Friday, September 15, 2017

Femme-Metal Friday: Edge of Paradise “Mystery”

Photo credit: Val Rassi

Although I do a lot of writing about the female-fronted metal scene, it is impossible to know about every band out there, and admittedly, there are even some of the more popular ones that I'm not as familiar with as one might expect. I try to keep up with the latest names who are making a splash, but the great thing about the scene is that it is so diverse, and there is always something new to discover.

One name that has kept popping up on my radar for some time—over the past year, at any rate—was Edge of Paradise, a band from my hometown of Los Angeles. Several of my friends and fellow writers gave this band great praise, but I had not found the time to check them out for myself—until a friend told me the band was playing in the town where I live now, an area that seldom ever gets good rock shows, let alone any femme-metal gigs.

Suffering from concert withdrawals for nearly a year, and excited by the prospect of getting to discover some new music, I decided that the time had come to finally give this band a proper listen. As everyone else does these days, I looked to YouTube and found the most recent video, which is the song I am reviewing here.

The song “Mystery” is a lovely ballad with some spiritual overtones, and the video complements the song's fragile loveliness by not being too overwhelming or over-the-top. The video itself shows vocalist Margarita Monet sitting at a piano, playing a haunting melody. The rest of the band is dimly illuminated and wreathed in clouds of smoke, so you only ever see their silhouettes and are never distinctly visible. There are some close-up of Margarita either sitting at the piano or singing directly to the camera (what a voice she's got, by the way!), but she is the only person we see clearly throughout the video.

At video's end, a message reads that the song is in memory of someone; the YouTube comments mention that the in memoriam is for Margarita's cousin that passed away. As I cannot get official confirmation on that at this time, I will say simply that whoever it was for, it was a lovely tribute. After hearing this song, I viewed several other videos of theirs, but this song continued to stand out for me, and why I decided to review it as opposed to one of their heavier or more popular tracks. It probably goes without saying, but I will say it anyway: I am glad I finally got around to listening to this band, and look forward to seeing them rock my metal-deficient town this Saturday!

For more information on Edge of Paradise, visit their official website.

Special thanks to John Thornburgh.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Luna “Fire in Cairo”

Photo credit: Luz Gallardo

Normally this is more of a metal-based blog, but I love all forms of rock music, so it isn't too uncommon for me to explore other sides of the rock spectrum; such as “alternative” rock, or “indie” rock. I have never been one of those metalheads that subscribed to the notion that grunge rock was “the enemy”, or that I had to dislike one to enjoy the other.

Admittedly, what is considered modern alternative rock is not quite suited to my personal tastes, but the same can be said of most mainstream music. Being on the latter end of Gen-X, I am not exactly young or hip anymore (not that I have ever been—hip, anyway!), and I have always leaned more towards bands that were low on the radar, or stuff that was too “complicated” or “weird” for mass consumption. That being said, I do have a penchant for the alternative rock from the ’80s and ’90s. That distinct sound of those bands gives me a nostalgic, happy feeling, which instantly transports me to the days when I was young (and still un-hip).

So when I hear a band like Luna, who has been around since the days when alternative rock ruled the world—yet managed to stay underground and “low on the radar”—it is like discovering a cool gift left over from my ’90s adolescence. It's like rummaging through the attic of your childhood home and coming across a Christmas present from years past, still wrapped, that somehow got lost in the holiday shuffle and relegated to dusty bins and dark closet corners after being found by a parent under the couch during the next year's spring cleaning, long past the time when giving such a token has passed. Yet when you open the discarded gift all these years later, you find that it has not only retained the innocence and charm of its time, but it has been hidden away for so long that it feels new. It is both familiar and exciting all at once.

Over the years, Luna pressed on through the phases and fads of the different musical cycles, maintaining a strong underground following up until they disbanded in the mid-2000s. For nearly 10 years, the members of Luna went on to do their own things, until reforming once again in 2014. The year 2017 saw the band's first new releases since reuniting: an instrumental EP, and a covers album, A Sentimental Education, where the band pays tribute to everyone from David Bowie and Bob Dylan, to Fleetwood Mac and Yes.

