Friday, November 29, 2002

Interview: Hansi Kursch of Blind Guardian

In the 14 years since the release of their debut album, Germany's Blind Guardian has accomplished a lot. They've released six albums and risen to the top of the power metal crowd. They've conquered audiences all over the world, playing to sold out houses in Europe and Japan. But in all that time, they've never played a show in the United States.

That changed this month, when the band of J.R.R. Tolkien devotees launched a month-long assault on the States.

Singer and bassist Hansi Kursch says the band is glad to finally be able to play for its American fans.

"It's like a dream come true - a very fresh dream," he says in a phone interview from his native Germany. "About five years back, I did not even think about it, but ever since Century Media released our previous album, `Nightfall in Middle-Earth,' I'm really blown away. We've set up quite an impressive U.S. tour. It's a big deal for us."

Kursch says he realizes that the crowds here in the U.S. will be smaller than those they've played to in Europe, but the band is prepared for that.

"It's a challenge, but we are used to it," he says. "Some years back - let's say 10 or 12 years back - we had the same size crowds over here in Europe, so we are prepared. It's still something special."

The band is expecting good turnout for their first shows in the U.S., and Kursch says ticket presales are going well. He says Blind Guardian has a solid fan base in the States. Some are so devoted they'll even make the trip overseas to see the band.

"We've played several festivals over here in Europe, and you would be surprised at how many people from the States come over just to see us," he says.

For American fans who haven't seen the band live, Kursch says to expect some surprises. Many of Blind Guardian's songs are complex compositions that are difficult to perform live. For example, the 14-minute epic "And Then There Was Silence," from their latest album "A Night at the Opera," took four months and 128 tracks to record. But Kursch says fans will be surprised by what the band can do.

"Some of them are difficult, but we can minimize that in terms of focusing on the more important pieces in the song," he says. "On the album they appear impossible to play in a live situation, but skilled musicians can play them."

Blind Guardian may be best known for their connections with Tolkien. Their 1999 release "Nightfall in Middle-Earth" was a concept album based on Tolkien's tales, and they've written a number of individual songs based on his works. Kursch says it's something that evolved naturally.

"I got hooked on (Tolkien) as a kid and never really got it out of mind," he says. "When we started songwriting in Blind Guardian, we immediately figured out that we were all infected by that story, so parts of the music really went that direction in almost a natural way. When I started working on the lyrics, I had the impression that the music really demanded that type of lyric."

Kursch says a large number of people have discovered Blind Guardian through the Tolkien themes, but just as many metal fans have said they discovered Tolkien through Blind Guardian's music.

With the penchant for Tolkien-themed songs comes a segment of the band's fan base that wants them to write nothing but songs based on the "Lord of the Rings" writers' works. Kursch says that doesn't bother him, though.

"Not at all - I like to work on Tolkien topics, but I as well like to work on independent topics," he says. "I've been criticized for both, but I don't mind because I usually do what I think is best for the songs."

Before the U.S. leg of the tour began, Kursch also spent a few days with his friend Jon Schaffer of Iced Earth to work on a second album with their side project Demons & Wizards, which he hopes will be released some time next year.

But Kursch is really just ready to get out and play for the American crowds. He says after the long production schedule for their last album and extensive touring in Europe, the band is looking forward to the new experience and an injection of fresh enthusiasm.

"We're really longing to come to the U.S. and get some fresh energy - we're like vampires," he jokes. "It will be a blast."

Thursday, October 17, 2002

Interview: Tommy Emmanuel

Guitarist Tommy Emmanuel has played all over the world, from the Sydney Opera House to the Grand Ole Opry.

"I've played in places that have never seen a white man play guitar before, places in Africa, Burma and Vietnam," he said. "I grew up in the Outback of Australia, so no kind of culture really shocks me."

Emmanuel said he approaches all of his shows in the same way.

"I try to approach everything I do with the attitude of give it everything I've got - whether I'm playing in a small place somewhere in Thailand or whether I'm playing at Catalina Island to a few thousand people," he said.

Emmanuel is touring in support of his latest album, "Only." It's his first solo acoustic album, as well as one of the first releases on the acoustic arm of Steve Vai's Favored Nations label. Emmanuel said many of the songs on "Only" reflect his own experiences.

"Some (of the songs) were written on the road, some were written in different countries, some were written on a plane, one was written on a train," he said. "It's like snapshots of parts of my life. The things that happened to me are all there in the music."

Emmanuel said the task of making an album that featured only him and his guitar had some challenges, but the choice of guitar was not one of them. He says the acoustic has a depth that the electric can't match.

"I think for the songs I write and the way I play, the acoustic is the right choice," he said. "Electric guitar, I enjoy too, but with that you definitely need backing; you need a band. The acoustic is like its own little orchestra. It's got everything, and when you play in that style, it's truly self-contained."

Though Emmanuel is a household name in his native Australia, he's only begun to achieve the same kind of fame in the rest of the world. It began with a performance at the closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. That, he says, was one of the highlights of his career.

"It was an extreme honor to be asked to do that," Emmanuel said.

But during the performance, he says he didn't consider the wide audience he was reaching.

"The amount of preparation it took to put that together was an extraordinary effort on everyone's part," he said. "At the time, you just concentrate on trying to do the best job you can and being part of a whole team of people. When you're out there, you don't think, `there's 2.5 billion people watching this' - you just don't think of it. You're just trying to play your best."

After that performance, he made his way to the United States where he played the Grand Ole Opry with one of his mentors, Chet Atkins. He was also nominated for a Grammy for a collaboration with Atkins and peformed on Atkins' final album.

Ultimately, though, Emmanuel says music isn't about worldwide recognition, it's just what he was born to do. He thinks people who attend his concerts will see that.

"I think people are going to see somebody doing something that they're born to do," he said. "I've played music all my life. It's not only how I make a living, but it's also, I believe, my calling in life. I think if people come out with an open mind and an open heart, they're going to have a great time."

Friday, October 4, 2002

Interviews: Flaw

After a successful run on the second stage of Ozzfest this summer, Flaw is getting back to grass roots. Over the next seven weeks, the band will be hitting smaller venues in places that Ozzfest didn't reach in an effort to expand their fan base.

Singer Chris Volz says Ozzfest was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but he'll be happy to get back to a more intimate setting - not to mention a more normal performance time.

"(Ozzfest) was a rotating schedule, so some days we were literally on stage at like nine in the morning," Volz said. "That was quite strange."

He says Flaw won't miss the big outdoor shows of Ozzfest, though. This tour will give them a chance to connect more closely with fans.

"It's really almost a separate feeling when you play these huge outdoor festivals because the barricades are 15 or 20 feet from the stage," he said. "People don't feel as close to you as they do in a club setting where they're right up against the stage and you can reach out and shake hands, talk to them, show respect in that manner."

Taking care of their fans and earning new ones is what Flaw is all about. Volz says they try to go the extra mile in their live shows, even when that includes hanging around afterwards.

"We have an intense live show," Volz said. "We're really energetic. We go nuts a lot. We really just try to feel what the crowd is feeling. We're also the band that stays after the show and signs autographs until the last person is gone. It's a really emotional thing for us."

It seems to be working. Their major label debut "Through the Eyes" has shipped 300,000 copies in its first year of release, and their latest single "Whole" is still going strong. The diverse collection of songs appears to have a wide appeal. Volz says he hopes there's something on the album everyone can relate to.

"We definitely like diversity in music, and we feel music should imitate life," he said. "Life's never really the same for too long. We think music should follow that same guideline, so it never really gets stale."

Coming out of Louisville, Ky., the band had a few problems getting noticed early on. One thing they needed was a CD to put in press kits and promo packs. That was an issue with the shoestring budget provided by their part-time jobs. A popular music catalog's 30-day money back guarantee provided a unique, if perhaps legally questionable, solution.

"We ordered all of the equipment we needed out of Musician's Friend to record our own album," Volz explained. "They have a 30-day money back guarantee, so we used the stuff for about 26 days and recorded as many songs as we could in that time. Then we sent it back saying we just didn't like the equipment. All we had to do was actually pay for shipping and handling, so we recorded 13 songs for about $69."

Volz and the rest of the band have no regrets about the deception. He says they were hungry to make their mark in the music business, and that was the only way open to them.

"It's borderline fraud, but sometimes it's the only way to get things done," he said. "You've got to do what you've got to do."

With Universal, the band doesn't have that problem. Volz says they'll finish writing for the second Flaw album when this tour is over and go into the studio in January. He hopes to have a new product out by spring 2003. Then they'll hit the road again.

"We're going to stay on the road, keep coming to as many towns as possible and try to stay in everyone's face so that they have a chance to understand exactly what we're trying to do," he said.

