Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Albums of the Year: 2014

2014: Year of the Horse, my Eastern astrological sign!

How time flies...another year comes to a close, while yet another is just upon the horizon. Seems like only moments ago that I was posting my favorite albums of 2013 and talking about all the possibilities that the upcoming year had to offer. 2014 was not without its big news stories, its celebrity scandals, or its ridiculous trends; but most certainly it was not without new music. Whatever genre you are into, 2014 had something to offer for everyone. As I wrote in last year's Albums of the Year entry, I am one to mark each year gone by in terms of the music that I listened to over the past 12 months; and for me, 2014 proved to be just as abundant as 2013 had been. Case in point: last year I had 22 albums on my list, and it appears that I once again have the same amount this year! This was completely unintended, I assure you; although 2014 was no slouch in the music department, not everything I listened to made this list and there are still other releases that I haven't gotten to just yet. Several of my favorite bands put out new releases this year, and I discovered some new gems along the way as well. So while other sites or blogs are rushing to put together the fashions or pop culture that defined 2014 to them, I am content to put on all the good music that came out over the past 52 weeks, and turn it up!

Winter 2014 (January-March)

Within Temptation: Hydra

The Dutch symphonic/gothic metal legends return with their 6th full-length studio album; and for some fans, a drastic change in sound to a more pop/rock-oriented style, but no less lacking in symphonic elements and never straying too far from their metal roots. Named for the mythological two-headed dragon, Hydra features some impressive guest stars to duet alongside Sharon den Adel. The band tries their hand at merging symphonic metal with hip-hop on the song “And we Run”, featuring rapper Xzibit; which, upon first hearing about, I was not so sure would work, and I'm sure many other fans shared the same sentiment. However, WT has this uncanny knack for experimenting with styles and soundscapes that seem silly or gimmicky when other bands try it, but they come through it sounding better than ever. “And we Run” turned out not only to be pretty bad-ass, but also one of my favorite tracks on the album. Some other guest stars on Hydra include former Killswitch Engage frontman Howard Jones, '90s grunge-rock Soul Asylum vocalist Dave Pirner, and a duet that many fans (including myself) have been dreaming about for nearly 2 decades: a duet with original Nightwish vocalist Tarja Turunen on the track “Paradise (What About Us?)”, a merger between the two most iconic female voices on the symphonic metal scene. I had waited 12 years to hear these two sing together, and it was well worth the wait.

Beck: Morning Phase

Much as I love metal, I also enjoy many other types of music, and Beck has been one of my favorite artists for the past 20 years. The thing I love most about Beck is that his music reflects his own varied musical tastes. You literally cannot pin him down to one genre. For the most part, he has been labeled as “alternative”, but that just sells him so short and doesn't come remotely close to defining all he can do. Just when you think you've got him figured out, he turns around and gives you something completely new. He can go from alternative rock to techno to rap and then on to whatever other musical genre he cares to explore, and completely makes it his own. Each album is different than the one before, and Morning Phase is no exception. Although this album is considered a sonic follow-up to his 2002 album Sea Change, that is not to say that Morning Phase is a rehash or repeat of those sounds. This is one of those mellow, acoustic albums that you might want to listen to in a certain kind of headspace. This is not something to throw on as background noise, nor is it the upbeat, feel-good music that the more mainstream side of Beck is typically known for. In short, this is some serious shit. It's one of those albums to listen to when you've had a bad day and need a good, long cry. It's one of those albums to listen to when you've come home from a stress-filled work week and need to unwind. It's one of those albums that requires—and deserves—your undivided attention.

Macbeth: Neo-Gothic Propaganda

One of my favorite bands on the femme-metal scene, the gothic rockers from Milan return after a 7-year hiatus with an album that picks right back up where they left off with 2007's Superangelic Hate Bringers. Continuing their heavier, rock-based musical direction while still maintaining their dark gothic elements, Macbeth sounds better than ever with tracks like the first single, “Scent of Winter”, “The Archetype”, and “Last Night in Shanghai”. The band has declared this their best album to date, and while it's hard for anything to knock Vanitas off the top spot for my favorite Macbeth album, I'm inclined to agree that this is their most mature work. It's definite proof that the long absence has refined their sound, not taken away from it. Macbeth has found their stride, and they have finally reconciled the two halves of their musical history to make a perfect blend of gothic darkness coupled with modern rock bombast.

Lydia's Libido: Kiss the Frog

The Texas-based supergroup returns with their second album, and this time they have a new voice on the mic: Olivia Price, who brings a little more of that southern/country swagger to the music. The songs are still firmly based in their rock roots, only now a little grittier (such as on the band's first single, “All my Fault”), a little more playful (such as on the Monkees-inspired “I Can Hear You Knockin`”), and a little more soulful (like on the final track, the moving ballad “Material Lies”). Although there's a new gal up front, the music has not taken too much of a change in direction; Gary McGrath and Dean Minnerly are still penning some rockin' tunes that fulfill the promise of the first album, but with a little less naughty or cheeky and a lot more fun and lighthearted.

Von Smith: On to Something

Too often, we hear all about what's wrong with modern-day pop music: too much auto-tune, too much emphasis on selling artists as an image or a brand, and not enough focus on actual artistic talent. What happened to the good old days when pop music was not a curse word, and when people could actually write a catchy tune that also had substance? Isn't there anyone out there who is creating good pop music? The answer to this is yes, and his name is Von Smith. Bringing back the sounds of classic R&B, soul, and '50s doo-wop, coupled with the energetic spirit of Broadway musicals and the youthful energy of modern pop music; Von takes all these amazing sounds and spins them all together to create a fresh sound that is new and exciting yet also timeless and classic at the same time. From the opening track, “Carnival of Life”, Von's passionate vocals capture your attention and hold it there through all 6 songs of this EP. One stellar example of Von's ability to sound both old-school and modern at the same time is on my personal favorite track on the album, “Pilot Light”. If this song doesn't make you want to get up and do things with your life, you were probably already dead! This album's title says it all: Von Smith is “On to Something”, and it's something very good!

Spring 2014 (April-June)

Lacuna Coil: Broken Crown Halo

One of my top 3 favorite bands on the femme-metal scene, the darkwave goths from Milan return with their 7th full-length album. The dueling male-female vocals between Andrea Ferro and Cristina Scabbia continue to be a centerpiece to the music, and they still know how to rock it out as much as they ever did. This album is their “swan song” with longtime members Cristiano “Criz” Mozzati (drums) and Cristiano Migliore (guitars), but they went out on a high note with an album chock-full of the high-energy, headbang-inducing, straight-up rock that Lacuna Coil has done so well for nearly 2 decades. From the upbeat opening track “Nothing Stands in Our Way”, to the closing track that heralds a return to the band's gothic roots, “One Cold Day”; Lacuna Coil continues to pack a heavy punch. You can say whatever you like about the direction their music has taken since their early days, but there's no denying that Cristina is still one of the most powerful female voices on the metal scene today, and the band still sounds tighter than ever and shows no signs of wear and tear.

Tuomas Holopainen: The Life and Times of Scrooge

At this point in the game, whether you are a fan of Nightwish or not, it pretty much goes without saying that Tuomas Holopainen has emerged as one of the premier songwriters on the metal scene. So when it was announced that he was writing a solo album, that wasn't the surprising part. What might have come as a surprise to many was that the project was to be a concept album based on...Scrooge McDuck?! Perhaps to longtime Nightwish fans who are aware of Tuomas' love of Disney, this wasn't too much a stretch of the imagination; but even among the most hardcore fans, there was some curiosity as to how Tuomas would pull this off. After all, not a lot of metal artists go around writing concept albums based on minor Disney characters (or major ones, for that matter!). But listeners need not fear, because Tuomas is and always has been a mastermind when executing his creative plans. The album was every bit the grand, sweeping soundtrack that you've come to expect from his music; only now the metal elements are completely stripped away, and it's only Tuomas' songwriting coupled with the orchestra of Pip Williams, and it's absolutely stunning. The music takes you on a journey from the moment Troy Donockley's Uilleann pipes open up the first song, “Glasgow 1877”. For a predominantly instrumental album, Tuomas manages to unfurl a vision before your eyes through the music he writes. Through the emotion of the music, you follow Scrooge through turbulent storms, barren deserts, and freezing mountains in search of his never-ending quest for gold. Along with guest vocalists Tony Kakko of Sonata Arctica, and Finnish singer Johanna Kurkela, they fill in the finer details of Scrooge's story. With each song, we enter a new adventure with Scrooge, to where by the time we reach the final track, “Go Slowly Now, Sands of Time”, we feel the same reluctance as Scrooge to end the “lifetime of adventure”, and the journey he has taken us on throughout the last 10 songs. If anyone had any doubts as to whether Tuomas Holopainen could make an epic soundtrack to the Don Rosa comics, that skepticism will be completely obliterated by the time this masterpiece came to a close. I don't think I need to emphasize that this was my favorite album of 2014.

Delain: The Human Contradiction

With guest musicians ranging from Marco Hietala from Nightwish and Alissa White-Gluz from Arch Enemy, the Dutch symphonic metal brainchild of Martijn Westerholt returns even heavier than before. Frontwoman Charlotte Wessels complements this heaviness with her thoughtful lyrics that encourage the listener to challenge and question societal norms; such as on the tracks “Your Body is a Battleground” and “Army of Dolls”, both of which provide different angles of the age-old issue of physical perfection, what is considered beauty in our society, and the lengths that some will go to in order to obtain it. Delain has garnered a reputation over the last couple of albums as being a band in their genre that has a message and encourages their audience to embrace their differences. They're taking it a step further this time and continuing on that theme with this album, and it's a winner.