For this week's video feature, Luna pays homage to The Cure, art-rock titans who have long crossed over to such levels of success that they don't need to be labeled. Covering such a legendary band is a tall order to fill, but Luna's take on “Fire in Cairo” is a smooth, mellow contrast to the poppy, new-wave tempo of the original. When bands do cover songs, I tend to like the ones that are done in a different way than the original, yet manages to both convey the unique sound of the band covering it, while also maintaing the integrity of the original.

The video itself is filmed in black-and-white, featuring actress Rose McGowan. It looks like film noir from the ’40s, with soft lighting and striking angles. The video begins with Rose looking at various drawings of herself (sent by fans, perhaps?), pinned to a wall. There are other photos and sketches as well, as she smiles and points to the ones that stand out. The next scene shows Luna, playing at a club called “Gold Digger's”. Rose is admitted through the back entrance while the band performs onstage. Rose stands unobtrusively against a wall, enjoying the show. Before long, she starts to mingle with the crowd, then with the band after the show. Everyone is shown laughing, talking, and drinking. Rose makes a friend, who we see visiting Rose at her house in the next scene. A few more shots of Rose in flattering light, and then the video ends. I am guessing this must be a chronicle of a day in the life of “show-biz” people, but I could be way off!

For more information on Luna, visit their official website.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Femme-Metal Friday: Chastain “I Live for Today”

Band photo

If you have been visiting this blog over the last few weeks, then you probably read my feature on Chastain vocalist Leather Leone. If so, then you probably also know that I have the utmost love and respect for Leather, and that she is one of my most favorite people in the world; not just in the music biz, but as a person.

While I never aspired to become a musician or to form a band, I often think that when it comes to strong female role models, the 1980s was a great time in which to grow up. The landscape of heroines to emulate was vast, and so diverse: from cartoon superwomen like Jem, and She-Ra; television characters from The Golden Girls to GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling); pop music idols from Madonna to Cyndi Lauper, rock stars from Pat Benatar to Heart's Ann Wilson.

If you were a little metalhead, like me—9 years old, reading Rip magazine and watching Headbanger's Ball—even the ultra-macho metal scene was not bereft of female role models. There was Doro Pesch, Lee Aaron, and Betsy Bitch, to name a few. And then, of course, the bad-ass that is Leather Leone: a no-nonsense woman that refuses to play by the rules and hates the gender divide within music so much that she probably would not like it very much if she were part of a feature called “Femme-Metal Friday”! But, whether she has wanted the title or not, she is considered a pioneer for women in metal, and many women who came of age in the ’80s and ’90s consider her as much of a metal icon as Rob Halford or Ronnie James Dio.

However, the band's name is Chastain, and there has always been the silent partner to Leather's visibility; the yin to her yang, the quiet force that drives the engine: David T. Chastain, a guitar genius whose name should be spoken with the same honor as the likes of Randy Rhoads, Eddie Van Halen, or Tony Iommi. Yet unlike most guitarists, he prefers to work behind-the-scenes and let the music do the talking. He is the anti-“guitar hero”, so to speak—Chastain has no inclination for noodling intricate riffs for its own sake. You won't find him up on a stage, executing 30-minute solos every night (in fact, you would be hard-pressed to find the reserved Chastain on a stage at all!).

It has been this ability to stay low on the radar that has afforded them the good fortune to remain relevant in a time when many of their contemporaries struggle to maintain their identity without painting themselves into a corner. It has also been their polar opposite dynamic that has kept the music fresh and exciting, while other bands are clearly showing wear and tear.

For their video “I Live for Today”, Chastain incorporates imagery of the rat-race business world: towering skyscrapers, visions of Wall Street, the New York Stock Exchange, Times Square, and piles of money. “It's all just a Ponzi scheme...your money is an illusion...betting on numbers and letters, sleight of hand creates confusion”, reads one of the lyrics that show up on the screen. Towards the end of the video, the song's message is clear when, very faintly, words such as “bankruptcy”, “dividends”, “stocks”, “bonds”, and “income” flash across the screen.