Interview: Charlie Daniels

Even at the age of 66, Charlie Daniels would rather be on the road entertaining his fans than anywhere else.

You might think that after nearly five decades in music and 30 years with the Charlie Daniels Band, he'd have a little trouble getting excited about a new tour. You'd be wrong.

"I don't have a problem doing that," Daniels says. "It's a lot of fun. I just thank God that I can make a living doing something I enjoy so much."

Daniels is currently out in support of a new album, "Redneck Fiddlin' Man." The title pretty much sums up everything you need to know about the country rocker, and the sound is everything his fans expect.

"It features a fiddle on all the cuts; it's pretty much a straight-ahead CDB album," Daniels says. "It's got a lot of uptempo stuff on it. Travis Tritt did a duet with me, and Garth Brooks sang harmony with me on a song. But most of it's just me and the band kind of beating it out."

What that means is an album that can appeal to country fans as well as rock and blues fans. Daniels is one of a handful of country artists who enjoys respect from fans of rock and other kinds of music.

"We don't really specialize in any one particular kind of music; we play some of all of it," Daniels says. "We don't claim to be one thing or another. We just claim to be the Charlie Daniels Band, playing Charlie Daniels Band music. Whatever it is, it is."

The new album features a couple of Daniels' classic country rockers like "Little Joe and Big Bill," "Southern Boy" (with Tritt) and "Rock This Joint." It's also got a couple of his famous jam songs ("Redneck Fiddlin' Man," "Crosstown Traffic"), a Cajun-flavored tune ("Fais Do Do") and a few moments that reflect on Sept. 11 ("Last Fallen Hero" and a fiddle rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner").

The song "Last Fallen Hero" and a previous Sept. 11 song "This Ain't No Rag, It's a Flag" have drawn criticism from some, but not from Daniels' fans. They've become two of his most popular songs in years.

"We appeal to the old boys that farm and work hard for a living," Daniels says. "They're kind of where we're at, and they seem to like those kinds of things, so I'm glad about it."

Daniels isn't shy about letting people know how he feels, and it isn't his first brush with controversy either. He aired some of his opinions on crime, drugs and politics in the 1989 song "Simple Man."

"It just depends on what I'm thinking about and what's on my mind," he says. "If something's strong on my mind, I'll write about it sometimes."

He's also begun posting his opinions on a section of his Web site called the Soapbox. Fans can read what Daniels thinks on a variety of subjects from political to personal.

"I've always been pretty opinionated, and one day I just thought: I'll just sit down and write something here," he says. "I did it, and it was pretty well received, so I decided I might do it on a regular basis."

His political opinions often earn him an inbox full of e-mail from both supporters and detractors.

"I get all kinds of responses," he says. "Some people don't like what I say, and some do. I think most of our people - the people we appeal to - agree."

But Daniels says he doesn't mind the people who disagree with him. That's just part of what makes America "the greatest country in the world."

"That's their right; they can certainly disagree," he says. "As long as they're intelligent about it. Some of them are just absolutely asinine. People write and say `you're a big, fat slob.' Well I may be, but I ain't the only one."

Political opinions aren't the only thing he airs, though. He's also talked about some intensely personal issues - including his battle with prostate cancer. He says he hopes to help others by providing some insight.

"That's a very common thing with men, especially up around my age, and even younger," he says. "I feel that they need to understand it's very important to stay on top of their PSA levels, because it can save your life. I think it's an important issue, and that's why I do it."

No matter what his opinions are, though, his legacy is his music - and there's more than 30 years of it with the Charlie Daniels Band alone. In his career, he's played with some of the luminaries of music, including a three album stint with Bob Dylan in the late 1960s. So, after all of that, is there anything else left for him to do?

"There's always a mountain to climb," Daniels says. "I'm still working on my first goal - to have every album platinum and every concert sold out. If I get that done, then I'll move on to something else."

And retirement? It's not an option for Daniels.

"What would I do?" he says. "Sit around the living room and play guitar? I might as well get paid for it."

Friday, September 6, 2002

Interview: Zakk Wylde

This year, Ozzfest begins and ends with guitarist Zakk Wylde.

His band Black Label Society opens the main stage of the festival, then after a couple of hours to catch his breath and kick back a few beers, he'll join metal godfather Ozzy Osbourne to close the show. Wylde will be joined by Ozzy bassist Robert Trujillo in his double duty.

"Basically, we'll go out to open the main stage with Black Label and beat the living hell out of it," says Wylde. "Then, whatever's left, we'll come back with Ozzy and finish it off. Then we'll go backstage and have a few beers."

That take-no-prisoners attitude is what drives Wylde and Black Label Society, whose previous albums have included "Sonic Brew," "Stronger than Death" and "Alcohol-Fueled Brewtality Live." Their latest, "1919 Eternal," was released in March. The album is not only filled with attitude, but also shows respect for the band's roots.

It begins with the album's title. Originally called "Deathcore War Machine Eternal," Wylde says that title was nixed in the wake of Sept. 11. Instead, Wylde chose to honor his father, a World War II veteran, who was born in 1919.

Wylde says his father embodies the ideals of Black Label Society, which go much deeper than the alcohol-fueled angst of many of the band's songs.

"Thanks for instilling in me everything that you are - strength, determination, perseverance, family and honor," reads the dedication in the album cover. That, says Wylde, is what the band's attitude is all about.

"He's where it all began," Wylde says. "He was on the beach at Normandy on D-Day. He's 82 years old, and he still works five nights a week. He's pretty much the architect of Black Label."

Another man Wylde has a deep respect for is Ozzy, his partner in crime since the late 1980s. While Wylde enjoys singing, as well as the complete control he has over the Black Label Society product, he's not about to relinquish his position with Ozzy.

"You know your role," he says. "It's just like when you go back to your parents' house, you don't kick your feet up on the furniture. This is Ozzy's house."

Though Wylde focuses on different aspects of the music when playing with Ozzy, he has no problem making the switch from his own music to working with Osbourne.

"As far as I'm concerned, it all falls from the same tree," he says. "Have Ozzy sing on a Black Label record, and it's the new Ozzy album."

And is life with the Osbournes as crazy as the MTV series?

"Totally," Wylde says. "There's no acting there. They probably cut out some of the really insane stuff. He could have been a comedian if he hadn't decided to be the greatest frontman of all time."

Aside from his music, Wylde is also pursuing some acting work. He made his debut in last year's "Rock Star," though he admits his role as a guitar player in a rock band wasn't a real stretch.

"They said, `Zakk, just come down, play guitar all day, lift weights, drink beer and fire a 12-gauge shotgun," he says with a laugh. "And I said, `you're going to pay me for this?'"

He's been approached about appearing on the HBO prison drama "Oz." There's nothing definite yet, but Wylde says he'd be interested.

He's also looking into starting his own Black Label micro-brew, which he thinks will go over well with the band's fans. And he's about to begin breeding rottweillers.

Wylde makes it clear that these extracurricular activities will always be secondary to his music - and don't expect that to take a commercial turn any time soon, either.

"I'm really satisfied with what I'm doing," he says. "It's not like I'm selling 15 million copies, but I can make a living at what I'm doing - and I'm making the music I want to make."

When Ozzfest ends next week, Wylde will head out for a short headlining tour with Black Label Society. Beyond that, he says it depends on how Ozzy wants to play it.

"My wife just bought another house, so I'll probably be touring until I'm about 126. They'll just have to stuff me with new organs and send me back out," he jokes. "If Ozz wants to take a break, I'll keep touring with Black Label Society. If he wants to get going on another record, we'll do that. We'll just have to wait and see."

Interview: Mushroomhead

An odd band deserves an odd name. At least that's what Mushroomhead drummer and founding member Skinny thinks. He says fans all have their own unique interpretations of the name, and that's part of the band's mystique.

"That's one of those questions that's got a million different answers," Skinny says. "I always thought it was a cool name for a band. It has a lot of references and doesn't really pinpoint any. It was just one of those names we had, like if someone did something silly, you'd say `nice job, mushroomhead.' I just thought that it would make a great band name, so I used it."

The band, decked out in their trademark masks and makeup, is currently tearing up the second stage of Ozzfest with an odd blend of metal and art rock, laced with just a touch of hip-hop.

Even though Mushroomhead got started in 1992, their image often brings comparisons to one of today's biggest masked bands Slipknot. Skinny says that anyone who looks past the masks and listens to the music will realize there's no relation.

"We've been doing this for so long, and we've gotten comparisons all along," he says. "When we first started we were compared to Mr. Bungle and Gwar, then Manson, now Slipknot and Mudvayne, so we're used to it. People will be shallow, but the one thing I always tell people is don't judge the book by its cover. We're doing our own thing."

