznan .

The promo video for “Warriors Moon” has just been released as well, a nice effort with Carsten Schulz on vocals, how did the video shoot go?

We wondered together with Carsten which track could be the best for promoting this album. After a deep analysis, we decided that “Warrior’s Moon” would be the best choice as it’s a song with a fairly compact form. I also wanted it to be not too long  a song  so that people do not  switch off during playback 😉 What can be interesting is that this song was instrumental in the original. It was Carsten who found the potential for the vocal lines.

Can we expect any live appearances from Crylord in the future?

In fact, it’s hard to say is it possible to play concerts at this time. Certainly Carsten is the vocalist who could be involved. It all depends on how the CD will be accepted. If not at this time it may be the next album we’ll play something together.

Outside of Crylord what do you like to do for fun? Listen to? Etc..

In fact, I do not have much free time now since the birth of my daughter Liliana. Now she is 16 months old and there are many responsibilities associated with it.

Additionally work takes time and effort. I spend my every free time to work on myself as a guitarist and composing new songs and arrangements. If I have a moment for myself I like to read books and meet with friends.

What are your plans for the rest of 2011 and beyond?

This year I intend to finish the composition and arrangement of the material on the second album. In the next 2012 if everything goes fine we will start the hard work with recording.

Boguslaw, may we thank you again for this interview and even more so for the excellent music on ‘Blood Of The Prophets’, we wish you all the best for the future.

I also thank you for the interview, analysis and review of “Blood of the Prophets”

BOGUSLAW BALCERAK’S CRYLORD – BLOOD OF THE PROPHETS

Released 14th October 2011 on Lion Music

Neo-classical metal has been a bit of a hit and miss effort of late.  Strong releases from Concerto Moon have been counteracted by poor releases from the leading starlet of the genre Yngwie Malmsteen, so it’s with some hope that the debut effort from Polish guitarist Boguslaw Balcerak’s band Crylord can restore the balance for what is a favourite genre of mine.

The initial signs look good with a steady backing band behind guitarist Boguslaw Balcerak of some highly talented musicians from his native country, whilst vocals come from Carsten ‘Lizard’ Schulz (Evidence One, ex Domain) and former Malmsteen vocalists Mark Boals and Göran Edman.  Impressive names for sure and it’s easy to see how Boguslaw got them onboard as the quality of material is superb.

Whilst some will compare to Malmsteen purely because of the genre and a couple of names involved, the keener ear will hear an original sound.  There are some power and some small progressive elements here and there, but this is mostly about excellent songs with great performances.

After a brief orchestrated instrumental opener “Blood Of The Prophets” kicks into life with the ultra powerful title track.  Big riffs, fleet fingered lead work and a heavy dose of melody make this a great start.  The guitar work is as good as you’d hope for in this genre whilst the vocals of Carsten Schulz are arguably the best stuff I have heard from him yet making great use of layering on the choruses and a nice gritty delivery on the verses. This heavy, driving sound is heard elsewhere on the likes of “Warriors Moon” which has a nice change of tempo and very strong personality, and again within  “Beyond The Walls Of Sadness” which is home to a slower tempo and more epic sound.

The neo-classical sound is really at the fore on “Bard’s Tale” which is a track fans of classic Malmsteen and early Symphony X will warm to immediately.  This track has an absolutely scorching solo that reminded me a little of Balcerak’s label mate James Byrd. Beginning with a nice melodic theme before progressing into a very fluid workout with a great melodic edge and killer vibrato, this is one of the many tracks that you’ll be playing over and over.

Schulz and Boals combine well on the likes of “Face Of Destiny” which its melodic verses and soaring chorus which, again, home to a glorious solo from Balcerak. This guy really does have a great feel and the fast paced instrumental “The Heretic” is a perfect showcase for the mans skills.  But listen beyond the guitar work and you hear excellent keyboard inflections and orchestrations from Łukasz Dybalskand whilst drummer Marcin ‘Kanclerz’ Kwasny hits the skins with as much skill and gusto as many of the big names.

For Göran Edman’s vocals Boguslaw has composed a couple of commercial stompers in ‘Grave Of Love’ and ‘Angel Of Divine’ which are perfectly suited for the melodic commercial sheen of Edman’s voice.  The former is a quite fast paced and Edman pulls out all the stops on the vocal front, the chorus is perfect for his voice.  The latter track is darker, with a more majestic feel to it and again very infectious, a grittier vocal from Göran works well on the verses and you get the impression he is enjoying singing this material.

