My Epica cover story in stores now!


Early this year, I said I didn’t have cover stories for a long time and today, my third one of the year is in stores. And it’s one that was fun to do as well; I sat down with Epica guitarists Mark Jansen and Isaac Delahaye to talk about their brand new album ‘The Holographic Principle’, on which they have – for the first time – used actual orchestral instruments only. If you’re curious how that influenced the guitar work on the record, go check out Gitarist now. My experiences with Isaac, Mark and the entire management team of Epica have been incredibly pleasant, so this was a breeze to prepare and write. And there’s more where that came from, but more on that later…

Aside from a vast amount of gear features – one of which is an interesting story on the 70th anniversary of Australian guitar manufacturer Maton – there’s some more interviews. One of which is the interview I had with Belgian Blues man Shakedown Tim, but be sure to check out the lengthy Blues feature with Billy Gibbons, Robben Ford, Walter Trout, Lance Lopez and – surprisingly – Steve Lukather as well.

In addition, the reviews section was remarkably hard to do this month, as we only have two pages and September 30th this year is by far the most popular release date I have experienced in almost eight years of being a professional music journalist. But we did it! King Of The World’s fresh new album ‘Cincinatti’ is our album of the month, but there are also amazing new releases by the likes of Marillion, the Ruben Hoeke Band and my favorite Blues lady of the world: Joanne Shaw Taylor.

Get it now, while it still has that amazing new magazine smell!

Album of the Week 38-2016: Kreator – Endorama


‘Endorama’ is Kreator’s most controversial album for a reason. It’s just not a very good reason. Sure, it’s not the Thrash Metal that the Germans are known for, but flirting with New Wave, Postpunk and early Gothrock influences has made the record unique, both in Kreator’s disography and in the European metal scene. People might think you may have to look for rifs between the atmospherics, but ‘Endorama’ is still very much a guitar driven album. A rather memorable one at that. Only the fact that their masterpiece ‘Coma Of Souls’ was released in 1990 keeps this from being Kreator’s best nineties record.

Maybe the presence of former Coroner guitarist Tommy Vetterli has left people with the wrong expectations. Instead of bringing the complexity of the Swiss geniuses with him, his Kreator debut ‘Outcast’ is the band’s simplest record to date. Here, his influence is most felt in the production. The shoddy industrial leanings of the previous three records are exorcized in favor of a more atmospheric, layered approach that feels a little like what Coroner did on ‘Grin’. The main difference is that ‘Endorama’ borrows from the Goth scene, bringing to mind The Sisters Of Mercy, Bauhaus and late eighties Killing Joke.

Admittedly, the low budget video of suited-up frontman Mille Petrozza in a nightclub was a little awkward, but ‘Chosen Few’ is actually a really good song. The rhythm may be borrowed from Killing Joke’s ‘Love Like Blood’, but it’s effective. In fact, never before or since has Jürgen ‘Ventor’ Reil’s drum work had so much swing. Petrozza’s surprisingly intimate vocal performance also works wonders. Another highlight is ‘Shadowland’, probably the most “Metal” song on the album. The main theme is excellent and memorable, while the riff work gives the song a vibe somewhat reminiscent of Nevermore.

Easily the most Gothic moment on the record is ‘Passage To Babylon’, with its strong focus on Christian Giesler’s bass line and the piano part. Petrozza’s voice has a somewhat tormented quality, which really adds to the dark atmosphere of the track. The subtle orchestral samples in ‘Everlasting Flame’ are also something that could only appear on this Kreator record. Closing track ‘Tyranny’ improves upon the ‘Outcast’ formula by better dynamics and a really strong melodic theme, while the remarkably upbeat, catchy opener ‘Golden Age’ could at the time have been a minor hit for any band without Kreator’s prominent Thrash Metal history.

While the album does wane a little bit towards the end – ‘Soul Eraser’ and the relatively riffy ‘Pandemonium’ aren’t quite as strong as the rest of the record – and more variation in the tempos may have made it even better, ‘Endorama’ is a record full of well-written songs, strong performances and an excellent production. Petrozza is rightfully still proud of the record. And that’s a good thing, because I hate it when musicians try to cover up their willful experiments. If you’re not a Thrash conservative, give the album a chance. Just forget that the band ever recorded ‘Pleasure To Kill’ and let these amazing songs work their magic. It’s well worthy of your attention.

