Album of the Week 15-2018: Purest Of Pain – Solipsis


Melodic death metal generally seems to come in two flavors: heavy songs with ridiculously melodic choruses and At The Gates riffs with metalcore breakdowns. Anything that is neither of those is more interesting by default. Enter Purest Of Pain’s debut album ‘Solipsis’. The album has much more to offer than most of the band’s peers in terms of dynamics and atmosphere. All of these songs have rather unpredictable structures the choruses are designed as true climaxes rather than moments that take the sting out of the songs, like on so many recent works by Arch Enemy and their followers.

What really sets ‘Solipsis’ apart from other albums in the genre, however, is its overall mood. Both lyrically and musically, the album breathes an air of bitter cynicism and poorly veiled melancholy that makes it a pleasure to listen to. Due to the clever use of very strong interludes, ‘Solipsis’ plays like a concept album and as a result, has a very pleasant flow. The great deal of variation contributes to that as well. Purest Of Pain clearly does not plan to settle for a post-thrash polka and a half-time chorus for every song, which ultimately makes ‘Solipsis’ a triumph on the songwriting font.

Those who have followed the band are already familiar with ‘Momentum’, which is probably the closest thing to traditional melodeath on here. Due to inventive timing and a great use of dynamics, it is just a little different though. Furthermore, Purest Of Pain really seems to explore all the possibilities within the – admittedly limiting – boundaries of melodic death metal. On the most melodic end of the spectrum, there is the almost classic heavy metal feel of ‘E.M.D.R.’, while songs like ‘Tidebreaker’ are infused with more extreme metal sounds that really enhance the bleak atmosphere of the compositions.

One of the highlights of ‘Solipsis’ is ‘Terra Nil’, a midtempo grinder that works its way to a truly emotional chorus and a simple, but brutally effective guitar arrangement in its middle section. The threatening feel and punchy lead guitars of ‘Vessels’ also belong to the album’s strongest moments. Speaking of guitars, Merel Bechtold – also known for her involvement with Mayan and Delain – is the true revelation of the album. ‘Solipsis’ is first and foremost a guitar album, after all. Her massive, pleasantly layered guitar sound and interplay with Michael van Eck really is the main attraction of ‘Solipsis’, though Joey de Boer’s varied and intensive drumming deserves praise as well.

So there you have it, a melodic death metal album with more atmosphere and a greater amount of different rhythms than usual in the genre. Where most bands try to force variation by adding synths or oddly unfitting clean vocals, Purest Of Pain proves that the real way to make a difference in melodic death metal is to enhance your compositions rather than the arrangement. Every riff and every wide chord serves a purpose. And that is exactly what makes ‘Solipsis’ such an effective album. One that warrants multiple spins rather than going in one ear and out the other.

Recommended tracks: ‘Momentum’, ‘Terra Nil’, ‘Vessels’, ‘E.M.D.R.’

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Interview: Rockabul


When you think your band is going through difficult times, wait until you see the story of the Afghan metal band District Unknown. Their story, as chronicled in the documentary ‘Rockabul‘ by the Australian film maker Travis Beard, is simultaneously one of a band trying to find its sound and simply one of young people trying to survive and find their place in a politically unstable country. Prior to its screening at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, I was given the opportunity to sit down with Beard and talk about his involvement with this special project.