Skinny says Mushroomhead first donned the masks because they all belonged to other bands. They wanted to do something new and didn't want people to draw conclusions about what the music should sound like based on who the band members were.

"We put the masks on to hide our identities," he says. "If people didn't know who we were, it put more focus on the music."

Their brand of music is a little different from the current crop of heavy rock acts. Mushroomhead's major label debut "XX" provides new fans a retrospective of the band's 10-year career, pulling together some of their favorite songs from three independently-released albums. While it captures the energy of today's scene, there are also some strange twists and turns.

"We're strange dudes, man," says Skinny. "Ultimately, we don't want to sound like anyone. We want to sound like us. We purposely try to throw monkey wrenches in the machine all the time just to see what happens."

The eight-piece band's creative edge comes from a diverse membership, Skinny says. He thinks having a band twice the size of most other metal acts is a great advantage.

"Having a lot of members is what shapes (our music)," he says. "You get a lot of opinions, you get a lot of input, you get a lot of good ideas - sometimes too many good ideas. That's what makes us us - being able to syphon through all of the ideas and pick the good ones versus the bad ones."

While "XX" showcases diverse sounds, Mushroomhead's Ozzfest set puts the focus squarely on the heavier tunes.

"It's very high energy - screaming," Skinny says. "On Ozzfest, we only get 20 minutes, so we play the hard hitters and just knock 'em out."

He says the fan reaction at Ozzfest has been great so far, and they hope to land a larger slot on the tour next year - hopefully in support of an album of new material in June.

"Ozzfest is definitely a place where we need to be," Skinny says. "Our goals right now are to get in the studio over the winter, record the new record, get back out on the road and try to get on Ozzfest next year."

Tuesday, September 3, 2002

Review: In Flames, "Reroute to Remain"

Fans of In Flames may be a little surprised when the band unleashes its eighth studio album, "Reroute to Remain: Fourteen Songs of Conscious Madness," in the United States on Sept. 3.

In Flames, one of the innovators of extreme metal's Gothenburg sound, takes a slight turn on its newest release. The result is the band's most complex and mature album to date.

"Reroute to Remain" doesn't feature any individual songs quite as catchy as "Pinball Map" or "Satellites and Astronauts" from the band's breakthrough 2000 album "Clayman." But overall, their latest offering is much more satisfying than that release - and that's saying something.

Like all good metal, most of the songs on the album are built on solid guitar riffs. There's plenty of good old-fashioned heavy rock to be found. The title track is a Sabbath-inspired slugfest, while on "Drifter," the band thrashes like Metallica in their prime.

But In Flames' other influences also show during the course of the album. There's a hardcore punk feel to the opening riff of "System" and industrial influence invades several songs, especially in the vocal department.

Hanging over the whole album like a pall is a dark and brooding goth mood. Almost every song on the album has bleak moments of reflective melody that owe more to the Cure than to Slayer.

Most surprising may be the folk influence that shows up on "Dawn of a New Day" and especially "Metaphor." The violin work and arrangement on the latter gives it the feel of something you'd hear at a European country fair.

We also get to hear more of Anders Friden's voice on this album. While there are still enough insane snarls to satisfy the band's longtime fans, in the quieter moments, he lets his true voice shine through, and that's not a bad thing. It lends deeper emotion to songs like "Metaphor," and also makes for some nice harmonies in the heavier songs, putting the listener in mind of the art rock bands of the 1970s.

"Reroute to Remain" is a little different, but it's also better. In Flames has offered up its richest tapestry of sound to date - one woven with threads not found in the average extreme metal mix. Sometimes growth is good - in this case, very good.

Get "Reroute to Remain."

Friday, August 30, 2002

Interview: Jerry Dixon of Warrant

When it comes to 1980s "hair bands," few have suffered more barbs than Warrant.

The band that sold seven million albums in the late '80s and early '90s somehow became the punchline of a joke during the grunge era. Even today, magazines and television point to the band as one of the key factors in the end of rock's era of excess.

But bassist and founding member Jerry Dixon says the band subscribes to the theory that there's no such thing as bad press. He says they don't take the taunts and jokes personally, and they're happy as long as people are talking about them.

"Somebody has to take the blame, but it's all good," says Dixon. "You've got to have a thick skin in this business to be around this long. You can't get bummed out over something like that."

Dixon admits that the band's current image likely stems from some of the moves they made early in their career. He points out the infamous boy band-like matching white suits from the "Heaven" video as a perfect example. He says they were hungry to succeed and willing to do just about anything.

"I think we made some stupid moves and bad decisions, maybe, in some of our videos," he says. "At that point, we were so young. You'd like to think you were in control of your career, but in reality, you're 19 years old. I mean, I couldn't even drink alcohol yet. We left ourselves wide open for a lot of that, but we did our best."

Despite the scorn thrown their way in recent years, Warrant has managed to survive into the new millennium. They pull into the Monroe Civic Center on Thursday on the Metal Edge Rock Fest tour with fellow '80s acts Dokken, Ratt, L.A. Guns and Firehouse. It's a tour that might have had ego problems back in the heyday of those bands, but Dixon says they've all grown up now.

"There's been a lot of camaraderie," says Dixon. "We're all grown up and past that. It's fun to fight with other bands when you're just coming out - lip off a little bit, get in some barroom fights. After a while, we realized we're just happy to be doing this, and you get respect for other bands that have been around as long as us."

Dixon says the shows are drawing good crowds, and he sees a renewed interest in Warrant's brand of music. He says it might have something to do with the times.

"I think there is so much heavy stuff going on in the world, and people remember our era of music as good times, good shows and just kind of a night out on the town," he says. "I think with all of the stuff going on, people just want to go out and have fun. They don't want to go to a show and hear things that are too heavy and too close to home."

Whatever the case, Dixon says the band is getting a huge response when they crank out hits like "Cherry Pie" and "Uncle Tom's Cabin." That's not to say they don't get a little tired of those songs.

"I hate when bands do interviews and say `we still love to play that song,'" Dixon says with a laugh. "It gets repetitious, but at the same time, it's a double-edged sword. You're so glad to have that song because if it wasn't for those songs like `Heaven,' we wouldn't be here."

But when the crowd explodes with the opening riff of "Down Boys" or "Cherry Pie," Dixon says it's all worth it.

"I think the crowd reaction to those songs is so much more intense that it balances the excitement out on stage for us," he says.

And for the fans that don't get enough of Dixon on stage, he also has his own soap. Each heart-shaped bar from Soap Grooves contains one of Dixon's guitar picks. He laughs as he talks about it.

"Somebody had contacted me from; it's a Web site that makes these crazy soaps with dollheads - kind of rock `n' roll stuff," he says. "I sent them some picks, and they sent this soap back. I thought it was hilarious, so I put it on my Web site. I thought if somebody wanted a pick, it would be a cool way to get a pick."

As for Warrant, they hope to get into the studio once this tour is over and work on a new album.

"I'd like to put out a good product and go out and hopefully just keep touring," he says. "There's hope that we can really be around for a long time. So we're just trying to keep the wheels on, keep everyone sane and straight and keep it going."

Friday, August 23, 2002

Interview: Max Cavalera

Soulfly's Max Cavalera has gone through quite a transformation over the past decade and a half.

The Brazilian-born vocalist and guitarist began his career in the mid-1980s in the thrash outfit Sepultura. By the time he split with them in 1996 to form his current band, he had fallen in love with the native instruments and sounds of his homeland and begun to integrate them into his music.

"In the beginning, Sepultura was a cheap imitation of Slayer and Venom," Cavalera says. "You can only do that so long before it becomes obvious that you're a follower. When Sepultura started finding our own sound, we became leaders. That's what I want to do with Soulfly. We don't want to follow anyone else's path."

Cavalera says Soulfly's tribal sound and spiritual themes are unique in the world of metal. His journey down the new path began when he bought a berimbau almost a decade ago in Brazil. The instrument, which resembles a bow-and-arrow with a coconut attached to it, became a regular part of his live performances.

"It's very primitive, very unique sounding," Cavalera says. "I started playing them and adding them to my music, and the next thing I knew it became a trademark."

The sound also stems from Cavalera's love of percussion and tribal drumbeats. For the band's three albums, he's recruited percussionists who have worked with jazz and reggae greats like Sergio Mendes and Bob Marley. The drums have also become a highlight of the live show, with a drum jam that often features guests from other bands Soulfly tours with. Currently, drummer Dave Lombardo, of legendary thrash band Slayer, joins the jam.

"If you've never seen Soulfly, you're going to be blown away at that moment of the show," Cavalera says. "There are no guitars; there are no vocals. We let the drums do the talking, and it's very powerful."

