We chatted recently with KILLSWITCH ENGAGE guitarist JOEL STROETZEL, all about their new album, “Disarm The Descent” (Roadrunner) coming out on April 2nd. In a band full of strong personalities, Joel prefers to be the silent type, able to chill out and do his job. We talked about the making of the new album, Jesse Leach coming back into the band, recording, his influences, the importance of family, and the bands touring plans.
As mentioned in our show review of Opeth’s recent tour, opinions are split on the Swedish band’s latest risk-taker, Heritage, and their current touring cycle, which shows the band playing a death-less set, focusing on the softer, progressive side of their personality. While yours truly feels both album and tour to be brilliant musical bravery at its finest, not everyone agrees. I was able to catch up with frontman/guitarist/songwriter Mikael Akerfeldt to get his thoughts on both Heritage and our beloved prog rock obsessions. Enjoy! \m/G.
How has it been dealing with fans’ devotion to the band with this touring cycle, taking into account some people’s refusal to accept change?
Well, everything is pretty much as normal for us. Being on this tour, the only thing that’s been not business as usual is having this set list which fits in with our newer songs off Heritage. Some fans are disappointed by the fact that I’m not screaming on this album and tour, yet some seem to like it. Our fans, by this time, are kind of ready for this kind of thing. We’ve been around for a while, so for us to do this sort of thing is not outrageous to me. It makes perfect sense.
Same here. This was the album and tour I was hoping you’d do. To me, if someone doesn’t understand this side of Opeth, than they truly don’t understand the band.
Yeah, it’s funny as we’re talking right now about how you love Heritage, and I was just responding to a fan letter in a magazine where the guy absolutely HATED it. He was saying we should split up, that this album ‘isn’t Opeth’ and blah blah. In a way, I want everyone to love it, of course, but in a way I’m glad that it’s causing such divisive emotions. Some people are really getting into it, and some hate it with a passion.
At the end of the day, do you feel it’s a matter of bands doing what they want to do? I mean, with a band like Opeth, you would think fans would embrace this sort of change.
I thought that we made it pretty clear early on that we like change, and that we’re not going to stay in the same spot for all eternity. I’m surprised when people—especially if they’ve been with us a long time—are surprised by a direction we’ve taken. I expect more from my fans, and that’s one of the reasons why we did this album; we felt this was as much of an ‘Opeth record’ as any other, and I’m hoping it will be that way for the fans, too. I’m hoping they have more of an open mind than most metal fans.
I think most of them do. I think people who are hyper critical of it are the exception, rather than the rule.
I think so too. I think there are obviously people who have problems; who see us as ‘traitors to metal’ or something, as if we’re turning our backs. I can understand, because I’ve been one of those guys myself, but for me it’s different when you’re in the midst of it, creatively.
It was easy for me to love Heritage, because I’m a prog rock lifer, as I know you are, as well. I wanted to get deeper into your thoughts on that—what are your favorite periods in prog? The Canterbury Scene? The Italian bands? What’s closest to your heart?
That’s a really difficult question, because I usually classify progressive rock by country. You have the Italian bands and the British scene, the German Krautrock scene, the U.S. scene and everything in between. My favorite period would be between 1969 and 1974, I think. In the mid-seventies you had all these new keyboard sounds on the market, but I love the simple kind of set up: guitars, drums, Mellotron/Hammond Organ. I’m not sure what country was my favorite. The Italian scene was super heavy, but it was also heavily influences by the British bands like Genesis, King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator. So the original scene from England was the end which I first started collecting, and it seems like you’re never done! There are new bands popping up from the past every day for you to discover.
Are there any bands that you think might surprise people to hear as influences for Opeth? I’ve always heard, particularly here on Heritage, a bit of Moody Blues going on.
I love the Moody Blues! If you’re looking for ‘odd’ bands who influence us, ABBA is one.
Dude, I love ABBA.
Yeah, they’re genius! We had dinner with Agnetha Faltskog during the recording process! David Crosby is a big influence for this album, as was Joni Mitchell. Scott Walker is a constant in my life, as well.