Beard’s involvement with District Unknown and the Afghan music scene is not just one of casual interest. He lived in Afghanistan from 2006 until 2014 and with his band White City, he was at the heart of what became known as the expat party scene. “In 2002, the Americans came in, the Taliban fled and there was relative peace until about 2006 or 2007“, Beard explains. “We refer to it as ‘the golden time’. It was a time when Kabul was safe, you could move around pretty easily and that is why the expat party scene flourished. After that, I guess things sort of started to decline, but it wasn’t until 2011, when the Americans and the NATO forces announced that they were handing over the keys to the city, that it got worse and worse every year. They gave the security back to the Afghan forces, which is the police and the military. That means they were manning the checkpoints. Because Afghanistan is full of corruption and because it’s a very troubled country, those checkpoints didn’t work and attacks escalated. I constantly keep an eye on the news and it’s just going from bad to worse, which is really sad.
There’s this kind of catch-22: you don’t want to have this occupying force, but at the same time, once they leave, the country goes into a bigger mess. This country’s been a crossroad for a lot of conquerors and people moving their empires through and therefore, it’s been troubled for a long time. It’s not just something the Americans caused or the Russians before them. It’s just been a troubled part of the world because of where it’s positioned. Unfortunately, Afghans have bore the brunt of that for thousands of years.
What drew you to Afghanistan in the first place?
We refer to it as the Afghan bug. It’s an itch you get from experiencing the country. A lot of people fall in love with it. I fell in love with it. And some people end up staying there for many years. I guess that’s what happened to me. I was exposed to it, I fell in love with it and then I just couldn’t get out of there until the shit really hit the fan and I had to leave.

Growth trajectory

Despite being featured in the film himself, the real protagonists of ‘Rockabul’ are District Unknown. In essence, their story is not much different than that of other bands. As the viewer, you can see them evolving from an enthusiastic, but also directionless group of youngsters to a group of guys that work on their dreams together. The discerning factor is, of course, their location, which creates a lot of difficulties that western bands never get to experience. “I had a studio where you could practice music. There weren’t many places to do that“, says Beard. “They walked into my studio and I just pressed record and I got that first day. And the second day, and the third day and so on. The fact of the matter is, I wasn’t a film maker. I was a photographer. So there was a dual kind of evolution or growth trajectory between us. They were learning how to make music and be a band. And I was learning how to make films. And we grew together. Almost at the same pace. You see us grow as a collaborative team and it all comes together when they go to India. That is kind of their pinnacle regarding their performance. And they really peaked.
They weren’t the most popular band in Afghanistan, but they were the most dynamic. When you saw them perform on stage, the other musicians thought: these guys aren’t that good, but the crowd is going mental! That was the energy. it was all about the energy. You don’t have to be the best musicians around, but if you give off enough energy, the audience will respond. And it worked for them. It was a great path to follow. I was very lucky that they walked into my house and that they allowed me the access they did.

A key scene in your registration of the concert in India was the friction between frontman Youssef and his predecessor Lemar about the representation of Afghanistan. Was there ever any disagreement between you and the band about that scene?
We had contracts signed with every member. I wouldn’t have gotten that access if they hadn’t allowed it in the first place. And when we got to the India situation, it would have been so easy to cut that as in: they finish the gig, the crowd’s screaming and we cut to a plane flight or them in bed and that’s the end of it. But there was something else. There was the tension of the two frontmen being on stage together for the first time. Lemar was the man who ran that band. He was very vocal and very passionate about his country, whereas Youssef is the classic kind of frontman who just wants to rock out. He wanted to have a good time and he wasn’t interested in politics. And they butted heads. That was an interesting thing to watch from a filmmaker’s perspective. I wanted to show the reality of what happened after the concert, because there was a lot of expectation at that concert and things boiled over. It’s not always sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Especially if you’re a band from a country like Afghanistan. It’s good to show that and not just have a clean cut of all the highs and not show the lows.
You have filmed the band and the scene for seven years. How do you decide what makes the cut?
There were members that didn’t make the cut, there were other recordings that didn’t make the cut, there’s another half a dozen concerts that didn’t make the cut, there was the in-band fighting about really silly stuff… It’s just not that interesting. Every band fights. we know that. It was more about the cultural exchange and the cultural challenge for them in the country. It’s hard to squeeze that into ninety minutes. There was talk at one point of doing a mini-series, which I kind of laughed at, but we definitely had enough content for that. It’s just one of those things, you’ve got ninety minutes, you make do with what you’ve got. And I hope that we’ve got as much of the story across in that.
Yesterday we had a press screening and Youssef was present. That was the first time anyone in the band was seeing the film. And I watched him more than I watched the film itself. He just had a smile on his face. He said he relived all those memories and saw the truth in what happened. That’s all I ever wanted. I wanted to try and relate the fact as close as possible. Obviously you’ve got a narrative and an audience that you want to entertain. You don’t want to lose them. But at the same time, the five most important audience members I have is the band. And after that, the second most important audience I have is the Afghan and expat community that were there along with the band. Before I even go to an international audience, that’s what I sort of had to tick off, to verify that this film is what it represents.

