Monday, August 21, 2017

Leather Leone: Kicking Ass, Bleeding Metal, and Taking no Prisoners


*Article originally posted at the Female-Fronted Power Facebook page.


“There’s this quote in the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, towards the end, where Diane Lane says: “stick with it, it can happen for you, even later in life”. I’m 58 years old, I’ve never sounded better, I’ve never felt better. Give me a fucking microphone, let me show you what it’s like, I’ll blow ’em away. That’s how I feel right now.”

It is exactly this confidence and straightforwardness that has defined Leather Leone, ‘The Voice of the Cult’, the vocalist of Chastain. Seen as a trailblazer by many in her scene, Leather is much more matter-of-fact about her status as one of the founders of female-fronted metal. “I’m just so sick of the gender thing!” she says. “It’s OK that someone can look up to me, but it’s a weird thing. I was talking about this with Doro, and we got a laugh out of it…how people have thought that we sat around and planned this thing, because at the time there were only about 5 of us…but it wasn’t that way. It’s bizarre to me, this whole ‘godmother of a genre’ thing…I guess I get it, I’m really very proud, but I just want this gender thing to be over! Back when I toured in the ’80s, I used to put a cucumber in my spandex to make it look like I had a dick…I don’t know why I did it!” This humorous approach sums up Leather Leone perfectly. She’s all about doing her own thing, not conforming to whatever standards that others say that someone of her gender, occupation, or age is supposed to live by.




Along with Doro Pesch, Ann Boleyn and a handful of other bad-ass women, Leather Leone was one of a few who got out there when metal was predominantly a man’s game, and took those first steps towards breaking down the gender barrier within the genre, whether any of them give themselves as much credit or not. “Back in the ’80s, the chicks were everywhere,” Leather says, giving us a look into the metal scene of yesteryear that sometimes tends to be forgotten in the nostalgia of it all. “Nobody noticed it, but I did. They were everywhere, whether they were bass players, backup singers. I was like, ‘keep going, keep going’. They’ve always been there.”

It doesn’t look as good on paper to say that it was always abundant with women, since it seems the mainstream still treats women in metal as a novelty; but as someone who has paid her dues and has come up through the ranks without attaining a certain level of superstardom, Leather has a unique vantage point that the rock journalists and documentary film-makers do not necessarily have. Because of this, she can take an ‘outside looking in’ perspective towards her status as a metal goddess, and sees herself much more pragmatically than her male counterparts who have let rock star ego over-romanticize their memories. “It’s cool to see this happening…someone heard me the way I heard Dio back in the day…A couple years ago, I went to see Kobra and the Lotus; Kobra couldn’t have been more than 23 at the time, but she was flipping out over meeting me. I met Vicky from The Agonist, Marta from Crystal Viper, Lzzy Hale has said how much she respected me… and I’m just like, ‘you must be 20 years old, how do you even know who I am?’…Their respect of my music just blows me away, it is really fuckin’ cool. I never really became this huge name, never made a living off of music, so I never thought much about what people think of me. I think it’s beautiful that music expands ages and genres.”




After over 30 years in the business, Leather is as busy as ever; doing interviews not only to promote the latest Chastain release, We Bleed Metal 2017, which features alternate guitar parts and vocal tracks from We Bleed Metal recording sessions. “David likes to work in the studio and laid down different guitar tracks; he knows I love really heavy music, but it’s basically just different guitar riffs that he felt like doing. He used some different vocal lines; there were hundreds…just basically guitar variations; no new songs. He changed the titles of some, but nothing different. I’m like many artists; when I do it, it’s done. If he wants to do something different, it’s cool, but it’s kinda bizarre to me because I’ve already moved on [to the next project]. I appreciate what he did [with the record]. It was all his direction, with my approval.”

“You’ve got, like hundreds of vocal tracks, [and] guitar tracks”, Leather explains as to the direction of We Bleed Metal 2017, and the differences between this and the original album, which was released last year. Technically, there aren’t many huge differences, except for the wizardry of David T. Chastain, and his ability to craft new guitar parts around the songs, giving them a fresh sound. It is basically the ‘alternate version’ to the original We Bleed Metal, which is a must for anyone who is either a completionist-type collector, or anyone who (like myself) loves to hear different versions of songs, and the way an artist’s imagination can take these songs to different levels while still maintaining the identity of the original piece. The musicianship is always stellar; Leather’s vocals are on-point, and Chastain’s guitar work is intricate yet heavy at the same time. If you loved the original We Bleed Metal, then this is sure to please as well.




