Archive for June, 2017

Iced Earth and more interviews in Gitarist


If you had told me 15 years ago that I would be interviewing Iced Earth main man Jon Schaffer someday, I would go insane. I was an Iced Earth fan to the point of obsession and although I have come to think about Schaffer in a more moderate light these days, it was great to sit down with him and discuss some developments surrounding the band with him for about an hour. A portion of this conversation can be read in this month’s issue of Gitarist, which should be in stores by now. We have been discussing the new Iced Earth album ‘Incorruptible’, his inimitable rhythm guitar style, sounds and equipment as well as running the band. I was pleasantly surprised by his honesty and self-criticism, resulting in what I think is a very interesting article.

As for my other contributions, I have interviewed guitarist Jan Wouter Oostenrijk about his brand new ‘We Are Connected’, an album heavily influenced by Middle Eastern and North African music, for which he modified his guitar to be able to play the quarter tones common in music from that part of the world. Naturally, we talk in-depth about this “quarter tone guitar” as well. What else is a guitar magazine for? In addition, there is an interview I had with Dutch session guitarist extraordinaire Age Kat about ‘Rhythm, Space & Time’, an album based around his guitar playing.

I wrote a handful of reviews as well, while my colleague Patrick Lamberts talked to upcoming djent and progmetal guitarists Plini, Sithu Aye and Jakub Zyteki. There is also an extensive feature about the Stratocaster that Robbie Robertson used at The Band’s ‘The Last Waltz’ concert as well as loads and loads of gear reviews. There’s even a short interview with Michael Schenker, who I consider one of the finest guitarists in the world. So if you are interested in guitars, there is no excuse to not check it out. You can do so right now!

Album of the Week 25-2017: Mastodon – Emperor Of Sand


Out of all popular contemporary metal bands, Mastodon is the only one I can get behind. I respect how little they care about genre boundaries or belonging to a certain scene. From day one, they have chosen their own path and there is always a possibility that a new album is not going to sound anything like its predecessor. Curveballs like their 2009 psychedelic metal masterpiece ‘Crack The Skye’ are probably a thing of the past, as every record that followed attempted to combine the best aspects of their discography thus far, but none of them quite succeeds as well as ‘Emperor Of Sand’ does.

‘Emperor Of Sand’ is the record on which Mastodon learned to do all the things they already did a lot better. Their riffs are still heavy and not too fast, there is an abundance of classy twin guitar harmonies, drummer Brann Dailor still lays down some downright incredible fills and yet, it all sounds just a little better than before. The highly melodic hooks that started appearing around the turn of the decade are integrated into the heavy songs a lot better than ever and the increasing classic rock influences mix with the band’s heavy metal and hardcore roots more satisfyingly.

More importantly, the compositions are extremely interesting. Mastodon has clearly made an effort to make every section of the song be a new climax, which is especially beneficial to songs with a lot of drama, such as ‘Roots Remain’ and the epic closer ‘Jaguar God’. As stated before, the melodic choruses are still here, some songs even have several hooks, but they feel less like an attempt to cross over to the pop rock audience. Bill Kelliher and Brent Hinds have always been experts at weaving distinct guitar lines through each other and that feature of the band gets all the place it needs on ‘Emperor Of Sand’. Their bombastic sound helps. Hinds’ synth guitar in ‘Clandestiny’ adds an extra dimension to the sound.

In addition, the triple lead vocal assault seems to work better than ever. Dailor is there for the cleans, Hinds switches between a raw snarl and an Ozzy-like voice and bassist Troy Sanders is easily the rawest and most powerful of the three. They feed off each other and complement each other, which adds dynamics to songs like the highly catchy ‘Show Yourself’, dramatic harmonies to ‘Andromeda’ and impressive trade-offs are scattered all over the album. The vocals are not the thing that makes the album though; the guitars and the insane drumming are. As always.

While I will always be partial to ‘Crack The Skye’, Mastodon has really outdone itself on ‘Emperor Of Sand’. They have finally succeeded in combining all of their best qualities in a way that sounds “fluent”, for lack of a better term. I am somewhat reluctant to call the music on this record progressive metal, as the term conjures up images of Dream Theater clones, but it is a fact that this is the work of a metal band that wants to keep moving forward, with their virtuosity helping them rather than getting in the way of the songs. Quite an impressive feat, which makes ‘Emperor Of Sand’ one of the best metal albums released this year.

Recommended tracks: ‘Ancient Kingdom’, ‘Jaguar God’, ‘Steambreather’, ‘Roots Remain’

Album of the Week 24-2017: WarCry – Donde El Silencio Se Rompió…


While Spain loves its catchy power metal, not many of their own bands can even come close to the German, Scandinavian and American bands they enjoy. WarCry, however, have been pumping out excellent albums, especially since establishing their current line-up about a decade ago. Their new record ‘Donde El Silencio Se Rompió…’ feels like a logical continuation of the excellent ‘Alfa’ (2o11) and ‘Inmortal’ (2013). The songs are carefully crafted to ensure that the essence of WarCry – memorable, uncomplicated riffs and anthemic choruses – is captured and as a result, the album feels a little heavier without forsaking the band’s melodic sophistication.