The 8 minute “Valley Of The Dead” sees the tempo taken down to a doomier Sabbath meter for the most part.  It’s a nice change of pace and you can see an intimidating atmosphere developing in the live arena with this one.  Schulz turns on the darker side of his voice.  The track picks up in tempo in the middle section which paves way to another sublime solo from Boguslaw, one of his best on the album.  The solo on this one is one of the most extended on the album- the opening bend and descending lick which will raise the hairs on anyone’s back and makes the rest of the fretboard skills compulsive listening.

Next up we get some respite in the melodic themed tonality of power ballad “When The Time Has Come” which is a duet between Boals and Edman, a sweet track with an anthemic chorus and heart wrenching solo from Boguslaw.

The album closes with the dark magnificently titled “The Healing Hands Of Destruction”.  Beginning with a wealth of movie score type orchestration before the track moves into a neo-classical charger, this one will blow your head off. Vocals come from all 3 vocalists who combine well yet the power of the delivery is to die for. A fitting closing number.

“Blood Of The Prophets” is in a word awesome and ranks as one of the releases of the year. After the horrible taste in the mouth left by Malmsteen’s dire “Relentless” release, this is a reminder of when done right how strong neo-classical metal is a genre. Although to recommend it to neo-classical fans along would be selling it short as “Blood Of The Prophets” will appeal to a fans of classic/trad metal and power and progressive metal (think early Symphony X) genres as well.

Aided by an excellent production and mix and superb artwork this is in many ways the complete package.

Boguslaw Balcerak’s leaves us in no doubt of his guitar ability with this album, but more importantly he’s leaves the lasting impression of a musician that can pen incredible songs and is a name that I hope you will be hearing a lot more from.

Buy now.

Rating – 95%

JAYCE LANDBERG – GOOD SLEEPLESS NIGHT (REVIEW)

Out Now on Escape Music

Jayce Landberg is a guitarist hailing from Sweden who released the Yngwie wannabe neo-classical tinted release ‘Break The Spell’ in 2008 which saw former Malmsteen vocalist Goran Edman on vocals. Now the follow up ‘Good Sleepless Night’ has just been released on Escape Music and whilst Jayce has spread beyond the neo-classical sounds of his debut, for the most part this an unfocused album in terms of direction and focus.

Landberg has certainly armed himself with all the right tools in the band personnel department having once again Goran Edman on lead vocals (plus a guest vocal from Mark Boals), and Europe bassist Jon Levin on a few numbers, but the overall direction is purely one of Landberg’s making but as mentioned this unfocused.  

So we get the pseudo Offspring opener ‘My Valentine’ to the decidedly dodgy eurovision-metal of ‘The Devil’s Wine’, although there is a fine bridge buried in the track which makes you wish the song had been built from that.  Jayce has obviously discovered Van Halen recently (and bought himself a EVH MXR Phase 90) for the pseudo VH of ‘Drama Queen’ (complete with Atomic Punk intro rip off) which is pretty bad and the solo spot of ‘Abduction’ (a pseudo Eruption if you will – get the ironic title?).  There are some more successful moments in the likes of the melodic metal of ‘Skyscraper’  and the euro metal of ‘Invasion’ but its diminishing returns elsewhere.

Jayce Landberg is certainly a competent enough player, but his song writing is just not up to scratch.  The amount of variety in style (and quality) also seems to work against the albums identity and you get the impression there are too many cook books in the Landberg kitchen.  There are moments to suggest Landberg could make a decent album but sadly ‘Good Sleepless Night’ isn’t it. Better luck next time.

Rating – 40%

PRIME SUSPECT – PRIME SUSPECT (REVIEW)

Out now on Frontiers Records

A new melodic rock project on Frontiers, featuring a lot of familiar names. Daniele Liverani, Tommy Ermolli, DC Cooper, Mark Boals…The usual suspects rather than prime.

The music is as surprising as the members. Insta-AOR. Some good songs, some weaker tunes. It all sounds rather generic and uninspired.

While the musicianship is beyond reproach the production isn’t exactly up to snuff. The drums and guitars sound cheap and the keyboards are overbearing.

