Παρασκευή 14 Δεκεμβρίου 2012

MEMORY GARDEN interview with Tom Björn

The Tides of Doom Metal...
Swedish Doom Metal masters MEMORY GARDEN just finished the recordings of their new album that will be released in early 2013 from Metal Blade Records. Standing always by the side of the band, since the first years, I contacted drummer/songwriter Tom Björn and discussed about the recordings and all the latest news of the band.

It’s been already 4 years since your last album “Carnage Carnival” and now you are in recording sessions for a new album. So, give us all the available info about it.

Yes, time really flies! We started to record the drums in June 2011, so it has been a long process for us. Because most of us have small kids we felt that it was impossible to hire a bigger studio for this album, and be away for weeks. So with the help of Dan Swanö we upgraded our own studio, and have spent in general five hours per week there. We all have daily jobs to go to, so we met one night per week after work to get something done. And here we are in December 2012, finished! The album is right now being mixed and mastered by Dan Swanö, and the cover is almost done as well. Once again by Hjules! This album will both sound and look fantastic, and I consider it to be one of our best efforts ever!

Since you are back in Metal Blade Records, why did you left at first place, after “Mirage” and how did you join them again?

Well, this was in  2002 if I recall correctly. We had once again planned on visiting studio Fredman, so we called him up and booked the studio for about two-three weeks during 2003. We needed some months to complete the songwriting. Then, for some reason, MB decided to cut our budget drastically. That meant we could no longer afford studio Fredman, which we had been looking forward to so much. We kind of lost all inspiration in a heartbeat, and wouldn't settle with some other studio. Which was pretty stupid of us... MB decided to drop us when we said we couldn't make a good album with that budget cut in half. 
Some years later we signed with VIC records and they released Carnage Carnival in 2008. When we were getting ready with material for the new album, VIC was in some financial trouble. They simply couldn't afford to pay for another album.  So, without label again we decided to check with MB (among others) once more and they were happy to take us back for another round!

What about your musical direction? The early doom metal era of Memory Garden was watered with many progressive and power metal drops over the years and the last album had lot of differences from “Forever” or “Tides”, but all these years I consider you as a Doom/Power Metal band. What should we expect now?

I can promise that no MG-fan will be disappointed on the new stuff! It's pretty much the same foundation, doom with a few progressive elements and lots of heavy riffs to bang your head to! The melodies and Stefan's powerful voice are still there of course. 
We have also used a bit more clean guitars and keyboards this time, and that has brought a more dynamic and atmospheric sound. 

The line up remains the same?

Yes, it's the same since ‘08 when Andreas joined us. We don't want any more changes in that section now... We're working better than ever together and that feels great!

I am a big fan of Simon Johansson’s guitar playing - and also a big fan of Mike Wead of course (and Mercyful Fate/King Diamond style in general). How it feels to work with such a great guitar players?

We have been playing together since ‘96 and Simon has really become a great guitarist. No wonder with a mentor like Mike Wead! Simon has developed his style during the years and you can clearly hear influences from Mike in his playing, but I think he has a little different tone and has created his own style. I'm very happy to have Simon in the band, and also to have had the honour to play with Mike in Memento Mori. 

You are one of the few drummers that contribute in writing music and lyrics. What’s the composing procedure in Memory Garden?

I got too tired hearing that every band has a couple of musicians and also a drummer... :)
No, actually I've been writing songs since I was 12 years old or something, maybe not so good ones but still... I think I have a good ear for melodies, harmonies and so. 
We have always brought our ideas to the rehearsals and tried to put things together. And sometimes one of us brings a complete song to the table as well, then we try it out to see how it feels. We usually make the songs first, then vocal melodies and last the lyrics. I have written most of the lyrics for the new album, and I think it's easier to have a melody in mind to make the words fit better. 

What is the true essence of Doom Metal for you?

Well, it must be the heaviness and slow-to mid-tempo. But on the other hand I can't stand listening to stoner-doom or songs that are too monotone, I find it boring. So I guess, for me, the important stuff are heaviness, groove, melodies and variation. A good singer is also a must!

It is obvious that you play the music you like, but how easy or difficult is for a band like you to survive in the music industry?

Since we're not making a living on our music it's not a problem. We have been lucky to land deals with record labels and play a lot of cool shows, and I think those two things are of great importance to stay on the scene. We don't have any hopes of riches or fame (that would be pure stupidity) and we appreciate every opportunity we're given. As long as we feel we have something to give to the doom metal scene, and the fans want us, we will keep composing the best we can. 

I know that it is very early, but are there any plans for live shows after the release of the new album? People here, really enjoyed your shows in Greece.

Not at the moment. During the whole recording process we didn't play live even once, so now we look forward to that a lot! We will soon start rehearsing a setlist with some new songs in it, and as soon as the album is out we will hopefully be ready for some gigs again. But nothing is planned yet. 
We would love to come back to Greece again! 

Last words.

Thanks for keeping up your interest in Memory Garden, we need your support! Hope you will enjoy the new album, cheers!

Blessed Are The Dead 7”EP
Megagrind/Immortal Underground Rec. 1994 
Forever EP
Heathendoom Music 1995
Ta någon hårt i hand, så ger vi oss av till tomteland 7”EP
Private released 1995 
Heathendoom Music 1996 (Rereleased by Vic Rec. 2009) 
Verdict Of Posterity 
Metal Blade Records 1998 
Metal Blade Records 2000 
Marion 7”Single
Heathendoom Music 2004 
Carnage Carnival 
Vic Records 2008

Visit the official Memory Garden Facebook page HERE for the latest updates.

