Archive for May, 2012

New issues of Gitarist and Interface featuring lots of Arjen Lucassen!

In stores this week will be the new issues of Gitarist and Interface, both including contributions by yours truly in the shape of interviews with Arjen Lucassen about his new solo release ‘Lost In The New Real’. A rather large one in Interface too. Arjen and I talked about the recordings of that album and the equipment he used, as well as his different approach this time. It was a hellish task to put the three hour conversation I had with him into short, readable articles, but I’ll leave it up to you if I succeeded.

Also, Gitarist contains reviews I wrote on the re-released back catalog of Ian Parry’s Consortium Project and the debut album of Holland’s own Rock ‘n’ Roll trio Black-Bone. Apart from my contributions, there’s a large feature on Rory Gallagher’s guitar collection and an interview with Golden Earring guitarist George Kooymans. Among loads of other things of course. Interface reviews a lot of new products in the recording, mixing and beatmaking category. Ross Hogarth is interviewed about his work producing, mixing and engineering the new Van Halen album.

So if you’re not driving to Fortarock this weekend, be sure to have these in your possession to read on the way!

Album of the Week 21-2012: Alain Clark – Generation Love Revival

Talk about reinventing yourself… Alain Clark was on his way to become Holland’s answer to Stevie Wonder with his fantastic previous album ‘Colorblind’. All the ingredients were there: the varied, engaging mixture of Soul and Pop, the message of peace, staying true to your family and love and a versatile vocal delivery by Clark himself. His live shows only cemented that reputation. ‘Generation Love Revival’ also shows an Alain Clark that is too good to stay confined within the Dutch borders, but the first artist that springs to mind this time is Prince. The sexy grooves and sparse vamps make ‘Generation Love Revival’ somewhat of a mixture of Prince’s black album and D’Angelo’s ‘Voodoo’.

Those looking for the carefully orchestrated melodies of ‘Love Is Everywhere’ or ‘Father And Friend’ will be disappointed. When you think ‘Blow Me Away’ was funky – which it was, albeit in a sort of an Isley Brothers kind of way – prepare to have a lesson in what Funk is really about. ‘Generation Love Revival’ is an album carried by rhythm rather than melody. Clark’s bassist Pablo Penton has a co-writing credit in many of these songs and it’s obviously audible. Not that it’s a bad thing, it just needs some adjusting to.

Opening track ‘Best Friends’ is actually gives you quite an accurate idea what the albums going to be like. The bass and drums are the loose, but solid foundation upon which smooth guitar licks weave a pattern. Clark’s voice sounds soft and seductive, yet intense and although most of the track sounds like a vamp, there is definitely a clear verse-chorus structure. Just like Prince or D’Angelo would have done. I’m not saying he sounds exactly like them, it’s just clear that they have a similar vision.

The rest of the album sexily funks around in a similar fashion, with some songs being a bit more electronic (like the title track, with Pete Philly guesting), some being a bit more upfront (‘Two Hands’) and some being a bit more ballad-esque (the excellent bonus track ‘Someone Else’). ‘Let Some Air In’ makes sense as the first single for the album, as it’s probably closest to what Clark did on the two preceding albums, along ‘Someone Else’.

And the performances are just spectacular. No one, however, overpowers the actual songs, not even Clark himself. This may come as a surprise, figuring that he worked with big American names like Pino Palladino and Chris ‘Daddy’ Dave for the album, but on the other hand: these are professionals that really helped Clark lay down his vision.

Whether the new direction will be met with unanimous praise from his fan base isn’t certain, but ‘Generation Love Revival’ is a daring artistic step. An experiment which eventually proofs to be a success. Clark chose to follow his vision instead of commercial demand and I applaud him for that. The result is an exciting new chapter in his carreer, rather than another album featuring more of the same. An album that is seductive and danceable. As long as D’Angelo is still working on the follow-up to ‘Voodoo’, ‘Generation Love Revival’ will do just as well!

Recommended tracks: ‘Get Your Savvy On’, ‘Two Hands’, ‘Release It’

Album of the Week 20-2012: Drive Like Maria – Drive Like Maria

Everything seems to go the other way around for Drive Like Maria. They did an American tour before they toured their home countries Holland and Belgium and now there is a self-titled second album. No problem of course; Drive Like Maria is the finest musical treasure both countries have to offer and that hasn’t changed three years after their impressive debut ‘Elmwood’. In fact, ‘Drive Like Maria’ surppasses that album in every way. There is more variation, the songs are more streamlined, but the band hasn’t sacrificed an inch of their unique appeal in order to do so.