Recommended tracks: ‘Shadowland’, ‘Chosen Few’, ‘Passage To Babylon’

Album of the Week 37-2016: Led Zeppelin – Presence


Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth album is generally considered their best work, along their two-disc magnum opus ‘Physical Graffiti’ and possibly the rawness of their debut. Opinions on their seventh studio album ‘Presence’ are a little more divided, but I personally consider it the last of their perfect albums. It’s a relatively heavy affair, which may have been disappointing to those who enjoyed the sprawling nature of ‘Houses Of The Holy’ and ‘Physical Graffiti’, but if you view the album for what it is – an excellent bluesy Hardrock record – it’s thoroughly enjoyable. And a lot more influential than you might think.

‘Presence’ came together in a time of turmoil for Led Zeppelin. The band was more popular than ever – they even outsold the Stones – but the touring machine had stopped because of the injuries Robert Plant sustained from a serious car crash in Greece. He allegedly recorded the entire album from a wheelchair. Maybe the touring hiatus saved the rest of the band some energy, because this is easily their most “live” sounding record. The songs are relatively simple in terms of arrangement, but that’s also where quite a lot of the album’s propulsive spirit stems from; Jimmy Page’s riffs and John Bonhams drums are all over the place.

As a Heavy Metal fan, there’s no way I couldn’t enjoy opener ‘Achilles Last Stand’ (sic). It’s simply impossible. Its galloping rhythm predates Iron Maiden’s debut album by a few years, but it’s consistently strong and works wonders in terms of dynamics. The other book end is another long song and it’s one of Led Zeppelin’s most underrated masterpieces: ‘Tea For One’ starts out with an uptempo Rock feel, but quickly transforms into a slow, brooding, minimalistic blues with excellent riff work and a mindblowing vocal performance even by Plant standards. It’s like a darker, riffier brother to ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’ and should have been valued as least as much as that one.

The shorter songs are every bit as impressive. The band’s take on the traditional gospel song ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ is really their own thing and one of the few songs they took to the stage from this record. ‘For Your Life’ has an irresistible start-stop feel, which almost makes it feel heavier than it actually is. ‘Candy Store Rock’ is one of those forgotten classics of which I really like the restrained, yet powerful rhythm and the fifties R&B licks courtesy of Page. ‘Royal Orleans’ is another one of those unconventional, yet recognizable songs. I think they were shooting for something Funky here. They didn’t quite succeed, but the results are great nonetheless.

While it’s hard, if not impossible, to overstate Led Zeppelin’s brilliance and lasting influence, I feel that music fans generally attach themselves to a limited number of their albums, while really, each and every one of their first seven records is just about perfect. ‘Presence’ is definitely the first one I’d suggest someone who leans towards Hardrock. Sure, some of the songs need some time to sink in, but it’s always been that way with Led Zeppelin. In hindsight, maybe the forced touring hiatus was a blessing in disguise. Whatever the reason, ‘Presence’ should be heard by anyone who loves good Rock music.

Recommended tracks: ‘Achilles Last Stand’, ‘Tea For One’, ‘Candy Store Rock’

Saber Tiger signs European record deal


Not only am I extremely excited that Saber Tiger, one of Japan’s finest bands, has signed a record deal with the Dutch label Into The LimeLight Records, I also feel honored that the band approached me to write their English biography. You can read it in Into The LimeLight’s official press release by clicking here. As I have stated many times before, Saber Tiger has brought me something that I was missing in contemporary “western” Heavy Metal and I’m glad the rest of Europe will finally get the chance to experience this as well. It seems like 2017 will be the year that Europe will be definitively introduced to this amazing band after testing the waters ealier this year.

Congratulations to all the guys in Saber Tiger!

Album of the Week 36-2016: Marillion – Marbles


Last week, I wrote my review on Marillion’s new record ‘F.E.A.R.’ for Gitarist. Without giving too much away: I called it their best record since ‘Marbles’. Which may have been a bit lazy, because ‘Marbles’ is the designated “best since” reference for the Brits, since they’ve moved a bit too close to alternative Pop on subsequent releases. Those influences are quite prominent here as well, but somehow they blend with Marillion’s progressive roots much better here. Ironically, while it sounds less cliché Prog than some of their peers, it made Marillion one of the few bands to actually do something progressive in the 21st century.

As musicians, Marillion has become increasingly understated since the early nineties. Steve Rothery is one of the world’s most tasteful lead guitarists, but most of the time, he takes a backseat to the song and provides color through sounds that sometimes don’t even sound like a guitar. But most illustrative of the musical development is Mark Kelly. Remember the somewhat shrill keyboard leads on their eighties output? Kelly went along with the times and is more interested in laying down textures these days. The relevance of no one taking the spotlight can’t be emphasized enough.