Although we were supposed to be talking about We Bleed Metal 17, Leather and I never stay on the beaten path of conversation whenever we get together, so that just wasn’t gonna happen! (Leather is not only one of my favorite people to interview, but one of my favorite people, period!) Discussion quickly turned to her solo project, of which she speaks with such enthusiasm that it’s contagious. “The record is done; it’s gonna be called Leather II. I am pacing, I am so fucking excited. I have finally found the boys who want to do what I want to do. I’m hungry. I’m ready. What I like to do, and what my voice sounds good doing, I have to be realistic about it. I’m into so much heavier music than what I [actually] do; I’m a huge death metal [fan]… I like moody, gloomy, Sabbathy stuff; but my promoter Rodrigo said to me, ‘people don’t want to hear that from you, they want to hear straight-up metal!’ I got really tired of the layered vocals and the harmonies…I just wanted to do basic, old AC/DC-type stuff, the record that I’ve done is just a record with no harmonies, old-school metal. The boys in my band are very young, and they’re from a different country, so they’re into Kiss, they’re into Ratt, they’re into Whitesnake…into all that old, basic stuff. It’s just straight-ahead metal, which I have never done, so it will be interesting how people take to it.”

But for Leather, this is more than just another record, this is her chance to take advantage of the opportunities that her return to music has afforded her. “I’m going for it…I’m pushing it to the limit. I’ve been home for a few months, my suitcase is still unpacked. I’m ready. I don’t care if I lose my house, my car…I’m gone! The Leather Leone goal before I hit the dirt…I want to play Wacken, I want to play Wacken, I want to play motherfuckin’ Wacken!!! Maybe these opportunities were always there, maybe it’s timing, so now it’s interesting to me that people are showing interest in me. It’s awesome.”




With a new band comes new experiences: Leather is a humble soul, and though she says that she knows her own limitations, those who believe in her know otherwise and she is grateful to be surrounded by supportive, creative people who only want to get the best out of her. “Let me tell you, motherfucker…my guitar player and co-writer Vinnie Tex was in a death-metal band called Unearthly. He built up a relationship with some producers in Poland who worked with Vader, Behemoth…they liked him so much, they were like, ‘let’s bring Leather in!’ They were the only producers who ever said into my earphones, ‘can you sing this dirtier?’ I never heard anything more beautiful!”

Perhaps even more beautiful than that is Leather’s love for her Brazilian bandmates, who she spoke highly of many times throughout the interview. The camaraderie between them is undeniable. “Finally, finally, finally! I met them, I fell in love with them. I finally have boys that reach out to me every day and say, ‘get me the fuck out of here; I wanna get on the road!’ It’s the blood of the fucking youth; these guys are from 25-36, they just want to play music…we write [music together] on Skype, I fly down to Brazil…I’ve been looking for these guys forever and finally found them in my 50s. These guys believe in me, they love me, they just want to move forward with me.”




At the heart of it all, music is a competitive sport. The music business can be ruthless sometimes, especially for women, when we are held up to different standards that men can almost get away with; especially for older women in a society where youth is revered, our success is measured by some arbitrary expiration date, and women are constantly pitted against each other in some invisible contest that continues to play into the sexism that still runs rampant in the business. “Ronnie [James Dio] said it before he passed, that the U.S. has become the land of American Idol. But that’s only in America; it’s not anywhere else”, says Leather. “In our genre of music, I don’t have to look like Britney Spears, but I get so pissed off with these ‘[sexy] women of metal’ lists…I’m not bitching and moaning and I don’t mean to be rude when people include me in these lists, but it’s like, who the fuck cares? What, are we not supposed to love and respect each other? I do see this cattiness in the business; someone asked me about one of these other female singers, and it’s like, of course I’m happy for her! She’s my friend! Seems like it’s more encouraging for us to hate each other. It’s really brutal.”

