VICIOUS RUMORS – LIVE YOU TO DEATH

Released 26th November 2012 on SPV/Steamhammer

Vicious Rumors hit the ground running with their debut album “Soldiers Of The Night”.  Follow up “Digital Dictator” received high critical praise as well, but somehow the band never connected with the masses.  Then the nineties hit and, like so many, Vicious Rumors were consigned to the underground.  Several albums followed with an ever changing lineup, some quite good, some rather mediocre.

“Live You To Death” demonstrates where Vicious Rumors stand today. Tight, professional and driven the band delivers a set of old school power metal (not the fairy variety of the 21st century), larded with blistering twin guitars and vocal histrionics. With a focus on the earlier material, the band takes no prisoners

The scorching rendition of opening tracks “Digital Dictator” and “Minute To Kill” puts most bands to shame.  Newer tracks like “Murderball” or “Let The Garden Burn” fit seamlessly though, testifying that the band doesn’t need to rely on former glories.

The inclusion of “Soldiers Of The Night” was a pleasant surprise, as this album seems to be somewhat overlooked in the Vicious Rumors discography, not helped by Vinnie Moore’s criticism no doubt.

Current singer Brian Allen is a perfect foil for the material, and a welcome step up after the almost obligatory James Rivera years.

Production is excellent, edgy and crisp, even if the guitar tones sound a bit over processed.

The album ends with studio recordings of a couple of covers : Sabbath’s “Sign Of The Southern Cross” and Priest’s “Running Wild”. While both are fine takes on the material, I would have preferred some more original live material.  Unavoidably, tackling these tracks will expose any limitations your singer has…

Support real metal, buy this album!

Rating – 90%
Review by Sancho

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TWINSPIRITS – THE FORBIDDEN CITY (ARCHIVE)

Out now on Lion Music

Back with their second album, Twinspirits led by keyboard whiz and general musical genius Daniele Liverani follow up the debut album “The Music That Will Heal The World” with another progressive metal offering in “The Forbidden City”.  With one line up change happening between albums, the band welcome in new vocalist in Swedish powerhouse Göran Nyström, whose vocals are simply superb.  The rest of the line-up is “as you where” with the Italian contingent of the aforementioned Liverani handling all keyboards, guitarist Tommy Ermolli, bassist Alberto Rigoni and drummer Dario Ciccioni.

Our glowing reviews of the bands debut (here) ended by saying it would be interesting to see where the band headed on their second album.  Well in short, Twinspirits have consolidated their own sound which was evident in a number of places on the last album.  New vocalist Göran Nyström plays a big part in this with superb range, yet an original tonality and deserves a lot of praise.  But then you also get the impression Liverani had a clearer idea of where to take the bands sound.  So essentially all is good, the production is superb, a great powerful sound, great separation between the instruments and excellent clarity, arguably one of the years best so far.

Musically the band still plays accessible progressive tinted metal with a strong melodic edge.  Whilst not overloading the album with overly extended instrumental segments like DT, Twinspirits use their instrumentation skills for purely for the song and the flashes of musical brilliance are there to enhance the proceedings.

Opening with the ten minute title track is a bold move, yet the track “The Forbidden City”, is strong enough to maintain your interest throughout.  In initially teasing the listener for close to 3 minutes building the track instrumentally Göran Nyström makes his grand entrance and instantly you feel he is a better match for the band than his predecessor. This is a voice which is rich, powerful and quite original in character, similar in power to Jorn Lande but with a different tonal slant more in tune with say Bruce Dickinson. “Taste The Infinity” brings the tempo down to a soothing dark ballad, lone piano starts and once again Nyström makes his mark on this subtle, yet captivating track.

“Number One” is a fast paced track with intense riffing, vocally the track is interesting due the different voices Nyström uses to add character.  “Everything” is back to the classic prog sound, those that heard Liverani’s last Cosmics album will instantly feel at home here as the musical reminds me a lot of that release. Building nicely, with keyboard working heavily over simple power chords the impact is impressive before working to another dark riff for the verses. The track has a great chorus, powerful and melodic.

Guitarist Tommy Ermolli gets to shine on “One Of Us”, arguably the most commercial number musically speaking on the album, its powered along with a very tasty riff from Ermolli, simple yet melodic with Liverani layering keyboard and organ textures to enhance the sound further.  The pre-chorus is quite unique in character, with an ascending chord progression before the luxurious main riff charges in hard for the chorus.  Ermolli also delivers a glorious solo, yet is painstakingly too short.  A massive track.

The instrumental “BTR” plays around with exotic time signatures and again the mix of guitar and keyboard work incredibly well.  The rock solid bedrock of Dario Ciccioni and Albert Rigoni is highly impressive on this track as well. Ballad number two “Hide This Feeling” is a much more joyful affair than the “Taste The Infinity”, presented in a major key tonality the track features Nyström duet-ing with Irene Ermolli who also possesses a superb voice.  “My Future” presents itself as a nice fusion of metal and modern musical styling, dark and home to a mysterious quality that is quite unique, yet I find it strangely alluring and captivating, and after repeated spins has become a favourite.

The closing duo is started with “Reaction” which comes across in the early stages like modern Deep Purple before the band mold the track into a melodic metal direction.   Again highly melodic and Nyström gets the chance to show us what he can do in more straightforward rock waters, and again he impresses, the commercial is reminiscent of the heavier numbers from Journey i.e. interesting melodic structure.  Tommy Ermolli goes a little Marty Friedman meets Neal Schon in the songs solo, exotic melodies mixed with sustained melodic content – nice.  Another 10 minute epic “I Am Free” closes the album in even more fine style.  One of the heaviest numbers on the album with numerous segments which work well to form a solid cohesive unit finishing with a big finale.

With “The Forbidden City” Twinspirits have passed the often tricky second album with flying colours.  As already mentioned the album builds upon the debut in every department and this album deserves all the praise I can see it getting from the prog metal crowd.  Whether this will translate into mainstream media remains to be seen, yet any metal fan with an open mind will find a great deal to like.  Daniele Liverani has penned a number of great albums over the last few years but this has to be considered his Magnum Opus.  This collection of 10 tracks is pretty much superb from start to finish, with nothing that sounds surplus to requirements.  In short, if you like your metal well played, with strong melodies and delivered in a great sound then Twinspirits have the album for you.
 
Hot Spots : Taste The Infinity, One Of Us, My Future
Rating : 95%

SYMPHORCE – UNRESTRICTED (REVIEW)

Out now on AFM Records

Symphorce for the uninitiated are a German progressive power metal band originally assembled in 1998 by singer Andy B. Franck (also of Brainstorm); a vocalist in the Halford/DC Cooper mould, though not always as pitch perfect as that pair.  12 years later the band has just released album number 7 in “Unrestricted” and it must go down as another solid, if unspectacular album.
 
Opener “The Eternal” is not quite the kicker I’d have liked to be greeted with tending to stay more in mid tempo waters. Fortunately “Until It’s Over” gets things moving nicely, the dual vocal trade-off of the chorus is a nice touch. The down tuned riffery of “Sorrow In Our Hearts” paves way for Franck to deliver a lower toned vocal (albeit with some pitch issues).  “Whatever Hurts” is back to the more melodic waters and acquaints itself well being one of the more commercial numbers on the album. “The Waking Hour” is rather faceless European metal that seems the current trend for numerous acts. “Visions” restores the balance though with another strong riff, though the vocal melodies of the verse don’t sit quite right, the chorus does fair better though.  “The Last Decision” follows a similar route, Franck sounds like he might burst an artery on this one given the ferocity of his vocal delivery, and I have to say I quite like it!  “The Mindless” features live news reels from 9/11 giving us a clue as to its lyrical identity, yet Franck has seen fit to approach it from the side of the Taliban’s mindset, rest assured this is not a song of support for the terror organisation but an interesting take nonetheless and features the only guitar solo on the album that is memorable. “World’s Seem To Collide” sees more erratic vocals yet musically is solid enough.   Final track “Do You Wonder” is sadly a rather faceless way to end the album.

Overall this is an album that is enjoyable enough to listen to when its on, yet I can’t see myself returning to it that often as many of the tracks just seem quite bland.  Granted, Franck’s vocals are an acquired taste and not one I can say I will ever really fall for, yet at least they are not bland as is often the case in this genre.  Musically the band are a tight unit, with an abundance of good riffs, yet nothing else.  The guitar duo of Cedric “Cede” Dupont and Markus Pohl do little to show they have their own style or voice, yet as a rhythmic unit interlace well, next time gives us some memorable solos please!  This pretty much sums up the material and album – serviceable yet not awe-inspiring.  One for fans only I suspect.