There has to be a market for these projects, because Frontiers can’t seem to get enough of them.

Not exactly the best one in the bunch, this.

Rating – 60%
Review by Sancho

SEVEN THE HARDWAY – S/T (REVIEW)

Out Now on Mascot Records

Seven the Hardway is a 5-piece progressive rock/metal band formed in 2009 by guitar virtuoso Tony MacAlpine (Steve Vai, Planet X, CAB), legendary drummer Virgil Donati (Planet X) and renowned vocalist Mark Boals (Uli Jon Roth, Royal Hunt, Yngwie Malmsteen).  Joining MacAlpine, Donati and Boals are bass player Doug Shreeve and 21 year old Argentinian newcomer Stefanía Daniel on guitar though this pair according to the complete lack of their names in any capacity on the inlay booklet suggest they have joined after completion of the album for live work as Macalpine is also credited with bass on the album in addition to Guitar and keyboards.

This 10 track debut album has been mixed by Roy Z and is a completely different kettle of fish to when the core trio last collaborated in the neo-classical band Ring Of Fire.  Musically this is being marketed as progressive yet alternative metal might well be a better genre to go with.  Vocally this is far away from anything I have really heard from Boals.  Gone is the trademark operatic wail to be replaced by a much darker timbre and in the case of opener “Liar” a bit of an need to be Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell rolled into one with Alice In Chains style vocal harmonies.  Not what was expected at all. 

The vocal weirdness is prevalent pretty much throughout the album yet hits its nadir with the mock rapping of “Guilt” – yes really.  The AIC ism’s return for “Solitary Man” over a nice odd time signature dirge of a riff from T-Mac which does fare a little better.    The dark acoustic tone of “Where I’m Going” is better, yet “All I Had” is trying to be modern metal and is a complete write-off to these ears and I have to ask, Is Boals singing off key on purpose?   “Blame” plays around a riff the likes of Soundgarden might get away with yet lacks any staying power.  “The Wall” offers up hope with a faster tempo and is as progressive as the album gets in its musicality and even Boals appears to be trying a little harder here, yet we are treated (cough) to some vocal fx just in-case we might get a hint of the Boals of old, or so it feels like.  And so the album progresses until closure, and nothing manages to raise the quality level.

When I first received this album I was rather excited.  3 of my favourite musicians over the years, who have made excellent music both collectively and individually in the past, this should have been good.  That excitement quickly disappeared.  Vocally its dated already, perhaps more so than Boals operatic wailings from the Yngwie days, musically there is the odd peak but not anywhere near enough to maintain any real interest.  Progressive fans will find this samey and dare I say it bland, modern alternative metal fans will most likely look at the personnel and dismiss it straight away and the grunge boat sailed 15 years ago so it’s hard to see what audience this will appeal to?  Perhaps I am missing the point completely? All I know is that is a huge disappointment from start to finish and is topped off by poor artwork, which coincidentally bears no resemblance to the look being portrayed on the bands new website!

 A major major letdown.

Rating – 30%

MISTHERIA INTERVIEW

11th October 2010
 
About The Interview
Mistheria is one of the most critically acclaimed keyboardists in metal.  Having worked with the likes of Bruce Dickinson and Rob Rock, the Italian is now back after a 6 year gap between solo albums with his second effort “Dragon Fire”.  We talk candidly with the keyboardist about the album.

Many thanks for agreeing to this interview.   This is your second solo album and it’s been some 6 years since ‘Messenger of the Gods’.  Why such a delay between albums?
First of all, it’s my pleasure to talk about my new album “Dragon Fire” for virtuosityone.com!

Well, after “Messenger of the Gods” (released on 2004 by Lion Music too) I released “Solo Piano” on 2007 (by Videradio/RAI Trade), album which is part of my Classical/New-Age production and part of my discography, surely for different target of listeners/fans, but anyway an album that has been followed of many “Solo Piano” concerts and it meant a lot to me. In fact, soon the new album of this series will be released on 2011.

Then, then … a lot of things to do to survive in this music-world, you know! So I recorded, as session-man, for other artists and I did all other activities part of my job: touring, concerts, teaching, demonstrating, arranging and writing my new Classical album, and a lot of other things. Writing an album, for me, is a serious and important job, high-demanding regarding concentration, energy, and time. So, simply I couldn’t devote all myself on a new album. Furthermore, I know myself, fairly well, and I know when it’s the right time to sit down and start working on some new music … 😉 Moreover, I think it is not important how many albums an artist releases, but the quality of each of them.