The current Soulfly tour with Slayer is in support of their latest album, simply titled "3." It blends the aggressive metal of their self-titled debut with the more melodic sounds of their second album "Primitive." Cavalera, who also makes his debut as a producer on "3," says the mix wasn't intentional, but he's happy with the way it turned out.

"That's just the chemistry of Soulfly," he says. "We decided to let those two things come together, so the mix of melodic and heavy goes hand-in-hand throughout the album. I think, in a way, that's the power of the Soulfly music. It's the chemistry we've found in the band."

But there are also some quieter moments on the album that have much more to do with Cavalera's spiritual journey and the music of his homeland than with metal. He says he listens to a variety of music and wants to offer a bit of that to his fans.

"There are things on a Soulfly album that you won't hear anywhere else," he says. "You won't hear it on a Limp Bizkit album; you won't hear it on a Papa Roach album. The world music, tribal music mixed with guitars is strictly Soulfly. I'm glad the fans understand and actually enjoy the tribal music, and I'm happy to be able to do it for them."

Arguably the moment that speaks loudest on this album, though, doesn't feature any music at all. Sandwiched between two of the most aggressive songs on the album is the track "9-11-01," Cavalera's tribute to the victims of last September's terrorist attacks. When other artists are trying to put their feelings into words, Cavalera, who has made his home in the United States for more than a decade, instead opted for 60 seconds of complete silence.

"I wanted to put the sorrow of the victims and their families in a way that no one has put it before," he says. "I saw many artists do shows and benefits or write songs about it. I decided to do the opposite - to not talk about it at all, but let the minute of silence be louder than a thousand words."

Though Cavalera is pleased with the new album, he considers his music a spiritual experience - one that can best be appreciated live.

"You've got to be there in body because there's something that happens," he says. "It's a mystic force that works through the music, and you have to physically be there and be touched by the music live. No other way will you feel Soulfly's impact."

From spirituality to perseverance, Soulfly's music carries a lot of messages, but Cavalera says the biggest one - and the one he most wants fans to understand - is strength.

"If you don't have strength, what can you do?" he says. "There's a spiritual strength behind Soulfly's music. It's the strength to keep up against all odds, no matter what. It's important to believe and have strength."

Sunday, July 28, 2002

Interview: Jesse James Dupree

Hard rockers Jackyl are probably known just as much for their on-stage antics as for their music, but for frontman Jesse James Dupree, it's all in a day's work.

"If you don't (give the fans a show), they might as well sit home and listen to the record," Dupree says in his no-nonsense Southern drawl. "I've got to have the whole ball of wax. I want to see a man shot out of a cannon."

The self-proclaimed "Redneck Punk" from Kennesaw, Ga., has done his share of crazy things on stage. He regularly destroys stools with a chainsaw, sings from the back of a mechanical bull and fires off his shotgun microphone stand. He's even been known to take the stage clad in his cowboy boots, guitar and little else. But one performance stands out in his mind.

"We played an awards show in Atlanta, and they tried to tell us what we could and couldn't do," he says, his grin coming through the phone line. "We snuck about 40 chickens and roosters in and let them out on stage. They're flopping and flapping around everywhere at this black tie event. The Indigo Girls were there, and they were going crazy. I thought I was going to have to bare-knuckle fistfight one of them. That was messy."

Stunts like that aside, the band is also one of the hardest working when they're on the road. In 1999, they entered the "Guinness Book of World Records" by playing 100 shows in 50 days. After that, the band took a brief hiatus to focus on solo projects, but they reformed in 2001 and started writing new music. This summer they're out on the road as part of the Rock Never Stops tour with Tesla, Motley Crue singer Vince Neil and Skid Row.

Though Jackyl didn't release their first album until 1992, they're often grouped with the "hair bands" of the 1980s. Dupree describes Jackyl's music as "blue jean, blue collar" hard rock and doesn't understand why they're grouped with the glitzy '80s rockers.

"I spent the '80s playing in club bands, and I was playing '70s rock," he says. "I never connected with all the bands that had their heyday in the '80s."

Despite his reluctance to be grouped with those bands, he thinks the new tour is a good fit.

"We've always steered clear of packaging with anybody; we stayed out in left field and did our own thing," Dupree says. "It's kind of cool being in the middle of it, though. We're playing with Vince Neil - the guy sold 30 million records in Motley Crue, you've got to respect him. And Tesla is as far from a hair band as you can get. They're a straight up blue jean heavy rock band; they never wore eyeliner or puffed-up hair and neither did we."

Jackyl is probably best known for their 1992 hit "The Lumberjack," in which Dupree first broke out his signature instrument - the chainsaw.

"It's just a very definitive instrument," Dupree says. "It's loud, aggressive, abrasive, destructive, stanky - everything rock 'n' roll should be when it's done right. It's really a perfect fit."

Since then, every Jackyl album has featured a prominent chainsaw solo. But does he get tired of being known as the "chainsaw guy?" Not at all. It's just part of the package.

"If it was just that, it probably would bother me," Dupree says. "But there's another whole group of people who know me for going to jail about 10 times for getting naked, or the guy who has a goose gun for a mic stand or the guy that set the stage on fire at Woodstock '94 … I'm the guy that's in the band that doesn't mind showing their asses to entertain."

In late 2001, Jackyl racked up hits of another kind, when they posted the song "Open Invitation" to their Web site ( The song, with its "I hate you, bin Laden" chant and blunt expression of the anger many people were feeling at the time, was downloaded 80,000 times in the first two weeks, causing the server to crash and costing the band about $10,000, says Dupree. But it's something Jackyl felt they had to do.

"We were in the middle of recording, and we wanted it to be a fun environment where we could crunch out some straight-up rock," Dupree says. "Then Sept. 11 happened. The only way we could vent was to record a song and put it out there."

That new album, which includes a song co-written by AC/DC's Brian Johnson, should be released later this year. AC/DC has been a big influence on Jackyl, and working with Johnson is like a dream come true for Dupree, who also traded vocals with the legendary screecher on the track "Locked and Loaded" from Jackyl's 1997 album "Cut the Crap."

"If you're a NASCAR fan, it'd be like Dale Earnhardt Jr. letting you take his car around the track for a couple of spins," Dupree says. "Brian Johnson is a perfect example of someone who has been very successful, but is still just a real guy. My friends will come over to the house, and he'll be there reading car magazines and having a beer. He's just a real, personable, down-to-earth guy."

Jackyl completed its obligation to Geffen Records with a "best of" album called "Choice Cuts" a few years ago, which leaves them free to shop their latest album to other labels. Dupree says they're looking for a company that really believes in the band.

The flamboyant frontman believes the future is bright for Jackyl. He thinks the world is ready for their brand of brash and cocky hard rock again. And if it's not, the band still has its hardcore fan base.

"We just want do what we do, and luckily, we've got such a supportive base - they've been incredible," he says. "I think the only thing that would end that is if I was to start rapping."

Friday, July 26, 2002

Interview: Ted Nugent

Some might say Ted Nugent is the walking, talking definition of dichotomy.

The outspoken - and often outrageous - rocker is just as at home screaming at the top of his lungs from the stage or sitting quietly beneath a forest canopy waiting on a trophy buck. He's a rock 'n' roll wildman who also touts sobriety and family values.

Nugent admits that some people might consider those things a contradiction, but for him, rock 'n' roll, family and hunting are all part of the ultimate life experience.

"My being, my gift of life, compels me to manage it for quality of life," Nugent says. "Clean, sober and at a higher level of awareness."

Nugent is currently rolling across the country on his annual summer tour and looking forward to the release of his new album "Craveman," due out on Spitfire this fall.

As with everything, the gonzo guitarist talks about his upcoming tour and the album with supreme self-confidence, often crossing the border into outright cockiness.

"It's sheer delirium," Nugent says of the road. "When you've got the caliber of musicians and support that I travel with, every night is a barbecue musical orgy. It's just so intense. You've got to be cut from a special bulletproof cloth to keep up with the energy my guys create."

The new album marks the return of a sound Nugent fans will be familiar with. It's raw, raunchy and angry, and the 53-year-old musician wouldn't have it any other way.

"I happen to be on a rhythm and blues jihad right now," he says with a chuckle. "I call it throbnoxious. The music is so throbnoxious. It's so rhythm and blues and so gutsy. It covers all bases from outrage and insanity to genuine spirituality. I couldn't be more proud of it. It's got 14 songs, and every one of them will rearrange your face."

Nugent credits bass player Marco Mendoza and drummer Tommy Clufetos with the power and intensity of the music. As for the attitude, that's all Nuge. One look at song titles like "Rawdogs and Warhogs," "My Baby Likes My Butter on Her Gritz" and "Sexpot" will tell Nugent fans all they need to know about the album.

The Motor City Madman says he's playing most of the songs from "Craveman" on this tour, but not to worry, he's also working in fan favorites.

