Monday, August 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, August 18, 2017

Femme-Metal Friday: MindMaze “One More Moment”

Band photo

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

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

Band photo

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 11, 2017

Femme-Metal Friday: Anthology “Last Weep”

Photo credit: Radek Šich

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Dream Spectrum “No Worries”

Band photo

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

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

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

Friday, August 4, 2017

Femme-Metal Friday: Master Sword “Sanctuary”

Band photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

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

Band photo

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 31, 2017

Album review: Exit Eden—Rhapsodies in Black (2017)

Album: Rhapsodies in Black
Artist: Exit Eden
Genre: Symphonic metal
Label: Napalm Records
Tracks: 11

*Review originally posted at the Female-fronted Power Facebook page.

Photo credit: Christian Barz-Klein

What do you get when you combine the talents of 4 respected voices on the symphonic metal scene, and put them together to record an album full of covers that are anything but symphonic or metal? You get Exit Eden, the collaborative effort of Amanda Somerville (who has sung with everyone from Kamelot to Epica), Clémentine Delauney (best known for her work with Serenity, and as the frontwoman for Visions of Atlantis), Maria LaTorraca (who has sung with Avantasia), and Anna Brunner (who has been in rock bands ever since she was a teen). Four distinct voices, personalities, and musical backgrounds, with one goal: to show how diverse metal can be by taking songs from any genre and putting their twist on them.

The concept isn't entirely new: Within Temptation did something similar on their 2013 album The Q-Music Sessions, but that was a project spearheaded by a radio station and had never been intended to become an album. The songs were also chosen for them, and the band was given a week-long deadline to transform the tunes into their own. Because of this, not all the songs ended up on the finished album, due to not getting copyright permission (such as their cover of “Skyfall”, which did end up on the Exit Eden album). Whereas with Exit Eden, these are all songs of their own choosing, and they had time to not only get the necessary copyrights, but also to hone and craft these songs any way they liked.

Photo credit: Christian Barz-Klein

From the opening track, I am hooked; but anyone who can do a good job on a Depeche Mode cover is going to win my heart. Depeche Mode is my favorite non-metal band of all time, and Exit Eden takes their Black Celebration classic “A Question of Time” and gives it a bombastic symphonic metal remake. Right away they have won me over, even if I do not recognize another song on this compilation.

However, there are other songs here that I am familiar with; such as their cover of Madonna's late-’90s hit “Frozen”. This song seems to be a favorite in the symphonic metal genre when covering songs, and I haven't heard a rendition this good since Lindsay Schoolcraft covered this track a couple of years ago (coming from me, this is a huge compliment, as I am a big fan of Lindsay's music). Exit Eden also does a fantastic job on the Bryan Adams tune “Heaven”, which just kickstarted my ’80s nostalgia feels.

Photo credit: Christian Barz-Klein

Another tune that is just tailor-made for this genre is the ’80s mega-hit “Total Eclipse of the Heart”, a song I have always felt needed a symphonic metal makeover. It has been my long-held opinion that Jim Steinman is one of the forefathers of symphonic rock—whether their descendants recognize it or not—and have often wondered why his material is not covered more within the scene. But finally, after 35 years, someone has done it the way I wished it would sound. Much as I love the original, Bonnie Tyler's voice always grated on my nerves, and I felt the song was better suited for a more operatic vocalist. If the Depeche Mode cover hadn't already won me over, this would have made me a believer.

That being said, the selling point of this album, for me, is not so much how they tackle the songs I know and love, but what they can do with material I don't know, or songs I downright hate, such as Katy Perry's “Firework”. If I never hear that song again it would be too soon, and I almost dreaded the thought of having to hear it again for this review, even if it is a cover. Their version is not bad; I don't think I will ever be a fan of the song, but maybe I wouldn't have found the original half as annoying if it had sounded more like this!

Band photo

The rest of the album features pop covers of everyone from Backstreet Boys to Rihanna, and since I am pressed for time on this review, I did not have the time to listen to the originals and compare them. To my ear, they are pleasant-sounding songs, and I might just give the originals a listen sometime. Their take on the song “Impossible” reminded me a little of “The Show Must Go On” by Queen. Lady Gaga is one of the few pop artists out there that I really like, and Exit Eden’s version of her song “Paparazzi” is an energetic hard rocker that is a nod to Gaga's love of metal.