Intervention

With all of the political and religious tensions in the area, were some of the ideas you proposed to the band too reckless?
There is a fine line between brave and reckless. And I think the only way to succeed in such an environment is to serve that fine line. And I served it, whether it be with festivals or taking the show on the road. Or having musicians in my house every day, because I lived in a residential area. I didn’t lived in a compound protected by security and the normal kind of precautions that the western community did. I lived like Afghans did. With the Afghans. So that frequency in my house was also a risk, because it doesn’t take long for the neighbors to know what’s going on. The neighborhood talked. We got kicked out of houses, because we were playing music. And there were situations where Afghans would be pulled aside and they’d be questioned: what’s with the foreigner you work with?
So when you’re putting on concerts and doing these events outside of the so-called safety zone, or ‘the bubble’ as we referred to it in Kabul, you have to push that envelope. Otherwise you don’t get result. I always asked the boys: do you want to do this? Do you want to go on these adventures and so-called wacky ideas that the westerner is coming up with? They were never forced. Sometimes they’d say yes and other times some obviously said no. There’s a lot I didn’t put in, because a certain person didn’t want to be shown or it was just too much.
For me, the biggest issue or the biggest concern I ever had was a fatality at one of my events. At least I can say that didn’t happen, but I saw it happen after I left at the venue I worked at for many years. We didn’t want something like that to happen and ruin the whole legacy. There would be someone saying: oh yeah, that’s the guy who ran all those festivals and got twenty kids killed. We did it to create a platform for them to be able to express themselves with no limits. With no rules. They could just say what they want on stage. It was a peaceful project and I hope that’s how it will be remembered.

How do you maintain a certain degree of neutrality if you’re so close to the subject?
Politically, I’m very much outside the system in my lifestyle. I’m quite left of center, but because Afghanistan is such a complex situation, I was really adamant and quite focused on not giving my opinion on the situation. I’m an outside observer in a very complex situation with many players. And I wanted the Afghans to speak about their views and perspectives on the situation. Because it’s their country. Some of the band members weren’t interested in politics – particularly Pedram, the drummer – whereas other members were. You kind of just have to let it come out organically and therefore hope that the audience takes enough parts of information from the film to make their own assessment.
We know that the Americans intervened, but the fact of the matter is: their intervention had vertain influences on the country. Culturally, politically and economically. District Unknown would not have existed without that intervention. They would have been into metal, but they would never have had a platform. And that’s why the Americans sponsoring our concert was very important to highlight in the film. We took that money from the Americans. It was not a comfortable deal, but I knew what I was doing. At the same time, without those funds from the Americans and, in later years, other western embassies, we would never have had that platform. We analyzed this in the narration. I talked about myself being part of the war machine. And we kind of just pulled it back. If you represent the Obama perspective, the embassy perspective and the Afghan perspective, I think the audience is intelligent enough to come to their own conclusions.
Regarding to neutrality with the band: that’s impossible. As soon as you walk in with a camera, everything changes. That’s quintessential documentary making 101. There was no way around it. But the good thing is: because I was a musician and because I was running the scene with a couple of other collaborators, I was always kind of there. Because of that, it wasn’t as different as it could have been. I think that’s where I got a lot of the visceral and fly on the wall moments in the film from, because I was there every day and they were in my house every day. And so you get shit after a while, just because it’s there. It’s right in front of you.