Rating – 75%

BORISLAV MITIC (ARCHIVE INTERVIEW)

Borislav Mitic is a guitarist who first rose to prominence at the turn of the 21st century with a self titled instrumental offering through Shrapnel Records, the album won worldwide acclaim and also bore the distinction of being the first guitar hero to emerge on a national platform from Serbia.  Now after almost a decade’s absence and being a fully fledged Canadian citizen, Borislav has just released his third solo album “The Absolute” on Lion Music.  Mike Blackburn caught up with Borislav to get this superb in-depth interview on all facets of his work and life.  Enjoy!

 Early Days

Do you come from a musical family?
No, I am the first and only musician/artist in my family.

What music was heard in the home?
In my childhood days mainly the radio and whatever was played on it, like some pop stuff. Later on when I started to play guitar, albums that I would buy were heard at home.

What was your earliest instrument and did you take any lessons?
The guitar was my first and only instrument. I learned a few basic chords and melodies from some friends in the very beginning. After that, I was self-taught trying to learn by ear the solos and songs of my musical heroes from their albums. There was nobody in Serbia from whom I could have learned this kind of stuff that I play today because nobody before me played it over there. It would have been cool if I could have went and learned at a place like Berkley or MIT schools where they have great teachers for kids who have the cash to pay for it – but my parents didn’t have the money for that kind of stuff.

When you got your first guitar at 11, what inspired the acquisition and what type was it?
I spent a part of my childhood in London, England and those few years were quite significant on my development from a cultural influence point of view. That’s where I first encountered the guitar by chance and was quite fascinated with it and wondered if I could ever learn to play such an instrument. After coming back to Serbia I discovered Rock music which was mainly sung in the English  language and that to me somehow made a  connection  to my London days  so I got into rock guitar  very deeply and quickly… The very first guitar I got was some cheap acoustic that I asked my grandfather to get me for Christmas. A couple of years later I worked during the summer vacation   picking   fruit at some plantation around Belgrade (capitol of Serbia) to get money to buy a second hand east European Telecaster knock  off type of guitar… That was my first electric guitar that I learned to play on.

What was the name of your first band and what was your first live performance?
I played in quite a few local demo bands as a kid in Belgrade, Serbia. Because of this I was able to gain some experience performing frequently in smaller clubs and venues in front of crowds of 100 – 300 people. My first real band where I was the leader/composer was called “Fantasy”. We had a debut in front of 15 000 people at a stadium in a Serbian town called Zajecar in 1989. It was some sort of festival type of thing where we were invited as special guests. I received huge ovations for the performance and was really blown away by the positive feedback I received from the audience. I was already playing instrumental neoclassical material at that time which would later end up on my first solo album – Fantasy. I was the first guy from that whole Balkan region to do that style of music. Later we played in some legendary Belgrade venues like “Hala Pionir” in front of 10 000 people  and that was amazing since it was the same venue that I watched Iron Maiden or Dire Straits play when they came to town a few years earlier! We also did quite a few of small town gigs around Serbia as well as a bunch of national TV and radio appearances! 

Who were your earliest musical inspirations?
One thing I would like to emphasize is that although I belong to the generation that grew up with the appearance of players like  Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Yngwie Malmsteen on the scene, I approached the guitar and music as if I was coming from the era of the 60s. That means that I checked and learned the styles of many important players of the 60s, 70s and 80s before entering the neoclassical shred zone! This is something that many people don’t know about me and I want to point out that I am playing what I am playing today because I choose to, and not because it’s the only style I know how to play.

What prompted your interest in solo instrumental guitar performance?
As for instrumental guitar, it did not start with Yngwie and Satriani for me either. First there were guys like Hank Marvin from the Shadows, Santana or  Mike Oldfield who had amazing instrumental albums. People like Michael Schenker with his instrumental works like Captain Nemo, Into the Arena, Ulcer, or Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow era instrumentals were very influential on me too. Jimi Hendrix was also great at this genre with his instrumental songs like Peace in Mississippi, Captain Coconut, Trashman, Pali Gap. Gary Moore had cool instrumentals too…etc. . Some acoustic instrumental stuff of Al DiMeola and John Mclaughlin was also quite amazing. Those people were my first inspirations and favorite instrumental guitar performers before getting into modern neoclassical shredding. In fact, when you look at the whole long gone era of 70’s and bands like Deep Purple, a large part of their live albums and shows were about instrumental jamming, extended solos and shredding. The same goes for Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Mahogany Rush, and Dire Straits,… they were all known for ability to play well.

But hearing Yngwie Malmsteen’s and  Joe Satriani’s early instrumental albums did make a special  impact on me as a teenager.  That really made me want to pursue the instrumental guitar direction all the way. Later on I found out that Yngwie was discovered and brought to US by Shrapnel Records guitar guru Mike Varney who was looking for these types of virtuoso players. By that time, I had started making my own compositions and I was already heavily into classical music too. I got a lot of my phrasing ideas from that side since Vivaldi, Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Paganini, Chopin wrote largely instrumental virtuoso music.

Was it difficult to produce this type of work (Fantasy) in your homeland at that time or easy because use of your works (TV radio etc) had become widespread?
It was a struggle in every way. I made my first demos back in 1988/1989 while I was still a teenager but already considered locally as “the guitar kid” since there was nobody on the scene that was playing stuff that I was doing. My technique was more advanced in comparison to much older guitar veterans from my country. So this demo I made with some Paganini covers got heard and circulated a lot creating a huge buzz – and that opened some doors for me. When the time came to record the Fantasy project, it was quite tough to pull off since nobody before me even used that type of aggressive Metal guitar tone by 1992. So there was no one to ask for help in that department and I had to figure out my own way to achieve that. I had to sell one of my Strat guitars to pay the studio costs for recording the album. You know, it was a time of civil war and UN sanctions against Serbia and very few of the people from my generation could really get financing from some label in order to make a statement in music or arts at the time – everybody was broke. So against all the odds, I decided to do it on my own no matter the cost, and create something of value to be remembered for the generations to come. And it ended up being pretty much the first modern instrumental Metal guitar album of that sort to come from the whole Europe/Balkans region after the start of the era of Yngwie and Satriani. Many kids in Serbia still discover it even today.

How did you first connect with Varney/Shrapnel and where did you first establish yourself in North America in 1998?
For a number of years before hooking up with Mike, I was listening to the whole catalogue of Shrapnel artists like Vinnie Moore, Paul Gilbert, Jason Becker, Greg Howe,… so I knew that he was the main person in the US who discovers top guitar talent in this style of music. At one point, when I had just enough of local scene hardship, because Rock music seized to exist in Serbia, I decided to try and contact Shrapnel Records. I just wrote a letter and threw my recordings in the package and decided to send it and see what would become of it. It was a very long shot because I knew that they receive hundreds of tapes and CDs each month from guitarists all over the world….but I didn’t have much to loose. I was very, very surprised when Mike Varney called me back a few months later and offered me a record deal to make an album for Shrapnel and to come to US with the words “where have you been all these years”! It was quite unreal! At first I was supposed to go to California and record there along with working with the singer John West on his solo album. But it didn’t happen because some visa paper work that was filed too late. So I had to wait a bit more before I crossed the ocean…

 The Shrapnel Days through the new millennium

Why and when did you decide to move to and live in Montreal, Canada?
I decided to do so because my girlfriend, who was living with me in Serbia for a few years, was French from Paris, France. So I figured that Montreal, Canada was a good place to move to since it is a bilingual “French & English” town that is in very close proximity to US. That was the main reason I chose Canada in 1998 for a base to work from and it was possible for me to do it since I had a contract with a US label .

Your biography states that you were offered a spot in UFO. Any regrets about not taking that UFO gig that you were offered around that time?
Hmm, good question! It was certainly a very flattering offer since I was a fan of Michael Schenker who used to play in UFO. The phone rang one day when I was still settling in Montreal and the voice on the other side was – Phil Mogg from UFO himself! He had heard that I was this guitar wizard from Mike Varney and was interested if I had any songs ready for him because he wanted to make a new album. Unfortunately, he wanted to start to work on this right away and I was overwhelmed at the time having to deliver an instrumental album to Shrapnel and I had scheduled the studio recording already. So he moved on without me and I passed that opportunity. I always loved his singing and old UFO albums and perhaps a collaboration with him could have created something interesting… but I hear that Vinnie Moore is doing a great guitar job with Mogg and UFO these days so in the end it was all for the best.

