AN INTERVIEW WITH TOMI JULKUNEN OF THE MILESTONES (APRIL 2014)

Our appreciation for Finn classic rock outfit The Milestones is well known here at V1.  With the band having just released their fourth album “Higher Mountain – Closer Sun” we felt it would be rude not to catch up with guitarist Tomi Julkunen for another interview.  Enjoy.

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Tomi, many thanks for agreeing to another interview with us at VirtuosityOne, and congratulations on the release of the new Milestones album “Higher Mountain –Closer Sun”.

Thanks Andy, it’s my pleasure. Got to be happy that we are interesting enough that people want to read about us. So much competition and so many bands out there these days, even more than last time we did this.

The new album to my ears is bigger and better than its rather excellent predecessor “Devil In Me”. It seems the band are pretty fired up and motivated right now, is that a fair assessment?

Cheers, yes it is indeed! Devil In Me was a big step for us as the album before that was released 10 years earlier. On DIM we were getting back to our real sound, which is that classic rock / southern rock kinda sound. The band is more motivated than ever and that’s amazing in itself as we’ve been doing this almost 20 years now. Playing is more exciting than ever and I’m sure people who have to record or come to our show can also feel the excitement. It feels like we’re only getting started and really starting to find our own voice.

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Click to read our review

So tell us about the making of the album from start to finish, how soon after “Devil In Me”did the process begin and what happened from there?

We already started writing new songs before Devil In Me was even released. We just jammed and wrote shitload of new songs. We also played some of them live just to see how people react to them. I think we had around 30 songs to choose from. It was cool as now we had to really think which songs we could put on the album. There’s couple of really cool ones that we might do something with later on, of maybe pick a riff from one song and some other part from another song and just combine different parts from different songs.

Once again there is a very live feel to the album. Was it recorded with the band in one room or individual instruments then pieced together?

Cool, that’s what we were aiming for, to get that real live sound. It was recorded with the band in one room to get that feel. We’ve tried different kind of methods but that’s the natural one, all in the same room. Lot of people say that we sound pretty much the same live as on the record so why not, we wouldn’t be able to capture all the energy and the live feel if we recorded separately one instrument at the time. It also lot more fun to play when we’re all in the same room where you can see all the faces, smiles, nods and all that.

We have a nice cross section of material, from good time up tempo rockers like “Walking Trouble”and “Shalalalover”to more mellow moments like “Oh My Soul”and “Grateful”, what were you as a band looking for in this collection of songs and how did you go about setting the track listing?

We wanted it to be rocking and mellow record at the same time. It’s boring if every song has a same kind of tempo or feel to it. Now we have nice collection of up tempo rockers, mid tempo songs and there’s a slow acoustic one too. It’s very balanced record I think. I myself like records like that.

It was great to hear the smoking cover of Foghat’s “Drivin’Wheel”, they are a band that isn’t really that known here in Europe (Slow Ride aside) so it was nice to hear you guys paying them some dues. What led to doing this particular cover?

To be honest, I hadn’t even heard Drivin’Wheel before. I only knew we sounded bit like Foghat and that they’ve been around for ages. It was Tommi, our drummer, who came up with the idea. He played it for us and straight away we knew that it would be perfect song for us to cover. I think Tommi knows someone from Foghat or their roadie or something like that. I’m proud of our version and I think we did a great job. It’s a great song!

What guitar gear did you and Marko Kiviluoma use this time around and how do you two generally go about dividing up guitar duties on the tracks?

We used the same gear we always use; Gibson and Fender Guitars, different models. As for amps I used only my old reliable, Marshall JCM 800 from the 80’s. Marko had his Vox and Ampeg amps. Very basic stuff, some cool boutique pedal like Mad Professors but nothing too fancy. We get different sounds using different guitars with the same amps. That’s the big secret behind our sound.

What do you personally look to add to a song?

Something that compliments the vocals and Markos guitar parts. We never try to play exactly the same, that would be boring. We both have our own styles so it’s pretty cool to come up with different guitar parts. I try not to overplay or play too many solo licks while recording songs. It’s better that way, then you can add some cool licks when playing live.

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Who do you look too in guitar duos in other bands as indicators to how the two guitar thing should be done?

Obviously the guitarists in The Black Crowes, especially from Southern Harmony and Amorica era when Mark Ford was still in the band; The Rolling Stones of course, Aerosmith, Thin Lizzy and so on. Those guys know how to interact between two guitars. If you have two guitarists in the band you should be able to handle both lead and rhythm parts, that makes it even more interesting to listen to.

I see you’ve got a few gigs upcoming in Scandinavia, any plans for any further afield?

Yes, the plan is to get the album out in as many countries as possible and then play gigs all over. Of course these things take time to plan and arrange. We still haven’t got any deals outside of Finland but we’re working on it at the moment. We have only one German show confirmed and that’s for 2015. But keep checking the news from our website or Facebook page.

Anything else you’d like to let us know of what’s happening with the band and other projects you have?

We have a new video coming up soon for the song Walking Trouble as it’s gonna be the next single. It was shot at one of our recent live shows. We’re planning to release two radio singles at the same time, one for rock radio and other one for more mainstream stations. We’re also planning some cool stuff for our 20th anniversary which is on September. That might include re-releasing Vol 1. as it’s impossible to get it anywhere, it’s been sold out for years and years. But we’ll see, cool stuff coming up anyway.

Tomi, thanks for your time.

No problem at all, thank you. Looking forward to the next round with the album number five!