To wrap this up, I highly recommend this album as a “starter” if you are new to symphonic metal or are trying to bring a new fan into this type of music. These are well-known songs done in a particular style, so if you like these, you might like the overall genre of music too. If you are a fan of any of these ladies, it is a given you will enjoy this album too. Whether you love this genre of music or just have an inclination to hear some interesting covers of pop hits and ’80s classics, then Rhapsodies in Black just might be what you are looking for.

Photo credit: Christian Barz-Klein

Special thanks to Henk van Nieuwenhoven at Female Fronted Power.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Femme-Metal Friday: Hail Sagan “Stealing the Crown”

Band photo

In case you missed my post yesterday, I am expanding on the Hump Day Hot Ticket feature due to a high volume of reviews. Now I will not only share a video on Wednesday to get you over the Hump Day slump, but now I will add a little extra goodness to your Fridays by featuring some of the best female-fronted metal I can find.

This week, for the first edition of “Femme-Metal Friday”, I bring to you a band I have written about here before: Hail Sagan, another L.A. band that I really enjoy and hope to share more of as time goes on. Consisting of vocalist Sagan Amery, guitarist Nick Quijano (also known as Sci55ors from the band Powerman 5000), and masked bandmates known as “The Nothing”, Hail Sagan brings together the sounds of goth, alternative, electronica, and puts a heavy metal bite into it.

As mentioned before in my review of the band's “Dark Cloud” video, Hail Sagan also uses music as a way to raise awareness for issues that matter to them: Sagan is an outspoken advocate for anti-bullying, and like fellow musicians Lindsay Schoolcraft and Alissa White-Gluz, promotes a healthy vegan lifestyle. The band also plays fundraisers for veterans and mental health awareness. One thing about bands from L.A. that often gets overlooked is that we are a socially conscious town, and even if a band is not openly political in their music, most local musicians can be found supporting one cause or another through their music (even Slayer, the most brutal metal band ever to come out of Huntington Park, has been known to cuddle with rescue cats!). It is something I have always been proud of as a native Southlander, and it is something I find very admirable about Hail Sagan.

For their latest video, “Stealing the Crown”, the band gets more in touch with their dark aesthetic sensibility by giving us imagery of a snowy landscape while we are still in the middle of summer! I once read somewhere that MTV Europe (or some other video music channel from way back when) never aired wintry-themed videos during summer months, and I can see why—seeing all this snow and fog when it is over 100 degrees outside makes me a little wistful for a chilly breeze. Then again, I'm from Southern California, where it never snows, so it has about the same effect in July as it would in January!

The Nothing is dressed all in black, a stark contrast in the white snow, as Sagan moves through the woods in her trademark purple, like a Little Violet Riding Hood! She is carrying a basket, dropping dollar bills along her path (just like Hansel and Gretel, she is leaving her figurative “bread” behind; “bread” being an old slang term for money). She is being followed by some shady characters known as the “Greed Monsters”, who immediately swipe her money no sooner than it hits the ground. Looking dead-eyed and listless, the Greed Monsters catch up to her, taking her basket away and ripping off her hood. The camera shows the torn cloak in the snow, as Sagan flees from them into an icy pool of slush, where she finds the titular crown and claims it for herself. Now wearing the crown on her head, she and the band are all dressed in white, blending in to the frosty backdrop.

For more information on Hail Sagan, visit their official website.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

New weekly feature

Over the past 15 months since I started the “Hump Day Hot Ticket” feature, I thought it would be a fun way to discover new bands and to spread the word about the talent out there that could use some more attention. I thought that at best, I would get a small readership and perhaps enough material so that I could maintain this on a weekly basis.

However, it would be an understatement to say that things have far exceeded my expectations! In just the last 7 months, I have been fortunate to include national acts such as Queensrÿche and Cradle of Filth in this feature. Several bands have returned to me and asked if I would review them more than once; my third review of Chinese electronic goth-rock band Aggronymph has received nearly 6000 hits and has surpassed my KNAC tribute (my personal pride and joy) as my most-viewed article here. I had reviews scheduled up to 2 months in advance.