Brother Firetribe: Diamond in the Firepit

The third album from the Finnish rock band featuring Nightwish guitarist Emppu Vuorinen, Brother Firetribe is a fun throwback to classic '80s AOR: the tunes are catchy and upbeat, the songs are anthems for raising your fist in the air and headbanging your perfect Aqua-Net mullet off. Tracks like “Far Away From Love” are reminiscent of bands like Survivor, the first single “For Better or for Worse”sounds like it could have been a radio hit back in the heyday of MTV, and the band's cover of Sammy Hagar's “Winner Takes it All” is the crowning jewel of Diamond in the Firepit. Then again, I am probably biased, considering that I am a Sammy Hagar fan, and the song is from one of my favorite '80s movies (Over the Top, with Sylvester Stallone, one of my favorite action-movie stars). So if you are a fan of feel-good, sing-along, straight-up rock music, Brother Firetribe is not only keeping the sound alive, but they're waving that flag with all the flair you'd expect from any of those bands from back in the day.

Timo Tolkki's Avalon: Angels of the Apocalypse

The second installment of Timo Tolkki's three-part metal rock-opera, Angels of the Apocalypse takes us back to the post-apocalyptic world of his previous album, The Land of New Hope. Because the story is being told in reverse (with the first album being the third part of the story), this part of the story further explains certain incidents only touched on in the previous album. While Elize Ryd makes a return for vocal duty, she is joined by some other notable names on the metal scene, such as Simone Simons from Epica, Fabio Lione from Rhapsody of Fire, and Floor Jansen from Nightwish. As the story unfolds in song, it only makes the listener anxious to hear the final installment, due for release next year; so that the beginning of the story can finally be told.

Severnica: Long Lost Longing

Finland has become a breeding ground for all types of metal music, but symphonic metal has been the country's particular specialty; so when yet another female-fronted Finnish band with symphonic influences hits the scene, they almost become lost in the mix because what more could the region possibly have to give that hasn't already been heard by their more famous counterparts? Named for the Finnish translation of “north star”, Severnica seamlessly blends gothic, classical, and symphonic; topped with the contrasting voices of Maarit Nieminen's crystal-clear siren call, and the gruff growls of guitarist/vocalist Tuomo Schwela. Whereas other bands in their genre are either more guitar-driven or rely more on incorporating an orchestra or string sections, Severnica's music is centered on the keyboards and piano work of Teemu Yolmunen. This 4-song EP is just a hint of what this band is capable of, and with any luck, Severnica will be at the helm of Finland's new era of female-fronted symphonic metal talent.

Motion Device: Welcome to the Rock Revolution

For those of us old fogeys who grew up with the '80s metal or who remember a time when rock music ruled the airwaves, sometimes we tend to lump all of the younger generation together as being completely clueless when it comes to knowing what good music is all about, or brushing off anyone under the age of 25 as being incapable of producing quality hard rock music. So when a band like Canada's Motion Device comes along, you're not only blown away by their sheer musicality, but it's hard to believe that the band consists mostly of teenagers still in high school, and that their singer is the ripe old age of 12! Raised on the sounds of bands like Dio, Judas Priest, and Rush (just to name a few); Motion Device is the next generation of rockers who are making the future of heavy metal right now! This 5-song EP is chock-full of kick-ass heavy tunes, proving that this band of young prodigies is the real deal. Just check out their videos for “A Piece of Rock & Roll” or “Drama Queen” and hear for yourself how these talented youths can easily hold their own among any of their contemporaries twice their age.

Summer 2014 (July-September)

Judas Priest: Redeemer of Souls

The Metal Gods return with their first album in over half a decade; their first with new guitarist Ritchie Faulkner, and they sound as good as they ever have. Sometimes it's hard to believe that these guys have been doing this for 40 years! Rob Halford sounds as vibrant and powerful as he did in the band's heyday. Filling the shoes of the legendary K.K. Downing is no easy feat, but Ritchie shows he's up to the task; as a lifelong fan, his contributions to the music are indicative that he knows the Priest sound and knows what the fans want to hear. After over 4 decades in the business, Priest shows they can not only go toe-to-toe with any of the younger bands out there, but can also leave them completely in the dust.

Porphyra: Faith, Struggle, Victory

Rising from the ashes of his former band Phoenix Reign, guitarist Billy Chrissochos enlists the talents of vocal powerhouse Chandler Mogel, and Porphyra is born. Combining the bombast of power metal, the catchy hooks of pop, the complexity of progressive rock, and the gritty edge of hard rock, Porphyra takes all their musical influences and weaves them around lyrical themes based in Greek history and science fiction. Tracks like the band's first single “Shine” or the opening track “Dreamkiller” are just some examples of why Chandler is one of the most promising new vocalists on the metal scene today. The band is currently working on bringing the theatrics of their music to life with a stage show, which is just the kind of setting that does this music justice. If you are a metalhead who loves epic tales coupled with larger-than-life imagery and heavy-hitting tunes, then Porphyra is your new favorite band.

A Sound of Thunder: The Lesser Key of Solomon

The most prolific band on the metal scene today, A Sound of Thunder releases their 5th album since first forming in 2009. Most bands are barely churning out their debut album after 5 years together, but A Sound of Thunder is already working on album #6 and an EP of cover songs! Unlike many other bands out there who consistently release albums in a short length of time, they have not become stale or predictable. In fact, it is quite the opposite; each new album is better than the one before, evolving at such a speed that you can only watch in awe as they continue to top themselves. Whether it's heavy-hitting tunes that go for the jugular like “Udoroth” or “Master of Pain”; lyrical storytelling on the tracks “Elijah” or “Blood From the Mummy's Tomb”; or gems that showcase the band's diversity such as “The Boy Who Could Fly”, The Lesser Key of Solomon runs the gamut of all the band has to offer, still with the promise of even more to give. I've made it no secret that A Sound of Thunder is one of my favorite new bands out there right now, and The Lesser Key of Solomon is just further evidence as to why I feel this band is on the verge of something huge. After finally getting my chance to see them perform live in November of this year, it's clear to see that it won't be long before they are able to play their big sound at a venue large enough to handle it.

Aries: Rise

Another band from the Baltimore/D.C. area that is making waves, Aries keeps alive all the components that made '80s hard rock awesome: soaring vocals, guitar solos, and anthemic songs. Between the blistering guitars of Sean Rhodes and the insanely powerful voice of Rob Bradley, Aries lives up to their astrological namesake by being an aggressive, straight-forward, fire-powered beast of metal bad-assery. If you can listen to songs like “The Road (One Way)”, “Beware the Gun”, or “Dogs of War” without wanting to crank up the volume full blast and unleash your inner air guitarist, then you might as well turn in your metalhead badge. Not even 4 months after the release of Rise, the band is already working on their next album, which promises to be even bigger and heavier; and while that seems a tall order to fill, I don't doubt that Aries will “rise” to the occasion!

Soulbender: Soulbender II

A perfect way to tide over Queensrÿche fans until the band returns with a new album slated for release in 2015, this side-project of Rÿche guitarist Michael Wilton showcases a different side of his musical talent. Jamming with some other local talent on the Seattle/Vancouver scene, Soulbender's bluesy, down-and-dirty style is more reminiscent of bands like Alice in Chains than of Queensrÿche's majestically skillful sound. The group's singer, Nick Pollock, sounds a great deal like Layne Staley, or like Godsmack's Sully Erna (in fact, according to the band's Wikipedia, Nick used to be a member of an early incarnation of Alice in Chains, so this probably explains his vocal similarity to Layne) . Although this album is basically a re-release of their 2010 debut album with 4 extra tracks added on, this still gets a mention on this list simply because I had not checked out Soulbender before and everything on this album sounded new to me. If you are a fan of '90s grunge or good, no-frills guitar rock and vocals that are a little rough around the edges, Soulbender is definitely worth checking out.

Fall 2014 (October-December)

Heliosaga: Towers in the Distance

While Europe has had the monopoly on symphonic metal since the genre exploded over the past decade and a half, America is starting to make a mark on the scene, and Minnesota's Heliosaga is one of the bands out there that is doing symphonic metal just as well as any of their European counterparts. Operatic vocals and progressive metal music come together to forge awesome songs like “To Heal All Wounds”, “A Tower so Tall”, and “Hideaway”. While the symphonic metal scene has yet to break big in America the way it has in Europe, Heliosaga has great potential to be one of the flagship bands on the growing scene in the United States.

Kingfisher Sky: Arms of Morpheus

Four years since their last album, the Dutch progressive/goth 7-piece is back with their ethereal, Celtic-inspired, mellow sound. While not a band who takes huge leaps and strides musically, they have established a trademark sound and are fantastic at giving the listeners what they want. From the aptly-titled opening track “Hypnos” to the first single “King of Thieves”, all the way to the final track “Maddy”; Judith's voice casts a spell and the band's music covers you in a warm blanket of melodic peace.

MindMaze: Back From the Edge

The Pennsylvania prog/power-metal band led by brother-and-sister team Jeff and Sarah Teets releases their sophomore effort, and it's further testament that the United States is not completely bereft of talented bands; nor does our metal music scene lack in bands who want to be both melodic and heavy. Good music is always out there if you are willing to look for it! Enlisting the help of some heavy-hitters on the power metal scene such as keyboard god Jens Johansson, MindMaze is not only making an impression here in the States, but across the pond to the biggest acts in the genre; probably because they can hold their own with any established power metal act out there. Sarah is not your typical operatic vocalist, nor is she a harsh or aggressive rock voice. Somewhere between the two, her voice is both melodic and powerful. With heavy tunes like “Dreamwalker” or epics like “The Machine Stops”, MindMaze is bringing female-fronted power metal to the American audiences, and it's about damn time!