THE MILESTONES : HIGHER MOUNTAIN – CLOSER SUN

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Out now on Turenki Records

Finland’s classic rockers The Milestones are back with the fourth album in their 20 year history. Not exactly prolific but quality over quantity is a rare commodity in this age.  Their last effort “Devil In Me” was an excellent slice of what the band are all about. Now just 4 years later they are back with “Higher Mountain – Closer Sun”.

For the most part the album takes off where its predecessor ended, when you have a winning formula why not if the songs are as good, fortunately these are slightly better.

If you like your rock on the classic end of things this band will bring new joy into your world.  A very live feel is heard throughout,  LOUD responsive guitar tones (with a bevy of Telecaster, Firebird and Les Paul usage) and a rhythm section that clearly knows the meaning of the word – groove – throw on top a vocalist who actually seems to be enjoying his music and its hard not to listen to this and smile.

Opener “Walking Trouble” kicks the album off with high energy, a driving riff collide with gritty vocals and rocking harmonica from frontman Olavi Tikka and you’ll be turning this up loud.  “Shalalalovers” continues the theme but throws in a little more commercialism with the chorus hook likely to be in your head days after.

The band prove they have exquisite taste by next serving up a faithful cover of Foghat’s 1976 classic “Drivin Wheel”, high energy and a will to make the song their own is displayed.  Next we can catch our breath a little with the southern rock inflections of “Oh My Soul” before the predominantly acoustic “Grateful” prepares up for the Stonesy crunch of “Sweet Sounds”.

A nice Humble Pie vibe is experienced on “It’s All Right” and this is the first of a couple of corker tracks with the telecaster twang  bedrock and laid back delivery (at least for the verses) of “You” show strong song writing and good maturity from the band.

“Looking Back From Yesterday” sits in mid-tempo waters and does take a few listens to sink in fully before “Damn” ups the tempo with a ridiculously simple yet effective riff drives the song on, its also got a killer chorus as well.

Closing track “Fool Me” seems a little haphazard compared to the majority of the album with riffs that are disjointed and quirky in equal measure, maybe not the killer closing track the album deserves but pleasant enough.

“Higher Mountain – Closer Sun” is another excellent release from The Milestones, How they’ve managed to escape more widespread popularity is beyond me but this album is strong enough to certainly give them a chance of that.  Well crafted songs in a retro spirit with great vintage guitar tones and packed full of strong vocal hooks make this one of the best pure rock releases you are likely to hear in 2014.

Check it out now.

Rating – 92%

THE MILESTONES – DEVIL IN ME

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Originally reviewed in 2010 and back from the archives.

Bold, soulful and groovy are the words to describe The Milestones whose 70′s influences include such greats as Lynyrd Skynrd, Allman Brothers, a touch of Bad Company and healthy dose of the attitude of Bon Scott era AC/DC. You’d swear these guys were coming out of the southern reaches on America but no, they hail from Finland and have produced a quite marvelous album in “Devil In Me”.

If you enjoyed early Black Crowes and the two gems from Cry Of Love or the above mentioned bands you will enjoy this thoroughly. Great songs powered along by clear twin guitar with guitar tones that are on the right side of vintage dirt, a grooving rhythm section and a superb vocalist in Olavi Tikka who is equal parts Chris Robinson/Bon Scott and Paul Rodgers. This is an album made in the finest traditions of when it was the music that mattered – you can smell the earth, the bourbon and the Marlboros and I don’t think I’ve enjoyed an album in a similar vein so much in quite some time.

No need for picking out individual tracks for this is an essential purchase from start to finish. If you have a penchant for 70’s rock in its more honest form then check this out now.

Rating – 90%

BALTIMOORE – BACK FOR MORE

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Out now on BLP Music

“Back For More” marks the 12th album from Swedish hard rock merchants Baltimoore and it’s the band heaviest in some time.  As always led by the distinctive voice of Bjorn Lodin the album fuses traditional hard rock textures with a few left turns and interesting musical twists.  In the band are some old faces from the bands past in bassist Weine Johansson and Hammond organist Örjan Fernkvist, who are joined with a couple of new faces in guitarist Mats Attaque and drummer Klas Anderhell.   Bjorn Lodin is still the principle songwriter so the bands trademark sound is still here in spades.

Opener “Cry Out For Innocence” blasts out the speakers with biting intent and Lodin sounds suitably aggressive in his vocal delivery.  With a fast paced riff that wouldn’t be out of place on an MSG record (along with a hint of Uriah Heep’s Easy Livin) this is powerful stuff.  New lead guitarist Mats Attaque makes a great first impression with some soaring lead lines and it all adds up to a great opening track.

“Don’t Say No” keeps the tempo and momentum high but is a more commercial flavoured rocker with a truly infectious chorus. The bottom end is truly thunderous and once again Attaque lays down another blistering performance.

“Until The End Of The Line” slips into mid-tempo waters for a dual faceted track which fuses a restraint verse before building for the bridge and ultimately hitting its stride for the melody rich chorus.  Lodin knows how to craft a song and this is a strong example of how he likes to tease the listener with giving them something traditionalists would appreciate before throwing in a curveball.   A song with good radio potential.

The promo sheet says some tracks were originally written with Lodin’s other oufit HARD in mind.  “Are You Onto Me” may well be one of these numbers as its sounds pretty similar to feel with Lodin’s work on his two efforts with the Hungarian outfit.  A slightly disjointed track which doesn’t possess the immediacy of its predecessors yet finds its feet particularly in the middle instrumental section which has a great folky bounce to it (in a Thin Lizzy like delivery).