Americans hear it all the time, about how their metal scene differs from other places in the world: how the Europeans are more open-minded, the South Americans are more fanatical, and the Asians are more reserved but no less passionate. These cultural differences are not limited only to music, of course; music is just one factor of the many ways America differs from the rest of the world and it does play a hand into how we perceive art and artists. “[Youth culture] is an American thing…”, Leather agrees, when the discussion turns to this subject. “I know when you’re in your 20s, being my age is a scary thing. It’s not about how old you are…I see these young girls stressing out, ‘oh my God, I’m not getting anywhere’…you’re 27 years old, relax!”




For the youth-obsessed United States, musicians have a short shelf life and the term ‘has-been’ is thrown around far too often. In other countries, where age is seen as a sign of wisdom, a seasoned artist like Leather is given her rightful praise not just as an artist, but as a woman. “Here I am in Brazil, I’m in my mid-50s, and I get hit on by 20-year-old boys. Nothing is an issue to them…my laugh lines, my age, size…nothing. It’s all about who you are. I would be blown away every day by the response I would get from these guys…I’m old enough to be their mother! They just wanted to hear me sing; they don’t care what I look like…it was such an eye-opener.”

At this phase in her life, Leather celebrates her years of experience and the knowledge that comes with age. Starting a new chapter in her musical career, she has all the enthusiasm as anyone just starting out, coupled with that self-awareness that can only come with a lifetime of expertise. “That’s the beauty of getting older: knowing who you are. Let me tell you how much better it gets, as a woman...it gets so much better! I thought my 40s were great…but my fuckin’ 50s are awesome! You know what you want, you can ask for it…God, it’s beautiful. It’s this pride that I hold, [this sort of] ‘fuck you’! You open your mouth, you do what you do and nobody can touch you. I just played a rock festival and all these young bands…I went on that fuckin’ stage and blew them away. It’s that belief in yourself. I just want to show people that I’m in my fuckin’ 50s, and it’s OK. I’m the hottest and the best I’ve ever been. Do I have to work a little harder at it? Yeah, but no biggie. I think I was so blessed to be at a cult level [status], that I can’t really fail, right?”




Leather has never been one to play into the whole ‘female metal’ thing, but she does not deny that with age comes wisdom, but also greater incentives to work harder. “Singing, for me, has never been easy”, she admits, “I have to be in shape; it kicked my ass when I was 20 and it kicks my ass now. I really have to work for it. I need to sleep, I need to run, I need to drink water…I think I just worry about it too much. I’ve been gone for a long time, I’m really excited, we have shows planned for December, so…I’m just so excited. I’ve been home for two months; I’ve been going crazy. I don’t want to be home; I wanna be living out of a suitcase, I wanna be playing shows, doing meet-and-greets ’til 3 in the morning, catching a plane by 5…I’m so blessed to even have these opportunities. My fans think I’m so exciting because I do these shows and hang out with these famous people”, Leather says with a laugh, “[but] the rest of the time, I work in an animal hospital, I run, I do Pilates, I come home and sing for 2 hours a night, and then I go to sleep. That’s my life. There’s nothing exciting.”

But Leather’s life is about to get a whole lot more exciting. “The new record will be mixed by the end of September; we’re just really excited. We’ll be out in Europe again by the end of the year; my band is ready to go. I’m just totally stoked. And remember: Wacken!”

For more information on Leather Leone, visit her official Facebook page.




Special thanks to Henk van Nieuwenhoven at Female-Fronted Power.

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Friday, August 18, 2017

Femme-Metal Friday: MindMaze “One More Moment”

Band photo

A couple months back, I wrote about the Pennsylvanian band MindMaze, who are one of my favorites among the female-fronted bands from the U.S. Their enthralling mix of progressive and power metal combined with melodic hard rock makes it impossible to categorize this band into a neat little box. There is enough musical influence of certain genres to recognize it when you hear them, but never so much that you can instantly slap a label on it and define the music as being that particular thing. For many fans, this is the appeal of MindMaze, and what sets them apart from their contemporaries in the scene. For many fans of female-fronted metal who have grown tired of the countless symphonic-based bands, MindMaze is a breath of fresh air with a musical approach that is less classical music and more classic rock.

The year 2017 has been a productive year for the band: their third album, Resolve, was released; they embarked on a tour with Arkona and Sirenia, which brought them to their West Coast fans for the first time. Now they are about to launch a new Kickstarter project for an EP slated for release sometime next year. So I thought this would be a perfect time to review the band's lyric video for “One More Moment”, which was released a few months back.