For more information on Chastain, visit the Leviathan Records official site.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Revolution Saints “Freedom”

Band photo

In this day and age, there are a lot of rock supergroups out there—so much to the point where it almost seems there are more supergroups than the original bands they came from in the first place. So when yet another supergroup hits the scene, it almost becomes to easy to either cynically brush this off as another flash in the pan collaboration among artists who have seen better days, or to get lost in the shuffle altogether.

However, it can be said that supergroups can serve a useful purpose in today's musical climate. While on the one hand, they obviously have a built-in audience of fans from their “brand-name” bands, a supergroup can attract new audiences on two other levels as well. For one, you get the demographic of older music fans who bemoan that “there's no good music anymore”. Many of these people may not have been fans of the original bands, or maybe only liked one or two of the groups, so this brings them in out of curiosity, and introduces them to the talents of musicians they had once passed by, because the music was not to their liking. Then on the other token, you have the younger music fans, who consider the original groups to be “dinosaur bands”, and wouldn't be caught dead at their concert. Yet, under the guise of a supergroup, this is “new” music, and therefore, new to them. Now an audience who never would have given these musicians a fair chance when in their original bands, now they have been introduced to seasoned veterans in the rock world, without ever feeling as if they have fallen into a “Dad-band” pit trap.

One example of these many supergroups to crop up on the scene is Revolution Saints, consisting of some heavy hitters of ’80s hard rock: Doug Aldrich, of Dio and Whitesnake fame; Deen Castronovo, former drummer of Bad English and Journey; and Jack Blades of Night Ranger, and another supergroup, Damn Yankees. Put them together, and Revolution Saints is a perfect fusion of straightforward classic hard rock, and modern-day heavy aggression.

In the video for “Freedom”, the Saints rock out onstage while the lyrics flash upon the screen. The band is all smiles onstage, having a great time while the camera pans out to an enthusiastic crowd. A highly-charged, energetic tune that is sure to get people up on their feet!

For more information on Revolution Saints, visit their official website.

Special thanks to Wayne Joyner.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Femme-Metal Friday: Blame Zeus “Speechless”

Photo credit: João Fitas

As my musical discoveries take me across Europe, one place I had yet to visit: Portugal, the home of Blame Zeus, the featured band this Friday. With a heavy-hitting, hard-rocking sound, Blame Zeus has all the gritty, raw power of straightforward, classic rock and roll.

Originally forming in 2010, Blame Zeus took a few years to get up and running before breaking out on the Portuguese concert scene. Now with a second album under their belt, Blame Zeus has released a music video and is looking to expand their fanbase beyond Portugal.

In the video for their song “Speechless”, a plainly-dressed woman enters a dressing room where a bunch of scantily-clad, sexy women instantly give off an intimidating vibe. As the “mean girls” laugh and joke around, the plain girl looks through a bunch of skimpy outfits that do not appear to be her style at all! Finally, she finds an unadorned white dress on a hanger and decides to try it on. As she sits at the makeup table and begins her transformation, her confidence grows. Meanwhile, the other dancers are chatting it up onstage, completely unprepared for the unobtrusive little nobody in their midst. Once she hits the stage, she soon starts leading the others in a racy burlesque routine, proving that there is always more to what we see than just outer appearances!

For more information on Blame Zeus, visit their official website.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Iris Divine “Taking Back the Fall”

Photo credit: Rob Fortenberry Photography

As I mentioned in my entry last week, there must be something in the water around Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and its surrounding area, because there is such an abundance of great music coming from the vicinity, that I keep finding myself returning there to review yet another regional talent.

This week, my attention turns to Iris Divine, a progressive metal band whom I'd initially heard about through MindMaze, a band who is not from this particular locale, but has worked with so many of these bands and played in the area enough to be considered adopted members of this tightly-woven musical community.

Deemed by critics as a “modern-day Fates Warning”, Iris Divine has grabbed the attention of the prog-metal world with their melodic yet heavy-as-fuck sound. To be honest, I think comparing them to Fates Warning sells them far short! But, if I must make a comparison to a known band in the genre, to say they are an amped-up version of King's X? That's still selling them short, but a lot nearer to the mark, if one is looking for such comparisons. Personally, I only find such comparisons useful when trying to describe the music to someone who has never heard it, using examples of music they might already know.