The right film

The subject matter of the film draws comparisons to Viceland’s 2007 documentary ‘Heavy Metal In Baghdad’ about the Iraqi metal band Acrassicauda. Did that film influence you at all?
Absolutely! I saw that film when it came out and I’m not going to beat around the bush: I’m not a fan of Vice. I never was a fan of Vice. It was their first feature film, it got them their street cred, but it was a piece of shit. I mean… They’re clearly extreme tourists and that’s it. We lived in Afghanistan. We didn’t just nourish the scene, we were the scene. And when I saw the film, I was already mentoring District Unknown and I thought: I want to make the other film. The right film. The film which is what Vice kind of just flirted with and then turned into the typical mass news media sensation.
The funny thing is: it comes up in a lot of conversations. I’m not afraid to talk about it, because I believe our film is a lot stronger than that. And in a sense it did inspire me: it inspired me to make a better film. Or at least a truer representation.

How important was it to represent the expat scene in the film?
That was an important factor, because without the expat scene, you would never have had the music scene flourish. Because that was the safe zone where they could do it. And we slipped those Afghans in under the radar, to be become a part of that scene. And eventually, the Afghans wanted to perform to their own audience. And you see through the film the evolution of the scene and the fact that we have Afghans playing to Afghan audiences. That was obviously our ultimate goal. You want to be influencing your peers, not just a bunch of westerners that are ultimately going to leave the country. It was integral to show that part. As much as it was excessive. And a lot of the expat party scene is quite wrong in an ethical or moral sense when you’re an Islamic republic like Afghanistan. But that was the truth. That’s what they were doing every day or every weekend. So I tried to give a taste of the expat scene without going overboard, because the film is really about the Afghans rather than the expats.

Album of the Week 14-2018: Skyclad – A Burnt Offering For The Bone Idol


Before folk metal became synonymous with heavy drinking songs – that being either heavy songs for drinking or songs for heavy drinking – Skyclad managed to blend folk and heavy metal in an intelligent and reasonably complex manner. For the British band, the folk influences were there to enhance the engaging riff work instead of the other way around and in Martin Walkyier, they had the best lyricist in metal. Each of the first five albums is great, but while others may point towards ‘Prince Of The Poverty Line’, ‘A Burnt Offering For The Bone Idol’ is the one I return to most.

With ‘A Burnt Offering For The Bone Idol’ being Skyclad’s second album, it was still very much rooted in the NWOBHM and thrash metal history that Walkyier, guitarist Steve Ramsey and bassist Graeme English had in bands like Sabbat and Satan. However, the addition of violinist and keyboard player Fritha Jenkins to the line-up meant that the folk elements were promoted from novelty to a full part of the arrangements in a spectacular manner. In fact, songs like ‘Karmageddon (The Suffering Silence)’ and ‘Salt On The Earth (One Man’s Poison)’ have some incredible harmonies for the violin and two guitars.

Despite arguably being the first band in the genre, Skyclad’s early work may have some trouble being considered folk metal by current fans of the genre, save for ‘Spinning Jenny’. Then what is it? It’s not quite thrash metal, though the intensity and the tempos are there and while it’s considerably more complex than classic heavy metal, calling this progressive metal would be a step too far. Still, how ‘A Broken Promised Land’ moves from intense riffing to a tranquil middle section and back is very likely to please fans of all aforementioned genres rather than alienating all of them.

In later years, the atmosphere on Skyclad’s songs would frequently move into bitter irony. Here, most of the material is still quie angry and aggressive, really bringing out the best in Walkyier’s diction. His gruff bile spitting can hardly be accused of possessing a wide range, but it does give the already impressive riff work on songs like the atmospheric ‘Men Of Straw’ and the incredible ‘R’vannith’ a little extra push. ‘The Declaration Of Indifference’ is the biggest masterpiece here, as everything simply works: Walkyier’s word play, Ramsey’s pulsating riffs and an incredible climactic build-up towards its spectacular chorus.