Thanks to Lion Music for believing again in me and my music publishing “Dragon Fire”.

The new album represents very strong song writing within the neo-classical metal genre with a cast of great guest musicians.  What came first – the idea of the songs or the idea of putting together a project like this?
Song writing first of all, always, is the first step to make an album. Also the previous “Messenger of the Gods”, despite of the huge number of guests, started simply with song writing without thinking who will play and what. With “Dragon Fire”, in the same way, I wanted put together a good list of songs that represent, today, my musical ideas. After, when song writing and arrangement have been completed in my mind and on my computer, I started to think which musician could improve that material with great performances.

So when did writing for “Dragon Fire” commence? 
On January 2009, when I got full inspiration in Zagreb (Croatia) where I moved to live with my girlfriend Ivana (Ivana Greguric, Croatian song writer and keyboardist) and song writing continued incessantly! This is the “right moment” I mentioned before. By the way, “Dragon Fire” features a song that I wrote on 2006, it was just a piano demo that, with John West melody and lyrics, became a nice ballade titled “Now it’s never”.

What were the earliest songs that ended up on the album conceived?
I don’t remember exactly because I worked simultaneously on all songs, moving on the full song list at the same time. I can say that the first song I wrote on January 11, 2009 (A beautiful dream) has been the last completed song! 🙂 By the way, the instrumental tracks are for sure the first songs that have been completed before than others because I was able to finish the demo versions by me, without needing to wait for singers melodies/lyrics job.

How do you like to work on creating a song?  Do you play with different arrangements or have a clear vision of what you want straight off?
I sit on my Piano and follow my ideas and inspiration. It does not matter if song will feature or not Piano, my approach is always this. All other digital complications, at the early stage, make me distraction and concentration flies away … then, when the song is perfectly clear in my mind and on music paper, I turn on my “arsenal” (digital workstation, sequencer, keyboards, plugins, etc.) and I start the arrangement process that, yes, it’s already comprehensible in my thoughts … so I need just to make it real to make the demo version and start sending the material to the musicians.

Do you notate your works at all prior to even recording demos?
Yes I do. It is important for me and it is a process that I learned during my Classical music studies. Five good reasons: (1) it makes my ideas not forgettable and this is important because I hate when some good ideas are passing thru my mind and I cannot then remember; (2) it gives me the clear vision of song and arrangement; (3) I already have everything ready and under my eyes when I need to talk to musicians; (4) it is like manna when I need to work on that song after weeks or months; (5) it is quicker when ideas come ceaselessly and I’ve to fix them immediately, no other process can be faster for me.

Does this method of working differ to what you did on “Messenger of the Gods” and if so how?
Absolutely not. I always work in this same way. My first musical notes (my first attempts to write a music piece) date back to when I was 9 years old… (hey, I’ve just a few more by now 🙂

How do you feel you have grown as a musician in the last 6 years?
Musicians never stop to grow up. It is dangerous when we think the opposite. So, of course, 6 years are (I hope so) a good time to learn more and more, always, improving experience, ideas, song writing, generally the own music world. Collaborating, talking and making music with other musicians give back a precious treasure. I think that I followed this process so, hopefully, I grew up in the last 6 years … 🙂

So what led to you bringing in the personnel you did on the album? Did you have a list of preferred musicians and work from there or did some names crop up during the making of the album due to contacts with other musicians already involved?
During the arrangement processes, I started to think which musicians I wanted to involve. I already had some “irremovable” ideas concerning some friends I already worked with: John Macaluso on drums has been my priority! John Mac already played on my previous album, we spent time together and we are great friends, without mentioning the stunning and unique drummer he is. Anecdote: John Mac recorded all “Dragon Fire” drums in one day … 1 day!

Then, I was already in touch with other friends to make real some new collaboration: Titta Tani, George Bellas, Neil Zaza, Emir Hot, Roger Staffelbach, Rob Rock, Mark Boals. All of them don’t need presentation and, of course, their job has been top-quality as expected. I didn’t work before with Mark Boals but I wanted him already on “Messenger of the Gods” and finally we found the right time to work together on “Dragon Fire”. I always loved his performances; his voice sound and his vocal range are divine! Another singer always in my mind has been John West. I played live with John in Split (Croatia) for the Emir Hot concert. It has been a great experience, we met and immediately we established a friendly relationship open to future collaboration. So, we made it real, John sung five songs on the album; he did an extraordinary job with expected totally awesome results. John West moved my album to the next level!