Σάββατο 1 Δεκεμβρίου 2012

AGATUS Interview - The Dark One speaks...

AGATUS... A legendary band from Greece that dwells in Black Metal with many traditional metal elements, epic atmosphere and great musicianship. After many years, Eskarth The Dark One and Archon Vorskaath are back in Greece and recently the performed a return live show in Athens, supporting Primordial. This year, they released a new EP entitled "Gilgamesh" and a remastered version of their first album "Dawn Of Martyrdom" is on the way. Crystal Logic took the opportunity to exchange a few words with The Dark One...

So, you are back! After a few years of absence, first last year with “Night Mares” EP and this year with “Gilgamesh” EP. What have you done these years?

Indeed we are. I have been busy with various diverse projects over the last few years. The pre-production of the new Agatus album was recorded, (hopefully available next year). I toured with Zemial, did various shows and recordings with Raven Black Night and composed and recorded bits and pieces for my solo acoustic project. Over summer I was involved in the recording sessions of the next Zemial album “NYKTA” which is anticipated for release in 2013 through Hells Headbangers Records. 

Early 90s and the cult begin… Give us a brief bio of Agatus.

Formed in 1992 in Athens, Greece. Recorded and released our first demo “A Night of The Dark Ages” in 1993 and our debut “Dawn of Martyrdom” in 1994 with the line-up, Archon Vorskaath, Eskarth The Dark One, Prince Korthnage. The same year Vorskaath and myself moved to Australia where we re-established the band. In 1996 we recorded the 7EP “Rite of Metamorphosis” with our new member Dracon (Destroyer 666, Razor of Occam). In 2001 Vorskaath and myself recorded our second album “The Weaving Fates” with of Jimmy Petkof (Raven Black Night) as guest vocalist. Due to other commitments the band remained dormant until 2009 which was when I re-incarnated Agatus in order to participate in Hell’s Pleasure where we shared the stage with Pentagram (US), ABSU, The Devil’s Blood and many other great bands. In 2010 I recorded songs for the 7”EP “Gilgamesh” which was released in 2012 by Those Opposed Records and marked the band’s return and new stylistic direction.   

What I can see, is two brothers with unique musicianship and each one has a band as his main vehicle. Yours is Agatus, and Vorskaath’s is Zemial. But each one completes the other one sometimes. How didn’t you come up with one band?

Thank you for your kind words. As a matter of fact we do have a couple of bands in which we both share all duties, these being Alpha Centauri and The Watcher.  We are both contributors musically, lyrically and arrangement wise. Besides, both Agatus and Zemial are evolving into something entirely different from each other and all that we did in the past.

“Gilgamesh” EP is your latest release (earlier this year) and I can see that your Heavy Metal influences are more obvious than ever. Which are these influences and what is the next step?

I am a huge fan of  70’s - 80’s Rock and Heavy Metal Music and I felt the urge to combine some of my influences in the music of Agatus. From the very beginning the music contained a lot of Heavy Metal elements, however in a lesser dose due the fact I was trying to keep the band sounding more in the Black Metal vein but with melodic elements. The fact was that my skills at the time didn’t allow for many elaborations, hahaha. That was so cool... Creativity was so intense due to the fact that I had to somehow compensate with mood and melodies for all those parts that I wanted to compose but simply couldn’t. 

Where do you live now? Are you back in Greece?

Yeah, I am back in Greece again after nearly two decades of living Down Under.

Recently, in November 24, we witnessed a live show of Agatus supporting Primordial. How did you felt playing in your homeland almost 20 years after Agatus’ birth?

It was an excellent moment for us. Very much anticipated and almost surreal. It felt like I owed this show to the Greek fans who have supported us throughout the years and continue to enjoy and support what we offer with Agatus or Zemial. Simply put, the audience was brilliant! We do have a great fan base in Greece and we sincerely look forward to our next live endeavour where we can offer even more to the fans.

What Agatus stands for? Which is the essence of the band?

Movement. Throughout the years I have attempted to create a unique sound which I feel I have achieved. I exercise freedom in expression however in a more conservative manner in order to remain within the context of the genre I represent. In other words I am happy to mix elements together in order to create the picture I have in mind. 

Back I the mid 90s when you released your debut album “Dawn Of Martyrdom” you were somehow under the sign of Rotting Christ, Necromantia and Varathron, the leading forces of Hellenic Black Metal. Also your album then, released from Hypervorea Records had a limited press. How easy or difficult were those years and what do you remember from composing, recording and releasing your first album?

Indeed all three aforementioned bands where certainly well established entities within the Greek scene and appeared as a source of influence or inspiration in one way or another for many Greek bands. Certainly it wasn’t an easy thing to get a record deal, especially from labels outside of Greece. When we did the recording of the demo I recall the owner of the studio (and Molon Lave Records), expecting that we hand over the recording to him in order to release it through his label. Most bands did that. 
As far as the composition is concerned, the whole thing was taking place in my bedroom at home whilst studio rehearsals with Vorskaath, Korthnage and myself were less than a handful prior to the actual recording of the album. I was in Australia on the date of the release and I remember receiving a box of 20 or 25 CDs. I was hoping for more. That was it; never did I see anything more from the label that profited from my work. 

In “The Weaving Fates” album, you started moving slowly into the depths of a more traditional Heavy Metal sound, keeping though all the Black Metal elements that characterize Agatus. Again, for that album, do you have any interesting stories to share with us?