Centerpieces on ‘Marbles’ are – maybe somewhat predictably – the three epics. ‘Ocean Cloud’ – the longest, clocking in just under 18 minutes – is perhaps the most traditionally progressive of the lot, with it’s clear movements, distinctly Pink Floyd-like ambient sections and quiet-loud dynamics. Closing track ‘Neverland’ is a downright beautiful ballad with one of Rothery’s finest guitar solo’s of all time and though the band hasn’t sounded like Genesis for the better part of three decades, I consider ‘The Invisible Man’ the ‘Musical Box’ of this century; singer Steve Hogarth’s emotional range strengthens the increasing intensity in the music and the band very creatively links highly different sections together.

The shorter songs lack the lasting power of those three monuments, but there’s still plenty to enjoy here. Influences from U2 (‘You’re Gone’) and The Beatles (‘The Damage’) are quite obvious, as is Radiohead’s influence on the sonic possibilities of the instruments, but Marillion stubbornly refuses to copy a formula and consistently turns it into their own thing. Highlighting the more concise side of the record are the jazzy psychedelia of ‘Angelina’ and the schizophrenic composition ‘Drilling Holes’, in which highly rhythmic sections with excellent bass work by Pete Trewavas are contrasted by calmer, late sixties Beatle-esque passages. The four short titular interludes are nice, calm pieces of music as well.

Make sure you check out the double cd version of ‘Marbles’, or else you’ll miss four songs, one of which being the amazing ‘Ocean Cloud’. Also, albums like these are just worth hearing the way the artists intended them to. It never was artistic vision that Marillion lacked and ‘Marble’ is one of the best examples to illustrate that fact. While it’s not their best record – ‘Brave’ will forever hold that title for me – it is one of the very few satisfying examples of a band with a “progressive” label actually still progressing. And one of the few that can make simpler songs work.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Invisible Man’, ‘Neverland’, ‘Ocean Cloud’

Album of the Week 35-2016: Gargoyle – Taburakashi


If you were – like myself – blown away by the perfect blend of rabid, high speed Thrash Metal aggression and triumphant Power Metal melodies as could be heard on ‘Geshiki’, prepare to have your teeth kicked in by ‘Taburakashi’. Seriously, I don’t know where Gargoyle gets the energy, but their music just keeps getting more intense. Gargoyle is not just solid and dependable here; the first five tracks on ‘Taburakashi’ are likely the most vicious, scorching succession of five tracks ever on a Gargoyle record. And that’s not where the fun stops: ‘Taburakashi’ is Gargoyle’s most consistently amazing set of songs since 1994’s ‘Tsuki No Toge’.

Everything anyone could desire from Gargoyle based on their recent outings can be found on ‘Taburakashi’. Kentaro’s punishing riffs, soaring twin harmonies and blazing guitar leads are all over the album (as is his perfect guitar sound!), Katsuji is still the finest Japanese Thrash drummer I have ever heard, Toshi still refuses to be the background bassist that so many of his colleagues are and in the vocal department, there’s a whole load of gang shouts and Kiba’s gruff bark, which is surprisingly catchy at times. It’s still the same formula, but thoroughly improved. It’s like everything is turned up to eleven.

As stated before, the album begins in a particularly intense fashion. ‘Yaban Kairo’ is structured like a Power Metal song with its catchiness and twin lead guitars, but the pummeling hyperspeed rhythm still pushes it into familiar Gargoyle opening track territory and the following riff monster ‘Crumbling Roar’ pushes the intensity to almost Death Metal levels, by which point my blood is boiling. ‘Dragon Skull’ is a little more traditional, but every bit as enjoyable, while the following ‘Overpower’ starts like it will be full-on Thrash, but has enough interesting going – the twin guitar pre-chorus, the atmospheric clean guitar on the background in the verses – after which ‘No Entry’ destroys all that’s in its way.

When you view the decent ballad ‘Dare Ga Wa Tame Ni Ame Wa Furu’ – with an excellent solo by Kentaro – as the act break, the second half of the album is a bit more experimental. Don’t expect the odd, quirky tracks from their early career; it’s rather a more playful sort of aggression. ‘Go Go Galapagos’ starts with a highly impressive, jumpy riff that made me go “holy shit!” upon hearing it for the first time and ‘Massive Thrill’ initially struck me as one of those more simple, punky moments, but harbors several moments of highly interesting guitar arrangements.

‘Taburakashi’ ends on a high note. First there’s the excellent ‘Tada Hitosuji Ni Iku’, a progressive power ballad which is slightly reminiscent of the classic ‘Yakusoku No Chi De’ in terms of structure. Another excellent Kentaro solo is the icing on the cake. And ‘Ichi’ is easily the best closing track on a Gargoyle album since ‘Kaze No Machi’ from 1995. Despite being somewhat darker in tone, the song brings to mind the epic grandeur of ‘Catharsis’, another classic closer, from ‘Tsuki No Toge’. ‘Ichi’ is loaded with awesome riff work, mindblowing solos, a goosebumps inducing, catchy chorus and even some very subtle symphonic elements. A closing track as it’s supposed to be: it leaves you hungry for more. Much more.

