Album of the Week 37-2019: Capilla Ardiente – The Siege


Not too long ago, in a review about Capilla Ardiente’s debut album ‘Bravery, Truth And The Endless Darkness’, I voiced the hope that the sophomore album the Chilean doomsters were working on at the time would be as good. ‘The Siege’ is now available and it is good. Very good even. The band continues its epic doom metal sound with slight hints of doom/death riffing for extra despair, though the latter are slightly less pronounced than on its predecessor. ‘The Siege’ really elevates Capilla Ardiente above their status as promising, making them quite possibly the greatest doom metal band currently in existence.

As a whole, ‘The Siege’ has a slightly more epic heavy metal vibe than ‘Bravery, Truth And The Endless Darkness’, though never so much that one would confuse them with Procession, the other band of bassist Claudio Botarro Neira and singer Felipe Plaza Kutzbach. The overall tempo feels slightly higher as well, although there are still plenty of riffs that are close to dirge-like tempos. Not unlike the debut, Botarro Neira’s multi-faceted compositions steal the show here. And that is quite an achievement, considering that Plaza Kutzbach’s passionate, mournful and powerful vocal delivery is once again highly impressive.

Botarro Neira’s compositions kind of feel like multi-part suites with a greater deal of coherence than is usual with those kinds of compositions. Despite all the dynamics and – relatively subtle – tempo changes, the parts of all the songs feel like they belong together in one track rather than being haphazardly thrown together. And because of that, a song like thirteen plus minute opener ‘The Open Arms, The Open Wounds’ can move through several atmospheres and tempos without sounding disjointed. It is slightly more riff-driven and less reliant on atmosphere than previous opener ‘Nothing Here For Me’, but every bit as good.

Those who have heard ‘Bravery, Truth And The Endless Darkness’ know what to expect. There are some small surprises, such as the almost gothic-sounding bass and vocals only section right before the finale of ‘The Crimson Fortress’, and the excellent guitar solos courtesy of Julio Bórquez, including an acoustic one near the end of closing track ‘Fallen Alphas And Rising Omega’. There are a lot of twin guitar harmonies this time around, the beginning of the album’s most traditional doom metal-sounding track ‘The Spell Of Concealment’ in particular is loaded with them.

Keeping things interesting throughout four tracks that are all over nine and a half minutes is not an easy task. Many bands in the genre just resort to endlessly repeating a bunch of crushing riffs, but Capilla Ardiente obviously is not content with doing that. As I was hoping, ‘The Siege’ is another record full of great doom riffs, excellent melodies and the odd virtuosic moment by either Bórquez or Botarro Neira. And let’s not forget that voice! The production is slightly less explosive than on ‘Bravery, Truth And The Endless Darkness’, but you hardly notice that after the second playthrough. I could not recommend this more.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Crimson Fortress’, ‘Fallen Alphas And Rising Omega’

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Album of the Week 36-2019: Sodom – Epitome Of Torture


Sometimes, good albums slip through the cracks for reasons beyond my comprehension. Despite getting Sodom’s fourteenth album ‘Epitome Of Torture’ around its release date, as I was quite fond of the four albums that preceded it, all I remembered about it all those years later was Tom Angelripper’s mispronunciation of “epitome”. A recent spin of the record was enough proof that it’s actually really good. Probably not the perfect album for those who prefer Sodom at their most primitive, but those who like a refreshing spin on the intensity of thrash metal should like ‘Epitome Of Torture’.

‘Epitome Of Torture’ was the first album Sodom recorded with drummer Markus ‘Makka’ Freiwald. Personally, I was quite fond of his predecessor Bobby Schottkowski, who also recorded the masterpiece ‘The Dying Race’ with Crows, also featuring guitarist Bernd ‘Bernemann’ Kost. Since Freiwald also plays with the hideously underrated progressive thrashers Despair, however, he was perfect for the more refined direction Sodom would take on ‘Epitome Of Torture’. Not unlike ‘In War And Pieces’ before it, ‘Epitome Of Torture’ is as brutal as one would expect Sodom to be, but the arrangements are smarter and the songs take some surprising twists.

Those fearing that Sodom had watered down their sound should not worry. The blunt force of the war machine seen on the album cover can still be heard in songs like the mounstrously heavy title track and the absolutely lethal ‘Stigmatized’. It just is not the only thing Sodom is after on the album. For instance, the hardcore-infused groove monster ‘Cannibal’ sounds unlike anything the Germans ever attemtped before. ‘Invocating The Demons’ and ‘Into The Skies Of War’ subtly flirt with some melody, which gives them a somewhat haunting quality. Closing track ‘Tracing The Victim’ and ‘Katjuscha’ are more “openly” melodic.