I remember recording the album preproduction minus the drums in my own studio on an Tascam 8-track cassette recorder. We rehearsed at my brother’s place with drums a few times and then we entered Mixmasters Studio for the big moment. The daily budget was around $800 AUS per day so there was no time for fucking around. We either knew the stuff or we didn’t. Very little time for improvisation and working things out on the spot. The entire album was recorded in 3 days and spent 2 days mixing it. We spent the biggest part of the first day setting up the drums and getting a sound. “The Weaving Fates” is a mostly a live album since the drums and one of the guitars were recorded live within just 90 minutes (I have the entire session recorded on video). Most pieces were one take. I invited Jimmy Petkof (Raven Black Night) to do a vocal part in the song “Conqueror of Fear” which worked out really well and that marked the beginning of a longer lasting collaboration on various fronts. The album was recorded and mixed using AMEK and SSL consoles and Studer multitrack reel to reel machines. Nice memories.

Give us a few words for all the other bands you participate in. As far as I know, Raven Black Night are going to release their album through Metal Blade Records, right?

Yeah, that’s right. The new album “Barbarian Winter” is scheduled to be released through Metal Blade Records in early 2013. 
I am also involved with the band Alpha Centauri that is moving in the realms of epic metal. Götz Kühnemund - chief editor for Rock Hard magazine once told me that he felt that Alpha Centauri was Europe’s answer to Warlorld. Subsequently he voted it number 1 in his list of personal favourites in Rock Hard Germany sometime in 2007? That was quite an encouraging statement for our work that to-date remains unreleased and has only been circulated in demos and through MySpace.
I am also involved in The Watcher which is a progressive rock band with inspiration drawn by bands such as Eloy, King Crimson, Marillion, Tangerine Dream, Socrates Drank The Conium, Änglagård, Camel, Rush, Mike Oldfield, Hawkwind and many others. We have only done 3 live performances –all in Australia. 
Music, lyrics and all arrangements  in Alpha Centauri and The Watcher are handled both by Vorskaath and myself. I also compose my own material which is more like NWOBHM as well as acoustic contemporary material that does not belong to the metal genre. 

And back in 2012. The last words are yours.

Thank you for supporting Agatus and for the fine interview. A re-mastered gatefold LP version of “Dawn of Martyrdom” will be available early in December 2012. Those interested in reserving a copy can get in touch with me directly via Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/agatus.thedark

Organisers wishing to book Agatus for selected shows are welcome to get in touch.

Many thanks,

The Dark

Δευτέρα 12 Νοεμβρίου 2012

OMEN interview - Kenny Powell speaks from the Arena...

While recording the new album "Hammer Damage", the mighty OMEN release through No Remorse Records "Into The Arena", a compilation of live recordings with the original line up and previously rare and unreleased demo recordings. Kenny Powell took a break of the hard studio work and shared with us some thoughts and memories from the OMEN history. 
Bow down to the Axeman!
OMEN were formed in Henryetta, Oklahoma in the beginning of the 80s. Then you moved to Los Angeles with Steve Wittig and Jody Henry. What can you recall from your first years in L.A. and how did you join Savage Grace?

That is pretty close to the truth, that line up in Oklahoma was never called OMEN, though several of the songs on “Battle Cry” were based on songs we were working on. There was another member, Roger Sisson on bass and vocals, he was my life long best friend and we learned to play together. He was going to make the move to L.A. with us, but his wife threatened to divorce him at the last minute and he did not go. She divorced him any way a couple of years later and I know he regretted not going for years, it really sucked because when we got to L.A. I could not find a bass player worth a fuck or a singer. After a year of trying to find members, I was asked to join Savage Grace. I agreed to do two records with them, but I was always going back to my own band and everyone knew that. It was a good experience for me and I meet a lot of people in the music business through them, including Brian Slagel.

During that time, you met Brian Slagel from Metal Blade Records and when you parted ways with Savage Grace, Metal Blade decided to work together with OMEN. Why did you part ways with Savage Grace and how did the co-operation with Metal Blade started?

I had made friends with Brian while we were recording the Savage Grace EP. That was before the Evil Music business corrupted everyone and he was a big fan of the two songs I had written for Savage Grace record, “Battle Cry” and “Die by the Blade”. At the last minute the guys in S.G. informed me that my songs would not be on the record, and that was the escape route for me to leave. I called Brian and asked him if he would be interested in signing my project when everything was in place. He immediately told me I had a record deal to get a band together.

How did you find J.D. Kimball and what J.D. stands for? What kind of person was he?

While I was doing the Savage Grace thing, Steve and Jody had started playing in some other start up bands. Jody in a band with Steve Addler, who went on to be in Guns and Roses, and Steve in a garage band that I don't think had ever played a gig. I called both of them up and told them it was time to do what we moved to L.A. for and asked them if they had run across any decent singers. Steve invited me to their rehearsal and I could not believe what I was seeing. Really good band, good songs and a singer that was everything I had been looking for. His lyrics were right in line with what I had been writing and he was not some Hollywood pussy boy. He was Metal! The J.D. stands for John David. R.I.P.

Three classic records followed. Three landmarks for Heavy Metal music. “Battle Cry” (1984), “Warning Of Danger” (1985) and “The Curse” (1986). What can you recall from the recording sessions of these albums and what was your writing procedure during composing?