Sometimes I wish Gargoyle’s formula – two thirds of Thrash Metal, a third of Power Metal and a dash of experimentation – would be more common in Europe and America, because the world needs bands like Gargoyle. Luckily, the guys are still around and sound like they’ve begun their second youth a couple of years ago. In fact, ‘Taburakashi’ isn’t even their first amazing studio album of this decade (it’s their third), but it’s definitely the best. It easily ranks right up there with their classics ‘Furebumi’, ‘Tenron’ and ‘Tsuki No Toge’. Obligated if you like your Metal highly aggressive, but not devoid of melody and interesting twists.

Recommended tracks: ‘Crumbling Roar’, ‘Ichi’, ‘Yaban Kairo’

Scandal to tour Europe: “We feel more confident and responsible”


Exactly one week from now, the second European tour of Japanese Pop/Rock queens Scandal will take off in Amsterdam. The band is already quite a phenomenon in their home country with sales numbers many western bands could envy, high-profile sponsorship deals and theme songs for several popular anime series. Their 2014 album ‘Hello World’ seems to have more than a randomly chosen title; the rest of the world is slowly catching up to Scandal. B7Klan offered me the opportunity to talk to guitarists Haruna Ono and Mami Sasazaki, bassist Tomomi Ogawa and drummer Rina Suzuki, all of whom sing for the band as well. One thing is for sure: the band seems to be looking forward to this second European journey.

Rina Suzuki:European audiences are really enjoying the show itself. Japanese audiences can’t enjoy the show unless they actually know the songs, but I really appreciate that European audiences have fun even when they hear the songs for the first time.

This isn’t your first time in Europe. Why do you think only a few Japanese bands consistently tour Europe and America?

Haruna Ono:It takes manpower and money to organize concerts. Much more than you’d think. So in order to organize our concerts, we need to keep making good music and we need the fans’ support more and more.

You quite famously started doing open air shows at the Osaka Castle Park. How different were those shows from what you’re doing these days?

Rina Suzuki:When we played open air shows, we didn’t know anything and we didn’t fear anything. That was a great time, but these days when we play concerts, we feel much more confident and responsible. We want to meet the expectations of the audience.

Many Japanese bands make a clear division between their indie days and their major days. You have dealt with both. Are the differences really that big?

Tomomi Ogawa:We don’t feel there’s much of a difference. Of course there are differences, like the size of the audiences, but we still play the songs from our indie days live. The most important day in the history of Scandal is the day we formed the band, not the day of our debut. Forming the band was really the big thing for us.

There are clear influences from J-Rock bands, but also from western Rock bands in your music. What influenced you when you formed?

Haruna Ono:We all have different influences, but we didn’t start playing music being influenced by bands. When we started, we loved idols and pop singers and we went to the same dance school. One of our teachers advised us to play instruments at the time and then we formed Scandal. At that time, we were strongly influenced by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Foo Fighters, but also Japanese bands like Judy And Mary.

What musicians influence you these days?

Mami Sasazaki:I still often listen to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Foo Fighters and Two Door Cinema Club.

Unlike many other Japanese bands, your instruments are mainly from American manufacturers. There’s a lot of Fender among your equipment, for instance. Why did you go for these instruments?

Haruna Ono:Because they are so cool! We didn’t choose these instruments because they are made in the USA, but the instruments we like are coincidentally American.

As a band that is not strictly a part of the visual scene, how important is the visual aspect of your shows?

Rina Suzuki:Formerly wearing costumes on stage was very important to us. But the way our career is now, we can freely wear what we want.

Like many Japanese Rock musicians, you are big anime fans. Your songs are even included in a few series. How would you describe this combination?

Mami Sasazaki:Since a couple of years, anime and Rock music are a very good combination to connect us with foreign audiences. This relationship has really opened the entrance to Rock and other Japanese music.

Scandal will be touring Europe until the end of September at the following venues:

10/09/2016 Amsterdam, Netherlands @ Melkweg
13/09/2016 Cologne, Germany @ Luxor
14/09/2016 Hamburg, Germany @ Kaiserkeller
16/09/2016 Wroclaw, Poland @ Firlej
17/09/2016 Wien, Austria @ Szene
18/09/2016 Milano, Italy @ Elyon
20/09/2016 Marseille, France @ Poste a galene
21/09/2016 Barcelona, Spain @ Apolo2
24/09/2016 London, UK @ Islington Academy
25/09/2016 Paris, France @ La Machine