“Break Into Something New” is another poppier rock song and could be seen as the cousin of “Until The End Of The Line”.  Lodin throws down his pop vocal for the verse before rising to the rock occasion for the main hooks (the pre-chorus is another charmer) and chorus.  It’s an enjoyable track with a fun nature.

You might think it would be time for a breather but the band keep the rock going for “Means To An End” and it has one of my favourite vocal deliveries on the album from Lodin.  Some really cool harmonised lead guitar fills are here too.

“Gun Of Doom” initially starts out pretty basic but moves into more interesting waters after the monotonous opening and verse riff which do drone on a little, but the bridge and chorus provide some alternative drive, its probably the least accessible track on the album and does take a few listens to reveal its character.

Track 8 brings up the albums lightest moment with a shuffle feel, something  Lodin likes to have on most albums he has done.  You can see why as he knows how to lay a vocal over this feel perfectly, its  a track which has a positive chorus, yet has a dark side elsewhere.  It’s a track that would have also fitted on the bands “X” album well too.

“Say It Like It Is” is a slowish track, with allows Lodin a chance to work the vocal line well.  It’s another track with nice variety, the hanging chords of the bridge work well too.  Punching in and out of Lodin’s vocals are some call and response lines from Attaque.  Its another track that requires few listens to really get into but it’s a slow burner but after several listens of the album has become one of my favourites.

The title track closing the album with a main riffs inspired by traditional Swedish folk rhythms, but given the Baltimoore rock edge.  There is really no-one else out there doing anything like this and its makes for a very original and interesting sound, although the chorus doesn’t always sit easy with the rest of the track.  Once again though good performances all around and that main riff is a delight to the ears.

Overall the twelfth album from Baltimoore is another very strong effort.  Its hard to really say they sound like x and x, the band do have their own sound which is based on influences you may be able to call, but there’s a lot of originality here.

Once again Bjorn Lodin and co have delivered another very good album which may alienate some people due to its lack of conformity in what maybe “expected” in a rock sound, but for those that likes twists and turns in their music this is highly recommended.

Rating – 90%

AN INTERVIEW WITH BJORN LODIN OF BALTIMOORE

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One of the hardest working musicians in Sweden over the last two decades has to be Bjorn Lodin. With 12 albums under the Baltimoore banner, at least another 10 with him behind the mic for other acts and many more producer credits he’s become one of the most respected names in Scandi-rock history. We caught up with Bjorn to discuss the new Baltimoore release “Back For More”.

Bjorn, we chat again, it’s been a while since Baltimoore’s 2009 release “Quick Fix”, what have you been up to in that time?

After QF, I was asked to join Hungarian band HARD. That call came just right, I was ready for a change of scenery…

Hard took up a lot of your time over the last few years, is that now over and if so why?

Yes, it sure did. At first I was going back and forth but after about a year I moved to Budapest and set up camp there. I brought a bunch of recording stuff and guitars so I could keep working with productions I had going. I had a very nice apartment and the owner was kind enough to let me sound proof it and I made it quite useful. I produced a female Hungarian artist while I was there, recorded drums in my studio in Sweden and did the rest in Budapest. We made 2 albums with Hard, and did some live shows. It was a great adventure, and sure wasn’t something I would have imagined doing but after a year and a half away from my family I called it. We’re still in touch but right now I’m focused on Baltimoore. If there’ll be another record with me and Hard, it won’t happen anytime soon.

Ok, the new album “Back For More”, when did work commence on it?

I love writing songs and wanted to make a 3rd Hard album, so I started writing stuff while still living in Budapest, and made some demos. The songs I came up with wasn’t what Hard was all about… I wrote most of the songs for the other 2 albums and tried to get some of my vibe in there… I guess I took it too far this time.  Anyway, that’s what I do so, I still liked what I’d come up with and decided to do them with Baltimoore. So with none of my new songs suitable for a new Hard album, the idea of a new album skidded to a halt. I went home for X-mast 2011 and tracked some drums and bass with Hempo and Weine, then back to Budapest for another 3 months before I wrapped it up and moved back to Sweden.

Did you have any other musicians lined up or in mind from the start?

Yes, I tracked lead guitar with János Szücs in Budapest, and Hempo (Hilden – drums) was on for a while but he got a severe back problem so he had to step down. He’s had some surgery now and is doing better. Mankan (Sedenberg) was also on for a while, to play rhythm guitar, but it turned out to be too difficult due to workload and logistics. Anyway, when I came back to Sweden I first made my Swedish solo album ready – that I’d been working on for 10 years, and then got Klas Anderhell in to track the final drums. It’s been a curvy stretch…

Mats Attaque.

Mats Attaque.

What was the catalyst to getting Mats Attaque on board; I believe you two have previous history?

I realised in order to get this done I needed a guitar player who played a lot like me – but better. Yes, we were in a band together in the mid 80’s, the band prior to Baltimoore. Several of the early Baltimoore songs came about around that time. We also grew up in the same area and share a lot of rhythm. He’s got a great voice and guitar tone and he’s influenced me and my playing for sure. I had been meaning to look him up many times but… Anyway, I called him and he was available. He turned out to be perfect for this. Made my day!

When did rest of the band join and why where they picked?

Rather than being ‘picked’ they were politely asked to join and be ready to take the abuse J

At first, we weren’t gonna use organ – only twin guitars, but after Örjan Fernkvist and I had a session with the songs there was no turning back. Örjan and I go way back and he’s been on several recordings with me over the years. He even played on the first Hard album. Weine (Johansson) was the first guy I asked. He’s been in the band since 1991, with the exception for Quick Fix, where Björn Lindkvist was playing bass.