For those unfamiliar with the music of the power trio gone quartet, the closest reference would probably be Queens Of The Stone Age. Drive Like Maria is just a bit more poppy and Bjorn Awouters is light years ahead of Josh Homme as a singer. The seventies Rock meets Stoner sound is there and Drive Like Maria doesn’t fear the wild eclecticism that QotSA likes to dwell on.

Less than a minute into opening track ‘The Dog Died Rough’, I knew these were 15 euros well spent. The powerful Rock riffs pound delightfully through the speakers and when the chorus starts, the band’s keen ear for catchy melodies is evident immediately. There’s a build-up in tension within the song which makes it a pleasure to listen to every time. This song and ‘Ghostrider’ are probably closest to ‘Elmwood’ in sound, but the dynamics just seem to work even better this time.

The band excels in many ways on ‘Drive Like Maria’. There’s brilliant poppy Rock numbers like ‘Where The Broken Hearted Go’ and ‘Howl’, there’s a hint of Americana in ‘Woke Up Hard’ and ‘On The Road’ is a beautiful touring band ballad to equal Bob Seger’s brilliant ‘Turn The Page’. But two songs really stand out for me. First of all, there’s the dark desert Blues Rock that is ‘Black Horses’, with “new kid” Bram van den Berg – possibly Holland’s best Pop/Rock drummer who took over the drum sticks from Awouters so he could fully focus on vocals and guitar – shuffling away as if his life depends on it. The brooding verses with Awouters and fellow guitarist Nitzan Hoffmann doubling lead vocals lead to climaxes that are downright awesome and when the explosion comes in the shape of the song’s heaviest part, accentuated by bassist Robin van Saaze’s vocals, it’s just beyond anything else. This song needs to be heard to be believed.

Closing the album is the very sparse ‘Bury My Heart In The Desert’. This is spine chilling material, opening with just Awouters’ amazingly passionate vocals, only to be backed by an emotional Wurlitzer part and a heartbreaking guitar solo later in the song. It’s clearly the same band as on ‘Elmwood’, just a side that wasn’t exposed as beautifully as on this song.

Anyone who likes good Rock music or even a well-written song should give these guys a chance. It’s hard not to be caught by these guys’ (and girl’s) catchy melodies, hooky choruses and infectious atmosphere. You shouldn’t want to either. Being sucked into music that is so pure and powerful is a delight. It’s been three years since ‘Elmwood’, but it was well worth the wait. I for one think that everyone needs to hear this band. You’d be doing yourself a huge favor.

Recommended tracks: ‘Black Horses’, ‘Bury My Heart In The Desert’, ‘The Dog Died Rough’

Album of the Week 19-2012: Stone Axe – Captured Live!

Stone Axe is simply the best Classic Rock band since the mid-seventies. Many bands have attempted to reach back to the sound of the early seventies, but no band has done that with the amount of class and conviction that Stone Axe does it with. After two downright stellar studio albums, guitarist – well, multi-instrumentalist actually – Tony Dallas Reed and singer Dru Brinkerhoff thought the time was right to release a live album, this time as a full band with drummer Mykey Haslip and bassist Mike DuPont. I can be really short about the result: Stone Axe is every bit as good live as they are on their albums.

For those who are not familiar with the band, Stone Axe’s music sounds like it could have been recorded during the first half of the glorious seventies. And they would have definitely belonged to the top bands of the era if they did. Artists that come to mind while listening to this are Free, Cream, CCR, Band Of Gypsys-era Hendrix, Thin Lizzy and a hint of Black Sabbath, while Brinkerhoff’s bluesy howl (listen to the spectacular ‘Black Widow’ to hear it in full effect) reminds me of David Coverdale in his younger years. If you like any of the artists I just mentioned and don’t own any Stone Axe records yet, get off your lazy ass and get them.

As with many Rock bands, the live environment fits Stone Axe very well. The energy heard on the albums translates well to the Roadburn festival stage and I’m under the impression that the intimacy between the band and the crowd lifts them to a higher level. The songs don’t sound radically different than on the albums – right down to the amazing seventies drum sound – but why should they? Reed and Brinkerhoff have written a bunch of brilliant songs and they don’t need to be altered.

Additionally, the setlist could serve very well as an introduction to Stone Axe’s impressive music. I wouldn’t say all of the best tracks are on here – one ‘Those Were The Golden Years’, one ‘Riders Of The Night’ and one ‘King Of Everything’ would be missing for that – but there are amazing renditions of the brilliantly built-up ‘Chasing Dragons’, the rocking ‘Old Soul’ and ‘Ain’t Gonna Miss It’, the aforementioned Blues scorcher ‘Black Widow’ and the breathtaking slightly psychedelic monster track ‘The Skylah Rae’.