What do you have to say about the weak promotion support  from Shrapnel (many other artists had similar problems) and that such a fantastic album was not better promoted/distributed?
Thanks for saying that my self titled Shrapnel album was fantastic! As far as media promotion I wasn’t at all happy with it but I wouldn’t say that I had a worse treatment than many other Shrapnel artists at the time. It’s just that the more known Shrapnel guitarists like Paul Gilbert or Tony MacAlpine made their breakthrough back in the 80’s when there was more interest for the virtuoso shred guitar and more money for advertising in Guitar magazines etc. I was a bit unfortunate to come out in 1999, a time when new players were not getting any more of previous era’s promotion benefits. I wish it would have been different but it was a matter of label budget. Nevertheless, I still think that it was really cool that some producer like Mike Varney who discovered and signed the most talented Metal virtuoso players on the planet like Yngwie Malmsteen, Paul Gilbert, Marty Friedman, Vinnie Moore, Jason Becker, Greg Howe wanted to work with me at that time. I was very honoured to be counted in that group of artists by signing for his Shrapnel Records! No Serbian person has before or since achieved such a feat. I believe that before me Yngwie Malmsteen was Mike Varney’s only discovery of European origin. All the other guitarists on Shrapnel were mostly Americans.

Regarding the Shrapnel/Roadrunner distribution strategy in Canada – it was a matter of label business organization and something I didn’t have a say in. The huge problem Shrapnel and similar independent labels encountered in 2000s was the rise of Internet illegal download which was eating up a lot of the CD sales. That money could have perhaps been re-invested in more aggressive traditional promo activities that Gilbert Becker or Macalpine had in the 80s. So, I guess it was not really a favorable situation for instrumental guitar music in the world when my first album came out.

What became of the material you wrote/recorded for the second Shrapnel album (early 2000’s?)
At the time, I was making a lot of new demos for a follow up album but all that early 2000’s material never got published or finished. What happened was that Shrapnel’s distribution outlets and sales were starting to drop overseas largely as a result of  the unfavorable development on the mainstream rock music scene controlled by corporate labels pushing for popularity of “bad playing” bands, a.k.a. – “grunge”. This was the height of the era of “anti good playing propaganda” when some bad bands that nobody even remembers today were still praised in the media. The guitar virtuosos were being almost lynched in the Guitar magazines! It was a bizarre time! This fact heavily contributed to the low level of popularity of the virtuoso style at the moment my Shrapnel album was published. Kids were reading and believing magazines where certain journalists were brainwashing them telling them retarded stories that good playing sucked. So what could I have done to challenge that situation? Not much really except soldiering on. To make things even worse, the Internet illegal download was now taking a really strong hold over shred metal kids globally.  So new guitar fans preferred to download MP3’s for free and file – share them with their friends instead of buying the original CDs. This added insult to injury… The only good thing at that time was that some new extreme Metal bands like Children Of Bodom, Black Label Society, Nevermore or Arch Enemy were just emerging and metal shred soloing was slowly  starting to come back because those bands were influenced by Shrapnel artists like Racer X and Cacophony… So there was still some glimmer of hope on the horizon. In regard to that whole situation on the music scene, I accepted label suggestions to try out a different approach with a more vocal oriented new material.

What became of the vocal material you then wrote for Chris Logan (ex Michael Schenker Group) and Eric Forrest (ex Voivod)?
Chris Logan was recommended to me by Mike Varney. He was a talented upcoming singer from Las Vegas and I started talking to him about this vocal project of mine. Soon enough I was writing stuff and sending him tapes to work out vocal parts etc. The material was more Hard Rock oriented than Metal. As I was completing the material and thinking about studio preparations and working on financing options, Chris got contacted by Michael Schenker who was also looking for a singer for his new album too. So I agreed to wait a bit since I understood that Chris couldn’t pass up an opportunity like that. After finishing the Schenker album he was supposed to do the vocals for my album. Then Schenker decided he wanted to go touring and threw the whole MSG back catalogue at Logan to learn – and that was that! It was too much for Chris to deal with and our collaboration was off.

I wasn’t sure which alley to turn next but decided to try out another singer called Eric Forrest who was living in Montreal then. He was just out of the local Metal band called “Voivod” where he sang and played bass and was replaced by Jason Newsted (Metallica). He was looking for things to do so I did a few songs with him and tried to adopt my writing style to his more aggressive way of singing… We recorded a few tracks but then in the midst of it all he suddenly got married and went off to live in France to pursue his own solo career there. After that I decided to get back to instrumental music.

What year(s) did you set up your studio?
I started to set up my modest project studio facility back in 2003 – 2004 I believe. The industry had changed quite a bit by then in contrast to early 2000s. The Internet menace destroyed and dropped pretty much everybody’s CD sales income by 80% so going for huge budgets and paying 1000$ per day for big studios was not an option anymore for smaller artists like myself…A studio recording budget that was considered “standard”  in the 90’s would now put a small artist under water for good financially speaking. So to be able to make records on some reasonable terms, I really had to get my own recording facility together. Many famous guitarists like Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, Greg Howe,… did the same thing – on their own terms of course. Today even the biggest names in guitar industry like Zakk Wylde, Joe Satriani and Eric Johnson have their own studios to be able to cut expenses and make a better profit from CD sales.

Do you have any additional current endorsements than those listed in your bio?
I used MSD Silver Machine wah on the album a lot. I am right now talking about an endorsement with Godin Guitars which is a Canadian company that makes great hi tech acoustic guitars. So hopefully I’ll be using their nylon string and 12 string acoustic guitars in the future. I also am negotiating with some amplification companies but when we reach a final deal I will announce it. The other ones are still ESP Guitars, Maxon, Guyatone, Hao and Emma effects.

Maybe two years ago or so, I was reading either on your Myspace or your old website that you were working again on another instrumental album. Is it true and also true that you again scrapped all of that material and started fresh for “The Absolute”?
Since 2001 I have made something like 3 instrumental albums worth of material in various musical styles. I never stopped writing… Some of the material was recorded and some remained just in the form of demos. Yes, I shelved everything I did before 2008 to take this new direction on “The Absolute”. I was experimenting a lot and getting a bit obsessive with the quest for some ultimate guitar tones between  2006 – 2008… I call that my “Eric Johnson period”. After investing way too much time on that, I realized that my heart was pulling me again toward a Metal style and I just stopped working on that other stuff. I sat down and wrote a whole new album very quickly that was gravitating to a more earthly Metal style that I got this sudden renewed passion for. I can write very fast when motivated,… for example I wrote the whole Shrapnel self-titled album in just 10 days a few weeks after moving to Montreal back in the day. “The Absolute” took a bit longer than that – like two months to write and few more to record and produce.

Why did you choose to play everything yourself on the new album?
If you want something done – do it yourself! Just kidding… (laughs). That wasn’t the plan initially. I usually compose all the bass and drums parts on all my albums anyway but this time I also recorded them as a reference. They were supposed to be re – recorded later on by musicians that work with me. But as time went on, I got used to the “temporary “  parts. They sounded good enough to me and I didn’t feel like changing them anymore. I was a bit hesitant about leaving the electronic drums on the album but then I thought – “If somebody like Joe Satriani could live with electronic drum on his Surfing With The Alien album – so can I.” .  Perhaps it was also a bit of the old Mike Oldfield syndrome kicking in? I am a huge fan of his, and he used to play and record everything by himself on his old albums… 

When/how did the Lion Music deal transpire, before/during/after the writing process?
I sent the album to Lion for consideration after it was recorded, mixed, mastered and ready for pressing. Some other labels had also expressed interest to publish my new album including Shrapnel Records. But I decided to go with Lion Music since they were European based and I was intending to dedicate a bit more attention to that part of the world in 2010.

How did you write for this CD, and is that different from previous works?
I did have a different approach this time in the way that I started with the riffs and rhythm parts first and then added melodies later on. Usually it’s the other way around. I wanted to have some really heavy contemporary riffs this time that would be combined with a lot of over the top Metal lead playing. This album is not that neoclassical oriented compared to my previous works… One really important thing for me was to get away as far as possible from any Yngwie comparisons. So, there’s really close to zero Yngwie influence on “The Absolute”! I do like Yngwie but as soon as someone plays instrumental metal music today with some neoclassical influence he gets labeled as an “Yngwie clone” and I didn’t want that… so I had to be very careful with what I played. Btw, very few people even know that Yngwie picked up what is believed to be his “signature style phrasing” mainly from Uli Jon Roth’s and Al Dimeola’s 70’s works and expanded on them! Everybody has a past and an apprentice period and so did he…

But all I really wanted to do on “The Absolute” was to make a pure Metal guitar album that would be appealing to me personally and  that would be fun for the listeners and fans of virtuoso Metal guitar.