While working on the album, I’ve been in touch with two musicians I never collaborated neither talked before: Lance King and Alberto Rigoni. Lance captured me in a moment when I casually heard him on the internet … I thought: “Wow! I want him on my album!” His captivating voice tone, his way to work on backing vocals and his lyrics writing are excellent. You can hear on the song “Two of us” how it ended … 😉

Regarding Alberto, some months ago, I was still working on the arrangements and I didn’t solve yet the bass player position. For some different reasons I was not able to get in Dino Fiorenza neither Randy Coven. Alberto contacted me (nothing concerning my album) and we talked a couple times regarding that subject he needed. Of course, I knew which band Alberto was playing with (Twinspirits) and I knew that his job was excellent so then, when I needed to complete the line-up, I asked to Alberto whether he would like to join “Dragon Fire”. He accepted and, although he had really short time to finish recordings, his job has been simply perfect! I want thank, once more, all the amazing musicians on “Dragon Fire” for their over-the-top job.

I believe the vocalists had free reign more or less on their lyrics and melodies, with the personnel involved this is a wise decision given their calibre.  Is this the only reason you chose to go this route with the vocalists?
The first reason why I chose that singers is that they are amazing vocalists! I knew also that they wrote melodies and lyrics by themselves so without thinking so much (because it doesn’t need if you look at those names) I’ve agreed with them about the job to do. For some songs I gave “carte blanche”, for some I gave melody and/or lyrics directions, for some I wrote melody, lyrics or both. In any case, we greatly worked together and I totally love the results of our collaboration. With such artists, everything is easy with maximum feedback.

One could look at some of the personnel (John West and Roger Staffelbach), see you as a keyboard virtuoso and think “is he trying to be the new Artension”, given the intricate arrangements yet strong vocal led songs can comparisons like this be unfair? Or would such comparisons be nothing more than a compliment?
This could be just a compliment to me, even if I don’t need at all “to be the new Artension” for the simple reason that Artension already exist (fortunately because it’s a great band with great albums) and my goal is different always pointed to the originality of my own ideas. Of course, bands which play and write the same genre share many music elements proper of that genre, but this is absolutely normal. To be clearer, my Metal/Prog-Metal song writing has different “genesis” that it is not connected with any Metal artist or band and I’d like this known to everybody: Classical music and my Classical studies are my solid background. Everything else came to my knowledge after many years, really late when I already have been totally “forged” by J. S. Bach, A. Vivaldi, W. A. Mozart, L. V. Beethoven, F. Liszt, F. Chopin and other masters like that. Curiosity: till some years ago, my home discography was found mainly on Pink Floyd, Yes, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Alan Parson Project, Banco, P.F.M., Genesis, etc. And, of course, on the Classical genius above mentioned. The first album close to my playing style and song writing that I heard has been “Trilogy” by Yngwie Malmsteen that a great friend of mine (Alvaro De Amicis which is an incredible designer and made the “Dragon Fire” cover) showed me and it was an album I listened for long time. Relatively recent is my knowledge about Dream Theater, Symphony X, Rhapsody, Vanden Plas and other bands that someone could juxtapose to me.

I know a few years back there were some internet rumours regarding a rift between you and Vitalij Kuprij, but I gather this was all bullshit.  Can you give us your side of the story?
Vitalij and I are great friends. We met several times, we played together in Rome a couple years ago (it was an amazing show that we enjoyed a lot and that everybody can watch on YouTube), we had funny and nice time together, we ate and drink together, we talked and planned to make an album together. Vitalij is a talented musician and composer, fantastic classic pianist and amazing rock keyboardist. We estimate each other. I think I don’t need to add more.

Ok tell us about the songs and what they mean to you?
“Dragon Fire” is not a concept album; each song has its own story and meaning. I wrote lyrics for the title track “Dragon Fire”, I gave the concept for 2-3 songs, other lyrics have been totally conceived by the singers and “The Beast” by Ivana Greguric. I think each listener can get the own impression, emotion and feeling for each song. Only one purpose was in my mind: give to the album a great cohesion between music and lyrics. A perfect combination of music and lyrics (I mean the “sound” of lyrics and the “rhythm” of words) is essential to create that ideal song blend.