We should probably point out that back in the mid-late 80s you signed a solo deal but called it Baltimoore, not Bjorn Lodin.  12 albums in do you think this has been a help or a hindrance? Do fans not get upset with line-up changes?

The band I was in with Mats – Ready Steady, were demoing for a label. That fell through and I was asked to do a solo album. At 23 years old, it didn’t sit well with me going solo. I wanted to pursue the opportunity, especially since it was Scandinavia’s biggest label at the time, but not as ‘Björn Lodin’. I made 2 albums with the same producer and he had a clear vision of how it should sound and I really had no say… I’m glad I didn’t, it turned out very good – despite I was rather ‘unmanageable’ at the time J. However, it wasn’t the sound or approach I had in my head and that’s why I’ve re-recorded many of the early songs.

As far as fans and line-up changes go… Not really…maybe in the beginning people were confused, thinking this was a ‘normal’ band, but by now I think they have gotten used to it. Hell, I’d even replace myself if the right singer comes along!

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So what’s on the new album? Tell our readers about the 10 tracks and why you think they are worthy enough to be released?

-It’s 10 of the best songs I’ve written J. Big credit to Mats for stirring the pot the way he did! I feel this record is just right. It sums up what Baltimoore’s music is all about. We tried our best, like we always do…this time – in my book, we nailed it.

This was all recorded at your home studio right?

Yes, except some guitar tracking that we did online.

This album is probably the band heaviest since the Nikolo Kotzev days, there’s a nice bark to it, it sounds great and Mats is on fire.  How do you keep the energy and consistency so high in the bands long running history?

I feed off others. After a few years trying to get a steady line-up, forming a band etc. I gave up – way too many compromises involved, making the creative process suffer. I decided to do my music this way. I know it might look as an unconventional way of playing rock music… I’ve certainly answered this question many times over the years, but after I sobered up back in 1994, I decided to just go with it.

When I first teamed up with Nikolo Kotzev in 1992, we had no choice but to produce, record and mix ourselves. I realized then that it was the only way to do this. I didn’t want to rely on anyone making my music ready, so after we split up I went at it myself…figuring out how to record and mix. I’m learning new things every day.

REAL DRUMS!

REAL DRUMS!

What were you looking for sonically in this release?  Does the music take your ears where you need to go or do you dictate the sound from the off?

I’ve been looking for this sound for a long time J. Once the songs have passed pre-prod, you need to make the recording a certain way in order to be mixed in a certain way. This is the difficult part! I’m no friend of the plastic and artificial sound from drum samples. I don’t care how good the song is – if I hear a sampled drum in there I turn it off. Once the songs were arranged and ready to be recorded – they already had the sound. Of course it can be mixed different ways, but the main part of the sound is in the arrangements…how the drummer plays, how hard the strings on the rhythm guitar was hit etc. Putting the final make-up on and making the final tweaks in the mixing took a long time but it was all down hill.

Lyrically where were you looking this time round?

Well, I’ve always strived to improve my writing in English, and sometimes manage better than others… My lyrics are basically about me and what’s around me, my outlook on things. I vent in my songs. I also invite other writers sometimes and this time my friend Theresia Scher wrote one song and we co-wrote another. Writing in English is difficult!

The album has a digital only release, is this a result of changes in the industry and if so how do you feel about that?

Yes, it’s the only thing – if any, that made any sense this time. I don’t do my music with the music industry in mind. But sure, this is the worst possible business adventure one can think of. It will change, eventually…

You are an ardent voice against Spotify etc, is the music scene ultimately doomed?

Na, musicians/artists will always find a way and some will just stop what they’re doing – people in general are the ones being fukked in the ass J. Spotify, YouTube, Google and the likes (if they don’t change their approach towards song writers and artists – and why would they?) will end up with legacy catalogues and mainstream stuff. That business model simply doesn’t make any sense to a working musician to be part of. But hey, we can always go on tour and sell t-shirts, right?!

You seem to know everyone in the Swedish music scene, yet you don’t follow the pack and like unearthing fresh talent, why aren’t you taking the easy buck and doing what is expected of someone with your reputation?

I don’t think there’s an easy buck anywhere… And as far as the pack travels, I guess I’m still trying to find mine J. There are many different ways to do music. But being a musician/composer on the path of exploring and figure out what’s within is probably not the smartest career move. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Too much navel contemplating left to do!

Looking back over the 12 albums do you have any regrets? 

None whatsoever! It takes time to figure things out.

I know you love the stage so has the limited touring activity with Baltimoore been something you’d have liked to have done more with, or are you comfortable with it’s predominantly studio only status?

Yes, there’s nothing like being on stage with a good band. It hasn’t been in the stars for this band, something I’ve given a lot of thought…and the logistics in members being all over the place hasn’t helped. This time around we’re not too far away from each other and I hope we can set something up for later this year.

What next for the band and yourself for 2014 and beyond?

Well, at the moment I’m mixing and co-producing Thomas Larsson’s upcoming album. I’ve also cracked open the legacy Baltimoore albums and are preparing them for a new mix and some new overdubs. It’s about 70 songs, so it will take some time…hopefully they will be out in 2014. Some videos are in the making…

I’m also doing a sort of country album with original songs together with another line-up. Not sure that I’ll do the hick-up thing with my voice though J.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Not really. I hope people give this album a shot and that they’ll find something they like in there!

Bjorn, many thanks for your time, it has been a pleasure.

Thanks!