How hard is it to play instrumental songs live?
Much harder then vocal oriented material because you have to be on top of your game all the time and every little mistake becomes very obvious. I realized that I had too many difficult instrumental songs in the past that required almost standing still on stage and staring at the neck in the pursuit of perfect interpretation.  It’s almost like being a tight rope walker and if you lose balance for a second – down you go! I got a bit tired of that and I wanted some new songs that would be loaded with heavy riffs and with more of that old Metal energy back in there …meaning – more fun for me on stage. Bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Metallica were a big part of my repertoire while I was growing up so I wanted those influences to be audible now. Playing wise, I wanted to sound more like a modern “hyper charged” version of players that came before me. I consciously made an effort to develop my own phrasing and playing style on this album rather than imitate any other player “per se”. I also wanted to show a more aggressive and loose side of my playing on this album – something that I felt I “owed” to my fans since I was always holding back a bit on my previous albums…

Elaborate more on the overall album concept theme and vibe.
From a musical point of view the concept theme of the album is – Heavy Metal. The album presents my take on this essential music genre. I wanted to explore different avenues of Metal music and transmute them to instrumental format. This album should not be looked at as just another shred fest but more like almost a vocal album that perhaps some bands like Arch Enemy or Metallica could have made if they collaborated with Joe Satriani for example. I don’t think anybody made an instrumental album with that type of idea yet… As for the production style, the targets for me were records of  Judas Priest – “Demolition” , Metallica  – “And Justice For All”… and also Iron Maiden, “ A Matter of Life and Death”. I like that dry type of production for Metal and  I thought that if I could get my production quality level at least in that ballpark it would be good enough for me – since I have much less money then those bigger artists. I am quite proud with the end result and in my opinion “The Absolute” is my best sounding album as of yet.

You also made the album cover artwork yourself?
Yes, this is also the first time I did that. The artwork is kind of simple but has a meaning to it that might not meet the eye at the first glance. There is a symbol on the cover that is molded with the crossed guitars. It is the “Aum” which is also known as “The Absolute” and is very present in Hindu philosophy and religion which many consider to be the oldest one on earth. The shape of “Aum” somewhat resembles number three – and since this is my third album I found it kind of adequate! I do not follow Hindu religion but there are some interesting parallels I found with music and meaning of this symbol. The “Aum” is considered the “initial divine vibration” of creation. This “divine vibration” of Aum is also known as Trimurti that consists of three forces which are one at the same time – “(A) creator – (U) maintainer – (M) destroyer”.  It also stands for 3 cycles of human condition… birth, life, death. …past,  present, future.  Since music is essentially “sound vibration”, and all vibration creates energy, I have always found it fascinating how energy of music can change the emotional state of the listener thus affecting their “personal energy”. And if we look at the structure of basic elements of music harmony, which are chords – they are made of three notes played together creating one sound, corresponding again to this mystical rule of “three”. So this “divine vibration” seems to be of great significance in the architecture of the universe we live in…and reflects itself in music which is a part of it. If all this makes sense even a little bit perhaps it is not by pure accident that we find many good musicians to be interested in mysticism and metaphysics? (Laughs).

Regarding the song titles… Since this is an instrumental album, there are no lyrics involved. So if there’s anything to be said in plain words it has to be done through the song titles. Since it is a concept album from a music point of view, I wanted the album’s song titles to be somewhat conceptual and corresponding to the artwork idea so I weaved some spiritual and philosophical ideas into them too. Like the eternal questions of essential truth and search of reason of our existence… you know, the stuff many people usually don’t want to think about! (laughs). 

Track by Track

Could you  elaborate further on what is posted on the Lion website track by track description already in terms of gear used, or if you have some special comments to add?
Gear I used for the majority of tracks were an ESP Eclipse set neck type of guitar with active electronics for rhythm guitar parts and a couple of ESP V type guitars with passive electronics for the lead stuff. I went with some distortion pedals by EMMA and Maxon through my amp’s clean channel with some Guyatone pedals for processing – and that is the guitar tone you hear on 90% of the album.  

–       The Absolute… This is clearly a neoclassical track. I knew that I would not make a lot of neoclassical tunes on this album so I decided to make just one ultimate neoclassical song as a bit of a “world in itself” compared to other songs on the album. It is like an essential display of what I did before but in an improved version just for my old fans that always ask me for more of that. However I also wanted to have some typical metal riffs in there and I wanted to avoid any phrasing in there that somebody else did before me. I played pretty much my own style here.

–       Secret Of Life… After the neoclassical opening tune, I wanted a song which would sound even heavier and introduce the listener to what’s coming next. I am making a reference here to some thrash metal influences. The guy who started the whole metal riff thing was Tony Iommi so I wanted a bit of his influence in there and then took it to modern thrash riffs of Hetfield age. The melody line is in NWOBHM tradition and the solo section is loosely based on pentatonic style of people like Michael Schenker, Zakk Wylde.

–       Hidden… I wanted a simple and brutal sounding Metal riff perhaps a bit Megadeth like. For the melody part, I went for some phrasing influenced by middle-eastern and Balkan music with some mystical sounding harmonies in the background. The solo is very legato oriented and bit of a tribute to masters of that style of playing like Joe Satriani or Steve Vai. I also took the solo through different harmony modes there like Lydian and Mixolydian.

–       Within All Existence… This one is a very straight forward rocker tune. It opens up with Brian May style harmonized guitars. I wanted very basic power riffs almost Steve Stevens type with Michael Schenker type wah lead melody on top. There’s also a bit of Iron Maiden influence in there. The solos are a total shred fest…

–       Promises… I wanted to use really heavy sounding downtuned riffs that would be in the ballpark of Pantera or Zakk Wylde. The harmony progression for arpeggio section here is almost a common cliché but I did it in a somewhat extreme metal styling with the double kicks and “start – stop” riffs. I wanted to demonstrate sequencing use of arpeggios so the theme sounds a bit like an “etude”.  There are two solos… first one is strictly pentatonic shred blues style while the second one is a total explosion. I just wanted to do a type of solo that I usually hesitate to do – a ton of fast shred licks all over the place. I also used a touch of  Maxon Phaser effect on the second solo to get a bit of the early Van Halen vibe.

–       The Prize Of Eternity… is sort of a nod to great 80’s LA scene guitar heroes that started it all. So the riff hints to Randy Rhoads a bit while the solo is in a classic rock style with some Van Halen, George Lynch inspired moments done from my own perspective. The melody theme is simple but with some cool tapped arpeggio parts later on. I always make sure on my albums to play something different on each song so I tried to make this tune stand out too…

–       For The Chosen,… Is based on a middle eastern beat that even Ritchie Blackmore incorporated in some Rainbow songs back in the day. I wanted the guitar riffs to be very heavy almost like something of Metallica type and the melody to be totally middle eastern sounding thing. There’s two solos. The first one is full of my trademark licks which I call “Randy Rhoads on steroids”. The second solo contains some licks that are made famous by Yngwie Malmsteen. I wanted to make an intentional hint to that YJM style there just for 15 seconds on the whole album.

–       Fighter Of Glory… Has a sort of Spanish flamenco type of progression to it which I wanted to do for a while but in a NWOBHM style. The tone is very raw and buzzy on this one, almost in a Glenn Tipton way which is what I was going for. I got it from a solid state amp being boosted by Maxon OD 9 Pro overdrive pedal that I helped  in designing.

–       Walking the path… is another neoclassical tune on the album apart from the title song. I focused more on a legato approach in the lead parts instead of the typical staccato style. I found legato a bit smoother sounding and more appropriate here so I also adjusted the tone with a bit more midrange to help the phrasing.

–       To One Truth… the idea was to have a catchy intro riff. For the melody I wanted some contrast in sound so I added a bit of acoustic rhythm guitar chords. The ending solo is one of my favorites on the album and is very “bluesy” in nature.       

 The Future

What will you be doing to promote this CD and are there any other new projects in plan?
he most important thing for me now is to take this album live on the road. It is imperative for me to do a lot of this in 2010 and it will be quite a challenge. The problem with instrumental shred guitar today is the insufficient label support which makes it difficult to tour. A strong club circuit has not been made for this style of music like for blues, jazz or metal so it’s quite hard to tour these days being “in between styles”. Even bigger artists like Paul Gilbert and Vinnie Moore just started doing solo tours in Europe last year for the first time! Still, I hope  that there are a lot of MSG, Joe Satriani, Children Of Bodom, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Al Dimeola  fans out there that want to hear the this type of playing… That’s why music on this album is intentionally made in such a way that it can very easily appeal to a wider audience apart from just shred guitarists. I am also intending to finish up some other even more ambitious projects in 2010 including a vocal oriented Metal album as well.

What do you see as the future of music production, media and CD distribution?
The Internet has obviously changed a lot of things within the music industry which is at this point dying because of uncontrolled internet illegal download. No serious government intervention has dealt with this specific problem that haunts music industry in spite of the digital technology advances in the last 10 years. I think this has to do with planed society changes for the future and Internet is a big part of that “digital future”.  I believe that in the end the record companies might become state owned and funded from state budget and musicians will have to become employees with a monthly salary. Then the big corporate institution would have to pay to state owned music labels for using music on internet…and there will be no more CDs or physical media. This will of course reduce significantly the amount of people who will be able to work in music. Some will perhaps still play in small clubs as cover bands like they did in the 50s. It’s a bit of a dark prediction but that’s just my opinion on how things will develop if the current trend doesn’t change.