Sometimes the changes are more subtle. ‘Shoot Today – Kill Tomorrow’ is fast and brutal enough to sound like classic Sodom, but the riff work is quite intricate and the rhythms in the intro relatively unpredictable. ‘S.O.D.O.M.’ comes closest to the band’s frequent punky exploits, but is still quite thrashy, which is fortunate, as I don’t think punk is the band’s forte. Or anyone’s really. Highlighting the album, however, is the marvellous opening track ‘My Final Bullet’. After its clean intro, the song thrashes along at full speed, but there is something catchy and melancholic to the chorus. Absolutely one of the best opening tracks in a discography that also contains ‘Among The Weirdcong’, ‘Code Red’, ‘Nuclear Winter’ and ‘Agent Orange’. Impressive.

Of course, the album has parts that can be seen as flaws. The production and arrangements are probably too polished and well thought-out for those who prefer Sodom’s earliest work and I personally think Angelripper’s vocals move too much towards actual grunts at times, sacrificing a ton of character, but ‘Epitome Of Torture’ is definitely more evidence of why Sodom is easily the most relevant of the big three of teutonic thrash metal. Even the bonus tracks – the downtuned ‘Waterboarding’ and the dense, knotty ‘Splitting The Atom’ – are very much worth hearing.

Recommended tracks: ‘My Final Bullet’, ‘Invocating The Demons’, ‘Stigmatized’

Album of the Week 35-2019: Them – Manor Of The Se7en Gables


On the surface, Them seems like another one of those King Diamond and Mercyful Fate-inspired bands that seemed to pop up everywhere especially around Northern Europe about a decade ago. They even have the aesthetic down better than, say, Attic and Portrait. In fact, Them began existence as a King Diamond tribute band, but it’s almost ironic how little Them actually sounds like the Danish horror metal master. The inspiration is undeniably there – of course a concept album driven by a B-grade horror story is inspired by him – but Them took those influences and turned them into their own thing.

Upon first listen, you can almost hear what was going on in the heads of singer Troy Norr and guitarist Markus Ullrich. They heard King Diamond and thought: you know what this needs? Vocals that are consistently on pitch and more thrashy riffing.  Norr doesn’t even sound that much like King Diamond unless he’s speaking or using his falsetto. A closer comparison would be Winters Bane’s ‘Heart Of A Killer’. While not quite as technical, ‘Manor Of The Se7en Gables’ does feature a similarly theatrical heavy metal sound. Also, Norr sounds fairly similar to Tim Owens on that record, with maybe some ‘Nosferatu’-era James Rivera thrown in.

More importantly, the music on ‘Manor Of The Se7en Gables’ is simply really good. In all honesty, I could do wihtout the narrative disrupting the music, but fortunately, that doesn’t happen too often. What remains is some excellent, mildly technical contemporary heavy metal full of engaging borderline thrash riffs and climactic progessions. Ullrich and Markus Johansson have arranged their guitar parts effectively around each other’s strengths and Them is one of the few metal bands with a keyboard player (Richie Seibel) who doesn’t constantly push himself to the forefront, opting to enhance the horror atmosphere of the music instead.

Although ‘Manor Of The Se7en Gables’ is full of great uptempo tracks like the relatively thrashy ‘Refuge In The Manor’, the particularly aggressive ‘Seven Gables To Ash’ and the climactic ‘The Secret Stairs’, what really makes it superior to debut album ‘Sweet Hollow’ is the quality of its slower material. The mid-tempo tracks on that record weren’t bad by any means, but not nearly as memorable as the bombastic ‘As The Sage Burns’ or the melancholic ‘Witchfinder’. ‘Punishment By Fire’ rounds out the album nicely by tying all the stylistic elements together, resulting in an excellent slightly progressive metal track.

Them is at constant risk of being misunderstood. The band is no cheap King Diamond clone and I actually prefer both ‘Manor Of The Se7en Gables’ and ‘Sweet Hollow’ to anything King Diamond ever did. The conceptual approach gives the band direction, but in all honesty, this material would have impressed regardless, including the interludes. Any fan of eighties heavy metal who complains that no one makes anything like that anymore should certainly give ‘Manor Of The Se7en Gables’ a spin. It might be a more contemporary take on the classic stuff, but that only adds to the relevance of Them.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Secret Stairs’, ‘Witchfinder’, ‘Refuge In The Manor’

Joe Perry and more in Gitarist!