Those records happened very quickly. There was great energy and we worked very hard, rehearsing almost every night. Jody was living with me and after  borrowing a bass from Brian East and pounding him every day to switch from  guitar to bass we were constantly  writing songs. “Battle Cry” was recorded in 7 or 8 days and the band had only been together for a few weeks. Many of the song ideas had been around for a couple of years so it was not hard to get them in order. We took a little longer with “Warning of Danger” but it was also recorded in only a couple of weeks. “The Curse” was our first time to get a decent budget and take a little time to record. The writing process has always been pretty much the same for OMEN, I usually have my ideas for the music worked out in my head, and sometimes vocal ideas and at least some of the lyrics. Jody was always good for some great bass intros or some times a partial song idea that I would help him finish. As time went on I just let J.D. take over writing most of the lyrics and he would come to rehearsal after we had the music all worked out which worked out great. Unfortunately by “The Curse” problems were creeping in, Jody and J.D. were not getting along and some personal demons were starting to creep in with J.D. That later ended in him having to leave the band.

How were things in your live shows? Did you give headline gigs in small venues? Did you play with big names of that time?

We never really toured back then, not anything like I do now. Little stints of four or five shows sometimes headlining, other times with bands like Metal Church, Lizzy Borden, Fates Warning, Slayer and even Motörhead. Ever few months we would play a show in L.A. Phoenix, San Francisco or Seattle, but we always did well in Texas for some reason. We started getting on some bigger tours after the “Nightmares” EP, but that was when everything started to spiral out of control with J.D. and it was really heart breaking for me after working so hard and accomplishing so much the first 3 years.

How were things in Heavy Metal scene of L.A. during that time?

There were times when I thought it was great and going out to the clubs to see other bands when we were not playing was a great event, a lot of  comradeship  in the scene between musicians, especially with some of the Metal Blade bands. But it quickly changed when things got bigger, friends that I thought were close changed and suddenly it was only business and backstabbing and lies. I had enough of it by 1989 and left for Texas. I miss some of the real friends I made there, like Bill Metoyer, but honestly I am much happier being in Europe these days. The fans and bands seem real and honest over there and really into the music not to hang out and look cool. The music is what counts to me.

“Nightmares” EP followed in 1987 and OMEN appeared somehow more thrash-y in new songs like “Nightmares” and “Shock Treatment”. Meanwhile and during the 1987 shows, you were playing some unreleased songs like “Vicious Attack”, “The Jacket” and “Era Of Crisis”, destined for an album that was never released. Instead of that, Kimball left the band and in 1988 you released “Escape To Nowhere” with different music direction. Can you explain us how were things in the band that year? What happened to these songs, why did Kimball part ways with OMEN?

I have always been a little of a closet thrasher so that was easy to work into some song ideas for “Nightmares”, some day I will probably do a full out thrash song on an OMEN record, but Epic Power Metal is what I have in my heart, I like to think that we helped to invent that genre of music. The songs you are referring to, were written after J.D. left the band, and where going to be on what turned out to be “Escape to Nowhere”. It was originally going to be titled “Era of Crisis” which ironically is the song I have been working on for the past three weeks! An updated version will be on the “Hammer Damage” record. Finally twenty five years later it will see the light of day!
As far as J.D. leaving the band it was a situation that was impossible to continue. I always thought that we would get back together at some point. I loved his song-writing and we made some epic music together. It is a complete shame that it ended the way it did. He never got to see Europe and what he helped to accomplish.

Who was responsible for the change of your music direction in “Escape To Nowhere” (a good album in my opinion), who introduced you the singer Coburn Pharr and producer Paul O’Neill?

I meet Coburn through Steve Wittig, he was a room mate at a house that we were renting, so he kind of knew most of the OMEN songs already.  When things went bad with J.D. we were in the middle of a tour and he flew out and finished the tour. I think if we had done the “Era of Crisis” record with me and Bill Metoyer producing it would have been a far better record, I know what the singer for OMEN needs to sound like within what they are capable of doing better than anyone else, so it would definitely have been something totally different than “Escape...” I guess I will take responsibility for the music style changing on that record, it was not my intention, I was ready to record the heaviest, fastest OMEN record ever and I should have put my foot down on the change of styles. It was my first time to work with a producer and I just got up in the moment of doing something different. I want to make it clear that I have the utmost respect for Paul O'Neill, I think he is a musical genius. He was perfect for Savatage and “Hall of the Mountain King” is to this day one of my very favorite records of all time. I would love to work with him again on something else, I just feel like I am the only one that should produce OMEN, it is my baby and only my warped brain understands how it works!

After that what happened and OMEN disappeared? Did you play live gigs to support this release and how were things between you and Metal blade that time?

The funny thing is that we toured more for that record than all of the other ones combined! “Thorn in your Flesh” was a radio hit in several cities for months and we did probably forty headlining shows, tour bus for the first time, we actually made money for a change. There was no support from the record company, they hated the record, and the crazy thing was that was a song that kept being thrown off the record and I fought to keep it on. It was not even finished, like about half of the songs on that album. Metal Blade pulled the budget after they heard some of the songs.  Thank God for Paul O' Neill, who pulled money from his own pocket to pay for mixing the record. In the end though it was time to put OMEN on hold for a while, I was the only original member left after all of the touring, I did not want to do another record with Metal Blade, and there were three or four records left on the contract, so I just ended everything and asked to be released from the contract, which they did after a few months. It was a very depressing time for me, I realized that no matter how hard I worked at it, I could not control the actions of everyone else and that not everyone had the same passion for the band that I did. Serious reality check!

What have you done until the release of “Reopening The Gates” in 1997 and how did you come up with that album?