In a fast-paced world such as ours, let's face it, a 2-month waiting list just doesn't cut it anymore. Bands want their material reviewed while it is still new. I realized that reserving these reviews to one day a week was no longer enough, and it was time to do something about it!

Starting this Friday, I am expanding on the Hump Day Hot Ticket feature, and introducing “Femme-Metal Friday”. The premise is exactly the same, except now Fridays are strictly for female-fronted bands. I get a lot of review requests for femme-metal bands, so this will help to lighten the load somewhat. I may still feature some female-fronted bands on Wednesday, but I will save it for those bands that might feature a male vocalist, or might not quite categorize itself as metal.

I hope this will open up more possibilities to review more bands. Perhaps this can also give me an opportunity to review older videos in the future as well, and not always focus on the latest thing. Now that I have expanded this to twice a week, the options are limitless.

I hope you will continue to enjoy these video reviews, and you are always welcome to suggest a band for me to review in the comments section! Stay tuned for the first new Friday installment tomorrow!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Thrillkiller “The King of 1984”

Photo credit: Brent Seward

For those of us old enough to remember, do you recall the days when a new music video was a social event? How you and your friends talked about it at school all week, and then gathered together at the nearest television with access to MTV to watch the “world premiere”? How many of us who grew up in that time would listen to a song and dream up what that music video would look like, and then were let down whenever the video looked nothing at all the way you had imagined? How many times have we held a crystallized image of the perfect music video in our minds, and only hoped that someday, what we saw in our heads would come to life on the screen?

Because now, someone has made such a video, and it is Thrillkiller's latest tune, “The King of 1984”. With a title like that, it immediately conjures up certain imagery, and at least for me, I can finally see a music video play out almost exactly how I pictured it to be. From the moment those synths open up the track, a rush of ’80s nostalgia hits all the sweet spots in your brain, and you are transported back to a simpler time when Aqua Net could solve any problem, and a man could wear hot-pink spandex, purple eyeshadow and blue eyeliner, yet still be considered a hunk of red-blooded masculinity.

From the start, the video for “The King of 1984” fits right in with all that ’80s aesthetic; even the opening credits are in that space-age, futuristic-looking font that was used in nearly every sci-fi movie back then. As soon as vocalist Rob Bradley makes his entrance wearing a red leather jacket, it is a throwback to the classic Michael Jackson videos from the era, and as the video progresses, the references don't stop there. 

As Rob makes his way into a dim, smoky bar, we meet other characters that could very easily time-warp back to 1984 and look as though they belong there. We see punk rock girls dressed in black with closely-cropped hair; guys wearing skintight one-piece jumpsuits, big sunglasses, and an outfit that looks like a space suit designed by the Village People. It's so damn fabulous, and we aren't even a minute into the video yet.

While alternating with onstage shots of the band, we start getting into the video's concept, which in itself is a complete homage to ’80s videos. Looking like a cross between the “Beat It” video and Mad Max, the basic premise is of a bar fight gone bad...but there is much more to it than that! While Rob is chilling at the bar and minding his business, a cute blonde decides to buy him a drink. We also see that she hasn't been the only one in the bar who has been eyeing him; no sooner than another girl pulls the blonde away than the other guys in the bar (played by the other members of Thrillkiller)—including the space-age Village People guy, credited as the motorcycle punk—start to crowd around him.

Then as the funky bass solo begins, all hell breaks loose! Fists fly, bottles are broken...Rob manages to get a breather long enough to have another drink, and then back to fighting. As he delivers the final blow that leaves the motorcycle punk on his back, Rob yanks the sunglasses off his face, kisses the blonde, and struts out into the street, where the ultimate ’80s ride is waiting for him: a DeLorean, of course!

As Rob revs up and races off, the motorcycle punk is hot on his trail, and an epic chase begins. At this point, the video is pure tribute to Back to the Future (Easter egg: try reading the car's license plate!), and on a more subtle level, to Kung Fury (i.e., the greatest short film of the 21st century). As the motorcycle punk moves closer, Rob puts the pedal to the metal and gives us one last ’80s reference for the ages.