Order Baltimoore – Back For More at:

STRYPER – NO MORE HELL TO PAY

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Out now on Frontiers

Wow. I have to say I didn’t see this coming.

After the sorry excuse for a comeback album that was Reborn, I wouldn’t have given two cents for Stryper’s further career.  But here we are, eight years later, and Stryper have seen fit to bestow the album of the year upon us.

I could go into detail, singing the praises of each individual track, but what’s the point? Suffice it to say there isn’t a stinker among them…

Contrary to some of their contemporaries, the current Stryper isn’t a faded ghost of a formerly great band. They are indeed every bit as strong as they ever were and “No More Hell To Pay” can stand proudly besides their classic 80s output.

All the musicians are at the top of their game and Michael Sweet’s voice doesn’t seem to have lost anything over the years.  Add the best production they’ve ever had to the mix, and it should be clear to even the most foolhardy.

Buy this album.

Rating – 99%
Review by Sancho

DEEP PURPLE – NOW WHAT?!

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Out now on Ear Music

Fifth studio album from the rejuvenated Steve Morse era of the legendary rock outfit and one which find the band still sounding fresh and vibrant.

Continuing the slight progressive tint heard on its predecessor “Rapture Of The Deep”, “Now What?!” is a fresh vibrant release which sees the classic MK.2 purple sound still there in areas but is mostly one which has left the 20th century behind and is setting a new course in the 21st century.  Given than Morse has been in the band longer than Blackmore has will still stop some from failing to give this a chance, more fool them.

Granted, opener “A Simple Song” might not be the strongest opener in the bands history but “Weirdistan” soon sorts that with its marauding groove.  “Out Of Hand” continues the darker tone and it’s  this kind of track that drummer Ian Paice always powers along with precision yet always with a skip in his play whilst the chorus is an infectious bugger.

The fast tempo of “Hell To Pay” fuses both vintage and modern Purple into another strong number, you can tell Gillan is having a blast singing this one, and his often underappreciated lyrics are noteworthy here too, the track also allows Morse to let his fingers fly with Airey playing some nice back up and counterpoints come solo time all making this is one of two definite highlights of the album.

The band go a little funky on us for “Body Line” which leads into the multi-faceted “Above & Beyond” which is home to some great keyboard orchestration from Airey (who over his two albums has slotted into the band perfectly) although its a quite disjointed track that still manages to work as a cohesive unit.

The initial mellow blues of “Blood From A Stone” transcends into a heavier chorus with screaming pinched harmonics from Morse before settling back down for a Fender Rhodes solo from Airey with the mood not a million miles away from The Doors’ “Riders On The Storm”.

Another highlight follows in “Uncommon Man”, beginning with gentle guitar swells from Morse before he delivers some highly melodic lead lines over sustained chords from Airey (think Gary Moore’s extended versions of “Empty Rooms”) before the atmosphere darkens and Morse introduces the band main melodic hook over which orchestration grows before a jubilant horn fanfare announces the main riff (a nod to Concerto perhaps?),the whole build up and majestic nature of the main riff makes this track a stunner and this is sure to become a concert favourite.

From here the album is seen out by “Après Vous” which could be seen as standard fare from this incarnation to the retrospective and “All The Time In The World” which is home to some great hooks and could be catchy enough to garner some radio interest.  Album closer “Vincent Price” is as the title suggest dark, a little eerie and amongst one the heaviest tracks the band have done with Morse’s guitar riffs being particularly heavy.  This is backed up with choirs and BIG Hammond parts and closes the album on a high.

“Now What?!” sounds fresh, given this is a band in the fourth decade of their career it clear this is the sound of a band that is not living on former glories, its not looking to rewrite “Smoke On The Water”, “Highway Star” etc over and over, this instead is the sound of a band that sounds happy with each other, inspired by each other and a band that still sees new horizons and fans to conquer up ahead and is making sure it produces strong new music with new elements to try and win them over.

Highly recommended.

Rating – 93%

OPPOSING MOTION INTERVIEW

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We recently caught up with Kevin Deplanche and Joe McGurk of the promising progressive metal outfit Opposing Motion who saw their albums “Laws Of Motion” released earlier in 2013 via Lion Music.

Many thanks for agreeing to this interview and congratulations on the birth of “Laws Of Motion”.

Many thanks to you and VirtuosityOne for your interest in OPPOSING MOTION’s music!

Can you give us an overview of the bands background and how you’ve built up to the release of “Laws Of Motion”?

Kevin: OPPOSING MOTION was created when Joe and I met around a few beers in late 2005 and found out we had more than a few common musical influences rooted in early Malmsteen, Blind Guardian and Stratovarius.  We quickly started writing original material, pushing each other and integrating more prog-metal influences as we went along until we decided to record a-5 tracks E.P called “the Illustration” which was released in mid-2010, bringing in French singer Ludovic DeSa. This E.P received great reviews both in the UK and internationally and we quickly got given the opportunity to record a full debut album. “Laws of Motion” was written and recorded in late 2011 until mid-2012 and by this time the full line up (with my brother David on bass) was confirmed, we all could participate to the writing process. We were extremely excited to land a good first album deal with leading prog label Lion Music who released “Laws of Motion” in May 2013.

Joe: It may seem that we have taken our time with this release, having formed when we did, but things have never really felt that way.  It always takes longer than you anticipate getting a stable line-up that fits the direction of the music and we wanted to guarantee that we took our time and were happy with the tracks.  The end result has certainly been worth the wait as far as we are concerned.

How does being a half English/half French band work out and what do you think both nationalities bring to the band?