And what about the future options for instrumental guitar performers?
It is getting more and more difficult every day. I think it depends on the corporate controlled media and their agenda. This is not a very commercial style of music and if sidelined further it will die off slowly. Even the great classical composers like Bach, Mozart or Chopin could do their thing only because they were supported and sponsored by the elite and nobility of the era. Today it seems that electric virtuoso guitar is obsolete as far as corporate labels are concerned… But which great rock musician’s music of yesterday is rock music of today mainly founded on? If we had to choose just one, I think it would have to be Jimi Hendrix’! Even the amps, pedals and guitars are still more or less based on the same technology that what was used in 60s by Hendrix. He was a guitar virtuoso of his time and he was a star because of his playing/shredding abilities! So the corporate “anti playing” concept of today doesn’t make sense and whoever tells us that virtuoso playing is bad and purposeless is either on crazy pills or is not really into rock guitar music! The fuzz tone of Hendrix’ guitar is still the type of tone you hear in metal guitar music with Vai, Satriani, or somebody like myself… proving that instrumental shred style is deeply rooted in history and essence of rock music! Even 70’s jazz rock bands like Mahavishnu Orchestra or Return To Forever were doing the instrumental format and they were so popular that they played arenas!!! So, how is it possible that Hendrix is a #1 Rock icon off all times and Dimeola and Mclaughlin sold millions of records and played large arenas and yet today some “people” want to make us believe that guitar shred is just not interesting for wide audiences anymore? Doesn’t make any sense to me…

What will the next technological breakthrough for the electric guitar be in your opinion and do you tinker with your gear much?
I experiment with my tone and gear but I don’t do the tech stuff and mods personally. As for the tech direction of the future it’s hard to say really…Technological development and scientific progress always brought some new aspects to musical instruments and I expect that to continue. Many vintage tone purists stick to the past but tend to forget that the term Stratocaster was made up from the words “Strato/sphere” and “broad/cast” (Strato – cast) in commemoration of beginning of new space age and radio/tv age. Even fewer people know today that it was the designs of a scientist of Serbian origin named Nikola Tesla that defined the technology of the 20th century by discovering radio, adjusting alternating current electricity system, remote control, electromotor, and many other things that made it possible for something like an electric guitars and amplifiers to exist today! Even the great guitar virtuoso Allan Holdsworth dedicated one of his albums called “Wardenclyffe Tower” to Tesla! So who knows what science might come up with tomorrow that will upgrade the way we produce sound!?

What breakthrough would you like to see?
Modeling technology seemed to have been very popular in the 2000s so perhaps some companies will take this direction further until they succeed in making some sort of “tone emulator machine”. Then a player will be able to sample any tone from the past (or present) they want at home in 100% detail and then download it into a “preset digital card gadget” and bring it to the studio or concert venue where the “preset digital card “will be read by some new type of amp computer/machine and – there you go, we’ll be able to dial in any tone we want, any place we want without having to lug any additional gear around. The purists will probably not like it but progress marches on…

General

What are your general interests outside of music/guitar?
I like to read books and study many different things like religion, philosophy, politics, history … I also find some martial arts  very interesting so it’s something I follow too.

What other types of music do you enjoy?
I have thousands of old vinyl LPs and also a huge CD collection. I listen to many different styles of music really… Blues players like Eric Clapton, SRV, Robben Ford or some older jazz guys like Pat Martino or Larry Carlton. Lots of modern fusion guitarists like Pat Metheny, Hiram Bullock, Frank Gambale, Brett Garsed, Allan Holdsworth … I also listen to certain ethnic music too, like Middle Eastern or Indian,…some progressive stuff like Mike Oldfield, YES, Shakti. I always enjoy classic rock like Thin Lizzy, Gary Moore  as well as modern extreme metal like Arch Enemy, Children Of Bodom, Protest The Hero,…

What are your 5 desert island CD’s?
Oh, that’s not fair – it has to be at least 10! Let’s see what comes of the top of my head…  

1)    Mike Oldfield – Tubular Bells II
2)    Joe Satriani – Engines Of Creation
3)    Eric Johnson – Venus Isle
4)    Allan Holdsworth – Secrets
5)    Dire Straits – Communiqué
6)    Alcatrazz – Disturbing The Peace
7)    Iron Maiden – Powerslave
8)    Uli Jon Roth – Beyond The Astral Skies
9)    Michael Schenker Group – Built To Destroy
10)  Jimi Hendrix – Band Of Gypsys

Are you aware of some current, interesting anonymous new players we see on the internet?
I am aware of some new players and I think the level of musicianship today is probably higher than 10 years ago because there’s more info floating around Internet to learn from. But for me, the main thing is still to go through a record label that has a good reputation and a solid artist roster – that’s what counts. It is very good thing that Internet can help unknown players to get some attention but it’s a double edged sword. The problem that I see with Internet and things like YouTube today is that millions of people can post their clips and flood the “net” with their footage but who’s looking for it? That’s why we need the labels as a quality filter to bring new players to the fore.

How frequently do you return to Serbia these days and how has the artistic and musical scene evolved in the time since you left?
 The local rock music scene in Serbia is almost non existent from what I hear. Foreign Rock bands are touring there all the time now but there’s no new people on the domestic scene that can make a breakthrough – all is reserved for the bigger established pop bands that were there 20 years ago. I went to Serbia in 2004 and made a few very successful concerts but I was largely ignored by the local mainstream media. Only the people who have close ties to the circles of political power can do something big in music bizz over there now… the other vast majority of “unconnected” Serbian musicians have no chance of a future on the music scene as is and will have to wait for some better times.

Explain the great success of Serbs in the arts/sports (tennis, basketball etc) given the hardships lived through physically, spiritually and emotionally?
I guess they worked hard! It’s great that they have success in the sport arenas and I salute them. It’s a very honest thing in sports to compete against your opponents and let the best person win. Truth be told, many sports were sometimes backed by the state so athletes could get some financial support if they were good. With Rock music it was completely the opposite – no help at all, nobody cared if we lived or died. For example a few successful swimmers from Serbia won some international competitions recently and got some silver and gold medals. In return they were given apartments from the state to use as long as they live! That was a really cool move from the government,… I wish a similar policy was applied to Serbian rock musicians who achieved some artistic success abroad! (Laughs) 

Have you taught guitar over the years?
I started giving private guitar lessons since my 20s. I did some master class teaching and for a while even gave private guitar lessons in Canada. I don’t do that anymore but master classes are something I still enjoy doing… passing on the knowledge and experience to younger players.

I hear that you also connected with legendary guitar player Frank Marino who lives in Montreal?
I have been aware of Frank’s playing since I was a teenager because I was also a lot into Blues then. I remember being very impressed by his Mahogany Rush live rendition of “I’m a King Bee Baby” because I never heard anybody play blues like that before him. He always remained one of my favorite players in that style of music. When I moved to Montreal, I realized that Frank lived in this town so we met after one of his concerts on my initiative and have been in touch since. Seeing him play live was one of the coolest experiences since he connects to a time way back when rock music was “young” and is a true Canadian “guitar legend”…   Frank is also a very busy family man these days and I just hope he will get back on the stage soon with some great new solo album that his fans will welcome.

What advice do you have for young players?
I would say – try as much as possible to build your own style and identity within the type of music you play. Learn from your heroes and build upon their work but don’t imitate them. Never forget that it’s a very tough world out there and dreams don’t always come true for everybody.

Thank you so much for this insight Borislav, the CD is magnificent!!!

VIRTUOSITY ONE WOULD LIKE TO THANK BORISLAV MITIC AND MIKE BLACKBURN FOR THIS EXCELLENT INTERVIEW.

WEB LINKS
www.borislavmitic.com
www.myspace.com/borislavmitic

HAKEN – AQUARIUS (ARCHIVE)

 

Out now on Sensory Records

Haken are a rarity in that that are a virtuosic progressive rock/ metal band from England, normally us Brits go for stuff much more obvious and trend driven so its nice to be able to assess something from my homeland in one of my favourite genres.  Aquarius is the bands debut release –and as you might expect for a prog band its a 7 track 72 minute, larger than life conceptual sci-fi/fantasy work brought to us by the Sensory label.

Led by the enigmatic vocals of Ross Jennings, the music is heavy coming across as a mix of Vanden Plas and Symphony X in the heavier segments, with the more esoteric instrumental stylings of Transatlantic.  No doubt some critics will want to market the band as a UK Dream Theater but these would be quite wide of the mark to these ears as this features a much more diverse sound, one might say all encompassing with its jazz and fusion leanings in places. 