I have seen the future, and it is 1984.

For more information on Thrillkiller, visit their official website.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: The Spider Accomplice “User”

Band photo

One of my favorite newer bands to come out of the L.A. rock scene over the last couple of years, this is not the first time I have written about The Spider Accomplice, and I am pretty sure it won't be my last. A refreshing mix of alternative rock, quirky folk, and everything in-between, The Spider Accomplice beautifully captures the diverse and unique spirit of L.A.: a place that waves its freak flag like no other, and a place that any free spirit would be proud to call home.

When I listen to TSA's music, I do not feel homesick; immediately I am transported and VK Lynne's voice takes me on a beach cruise with the windows down and the temperature at a perfect 75 degrees. It is relaxing, unimposing, and inviting; much like the nature of Southern California. We don't ask for outside acceptance or approval; we just want to do our own thing.

The Spider Accomplice is all about “doing their own thing”, and doing it well. In fact, their new video for their brand-new song “User”, shows TSA in their element, and all the various ways in which they are indeed “doing their own thing”. We see them in the midst of their music-making process, as an occasional lyric scrolls across the screen. As we see, it isn't always a glamorous procedure: there are missed cues, there are technical difficulties, and a lot of waiting around. But even during the most tedious moments, they all appear to be having fun, and each have their own unique methods of stress-relief.

For more information on The Spider Accomplice, visit their official website.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Cradle of Filth “Heartbreak and Seance”

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One of the premier names in extreme metal, Cradle of Filth has been going strong for nearly 3 decades and shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. Their unique blend of gothic, horror, and symphonic elements fused into a black metal visage, Cradle of Filth has survived every musical trend and silly fad, without ever compromising their trademark sound. Now embarking on their 12th album—Cryptoriana: The Seductiveness of Decay—Cradle of Filth is roaring back on the scene with that dramatic flair that is distinctly their own.

For the band's latest video (and Cryptoriana's first single), “Heartbreak and Seance”, there is no question you are watching a Cradle of Filth video from the start. The dark imagery that they are known for is all there: death and mourning to a snowy backdrop. Dani Filth's piercing scream cuts right through you, as he stands before a mic stand that looks like a cross between withered tree branches and antlers. A somber group of bereaved mourners stand beside a still and bloodied figure. Female vocalist Lindsay Schoolcraft is wearing a headdress fashioned like a skull, as she provides her heavenly vocals in contrast to Dani's harshness. More imagery of skulls and naked bodies, as the departed person is covered by a heavy black cloak and the grieving friends start playing on a Ouija board; all while a raven mentioned in the lyrics unobtrusively holds court.

The song's title is “Heartbreak and Seance”, so the theme of the video is plain to see. The attempt of the mourners to contact their departed loved one is not only shown with the Ouija board scene, but also with images of two naked bodies wrapped around a skeleton, and snakes slithering around the prostrate form of a woman in a white dress. The deceased returns again, this time painted completely in black—showing his ghostly state—holding the lifeless body of one of the grief-stricken women in his arms, as if offering a sacrifice.

For more information on Cradle of Filth, visit their official website.

Special thanks to Lindsay Schoolcraft.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Vintersea “Skies Set Ablaze”

Band photo

There is something about the Pacific Northwest that produces some of the best music. Many of my favorite bands are from Seattle (one of which I have written about on this blog more than once!). If you have ever been to the region, the aesthetic of its music scene makes much more sense: there is a dark loveliness to it; a dense forest washed by rain, where everything feels fresh and new, yet older than time. There is a vibrancy to the music from the Northwest, with a maturity at its core that sees far beyond its years. It sounds like nothing you have ever heard before, yet hauntingly familiar and comfortably identifiable. I truly believe that music is a product of its environment, and each corner of the world has its own unique imprint on the music it produces. The Pacific Northwest is no different, and no matter what genre of music its residents choose for artistic expression, that distinct mark shows through time and time again.