Triosphere: The Heart of the Matter

It's not just in the U.S. that the game is being changed when it comes to female-fronted melodic metal; Norway's Triosphere is breaking some rules of their own and redefining what people have come to expect from a genre that has oftentimes been constrained by the very things that have made it so recognizable. First off, the band's vocalist Ida is not just a straight-up rock powerhouse, but she also plays bass! Combining the melodic sensibilities of rock vocalists like Ann Wilson and the wild aggression of metal goddesses like Leather Leone; Ida is giving a new voice to symphonic metal and Triosphere is shattering the glass ceiling in their genre.

Black Fate: Between Visions & Lies

If you are a fan of early Roy Khan-era Kamelot, then this band from Greece is just what you've been looking for! Combining the symphonic drama of Kamelot and the progressive intricacy of Dream Theater, Black Fate is a band to watch out for on the prog-metal scene. Tracks like the first single “Lines in the Sand” (not to be confused with the Dream Theater song of the same name), “Rhyme of a False Orchestra”, and “Without Saying a Word” are prime examples of Black Fate's ability to take the classic sounds of power and progressive and put their own mark on them. Although this band has been around since 1990, their discography has been rather limited, so here's to hoping that this is the start of more albums on the way!


So these were my favorite albums of the year. There were so many more out there that I wish I'd been able to hear before the year was up, and still more that I probably don't even know about! But these are the ones I enjoyed listening to throughout 2014. How about you? Did any of the albums listed here make your personal list? Got any to suggest that didn't make it on this list? I always like hearing from you, so feel free to leave your comments here and tell me what you're looking forward to in 2015!

Happy New Year!!!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Album review—Aries: Rise (2014)

Album: Rise
Artist: Aries
Year: 2014
Genre: Metal
Total tracks: 12
Rating: 10 of 10

Traditional metal is making a comeback in the U.S., and it appears that Washington, D.C. is a hotbed of up-and-coming talent that is taking the genre back to its roots. D.C.-based outlet Aries is among one of these bands; their second album, Rise, paying tribute to the straight-up hard rock sounds of the '80s metal that wasn't drowned out in hairspray. But before you dismiss them as a throwback, this heavy quartet is bringing enough to the table to separate them from any copycat band catering to '80s nostalgia. The bands of nowadays have this uncanny knack of taking the traditional metal sounds and bringing them into the modern day without making themselves sound dated, gimmicky, or contrived. Aries is no exception.

“Rise”: Lives up to its name; starts off slow but builds up and has an anthemic feel; that sort of “raise your fists” quality to it. Once the music gets going, it really takes off! The lyrics match the emotion of the song: “stand tall, stand proud...I'll stand my ground, my time is's time to rise!”. Between Sean Rhodes' speedy yet melodic guitar playing, and Rob Bradley's aggressive vocals coupled with out-of-this-world high notes, this is a fitting kick-off to the album and leaves the listener anticipating what is to come.

“Beware the Gun”: Some crunchy guitar riffs start off this track, along with some quick-paced drumming from Andy Ham and some more killer vocals. The guitars on this song move so fast I have to wonder if Sean's fingers are going to fall off! This is a tune that is great for headbanging along to, and will probably start a mosh pit at live shows.

“The Road (One Way)”: This track was one of my favorites upon hearing some of the first few tracks, and it still stands out. It's a catchy tune that would make a great radio single or work perfectly for a video. The guitars and vocals both soar and complement each other nicely, while the drums shuffle between the two to keep everything nice and balanced. It's got all the great components of a classic metal song: catchy hooks, glass-shattering vocals, and a ripping guitar solos. What more do you need?

“When the World Needs a Hero”: Another song that was released to the listening public before the album's release, this is also a killer track, but in the opposite direction: the quintessential “metal ballad”, but it isn't a cheesy love song or clichéd “message song”. A song that shows that Aries can be just as bad-ass when they are winding down as when they are going at full-throttle heaviness.

“Mask of Sorrows”: This song also showcases the mellow side of Aries, with some lovely acoustic guitars (with a touch of flamenco-inspired playing), tambourines, and a foot-tapping beat that reminds the listener of early Guns 'n' Roses ballads like “Patience” (to give an example). This song also has a good sing-along chorus that could get the crowd clapping along at live gigs.

“Wasting Dreams”: An awesome tune that starts off with melodic guitar harmony; this song is a sort of ballad too, but more mid-tempo than the other two songs. The guitars pick up and get heavier towards the middle of the song, giving way to a killer solo. You can really feel the emotion in Rob's vocal delivery on this track.

“Silence”: A mid-tempo tune that starts picking up right as you start to think this is going to be another ballad. This song is less reminiscent of the classic '80s metal as it is of the more melodic '90s rock, which is a cool thing in itself. “Living in lies, loving in silence”; I love that line.

“Dogs of War”: This was my favorite songs of the 3 tunes that were released early, and I have to say that it's still one of the top favorites for me. It just has all the components of a straight-up metal tune that I love: the fierce guitar playing, the pounding drums, and the take-no-prisoners vocal approach. Can I use “balls-out” as a descriptive term for this song? Because that's what it is: it's in-your-face, unapologetic, and rocks your ass off. I don't know any other way to say it. “I'll take what is mine; I'm never satisfied”...I think that sums it up quite nicely!

“Trial by Fire”: Rob shows off his lower range here, which shines just as much as his upper registry. The song shifts from mid-tempo and mellow to dark and heavy almost unexpectedly, but the mind-bending guitar riffs remain consistent. This is another song I'd cite as a stand-out track.

“Cold”: This song charges through the gate as a heavy track; the thundering drums and ripping guitars leave no question of that, and then the vocals unleash themselves upon the listener to leave no doubt that this is going to be a rocker from beginning to end. This song would make a great opener at live shows so it can rouse the crowd into letting loose at the get-go.

“Angel of Mercy”: Another no-holds-barred assault on the senses, the riffing on this track is just insane! Sean is definitely channeling his inner Eddie Van Halen on this one. The music winds down a bit to bring the vocals in, but then they become just as aggressive as the rest of it. Where the previous song makes a great live show opener, I can easily imagine this song being as equally good for closing out shows. It's got the sing-along factor, it's heavy enough to headbang to, but also has its softer moments for winding down and readying the crowd for the end of the show.

“Cradle to the Grave”: A fitting album closer, the lilting acoustic guitars pick you up and carry you away...then the music thunders in to a dark, almost symphonic heaviness. This song clocks in at nearly 9 minutes, and it's an epic in every sense of the word. It definitely shows Aries' more progressive side while still keeping it firmly rooted in heavy metal. There are fast guitars, but they are melodic and virtuostic at the same time. Rob's vocals are at times almost operatic, while also channeling emotion in a way very similar to Tool's Maynard James Keenan. As a fan of epics and of symphonic metal, this song easily wins hands-down as being my favorite on the album.

Overall opinion: If you are one of those metal fans who are convinced that all the good music migrated to Europe and that Americans just don't do good old-fashioned metal anymore, you may want to give Aries a listen and reconsider your opinion. Their music hearkens back to so much of that amazing old-school sensibility. Sean Rhodes' guitar playing is like a perfect blend of Steve Vai, George Lynch, and Yngwie Malmsteen (to name a few), yet something entirely separate from them. Rob Bradley, as a vocalist, sounds like a cross between Rob Halford and Axl Rose; yet that description still doesn't do enough justice to how unique his voice sounds. So while Aries has a sound that is vaguely familiar to something you've heard before, it's also at the same time like nothing else out there. They have managed to take all those old influences, spin them together, and churn them back out in their own unique style, without compromising any of the elements that made those bands great, or compromising what makes Aries an entity of their own. If you're looking for some in-your-face metal that is not the guttural vocals that seems to dominate the American hard rock/metal scene these days, or if you're looking for bands that have the same musical sensibility as those bands from back in the day, look to the stars and you'll find that Aries is your sign!

For more information about Aries, visit their website or Facebook page.
To hear more music from Aries, visit their ReverbNation page or YouTube channel.
Special thanks to Rob Bradley and Aries.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Editorial: Queensrÿche's Promised Land, 20 Years Later

Promised Land album cover

I knew that when I decided to write this 20-year retrospective of Queensrÿche's album Promised Land, that it would be difficult (for reasons that will become apparent as you read on), but now in light of recent events surrounding Todd LaTorre and the loss of his father, it just makes this blog entry that much more difficult. A part of me wants to scrap it altogether. But the more I dwell on this and give it serious thought, the more I think this needs to be written; if only for my own personal reasons, to show what a healing quality music can have in dark times. Because that's why I chose to write this in the first place.

When I decided to do this, I struggled with how I would approach it, because writing this piece would require baring my soul and letting my readers in on a part of my life that I would prefer to keep private. At first, I thought about just keeping it on the surface and only intimating at the events in my life that made this album so personal to me. But now that this tragedy has happened, and Todd's personal life is on display for all to witness and to comment about, I feel that I must be completely honest and go through the painful exorcism of sharing things that I have kept mainly to myself for the better part of 20 years; things that only a handful of people who are close to me know about. There are going to be some people reading this who have known me for the majority of these last 2 decades and will learn things about me that they never knew. They are not sinister or devious things; they are just things that hurt too much to talk about all the time, so I just don't. I am not a person who wishes to feed on self-pity, and I do not care much to live in sadness. So a lot of these things I have put behind me are not because I am trying to deny them or pretend they never happened, but because I choose not to be a victim.

If ever a biography about my life could be described by music or condensed to one album, Promised Land is that album for me. In case you are not a Queensrÿche fan or are not familiar with this album or their material, to say this particular album can sum up my life is not necessarily a good thing; at least not as far as content goes. This is a dark album that speaks of heavy subjects; it's about a band who experienced the highs of success and found that the tragedies we all experience in childhood were not magically cured simply because they were now financially secure or sold award-winning albums (as we are all somehow led to believe). So you're probably wondering, how does this relate to me? Obviously I'm not a multi-millionaire or an award-winning recording artist, so how can their tales about the dark side of fame apply to my teenage life at the time?