The opening trio of tracks all clock in over the 10 minute mark each so the band make their prog credententials known right from the off, luckily the music is enjoyable but quite often falls into the ‘where’s the song?’ category.  That said ‘Eternal Rain’ does come close with its more traditional song structure.   A little fine tuning, or perhaps critical appraisal from within the bands ranks of what is really needed in the songs overall would pay dividends if they wish to draw in the more casual listener, but prog fans as a whole should enjoy the barrage of musicality – if not the occasional grunted vocals. ‘Drowning In The Flood’ reminded me somewhat of the music on the Sphere Of Souls debut which is no bad thing either.

Sonically the album is one of the better efforts from the Sensory label of late, being mostly clear and mud free in the mix department – which is essential for maximum enjoyment in this genre.

Overall Haken have come up with a solid debut in ‘Aquarius’ and may just kick start a renaissance of original progressive music in the UK.  A nice start.

Rating -80%

FIRST SIGNAL – FIRST SIGNAL (ARCHIVE)

Out now on Frontiers Records
 
Touted by the label as the successor to Harem Scarem, First Signal is essentially a collaboration between Harry Hess and Dennis Ward.  I never really cared for Harem Scarem, so I was curious to see if this new project could tickle my fancy.

Most of the tunes fall on the heavier side of the AOR fence. I’m not exactly taken by Hess’ voice, but that’s personal taste. The man is a good singer by anybody’s standards.

Overall the album has a decidedly 21st century vibe about it, not in the least because of some of the keyboard arrangements. The songwriting is classy enough not to have to rely on gimmicks though. There’s no misguided attempts at mainstream airplay either.

Michael Klein is an excellent guitarist who adds the necessary flourishes. With Dennis Ward on board, there’s no need to worry about production. Crisp and alive, an excellent job.

Another highly competent melodic rock release.

Rating – 88%
Review by Sancho

DANIELE GOTTARDO – FRENZY OF ECSTASY (ARCHIVE)

 

Out Now – Favoured Nations Digital

Long recognized in the underground guitar scene as one of the most heralded of the YouTube generation of uber shredders, Daniele first came to prominence as a voted finalist in the Guitar Idol competitions in both 2008 and 2009. In 2009 he was recognized as Steve Vai’s personal award winner, his prizes included a recording contract for Vai’s Favored Nations label.

Daniele has taken full advantage of this opportunity! Having already seriously honed his craft touring incessantly with some of Italy’s most well known pop acts, Daniele gets right down to business on this scintillating debut release. Daniele ripples off serious run after serious run whether picked staccato, shimmering legato or finely articulated eight finger tapping, Daniele has mastered all of these techniques. Ultimately though, what sets Daniele apart, is the quality of the melody evident in his song writing which enhances the tone and conviction of his performance. Personal favourites include “Cardiology” (2009 Guitar Idol finalist submission) “Marakkesh Market” and the rockier “Apocalypse Ape” (Daniele informs me that Ape means bee in Italian).

Daniele has set the standard very high indeed with impeccable technique, demonstrated with flair and disarming facility. Don’t believe me check out some of his YouTube videos. Serious fans of instrumental guitar should get this CD!

Rating – 90%
Review by Mike Blackburn

BILL BERENDS OF MASTERMIND INTERVIEW (ARCHIVE)

Interview conducted 13th March 2010

About The Interview
Mastermind were one of the original pioneers of the prog rock renaissance than happened in the 1990’s.  From New York the band were formed by guitarist/vocalist Bill Berends and his brother drummer Rich Berends.  Ten years have passed since the bands last album but February 2010 saw the release of their new opus ‘Insomnia’ released on Lion Music.  We caught up with Bill to discuss the new album, new vocalist Tracy McShane, what makes the band tick and a whole lot more.

Bill Berends, thanks for talking to Virtuosity One.
It’s my pleasure, thanks for your interest in the band and our music.

Please give us an insight into your musical background and how Mastermind got formed and has evolved since those early days.
My background in music goes back to the early days of the 60’s. My first real musical awareness was The Beatles of course, like so many others at that time, then all the things that sprung up around that scene like the Stones, the Animals, etc. I started playing a little guitar, pretending I was George Harrison… he seemed like the most thoughtful Beatle and the lead guitar really appealed to me, but I wasn’t too serious about it at the time being so young. Then the later 60’s came along and I was hooked. Bands like Cream, Hendrix, Spirit, Ten Years After, this stuff blew my mind, the musicianship, the experimentation.. not to mention being a soundtrack to the social revolutions taking place. It really was all new back then and a very exciting time to be alive. I was interested in music other than rock too… I loved church music. I grew up going to a big church that had a huge pipe organ and it always blew my mind. The church service bored me to tears, but the music made a deep impression. Combined with that we have another brother who is a trained classical pianist, so hearing him practice Bach, Chopin, and other classical music around the house all day also had a strong influence. But The Beatles brought rock ‘n’ roll into my world.

The next thing that really got me was The Cream… at the time this was the heaviest thing around and it knocked my socks off with extended guitar solos and jamming which I loved! Gibson guitars through Marshall stacks…

they were the pioneers and that is still THE rock guitar sound as far as I am concerned. From Cream I got deeply into the blues because I really wanted to learn where this music came from, so my love of the blues and extended jams came from there. The next major influence was Emerson, Lake & Palmer because they took the grandeur of the church organ thing I loved so much and ROCKED it!! Not to mention introducing this thing called a Moog synthesizer. That stuff totally blew my mind. There was, and still is, nothing else like ELP in their prime. My next major influence was The Mahavishnu Orchestra… they took what Cream was doing, added jazz, and took it to new levels of instrumental technique which was incredible. Of these three bands I mention, no one has come close to duplicating the originality or power of what they did. My desire with Mastermind initially, and the reason we started doing it, was to try and recreate some of this stuff as best we could at a time when no one else was doing it.

Then there are the years that followed where lots of things influenced me.

So many things I can’t go into them all. People are always asking me what new stuff I like and the answer is “not much”. This isn’t because I am stuck in the past, I am always searching for new & interesting music, but not much comes close to the guys who thought the stuff up in the first place. And, to a large degree, entertainment has surpassed artistic intent and people lost touch with real music. This is sort of why Mastermind is always trying different things. We didn’t start doing this to be “product”, we started doing it as a musical adventure. When we began recording in the mid-80’s there was no one around doing that stuff anymore. Thankfully some younger people have begun to rediscover the origins and there are some slightly more interesting things around now to listen to, but… far too much of it is over-stylized and stuck in a niche while very few artists are actually trying to create something new. One band in the last decade that I thought was interesting was “A Perfect Circle” and listening to them definitely had some influence on the Insomnia recordings.

‘Insomnia’ sees the first full length Mastermind release in a decade. I presume you haven’t been sleeping during this time so just what the hell have the band been up to since 2000’s ‘Angels of the Apocalypse’?
No, I lost a lot of sleep after 2001, it was a difficult time to be an American. Actually, we were very active as a live band during that time, but nobody seemed to care much except the few people who came out to the shows. We got zero support from Inside Out on any level – they didn’t understand the band at all – so we just went at it on our own. Several bass players came and went which was frustrating and impeded our progress, but we kept at it. We were recording as well and released an EP on our own in 2005 to sell at shows, but without a label behind it we didn’t get much attention. Then there were changes in personal lives… my brother moved some distance away from me which made constant collaboration difficult, still does. After the last bass player left the band I had had enough and we just started playing bluesy rock stuff in bars locally. It kept us playing, we had fun and made a few dollars. Despite not being in the public eye as much, we were still making music all along.

Tracy McShane makes her vocal debut on a full length album with ‘Insomnia’, it must be nice to finally be able to unveil her on a wider scale to the world market?
Absolutely. The thing is, I had faith in this record despite the fact we that had difficulty finding a home for it. So in that regard, I felt backed up and unable to move forward until we got it released properly. We did have lots of offers for the album, but nothing I considered any better than releasing it ourselves which I knew I didn’t want to do, so I held out until the right situation came along. I really didn’t expect it to take so long! But I am pleased with Lion Music, they gave us a fair deal and seem to be working at promoting the album. So to answer the question, yes it is nice to finally see the album released properly.