I was not going to have another band, too much Pain! I was thinking of producing other bands and writing songs for other artists, so I left L.A. for Dallas, TX to work for a music store chain called Guitar Center. Of course I went to see a band one night, I think it was Steve Stevens of Billy Idol, and I fucking knew I should be playing. I formed a band called Step Child with current OMEN bass player Andy Haas, I wanted to do something more for fun and not something to be so passionate about, it was lighter music, still metal by most people standards, but certainly not OMEN. It started to take off and we did a record and started playing all of the time, it was turning into a real band, had to quit my job etc. It just kind of hit me one day, if I will be serious for something it will have to be OMEN. I really did not know that OMEN had so many people that still loved the music, my son wanted to be involved, which I thought was great, but his heart was more new (at that time) U.S metal, so it kind of went in a little different direction. My heart was old school epic, but I did not want to be a dinosaur either. We did our first Euro tour ever, and every night it was one less new song, two more old songs in the set. Fucking awesome I thought, people really do care about what we did those first three or four years, I am not insane, this really was something special, something to be proud of.

When did you find out about Kimball’s passing?

I received an e-mail from his brother, maybe one or two days after he passed. I had been trying to find him for a couple of years, I wanted him to go to Europe and see what he had accomplished, I wanted to write new songs together and release an album. He had just kind of disappeared and no one that I knew could find him. His brother told me that John had been following OMEN on the internet, and wanted him to contact me after his passing, that he thought it was great that I had kept it going and that being in OMEN was something he was very proud of. Apparently he had been sick for some years, and I wish that he would have contacted me, I would have done what ever possible to get some last songs with him before it was to late. The “Into the Arena” project was something that I wanted to do to honor him. Unfortunately there were very few live recordings of OMEN With J.D. and they are probably sitting in the Metal Blade vaults. Steve Wittig found a cassette tape of the monitor mix from a show in San Antonio Texas from around 1986 and sent me a copy. It was in horrible condition, out of phase, some gaps in the songs where the monitor guy was cutting it off and on, but all I had of him live. I worked on this for over a year, finding a little slice to move in from another part of the song to fill the hole, recording it over and over again to pick out music or voice, so I could up the E.Q. So as to hear everything. There are no overdubs of new music, everything is from that shitty cassette and am very proud to have brought it back to life so fans can hear it after all of these years. And by the way, the new OMEN record that will be out soon “Hammer Damage” that was the name of a certain garage band all those years ago, it will be my final recorded tribute to Mr. Kimball, but I know he will be with us in spirit every time we all sing along to songs like “Teeth of the Hydra” or “In The Arena”.

Your latest studio album (until now, August 2012) is “Eternal Black Dawn”. Give us all the info about its release and the years that followed with all the live shows around the globe, South America, Germany, Greece and festivals like Keep It True and Up The Hammers.

I feel that “Eternal Black Dawn” was an important step in getting OMEN back on track. I did all of the recording myself at the OMEN studio and it was a great learning experience. It took Kevin a while to get into the OMEN style, but I felt like he did a good job, I just kept sending him back home with the first three records until it clicked. It open a lot of doors for the band and I was hoping to keep that line up for the next record. But as I have found out from the past, not everyone shares the passion. Rick and Andy were the first to leave, Rick to start his own business, Andy had Three kids to raise, Kevin stayed on for a lot of the tours, but when we started to work on the new album, it was apparent that his priority was his own band. I can relate to that, I did the same with Savage Grace, and I just did not want to work around his busy schedule. I wanted the new OMEN record to be the number one priority. All in all, EBD was a good experience for me.

“Eternal Black Dawn” singer Kevin Goocher left the band, George Call from ASKA came, you gave lot of live shows together and I really liked his voice, and now a new singer is in the band, Matt Story. How did you meet Matt and what the future holds for OMEN.

To set the record straight, two people have left Omen on their own, Rick Murray, and Andy Haas. Andy is back in the band, his kids are old enough now to not need constant attention. I hate changing members worse than anything else in the world, especially singers, which I seem to have bad luck with. I don't like to air dirty laundry, I don't find it productive. If you want to be in OMEN, I expect only one thing, if you commit to something then I expect that you will do everything in your power to live up to those commitments. This is my life now, I have dedicated myself to OMEN for as long as I can physically continue to do it. As I have said, I know that everyone is not as committed as I am, I do not expect that. With the exception of the last three members, I hold no ill will towards anyone, but time and again people made commitments, that ended up costing me, or I should say my wife, who bust's her ass for me to be able to do this, thousands of dollars, damaged my reputation, which is the most important to me, because anyone that knows me, knows that if I say I will do it, I will do it or I will die trying. I tried everything in my power to get the last singer on the new album, but after three years of trying, I got a half ass effort on one song, and the excuses that, “don't really want to do this, because it does not matter what I do, people will say it is not as good as J.D. lets just keep touring with the old songs”. I don't need that, I still have a lot of gas in my tank, and I will never stop playing those songs, I love them. I am super happy with what Matt has done on the new record. He actually listens to what I have to say and I hope he is the last singer in OMEN, but I know the facts, you don't make any money in this band, people have families, travelling is a bitch and not for pussies, I always tell everyone, it is 23 hours of hell for one hour of glory, you better be willing to pay that price or you will not last long. For me, it's well worth it, and would not want to do anything else with my life.

Which are the mistakes of your past, that knowing them now, you would change?

You can not change the past, you can only hope to learn from it.

And which are the best moments in OMEN history?

Those are still to come!