For anyone who knows me personally, it is not much of a surprise that Joe Perry is the reason I started playing guitar. He is likely also the reason why the Gibson Les Paul is my preferred guitar to this very day. Imagine my joy when, after a meager period when it comes to Gitarist interviews, I got the chance to speak to Perry about his new signature Gibson ‘Gold Rush’ Les Paul Axcess, the new Hollywood Vampires and several other things I have been wondering for all these years I followed his career. Fortunately, he was quite talkative and took a lot of time to answer all my questions. The resulting article is four pages long and even made him grace the cover of Gitarist this month, as you can see above.

There is even more from my hand to be read in this month’s issue of Gitarist, however. At the North Sea Jazz festival, I had a very nice chat with Paul Acket Award winner Julian Lage about interaction with other musicians and how his Telecasters help him to sound more like the jazz guitarist he wants to be than his old archtop guitars ever did. Slightly less conventional is the choice for pedal steel virtuoso Robert Randolph, who is possibly the biggest innovator of the pedal steel by incorporating his love for Stevie Ray Vaughan, Robben Ford and Jimi Hendrix into his steel playing. His funky Family Band is nothing to scoff at either. Randolph is someone who can speak enthusiastically about his instrument and I am glad I was there to capture his enthusiasm for an interview in Gitarist magazine.

If you are a guitar freak, there is definitely more to enjoy here. My colleague Patrick Lamberts spoke to Stef Delbaere, a young Belgian guitarist who has the difficult, yet interesting task of replacing the legendary Erwin Java in King Of The World. George Benson is one of my favorite jazz guitarists – in spite of his horrible show at North Sea Jazz last year – and there is a one page interview with him in the magazine as well, along another wealth of gear reviews and our report about a visit to the Nazareth, Pennsylvania factory where the world-class acoustic guitars of C.F. Martin & Co. are made.

Gitarist is in stores now and if you can read Dutch, I can only urge you to check it out!

Album of the Week 34-2019: Helloween – 7 Sinners


After the departure of guitarist Roland Grapow and drummer Uli Kusch, Helloween was adrift for a while. ‘Rabbit Don’t Come Easy’ was a confused mess and ‘Keeper Of The Seven Keys: The Legacy’ an overlong double album that tried too hard. ‘Gambling With The Devil’ was a welcome return to form for the Germans. The album’s highlights – the brilliant ‘Paint A New World’ in particular – are still among the band’s best material, but the album did have its consistency issues. ‘7 Sinners’ fixes these with a collection of powerful, melodic power metal anthems that will refuse to leave your head any time soon.

In the years preceding ‘7 Sinners’, Helloween had gone from a leader in the power metal field to a band forcing themselves into formula they had devised themselves two decades prior. ‘7 Sinners’, on the other hand, sounds like the band wasn’t trying to be anything. The album is filled to the brim with generally well-written songs that are often catchy, sometimes a bit silly and usually quite bombastic. Unlike ‘Gambling With The Devil’, ‘7 Sinners’ doesn’t really feature any skipworthy songs, though ‘The Smile Of The Sun’ isn’t exactly one of the stronger ballads the band has to offer.

Bassist Markus Grosskopf stated that ‘Where The Sinners Go’ and ‘Are You Metal?’ were the first two songs written for the album and they are the opening tracks of the record, as kind of a mission statement. The former is a midtempo stomper with an above average amount of aggression, while the latter proves that on a good day, Helloween knows perfectly well how to inject a little silliness into the music without sacrificing any of the melodic and catchy qualities they possess. The anthemic flute solo showcase ‘Raise The Noise’ and the excellent semi-epic ‘If A Mountain Could Talk’ are other prime examples of that craft.

Despite those moments, ‘7 Sinners’ is one of the darker Helloween albums in overall tone. And it’s there where the album truly shines. ‘World Of Fantasy’ is a tale of escapism wrapped in a fantastic power metal tune of which the melodies are full of hopeful melancholy, while the odd theatricality of the proggy ‘My Sacrifice’ accounts for one of the album’s most pleasant surprises. ‘Who Is Mr. Madman?’ reprises the main melody of ‘Perfect Gentleman’ in what is furthermore a delightfully defiant power metal tune with an incredible chorus. ‘Long Live The King’ and the amazingly epic diptych of ‘Not Yet Today’ and ‘Far In The Future’ display a degree of dark aggression I thought was lost after ‘The Dark Ride’.