Mastermind began using female vocals on ‘Angels of the Apocalypse’, what led to this quite original fronting for a progressive band?
I thought it was a pretty original idea at the time, but since then it seems dozens of other acts have gone the same route. I suppose the real essence of it was twofold… the first being, after quite a bit of touring in the 90’s I just got tired of being the only vocalist. It wore me out. I never set out in life to be a singer and took some flack for it… tho’ some people still prefer my vocal to the female thing. Personally, I just wanted to concentrate on playing guitar which is my true love, musically speaking. So we made an instrumental album – Excelsior! – our first with Jens, and because we had another player to work with, we leaned more towards an interactive fusion sound which I love. But then we got a lot of flack from the labels for doing that.. “you can’t sell an instrumental album” and so on, so I thought if we need a vocalist I want a good one and Lisa (Bouchelle) was the best one I knew personally. The idea of a female voice appealed to me because it was unique and, I love female vocal in a classical setting. Lisa was into it so we gave it shot.. only to hear back from the labels that “female vocals don’t sell” which I don’t agree with, but we were being marketed as a metal band so I suppose there is some truth to that since metal is so macho. Anyway, after a while it became clear Lisa was more interested in pursuing her solo career so we needed another female voice to be able to carry on playing the “Angels” material. When I met Tracy she seemed like the perfect solution, so here we are.

Mastermind are well known for taking a different slant on each album, where does ‘Insomnia’ fall into the bands progression/catalogue to you?
Actually, our first four albums were all very much in a similar vein, but since we were with Cyclops, a lesser known label, most people aren’t aware of them. For much of the world “Excelsior!” was our first album when in truth it was our 5th album and 11 years into being a band. What happened is after 10 or so years of doing the same basic thing I just really wanted to try some other stuff… more fusion, more guitar oriented, more straightforward rock. So you might say what we are well known for is just not being that well known. How does Insomnia fit into the progression? I think it is a step towards just getting back to the essence of getting the point across without too much embellishment and acknowledging modern elements such as tuned down guitars and seeing how they can fit in to our musical visions.

Over what time frame where the songs written and have they changed somewhat since their original conception?
All of the Insomnia material was written shortly after Tracy joined the band in 2001 with the exception of Night Flier which was recorded in a separate session with Jens. Once I had a fair idea of what we were shooting for, the material didn’t change that much throughout the recording process.   The album was basically finished in 2004, it just took 6 years to get it released. Ideally this album should’ve been released in 2004 but it didn’t work out that way. There was another behind-the-scenes element too… we had an A&R guy at a major label very interested in the band and we went back and forth with them and a big management company for almost a year, so that delayed things as well. I suppose that may have had some bearing on the shape of a few songs. I edited some things down to shorter times and cut back some of the solos at their suggestion, but ultimately that deal fell apart and we were still nowhere, but I liked the modern edge the changes brought about and kept them. Inside Out suggested calling it something other than Mastermind, which I considered, but they weren’t into the female vocal thing anyway so I thought, this is the same people as Mastermind, calling it something different would be silly. It would be like The Beatles changing their name because Sgt. Pepper didn’t sound like Love Me Do… so we soldiered on as Mastermind. In retrospect they may have been correct, who knows. I am better at making music than marketing which is why I prefer being involved with a decent label.

‘Insomnia’ is home to 10 songs, all of which are quite unique in character yet form a cohesive bond within their album framework. How much agonising was done over things like what tracks to include, the running order etc and can you ever be truly happy with these things?
Thanks! I think it is pretty cohesive as a whole and in fact, I think it works best listening as a whole. That was my intention, to create an hour or so of music that was a pleasing listen, period. We didn’t need to show we could play blistering solos or write complex compositions, been there, done that. We have six other albums of that kind of thing, so I wanted to do something a little different. I knew which songs would open and close the album, sorting out the running order felt natural to me after a few shuffles of the cards, so it was decided pretty early on, most of it. I did one tweak after we signed the deal with Lion Music since it had been some time since I was living with this recording. Ultimately I think that made it a stronger album and better listen, but once it goes out to press there’s no sense worrying about it anymore, it’s time to start thinking about the next thing.

How do you/Mastermind go about writing a song and when do you know a song is right?
I am the only writer in the band so I just write and write and when I feel I have a selection of tunes that feels cohesive, I present them to the others and get their feedback. If anyone hates anything in particular I may revisit it, defend it, or just throw it out. In the case of Insomnia there was one track I threw out myself just because I thought it was a little too bouncy in the overall scheme of things. How do I know it’s right? I never know… I just do what I like and hope for the best.

Any favourite tracks/performances on the album and if so why?
“Last Cigarette” is my personal favorite. I like the slow, ponderous groove and I like how it makes me feel. I think the vocal harmonies work nicely and I really like the solo section with the counter-voicing Jens does with the guitar. I also like how it ends the album in an ambient space. The rain, the barking dogs, that was recorded in my own backyard so it is very personal for me and evokes that time period, yet puts it to rest at the same time. It’s also really sombre in one way, yet I think it ends leaving you with a feeling of hope and not hopelessness. I like that sort of thing. If something is just dead sombre it can be too depressing, so even my darkest material tends to leave you feeling hopeful I’d like to think.

Where were the tracks recorded/mixed/produced as there is a wonderfully organic sound to this album?
Thank you! The whole album, just like all Mastermind albums, was recorded and mixed in my home studio. The main difference between Insomnia and the others is, this is the first Mastermind album that was recorded all with computers and not tape. All the other albums were recorded on analog tape. Night Flier was maybe the last thing we ever did on tape, so it took a little work to get that to fit in, but I think it works. That slowed the recording process down a little too, the learning curve of digital recording and how to make it sound not-digital. I’m very pleased to hear you enjoyed the production!

You are listed as producer along with your brother what do you see this role as being and how do you approach it?
Since I am the composer as well, my role as producer is to try and get everything to sound like what I am hearing in my head, to bring the compositions to reality. My brother’s role is more or less as a sounding board if I get too carried away or miss the mark with something. He won’t hesitate to tell me if he thinks something sucks!

I am guessing there is a natural non verbal communication when you and Rich play? Is it noticeable when you play with other drummers/musicians?
With Rich and myself that is definitely the case. We grew up together listening to the same music and developing the same sensibilities, we know when something is going to happen or where things are going instinctively, although we may not always agree on everything. With other musicians it just depends on the person. Working with Jens is very easy, I just tell him what I am envisioning and he usually comes up with something right off that is really close what I am hearing. Once in a while he may miss the mark, but we discuss it a bit then it’s right back on track. If he has an idea or suggestion I am happy to listen to them since I respect his opinion. I have played with a lot of musicians however, that I don’t get that vibe with at all… bass players *cough cough* in particular. A lot of players are just in their own little world and don’t LISTEN to what the other players are doing. In fact I would say that is true with a majority of so called musicians I have known. They just do the thing that they do as if they were in a vacuum or something, it’s very frustrating. Most rock musicians, especially younger ones, tend to learn and create music by brute force memorization, so real time interaction and improvisation is something they don’t get at all. It’s a shame really, that this has become a lost art. Add to that click tracks controlling light shows and non-existent keyboard players and what you end up with is stiff, mechanical, and boring.   No organic feel at all.

Jens Johansson lends his golden fingers to the Mastermind sound once again, how did you initially hook up with Jens?
I met Jens almost 25 years ago in a music store in New Jersey. I wrote a little story about it on our website linked to the Excelsior! page. I had no idea who Yngwie was at the time, or Jens, I just heard him play in the store and thought ‘that was incredible, I gotta know this guy!’ I introduced myself, we got to be friends, and after I heard his Heavy Machinery and Fission albums I knew I wanted to work with him. In my mind’s ear I hear Jens as a modernized sort of Jan Hammer, the original keyboard foil to the guitarist.. to which Jens will say “fuck Jan Hammer!” of course lol… but we both have musical roots that go way back and I think we have certain shared sensibilities, so it works out well I think.

Do you give him guidance on what you are looking for or does he have free reign?
Both. I’ll suggest to him the feeling I hope to evoke and let him go at it.  If it isn’t what I’m hearing I’ll make some suggestions which he has no problem with. There were a few instances where I really wanted to pull him out of his comfort zone and challenge him to do something totally different, like play slow, use a different sound other than the famous Korg sound, stuff like that. He is very willing to try different stuff and when he sees what I’m getting at, usually he’ll jump right in and comes up with something wonderful. On a few occasions he’ll do something I am totally not expecting and we’ll keep it, so it’s give and take.

Those keyboard sounds he gets are so unique, and his playing with his personalised phrasing and tones are wonderful, you must be pleased to have him onboard?
Absolutely. Jens is a brilliant player with a unique outlook on almost everything, and he’s pretty funny too! I wish we were in a situation where he could be available to us all the time because I have other ideas in mind for him, but Stratovarius keeps him pretty busy these days. I guess we’ll see what happens down the road, but we have discussed doing more music together in the future.