Having listened to Opeth since Orchid, I can hear—and you’ve made mention—of the influence from Camel and Andy Lattimer’s guitar work. How do you feel about turning fans onto bands like this through your music, or through mentioning them on stage?
I do that all the time. I’m just one of those guys—it doesn’t matter that I’m in a band myself—at the pub or at a party: if we’re talking music, I’ll always tell people to listen to Camel. I love turning people on to new music. I used to work in a record store, and that was a great job for me. Selling records was secondary to me! That’s what the progressive rock scene does to people. You don’t only LISTEN to the music; you get really anal about it. You get into ‘the scene.’ I’m like that anyway, and I love it; I’ll be that way until my dying days, pushing bands like Comus. It’s actually started to catch on too. I’ll see people at our shows wearing Camel or whatever; it’s really great.
If the word ‘progressive’ can be defined as ‘doing whatever the hell you want,’ how do you feel it’s been redefined by bands like Porcupine Tree, Muse or Leprous from Norway—redefining the progressive scene for a new audience?
There aren’t TOO many of those bands around, it seems, but there does seem to be a scene for that. I think the ‘pure’ progressive scene is probably more progressive than ever, because there’s more references to bands like us than there was in the seventies. For instance, we come from the death metal background, which has enabled us to create our own brand of progressive rock. In a way, to stand for death metal roots is what sets us apart from progressive bands of the day, with the scene as a whole sounding ‘more progressive’ than ever.
Opeth: ever the trailblazers
How early in advance did you feel that Heritage was going to be different, and moving in this direction?
I knew even before I started writing, because I felt a bit concerned about our future, because we were somewhere on the outskirts of metal. I felt like I didn’t want to do a contemporary sounding metal record, that we didn’t belong there, or anywhere else, really. This gave me some concern, because I didn’t’ really know what I wanted to do; I just knew that whatever music was coming out of me next was going to be different.
When Watershed was released, I felt that it was excellent, but that the mellower, more progressive songs were very different from the heavier tunes. There wasn’t much meeting in between. Did you feel that way too at all in hindsight?
Watershed was a strange record, because the first song I wrote was “Heir Apparent,” which was the heaviest, most death metal sounding track on the album. That’s usually when I go into a writing period; where I want something really heavy. But then as I progressed in my songwriting, all of a sudden I have songs like “Burden” and “Hessian Peel” songs which weren’t particularly ‘metal’ sounding. It was a strange period for me writing that record. I feel that it worked, in the end, but you could clearly see that my head was elsewhere than the metal scene. At that point, something had to happen; I couldn’t write another Watershed record.
I really felt that you were in two different places, as far as what you wanted to do. When it comes to bands, if fans want to hear the old records, they HAVE the old records. Do you feel that fans sometimes WANT their music ‘safe’ and to hear the same thing over and over?
I think that they do, in a way, but they also don’t. Every record we’ve put out has been records that WE’VE wanted to listen to, and we’ve been fortunate that others have wanted to hear them, as well. We get people who think we should progress MORE, but at the same time they don’t want that, so it’s kind of difficult to know exactly what the fans want. When I finished writing Ghost Reveries, for example, I felt that it was a GUARANTEED success; that EVERY Opeth fan was going to love the album…which, obviously, they didn’t. I can’t stop caring. I care about the fans. It’s impossible to care about the fan as a collective, because you’re going to get so many divided opinions about what you should or shouldn’t do, what’s good and what’s bad. You’re forced, at some point, to just stop listening, because it becomes one big fucking mess.
AC/DC have never progressed. They don’t want to. They want to release the same record, and rock out, and that’s great. Their fans want that, and the band agrees. The problem with those kinds of bands who stay the same, however, is that they’re known and loved for the stuff they’ve done thirty years ago. Their new album is never relevant, which is a position I would HATE to be in. You put out a new record, and it sounds like the old records, but watered down. The fans don’t want to hear that, they want to hear the original.
And it’s tough when you have a new record that you’re PROUD of, and people get up and go to the bathroom when you play a new song.