Although this is not a concept album, there are several connecting themes throughout the album; the main one being about dealing with the emotional scars left over from childhood (and trying to cope with them as an adult). My upbringing was far from a happy one, so I could not only relate to the album's message, but it came along at a time when I most needed to hear it.

Let's go back to the year 1994, which was what I often refer to as the worst year of my life, if only for the fact that so many consecutively bad things occurred in such a short span of time. There have been greater tragedies in my life since then, and other time periods that were just as difficult; but never before or since have I experienced a solid calendar year where it seemed like one bad thing after another kept happening. When I look back on it (which isn't too often), I know how I survived all of these terrible things. It's something so simple, yet so profound. Music saved my life. More specifically, the album Promised Land saved my life. I am not saying this facetiously or to be over-dramatic. I am completely serious when I say it because it's true. When Promised Land came out, I had just turned 16 and as if the typical stress and strain that come with average teenage life wasn't enough, I was going through all these other problems that it seemed my friends or classmates were not experiencing and could not possibly understand. This album came into my life at a particularly low point when my home life and my school life sucked equally, and my already-unstable world was completely falling apart. This album literally saved my life during a time when I didn't think life was very much worth living.

What was so horrible that happened to me? I guess I will now have to tell my story.

Where do I start? On the very first day of 1994 when shortly after midnight on New Year's, I was almost sexually assaulted at a friend's house, by some bastard who tried to force himself on me? That might be a good place to start. Fortunately, he was not successful at his attempt; but the panic over what could have happened left me with a deep feeling of mistrust. Unfortunately, it's not the worst thing that would happen to me that year. If anything, that incident should have been a foreshadowing of how bad a year this would become. Even going through the Northridge earthquake a few weeks afterwards would be a piece of cake compared to what 1994 had in store for me!

When the year began, I was still 15 years old. Being a teenager is a difficult time for everyone, so it was no different for me. Couple that with being bullied every day for having physical disabilities, and my high school life was complete hell. I had a few friends, but I was far from being the popular kid in school, and I was certainly not the girl that had dates lining up at her door every Saturday night. Most of the time I was happy enough in my own company; if I ever wished to be popular, it was only so that the other kids would stop bullying me. For some reason I thought back then that being popular meant that everyone in school liked you, and therefore you never got teased or bullied. Oh, if only my teenage self could have met her current incarnation: what things I could have told her! (Something like those “It Gets Better” ads, only more metal?)

My home life was no better. I didn't live with my parents, because they had serious addiction problems, which kept them from being the most stable people to live with. I went to visit when I could because I had younger siblings that still lived with them, but they had a rocky marriage and their arguments could get quite heated. I am thankful that I had an aunt and uncle to live with, and they took care of me when my parents could not, and I had a cousin who was 3 years older than me and he looked out for me at school, making sure no one bothered me. I can't say it didn't please me to see some of my former bullies tremble in fear a little whenever my cousin walked with me down the halls. For a while, I felt safe and protected. The New Year's incident completely shattered that feeling. I started carrying a knife to school again, because there would come a day when my cousin left high school and I would still be there, with no one to watch my back. I carried it for protection, because I could not turn to my elders if another bully tried to trip me or jump me from behind. These were the days before anti-bullying campaigns; when teachers and school authorities looked the other way on such matters and felt that kids should handle those sorts of problems on their own. Where oftentimes the teachers would see kids being bullied and offer sage advice such as “get over it”, “no one likes a tattle-tale”, or “grow up”.

Meanwhile, in spite of all the ways my parents were not exactly fit to be parents to the kids they already had, they were about to have another one! A part of me was furious at the idea: I had to live with my aunt and uncle because they couldn't provide enough stability for me or my siblings, but here they were having another kid? What made them think this was a good idea? Well, obviously babies are seldom ever planned in advance; certainly not for people like my parents who probably thought that planning ahead for things was lame.

However, I think I knew the real reason my mom was willing to put herself through another high-risk pregnancy: my father constantly lamented the fact that all of his children were girls, and he didn't have “his son” yet. He made it more than clear that we were a constant disappointment because we were not born boys, and he was a selfish enough asshole to where he thought risking my mom's life so he could get the boy he wanted was a perfectly OK thing. The ends justify the means, right?

It goes without saying that music was what kept me sane through those years. While I certainly liked the grunge music that was popular in the '90s, my personal musical tastes were vastly different from the kids in my school. I loved rock and metal. One of my favorite bands was Queensrÿche, whom I had discovered just before I turned 12 years old. The years from 12 to 16 seem like an eternity to people that young, so in all that time I had not heard any new music from them or owned anything that had not already existed for years (with the exception of the “Real World” single, from The Last Action Hero soundtrack). This probably seemed very old hat to the kids in my school, considering that I was listening to a band that had not made any new music since we were all in junior high school (which, to teenagers, was a lifetime ago!), and probably gave them more reasons to pick on me. But I didn't care.

To me, they were the first band that felt like they were my own personal discovery. They were not a band I knew about from the music my parents listened to, nor were they one of the popular bands all the kids in school listened to. It was something that belonged just to me. Even though I had a friend in school who liked them too, I still felt like Queensrÿche was my special secret. Being that I was a kid that read a lot of books, had a vocabulary that far surpassed my grade level, and liked to write in my spare time; I felt their music was something I could relate to. It spoke of important issues and serious subjects, but never in a way that was beyond the grasp of the average listener. They wrote about things other than wanting to get laid or party every night; which at that point in my life, was most definitely something I could not relate to. Their music always felt like there was a whole world waiting, and they were inviting you to share it with them. An exciting world far beyond the borders of my broken home or my apathetic school. Their music took me far away from all of those things and reminded me that life wouldn't always be this way. Someday I would grow up and leave this place. Someday I could have the life I wanted.

But until then, I had to deal with my at-present situation. About a month or so into the New Year, my newest sibling was born, and he was the son my dad had always wanted and felt he deserved after getting 4 unwanted girls. Yet it wasn't without its share of difficulties: my mom nearly died, and my new baby brother was born prematurely with complications. Seeing as how I was born a preemie, my hardened heart began to soften towards my brother, even if I didn't show it right away. I was still angry at my parents for being so irresponsible as to bring another child into the world; especially now that it seemed he would struggle through life and would need extra care the way I did. Would they foist him on to my aunt and uncle when his needs became too much to handle, like it seemed they did to me?

I couldn't worry about it one way or the other, as I had to get back to my life at my aunt and uncle's house. I just had to hope that maybe this time, my parents could get their shit together and try harder for my brother's sake, and for the sake of my 3 sisters. I was only a couple years away from being an adult and out on my own. My siblings were still very young and needed my parents more than I did.

As spring of 1994 arrived and was well under way, I saw my brother a few times, whenever I could get enough time away to visit for a weekend. I was able to visit during spring break, which was the same week that Kurt Cobain died. Little did I know that death was about to hit much closer to home.

It was the last day of April, a Saturday. I chose not to visit my parents, but instead chose to go to the street fair with my aunt, who was constantly working and seldom had a day off, even on the weekends. It was a rare opportunity for us to spend time together doing something fun, and I could visit my parents anytime. I remember what a great day we had, and coming home to check the messages on our answering machine to see who called while we were away. We received several messages from various family members, urging my aunt to call immediately, but not saying why. As the tape reached the final message, one of my other aunts gave us the news that the other callers had been reluctant to leave on an answering machine: my brother had died earlier that morning. We would come to find out later that he had died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

I do not remember my initial reaction. I do not remember whether I screamed, cried, or stood silently in shock. All I could remember was wondering to myself: why? My brother was not yet 3 months old. How could he be dead? I knew that young people died just as much as older ones did, but it still made no sense to me. After everything my mom went through for my brother to be born, for all the years my father longed for a son, how could this have happened? I blamed myself, thinking that if I had not harbored so much anger towards them about having another baby, perhaps he wouldn't have died. Maybe I was being karmically punished for thinking such thoughts.

The days that followed were a nightmare. I went to my brother's wake, and the image of my mother sobbing as she clung to my brother's little white casket in refusal to let go...I knew that was an image that would haunt me for the rest of my life. I remember after that scene, I couldn't take it anymore. I fled to my aunt's car and stayed there, listening to my Queensrÿche tapes until it was time to leave. It was the only way I could cope. It was the only way I knew how to block out all the misery happening around me. I could turn the music up as loud as I wanted until I could no longer hear anyone crying, until I could not hear even my own dark thoughts, until I could not hear the silence from the absence of someone who should have been there. To this day, I do not recall seeing my father at my brother's wake, and we still had a funeral to get through.

I remember waking up on the day of my brother's funeral in early May, and asking the same questions in my mind over and over again. I somehow felt that this was a mistake. Why was he taken, and not me? He was the treasured son that had always been wanted. I was just a second-rate daughter, and a daughter born with disabilities, at that. I wasn't pretty or popular. I already had the stigma of being born a girl, and I had no redeeming qualities that made up for having been born a girl. If it had been me instead, my family could have carried on just fine. I didn't think they would suffer any loss if I was gone. I don't remember how it happened, but the next thing I knew I was sitting in the bathroom with a razor in my hand. I don't know what stopped me from going any further, but I didn't. Somehow I could not bring myself to do it. The pain I felt inside was still there, but there was something else there too, whether I recognized it or not: a will to live. In spite of everything, and even though I felt that life was about as shitty as it could get, I still wanted to live. Why, I didn't know. Maybe it was because I knew that as much as I wished it could be so, what I was thinking of doing would not bring my brother back. I could not trade his life for mine.