Our review is mostly very positive but does air a few concerns regarding the mix of the album, notably the lack of rhythm guitars.  Why was the decision made to have your keyboards seemingly mimicking rhythm guitars and not use the real thing?
I produced the album (mixing and mastering it) and, as you know, each producer “forge” his sound. This is my sound and I am totally happy and satisfied with it. I don’t think that the production “lacks of rhythm guitars”. If you ask to a bassist or a drummer maybe they answer (it has already happened to me) that guitars are too loud, if you ask to a guitarist maybe he answers that I doesn’t hear guitars at all. As producer, I can answer that the mix, in my opinion, is well balanced and “that one” is the sound that has always played in my mind and that I was looking for. When I push up the volume, really loud, I don’t want be “killed” by guitars or any other instrument but I like everything balanced (instead, generally, guitars play too loud on many albums, in my opinion). Usually, people listen this genre really loud: well, try to push up the volume listening “Dragon Fire”, never you’ll feel “…too loud!”, but you can always more … this is, for me, a great balanced mix.

Regarding the “real thing”: why albums are full of sampled/virtual instruments, including drums, piano, strings, bass, orchestra, choirs and no one comment nothing and instead regarding guitar sound it seems a “blasphemy”? Moreover, do we need always the same guitar sound? I don’t think so. Do we need guitars out of mix? I don’t think so. Do we need guitar solos “holing” our ears? I don’t think so. Guitars need “discipline” as other instruments in the band, which I name “counterpoint of mixing” directly borrowed from Bach’s composing technique. This is my point of view. I trashed many CDs because I don’t like to hear only guitars or, on the other side, I don’t understand the meaning of CDs without keyboards that add “colour” and “atmosphere”. But if guitars are missing it seems a scandal, instead if keyboards miss, it is just normal and not noticeable. And I don’t want to comment how keyboards are programmed (by guitarist, vocalists, bassists or drummers) on many releases (not all fortunately), but this is another painful topic. With reference to “Dragon Fire”, I think that guitars sound awesome on each track, I am totally happy with it and it is the sound I wanted to reach and I reached, “real” or “not real” thing, I think and listen always to the result not how I got that result. Then, of course, each listener can express comments and opinions, like it or not. I wanted just explain my method to approach and realize an album, and my honest point of view as sound engineer and producer.

Looking back is there anything you would change or is this your vision 100% of how you saw the album from the start?
I don’t need to change nothing because otherwise it would mean that I did a mistake giving the master to Lion Music. I am 100% satisfied of the album and, to be honest, it sounds better than in my early vision thanks to the amazing job that musicians involved did and, of course, mixing and mastering it by me I “forged” it exactly how I wanted. I wanted my album sound with “my sound”, to give to all of you the real Mistheria’s vision: song writing, arrangement, recording, mixing, mastering and production. “Dragon Fire” represents me and my music, this is important for me, showing sincerely and transparently which my vision of an album is.

John Macaluso has brought in a killer performance; you must be thrilled with his performances?
What John Macaluso did for my album is written in the legend of music and of my life! His performance is astonishing. When I started to get the tracks I was totally excited, feeling as a kid with his new toy … 🙂 The way John approached recording over passed my same thoughts; he worked on the demoed drums, that I programmed, as starting point then he filled each song with his superb ideas and majestic drumming!  Without John Mac, “Dragon Fire” would not have been the same.

Did any of the guest performers surprise you with what they delivered, and if so in what sense?
I already said about John Macaluso. Everyone delivered brilliant ideas and breathtaking performances: John West, Rob Rock, Mark Boals, Lance King, Titta Tani, George Bellas, Neil Zaza, Roger Staffelbach, Emir Hot, Alberto Rigoni. What I can add to what they already did in their career? Among all, I’ve to say that the two Italian musicians of the line-up surprised me or better confirmed me their stunning attitude and talent! Titta Tani is a superb vocalist which recorded both forceful songs (“Fire & Flames” and “Dragon Fire” in duet with John West) and a beautiful ballade (“A beautiful dream”); Titta can scream and sigh at the same time and also write excellent lyrics (“A beautiful dream” is a real gem). With him I already played live years ago and I appreciated his other productions but on “Dragon Fire” he did everything better and better. Alberto Rigoni (a bass player which I didn’t know very well before to start our collaboration) honestly and totally surprised me for three main reasons: his perfect performance, his warm and powerful bass sound, and his professionalism. Not as performer but as song writer, Ivana Greguric also surprised me because, even if a girl, she has written one of the most “heavy” songs (The Beast) of the album! 🙂