It happens now. It happens that people don’t want to hear our new songs, but we forcefeed them! We’re playing these songs. Like it or not, that’s what we’re doing. People are going to be disappointed, but fair enough: there’s nothing we can do about it. We want to do it OUR way.
Dez Fafara has come along way since COAL CHAMBER. Now he leads one of the biggest and best bands in the metal scene, DEVILDRIVER and has became a truly captivating metal personality. Now, he is getting back to his roots and has announced that he is reuniting with his bandmates of old and relaunching COAL CHAMBER. Well, sort of…
COAL CHAMBER will be heading to Australia for a series of reunion shows at Soundwave. As far as nu metal goes, COAL CHAMBER was certainly one of the best bands in the scene and were helped very much by the fact that SHARON OSBOURNE took the reigns and guided the band to a lot of success with Roadrunner Records. It will surely be interesting to see them back and what they bring aside from these dates in Australia.
Maybe we can get a FAMILY VALUES tour together with them, KORN and some of the other big bands from that era? Anyone… Bueler….
Better late than never… After announcing a little more than a year ago that they would no longer be signing metal, Roadrunner Records has inked their first deal with a deathcore band. AT THE SKYLINES is your typical, moshy deathcore but with elements of electronics and really bad clean vocals. To be honest, I like their pit-ready deathcore but I’m not into the second singer’s vocals at all. I’m also glad to see that Roadrunner is still signing metal – obviously they’ve went a direction that’s very different from where they started but they still bring us a lot of truly great music!
NIGHTWISH is back with a brand new album that will be titled ‘Imaginaerum’ on Tuesday, January 10th via Roadrunner Records. The record is the follow-up to ‘Dark Passion Play’, the 2007 return of NIGHTWISH featuring new vocalist Anette Olzon. The tracks have been said to be much darker than ‘Dark Passion Play’ and I hope that this is true. While I have no problem Olzon and I thought her vocals were beautiful live, I have not been the biggest fan of the “dark pop” vibe of ‘Dark Passion Play’. For me, the best NIGHTWISH album was ‘Once’, when Tarja was still a part of the fold.
“Nemo” could possibly be my all-time favorite power metal song, coming from a guy who isn’t the biggest power metal fan, and I always thought that NIGHTWISH was successful in making a darker, symphonic power metal that appealed to me more-so than anyone else in the genre.
Fingers crossed that ‘Imaginaerum’ is the return to form that I’m hoping for!
03. Ghost River
04. Slow, Love, Slow
05. I Want My Tears Back
08. Turn Loose The Mermaids
09. Rest Calm
10. The Crow, The Owl And The Dove
11. Last Ride Of The Day
12. Song Of Myself
Heritage is the Opeth album that not merely asks you to speak their musical language. It demands it. On its surface, the record speaks in softer tongues than the nine albums before it; but make no mistake: this will go down as the Swedes’ most “difficult” album. It will be Opeth’s most discussed, debated and discovered album to date. It’s likely a lot of old school fans may hate it at first.
Here are some broad strokes. There are absolutely no heavy vocals. No trace of the old death metal rifferama that once anchored at least half of the band’s epic approach. There’s nary an epic-length song to be heard: the average one clocking in around six minutes or under. Heritage certainly isn’t a return to the quieter meditations of Opeth’s Damnation album or the acoustic-y likes of “Isolation Years” or “Coil” from Ghost Reveries and Watershed In fact, Heritage is much more of a watershed than Watershed ever was!
Mikael Ackerfeldt doesn’t seem content to merely redefine the boundaries of what Opeth is about: this time around it feels like he wants to rip up the very nature of what progressive rock is supposed to be and put it back together. “The Devil’s Orchard” lulls you in with its “riffs-and-rhythms-in-freefall” hypno-groovola and a simple sung refrain: “God Is Dead”. “I Feel The Dark” is literally where the album’s “journey” begins: Mikael’s plaintive croon drifting over a quiet looping guitar that momentarily darkens and heavies up without losing the song’s baroque trappings.