I ended up staying home that day and not going to the funeral. Going to the wake had been a traumatic enough experience, and no one begrudged me for choosing to remove myself from the situation. I wasn't the only one not in attendance. Neither was my father. Obviously, this was another harbinger of things to come.

In just a matter of weeks, my father moved out of the house and separated from my mom. By summertime he was already shacking up with another woman, leaving my mom to pick up the pieces. On the one hand, it was a separation that should have happened long ago because they made each other miserable, and it was probably all for the better that it finally happened. But it was the worst possible timing.

If I had been infuriated before by their collective irresponsibility, it was nothing compared to the seething rage I had towards my father. How dare he? I was not angry for his separating from my mom, because she deserved better. But how could he have the nerve to walk out on her and his family at our lowest point? For all the years she put up with his drinking, cheating, and verbal abuse, he was walking out on her? I guess he figured that she was of no use to him anymore; he wanted a son, now that son was dead, and my mom could not give him any more children, therefore what use could he possibly have for her now? All she gave him were a bunch of girls that he never wanted. I suppose as far as he was concerned, he had no use for any of us, so why stick around? Why stay with an old wife and her sub-par daughters, when he could find a new wife to give him all the sons he wanted? What a coward.

Far as I was concerned, I never wanted to see him again. He was dead to me. But this only built my wall higher, and made my trust issues far worse. I pushed away anyone who tried to be close to me. I sought further refuge in solitude, and the comfort of my books and music. I immersed myself in the world that Queensrÿche's music had opened up for me.

During the summer of '94, there was literally only one piece of good news: there would finally be a new Queensrÿche album. I would finally get to hear new music from them for the first time in my years as a fan. That doesn't seem like much in the grand scheme of things, but at that point it was like being thrown a life preserver as I drowned in sorrow.

One thing about living with my aunt and uncle was that they supported my love of music, even if they didn't understand it. When I became excited over the news over the Queensrÿche album-to-be, my aunt promised that no matter what, we would go to see them in concert when they came to town. It was the silver lining in my dark cloud of life. I had something to look forward to, however small it may have been. After the long months of sadness, I was relieved to know that I could still care about something, and that I could still smile.

The album was due a couple of weeks after my 16th birthday, and I still recall the excitement I felt when the local radio station played those 30-second snippets of the new music as a “teaser”. I recorded those sound clips and played them over and over! I remember staying right by the radio when the first single was played, a song called “I am I”. Personally, I loved the song and couldn't wait to hear more. I looked forward to the album's release date, October 18th, more than I did my own 16th birthday earlier that same month.

I will never forget that day. I remember my aunt writing me a note to excuse me from campus during the first break of the school day, so that my cousin could pick me up and drive me across the street to the mall so that I could be the first person in the store to buy the first copy. To this day I still think that is one of the coolest things anyone has done for me. I could have very easily gone to the mall after school to pick up my copy, or given my cousin the money to get it for me while I was at school; but my aunt knew how much this meant to me, and wanted me to have my copy as soon as the store opened, even if that meant leaving school grounds for a few minutes to get it. I asked my cousin to take my new CD home with him so I did not give in to temptation and try to listen to it at school (since portable musical devices were forbidden, and the last thing I wanted was to risk getting my new Queensrÿche album taken from me before I had the chance to hear it!). I was back on campus before the bell rang for class.

Later that night, I came home, went to my room, and listened to the new Queensrÿche album. I opened the CD booklet, which folded out into a sort of poster, with the lyrics printed on the back. I had read magazine interviews with the band, saying that this album had songs that were deeply personal to them and focused on darker lyrical content than its predecessor, Empire, which had been commercially successful with its radio-friendly material; love songs like “Jet City Woman”, songs of heartbreak like “Another Rainy Night (Without You)”, and beautiful ballads like the mega-hit “Silent Lucidity”. As I listened to the music and read the lyrics, it was plain to see that they did not build another Empire. This was something much different.

With each song, I found myself being able to find something in a lyric or verse that I could relate to or that had personal meaning to me, most of all the song “Bridge”, which was a song about a broken father-child relationship. I felt that song could have been written about me. It echoed everything I was going through in my life at that time. So did the song “Damaged”, which talked about getting down to the root of our childhood traumas that shape us into what we become as adults. “Disconnected” perfectly summed up my apathy towards the world around me; the utter disgust I felt towards my shallow teenage classmates who thought that things like getting a zit right before Friday night's big date or not getting on the cheerleading squad was the end of the fucking world; while my brother lay in a grave we could not afford to buy a tombstone for. But all of the songs connected to me on a personal level in some way; even the title track, which spoke of the sacrifices one makes for success. I felt that same alienation among my schoolmates, as I struggled through things they had not. “Someone Else?” was the first song that ever made me cry the first time I heard it. The more I listened to Promised Land, the more it seemed to speak directly to me and almost felt as if the band had taken a peek into my own life and written songs about it.

For the first time since all these things had happened, I did not feel alone, or that no one understood. This music was a clear indicator that there were other people who felt the same way as I did. More than that, they were people I respected and admired. They, too, had experienced hard times of their own, and had the courage to write about it. Sometimes, just knowing that there are other people in the world who have felt what you feel and have come through the tough times can make all the difference. They were not these untouchable superstars that somehow lived on a different plane than I did. They were real people with real problems just like me. Through their music, they were telling me it was OK to feel the things I did. It was OK to cry. It was OK to get angry. It was OK to feel pain. It was OK to finally grieve for my brother. There was no shame in any of those things, because we all feel that way sometimes.

Promised Land became the balm for my wounded spirit, and I would turn to it constantly for solace and comfort. It gave me something to lean on when things got rough. It was just the thing I needed in my life at that time; and I needed all the consolation I could find, because as it turned out, 1994 was not quite finished with me yet.

After my father left our family, it wasn't easy for my mom at first, but even she was doing better. She had met a nice man named Paul who treated her right and adored my sisters. I was skeptical at first, but after meeting him, I could see how easy it was to love Paul. He was a great guy, and my mom deserved to be happy. By Thanksgiving, they were making plans to be married once my parents' divorce was final. It seemed that I would no longer have to worry about my mom, or wonder if my sisters were being taken care of. She had someone in her life that wanted to care for her and my sisters too. Now that there was love and security in my mom's life, maybe she could begin to provide it for her kids as well. Perhaps now that she had someone in her life that encouraged her to be her best instead of living with someone that fed her addictive personality, she could break the cycle of substance abuse. At any rate, my mom seemed happy for the first time in a long while. I couldn't wait to call Paul my stepdad.

But as it had been all throughout 1994, once it seemed there would be some happiness in our lives, something came along to take that all away. In mid-December, there was an argument among some neighbors where my mom lived. Paul tried to break it up before it got violent, and as a result, he was stabbed and killed. It was a devastating loss to us all, especially my mom. How many tragic losses could one person take in such a short time? Even when the scum that killed Paul went to jail, it did nothing to ease our achng hearts. Understandably, my mom could not handle yet another senseless death; and after Paul died, she fell right back into her addictions, something she struggled with for many years afterward.

Through all of this, at some point during the long months since my father walked out, he finally tried to contact me, and I wanted no part of it. My cousin told me that I should at least tell him how I felt so I could get it off my chest. I didn't know what to say to him, so I did the only thing that felt right to me: I typed out the lyrics to “Bridge”, put them in an envelope, and left it there at my mom's house for him to see next time he came over to see my sisters. I would not waste money on a postage stamp, nor would I give him something so personal as my own words in my own handwriting. I apologize to Chris DeGarmo for copying down his words and putting them in this message, but considering the context in which I did it, maybe he would understand it and forgive me. I typed out those lyrics and it felt just as good as shouting them in my father's face. No longer would I feel shame in being a daughter. No longer would I apologize for something that wasn't my fault. No longer would he hurt me. “You never built it, Dad.” I was free.

I wish I could say that after 1994 ended, that my life got back on track and that it's all been uphill since then. But that's not real life. Hardships and sadness are a part of life; it's how you get through them that makes or breaks you. It's always good to have some weapons by your side as you face down the demons in your life, and everyone wields a different weapon. Writing is my weapon, but music is and will always be my shield. It shelters me when I need refuge. It keeps me safe when the pen is not mighty enough a sword. It offers me protection when I am outnumbered by all of life's burdens.

This album is my proof of the healing quality of music and how a song or an album can reach those corners of your soul so as to put you in touch with those feelings you try to deny or bottle up because it's easier than facing them. An album like this is a good example of what music fans mean when they say that music is better therapy than going to a shrink. Personally, I think that Promised Land did more for my healing process than talking to somebody ever would have done; I was so guarded and unwilling to be open with anyone at that time, because in my experience at that point, trust resulted in getting hurt or being betrayed. Music was a place where I could work through these issues without fear of criticism or judgment. The album's very theme encouraged this idea: “Promised Land isn't a place, it's a state of mind.” In other words, I knew I had to create my own happiness. I couldn't sit around waiting for someone to rescue me or to give me the answers. I had to take charge of my own destiny.

I had the chance to meet the band in 1997 and while I would have loved to tell them what this album meant to me and thank them personally for giving me an anchor during those turbulent times, I couldn't find the words. Even now, I would find it difficult to say this to any of them in person. This album means as much to me now as it did then, and I still find myself listening to it when I feel down or need a good cry. So while Empire was the album that sparked my love for Queensrÿche, Promised Land is my heart and would forever cement my loyalty to the band's music, even when they went down a musical path that I could no longer follow.

Many fans gave this album grief when it first came out; feeling disappointed in waiting 4 years after Empire and getting something that, to them, was not the sound or musical direction they'd been hoping for. For some, the introspective lyrical content was too intense to handle, even for a band like Queensrÿche, who have always been known for diving in deep waters.