Creating a whole new subgenre isn’t something every band can claim doing, but I doubt if that was ever Skyclad’s intention. ‘A Burnt Offering For The Bone Idol’ never sounds like a band trying to be clever, instead just focusing on making the best album possible. My only minor quibble with the album is that it closes with ‘Alone In Death’s Shadow’. This dark, doomy ballad is quite good, but doesn’t work as a climax. ‘R’vannith’ would have been my pick. Apart from that, there hardly is anything to complain about here, unless you passionately disagree with Walkyier’s fairly left-wing views. But even then, there’s too much excellent music to let this go by unnoticed.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Declaration Of Indifference’, ‘A Broken Promised Land’, ‘R’vannith’

Interview: The third era of Angra

Some bands are irreparably damaged by change. Angra seems immune to that. In fact, through the years, line-up changes have only made the Brazilian quintet stronger. Losing their longtime guitarist Kiko Loureiro to Megadeth could have been disastrous, but their brand new album ‘Ømni‘ proves that Angra is still as inspired as ever. With influences from progressive metal, power metal and Brazilian music, the album is a masterclass in how versatile heavy metal guitar playing can be. The two guitarists responsible for this, bandleader Rafael Bittencourt and newcomer Marcelo Barbosa, guide us through the creation of the album.

After Kiko left, I was a bit worried“, admits Bittencourt. “Kiko was not only an exceptional guitar player, but also my songwriting partner. I wanted someone to fill that spot. Because of that, everyone got involved with the songwriting. This album started from zero, with conversations of what the direction of the band should be. When we were touring with Tarja Turunen two years ago, we started jamming and exchanging ideas with small amps in the dressing room and backstage.
At the time, we were touring for the anniversary of our ‘Holy Land’ album, which allowed us to do a lot of research on that album together. Marcelo lives two hours away from where I live by plane and Fabio
(Lione, singer) lives in Europe, so I was meeting with Felipe (Andreoli, bassist) and Bruno (Valverde, drummer) more often, but whenever we could, we would get together out in the woods for a couple of days. Just resting, chatting and exchanging ideas. Marcelo was showing me new bands and artists that I hadn’t really listened to, like Alter Bridge and Jeff Buckley, so we kind of exchanged influences as well. All of this has made ‘Ømni’ a very collective work.
I think that every time we changed members, the music changed a little bit. As a guitar player, Marcelo has a similar background to Kiko. They are both very technical and influenced by fusion players. Musically, however, it was a big difference, because Marcelo has a different way of doing things. The biggest difference was his energy, the way his personality balances with the group. He was the missing link that we needed to complete a very solid line-up.

A lot of soul

It is an honor and a pleasure for me to be in a band like Angra“, says Barbosa. “Not only because everybody respects the band around the world, but also because the atmosphere within the band is really good. Fabio, Bruno and I were encouraged to bring in some ideas and we also had the chance to give our opinions about the ideas the other guys came up with. Because of that, I felt really free and respected by the other guys, which is of course a perfect situation for me.
I was familiar with some of the writing that Marcello has done in the past, especially what he did with Almah“, continues Bittencourt. “So I knew we would get the whole package from him. I wanted Marcelo to be a part of the songwriting process, but I didn’t know how his input would sound in the overall result. We had some structures and parts for solos, but I would only know what he had in mind when he was actually recording it. During the recording sessions, I was getting more and more impressed with him. Every time he would record a solo, he would do something different. He used a whole variety of phrases and sounds.
My first concern was to bring in someone very technical, so the audience would not miss Kiko. In the end, Marcelo did not only bring technique, but also a lot of soul. The stuff he plays is alive. I can feel it moving. This time, we were learning how to work together. Next time, everything will be different when we start the writing process, because now we know what to expect from each other. I can’t wait to create more guitar parts together. I think the guitar parts will be even richer next time.

Fresh ideas

For me, ‘Ømni’ represents a new era for the band“, explains Bittencourt. “Our third. This time, three of the guys are relatively new to the band, so they’re helping to create a new sound with new ideas. Bruno, for instance, is only 27 years old, the same age as the band. He is very excited to be in Angra, because here in Brazil, Angra represents pride, as we are one of the few Brazilian bands that are successful abroad. This excitement, combined with the experience that Felipe and I have in the band, brings a lot of fresh ideas to the table.