Helloween sometimes loses direction and needs someone to put them back on track every once in a while. Whoever it was this time – the writing credits would suggest their expressive singer Andi Deris – it really worked. ‘7 Sinners’ is the most consistent Helloween album since ‘Better Than Raw’ and certainly the crowning achievement of the line-up with guitarist Sascha Gerstner and drummer Dani Löble. The only minor complaint is that Charlie Bauerfeind’s ultra-bombastic production sometimes makes Helloween sound more like former Helloween-worshippers Blind Guardian than themselves, but it just works for this material. For what it’s worth, I prefer this to the original two ‘Keeper Of The Seven Keys’ albums.

Also, bonus points for bringing back the little pumpkin illustrations depicting each song. Especially because Marcos Moura’s comic style is much more fun to look at than the dull computer art of the pumpkins in ‘Keeper Of The Seven Keys: The Legacy’. His style also feels like a tribute to the cool illustrations Frederick Moulaert did for the classic Helloween stuff.

Recommended tracks: ‘World Of Fantasy’, ‘My Sacrifice’, ‘Far In The Future’, ‘Who Is Mr. Madman?’

Album of the Week 33-2019: Kukryniksy – Artist


Farewell albums often are a bit of an afterthought. Musicians throw some odds and ends together or, at worst, force one more product out. ‘Artist’, the final album of Saint Petersburg-based band Kukrynisky is the mirror opposite of that. For me, ‘Artist’ is the album where they finally fulfill their full potential. The flashes of brilliance that shone through their better songs are on full display here, ultimately resulting in the band’s best set of songs to date. Everything from the songwriting to the production seems to be just right on ‘Artist’. This is truly Kukryniksy at its very best.

Kukryniksy plays a highly accessible type of gothic rock. Uncomplicated songs with memorable choruses, atmospheric melodies and beefy rhythm guitars. In that sense, ‘Artist’ is no different than the majority of their output. Igor Vornov’s rhythm guitars just seem to be slightly beefed up this time around, resulting in something which sounds like a slightly less depressed take on ‘One Second’ era Paradise Lost. Aleksey Gorshenyov is relatively subtle in his deep vocal delivery and never overpowers the songs, though his harmonies with bassist Dmitry Oganyan – who has a killer bass tone – do provide most of the choruses with their sing-along quality.

The riffy nature of ‘Artist’ immediately becomes apparent when the propulsive start-stop riffing of the title track kicks in, but the way it develops into the mysterious vocal layering in its chorus already proves that Kukryniksy has not sacrificed any of its atmospheric leanings. There are lots of other excellent rockers which are atmospheric enough to appeal to the gothic rock crowd, but accessible enough for rock radio on artist. The particularly energetic ‘Shtorm’ is my favorite of those, but the bass-driven ‘Nadezhda’, the powerful single ‘Obnimay’ and the almost mid-period Moonspell-ish ‘Vihod Iz Roli’ are all nearly as good and similar in style. ‘Ekkleziast’ is a more electronically-tinged baroque goth track, but has the same impact as the more rocking songs.

Elsewhere, Kukryniksy shows its versatility. ‘Kommivoyazhor’, for instance, combines gothic piano and bass interplay with an almost spaghetti western-ish guitar pattern and a romantic string arrangement. That might sound like it could fall apart at any moment, but no one has to teach Kukryniksy how to arrange a song and therefore, the elements come together in an elegant track. This elegance can also be heard in the expertly structured power ballad ‘Nu Vot, I Ti Ko Mnye Slinoy!’, which is given extra power by Gorshenyov’s understated vocals. ‘Posledyaya Pesnya’ (which, fittingly, means “last song”) is the perfect subdued closing statement to sum up why we should be sad the band is no more.

Ultimately, finishing on such a high note as Kukryniksy does here is always unfortunate. On the other hand, there are very few bands that ever get to craft a rock album as good as ‘Artist’. The music has the hungry, visceral power that rock music should have, but never veers into mindless volatility, because Gorshenyov is too clever a songwriter for that. All we can do now is hope that he will continue this upward trajectory for his next projects. In the meantime, any fan of the more poppy spectrum of gothic rock should just ignore the language barrier and give ‘Artist’ a spin.

Recommended tracks: ‘Shtorm’, ‘Obnimay’, ‘Posledyaya Pesnya’, ‘Artist’, ‘Vihod Iz Roli’

Interview: Mardelas singer Marina Hebiishi: Back to basics


Mardelas is a Japanese super group. All the members of the band have won their spurs in other bands, but appear to have found their ultimate collaboration in Mardelas. The band’s new EP ‘Ground Zero’ was released recently. A perfect moment to catch up with singer Marina Hebiishi.