Kevin: it brings a lot of trouble during international football games! World cups are pretty problematic as it means we don’t speak to each other for a few weeks…

With modern producing and recording tools, we can work very efficiently and we speak pretty much everyday to discuss things surrounding the band. Organising gigs and video/photo shoots is a bit more demanding in terms of logistics but so far we have managed to make it work pretty well. The next step is to organise some gigs and we are working on this!

Joe: The Six Nations Rugby has kept me happy for a fair few years though, but in all seriousness I think geographical spread within bands is actually quite common in the prog genre.  This may be due to the fact that it is not easy to find musicians who firstly enjoy this style and secondly can actually play it.  We have the usual banter between England and France but it is all good fun.

As a four piece you cover a lot of ground in terms of musical textures, density and overall expression.  How do you go about finding the Opposing Motion sound?

Kevin: The concept for OPPOSING MOTION was to not confine ourselves to a specific genre in an attempt to digest as many influences from our musical heroes and create the album we would have liked to listen to ourselves as metal fans first and foremost. We listen to and play a wide range of music and, although OPPOSING MOTION’s music is deeply rooted in the metal scene, we love to explore different sound textures and arrangements akin to what the band ARK did with their two albums. From the reviews of “Laws of Motion” we saw, this approach can maybe be a bit “daunting” at first for the listener as the album does require some time before it opens up….and that ‘s where the real journey starts!

Joe: It is not something we actively sought but I reckon if you get passionate musicians together and let individual influences merge then a unique output will happen.  We always wanted to write songs that we wanted to listen to rather than conform to a set style and it seems that this has given us a unique sound which is great in my opinion.

I feel you have a quite unique sound in a lot of aspects, there is plenty for fans of other bands to latch onto but the end product is original. Is this originality a help or a hindrance in the grand scheme of building a career?

Kevin: We are extremely pleased to be noticed for our originality but as you mention…in the grand scheme of things, and in terms of developing a following, the complexity of our music may play against a rapid career development. To be extremely honest, we do not think too much about this yet. I think we would be very happy to slowly build a following of fans that appreciate and possibly look for this certain musical depth instead of taking a quick and easy route that may not fulfil us fully as musicians.

Joe: Yes, I guess there is always a mixture of responses, you are either criticised for not sounding like you should or similarly for not being original.  We will certainly keep trying to improve and keep doing what we feel is the right path for the band and our music.

On the album’s creation how does Opposing Motion generally construct a song?

Kevin: “Laws of Motion” is the fruit of almost 5 years work and, although all four of us had the opportunity to bring its own personality into each track, many tracks were in advanced demo stages by the time the track list for the album was finalised. Most of them started as simple jams between Joe and myself, then later developed into full songs. Others like “Las Lagrimas del Diablo” were pretty much brought by Joe on his own. Generally speaking, one of us will bring a theme, a riff, a rhythmic part or even a full proposed track structure and we all take it from there, bouncing ideas to each other to try to construct a full track. This often leads us to strange places and is at the same time a great technical challenge where parts can get pretty crazy like on “The Fallen Opera”…this is what makes OPPOSING MOTION so much fun!

Joe: As Kev says, we like to initially collate parts to lay down a skeleton, whether that is orchestral or around a big riff or chorus.  We then work around this and make sections more complex but never going away from the main melody.  Verses and bridges then seem to fall into place and before you know it, section by section, we have a track!

Do you work on more than one track at once or prefer to focus on the one task at hand?

Kevin: Absolutely! Joe is an extremely prolific writer and at times can send us pretty much a full 10 min of new music per day! I myself like to try to channel this creativity and prefer to focus on 2-3 tracks maximum at the same time to keep ideas fresh when hearing new material for the first time. I like to sit behind the kit and do a few takes without knowing the track, finding the most natural grooves before making them more complex as I get more familiar to the material or suggest structural changes etc.

Joe:  I think the others like to work on one or two at a time but I am guilty of getting ahead of the plan and carried away at times J

Can you give us any examples of how a writing method changed for the tracks on “Laws Of Motion”?

Kevin: As I mentioned before, I would say that most tracks on “Laws of Motion” already existed before we decided to record the album – even in a very early incarnation for example a simple chord progression of a symphonic part (on the track Laws of Motion), tracks that we had written after the recording of the EP and were there at 99% (Labyrinth of Mirrors), or early tracks that we reworked from the ground up (Echoes of the Soul). So most of the hard work was done. The Fallen Opera was a different beast though…Joe brought this ambitious track pretty late in the process and presented it to us as a full progression. It sounded so epic that we decided to include it in “Laws of Motion” and this is the first track were all four of us had equal input in terms of ideas, lyrics, structure etc. We are very pleased by the final result and it is a great taste of the things to come as we write more tracks as a full band.

Joe:  I agree with Kev but if I had to single one out that was different I would go with the title track.  Usually we have too much happening and too many ideas but the title track of the album was written differently than the others as we built it up rather than reduced down.

Please give us a track-by-track rundown of the album with your thoughts on each track.

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Deus ex Machina:  A short album opener to get you to know what you’re dealing with! Symphonic arrangements backed by fast guitars and complex time signatures.  What Deus represents is an excellent introduction to OPPOSING MOTION’s music and sets the pace before linking in with Forever’s Edge – the single of the album

Forever’s Edge: Most definitely the easiest way to enter our sound. Forever’s Edge is a classic power-prog track that featured already on our “Illustration” E.P and has always earned us glowing comments. The track is fairly straightforward by Opposing Motion’s standards and gives Ludo, our singer, the spotlight. The opening solo shows some Malmsteen inspiration while the fast drums beat is a tribute to the track “Red sharks” by the mighty CRIMSON GLORY.