What we wanted ‘Ømni’ to do is to combine these fresh ideas with the long history of Angra. We wanted to wrap up our history style-wise, so we brought a little bit of power metal, a little bit of melodic metal, symphonic metal, progressive metal, Afro-Brazilian stuff, orchestral stufff with percussion… Everything that we have ever done in a fresh, new sound. And I think we really succeeded.
This is the best time I have experienced with the band. In the past, it has sometimes been very stressful and painful to record and release a new record. This time, it was smooth, easy, natural and organic. Ideas were flowing. We would be talking, laughing, stopping for coffee, come back and more ideas would flow. Before the album came out, we didn’t know if people would like it, but I knew it was our best work. Everyone was so talented and so creative. I love it when our problem is that we have two or three choruses in the same song. Not because we don’t have a chorus, but because we have two or three really good melodies. In that case, deciding which one is out is not stressful, it makes me happy.

We actually had almost an entire album of other songs“, smiles Barbosa. “We wrote about eight songs more than we have on the album. Sometimes you already have two prog songs and it would be too much if you add a third one to the albums. The same goes for ballads, we already had two.
There is a whole soft song that was already prepared for the album“, agrees Bittencourt. “A really good song, but we already had a ballad and our producer Jens Bogren, who is a genius, did not want the album to become too soft. He wanted the record to be a little more aggressive, so it would make more of an impact. The whole song was out, so we can put it on our next one. There are also many ideas for songs; choruses, verses, riffs, instrumental parts… We don’t have to start from scratch next time.

Nothing to lose

I always write songs having the melody as a guideline“, Bittencourt shares. “Many times I start singing a melody, I add some rhythms to the melody and I won’t start adding the chords until the third stage. Therefore, singing is a natural thing for me. I like singing. Still, I think guitar players usually don’t sing as good as the lead singer, simply because of the position of the microphone. When you play, you want to watch the neck and you start worrying about what you’re doing. And worrying is never good, regardless of if you’re singing or playing.
During the ‘Angels Cry’ anniversary, we had nothing to lose. Some people complained that we didn’t have Edu or André
(Falaschi and Matos, former singers) with us, but when Fabio joined the band, we started researching new ways of interpreting our music. The audience knew that something different than what was previously done was coming up. That was a good moment for me to start singing, because everything would be new to the ears of the audience.
However, I was not going to be the lead singer, because that is a very hard task. We have very difficult guitar parts and difficult vocal melodies. And communicating with a crowd is also a big responsibility. I did not want to quit focusing on being the guitar player. I wanted to sing once in a while, when the songs are meaningful to me. Like ‘The Bottom Of My Soul’ on the new album. It’s a very personal song, so I decided with Fabio that I was going to sing it.

Guitar scientist

We started working with Jens Bogren with our last album ‘Secret Garden’“, says Bittencourt. “He brought a new concept for the guitar sounds. That was when I started to research new sounds and new equipment. In fact, it was Marcelo who made me aware of the fact that Kemper if very practical to work with. If I want to try an amp, I don’t need to buy it first. It really gave us the option to try out what is best for us with everything in the same box.
Our friends and us are always exchanging Kemper profiles, we literally have thousands“, explains Barbosa. “That’s why it’s always changing. Rafael and I extensively talked about guitar tone and exchanged sounds and ideas about our sound. We needed a really good set-up that was small and light to travel with and that we could use directly into the PA. Using the Kempers on stage is great for us, because we have tons of different sounds that we love. And we also have the option to not use a cabinet.

Marcelo is a guitar scientist“, admits Bittencourt. “He spends a lot of time on researching guitar sounds and learning different techniques, styles and phrases. He is a real perfectionist with every detail of playing guitar. I am a guitar lunatic. I’m much more intuitive. A part of the reason why I don’t spend the same amount of time on such things, is that I’m involved with every step of the production in Angra: the schedule, what we have for lunch when we are rehearsing and recording, hiring keyboard players, the orchestra and the percussionists. So when it comes to creating the guitar parts, my main resource is my intuition. However, I think this is very complementary. As a player, Marcelo is very intuitive as well.
My task in Angra productions is to capture everyone’s ideas and glue them together in a concept that makes sense. There’s classical parts, acoustic guitar sections, thrash metal riffs, a piano part, percussions… How to glue that together in a way that doesn’t feel like too many atmospheres into 50 minutes of music, that is my job. This time, it was a very easy task.