There’s been much discussion about Heritage’s oft-esoteric vibe being recorded live on the floor as opposed to the “normal” over quantified and computer corrected metal production techniques. Drummer Martin Axenrot and bassist Martin Mendes are adroit enough as a rhythm section to become an active anachronism. They’re imperfect and funkier than anyone in the game, In the meantime, Acky does a fine job fearlessly channeling his own Ian Anderson (that’s from Jethro Tull, kiddies!).
“Hexprocess” and “Famine” feel like compositions from Hell’s very own jam band. They’re largely instrumental compositions that wouldn’t have fit on any of Opeth’s prior albums. There are plenty of moments here that would elude the more “structured” first nine albums. In fact, mixer, Porcupine Tree man main man and longtime Opeth co-hort Steven Wilson has quietly recorded an unreleased album with Akerfeldt that in its
Opeth operates on a truly strange nexus. They musically reach for stars on a foundation built from rock, jazz and metal’s “almosts” rather than its victors. I also maintain that Heritage, more than any of the band’s none prior “meditations” (that’s what they call ‘em) is the product of a very educated albeit hyper-headed music obsessive. Camel, Caravan, the lighter shade of Sabbath, obscure Swedish jazzers Lamberk (whom Opeth are guilty liberally borrowing from) remains the touchpoints. Heritage does a fine job penning its own love letter to Mikael’s encyclopedic record collection.
So is this a good Opeth record? Unequivocally yes. Disjointed? Yes. Like any of their prior catalog, it possesses moments of brilliance that will certainly cause debate amongst the cognoscenti as to whether they are truly “Opeth”. Warning: the surgeon general emphatically urges you to give this one more than one listen before you make up your mind as to what Ackerfledt & Co. are up to these days. To be sure, Heritage is a record where their ambition and talent are on equal footing.
Metal Army caught up with Shawn Drover of MEGADETH at this year’s ROCKSTAR ENERGY DRINK MAYHEM FESTIVAL. Even though we were being attacked by trees and wind Shawn was kind with his time and very candid about topics such as touring, their upcoming new record Thirteen (Roadrunner), choosing a set list, drumming in a band with famous former players and The Big 4 shows.
MEGADETH played the main stage at Mayhem Festival this summer before a shoulder injury to front man Dave Mustaine derailed them.
MAA: How is the tour going so far?
SD: It’s going good man. We are finally settled in now. We had done a bunch of shows in Europe with The Big 4, jumped on a plane from France to San Francisco and played about five hours later on stage. It was a real test of our endurance, but we pulled it off and it’s been all good. This entire tour has been a lot of fun with a lot of diverse bands out here.
MAA: The band is playing a new MEGADETH song, “Public Enemy #1” live on the tour. How does is stack up compared to the tracks on Endgame?
SD: Musically speaking? It’s just another metal song by. I don’t like to compare apples and oranges. It’s just another good, mid-tempo metal song by us. I don’t know why we are playing that particular song to be honest, because we are really happy with the new record. The new album is great and covers a lot of ground within the parameters of metal. I’m glad we’re playing it. It’s just a good tune, man. It’s catchy and heavy so its going over really well. We’ve done this before, with stuff that hasn’t been heard by the public. We did that last time with “Headcrusher”, we did that with “Washington Is Next” before that on the previous tour. This is a good vehicle to do that, to see what goes over well and what doesn’t go over well. We like trying out new songs in a live setting, so our batting average previewing tracks early is pretty high. So we’re very happy to do it.
Shawn began MEGADETH's Mayhem set with the opening drums for "Trust".
MAA: I understand the band finished Thirteen really quickly between tours. How did that come about?
SD: We finished it in record time! Certainly the fastest time to record an album since I’ve been in the band, by leaps and bounds. I’m glad we finished it, but if we didn’t it would have been okay. We would have just gone back in and finished it up after this tour leg with Mayhem. We’ve all been really inspired and we such a mass good riffs to assemble songs and that is always good too. We were really prepared to work and even some stuff we didn’t even use, which is a great thing as well. It just goes to show that you can do it. If you bear down and put your nose to the grindstone, you can get it done. We’ve proved that. The results will speak for themselves. We’re really happy with the record.