This interview is also published in the limited to 100 copies 
"Into The Arena" box set - 2012

Δευτέρα 29 Οκτωβρίου 2012

One more Heavy Metal week - Chapter II: Tony Martin

The chapter is opened and the pages are turned...

the Manilla Road memories are still in my head (and heart) and forever will be. But I was also expecting another visit this week. Tony Martin would be in Greece for a few days, we spoke about it and arrange at the last day of his visit (October 18) a “Meet n’ Greet / Signing Session” at No Remorse record store. It seems that we were unlucky… Everything was set perfectly, some interviews were also arranged, but that day, there was a national strike in Greece, so we decided to cancel the event. However, at the same day (or night to be specific!) the German Heavy Metal armada Accept would perform live in Athens. Tony told me that he would love to see live the guys! He knew them from his Black Sabbath days and they played a couple of shows back then. Straight away, I booked him two tickets (one for him and one for his lovely lady) and we were ready for the show! Despite the strike, one interview was done at noon, with Chris Kissadjekian from Metal Hammer magazine. Well… It’s not right to tell you what was said during this exclusive interview, except from the things I knew and discuss with Tony, mainly from his Black Sabbath years. Anyway, after the interview, I picked him from the hotel in the center of Athens and we went for dinner. Thank God, he is not vegetarian!

Back in the mid 80s, Tony was a member of a band called The Alliance, a melodic AOR band with only a few demo recordings and not any official release. They were based in Birmingham, the birthplace of Heavy Metal, and one day, his manager told him that he would take him to an important meeting. He didn’t say where and with whom… When they arrived at the meeting place/house, the door opened. “Hi” said a voice. He was Tony Iommi. Tony (Martin) was shocked and speechless for a while. Black Sabbath had some issues at that period… Their singer at that time was Ray Gillen, but he left to form Badlands with ex-Ozzy guitarist Jake E. Lee. The recordings for the upcoming Black Sabbath album “The Eternal Idol” were finished, even if it took them many months. Gillen had recorded the vocals, but since he wasn’t in the band, a new voice was required. Black Sabbath gave Tony only one week to finish the vocals, even if they were composing / recording for more than a year. Tony did an excellent job. He recorded all the vocals from the beginning, without meeting anyone else from the band in the studio. They gave him Gillen recordings as a “guide” and “The Shining” was the first song he sung to take the part.

During the whole discussion, Tony had a kind of bitterness when he was speaking for Black Sabbath, “When we were traveling with plane, they were in the first class with campaign and wine, and I was in the back with chicken and dogs…”

“Headless Cross” was actually his “first” Black Sabbath album, composed and recorded as a band, but “Tyr” was the album that made him realize that actually he is a member of Black Sabbath, the greatest Heavy Metal band ever. The sad thing is that when he was realizing where he is and where he stands, they “fired” him to call back Ronnie James Dio and record “Dehumanizer”. “They stopped calling me", recalls Tony, "They didn’t reply to my calls. No one told me I was off the band.”

He met only once Dio, but Ronnie wasn’t very polite with him… It was during a time when the Sabbath guys start calling him again. They invited him at a concert, just like nothing was happening. They were happy “Nice to see you!” and stuff like that. He understood that something was wrong with Dio. Personally, I like “Dehumanizer”, but it seems like a break for all of them. Tony had time to record his first personal album “Back Were I Belong” and Sabbath had “Dehumanizer”. The next Black Sabbath studio album, “Cross Purposes” is Tony’s favorite Sabbath album - “It has the ‘biggest’ sound” - But the last one (“Forbidden”) is the worst for him. 

Tony had strong memories from his first Sabbath shows in Russia. By the way, his first ever live show with Black Sabbath was the one on Greece! In Russia, they played two shows each day for two weeks! One show at noon and one later at night. Thousands of people came and go in a huge stadium. 
Tony Martin remembers: “It was like thousands of people entering in the stadium, clapping and then leave. After a few hours thousands of different people enter. In the front line, almost 20 meters away from the stage, there were always the officialdom, like the mayor and his people, family… There was even a grandma in a wheel chair once, in the front line… knitting under the rhythm of Iron Man!”

Tony has very fond memories from Cozy Powell. He was very sad about his death. It was a car accident. A friend (girl) called him and asked for his help because her husband was beating her. Cozy, left everything and drove at her home. He was talking to her at phone saying he is going there, when the accident happened… After his death, they gave a concert in his memory. In the front line, there was a woman holding something like a jar. The same jar was left under the drum kit during the show. This woman was the one that called Cozy… When the band told her that they felt Cozy’s presence there, she said that he was with them. His ashes were in this jar…

Well… you all might know other stories, so I don’t have to add more here. After our dinner, I left Tony at the hotel and picked him up later, with my good friend Dimitris Sirinakis and his son, and we all went at Fuzz Club for Accept! Tony wanted to enter the venue before the show to meet the Accept boys. I tried my best for that, thanks to Hakos Pervanidis who was very helpful. We all went backstage and was funny to see Peter Baltes or Herman Frank hanging around. Tony took his VIP pass, spend some time with Accept and then we stood by the right side of the stage to watch the live show. The support band, Marauder from Greece are huge fans of Accept and they played were they should be. Excellent performance and their drummer, Grigoris, is a huge Cozy Powell & Black Sabbath fan and he was very happy to see Tony there. After a while he wore his hand-made Cozy Powell t-shirt! They even offer Tony a copy from their last album. Nice guys, great band, Heavy Metal! 

The time had come for Accept to walk the stage… Amazing performance! Even if half of the set are new songs, they already sound like the classic ones. Wolf Hoffmann remains a metal icon and they also enjoyed the show. I did, Tony did, everyone did, and the beers… oh, the beers…

After the show, we went to Revenge Of Rock Club. It was arranged that Tony would be there, so few fans were expecting him. We stayed for almost an hour at the club, he signed some CDs, took photographs and had great time there. We all did. And the beers… oh, the beers… Too many for one night, but I needed to escape for a while from the wine overdose of the last days!