If you could sum up “Dragon Fire” in a few words how would you describe it?
“Dragon Fire” is a powerful, direct and melodic heavy metal album which includes stunning musicians/performers and represents the Mistheria music knowledge and experience up-to-date.

Any final messages for our readers?
I hope V1 readers can also have the chance to listen for “Dragon Fire”, because among all words, music is emotion, feeling and passion that can fly only by the air reaching our heart, not our eyes. As always I affirm: “people don’t need to understand of music, but listen and live music.”

Mistheria, many thanks for your time.
Thanks again for giving me the chance to talk about “Dragon Fire”, it has been really interesting interview and a pleasure.

WEB LINKS
www.mistheria.com
www.reverbnation.com/mistheria
www.myspace.com/mistheria

MISTHERIA – DRAGON FIRE (REVIEW)

Mistheria is a name that may well be familiar to the more neo-classically minded readers of this site.  Or indeed anyone that owns Bruce Dickinson’s ‘Tyranny Of Souls’ album for it is Mistheria that provided the keyboards on that album.  Otherwise he is probably a known name amongst musicians and not a lot else.  In 2004 he released the ‘Messenger Of The Gods’ album, a strong album with some production issues and after working with Angel Of Eden the Italian keyboard virtuoso return with an all star cast for his new neo-classical metal work – “Dragon Fire”.

All certainly looks good from the off.  The guest list of the album is certainly impressive, for vocalists try John West, Mark Boals, Rob Rock, Lance King and Titta Tani for size.  The guitar front is equally talent packed with George Bellas, Roger Staffelbach, Neil Zaza and Emir Hot handling six string duties whilst the rhythm section is Twinspirits’ Alberto Rigoni on bass and drum legend John Macaluso (Ark, ex Malmsteen). Quite a line up and something of a neo-classical wet dream in terms of personnel.  Yet all these first rate names are nothing if the material is not up to par.  Mistheria appears to have played safe on the vocal front allowing each vocalist to pen their own lyrics and melodies and with the names mentioned why not.  Elsewhere the guitarists get free reign with solo ideas whilst Rigoni and Macaluso worked with charted out music based on Mistheria’s ideas and a good job has been done here too. 

Musically this is strong keyboard dominant neo-classically tinted metal. Opening trio of “Dragon Fire”, “Lies & Deception” and “Killing The Pain” hurtle along at a frantic pace and have strong vocal melodies and pulsating rhythms.  Indeed this is music on a par quality wise with likes of Artension and it should be noted this is the best I have heard John West since the early days of Artension.  Naturally there is a lot of virtuoso musicianship on display which each track being a hotbed of undisputed skill.  Yet it’s the quality of song craft that really shines through, particularly on the likes of the beautiful power ballad “Now It’s Never”, the almost Symphony X like delivery of “Fire & Flames” and the classic rock hooks of “The Power Of One” which sounds like a metalized version of early Foreigner with its strident piano refrain.

That’s not to say all is perfect.  The mix is found wanting in a few areas, notably the level of instrumentation.  Keyboards dominate this album (perhaps understandably) yet when guitar solos by some of the best names in the business are difficult to hear you have to ask why?  Also it would have been nice to have more rhythm guitars, as opposed to rhythm keyboards using distorted guitar sounds.  These sound very digitized and rather lifeless in this area, particularly when mimicking harmonic squeals.  The album cover is also not of the general standard to have come from Lion Music of late (Pangea not withstanding).  But if you can get past these issues you are left with a good album of good songs and performances.  Hopefully the next effort from Mistheria will not take as long to come out and hopefully resolve the issues mentioned.

Overall a good slice of neo-classical metal.
 
Hot Spots : Killing The Pain, Now It’s Never, Fire & Flames, The Power Of One.
Rating : 88%