Diversity

Both of us started listening to Brazilian music before we even started playing the guitar“, says Bittencourt about the strong Brazilian influences on ‘Ømni’. “It’s our background, it’s in our veins. I think that all power metal bands should feel free to add some more diversity to their music, because the crowd is losing interest in power metal. It got so stiff and conservative that it is hard to create something engaging. Many power metal bands got so framed into a certain set of rules, that they all started to sound the same. Some of them sound as if they’re just following some rules instead of being creative. Kids grow up and get smarter. If you dumb their music down, they will lose interest at some point.

Angra is currently on tour.

Listen to ‘Ømni’ on Spotify.

Surprisingly metallic contributions to this month’s Gitarist


My contributions to this month’s issue of Gitarist have been surprisingly metallic. Balance is delivered by other authors’ pieces this month. First off, I had an interview with Rafael Bittencourt and Marcelo from Angra about their fantastic new album ‘Ømni‘. We talked about more interesting stuff than the article allowed room for, so please stay tuned: everything else we talked about will be published about in English on this very weblog later this week. Furthermore, the interview I had with Spoil Engine guitarists Steven ‘Gaze’ Sanders and Bart Vandeportaele is published with two live photos I took in his month’s guitarist.

And most relaxingly, I have taken the time to talk with Merel Bechtold, my friend of many years, about the recording of Purest Of Pain’s album ‘Solipsis’. Many years ago, we gigged together a couple of times, so it already seems like Purest Of Pain has been around forever, but due to her busy gigging schedule with Delain and Mayan, she finally found the time to finish the album. It sounds good; everyone who likes modern, Scandinavian style melodic death metal should certainly give the album a spin. You will not regret it.

Moreover, Michael Landau talks with us about his thoroughly enjoyable new album ‘Rock Bottom’ and there are loads and loads of gear reviews and background articles. If guitars and guitarists interest you and you can read Dutch, I can’t advise you enough to check this thing out. It is in stores now.

Album of the Week 13-2018: The Sisters Of Mercy – Vision Thing


The change between The Sisters Of Mercy’s second album ‘Floodland’ and its follow-up ‘Vision Thing’ is apparent from the moment the album kicks off. The reverb-heavy gothic atmosphere of the former had been exchanged for a drier production and a riff-oriented approach. With four people credited with playing guitar on the album, ‘Vision Thing’ shifts the emphasis from gothic to rock here. Of course, with this being The Sisters Of Mercy, it’s not your standard rock album – it’s almost a parodic take on the genre at times – but it’s the hardest rocking material the band around Andrew Eldritch released thus far.

Atmosphere has not been sacrificed entirely here, however. ‘Vision Thing’ just sounds a lot more direct and ironic than The Sisters Of Mercy had ever done in the past. Eldritch, who was essentially running the band on his own by the time the album was recorded, never felt too comfortable with the gothic rock tag anyway and his reaction to the legendary goth album that was ‘Floodland’ seemed to be coming up with material that was the mirror opposite of the album. His characteristic deep vocals prevent it from becoming completely unrecognizable, but ‘Vision Thing’ is mostly built upon simple, beefy guitar riffs.

Somehow, Eldritch and his production team seemed to squeeze the most out of these uncomplicated riffs. Such simplicity, especially with the use of the band’s trusted drum computer Doktor Avalanche, would result in mind-numbing boredom at the hands of others. ‘Doctor Jeep’, for instance, makes use of one simple riff and a modulated chorus, but perfectly manages to portray the boredom with mass media that appears in the lyrics. Despite containing three riffs, the title track is another monument of less-is-more, working towards its cathartic chorus through agitated observations courtesy of Eldritch surprisingly effectively.