MindMaze has some really beautiful ballads, and this song is absolutely stunning. The lyric video shows glimpses of the band playing piano, guitar, or drums, with some footage of Sarah singing the words that we see onscreen. There is also some graphic art of a face in profile, and what appears to be a withered tree in flames. I also like the way the graphics of the flames surround Jeff's guitar during its solo, making it look like his awesome guitar-playing causes flames to appear!

For more information on MindMaze, or to learn more about their Kickstarter, visit their official website.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Moon Haven “Veil of Grey”

Band photo

Throughout my musical visits for this feature over the last year, I have reviewed bands from many different regions of the U.S.—the Pacific Northwest, the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area, upstate New York, my home base of Southern California—yet I have not had the chance to review many bands from the Southwest area. With the exception of Insatia, which can partly claim Tucson as its home, I can't recall the last time I have reviewed a band from the Southwestern U.S.

Speaking of Insatia, it was through them that I discovered Moon Haven, a band from Phoenix that I am reviewing today. I always like the way that local bands look out for each other and foster a community of friendship and goodwill, and seldom (if ever) compete with each other. It is that communal harmony that leads the way for outsiders like me to find more music, which I appreciate.

Another thing I like (which I've also mentioned before) is how each different region has a special stamp on their music that is unique only to their area; a certain quality that can be found no matter what genre of music the artist does. So it is that Arizona has their own style as well: a moody, brooding undertone that belies the bright colors and scorching heat.

In their video for “Veil of Grey”, Moon Haven captures this introspective vibe quite well, incorporating the sometimes barren, sometimes plentiful desert landscape. A split-screen is shown of a man walking down an open, lonely road: while the other side shows the bandmembers performing among the natural beauty of the Southwest: forests, hilltops, and sunlight. Musically, they remind me a lot of my friends Clark's Secret Identity: that same melodic, proggy, art-rock feel. These two bands should tour together!

For more information on Moon Haven, visit their official website.


Friday, August 11, 2017

Femme-Metal Friday: Anthology “Last Weep”

Photo credit: Radek Šich

If you are a regular visitor to this blog, then you will probably know that this will not be the first time I have reviewed a band from Slovakia. However, it will be the first time I am reviewing a Slovakian band who is not Signum Regis, so I am looking forward to hearing what other types of talent that this country has to offer.

This Friday, I am showcasing the Slovakian power/symphonic metal outfit Anthology, who has been in existence since 2008, but experienced problems with lineup changes until vocalist Raylyn Shayde entered the fold in 2013. The first album with their new vocalist quickly gained recognition, garnering them a loyal fanbase in Japan, which has been a difficult market for femme-metal to break through. For their latest album, Anthology wanted to expand their sound, and recruited British vocalist Connor Sanders to provide some brutal male guttural vocals. Angel's Revenge saw the light of day in late 2016, and their video for the single “Last Weep” was released a few months later.

The video starts off with the band playing onstage with some pyro. I really like Raylyn's voice; she sounds a lot like Epica's Simone Simons, except I actually enjoy Anthology's music, while I am not a fan of Epica. However, like Epica, I find the male vocals to be too harsh for the music; but this is just my own personal preference. Anyway, on to the video...

Thematically, the video's concept is very typical of a power metal video: there are swords, axes, and shields; there is a woman walking with candles down a dim corridor, while the band provides a lot of hair-whipping and fire. The music sounds like something off a soundtrack to Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, so it only stands to reason that the video would touch upon similar themes. Good stuff.

For more information on Anthology, visit the band's official website.


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Dream Spectrum “No Worries”

Band photo

Earlier this year, I did a feature on Dream Spectrum, an all-instrumental band from Buffalo, New York. Their virtuosity really impressed me, so when a new video came along, I looked forward to reviewing it here.

The band has a new album out, and “No Worries” is the first single. The song is exactly how you would expect a tune called “No Worries” to sound: it is bright, open, and uplifting. The look of the video is very much the same: the band is rocking outdoors on a sunny day with some old buildings in the background, and they are just jamming away! The Rush influence can really be heard on this track, but also a touch of Dream Theater, and the slow part towards the end reminds me a little of Yes. The video ends with an aerial shot of the city. I had never given much thought before to what a song about “no worries” would sound like before, but this feel-good tune definitely comes close!