Oregon's Vintersea is a newer band on the scene that uses their brand of progressive metal to capture “the majesty of the Pacific Northwest”, and this is apparent in their very first video, “Skies Set Ablaze”. Some Rush-influenced guitar work opens up this 7-minute track with a wintry motif. Alternating between the conceptual side of the video, where vocalist Avienne wanders through a snowy landscape, and the performance side, where Avienne wears both a white and a black dress (white for “clean” vocals, black for growly vocals), and rocks out with the band.

Thematically, the video's story centers around a woman lost in the forest in the middle of winter. She tries starting a fire, she sleeps in a hole in the ground for shelter, and follows a small river until she is seen digging frantically in the snow for one small sign of life: a small crimson-red flower. As the river carries the red flower away, we are reminded of the fragility of life.

For more information on Vintersea, visit their official Facebook page.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Omnislash “Metalliation Revengeance (Slash ’em All)”

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“Conceived when the mighty cock of heavy metal spilled its unholy seed into an active volcano”, or so the legend goes as to the origins of Baltimore-based power-thrash band Omnislash. Quite a descriptive account at any rate, the band defines themselves as “historical power thrash”, or good-old fashioned heavy metal for those of you who aren't exactly sure what all these labels mean.

After winning over audiences across Maryland and beyond with their debut album in 2015, Omnislash is back with a second offering titled Slash ’em All, which promises to be just as brutal as the first record. The music is fun, and you can tell the band is all about having a good time and never taking themselves too seriously.

Proof of that is in the band's new video for the track “Metalliation Revengeance (Slash ’em All)”, a 7-minute throwback to the good old days of MTV (they even use the same white font that famously bookended the videos, letting the viewer know what they were watching). The video is filmed at a restaurant in the Baltimore area called Crabtowne, U.S.A.; and we start off with a bad-ass metal dude slowly walking into the diner as ominous-sounding music plays in the background. He enters a rec room area, where there are wall-to-wall old-school arcade video games, pinball machines, and everything else that sparks the nostalgia of an ’80s kid. Amid the beeps and whistles of the machines, he approaches one of them, opens a flask, and starts drinking his booze through a crazy straw. He puts a quarter into the machine and proceeds to get his game on.

The graphics are pure ’80s cheesy goodness as we see that the video game is the same title as the song. The hilarity ensues when there is a jolt of electricity, and the entire band shows up as an electronic video game theme plays in the background. Soon the band jumps in and starts playing. From there it cuts to live shots of Omnislash playing onstage to an enthusiastic crowd. This is some awesome power metal (with some funky bass to boot). Back at Crabtowne, the guys in the band are riding the little electric ponies and go-karts, dancing around the room, while the bad-ass metal dude at the video game machine continues drinking his booze, completely unfazed by the shenanigans taking place. One of the guys plays his guitar solo on the toilet. Props to the drummer, who is wearing an old-school Legend of Zelda t-shirt! Back to the live shots; the band has a very enthusiastic mosh pit! These guys look like they are fun to hang out with, but at the end of the video, the guy with the booze doesn't seem very impressed with all of this. He actually wants his quarter back!

For more information on Omnislash, visit their official website.

Special thanks to Jeremy Phoenix.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Insatia “Memory of a Sapphire”

Photo credit: Sean Mundy

As much as I enjoy scoping out new talent from different parts of the world for this feature each week, I especially love to shine a spotlight on rising stars from my own home country as well. Another rare pleasure is to review a band who are my friends as well.

This week, I get to do all three by reviewing the latest video from Insatia, the Canadian-American symphonic metal powerhouse fronted by the lovely (and super-talented) Zoë Federoff. I have known Zoë since before she joined Insatia, so I know she is not just talented, but a genuinely good person who would much prefer to let her music speak for itself—not to be viewed as some rock star, but as a regular gal who has the good fortune to live her dreams. But she has also used her music to do good; calling attention to causes that are dear to her heart, and actively involving herself in numerous musical projects and charity work. She takes the high praise she receives in stride, and is as generous with giving compliments as she is in receiving them. A down-to-earth mom with a penchant for chai tea, Zoë is the farthest thing from a “diva” as you will ever find, on this scene or any other.