One particular tune seems to have a lot of resonance during his performances. "Fred Bear," a tribute to bowhunting legend and Nugent mentor Fred Bear, brings the house down every night, the rocker says.

"The highlight of my life is 'Fred Bear,'" Nugent says. "We played it in the upper peninsula of Michigan the other night. I'm telling you, the man was there."

Nugent says the song has a mystical quality that engenders a feeling of brotherhood in the crowd.

"I have more hunters and fisherman per capita in my audience than any society on the planet," he says. "There is a blood-brotherhood campfire that ignites when I play that song that is just magical."

In the 1970s, Ted's testosterone-fueled anthems like "Cat Scratch Fever" and "Stranglehold" ruled the rock stages. In recent years, though, Nugent's become known just as much for his mouth as his music.

The guitarist, known affectionately by his fans as "Uncle Nuge," is a staunch political activist who also encourages his fans to get involved in government. He often closes concerts by urging people to write their congressmen.

The rocker is active in a wide variety of organizations from the National Rifle Association to Mothers Against Drunk Driving to the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program to his own Ted Nugent United Sportsmen of America. His work has earned him praise from conservative leaders like Tom Ridge and President Bush.

Among the causes Nugent champions is the fight against drug and alcohol abuse. No matter how wild he is on stage, Nugent says he's never taken drugs and never will.

"I've made it a crusade to let people know that you can't rock 'n' roll and have a fun life like Ted Nugent unless you're clean and sober - you'll hurt yourself," he says. "My idea of a party doesn't include puking and dying."

Nugent has even made it a goal to help other rockers overcome their addictions. He points out friends Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith and says he'd like to think he had a hand in helping them kick their habits. He's also taken on one of the most notorious musicians of today's scene, Kid Rock.

"I went down and jammed with Bob Ritchie, and the guy was chain-smoking like an idiot," Nugent says. "Here's a guy with an amazing voice - and Bob Seger was there, too - and these guys were chain smoking, two of the greatest voices out there. I put some pressure on them. I said 'Bob? Bob? What are you guys doing?'"

He also works to keep children off drugs through the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, though his methods often raise eyebrows.

"I'm without question the most effective D.A.R.E. officer in the history of the program," Nugent brags. "When I confront children, they relate to me because of my attitude, my uppitiness and my street language."

That last part is what bothers some people, he says.

"I don't use the f-word with grade-schoolers, but I will use the phrase 'kiss my ass," Nugent says. "Some people will get all upset and say, 'ooh, he used the a-word.' Wait a minute, we're talking about saving kids. When was the last time the a-word killed a child? Let's get our priorities straight here. If you want kids to relate to you, you have to speak on their level."

But the two issues that are nearest and dearest to Ted Nugent are hunting and Second Amendment rights. The guitarist has become one of the nation's most prolific speakers on the subjects. He appears on radio and television talk shows, writes for a number of publications and has even written a pair of books - "God, Guns and Rock 'n' Roll" and a wild game cookbook "Kill It and Grill It."

But even in the hunting community, he has critics - people who don't like his straightforward and confrontational approach. Nugent says directly challenging anti-hunters, as he regularly does on talk shows, is the only way to get the message out.

"That's what the hunting community has always needed to do," he says. "Instead of backing down and saying, 'well, we catch and release,' we should be challenging people. We should be saying, 'No, no, no. Your tuna is dead. We kill our food. Get over it.'"

Nugent says taking the defensive in the face of anti-hunting attacks isn't going to help hunters.

"Never defend the sport; always promote it," he says. "When you see illegal and nasty behavior by our fellow sportsmen, either clean them up or throw them out. We've got to really be dedicated to upgrading this honorable hunting and fishing lifestyle imagery, so more people will join us in this environmental upgrade. That's all I really live for."

That and, of course, rock 'n' roll.

Friday, July 12, 2002

Interview: Doug Pinnick of King's X

Despite a string of critically acclaimed albums and an exceptionally dedicated fan base, progressive metal trio King's X has never managed to find mainstream success.

Bassist and vocalist Doug Pinnick says that's OK with him, though.

"It was disappointing in the past, but now I realize I've lived a life of dreams," said Pinnick. "We're still here, and we're still respected. Hopefully, we'll be here forever, and you can't say that about a lot of bands."

When King's X first hit the scene in 1988, they were very different from the bumper crop of hard rock acts that were climbing the charts. Their music was more complex, mingling elements of hard rock, funk, soul and R&B with smooth, Beatles-esque vocal harmonies. For Pinnick, who classifies himself as a "person who has always been on the outside," being different was nothing new.

When King's X formed, there weren't a lot of black musicians playing hard rock and metal.

"In my high school years, I lived in the ghetto with my mother, and people would say, `Why are you playing that white boy music?'" he said. "But I always had Jimi Hendrix and Sly and the Family Stone to tell me it was OK."

Then, a couple of years ago, Pinnick admitted his homosexuality in an interview. For a few fans, particularly those who were attracted to the Christian overtones in much of King's X's music, it was hard to take. But Pinnick said most fans stood by him.

"The Christian fans don't accept it, but they say they still love me - and I've gotten a few hate letters from gay-bashers," he said. "But an overwhelming majority - almost all - of the King's X fans have e-mailed me and said they don't care. They're just proud I can stand up for myself and be honest, which is what they've always expected from me."

Those fans are one thing that has kept King's X going through nine albums and nearly 15 years. Pinnick said while their fan base may be smaller than some other bands, it's very passionate about King's X's music.

"Our family of King's X fans aren't the average hard rockers," he said. "I think that's why they stay forever. It's almost like they're addicted to it."

The fans have responded well on the band's first two trips through the U.S. in support of their 2001 release "Manic Moonlight." In the King's X tradition, the album is a bit different from their previous releases. Searching for inspiration, they used drum loops and some electronic sounds for the first time. Pinnick said fans are divided on the new sound.

"They're split pretty much down the middle," he said. "They either hated it or loved it, and very adamantly, too. They let us know what they thought."

Though the band is known for mixing things up, Pinnick said it's not intentional.

"It seems that most of our albums are different from the last one, and I have no idea why that happens," he said. "We just play our music and pour our hearts into it."

Pinnick said "Manic Moonlight" is his favorite King's X album so far, largely because it was a new experience for him. After the songs were written, he put down his bass and vocal tracks and then went on tour with his side project Poundhound. That left the rest of the production to bandmates Ty Tabor and Jerry Gaskill. Pinnick says it's like being able to hear something completely new from his own band.

"I just love the songs," he said. "I like it because I disassociated myself from it a little."

More recognition may be on the way for the band. They recently learned they'll be hitting the road with guitar maestro Joe Satriani and fellow prog-rockers Dream Theater at the end of the summer. To many, the pairing seems a match made in heaven, but Pinnick said he doesn't see much similarity.

"I don't think we have anything in common with the other bands, except that we all like complex music. But everyone feels this is something we need to do together," he said. "It's going to be fun. We're only playing for half an hour, but we get to play first and try to win a few new fans."

Beyond that, King's X will continue to tour relentlessly and make new music.

"We will continue to do this until something stops us," Pinnick said.

Sunday, June 9, 2002

Interview: Ronnie James Dio

I'm a person just like everyone else," says heavy metal legend Ronnie James Dio, almost shyly.

With more than three decades in the music industry - and a resume that includes influential stints with Elf, Rainbow, Black Sabbath and the eponymous Dio - he has, in fact, earned the right to be called a legend.

But he seems a little uncomfortable with the tag.

"Perhaps I sing better and write better than a lot of people," Dio says, in a recent phone interview, "but I can't fix my television. I can't fix my car. I can't fix my plumbing. Does that make me better than the guy that can do all of those things? Absolutely not."

Still, he's Ronnie James Dio. So he's honored by the adulation - but he isn't about to stand pat.

"If people consider me to be a legend, I think that's wonderful - and I thank them all for it," he said. "But any time you start believing the people who call you a legend, your career suffers. You have a tendency to rest on those laurels, and that's something I never want to do."

Dio fronted Elf, then left for Richie Blackmore's band, then left for Black Sabbath, then left for a wildly successful early solo career - all within the span of the decade between 1974-1984. He's not done, either: Dio's latest album "Killing the Dragon" was released in May, and he's also embarked on a summer tour with a pair of other legendary bands, Deep Purple and the Scorpions.

Call this new tour a family affair: Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover produced the first album by Elf. Blackmore was a member of Deep Purple before forming Rainbow with Dio. Deep Purple singer Ian Gillan replaced Dio when he left Black Sabbath in 1982.

"They're all dear friends," says Dio, who toured with the Scorpions years ago, too. "It will be wonderful. It's like being out on the road with family."