MAA: Thirteen will be your third album with the band. Has your playing changed over these albums if at all, since you came into the band?
SD: I don’t think it has too much. I have been playing for so long, I play the way I play. Playing your own stuff is easy. Emulating others is the trick. If you got asked to play something by EDDIE VAN HALEN, maybe some stuff you could do and some stuff you couldn’t because it’s not who you are. For me I am emulating a lot of different drummers, which is fun too. Maybe there are some things I might have done differently back in the day if it was me, but it’s neither here nor there. For me the stuff I have played on, it’s just the way I naturally play. Stylistically, I haven’t changed much at all. I’ve always been a double-bass playing metal drummer. I haven’t changed, I’ve just gotten older. (laughs)
MAA: Who was your favorite MEGADETH drummer before you joined the band?
SD: Gar (Samuelson)! Hands down! For me its all about the original lineup. I love all the drummers, they are all great and I respect all of them a lot, but for me its all about Gar. Gar was really a fusion drummer when they really mixed fusion with speed metal. There were other bands that came in after and took it further with that, but MEGADETH were really pioneers, whether they realized it or not. They probably did, but maybe they didn’t realize they were invented something very cool. Chris Poland and Gar. It’s just the original lineup is the one for me and certainly my favorite MEGADETH line-up.
Shawn said Gar Samuelson is his favorite MEGADETH drummer, hands down.
MAA: Speaking of that lineup: is the band still going to do a tour celebrating the Peace Sells 25th anniversary?
SD: I don’t know. The thing with that is we were only supposed to do the Rust In Peace 20th Anniversary tour for one tour leg. Then Tom Araya from SLAYER got injured and we canceled a tour. So we had to decide if we wanted to come off the road and wait for Tom’s issues to clear up or do this tour for the fans. So Dave and management had the idea to do more of the 20th Anniversary tours. And then David (Ellefson) came back in the band and all these ducks started lining up. It wasn’t planned like that, but then it just evolved this way. And people say oh you have to play here and play there so it lasted a full year. Would I like to do it? Yeah. Do I want to do it for a year? No. You don’t want to become that band that does that kind of thing because this year it’s Peace Sells and next year it would be the 20th anniversary of Countdown and it just keeps going and going. But everybody was so jacked up about of us doing all of Rust In Peace. So we were like “why not?” MEGADETH had never done anything like playing an entire album live in their career. And I’m glad we did it! Again, it was just something that evolved and we went with it. We’re glad we did it. It was really successful. We made a live album and a DVD out of it so it was really, great fun. Anything is possible, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Certainly not for an entire tour.
This thrash masterwork is 25 years old in 2011.
MAA: Any adjustments from the year of playing the Rust In Peace set to doing a more standard MEGADETH set on this tour?
SD: We practice part of the set everyday back stage, not the whole thing but a few songs for warm up. In an environment like this, your casual everyday rockers who just want to rock out want you to play the songs they know. You want to appeal to the masses at this kind of tour. If you were a casual LYNYRD SKYNYRD fan and they didn’t play “Freebird”, you’d be really pissed. For us we know we have to play “Symphony”, “Peace Sells”, “Holy Wars” and we gotta play “Hangar 18” every show. “A Tout Le Monde” we should really play every show and we’ve been trying to. Our fans are so hardcore and they want to hear the most obscure songs, which we have also tried to do here and there. Depending on what we are doing and where we are doing it we will sometimes throw out an obscure track. But then that goes over the heads of 80% of the audience and they go “what the hell was that? Was that a new tune?” With this kind of tour, we need to reach out to their fans, like the GODSMACK and DISTURBED fans might know our name and maybe a few tunes, but they may not really know too much about us. We might try to play our well known songs and try to latch on to them. I think it’s better if we do that so we play our “hits”. Which I know sounds like it should be a dirty word for metal, but it is not.