What else is in store for 2010?
We hope to be able to get out and do some live shows to support the album.  If you aren’t appearing, you’re disappearing, as the old blues guys say. I have recorded a “Bill Berends” solo album of instrumental guitar music which I finished up just recently. That’s really where my head was going musically when we got an offer from Lion Music which sort of snapped me back into Mastermind mode. Getting back in touch with just the guitar and amp, no frills or effects. No firm release plans for that yet, but it is coming. And, Rich and I have recorded some basic tracks of new music that is potentially the basis for another Mastermind album. To a large degree what we do next depends on how well this album sells and what kind of interest it may generate. I have lots of unheard, unreleased music written, hours of it in fact, it just depends on how I can get it out there.

Any final messages for our readers?
Buy our stuff! Seriously, if you have read this far I thank you for your interest in Mastermind and our music. Thanks to everyone who has supported us over the years and to the people just discovering Mastermind as well. I hope you will take some time to get familiar with our new album because I know for some people it may take a little while to sink in. Mastermind may not be love at first sight for everyone, as one fan put it, but once you acquire a taste for it I think you will like it…. kind of like beer. And we all like beer, don’t we?!

Bill, many thanks for your time.
My pleasure, thank you!

OFFICIAL WEBSITES
http://www.mastermindband.com
http://www.myspace.com/mastermindband
http://www.facebook.com/mastermindband

CHARLY SAHONA – NAKED THOUGHTS FROM A SILENT CHAOS (ARCHIVE)

Released Feb 2010 on Lion Music

Dedicated followers of Virtuosity One may well be familiar with the name Charly Sahona from his work in progressive metallers Venturia who have released 2 excellent albums to date.  However, the French guitarist has seen fit to use songs not geared towards the Venturia sound for a debut solo album “Naked Thoughts From A Silent Chaos” which is a much more streamlined album built around heavy riffs with catchy vocals and Sahona’s trademark solos with the press promo sheet describing this is a fusion of Dream Theater, Muse and 30 Seconds To Mars.  Certainly the musicianship and heaviness of DT is here with the melodies taking on the more modernistic feel of Muse.  Fans of either band should be able to latch on this rather easily, yet at the same time it has its own sound going on.

Sonically the album sounds great with a production that puts many big names to shame with the rhythm section of Sahona’s Venturia band mates Diego Rapacchietti (Drums) and Thomas James-Potrel (Bass) powering the whole 8 track album along with exuberant ease and skill.  Sahona’s guitar is as excellent as anyone who has heard Venturia knows yet here where it’s the main focus you really see that Charly’s style is taking metal guitar to new places.

Highlights come in practically every song from opener and debut single “Relieved”, the stomping “Away From Our Sins” which is full of catchy vocal melodies, “Forgotten Past” is closest in style to the sound heard of Venturia’s “Hybrid” album.  “River Of Lies” is the most straight metal tinged track on the album.  “Living In A Dream Is Not Right” is relatively laid back in comparison to other tracks and allows Sahona to show his vocal skill, something which it could be argued is mixed a little low in places, this could maybe be put down to debut vocal release nerves, however, Sahona has a good voice, melodic, clean and likely to win appeal with the modern day listener so next time push the fader up a little Charly!  “It Will Fly Away” has more commercial possibilities and those that like Muse but would like that heavier may just find their perfect match here.    Closer “All That Can Be Said” sees the album out on another strong note.

With “Naked Thoughts From A Silent Chaos” Charly Sahona has delivered a mightily impressive debut album.  If your penchant for metal is to avoid clichés then this could be right up your street.  Essentially with performances this good, a production this strong and song quality excellent from start to finish then you have to ask the question what’s not to like?
 
Hot Spots : Relieved, Away From Our Sins, It Will Fly Away.
Rating : 95%

YNGWIE MALMSTEEN’S RISING FORCE – PERPETUAL FLAME (ARCHIVE)

Out Now – Rising Force Records

Yngwie  Malmsteen is back with his much anticipated new album “Perpetual Flame“.  Coming off the back of 2 return to form albums in the guise of the Doogie White vocalised “Attack” and “Unleash The Fury” offerings, Yngwie has decided to change vocalists once again replacing White with former Judas Priest/ Iced Earth vocalist Tim “Ripper” Owens.  A vocalist that tends to fall into the love/hate category Owens can be great (Iced Earth’s The Glorious Burden) or mediocre (Priest’s Jugulator).  To these massive Malmsteen fan ears I personally find Rippers vocals to sit uneasily with the usual brand of Malmsteen metal. 

 Much has been said about the new album artwork, and most people agree that its very poor, sadly this also translates to much of the material and to a slightly lesser extent the production of “Perpetual Flame”.  The guitar tones are good, lead sounds fantastic, drums sound good and bass are clear enough, but Owens vocals for some reason sound as if they are sung down the phone for much of the album, and for some reason tend to be panned all in different places depending on the track.  This really isn’t good enough from a major player such as Malmsteen, and it would seem not a lot has been learnt from the WTEAW debacle.  This is generally an uneasy mix and really does spoil the impact of the album. 

  Sadly much of the song writing also falls into the average category with opener “Death Dealer” hardly setting the album off to a good start.  “Live To Fight (Another Day)” starts out with real promise with its melodic intro and “I Am A Viking” style riff, but sadly is obliterated as soon as Owens opens his mouth making this barely listenable.  “Red Devil” is strong musically with its Hendrix-y main riff, but sadly some of the cheesiest lyrics about Yngwie’s love of Ferrari’s cheapens the end product once again.  “Four Horsemen (of the apocalypse)” sees more production issues, with it sounding like Yngwie forgetting to turn on his noise suppressor for gaps in the opening chord stabs, its a fairy good song in truth but once again let down by Owen’s vocals.  “Priests Of The Unholy” starts out promisingly largely thanks to the keyboard work of Derek Sherninian actually being audible for once, but falls at the final hurdle thanks to another poor vocal melody line.  True enough Owens is a hired hand to sing Malmsteen’s vocal parts, so the blame for the vocal melodies ultimately falls directly at the maestro’s feet, and this is one of Ripper’s better vocal performances but  once again it falls into the mediocre bin.  “Be Careful What You Wish For” is a double bass drum led number that has been heard one too many times before from Yngwie.  Owens sound particularly painful here!  The 8 minutes of “Eleventh Hour” could well have been brilliant, but the vocal performance of Owens once again lessens its impact considerably (believe me I am not enjoying bagging on the guy for the sake of it) largely thanks to vocal production issues but also some pitch issues as well.

  That’s not to say the album is a total loss. “Damnation Game” is Malmsteen in full glory, a fantastic riff that fuses the right blend of melody and heaviness.  “Magic City” at over 7 minutes long starts out well with a nice melodic guitar solo, before heading into a rewrite blending of “Cherokee Warrior” and “Miracle Of Life” but this acceptable enough.  As is becoming a tradition on the last few albums Yngwie sings  lead vocals here and he is improving as a vocalist, in fact his performance is much more preferable to that of much of Owens vocals so there is some form of respite here, plus  its  also has another of the kind of solo you want to hear from Yngwie.  “Capricio Di Diablo” is the sort of “Far Beyond The Sun” 3/4 time instrumental Yngwie excels in whilst another instrumental “Lament” with its slow classical melody stirs some positive emotion and reaction, the same can also be said for album closer “Heavy Heart”.  

  So there you have it.  One of most anticipated albums of the year has turned into one of my most disappointing.  To these ears Tim Owens is clearly not the man for the job going by this performance.  This may well be different had the vocal production been different, but the main problem for me is a lack of variation in his vocals.  His predecessors, Doogie White/Mark Boals/Mats Leven/Goran Edman  etc all managed to make something viable out of Yngwie’s clichéd vocal melodies  ideas yet Owens seems comfortable to do what he’s paid for and nothing more.  To my ears it sounds like there is a lack of feeling, a lack of connection with the material  from Owens; and ultimately from Yngwie’s perspective, he who has worked with some of the best vocalists in the metal genre, you wonder why the vocals on this final product are the way they are – poor. Another issue is the overly frequent double bass drum rhythms, in the live arena Patrik Johansson is as impressive as drummers get. Unfortunately there are also too many retreads of former compositions, there is a point where you have the Malmsteen “sound”, and then a blatant case of rewriting old tracks but adding new vocal melodies and lyrics.  On the positive, Yngwie’s guitar work is mostly A1, and granted most people buy a Malmsteen album for this reason alone.  But where Yngwie goes from here is unknown.  If he keeps delivering albums of this quality he may well find hardcore fans that have accepted the former issues with not so much forgiveness from here on in.  A case of try before you buy but if you are new to Malmsteen’s brand of metal and I recommend you check out “Trilogy”, “Odyssey”, “Fire & Ice”, “Magnum Opus”, “Alchemy” or “Unleash The Fury” first before diving head first into “Perpetual Flame” as it may well put you off exploring the rest (and mostly excellent) of Malmsteen’s back catalogue.
 
Hot Spots : Damnation Game, Capricio Di Diablo, Lament, Magic City
Rating : 50%