For their video of “Taking Back the Fall”, Iris Divine keeps it simple and low-key—just three talented guys, jamming in a dimly-lit warehouse, allowing the music to be its own adornment, and just rocking their asses off. Sometimes, you don't need a lot to get your point across, and Iris Divine has no trouble conveying that message with the same precision as their music!

For more information on Iris Divine, or to pre-order their upcoming album, The Static and the Noise, visit their official website.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Femme-Metal Friday: Maidens of the North “Carry Your Darkness”

Photo credit: Iiris Mäki

In every musical genre, each year there is always a highly-anticipated release that receives a great deal of attention, press, and general hype among its fanbase—a beloved artist returns after a long sabbatical, a flagship band reunites, or a new, promising young talent hits the scene and generates such a buzz that the entire fan community stands up and takes notice.

For most of 2017, if you are a fan of either symphonic metal or female-fronted metal in general, then you probably already know that the big name on everyone's lips has been Maidens of the North. The brainchild of Dutchwoman/Finnish expatriate vocalist La Vero (known for her work with bands like Heavenqueen, as well as being a multi-talented dancer, actress, and model in her native country of The Netherlands), she sought to form a female band of “all equals”, where there was no set frontwoman, but each person contributed her own unique talent to the greater whole.

Upon moving to Finland, she would find her fellow musical kindred spirits in Satu Eronen and Elsa Wellamo. After meeting up with composer Helena Haaparanta, the wheels were set in motion and the first steps were taken to form what La Vero referred to as “the metal version of Celtic Woman”. By January 2017, the group of women that formed the original core of Maidens of the North was born. 

The idea was simple: each woman represented a particular element (water, air, fire, etc.), and combined their abilities to form a musical sisterhood where empowerment was key. In a scene where competition and rivalries are oftentimes encouraged as being the norm, Maidens of the North aimed to channel their energies in the opposite direction and nurture each other's talents. Maidens of the North would be about positivity: building up, not breaking down.

With such a unique concept, word spread quickly about the band, and they received an outpouring of support when they launched a crowdfunding campaign for their upcoming album and video. Without ever hearing a note of their music, fans around the world took them on faith and picked up on their good vibes of loyalty and encouragement. Maidens of the North were already living proof that we get back the energy that we put out into the world, and they received that positive enthusiasm back in abundance.

By the time the band announced the name of their first single and video, “Carry Your Darkness”, the fanbase had been whipped into such a frenzy that anticipation was at a fevered pitch. Everyone who had chosen to “enter the saga” with Maidens of the North were now excited to hear the end result of the long months of waiting.

The video starts off in a sterile, white museum, where there are artifacts sealed behind glass cases. As the camera pans through the pristine hallways, we come to a room where some paintings kept beneath a white sheet fall to the ground. The shot zooms in closer, and the bright color portrait of the ancient Maidens of the North transport us into their world.

As this is the public's first introduction to Maidens of the North, we see each of their personalities come through; but as the song is called “Carry Your Darkness”, the video's concept shows each woman dealing with personal trauma, and how they find their own inner strength to pull through. One woman runs in fear from a chasing wolf. Another resists an angry mob looking to burn her at the stake. Yet another is caught in a storm. Each one is approached by a maiden dressed in black, the Maiden of Spirit, and as she touches each of them, they gain the power to confront their fears and “carry her darkness” so that what she fears cannot hurt her any longer.

As the Maiden of Spirit transforms each woman, they are empowered, and join her as she continues to seek out each Maiden, and gives them their newfound strength. The final Maiden, running away from a group of people chasing her, clings to an old book. As she falls to the ground, she opens the pages, and a big flash appears, causing the crowd to faint dead in their tracks, leaving only the woman who has transformed into the Spirit Maiden, who also had her own darkness to carry.

“As the sun rises, we are still here”: this line is delivered as we see the Maidens stand together hand in hand, showing their unity. The story's moral is plain to see, and it is such a positive message: everyone goes through tough times, but we don't have to suffer alone. We are so much stronger when we stand together and lift each other's spirits. Sometimes we find the best part of ourselves when we allow others to help us.

For more information on Maidens of the North, visit their official website.