Dio will be touring in support of an album that's closer to the sound fans expect from him. After an experimental period, Dio's last two albums have been a return to his metal-pioneer roots.

"Magica," released in 2000, was a concept album, which Dio says served to reintroduce fans to the his penchant for fantasy-based songs. The CD also marked an instrumental homecoming for former Dio guitarist Craig Goldy and for bassist Jimmy Bain, who had been in Dio and Rainbow.

"We had done some things before 'Magica' that I think were very confusing to people who grew up as Dio fans," he says. "It was necessary for me to do an album that made people say: `That's got to be Dio. Only he can do an album like that.'"

While Dio, and fans in general, were happy with that album, he wanted his latest to be a contrast to the epic scope of "Magica."

"I didn't want 'Killing the Dragon' to be another conceptual piece," says Dio, born Ronald James Pardovana in 1949. "It's an album driven by songs, not story or concept. It seems to have worked pretty well. I think this is the album most people expected."

He regards "Killing the Dragon," as a classic Dio album - in the tradition of "Holy Diver" and "Last in Line," two fan favorites.

In fact, 1983's "Holy Diver" seems to be the benchmark for Dio - the album fans always compare his latest work with. He says that's been frustrating on occasion, but he's happy that the first Dio album has so much resonance.

"It's nice to have that piece of music as a standard, something you have to strive to reach. I think that makes you better," he says.

On "Killing the Dragon," Dio has mingled a few fantasy-themed songs with others that take a look at issues of the real world. One stands out: "Throw Away the Children," originally planned as a benefit song for one of Dio's favorite charities, Children of the Night.

The singer has worked with the organization, whose goal is to rescue runaway teens from prostitution, for many years. But when the song was finished, Children of the Night decided they wanted something more uplifting.

"There are two ways you can deal with these things," Dio says. "You can put pictures of starving children on the television … or you can be positive and say `we're going to overcome this.' My way was to smack people in the face with the despair and depression of it all."

The lyrics of the song are dark and reflect Dio's own experiences working with the charity. He says the lyrics may be disturbing, but the reality is even moreso. "I know all of these kids very well, and I've seen a lot them die from HIV(-related illnesses) at 16 years old," he says.

"Throw Away the Children" wasn't Dio's first encounter with charity work. Back in the 1980s, when some of the biggest pop stars got together to record "We Are the World," a lot of hard rockers wanted to help as well, but weren't invited to participate. In response, Dio helped organize "Hear 'n' Aid," a heavy metal benefit album. That album, now out of print, will be repackaged with a new "Hear 'n' Aid" project to benefit Children of the Night in the near future.

All of this charity work might seem out of character for someone with Dio's reputation. He has often been associated with darker impulses - beginning perhaps with 1980's "Heaven and Hell."

It's no matter to Dio.

"I know what I am, and I've always known what I am," he says. "I think the reputation started with Black Sabbath. Here's this band that was purportedly the most evil thing on the face of the Earth - and it was mainly because of the name. I know just how un-evil those guys actually are."

Fans of the television show featuring his Black Sabbath predecessor Ozzy Osbourne probably agree. Dio, for his part, liked the rest of the band enough to rejoin them a decade later for 1992's "Dehumanizer."

A lot of the criticism, Dio says, may stem from the fact that he's never defended himself. He'd rather let people draw their own conclusions.

"Instead of defending themselves, (Black Sabbath) didn't say anything about it," he says. "They just let people listen to the music and make their own judgments. That's what I try to do."

Dio says that anyone who finds evil in his music is obviously looking at it the wrong way. In fact, he points to lyrics from "Heaven and Hell:" "The devil is never a maker/the less that you give, you're a taker."

"I think anyone who listens to my songs or Sabbath's songs realizes that they were songs telling you to beware of evil," he says. "We were not saying `here comes the devil, he's a great guy.' It's exactly the opposite."

For fans who like the fantasy side of Dio's music, there's another treat on the way in the future. He planned the "Magica" concept as a trilogy, and he hopes to put out the next two installments as a double CD. He also hints that there might be a novelization of the concept in the works.

"That's something I'd planned to do, but unfortunately time is a consideration," he says. "It takes a long time to plan and write a book, maybe a year or more. If I ever have that year, I'm planning on doing it."

Dio is also working on an autobiography, one that is partially finished. He'd like to get the writing projects done before he retires, because he says, "when I retire, that will be it for me."

For now, however, the concept of quitting seems foreign. "I wouldn't know what (retirement) is; I've never even taken a vacation, because I feel too guilty about it," Dio says. "I think people will let me know when it's time to retire, and I'll know when my talent's diminished. But I don't see that in my future at all."

Things are simpler now for Dio, who fronted one the of the early 1980s' more dramatic heavy metal acts - complete with explosions, giant dragons and lasers.

"I'm doing what I love," he says, "and that's the greatest gift I've ever gotten."

Tuesday, June 4, 2002

Review: Danzig, "777: I Luciferi"

On Danzig's last two albums, the band experimented with mixed success with electronic sounds. But with this - their seventh full-length studio release - Glenn Danzig and Co. have come home.

"I Luciferi" is a welcome return to their roots - blues-based hard rock, classic heavy metal, punk and gothic.

Like Danzig's best work, "I Luciferi" is driven by big guitar riffs and haunted vocals - an odd blend of Elvis, Jim Morrison and Beelzebub. Gone are the synthesizers that disguised that distinctive voice and the industrial clanking of the last two albums. They've been replaced by raw, energetic rock 'n' roll.

The difference is evident from the beginning of the album. The pummeling guitar riff of "Black Mass" gets things going. It's easily the best Danzig riff in at least a decade.

In fact, the first three songs on the album may rank among the best Danzig has recorded. The second cut and first single, "Wicked Pussycat," has a down and dirty grind that would be right at home on the band's first two albums. The mewling guitar sounds are a nice touch, as well. The third tune, "God of Light," offers a nod to the current metal scene with a catchy percussive riff.

No matter what influences work their way into his songs, they're all undeniably Danzig. Listening to "Kiss the Skull," one is reminded of Danzig's early days with seminal hardcore punkers The Misfits; the title track and "The Coldest Sun" show leanings toward his days in the goth-metal band Samhain.

Of course, the album has the trademark Danzig ballads. But the term ballad is misleading; while these songs are softer, they're by no means commercial. Instead, they feature haunting melodies and dark lyrics.

The mystical-sounding ballad "Angel Blake" has a mocking tone, like a children's nursery rhyme gone bad. And "Dead Inside" tackles the subject of depression.

With this album, Danzig weaves a dark, dense tapestry of sound that will be more familiar to long-time listeners than the techno-industrial efforts of his recent works. It's nice to have him back.

Get "I Luciferi."

Friday, May 31, 2002

Interview: Rikki Rockett of Poison

They may use a little less makeup and hairspray these days, but not much else has changed about Poison.

The band's recently-released ninth album, "Hollyweird," is full of the same glitzy, hard rocking, three-chord anthems to hedonism that brought Poison three multi-platinum albums and a string of Top 40 hits in the late 1980s and early '90s. Drummer Rikki Rockett says the band wouldn't have it any other way.

"We've definitely stuck to our guns," Rockett said. "Poison is Poison no matter what else is happening. I don't want to follow trends, because you can't keep up with them anyway."

Rockett said their unflinching commitment to making the music only Poison can make is what has allowed them to continue to tour arenas and amphitheaters long after many of their contemporaries from the '80s have fallen into obscurity.

"You get to a point in your career where you surpass trends - like the Rolling Stones," Rockett said. "I'm not saying we're ever going to be the Rolling Stones, but we aspire to go to that level."

Poison hit the road recently with three other bands from the 1980s - Cinderella, Faster Pussycat and Winger.

It's Poison's fourth similar package tour in as many years. Rockett said the formula is working.

"People seem to love it, because they're familiar with a lot of these artists and a lot of their songs," he said. "There are a lot of newer acts I'd like to have on the road, but the way they're sold - it's a hard-sell. A lot of new music is shoved down your throat. With this tour, everyone knows the bands; everyone knows the songs. It's laid-back and we have fun."

But don't call it a nostalgia tour.

"People who say that are really overlooking the obvious," Rockett said. "We have a current record; we're playing new songs and old songs. We're a band with a history. A rock band that's out there making current records is not a nostalgia act."

Rockett said part of the problem is the perception that you have to be young to have validity as a rock band. He disputes that. He said he thinks a band really needs to show some staying power first.

"I don't want to be young forever; I'm really over the whole idea that you have to be a young band to have any kind of validity," he said. "I'm sorry, but Linkin Park doesn't have validity yet. They're making good music, but until you've done it for a while, how can you know what it's really worth?"