Though WarCry never went overboard with progressive touches and big arrangements, ‘Donde El Silencio Se Rompió…’ is not the first “back to basics” album they ever released. However, frontman Víctor García has really matured as a songwriter since ‘¿Dónde Está La Luz?’ (2005) and that is why it feels like the songs on this new album have been conceived a little more naturally and organically. There is a spontaneous energy to all of the new songs and therefore, the album is a very worthy successor of the last two albums, which were the best two albums WarCry released thus far. This one is equally great.

It is impressive how Víctor García has succeeded in writing a collection of songs that all have their own strong identity. Especially considering that the songwriting is relatively simple and concise. Sometimes it is a riff, sometimes a certain vocal melody in the chorus, but all of the songs have strong hooks that make them instantly recognizable. Therefore, it is not very difficult to imagine legions of Spanish metalheads singing along to catchy heavy metal tunes like the uptempo ‘Resistencia’, the mid-tempo stomper ‘Así Soy’ or the remarkably upbeat ‘Ya No Volverán’ at upcoming WarCry concerts.

However, the best moments of ‘Donde El Silencio Se Rompió…’ appear toward the end of the record. ‘Por Toda La Eternidad’ is easily my favorite song of the record. How the song suddenly transforms from what appears to become a ballad into an epic heavy metal tune with an amazing chorus and a fantastic guitar solo by Pablo García causes me to have goosebumps. The riff-oriented ‘Luchar Y Avanzar’ is an excellent, more traditional heavy metal track, while the bombastic ‘Odio’ shows a somewhat darker side of the band and, again, a fantastic Pablo García guitar solo. ‘Muerte O Victoria’ has an amazing, dramatic vibe, while the melancholic closer ‘No Te Abandonaré’ is probably the best piano ballad the band ever recorded.

Everyone who enjoyed the last two WarCry albums can blindly acquire ‘Donde El Silencio Se Rompió…’. You will even be rewarded with an artwork and packaging that is simply stunning. But in the end, all that matters is that the songs are simply excellent. I am very happy that the band went for a slightly heavier approach without sacrificing any of the nice flourishes that keyboard player Santi Novoa adds to the sound. WarCry proves that you do not need a million riffs and dozens of unexpected tempo changes in order to write a fine heavy metal song. ‘Donde El Silencio Se Rompió…’ is full of them.

Recommended tracks: ‘Por Toda La Eternidad’, ‘Odio’, ‘Muerte O Victoria’

Album of the Week 23-2017: Iced Earth – Incorruptible


Lately, it seems like Iced Earth has been trying to make up for the bombast that characterized their sound during the first decade of this century by proving they are still first and foremost a heavy metal band. ‘Incorruptible’ follows this same general idea, as the guitars are front and center on the record. Sometimes it’s band leader Jon Schaffer’s instantly recognizable riff work, sometimes it’s the triumphant guitar harmonies reminiscent of traditional metal acts like Iron Maiden, but the guitars are always the defining factors of the songs. Combined with the ballsy production, this makes ‘Incorruptible’ one of Iced Earth’s more powerful releases.

The album’s direct predecessor ‘Plagues Of Babylon’ was also relatively guitar-oriented, but that album’s somewhat bland production and samey song ideas made it fall short of their excellent 2011 comeback record ‘Dystopia’. Schaffer made sure that the songs stand out more this time around by switching up atmospheres and melodies without losing track of the powerful foundation of the band. It helps that he has the amazing pipes of Stu Block at his disposal, as Block is perfectly capable of carrying out an anthemic chorus or a highly emotional passage without making it sound artificial.

Ironically, one of the highlights on ‘Incorruptible’ doesn’t even feature Block at all; it’s been a while since Iced Earth attempted an instrumental that wasn’t an intro or interlude, but ‘Ghost Dance (Awaken The Ancestors)’ is a well-constructed track which lets its triumphant twin guitar melodies tell the story instead of the lyrics. That does not mean there aren’t any stories here. In fact, Schaffer’s fascination with American history prompted him to write yet another epic – ‘Clear The Way (December 13th, 1862)’ – this time about the Battle of Fredericksburg. Interestingly, even on this track, the guitars don’t yield for bombastic elements. There’s a few subtle keyboard flourishes, but it’s a riff-driven epic by nature.