Labyrinth of Mirrors: One of the strongest tracks of the album, Labyrinth is exactly that…a tortuous track that leans a lot towards early FATES WARNING material with John Arch, alternating four to the floor and faster sections with many odd time signatures during the breaks. Ludo shows his versatility on this track, from spoken parts to high screams, while Joe’s solo is pure virtuosity, cleverly linking the two main sections before the finale. A track that is strongly reminiscent of early SHADOW GALLERY, one of our favourite bands.

Las Lagrimas Del Diablo: Another track that has been with us for a few years but, contrary to others, not a single note has been changed through the years as it felt complete since day one. Ludo’s strong appreciation of Roy Khan can be heard here and the track itself is not too far from the tasteful ballads of early KAMELOT albums. The presence of a ballad is sometimes seen as a cliché in a metal album. For us it was a necessary breather for the listener given the density of the album.

Rites of Passage: Probably the most progressive (and complex!) track of the album.  Rites can sometimes be seen as a musician’s capital sin where technique and complex time changes take over the overall melody akin to what was doing a band called POWER OF OMENS…but we do like to think that there are enough melodic hooks in the track to grab the listener. The track is certainly led by vocals and features a strong chorus and very personal lyrics. The heavy use of synths and more measured pace brings it closer to prog rock than metal and shows our love to this scene: ELP, WAKEMAN, YES and later bands from the Neo prog movement and bands like PALLAS, ARENA, ARAGON, MARILLION.

Echoes of the Soul: Raw power! Echoes is one of our oldest tracks, put together in probably just a few hours of frantic jams. This track is more akin to power-prog and explodes from the beginning into a frantic pace, which slows down only during the first half of each verse. Echoes brought us many great reviews for its strong chorus (possibly leaning towards THY MAJESTIE) and its very complex instrumental section, reminiscent of the great SYMPHONY X, where the bass ostinato is actually the driving force. A track that we cannot wait to play live…

Laws of Motion: The second breather of the album, the title track is an atmospheric pause led by vocals, orchestral arrangements and subtle guitar parts. In hindsight, we probably could have developed this track, which shines from its chorus, into a full piece. This track is musically strongly linked with the instrumental track “the Illustration” from our first EP, which put the band into the spotlight in 2010 because of the very intricate parts.

The Fallen Opera: The final track and “piece de resistance”! The Fallen Opera was originally near 15 mins long but we decided to cut it down to a more reasonable 10 mins to make sure we could nail all the arrangements. We wanted to have a go at producing an epic track, which would contain all the trademark elements of OPPOSING MOTION – strong guitar-driven melodies supported by discrete orchestral arrangements and complex rhythmic layering. The Fallen Opera is a good representation of the overall direction of the band, although we want to improve further on our overall sound to make it fuller, more accessible in parts through bigger vocal hooks and riffs. The Fallen Opera is the perfect closure for “Laws of Motion” and, at the same time, the beginning of a new journey as we started writing new material in direct continuation of this track.

How does the band as a unit go about working out complex instrumental passages, “Echoes Of The Soul” for example has some very intricate changes happening.

Kevin: Yep, the instrumental section of Echoes is sure very fun to play! We build those sections though layers of instrumentation, first roughly recording what the ostinato should sound like as we imagine it then working out the precise time changes via putting down time signatures etc. Then I would work out a rhythmic progression, knowing roughly how the symphonic parts will sound and propose to others who will each work out a theme for the progression and find their own way to count the part. We meet up to try various directions and usually after 2-3 iterations we find the one that we feel make us “lock in” usually through smooth resolution of a rhythmic displacement like in Echoes and the end of Fallen Opera.

Joe: Yes it can be tough as usually a pattern will be either on guitar or drums first and others have to follow and think of something to add.  For example the main pattern on the EP title track was on drums and guitars had to mimic.  For Echoes of the soul the passage was on guitars and the drums had to find a creative space…with the aim that it lifts up the track!

Do all band members read music and if not how do you convey progressions to each other?

Kevin: We have a great mixture of personalities in that sense – Joe and Ludo have more of a classical training background while Dave and I are self taught but have extensive stage/studio experience in various bands across many genres and have developed good listening skills. Everybody in the band has a great musical ear and it is very easy to communicate chord progressions to each other. We are all equipped with pretty decent home studio gear to bounce ideas to each others and personally I do like to see written parts for drums to understand and ride the many time signature changes that OPPOSING MOTION tracks can have. For a track like Rites of Passage, I absolutely had to write each part before tracking it!

Can you give us a run down of what gear the band uses and any endorsement deals you may have?

Kevin: No one has any formal endorsement so far. For drums, I use a set of Yamaha Beech Custom Absolute series in 8/10/12/14/16 configuration with fusion size shells and a Taye Studio Maple snare in 14×6. Cymbals are a mixture of Sabian HHX and Zildjian A series with Istanbul rock hats. I use  Axis A longboards double pedals. On bass, Dave plays a Musicman Stingray 3 EQ 4 strings. On Guitars, Joe plays ESP LTD MH Series, Boss pedals, Hughes and Kettner valve amp, Ernie Ball strings. Ludz loves his Neumann and Sennheiser microphones

The reviews I have seen have all been pretty stellar, has the album been widely liked?