And what about that other term that often gets thrown in the face of 1980s rockers? Rockett said the words "hair band" really don't bother him anymore.

"If we're going to categorize like that, then we'd have to say a lot of the current bands are goatee metal," he joked. "On one hand, it's unflattering, but on the other hand, people have been trying to categorize us for years. First we were metal, then glam, then glitter metal, now hair metal. Everyone is striving to categorize. It's really sad that we just can't have music for people to enjoy."

No matter what you call them, Rockett said there's one thing that Poison will always deliver - a solid stage show. Since their early days, Poison has been known for their over-the-top pyro and light spectacles, and this tour will be no exception.

"If someone's going to make the effort to come out to a show, they really deserve something more than just us playing on stage," Rockett said. "Bands that do that just aren't working hard enough for me."

So far, fans have responded well to what Rockett calls an "old school" approach to the stage show. Their previous package tours have been successful, and he expects this one to do well also.

But will Poison ever enjoy the same kind of success they had in the '80s again? Rockett is not sure he wants that.

"It's a different kind of success we have right now; it's not for the moment," he said. "I'm really happy with how things stand. We have a career; we have a loyal fan base. I think we can do this for a long time. We're not the flavor of the month."

Friday, May 24, 2002

Review: Down, "II"

Almost six and a half years after their first album hit the shelves, metal supergroup Down is back with a new album and a new sound.

The New Orleans-based band features vocalist Phil Anselmo and bassist Rex Brown of Pantera, guitarist Pepper Keenan of Corrosion of Conformity, guitarist Kirk Windstein of Crowbar and drummer Jimmy Bower.

The band's first album, 1996's "NOLA," was just what listeners might expect from bandleaders Anselmo and Keenan - a heavy blend of Pantera and Corrosion of Conformity. Despite the fact they only played 13 shows and got little or no radio airplay, the album took on a life of its own - selling a half-million copies by word of mouth.

Down's sophomore effort brings a little more to the table.

Even though they only have limited time to work together - "II" was recorded in 28 days - they've managed to find their own unique sound. With this album, they embrace the musical diversity of their native New Orleans.

Several songs seem a bit out of character for the band members, who all come from the heavier end of the metal spectrum.

"Learn From This Mistake" is a slow blues number, almost like a lounge tune. "Where I'm Going" is a laid-back twangy country blues song, and "Lies, I Don't Know What They Say, But…" is classy mix of soft jazz and Texas-style blues.

The strongest song on the album, "Stained Glass Cross," adds a heavy guitar to that mix. It's got a catchy, Southern-fried groove - with some tasty Hammond organ and a great lead break before the chorus.

Groove is the key word for "Down II." Almost every song on the album has it. For fans who are more interested in the heavy tunes featured on the band's debut, there's "Man That Follows Hell," "Ghosts Along the Mississippi" and "Dog Tired." All are crushingly heavy songs with down and dirty grooves.

Down's influences also play a very big role on their sophomore album.

The opening cut, "Lysergik Funeral Procession," is lifted straight from the Black Sabbath songbook, as is the chunky opening riff of "New Orleans is a Dying Whore."

They break out the Hendrix funk on the first single "Beautifully Depressed"; "Landing on the Mountains of Meggido" is an obvious homage to Led Zeppelin.

While most side projects are self-indulgent excursions with mixed results, Down doesn't fit that mold.

In fact, these metal all-stars have combined to produce an album that outshines the recent releases of their regular bands. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for them.

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Review: Beyond the Embrace, "Against the Elements"

Not so long ago, the extreme metal genres were all about speed and intensity with little attention paid to melody or song structure. Fast and complex was all that mattered. Then along came bands like In Flames and Soilwork that took the aggression of Swedish death metal and added depth and melody.

Following in that tradition - and building on it - comes Beyond the Embrace. On their debut album "Against the Elements," the Massachussets sextet takes the Gothenburg sound and Americanizes it with some very good results.

"Against the Elements" is reminiscent of Fear Factory's early work. It features heavy, pummelling songs, punctuated with ethereal, melodic interludes. The transition here is much smoother and more natural, though.

The triple guitar attack of Alex Botelho, Jeff Saude and Oscar Gouveia, provides a thickly layered backdrop for vocalist Shawn Gallagher, who alternates between the standard extreme metal shrieks and growls, and more impressive, mournful vocals. Drummer Mike Bresciani and bassist Adam Gonzales are not flashy players, instead they're the workhorses of the band, laying down a solid foundation for the rest.

There's even a commercial turn or two on the album, though they're brief. The punk-influenced "Mourning in Magenta" convinces the listener that Beyond the Embrace could be part of the new crop of MTV-friendly metal. The band quickly disabuses listeners of that notion with the next song "Compass," a high-speed assault on the ears that brings to mind early Slayer and Morbid Angel.

That sets the tone for the rest of the album, which features solid slabs of metal like the title track and "The Bending Sea." That said, the arrangements on songs like "Rapture" and "The Riddle of Steel" show far more thoughtfulness than normally found in this brand of music and raise Beyond the Embrace to another level.

Sandwiched in the middle of the album is the melancholy instrumental "Drowning Sun" which showcases the bands musicianship at lower speeds.

If you like your metal fast and heavy, but with a strong melodic sensibility, Beyond the Embrace delivers.

Get "Against the Elements."

Friday, May 17, 2002

Interview: Brent Muscat of Faster Pussycat

It's been a while since Faster Pussycat played the larger venues, but that's about to change.

They'll be hitting the road with Poison and Cinderella for the "Hollyweird" tour. which crosses the U.S. in the next few months.

After building a solid fan base in the 1980s with songs like "Bathroom Wall," "Poison Ivy" and "House of Pain," the members of Faster Pussycat went their separate ways in the early 1990s.

But last year, founding members guitarist Brent Muscat and vocalist Taime Downe put the band back together and hit the road. Muscat says they felt the time was right for the band to reunite.

"I never really wanted to break up, but the other guys wanted to do their own things for a while," says Muscat. "We got together last year, and it was great. I think the timing is right."

During their time away from Faster Pussycat, Muscat and Downe did different things. Downe formed the experimental industrial band the Newlydeads, while Muscat worked with L.A. Guns and some smaller bands. Muscat says during much of that time, he was in bands that toured on low budgets. So, for him, it's nice to be back in Faster Pussycat.

"For me, last year was a piece of cake after going out in a small van and having to haul my own equipment," he says. "That was hard for me, because I was used to having nice buses and road crews."

Muscat says he's excited about the upcoming outings with Poison, because Faster Pussycat hasn't been on a big tour in more than a decade. But he says it will be even better for the band's three newest members.

"For the new guys, it's really exciting," he says. "Last year was the first time some of them had ever been on a tour bus. Now they're going out with Poison for a big summer tour - and summer's the best time to be on the road."

But don't expect a retro-'80s show from Faster Pussycat.

"If people come to the show expecting to see a nostalgia act, they're going to be disappointed - we've got some surprises," says Muscat.

"We're not whipping out the old velvet suits and scarves we used to wear. I think that's one reason Poison wanted us on the tour. We've known each other from back in the day, and they always knew we'd do something unexpected."

In addition to the big shows, Faster Pussycat will be working overtime to try to reconnect with their fans. If the tour is taking a break, they'll be playing a smaller venue somewhere. On some nights, they'll even be playing two shows.

"While we're on the Poison tour, we'll be getting offstage, driving for a little while and playing another show that night," he says.

"We've been out of the public eye for a long time, and I definitely think this tour will help us connect with our fans again. We're getting a lot of e-mails at our Web site ( from people who are excited to be able to see us."

Muscat says he doesn't want to try to predict the future, because in the music business anything can happen. But he hopes that once this tour is over, the band can record a new album.

"I think this tour is going to raise our profile, and that will be the best time to go in and make a record," he says. "It would have been nice to have a new album before going on this tour, but you want to do it at the right time. You don't want to push things."

Muscat knows that not everyone will be happy to see Faster Pussycat again. But that doesn't really bother him.

"Faster Pussycat has always been a band where people love you or hate you," he says, "And I kind of like it that way."

Tuesday, May 7, 2002

Review: Coal Chamber, "Dark Days"

Coal Chamber's self-titled 1997 debut put them on the front lines of the first wave of the music that has come to be known as nu-metal.

The percussive sounds and grunting vocals were just beginning to catch on - and here was a band that nailed the vibe so many others were going for.

Their 1999 release "Chamber Music," though it did contain an interesting cover of Peter Gabriel's "Shock the Monkey" featuring Ozzy Osbourne, didn't really break from the sound. Now, the band has unleashed its third studio album, "Dark Days."

Again, not much has changed. Though they've continued to build on it in small ways, the music is basically the same as it has been for the past five years.