While most of ‘Incorruptible’ feels pleasantly familiar, the best moments of the record show the band taking the slightest detour from their normal sound. ‘Brothers’ initially sounds like one of the band’s trademark power ballads, but quickly develops into a highly melodic heavy metal track with an amazing guitar solo by newcomer Jake Dreyer, while the following ‘Defiance’ does an amazing job alternating an angry, crushing verse with a refreshing melancholic chorus. ‘The Relic (Part One)’ has a brooding atmosphere, while the riff work is simple, yet brutally effective, which can also be said about Dreyer’s sparse, but amazing lead work. ‘The Veil’ has an amazing build-up and as a result, it is one of the band’s better power ballads yet.

Of course, that doesn’t meant that typical Iced Earth tracks like ‘Great Heathen Army’, ‘Black Flag’ and the dark, aggressive ‘Seven Headed Whore’ aren’t worth your attention. Those who have followed the band for a long time will definitely like those tracks, but the rest of the album might just convince a few people who have given up on the band around the turn of the century. ‘Incorruptible’ sounds like a deliberate attempt to confirm Iced Earth’s status as the kings of American heavy metal. As fas as I’m concerned, that’s the best decision they could have made at this point in their career.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Relic (Part One)’, ‘Defiance’, ‘Ghost Dance (Awaken The Ancestors)’

My Eric Bibb interview in Gitarist


It has been in stores a while already, but I would still like to inform you about this month’s issue of Gitarist. I have had a very nice interview with Eric Bibb about the recordings of his fantastic new album ‘Migration Blues’ and the concept behind the record. It was a very pleasant and insightful interview and on top of that, Bibb is a very kind guy. I am also happy that Gitarist used one of the photos I took of him at his show at De Flux in Zaandam.

There is plenty more to enjoy. Tons of gear and album reviews for instance. Or more practically: a 10 page chord special. It is in stores now, so enjoy it while it still is!

Album of the Week 22-2017: Onmyo-za – Karyo-Binga


Released hot on the heels of the impressive diptych of ‘Fuujin Kaikou’ and ‘Raijin Sousei’, it is something of a miracle that Onmyo-za still had enough inspiration left to write another excellent album. In fact, it is even better than the latter. ‘Karyo-Binga’ sounds manages to sound familiar and fresh at the same time, as its combination of traditional heavy metal and hard rock riffs, J-rock melodicism, prog rock adventurism and subtle hints of Japanese folk is exactly what we have come to expect from Onmyo-za, whilst simultaneously updating the band’s sound, resulting in one of their best albums yet.

Of course, the update is minimal, as the sound of Onmyo-za is still strongly centered around the equally melodic voices of Kuroneko and band leader Matatabi, as well as the strong, but never busy riff work and passionate leads of Maneki and Karukan. However, it is quite obvious that the band was hungry to try out new things this time around, most notably downtuned guitars and a bigger emphasis on keyboards. That does not mean that we are dealing with a watered-down, pseudo-heavy version of Onmyo-za here though. Neither dominate the record and therefore, ‘Karyo-Binga’ feels like nothing more or less than a contemporary Onmyo-za record.

Like the other highlights in Onmyo-za’s discography, ‘Karyo-Binga’ has a very pleasant flow. This flow is somewhat reminiscent of its two predecessors, because ‘Karyo-Binga’ also starts with a relatively calm track which – despite its six minutes of length and song-oriented structure – feels like an overture (the title track) before moving into a powerful, but not too propulsive melodic heavy metal track (‘Ran’). The band is clever enough to keep itself from falling victim to an auto-pilot formula though, so among moments of familiarity, the band has strategically placed a few slightly surprising track to keep you attentive.

The relatively light, yet still powerfully rocking ‘Omae No Hitomi Ni Hajirai No Suna’ is one of them. Due to the subtle Hammond organ, the song has a bit of a seventies rock vibe, but Kuroneko – who, again, outdoes herself here – keeps it firmly within the Japanese rock realm. ‘Ningyo No Ori’ starts out sounding like it could be the big sweeping ballad of the album – which in fact ‘Jorougumo’ come closest to – before developing into a relatively concise epic with a dark, heavy middle section. ‘Susanoo’ and ‘Nijuunihikime Wa Dokuhami’ are the clearest examples of downtuned riffing without forsaking the melody and ‘Hyouga Ninpouchou’ is a passionate heavy metal track with amazing lead guitar work reminiscent of ‘Yue Ni Sono Toki Koto Kaze No Gotoku’ from ‘Fuujin Kaikou’.

Onmyo-za’s music is a melting pot of many different influences, as is the case with a large number of Japanese rock and metal bands. But where many Japanese bands end up sounding busy and at times disjointed, Onmyo-za found a way of combining all these influences into an irresistible, powerful sound that is remarkably pleasant to listen to. ‘Karyo-Binga’ is the latest and most contemporary sounding installment, but the consistency of the band’s discography is truly amazing. The record is well worth listening to if you are interested in any of the genres represented in the band’s sound.

Recommended tracks: ‘Hyouga Ninpouchou’, ‘Omae No Hitomi Ni Hajirai No Suna’, ‘Ran’, ‘Ningyo No Ori’