Hebiishi used to be the front woman of Destrose, possibly the band that spawned the largest number of spin-off groups in Japanese history. Contrary to many other former members of all-female bands, however, Hebiishi only works together with men in Mardelas. Guitarist Kikyo Oikawa and bassist Hisayuki Motoishi played together in Screaming Symphony (with current Jupiter singer Atsushi Kuze) and drummer Hideaki Yumida – Yumi for those close to him – used to be Light Bringer’s drummer.

The music of the quartet has its foundation in the hardrock and heavy metal that Screaming Symphony, for instance, plays as well. Yet, there is plenty of room for other influences. In the past, the band experimented with funky rhythms, J-pop melodies and other unexpected twists and turns. All of the three albums and five singles the band released in the years leading up to ‘Ground Zero’ therefore sound different from each other.

Basics

For ‘Ground Zero’, Mardelas notably turned to its hardrock and heavy metal roots more prominently than before, as the singer confirms. “On Mardelas I, II en III, you can see us grow as artists“, says Hebiishi. “Certain songs have influences from various other geres. After every release, new ideas come up from touring. And just growing as an artist.

‘Mardelas III’ was our most diverse album. And it also had the deepest concept. After the tour for the album we felt the passion to go back to basics with ‘Ground Zero’, but adding another element with our special guest keyboardist Mao (ex-Light Bringer). The songs for ‘Ground Zero’ were already composed prior to Mao coming on as a guest. He did, however, write the intro ‘Time Of Tribulation’. I would say he has been influential on the song arrangements. As artists, we write what we feel, so to us, it’s never really a challenge, but our way of life and how we feel like expressing ourselves.

Freedom

Kikyo and I are the main composers in Mardelas, with Kikyo arranging how it eventually sounds. When I start writing a song, I play chord progressions, which I eventually fit to the vocal melody I have in mind. After that, the band comes together and find other ways to arrange what is already written if necessary.

Most of my lyrical writing is about the reality of life. Pain, anger, but also happiness. Feelings that all of us have to live with and somehow overcome. I try not to sugarcoat anything in my lyrics and am pretty straightforward. My lyrics are in some ways a book of my life, but other times, I also try to put myself in someone else’s emotional position.

The main thing in Mardelas is the songwriting freedom that we have. What is great about this band is that although everyone is very technical and has amazing talent as a musician, they choose not to overshadow the main melodies of the songs. Everyone has the same opinion about the song being the most important thing, not showing off how great a guitarist or musician everyone is.

That freedom does not only exist in the compositions, but also in the way they are played. Hebiishi mentions the moment that Hisayuki Motoishi was brought in to replace former bassist hibiki (Saber Tiger, Alhambra, ex-Light Bringer and Silex) as an example. “Motoishi and hibiki are two completely different types of players“, says the singer. “We didn’t want to change Mo’s playing style. So instead of trying to copy hibiki’s style, we gave him the freedom to play the older songs his own way.

Natural

On Mardelas’ studio recordings, the band often goes for layered guitar arrangements. Something which seems difficult to replicate in the live setting, with only Kikyo Oikawa on stage. Hebiishi assures us not to worry: “Kikyo is such a talented guitarist, but he is also great at building his own sound equipment. Therefore, it is not so difficult for him to translate the sound we have in the studio to the stage. It is something which comes natural to him.

Although there are currently no touring plans outside of Japan – though Hebiishi resolutely states: “I wouldn’t say no” – the band has already had a taste of playing abroad. Mardelas played the Connichi anime convention in Germany two years ago and will be playing at Metal Matsuri in London on October 4th.

Chemistry

Historically speaking, super groups are not the most stable bands. Commercial interests are too big or the approaches the band members adapt just don’t fit together. Mardelas is a different story, Hebiishi assures us: “Kikyo and I were in the same band circle back in school. We built a chemistry early on. Our bass player Hisayuki Motoishi plays with Kikyo in his band Screaming Symphony. Yumi was introduced to us by our previous bass player hibiki. When we all played together in the studio, it just felt right.

As a result, it seems like Mardelas has quite the future ahead of itself. “Many cool thinks are being talked about right now“, Hebiishi promises. “Unfortunately, it is too soon to share anything about that. Please check our social media and websites often for upcoming news.

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