Given the chance, I could go on for hours and hours about why Stone Axe is such a fantastich band that deserves to be heard, but in the end, it’s the music that should do the proverbial talking. If you like Classic Rock, you need to hear Stone Axe and let them into your heart. Period. You even might end up liking Classic Rock almost as much as Tony Dallas Reed. Until you’re there, just get ‘Captured Live!’ – and while you’re at it, get ‘Stone Axe’ and “Stone Axe II’ as well if you don’t already have them – and let the music do all the work. You’ll love it.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Skylah Rae’, ‘Black Widow’, ‘Old Soul’, ‘Chasing Dragons’

Album of the Week 18-2012: Angelus Apatrida – The Call

If it wasn’t for bands like Angelus Apatrida, I would be afraid that my beloved genre of Thrash Metal would be dying. The scene is flooding with retro bands too obviously tributizing one influence and the term Thrash Metal is suffering from definitionary inflation. With Metal growing more extreme, bands labelled Thrash in the media are often ordinary old school Death Metal, heavier Melodeath or – even worse – Metalcore. Luckily, there’s still Angelus Apatrida. A Spanish band that just does what I like hearing Metal bands do most: just Thrash intensively in a bunch of extremely well-written songs.

Two years ago, Angelus Apatrida stole my heart out of the blue. I got their album ‘Clockwork’ to review for the now defunct webzine Fury! and was completely blown away. The Spanish quartet isn’t just good, they’re fantastic. This isn’t a Thrash band that thrives on eighties nostalgia, like many contemporaries do. Of course, the influences are there, you can hear these guys like Exodus, Kreator, Annihilator, Megadeth and Slayer, but nowhere do they focus on sounding like one particular band. As a result, the songs are powerful songs with the best elements of thirty years of Thrash history, while sounding surprisingly contemporary, partially due to Daniel Cardoso’s spectacular production.

As a fan of all things guitar, Angelus Apatrida brings an instant smile to my face. Guillermo Izquierdo’s and David G. Álvarez’ riffs are punishing, violent and extremely tight, while their solos are nothing short of mind blowing. I would even go as far to say that these guys are technically more proficient than 99 percent of all Thrash musicians out there. Victor Valera’s drums pound through everything as well. Never slowing down for the worst musical invention since the dance beat: the breakdown.

In addition, Izquierdo’s vocals are awesome. Somewhat of a mixture between Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza, Mille Petrozza and Darren Travis, he sounds powerful and venomous, while never restricting himself to one particular style. There’s some melodic choruses (the awesome ‘The Hope Is Gone’ for instance) and loads of aggressive Thrash stuff (like the downright killer opener ‘You Are Next’), both of which Izquierdo pulls off with ease.

Other highlights include the stomping ‘It’s Rising!’, which leaves the listener with no other choice than to headbang and the epic ‘Blood On The Snow’, but really, the entire album is worth hearing if you like Thrash Metal. In general, I’d say the songs on ‘The Call’ are a tad slower than on ‘Clockwork’, but the difference isn’t that big. This is the same awesome band making another awesome album.

Well, I’m off to Rotterdam to see Angelus Apatrida play live. They’re only playing 40 minutes, as they’re opening for 3 Inches Of Blod, but I need to see these guys live. In the meantime, go and get this album. And get ‘Clockwork’ as well. It’s a relief to see bands like Angelus Apatrida keeping the scene alive. Far from the Bay Area or the “Ruhr Area”, we might just have the new revelation for Thrash. You are next!

Recommended tracks: ‘The Hope Is Gone’, ‘You Are Next’, ‘It’s Rising!’

New publications in stores now (Slagwerkkrant, Gitarist)

With the release of the new issue of the Slagwerkkrant, yours truly isn’t only a published journalist, but also a published photographer. Included this month is an interview with Dani van Gaalen, drummer of the brilliant Dutch Rock ‘n’ Roll band The Jacks (click for their website) and both the interview and the photo are from my hand. Something that makes it an extra delight to me is that there hardly are any female drummers included in the Slagwerkkrant. I’m glad I could add at least one to the canon with Dani. Other articles include an interview with Vinnie Colaiuta and loads and loads of tests of acoustic and electric drums and hardware.

No bigger articles from me in Gitarist this month, but there is a review on Arjen Lucassen’s new solo album ‘Lost In The New Real’ that I have written. There’s more Arjen Lucassen-related articles coming up in both Gitarist and Interface. You will know as soon as they are in stores. Gitarist has an extended tribute to the sadly deceased Jim Marshall this month and – of course – many pages about this year’s Musikmesse.

Many interviews have taken place these last few weeks and I will keep you informed about releases as soon as I know more!