However, it seems that over the years, Promised Land has gotten its rightful recognition and appreciation by the band's fanbase these days; heralding it as their “last best album” from the DeGarmo years. Maybe it's because these fans are 20 years older and wiser, and can better understand the themes addressed on this album. Or maybe the years have matured us all, and people who didn't care for Promised Land back in 1994 now have the ability to go back and appreciate what this album was trying to accomplish instead of complaining that it was not a sonic duplicate of earlier albums. Perhaps in other respects, it's because the band has accumulated newer, younger fans over the years who do not have a set idea of what their sound should be, or are not personally biased towards certain albums or certain points in the band's musical evolution.

Whatever the cause for this, it's nice to see that Promised Land is finally getting the love it has always deserved; while it's better late than never, for me it is nothing more than everyone finally recognizing what I have always known. This is not to sound boastful or to sound like a music snob; it was because of the things I experienced in my life that enabled me to identify with this album right away, and I can't expect everyone to have the same connection. Some people may never understand it, and that's OK too. That's what's great about music; there is something for everyone, and no two people ever listen to the same song in quite the same way. But for me, I will always have a special love and appreciation for Promised Land, the album that saved my life.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Commentary: Open letter to an open letter

Photo courtesy of Darkana Kat

Over the last several weeks, the symphonic metal/femme-metal community has been abuzz with talk about the recent “open letter” posted online by Nightwish vocalist Floor Jansen, in response to negative incidents with fans during a recent tour with her band ReVamp in South America. To give a quick rundown, Floor basically pleads her case as to why she feels she must put up certain boundaries when it comes to interacting with fans, and defends herself against accusations that she is a “bitch” or a “diva”. In short, it is a message from a woman asking that other people respect her space; something that any human being has a right to expect.

Upon the publication of this letter, understandably, reactions on both sides of the argument have been heated. Some fans believe Floor should not have ever had to make a public statement about something that should be so obvious to everyone. Others felt that hey, if you don't want to be mobbed by fans, don't be a rock star and go find some other line of work. Still others were so outraged that they suggested that Floor should resign as Nightwish vocalist, if she cannot handle meeting with fans or cannot make herself available to sign autographs or take photos. Seems like Floor has been in a position of “damned if you do, damned if you don't” from the very start.

Reading this letter and discussing this with fellow fans, in turn, opens up the age-old topic of fan interaction; of meeting with “famous people” or our “idols” in music, movies, or art. It's a discussion that anyone who is a fan of anything never tires of talking about, and people have strong opinions on either side. Do we have a right to expect certain things from those we consider famous? What are the boundaries, and what is considered “crossing the line” when it comes to interacting with them? Do we have a right to be angry or to take it personally when someone doesn't come out to sign autographs or take pictures? Does an artist have the right to shun their audience and ignore them completely when, in essence, it is the fanbase who provides them their lifestyle of fame and fortune to begin with? Do public figures have a sort of moral obligation to be role models for society? Should stars just “suck it up” and accept that dealing with fans was something they signed up for when they took on the job?

In the world of celebrity, there are those who are very fan-friendly; people who are always happy to stop and pose for a picture or shake someone's hand, even if they are clearly busy or in the middle of doing something. In return, it makes us feel good to know that as fans, we are appreciated by them and that they recognize our enthusiasm for whatever it is they are doing. For most of us, that's all we really want; just to be able to have a moment to say thanks to that person for giving us something that brings us so much joy, and for them to know that their hard work has made people happy.

However, there are those fans out there who can be pushy and are known to expect more out of these celebrities than just a few moments of their time. The more harmless of these sorts of people can be labeled as “groupies”; but in the most extreme cases they can be outright stalkers. Those who are not content to just get an autograph or to talk to the object of their affection for just a few minutes. These people oftentimes view the celebrity almost as an inanimate object; as their personal property to use as they see fit. These are the people who cannot discern the artist from the art, and feel that because they relate to the artist's work, that somehow they have a claim on the artist themselves.

This can be a lot of the reason why some public figures are clearly not “fan-friendly”; those who go out of their way to avoid fan interaction at any and all costs (think the celebs who travel with intimidating-looking bodyguards, or hide their faces under their coats as they exit from a car or a building). Whether the label is completely deserved or not, they are accused of being “jerks” or “assholes” for not wanting to meet their public. Sure, some stars might actually not be so nice, and maybe their lack of interest in meeting their fans does come solely from an egotistical place. However, there are some out there who have good reasons for not wanting to put themselves in such a position.

To give an example, in the world of rock and metal, the one person who is most known for keeping his fanbase at arm's length is Rush drummer/lyricist Neil Peart. He has made it very clear, both in interviews and by way of his lyrics, that he has no desire to make himself readily available to fans. He has also stressed time and again that it is not because he is a “jerk”; but because the adulation that often comes from fans makes him feel uncomfortable, and he is by nature a shy and introverted person. Because he has been so honest about his reasons, most Rush fans accept that this is the way he is and do not try to seek him out after the shows; nor do they ever expect that he will turn up at meet-and-greets where the other two members of the band connect with fans so that he doesn't have to. In Neil Peart's own words: “People have a fantasy; I don't want to trample on it, but I also don't want to live it.”

For many celebrities, it is this blind idolization that makes them wary of meeting with fans. Some of them do not see themselves as superstars or as anything special; they are just doing a job and cannot wrap their minds around the idea that their work somehow raises them to a level greater than that of anyone else. Still others have social anxiety issues that stem as far back as childhood; after all, it is no coincidence that many artists were bullied as kids or considered “nerds”, social outcasts, or misfits. Just as it is no different for any of us to shake off some of the negative things we learned in childhood; it is not easy for any of them to go from one day being looked at as a nonentity, to all of a sudden being the center of attention.

Another example of the metamorphosis that a person goes through upon achieving fame is the late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. While I do not claim to know anything about Kurt personally, it is common knowledge that Kurt Cobain was a child of divorce, shuffled around the homes of various relatives throughout his childhood, and was taunted mercilessly in school. There were periods in Kurt's young life where he was homeless and slept under the bridge in his hometown. No doubt this has got to wear on a person's sense of stability and sense of self-worth. One can understand how music became his refuge and why a lot of his lyrics can be considered “dark and depressing”.

So then, when you go from living this way almost all your life and knowing nothing else, imagine when virtually overnight, everyone's perception changes of you. When Nevermind reached the top of the charts and Nirvana became a household name, this elevated Kurt from a homeless nobody to a rock star that everyone wanted to be seen with. To go from one day being looked at as a “loser” or a “piece of shit” to almost the next day being called a genius and being hailed as the “spokesman” or “voice” of your generation has got to be heavy stuff even for the most self-confident of people; so it probably was even more difficult for Kurt, who was not always known for having the highest of self-esteem. Perhaps it was not exactly these things that led to him taking his own life, but certainly those things could not have made his life easier towards the end.

Then there are the pressures that come with fame; all of a sudden, your life is no longer your own anymore, and your public demands that your private life is laid bare for all to see because somehow you now belong to the people because of your art. It's not enough anymore to watch the movies or listen to the music; now people want to know who you're dating in your private life, what you plan on naming your next baby, or what kind of food you've been eating to make you gain those 10 pounds that make you look fat. People demand of public personalities the very things they would consider rude by anyone else if it were expected of them. From the star's perspective, they feel a sort of burden to live up to these expectations. As we are a society that loves to build up our idols only to watch them fall, it is understandable why celebrities experience stress over their public image; they could easily lose what was just as quickly achieved. All it takes is one interview taken out of context or an article written out of bias, and your audience turns into an angry mob over something they think you have said or done.

That being said, people somehow get this idea that public figures are supposed to be above us in a sense that they should be role models or pillars of the community. When a star is caught doing something like, say, dancing in a suggestive way at the club, or smoking a joint, people get into an uproar and demand that the celebrity's new TV show or latest album be boycotted and that people stop supporting them; because after all, these people are role models for children and they should be held to a higher standard than the rest of us. But is that really true? I'm sorry, but if you expect your children to model their lives after an athlete or a pop star, then maybe the problem is not so much with the celebrity as it is with the parents who should be looking to themselves to be role models for their own children.

Yet on the same token, this now shifts the perspective from that of the celebrity to that of the fan. All of us are fans of someone or something; even the famous are fans of other famous people. All of us at one time—whether as kids playing make-believe or teenagers dressing up like our favorite rock stars—we all had some superstar that we looked at and felt we could relate to. Understandably, this gives the fan a sort of feeling of kinship with the celebrity; it makes them feel as if the celebrity understands them, and that they understand the celebrity and the deeper meaning behind their lyrics or the roles they play. There is certainly nothing wrong with that, because relating to others is part of human nature. It validates our feelings to know that there are those like us who have gone through the same experiences we have or who enjoy the same things that we do.

At the same time, it can also sour our feelings towards these same people when, for whatever reason, they don't live up to the image we have of them in our minds. Everyone has a preconceived notion of what these celebrities are (whether positive or negative), and there's nothing wrong with that either. After all, we don't know these people personally and all we have to go on is what information is made available to us, so of course we are going to form our own opinions of who we think they are. Just as we have our favorite musicians, actors, and writers; there are also those personalities we don't like, whether it's because we are turned off by their public persona, or maybe we don't care for their artistic style. Whether it's out of bias towards or against the celebrity, we judge them as being good or bad people based on whether we consider their form of art to be good or bad. So when a celebrity we like does something we don't approve of, we almost feel personally insulted; as if they have betrayed our trust by not being the person we thought they were. On the other hand, when a public figure we dislike does something we consider good, we almost don't want to believe it; as though it must be some sort of mistake, or that the person must have a secret underhanded reason for it.