On this record, the band showcases both the best and worst that nu-metal has to offer.

It gets off to a promising start with the first single "Fiend." This song is as good as anything happening in any kind of metal today. It's a heavy tune, laced with catchy hooks - a song that makes you want to pump your fist in the air and sing along at the top of your lungs.

"Glow" keeps things going in the right direction. It's another catchy song with a chorus that gets stuck in your head - and some interesting background sounds into the mix.

The rest of the album follows through with solid guitar riffs and hummable melodies. So what's the problem? The same one that plagues so much of nu-metal. An awful lot of it sounds the same.

For every standout song like "Watershed" and every dark melody like the title track, there's another tune that makes the listener say, "I've heard this a dozen times before."

After a very strong start, the last half of "Dark Days" tends to run together in your head.

There are interesting bits and pieces in many of the songs - like the Primus-like sounds in "Alienate Me" - but for the most part, they begin to sound the same after a while.

Tunes like "One Step" and "Drove," while not bad, sound like any of a dozen or more bands that are playing the same style of music. On much of "Dark Days," there's nothing that distinguishes Coal Chamber from the rest of the pack.

That said, the album isn't bad. The songs are solid and there are moments where the band really shines. But at the same time, there's nothing about this record that will wow the listener. It's basically a workhorse album - serviceable, but not very flashy.

While "Dark Days" shows that nu-metal does have the potential to be good metal, it also leaves part of me longing for the days of "old" metal - the days when you could tell bands apart without having to check the CD label.

Get "Dark Days."

Friday, April 26, 2002

Interview: Jon Schaffer of Iced Earth

For a decade, the power metal outfit Iced Earth have stayed true to their roots while the music scene changed around them.

Their sound - which mixes the precise lightning-fast riffing of early Metallica with the melodic sensibilities of bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest - has taken a backseat to grunge and nu-metal on the hard music scene. But now, they're hoping to step up to the big leagues.

Iced Earth has recently released a boxed set, "Dark Genesis," which features remastered versions of their first three albums, their original demo "Enter the Realm" and a set of cover tunes from some of their biggest influences - including Iron Maiden, Kiss, Alice Cooper and others.

The band is on the second U.S. leg of their tour in support of the 2001 release "Horror Show," a concept album based on classic horror movie monsters and a few from the real world. Guitarist and bandleader Jon Schaffer says the album is a return to roots.

"The horror theme goes back to the early days of the band," he says. "When I was a teen-ager, one of the things I wrote about most was horror movies. When the band got signed, I moved away from that. This was a kind of return to roots, lyrically and musically as well. There are a lot of elements from the first three albums on `Horror Show.'"

One song that doesn't seem to fit on the album is "Ghost of Freedom," a powerful song from the viewpoint of a soldier who has given his life for his country.

The song has taken on new meaning since Sept. 11, but it's not the first patriotic song the band has done. Their 1998 release "Something Wicked This Way Comes" included a song called "1776."

Balancing patriotism with a largely non-American audience can be a challenge, Schaffer says.

"We've always been a patriotic band, but I was always kind of reluctant to show it in the music," he says. "There are a lot of places around the world that are not America-friendly.

"The first time I did it was on `1776.' It's an instrumental, but there are some very patriotic themes in it. Every American who sees that title, will know what it's about. We just took it one step further on `Ghost of Freedom.'"

Schaffer says much of his patriotism stems from seeing what life is like in the rest of the world.

"Touring the world in the last couple of years, I've grown to really appreciate what we have here," he says. "If there's one thing I can't stand, it's people (complaining) about America when they have no clue. I wish more Americans would visit other places, so they could see just how good we've got it."

Despite his patriotic stance, Schaffer's homeland hasn't always been as good to him as other places in the world. Iced Earth fans on the European tour got a blistering, nearly three-hour set in a packed arena with elaborate stage designs and theatrical elements. In America, they play on cramped stages in small clubs, with a much lower budget.

"I really wish we could bring (the show) to the States, and we will be able to some day," he says. "Our history is in Europe. We've been touring Europe since 1990, and the status of the band is 10 times bigger there."

The reason for the difference, he says, is the way the American music market is set up. The problem for Iced Earth is that many fans just don't know about the band and its music.

"It's controlled by dollars,"Schaffer says. "Here in the States, the way to promote your band is through radio and MTV, and that costs big, big, big money. Over there, the support of the underground is what makes you."

As far as today's American metal scene goes, Schaffer says he hasn't heard much of it - and what he has heard doesn't appeal to him.

"If you're talking about nu-metal, I think that stuff's a joke," he says. "Metal to me should be very intense, very powerful, very dark and also very melodic. Unfortunately, I think that's typical of our society, flooding the market with a trend."

Schaffer is interested in doing something more ... interesting.

"I think we've got a lot more work to do before we reach the arena level in the U.S., which is our goal," he says. "But I'm sure whatever ends up happening, it's going to be a big step forward."

Tuesday, April 9, 2002

Review: The Crown, "Crowned in Terror"

Take the early sounds of Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer, throw them in a blender and turn it on the fastest speed. What comes out will probably sound a whole lot like The Crown.

"Crowned in Terror" has gotten a very positive reception in the extreme metal community, and it's easy to see why.

The band launches a full-out assault from the first cut, the title track. Guitarists Marko Tervonen and Marcus Sunesson alternate between edgy Slayer-like licks and chunky thrash riffs, while the vocals of former At the Gates screamer Tomas Lindberg shred the listener's eardrums.

The strength of "Crowned in Terror," though, is the foundation the music is built on - the drumming of Janne Saarenpaa.

Saarenpaa's skill and stamina is undeniable, and the listener can't help but be impressed when he cuts loose. But it's that same skill that causes a problem. There's a temptation to make the drums the featured instrument.

On songs like "Speed of Darkness," there are spots where the drums take over and drown out everything else. That's a shame, because some of those songs have a lot going for them.

But for every one of those, there's an "Under the Whip" or "Out for Blood," where Saarenpaa's furious double-bass attack lays the perfect foundation.

Surprisingly, the band really shines when they throttle down, though.

The slower riffs are crisp and impressive with a classic metal sound. One of the strongest songs on the album is also the slowest, "World Below." The tune chugs along at a pace that's practically lethargic by comparison, but displays some of the band's tightest musicianship.

Overall, "Crowned in Terror" is a solid album, but it is admittedly an acquired taste. The Crown is certainly not for everyone.

Get "Crowned in Terror."

Tuesday, April 2, 2002

Review: Arch Enemy, "Wages of Sin"

While the hard rock and metal arena has become more open to female performers over the past two decades, the more extreme end of the spectrum has still been pretty much an all-boys club - until now.

When Arch Enemy vocalist Johan Liiva departed, the band raised some eyebrows by choosing a woman, Angela Gossow, as his replacement. In a press release, guitarist Michael Amott said the choice was a no-brainer.

"She's really one in a million, musically, as well as visually," Amott said.

On receiving their new album "Wages of Sin," my first thought was, "a death metal band with a female singer, that's a great gimmick." Then I popped the CD into the player. About halfway through the opening song "Enemy Within," my opinion changed.

Gossow is the real deal. Not only does she kick the door down for women in extreme metal - she stomps that sucker into splinters and starts a raging bonfire with it.

Brave Words & Bloody Knuckles, one of the leading metal magazines, said of Gossow, "Her performance is nothing short of staggering, giving many of her peers serious competition if not putting them to shame entirely." I can't disagree.

Arch Enemy's sound could probably best be described as progressive death metal. That may sound like a contradiction until you hear how the ethereal opening lead and dark grinding verse of a song like "Shadows and Dust" work together.

Musically, the band has more in common with early Dream Theater than Slayer, but Daniel Erlandsson's furious double-bass drumming and Gossow's feral snarls are pure death metal. Their arrangements are satisfyingly complex, but still unrelentingly heavy.

Songs like "Heart of Darkness" and "Ravenous" are burners that show the incredible technical prowess of the band, but they're also shot through with intriguing, catchy melodies and musical hooks. Soft, but dark interludes - like the opening of "Enemy Within" and the instrumental cut "Snow Bound" - are sprinkled liberally throughout the album.

The most interesting songs on "Wages of Sin" come when the band throws the listener a curve. "Savage Messiah" opens with a twangy lick that sounds like it came straight out of an old Western movie. The main riff of the song shows shades of early thrash, with an artsy chorus and a classic-sounding twin guitar lead break. Likewise, the groove of "Behind the Smile" seems a little out of place, but it works well.

Even the obligatory death metal standards like "The First Deadly Sin" have melodic elements that set Arch Enemy apart from their peers.

If you don't believe girls can play extreme metal, give "Wages of Sin" a listen. It just might change your mind.

Get "Wages of Sin."