For more information on Dream Spectrum, visit their official website.


Friday, August 4, 2017

Femme-Metal Friday: Master Sword “Sanctuary”

Band photo

For the second week of Femme-Metal Friday, I'm going back to one of my favorites: Master Sword, the Legend of Zelda tribute band from Baltimore. They did not start out as a female-fronted band—their debut EP, Epoch, featured an array of talented vocalists, both male and female—but that all changed once vocalist Lily Hoy became a permanent fixture to the lineup in April 2016. Since then, the band continues to build a diversified audience: whether it is performing at gaming or comic book conventions, playing gigs with other similar tribute bands (who would have guessed that there was an entire local scene just for “video game music tribute bands”?!), or securing a slot at Baltimore's premiere femme-metal festival, Flight of the Valkyries; Master Sword is appealing to every demographic out there.

While the band continues work on their full-length album, Shadow and Steel, Master Sword has given fans a little taste of what they can expect with their latest lyric video for the song “Sanctuary”. The song is based on the Sanctuary theme from the classic game A Link to the Past from the early ’90s.

While all Zelda fans have their favorites in the series, A Link to the Past is a beloved game in the Zelda community for much the same reason as the eponymous first game, or Ocarina of Time: it is one of those iconic games that for many fans, was the first Zelda game they ever learned to play, or the game that got them interested in the franchise. It is a game that is rife with nostalgia for an entire generation of gamers, so if you are going to pay homage to something so cherished, expectations will be high; and if it isn't done right, you face the wrath of many angry fans who don't take kindly to having their childhood memories “trampled on”, or “disrespected”. No pressure, right?

Just like the hero in the green tunic that wields the weapon that gives the band its name, Master Sword is up to the challenge. After all, they are fans, too. These games mean as much to them as they do everyone else, and they show nothing but the highest respect for the source material in everything they do. Even for a simple lyric video that for some bands is no more than text with a run-of-the-mill backdrop, Master Sword cuts no corners in making the audience feel as if they have just stepped inside of an adventurous quest.

From the moment those dark, ominous tones kick in, the dungeon theme is instantly recognizable, and I can almost see the scary enemies lurking in the corners and almost feel inclined to look over my shoulder! Imagery of ink drawings of Link on aged parchment paper, misty visions of ethereal Sages, dim torchlight down a dark corridor, and the shadowy silhouette of Ganon (the antagonist of the series, or one of his forms, anyway!), all complement the eerie tone of the song.

For more information on Master Sword, visit the band's official Facebook page.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Signum Regis “Unfold the Mystery”

Band photo

It's been a while since I last wrote about Slovakian power metal band Signum Regis, and they've had a new video out for a couple of months that I have been meaning to write about, so let's get to it!

Right off the bat, this video reminds me of Metallica's video for “The Unforgiven”: there is an old man standing by a wall, searching for something hidden on the other side. If I didn't know any better, I would even think it was the same old man! (Except that the one in the Metallica video was ancient 25 years ago, so I would be very surprised if he were even still alive anymore, much less still actively working in music videos!)

The only slight difference (besides this video being shot in color, and not black-and-white), there are little doors in the wall, rather than an old man carving through a wall to find a door, like in “The Unforgiven”. The similarities continue when a little boy on the other side of the wall is seen dragging a chair over to the shelves lined with books and papers. Meanwhile, a younger man sorts through the papers, as they turn to dust, and sand is seen pouring out all over his clothes. On one side of the wall, the young man angrily shoves the papers away, while on the other side, the old man sits quietly and writes. Each man is seen before a mirror: the younger one looking anguished at the passage of time, the old one looking regretful yet resigned; all as the young boy looks on, and the sand in an hourglass runs down.

At this point, the boy finds an odd trinket on the ground, which seems to have some connection to the things written on the papers tacked to the wall. (OK, can I just say that the shot here of the sand running from the old man's fingers is way too similar to “The Unforgiven” for it to be coincidental? Not that this a bad thing!) The video ends with each man on his respective side of the wall, growing increasingly frustrated as they try to learn what is on the other side. Perhaps it is a good metaphor for the way parents and children—or those of different generations in general—constantly try to understand each other, but never fully succeed.

For more information on Signum Regis, visit their official website.