After over 3 years since bursting onto the scene with their debut album Asylum Denied, Insatia's star has steadily been rising; opening for respected bands on the scene such as Delain, Xandria, and the queen of metal herself, Doro Pesch. The band has also seen a lot of changes, with Zoë's personal growth and musical maturity leading the way. Still determined to keep this a band that celebrates the friendly alliance between the U.S. and Canada, Insatia merges the heat of Tucson with the cold of Montreal to produce not just a diamond in the rough, but...well, a sapphire.

Fans have waited a long time for Phoenix Aflame, the highly-anticipated follow-up to their 2013 debut, and let me just say that they will not be disappointed! Insatia's brand of symphonic metal is something that very few other bands in the genre can claim: it is as catchy and hooky as a rock song, but with all the sweeping grandeur and elegance that you come to expect from a symphonic metal band, all within the span of 4 minutes.

The band's choice for their first video, “Memory of a Sapphire” (which features a guest appearance by ex-Arch Enemy guitarist Chris Amott), captures this perfectly. A lone sapphire is shown on the floor, as Zoë walks to it, picks it up, and looks at it for a moment. The quiet is just long enough so that the heavy riffs jolt you, and then Zoë goes from contemplative silence to headbanging all over the place! The entire band is rocking out: bassist Dave Ablaze is swirling his bass around his neck, as hair goes whipping around. If you are not instantly committing the earworm of a chorus to memory, or at least aren't singing along with Zoë's line, “memory of a sapphi-iii-irrre”, then you are just too cool for me; because I had this song stuck in my head after one listen!

The video itself is very straightforward with not many frills: Zoë is wearing a nice blue dress, while the rest of the band is dressed in black, or black-and-white. It consists mostly of performance shots, cutting occasionally to Zoë pondering over her sapphire. Perhaps there is meaning behind this, but the video itself does not tell. The most we see of the titular character is at the end of the video, where it is left where it was originally found, spinning like a top.

For more information on Insatia, visit their official website.

Special thanks to Zoë Federoff and Dave Ablaze.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Aggronymph “I Want You”

Band photo

One of my favorite newer bands on the scene right now, Aggronymph has a new video out and I can't wait to review it!

As I have written in past reviews, this band has a diverse sound to them, merging together all these different styles and fitting them together in such a wonderful way.

In the video for “I Want You”, there are some similarities to their previous video, “Moonlight”. There are shots of the band's hometown of Yichang, China (which has some very lovely scenery, I might add!). This time, there is daytime footage including the band's vocalist, Elain. She looks sad and pensive, matching the mood of the song as she walks down the city streets all alone. As evening comes, we see Elain among the busy city nightlife; sitting alone in a coffee shop, wandering aimlessly through shops, up stairs and down sidewalks, in the futile attempt to ease her loneliness. The video ends with Elain running through an empty field, as an aerial shot pans away to show the lone figure amidst the world that is still moving along.

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

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Caligatum “Dante”

Band photo

Normally each week, I try to share a video that is fairly “hot off the presses”, or recent enough to check out while it is still new; but every now and again a video will come my way that has been out for a while, that I just have to share anyway.

Opening for bands such as Rhapsody and Dark Moor in their native México, Guadalajara's Caligatum is moving up the ranks in their local metal scene. Citing bands such as Tristania and Draconian as their musical influences, Caligatum's gothic sound and imagery really comes through in the video for their song “Dante”, which was released last year.

The video starts with a full moon and dark clouds, as a woman sits in a candle-lit room, looking over old papers with ancient writing, as a black cat curls up at her feet. The band plays in a dim setting with very minimal lighting. The woman is seen carrying some sort of cauldron, and again reading tarot cards. The exchange of “beauty and the beast” vocals between vocalist Arianna Dheva (who is rocking a very cool-looking headdress!) and the guttural male voice of guitarist Robert Noir is accompanied by imagery of the video's main female character standing in the middle of a pentagram, casting a spell. The video continues to alternate between shots of the band, and the woman standing in the mist, chanting her spell. A man shows up with a giant snake at one point, and things involving this invocation seem to take a bad turn from there! I won't give away the ending, but perhaps the phrase “be careful what you wish for” might come to mind.

For more information on Caligatum, visit their official website.