Kevin: I must say we have been extremely pleased by the reviews so far. I can remember 2 out of the 20 or so reviews we have noticed that were a bit tougher on us…but that’s part of the game! Those encouraging reviews by big names in the prog world are a great boost as a new band on the international scene but even more important is the feedback from the metal fans and here we were delighted by the messages we received. The album seems to have found its place on people’s playlists and we had some great feedback there too! Echoes of the Soul and Forever’s Edge seem to be hot favourites!

Joe:  We cannot complain, the reception has been very pleasing and we just hope to keep going and keep improving.

You’ve recently released a video for “Forever’s Edge”, tell us about it.

Kevin: We are extremely excited about this video. The story line is quite dark but very original; we left it deliberately very open to the viewer’s interpretation even though we have something very precise in our minds…the location – a 19th century painter studio was absolutely spot on in terms of atmosphere and I am sure the video will make a lot of people discover the band. Forever’s Edge was the obvious choice for the video as it displays the most accessible side of our music.

Joe:  This is our first video and I was really unsure what to expect.  The filming was great fun and the end product is exactly what we hoped for.  Hopefully this is the first of many…please check it out!

What do you see ahead for Opposing Motion in 2013 and beyond?

Kevin: A lot of great things! We are already sketching ideas for a new album and we are raising the bar in terms of music writing, taking into account the very constructive feedback from the press and fans alike. This time around, in LION MUSIC, we know we are backed by truly passionate people, which will undoubtedly bring out the best in us. We will keep pushing “Laws of Motion” for the rest of 2013 and early 2014 and try to follow it up very quickly with an even stronger release to strengthen our following in the prog- metal community. This should lead us to start gigging in the next year or so….OPPOSING MOTION is built for the stage!

Joe:  We are working very hard on a new album, it will be bigger and better for sure.  We are also working hard to take things on the road and on stage which will be an exciting time indeed.

Anything else you’d like to tell the readers of virtuosityone.com?

Kevin: If you have not heard our music yet..come check us out! Any prog metal fan leaning towards the likes of FATES WARNING, VANDEN PLAS, CIRCUS MAXIMUS, ASPERA should enjoy “Laws of Motion” after a few spins ;-)

Joe:  And thank you for taking the time to find out a bit more about us, we hope you enjoy the album and keep an eye on us over the next few years.

Many thanks for your participation.

LAVALLE – DEAR SANITY

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Out now on Kivel Records

Lavalle are a new outfit fronted by guitarist Ed Lavalle who is backed up by an impressive cast of vocalist Carsten ‘Lizard’ Schulz (Domain, Evidence One), drummer Ramy Ali (Evidence One, Iron Mask) and bassist Paul Logue (Eden’s Curse) for the debut album “Dear Sanity”.

Fans of melodic metal ala Dokken, Ratt and Scorpions pay attention now as this may just be the best album of this style you will hear in 2013.

“Dear Sanity” is home to great songs with big hooks and commercial punch (albeit in an 80’s fashion). The production is stellar and Schulz is at the top of his game whether it be belting out verses or adding depth with strong  backing vocal choirs on choruses.
Ed  Lavalle himself comes across as no slouch in a Lynch/DeMartini/Jake E Lee sort of style, a solid player.  Logue and Ali lay down the rhythmic thrust with precision which adds the necessary groove as well.

Highlights are plentiful from opening brace of “Fading Like The Sun” and  “Scared To Love”, these are big rock tunes. “Don’t Cry” reminded me a little of the majestic work on the second Balance album from the early 80’s – no bad thing.  “Cry Of The Wolf” possesses more punch than a heavyweight boxing contest.  Elsewhere “Smoke And Mirrors” reminded me a little of Schulz and Ali’s work in Evidence One, perhaps due to the heavy vocal layering.  Power ballad fans will be well served by “One Day At A Time” and “Break Your Heart”.  “Rock Your World” is the only track I find myself skipping, maybe because the following track and album closer, the melodic “Wait Too Long” is another gem of a song.

Ed Lavalle and co can be very proud of their debut work, a great collection of songs which have a good running order and don’t outstay their welcome.   Lavalle are a name to watch and this comes highly recommended.

Rating – 90%

LARS ERIC MATTSSON – EPICENTRE

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Out now on Lion Music

‘Epicentre’, the23rd album from Lars Eric Mattsson’s career plays out something like a call to arms of all the styles he’s explored over his long career. 18 new tracks is a lot to digest but Lars’ had made the task a little easier thanks to streamlining his compositions over previous epic length excursions.   Another notable change is Mattsson handling all lead vocals himself, his vocal style whilst not amongst the best you will hear is acceptable enough and it does help stamp more personality to the album than having a hired gun.

Musically we have a gamut of styles, from the progressive metal attack of opener “Wait For The Sunrise”, “Freedom Fighters”   , a modern take on blues metal with “A New Devil” (home to a great main riff) and “No Way No Surrender”, almost 60’s psychedelia meets metal for “Land Of Dreams”, “No One Else” has a Queen like pomp to its rock attack and also harks back in some ways to Lars’ more standard rock past, there is also a strong Hendrix-ian influence to many of the tracks to these ears.

Personal favourites are the dark haunting and marauding qualities of “Cinnamon”, a tale of lost love this amalgamation of sitar, dobro guitar and bass in a 5/4 time signature is very different but also rather brilliant. Lars’ vocals also work well here, and the instrumental “Andalucia” which is home to some great melodies.

Overall “Epicentre” is a good album from Lars Eric Mattsson.  Not his best of recent years (Mattsson – Tango get’s that award) but if you like the Mattsson style which really is unlike anything else out there then this is sure to represent value for money.

Rating – 84%