While most of us have a fairly rational viewpoint about the famous and where they fit into the grand scheme of our lives, there is a fine line that can very easily be crossed under certain circumstances. Sure, we all joke about that one celebrity that we would be completely star-struck over if we were ever to meet them; but there are actually people out there who go a little further than just being star-struck. Coming back to the point made earlier in this article, there are those who do not know when enough is enough, and can become downright aggressive when in close proximity to their favorite celebrities. Some of them do not just want to shake hands; they want to grab them inappropriately. Some of them do not just want an autograph; they want to rip off an article of clothing. Some of them do not just want a picture; they want a key to the star's hotel room. At best, fans like these can be thought of as passionate; but at worst, fans like this can be considered obsessive, and therefore dangerous.

For those of us who can remember a time before the internet existed (which was actually not as long ago as you young'uns out there like to think it was!), the gap separating the famous from the rest of us was a lot wider than it is nowadays. Back in the pre-internet days, communication with celebrities or public figures was pretty limited. If you were lucky enough to run into one at a random place or had the stroke of good fortune to have a unique set of circumstances that put you in proximity to one, then that was basically the only way to meet them. The only things we knew about our favorite stars was whatever we learned from interviews, magazine articles, or second-hand stories (i.e., “I have a friend of a friend who knows so-and-so...”). Even then not everything could be taken as truth; because we didn't have things like Wikipedia or Google back in those days, it was easy to make up stories or rumors about famous people, and no one really had a way to verify or dispute those tales. There are some living legends out there who have such stories following them to this day!

Likewise, celebrities were able to live in their ivory towers by not having a way in which to hear a negative opinion about their latest work; unless an admirer was lucky enough to get close to them and share their thoughts, oftentimes famous people could live in their own little bubble, surrounded by yes-men who told them everything they liked to hear and convince them that everyone out there loves what they are doing. Even if there were opportunities for fans to offer their honest opinions, it was easy enough to brush them off as someone who “just doesn't get it”. Their public personas could be carefully crafted by PR agents; we never knew any more about a famous person's private life than they wanted us to know. Whether it was the teen idols of yesteryear having to keep marriages or relationships under wraps for fear of losing their female fans; or movie stars being photographed at charity events or children's hospitals in order to live up to their reputation of being a beloved icon, celebrities could pretty much create their own characters and we were never the wiser as to whether or not those personalities represented who they were in real life.

But times have changed, and the line between regular folks and celebrities has become somewhat blurred. Nowadays fans can reach out to their favorite musicians or actors on Facebook and Twitter; they can become “Friends” with these people and get in touch with them as they would any other person. While this is a very cool thing in many respects, this has also opened up a new can of worms that neither fan or celebrity has had enough experience to know how to deal with just yet. Because we live in a world of online social media these days, we now have a vehicle in which to express our opinions as loudly as we want. You couple that with the mentality that stars somehow “belong” to their public, and this can be a recipe for disaster. A post on a celebrity's wall asking honest opinions from fans about something can turn into an all-out flame war; people feel that because they can express an opinion, that somehow that means they can also be rude or inconsiderate. Posts can range from snarky or sarcastic to outright brutal honesty (emphasis on the “brutal”); not just giving insight on what the artist can do to improve their work, but making personal attacks on them because past works happen to not live up to the standard that has been put upon them by said person.

This sort of thing also works just as badly in reverse; sometimes the famous can get a little punch-drunk off their own hype and start to believe it when people deem them as role models, and that it is their duty as a celebrity to “raise public awareness” for the personal causes they believe in. Case in point: the actress Jenny McCarthy, who has gone on record as to say that childhood vaccines cause autism (despite that there has been no concrete scientific evidence of this). As a result, things like this get around; and like the game of Telephone, people mistake opinion for fact, and suddenly there are parents out there who are not giving their kids vaccines because somehow the opinion of one celebrity has overtaken the inclination to seek out factual evidence for themselves.

A celebrity's influence can be just as equally dangerous to their public as a rabid fan can be, and this is one of many examples. When a star expresses a viewpoint about politics or current events, our first reaction is to say, “what do they know? They're just an actor and should shut up and stick to making movies!” Yet these people are voters and taxpayers just like we are, and have just as much a right to an opinion as we do (besides, when has our lack of knowledge about something ever stopped any of us from expressing an opinion if we have a mind to?). Why should their viewpoints be dismissed just because they have access to a larger group of people to hear those ideas? But as proven with the incident mentioned above, all it takes is for one bit of misinformation to be made public, and one celebrity can change the course of an election or put companies out of business all from a seemingly innocent offhand comment. This comes back to that feeling of relating to celebrities that we like, and feeling that because we know their work, that we somehow know them, and our friends wouldn't lie to us, would they?

It is that feeling of knowing a star or feeling an affinity with them that can create the “psycho fan” mentality; the people who make it to where celebrities must travel with bodyguards or an entourage, and the type of fans that make the rest look bad. It is a measure of safety to always take in the worst-case scenario, and if a celebrity judges their fanbase by the worst of the bunch, then it's a bit of a buzzkill for everyone who has good intentions and does not want to follow the artist home. In short, these behaviors ruin it for everyone else who has honest motives and mean no harm towards the celebrity. But stars have a right to their safety and their privacy, so it's to be expected that they are going to keep their public at a reasonable distance when dealing with them; because when they don't, the worst can happen.

There are so many examples of what happens when celebrities become a little too trusting or are friendlier than basic common courtesy requires; I would be here all day naming just the ones that come off the top of my head, so I might as well just get to the point and name some of the most extreme cases. The most well-known one is probably that of John Lennon, who was killed when stopping to sign an autograph for an obsessed fan.

But not all celebrities killed by fans are done so by way of being friendly or generous; sometimes all the star has to do is be in the same vicinity as a crazed fan, and such incidents can still happen. Considering that my blog is read predominantly by rockers and metalheads, the first example that likely comes to mind among my readers is the brutal onstage murder of Dimebag Darrell (former guitarist of Pantera) nearly 10 years ago. Not only was he callously shot in the head while performing in front of fans with his new band Damageplan, but he was killed by a fan who somehow believed that Dime was at fault for the breakup of Pantera and that the band's music was “stealing his thoughts”. It's obvious the guy had mental issues, and certainly this is where the difference lies between the average fan and the stalker-type fan. Very rarely, if ever, do we hear about cases like this where the person is diagnosed as being mentally stable.

However, if it were that easy to discern the insane from everyone else, then there wouldn't be cases like this in the first place, and celebrities would know who to avoid. Since mental instability comes in all shapes and forms, some people can pass themselves off as being completely level-headed and by all other accounts seem totally normal; so much so that even the celebrity themselves can be tricked enough to believe that the person is sincere. Some may even go so far as to invite this person into their lives and cross over that line from a fan-celebrity relationship into actual friendship.

One of the most horrifying examples of what happens in these situations is probably the story of Selena, the Tejano singer who was just about to cross over into American pop music stardom when she was senselessly shot and killed by the president of her fan club just weeks before her 24th birthday. Her murderer was not only someone that Selena came to trust, but everyone in Selena's family and inner circle also considered her a friend and part of their extended family. Yet when it was discovered that Selena's fan club president was stealing money from fan club funds behind their backs and was not all she seemed to be, it triggered a domino effect that led to disastrous results. In a classic case of “if I can't have you, no one else can”, Selena was fatally shot in the back when it became clear that the woman's days of hobnobbing with her idol had come to an end.

When asked over the years about the woman who needlessly took her life, Selena's family, friends, and husband have all echoed the same statement: they never would have expected this to happen and never considered her, of all people, to have done something like this. (Yes, I did do my research and know the name of the person who killed her; but out of respect for her fan community, who has sort of made it a pact not to ever mention that person's name, I am doing the same here.) For someone who saw herself an artist of the people, was known to never turn down an autograph and always wanted to make herself available to her audience, Selena's tragic death only makes it harder to bear for both her loved ones and her fans; for all it took was one person to abuse the trust that Selena had so easily given. It is a bitter irony that the thing Selena loved most—her fans—was ultimately the cause of her demise.

Considering that the majority of this article has been written from a perspective of trying to put ourselves in the celebrity's shoes, what about the fans; the average, everyday people? After all, most of the people reading this are probably going to be just regular folks and not considered famous. Maybe this is why I tried to write from a viewpoint of putting ourselves in the star's shoes, because oftentimes we are so blinded by the glitz and glamour of what their lives seem to be that we can forget the pitfalls and perils of what that lifestyle entails. It is too easy for us to sit back and look at these people and say that they have it so great; how nice it must be to have a life that is, from all appearances, virtually trouble-free. But with fame and fortune comes a new set of responsibilities and worries that none of us could possibly begin to understand; any more that some of these wealthy superstars can understand the trials of our everyday lives.

Even so, there are those who desire the life of celebrity, and will do anything to achieve it. If they can't become famous themselves, they will do anything to get close to someone who is. In a humorous light, try to think of those old episodes of I Love Lucy where the gang visits Hollywood, and Lucy becomes so star-struck that she goes to extreme measures to meet anyone who is remotely famous. Sure, watching someone climb over a movie star's fence, stare at them at a restaurant, or steal their cement block from the Walk of Fame all looks hilarious when it's on a sitcom; but if Lucy's character actually did some of these things in real life, the celebrities would file a restraining order on her, or she would still be sitting in jail to this day for some of the things she did in order to get close to her favorite movie stars!

However, there are those people out there, as already mentioned, that will go to great lengths to be close to their favorite celebrity. While I've touched on the incidents that led to terrible results; not everyone is malicious in their pursuit or intends harm to the celebrity, but strange things happen just the same. Sometimes people can make a request of a star that doesn't seem extreme to them, but is to most other people (think of that person who asks for a lock of hair, for example). Sometimes people cross the line of civility and do not think twice of imposing on someone in situations when it's probably not a good time to ask for an autograph (think of that person who corners someone in the bathroom stall, or while eating at a restaurant with their families). Even among fans, there is an unspoken code of etiquette that is different for each person, but boils down to their own ideas of common courtesy and respect.