Special thanks to Demas Miller.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Lighthouse in Darkness “Oceanbliss ”

Photo credit: Janine Buss

A while back, when I was first starting this blog and trying to think of things to write about, I made a list of bands and artists I liked who had not made any new music for quite some time, and hoped to hear from again. One of the bands on this list was the German gothic metal band Flowing Tears, who seemed to suddenly just disappear from the scene.

At the time I wrote the piece in early 2014, the band's website was up and running, but had not been updated since 2009. They had not made an album in nearly 6 years by that point; the last anyone had heard from them was with what many considered their finest work, the 2008 concept album Thy Kingdom Gone. Sadly, about a month or so after my article was written, the band announced that Flowing Tears was disbanding. So that was the end of the hope that one of the bands on my list would return. Or so I thought.

While 2016 had been a huge blow to the music world with so many legendary artists passing away, 2017 has appeared to be a year of growth and rebirth for many bands. One example is Lighthouse in Darkness, a project headed by Flowing Tears vocalist Helen Vogt and songwriter/producer Sascha Blach; a musical collaboration that has been building over the course of 5 years. While it is a far cry from the gothic rock sound of Flowing Tears, Helen's warm, velvety voice is instantly recognizable and pulls you in with that same dreamy charm.

Sound-wise, Lighthouse in Darkness is a blend of soundtrack music coupled with electronica, a touch of jazz, and a little bit of rock. It has this dark, theatric sensibility to it, but at the same time it is calming and relaxing. The duo describes their music as “cinema for the ears”, and it is right on the mark: when listening to their first single, “Oceanbliss”, you can almost envision the smoky clubs, white jackets and ties, and piano playing in the corner just like out of a 1940s movie.

The lyric video also plays into this theme with a record playing, filmed in black-and-white. There is something so old-school and yet so modern, with the hip-hop influences subtly threaded into the many different layers of this tune. If you are into bands like The Cure and Depeche Mode, but also love the old torch songs of the past, Lighthouse in Darkness is definitely worth a listen.

For more information on Lighthouse in Darkness, or more information on their upcoming album The Melancholy Movies, visit their official Facebook page.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Grim Reaper “Wings of Angels”

Band photo

Over the past several months since I last wrote about Grim Reaper, a lot has been going on with them. Shortly after my blog entry reviewing their last video (“Walking in the Shadows”), frontman Steve Grimmett was performing for fans in South America when he was besieged by pain in his leg so bad that he had to finish the show sitting down. Rushed to the hospital immediately thereafter, a terrible infection ultimately resulted in the loss of his leg, and an extended stay in Ecuador.

However, through all of this, Steve still presses on, and has stated more than once that this will not end his musical career. To prove his point, within weeks of first learning to get around on his prosthetic, Grim Reaper was playing festivals!

Forget these icons of sex, drugs and rock ’n roll, who gain praise for getting shit-faced and banging groupies—all those guys can do that—but those aren't my rock heroes. When it comes to metal bad-assery, as far as I'm concerned, Steve Grimmett leaves them all in the dust. I think it's pretty fuckin' metal to endure that kind of pain to finish a show, lose a limb, go through months of strenuous therapy, and get on a plane to rock out before thousands of fans almost as soon as you are able to bear weight on a prosthetic. If that doesn't win you the lifelong title of a bad-ass, I don't know what does.

To show that they have no signs of slowing down, Grim Reaper has a new lyric video: “Wings of Angels”. The video is very cinematic; with black-and-white animation reminiscent of a 1940s war movie, a fighter plane swoops into view. As the aircraft zooms through the air, we see patchwork fields and ominously dark cloudy skies, as the lyrics scroll across the screen. The plane spins and nose-dives towards the ground as Steve sings the lyric, “out of control in a death roll, until you're slamming into earth”. The flashes of the plane's machine guns blink on the screen as the unseen pilot chases his enemy through the air. The guitar solo starts in, and the pursuit becomes more intense. I probably shouldn't give away the ending, but let's just say a fiery conclusion is involved.

I should also note the little Easter egg: the plane—the hero of the video—is named “Amelia”, which is the name of Steve's wife, his real-life hero! Because behind every kick-ass metal dude is an equally tough metal chick, and Steve makes no secret that Amelia is his inspiration.

For more information on Grim Reaper, visit their official website.