Tony’s flight was leaving after a couple of hours and the time was already 02:00. So, until the next time, we said goodbye, and I hope that the next time he will be in Greece, it will be for a live show…

Mark Shelton and Manilla Road, Accept, Tony Martin, wine and beers, Heavy Metal and many good friends… What else do you need in one week? I think I can’t ask for more…

Τετάρτη 24 Οκτωβρίου 2012

One more Heavy Metal week - Chapter I: Manilla Road

Shark, Manilla Road, Hammers and Wine...

Now, let’s see what happened the last days. There was so much intense, passion and HEAVY METAL, that I want to keep it alive, not only as a memory (it won’t be forgotten anyway), but also for everyone to see that some musicians remain legends among men. 

On October 14, 2012 there was Up The Hammers Festival Special Edition II in Athens with Manilla Road as headliners and Dark Nightmare, Etrusgrave, War Dance, Midnight Priest completing the billing of the best festival in Greece. Two day before we were expecting the arrival of Mark “The Shark” Shelton and he would be in Ragnarok club for “meet n’ greet” with fans and friends of the band. The good friend and organizer of Up The Hammers, Manolis Karazeris along with the people of the club, organized everything perfect and we knew that there will be an unforgettable weekend. Funny, but there was also a special Manilla Road/Up The Hammers wine limited to 20 bottles! Of course, I took one, but I will open it for a very special occasion. So, people all over Greece and certain friends around Europe start gathering in Athens. Back in the club, after 12 o’ clock Mark made his appearance in the club. It is always good to see this guy and for sure he is feeling like home when he is in Greece. He signed some records, took photos, had his drinks and chat with friends and fans. 

There was a very funny moment, when we were headbanging during “Astronomica” near at a window in the club and suddenly we felt someone all over us… It was Mark climbing to the window! The night continued like that, but next day I had to go to the work… The next day passed easily for me, still though I had some time with friends that I hadn’t seen for some time. Of course we ate also. That’s one of our hobbies!

And then Sunday comes. I woke up early (I think…) along with my girlfriend, and went in the center of Athens to pick up our buddies from Patra. Of course we ate also. I told you, that’s one of our hobbies. And we only eat meat. I went earlier to the club of the festival (Kyttaro Live Club) because I had some work to do with the label. There I had the chance to see War Dance during soundcheck. I really love this band and for me they are the “next big thing”. 

So, everything was set up, we’ve already start drinking and having fun. 
Midnight Priest was the first band to hit the stage and people started to enter the venue. The band was very passionate and they enjoyed playing there. Then I grab a beer and went to the front to watch War Dance. They are perfect. They combine elements from Manowar, Warlord and Sarissa, filtered through a personal sound and the result is pure lyrical epic metal magic. They have released only a promo CD but they are in recording sessions for the material that will be their first album. I can’t wait for that. After that there was some kind of problem in the club with electricity or something and Etrusgrave moved on stage and wait for the problem to be solved. It took a little time, but after that, the Italian band was a huge surprise. I didn’t expect them to play before Dark Nightmare, but if you would see the respond that Dark Nightmare had from the people there, you would be surprised. Great shows from both bands.

But there was a storm waiting to break… Arise all ye faithful to the sword... Manilla Road was on stage, for a special 3 hours set starting with my favorite MR album “Open The Gates” performed in its entirety. Magik, Dragonships, the Spear of Tiw, Fires, the Norns, Kings and the Dragon passed before our eyes and took us by storm. We were speechless from such a magical performance. Mark’s guitar was sending vibes from Hell and Bryan was singing with passion the hymns of mythical poetry. For my surprise, since it was the first time to see Neudi behind the drum kit, he really moved the band to a higher level. After “Open The Gates” the Road passed through “Necropolis”, “Haunted Palace” (Randy would be proud of Neudi), “Isle Of The Dead” (with a monumental moment of Agis throwing Jim off the stage!), “Masque Of The Red Death”, “Death By The Hammer”, “Hammer Of The Witches”, “Divine Victim”, “Dig Me No Grave”, “Metal”, “Crystal Logic”… and many more! During “Mystification”… well, I went a little crazy, but I think this will be my last stage diving - getting old I think. Still have bruises – for a moment I thought I broke some bones... but I enjoyed it! I really can’t say more for this performance. All you have to do is take a look on this video:

After two days, on October 16, there was a special event. A secret acoustic gig among few friends of Manilla Road (around 40 people) in a wine bar under candles’ light. Mark and Bryan with the help of Gianluca Silvi spoke straight to our hearts that night. There was a great moment where the original guitarists of Battleroar (Kostas and Manolis) with violin player Alex and Mark on vocals performed “The Wanderer”. A night to remember… with great friends and lot of wine!

I was very busy that week… and I was expecting a special guest. A good friend, a great person and a unique singer, but this is Chapter II

Τετάρτη 17 Οκτωβρίου 2012

VALIDOR interview... at the Dawn of the Avenger

At Up The Hammers Festival Special Edition II on October 14, 2012, Iron On Iron Records present the second album of Validor called “Dawn Of The Avenger”. Being there from the very beginning of this band, I always believed in Validor’s Epic Metal sound and the mastermind behind Validor, Odi, didn’t fail me! He won’t fail YOU either if you are into barbaric epic metal… So let’s see what Odi has to say…

You have a new album, just released, called “Dawn Of The Avenger”. How was the composing and production procedure and how long are you working on this one?

Hello! As in the previous album, all went very smoothly and even better. I had all the songs pre-recorded in my house and with the professionalism of Bob Katsionis and the excellent communication we had, the album was written in less than two months.