To give an example from my own experiences in meeting musicians (both as a fan and in my years as a review writer), one cardinal rule I have always kept to is not to go near the band's tour bus. Over the years I have seen people hang on the side of the tour bus, knock on the windows or the doors to entice the artists to come out, and I have just always found this to be very rude. Again, each person's code of conduct is different, and what I may consider rude or inconsiderate may not be a big deal to them. But for me, I have always viewed a band's tour bus as the one place that is a “safe haven” for them. For a touring band, the tour bus is their one area where I feel they have a right to expect privacy and shut out the world. When they are out there in public, it is expected that they are going to be mobbed by fans wherever they go; so to me, once they go into the tour bus, that is the equivalent of going into your house and shutting the door behind you. But that is just my own personal line that I do not cross; not everyone feels the same way, nor do I expect them to.

Because everyone has their own idea of what is within limits and what is not, this can result in incidents such as those that prompt someone like Floor Jansen to address the issue. While not all fans mean to do harm when meeting with their favorite stars, sometimes people can easily get caught up in the heat of the moment where the heart can take over the head, so to speak. Sometimes people can get so overwhelmed by being in the presence of someone they have longed to meet that what starts out as a friendly gesture could easily cross over into getting too close into the personal space of the other person. Things can get out of hand very quickly, without any intention to do so from the fan towards the artist.

And as already elaborated on, there are always going to be those who feel that they have a personal right to the artist or celebrity, and have no qualms about crossing the line even when they know it's socially unacceptable. I remember going to a concert once for a band who is normally not considered the type to attract a large female audience, nor have any of the bandmembers ever been considered sexy or fodder for a teenage girl's bedroom walls. However, the woman next to me at this concert made me feel as if I had stumbled into a boy band performance, whenever she would boldly reach up and grab the private area of whichever bandmember would walk to our side of the stage. I do not mean just a quick moment where her hand grazed the general area; I am talking a full-on grope as if she were intimately involved with these men. Not only did I find this to be terribly bold and disrespectful, but the woman's boyfriend was standing right there with her and seemed to have no problem with this, which was almost just as offensive! The band tried to make a joke out of it by changing the words of one of their songs to make reference to this incident, but I wonder how they must have felt; being married men and probably not used to women grabbing at them in this way. Out of respect to their privacy and the privacy of their spouses, I will not say which band this was; but needless to say it was not someone normally known for these sorts of things happening at their shows. But I could not help but feel embarrassed not only for the band, but for myself as a fan, having been subjected to this and to wonder what goes through a person's mind to where they think this is something that is OK to do? In all honesty, what kind of man would approve of his wife or girlfriend carrying on like this right in front of him? I'm pretty certain that this woman and her boyfriend do not go to restaurants and start reaching down the waiters' pants, so why is this different when it is a rock band performing onstage? Why is the level of consideration towards someone's personal boundaries suddenly lowered or thrown out the window entirely when the person involved happens to have any kind of “celebrity” status?

What, then, are the guidelines (if any) on how to approach a celebrity when meeting them? I guess there really are none, other than to go with what you think is right. But maybe we can afford to change our way of thinking on some things too. Perhaps we can get over this sense of entitlement that celebrities “owe” us something simply for being famous. Or maybe we can stop looking at them as a plaything whose sole purpose is to bring us entertainment. Yes, that's what they get paid for, but that does not mean they must be “on” or “in character” at all times. If you have a friend who works at the Olive Garden, you certainly do not expect him to start whipping up spaghetti every time you see him just because he happens to do that for a living, do you? (In fact, usually it works in reverse; we do not normally take our friend out for an Italian dinner once he has  some time off from working at the Olive Garden, because we know he is probably sick of the sight of Italian food.) Why is it so different when it's a movie star or an artist? (OK, so maybe that's a terrible analogy, but on the other hand, if you are that person working at Olive Garden, ask yourself how you would feel if every time you stepped outside, people stopped you to ask if you could make them some fettuccine? Or waited outside your house in the hopes that you would come out and give them a loaf of garlic bread?)

The rules should apply to them as much as it should to anyone else: if a star feels comfortable with giving an autograph or taking a picture, and they seem as though they want to (or are not too put out or bothered by doing so), then fine. But if they are not, we shouldn't take it as an affront to us, or feel as though they are ungrateful or unappreciative of what their fans have given them. Does that mean you shouldn't be disappointed if they are outwardly rude or mean to you? Of course not! But if they have treated you this way, then it is probably par for the course for them and it won't make one bit of difference if you are insulted by it. They are going to go along their merry way (off in their sportscars with their model wives/girlfriends in tow) and not give you another thought. So maybe you shouldn't either.

As the saying goes, hit them where it hurts most: in the pocketbook. If you are disgusted with the behavior of a celebrity, don't buy into what they're selling anymore. Don't go to their movies, don't buy their albums, don't watch their latest reality show. You have power as a consumer, if you really feel that strongly. But you can't have your cake and eat it too: you can't approach a celebrity as if they were a piece of meat, and then become offended when they have rightfully backed away from you and do not give you the autograph you were seeking.

On the same token, a celebrity does have the “right to refuse service to anyone” if they see fit. You can be the nicest person in the world and approach them with all the good manners you can muster up, and they can still politely decline your request. Do you have the right to be angry about it? Sure. But do you have the right to jump online and put the celebrity on blast about what a terrible person they are? Well, I suppose that's up to you. But it probably won't win you any points, should you ever meet up with this person again and get a second chance. After all, just as much as they have a right to turn away autographs or pictures, they also have a prerogative to change their minds and be generous with these things at another time. And even if they don't, well, consider it their loss! ;)

Through all of this, as a fan, I still think that it is part of the job for celebrities to expect that fans will ask for autographs and pictures, and that they should try to be as accommodating to their public as possible. But I also do agree that when certain fans get out line, that the artists have a right to back away and put up a reasonable boundary between themselves and their audience. Maybe it is because I have had nothing but positive experiences when meeting with people who are considered famous, that I want the same experience for everyone else who feels the same way I do. But it should never be at a cost to the person doing the giving. After all, the relationship between an artist and their public should be inter-dependent; realizing that neither can exist without the other. A celebrity cannot be famous without fans, and those who can appreciate the creativity of another makes it possible for artists to find success. But it should never be co-dependent, and I think that is the key behind all of this here. A celebrity should not live for their fans, and fans should certainly not live for celebrities. It no longer becomes fun for either party when one or the other has to put themselves in an awkward situation in order to appease someone.

How much of a fan can you really be if you expect your favorite celebrity to compromise all the things that you claim to love about them as an artist by expecting them to pretend to be something they are not in order to please you? And how appreciative can your favorite star really be of you or of fellow fans when all they see are people making demands of their time and attention, simply due to the fact that they are entertainers? I wouldn't think either side would be very happy with that sort of interaction.

Coming back to my reference to Neil Peart earlier in this blog entry; would I love to meet Neil Peart? For me, the answer is no, and I will explain why. Quite simply it is because Neil does not want to meet me. I am not saying this in a sarcastic manner or in a haughty tone; I'm saying it just the way it means. Sure, Neil is one of my biggest influences as a writer (after all, not only do I write about music, but I also listen to music when I write, so a lot of my influences as a writer are more from lyricists and musicians than from actual authors or writers). So naturally it would be great to be able to shake his hand and simply say “thank you”. That is all; I would not ask for anything else. But I do not want it because I know, as someone who appreciates his music and actually takes the time to listen to what he says in regards to this very subject, that it is not something he feels comfortable with; and the last thing I would ever want to do is make someone feel uncomfortable. Now, if he ever reads my blog posts or liked my writing and asked to meet me, that would be another story (figuratively speaking). But I would never impose myself on someone who did not want to be bothered. If I were ever to run into the guy in a public place, I would probably do as I do with any other stranger I passed on the street: go on my merry way.

Since this article is called “Open Letter to an Open Letter”, I suppose I should end it by directly addressing the people out there who seem to slap these labels on celebrities; the ones who call people like Floor “divas” or people like Neil “snobs”. These people do not exist for you; nor are they a pawn on a chessboard for you to move around however way you like. They do not owe us anything; they give a moment of their time because they want to. So don't ruin it for them, or the fans who will come along afterwards, by souring what could be a good experience by treating them like an inanimate object. The money you have invested into their art does not turn these people into your personal property. They owe their livelihood to you, not their lives. Just because they do not come at your beck and call or do not cater to your whims does not mean they are stuck-up and it does not mean they can't handle their celebrity status. They have just as much a right to courtesy and respect as you do.

So this brings us full circle to the Floor Jansen open letter. Perhaps after reading the various worries and concerns that celebrities face when meeting with their public, we can gain a greater understanding of what they go through, and perhaps we can appreciate what they do a little better. When thinking of all these possible dangers that stars face on a daily basis, maybe Floor's request for space does not seem too much to ask after all. In many ways, as fans, to give the artist enough respect to keep your distance might be the greatest gift you can give back to them. As I was once told by someone very close to me (who worked in rock radio and met his share of celebrities), it's as simple as this: “Treat regular folks like superstars, and superstars like regular folks.” Couldn't have said it better myself.


—Special thanks to Oceansouls of America for providing links and information regarding Floor Jansen and Nightwish.
—Special thanks to Darkana Kat Music Photography for providing photo of Floor Jansen.
—Special thanks to Texas Johnny and the Selena Forever site for providing research materials.
—Sources can be cited accordingly by clicking on links provided, via Wikipedia, YouTube, BuzzFeed,, and