‘Floodland’ producer Jim Steinman was brought in exclusively for ‘More’, the only keyboard-centered song on the album. The song ended up sounding nothing like ‘Floodland’ though, despite being the most gothic track on here. If there is a think like soul goth, that’s what it would be. The album’s parodical nature shines brightest in the eighties glam-inspired ‘When You Don’t See Me’, which has a massive and remarkably enjoyable chorus, cliché-ridden as it might be. The reissue reveals the fitting working title of the song was ‘Bon Jovi’. Highlighting the album, however, is the deranged ‘Ribbons’, with its propulsive riff and borderline disturbing lyrics.

If The Sisters Of Mercy prove anything on ‘Vision Thing’, it is that parodying rock music by embracing everything that makes it ridiculous in a delightfully sarcastic manner could result in a surprisingly effective rock album. One that fans of the genre who do not share Eldritch’s sentiments may enjoy as well. Those who fell in love with the band through ‘Floodland’ may be surprised by how prominent the guitars of Andreas Bruhn and Tim Bricheno are on ‘Vision Thing’, but anyone looking for a bitterly ironic rock album that somehow is very listenable do not need to look any further.

Recommended tracks: ‘Ribbons’, ‘Doctor Jeep’, ‘When You Don’t See Me’

Album of the Week 12-2018: Bittencourt Project – Brainworms I


With Angra’s music being as varied as it is, what more could guitarist and chief songwriter Rafael Bittencourt want to express? Quite a lot, as it turns out. Debut album ‘Brainworms I’ of his own Bittencourt Project is full of music that, while not completely sounding out of place amongst Angra’s oeuvre, would not fit on the albums of his main band. There certainly is more room to experiment with genres outside of power metal and progressive metal. Each and every one of these deeply personal compositions is performed with a passion that is rare among contemporary rock and metal albums. Very impressive.

Bittencourt is the lead singer on this album and although he has taken on some of the lead vocals on recent Angra albums, his heartfelt voice has a completely different range than the higher pitched singers he usually works with. Obviously, that requires a somewhat different approach in songwriting. And though ‘Brainworms I’ is still progressive metal to an extent, the hard rock, folk and even South American pop music influences make this a unique piece of work. Bittencourt is an amazing songwriter, but it also sounds like he gave the musicians he works with some space to be spontaneous, accounting for a very lively album.

Sequencing-wise, ‘Brainworms I’ is set up very cleverly, as opening track ‘Dedicate My Soul’ could have been an Angra track if it had a different arrangement. Due to its propulsive riffs and amazing chorus, it sort of eases its listener into the more “different” stuff. ‘The Underworld’ is another relatively heavy track, but quite dark compared to Angra’s quite upbeat take on metal. The interaction between Bittencourt and violinist Amon Lima in those tracks is incredible. The cover of Madredeus’ ‘O Pastor’ is surprisingly heavy as well. Definitely one of the most exciting moments on the album.

However, the softer moments are what make this album so interesting. ‘Holding Back The Fire’ is a stripped-down, Brazilian take on AOR, ‘Faded’ is a gorgeous dark ballad with a hopeful climax, while the twelve string guitar on ‘Santa Teresa’ gives the song an almost Led Zeppelin-like folk edge. ‘Nightfly’ is one of the highlights of the album, moving back and forth between tranquil passages, funky rock riffs and parts with a strong Brazilian influence. If anyone does not want to choose between folky and heavy; the amazing ‘Torment Of Fate’ has a tango intro, quiet verses and thick prog riffs. And a spine-chilling chorus.

Those expecting a shred album from the guitarist in a fairly virtuoso band will probably be shocked, as the only thing that comes (somewhat) close to that is the spirited instrumental ‘Comendo Melancia’. Yours truly has always had tremendous respect for Bittencourt as a songwriter and whoever else does, will likely be impressed by this spontaneous, lively album full of amazing songs. In addition, Bittencourt’s passionate vocals really lift these songs to a magnificent level. This is an honest, personal work of art that has the potential to appeal to a much wider group of listeners than Angra’s progressive power metal audience.

Recommended tracks: ‘Nightfly’, ‘Torment Of Fate’, ‘Dedicate My Soul’

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