Along with your debut album “In Blood In Battle”, once again, Bob Katsionis helps you in recording and also plays some guitar parts and keyboards. How important is his contribution in Validor?

Bob, despite the fact that is a very good friend, is a highly talented musician. Knowing my character and also having the expertise that is needed he helped incredibly even in the vocal lines. How important he is? All I have to say is that he is so important for Validor, as Marty Friedman was for Megadeth.

Which are the differences between your two albums?

Both albums are designed to not become boring! This means several different parts, many lead guitars, changing tempos and diverse vocals. Beside that, the mistakes of the rookie are decreased. I worked more for the vocals and sung without anxiety and fear - not that I died in fear in my previous album haha. The main difference is the galloping rhythms that come and go in the new album. Also, I will agree with all those who say that “Dawn Of The Avenger” is more epic and more barbarian!

How would you describe your music?


How did you come up with the cover on “Hour Of The Dragon” from Manilla Road for the new album?

I made the cover version of “Hour Of The Dragon” (and not a remake) because, besides being one of my favorite songs since I was young, I remember myself singing the song and before the chorus I always said “why didn’t they speed up here or scream there…” so I decided to record it in my own way, the way I had it in mind and  the final result fully justified me and as the creator (Mark Shelton) wrote to me: “By the gods this is great stuff man. I love it, I love it, I love it. Great job. I think you have done a better version of the song than ours. Man believe me this is really great stuff.”

Validor will remain as one-man band with guest musicians and why? Don't you want to perform live in the future?

When I started Validor I did not have in mind to release anything for the world. Until the first 6 songs, I wrote music only for me and my best friends. Then, after threats and blackmail, they convinced me to go to a record label. Having Nick as guitarist, I recorded another song but after personal issues he left and Bob replaced him. Validor is for me the personification of my soul and for this reason I don’t want other members. That’s because if a member of a band doesn’t have an opinion, he is not a member but just a hired musician. So this is why I work with guest musicians. The only one after me, who has an opinion and view for Validor is Bob, but he takes the title of guest musician for force majeure, since he has contracts with other companies and cannot be a member in any band he wants.
Beyond that, a live show is something that maybe will concern me in the future. At the moment the conditions in my life do not allow me to do it and I don’t have enough free time. The only free time I have is dedicated to my wife and my family.

Let's talk about the Greek metal scene for a while. For you, which bands stand out from the mass and why?

Attention! I will only refer to recent bands and start with a great band named War Dance. The have great epic songs and emotional music, and they remind me of Manowar. That is enough for me to have them among my favorite bands. Wishdoom, after their demo also released a multifaceted epic album with diversity but always stayed epic! And although they tend to Doom (a genre that I don’t like) they don’t make me bored… On the contrary I like them! I listened a song from a new band called Tidal Dreams and get stuck on that one! I will not say anything more because I got their debut album just yesterday and I have not yet a complete opinion. The only thing I will say is that they are perhaps one of the most promising bands at this moment! I also like Wrathblade, even if they are a couple of years more in the scene, but they just released their first album this year… And now, Black Sword Thunder Attack! There are people who believe in them, and I expect something new from them apart from the demo. If they will release an album, many will kneel before them! If they won’t it will be a fault for them. Their singer has the most cult vocals and I'm proud that he accepted to do guest vocals on my first album, in the song “The Last Emperor” and I am trying to convince them to release their debut album which I have heard and it kills! If they will be left to slumber, I won’t bother with them again. If you won’t do something go and kill yourself! And finally I will mention a band that is not new but it's my favorite… Wolfcry!

Which are the things that bother you in Hellenic metal scene and what does it takes for a band to succeed? 

Although you do know better, I would say… We are full with “cliques”, assholes and conceited people! Just like that! People who released one record and consider themselves judges who deride the bands they don’t like without any respect and if you will tell them something, they just reply “we have democracy and I am saying my opinion.” Wrong! Democracy and freedom of opinion and speech is a different thing from a direct attack and infection. But they are so uneducated that they do not know that insult and irony - derision, are prosecuted. Each one insults the ones he doesn’t like and praises his friends. They think that they represent the Greek metal scene and that they are supporters of the scene. Shit supporters they are... and they don’t support the scene by going in a few live shows. They only do it to promote their work. On the other hand, there are people who really love the scene but they are only few.

What "success" means for you?

Everyone perceives success in a different way. So I don’t know what a band has to do to succeed, because I simply don’t know what success means for them. A few months ago I received a photo from an American who wrote in the back that Validor gave him strength and courage to overcome anxiety about a heart surgery that he would make… and few days later I received a message from a Spain, who told me that after a car accident, he sat a year in bed and listening only to Validor and Manowar because that was giving him motivate to get up and walk again… Beyond the positive comments like “epic composition” etc that I have received and honor me, success for me are these two messages which shocked me! This is the biggest success that I never imagined that I would have…

What are your plans for the near future?

I will continue without rush this time with the third Validor album. A thrash metal album under the name “Castigation” and one more surprise… Maybe a live show also in the future…

Last words…

Thank you very much for the opportunity you gave me to talk about the new album, but above all for your support from the beginning of Validor. I would also like to thank Iron On Iron Records for the full respect they showed in me. I asked one thing, they gave me ten! Our art work designer, Eleni Papadea entered my soul and created the art I had in my soul. So simple! Vlastos and Tsilios devoted to what they had to do with passion and the result is a great digipack CD with an amazing cover and an incredible booklet! Beyond that, I have to thank also Greg Varsamis for everything he has done. Hails!