MAA: Now that we are in the second year of Big 4 shows are you still pumped up for them?
SD: Oh yeah! How could I not be? We have been playing to crowds of 50,000 people up every show. Yankee Stadium? It will probably be one of the top three venues to play in my life time. Not to diss any other venue. One of my bucket-list things was always to play Madison Square Garden, but screw that! I’m playing Yankee Stadium! Every show with the Big 4 has been just so beyond massive. We are all thrilled to be part of it. We’re making history. It’s so cool that after twenty-five years or more its been great to do it for the fans and for all four bands. It’s good for metal and the fans really wanted to see it. I hope it continues… forever! Yankee Stadium is the only show we have on the books right now. Who knows what the future brings? We’ll see.
Shawn Drover and David "Junior" Ellefson play "Dawn Patrol".
It’s well over a decade since Sepultura have been struggling to get out from under their own shadow. Now with Kairos, the sixth post-Max and now fully Cavalera-less entry, the Seps remain fighters-against-the-odds with an album that feels natural and poised: perhaps more so than most of Seps Mach 2′s past offerings. Where 1998′s Against was fueled by the anger of their post-Max situation and subsequent entries merged experimentation with what we would expect from any era of the Seps, this is the record where it all seems to come together. Consider this: perpetually “new” vocalist Derek Green has been in the band longer than the elder Cavalera. He finally feels like a natural part of the band versus being shoehorned in.
There’s no denying that there’s been a lot of forgettable material aired over the past decade. Kairos has its share of unmemorables – the biggest offender being covers of Ministry’s “Just One Fix” and The Prodigy’s “Firestarter”. Yet, with this entry, the good topples the unremarkable. There’s even a song or two like “Relentless” or “Mask” that may become part of the band’s live show.
With drummer Jean Dolabella taking the stool from Iggor Cavalera and guitarist Andreas Kisser leading the creative charge, the bulk of songs are shorter, blunter and straight to-the-point. The likes of “Seethe” take that focus to heart. While the band has opted for self-production in the past, it sounds like producer Roy Z. (Halford) has helped bring that focus to the fore. Unlike the last album, A-Lex, there’s no thematic noodling to deal with. For better or worse, Sepultura is still on a mission to silence any doubters. This time, they’ve got ‘em down down to a dull murmur.
CKY has not only come to an end, they’ve come to one of the saddest ends a band can reach — they will play their final show at the 2011 edition of the Gathering of the Juggalos. The Gathering kicks off today in Cave In Rock, Illinois and I highly recommend any CKY fans get there as quickly as they can because the band is falling apart. The news of the split has been spreading quickly since frontman DERON MILLER (WORLD UNDER BLOOD):
“You know, I had this whole angry post planned to make you all abreast of what’s going on, but I’m not going to do that,” he typed. “Instead I’ll keep it as short and sweet as possible. For CKY, there is NOTHING going on, and I honestly feel that the band’s potential has expired and we are just another casualty of the dying business. Chad quit the band already and didn’t tell me or the fans, and our management and Jess weren’t going to tell me we were now a 3 piece until we got to the Juggalofest.”
Miller added that “no one within the whole CKY community keeps in touch with me AT ALL, or tells me anything, so, in addition to a zillion other reasons…it’s no longer a possibility for me to be a part of CKY, and I can no longer work with some of the people within our organization, and Chad already having left (I could go on and on and on), I want to fulfill the remaining obligations, including any shows already booked and then I’m throwing the towel in.”
Bam Jess Margera (CKY’s Drummer) offered the following thoughts on the situation,
“I have learned over the years that mud-slinging bullshit is the gayest way to handle this situation,” Jess starts. “Alcohol is a fucking serious problem; Bam is going through it too, and about a dozen other people that I know. Getting mad over it is not the way to handle it; took me a while to realize that — but its totally the truth. Deron needs our support right now, not an insult fest.
“In all 100 percent honesty, I just hope he gets better one of these days,” Margera continued. “That’s all I have to say on the subject guys; I’m traveling today and I wont have internet for a bit. My apologies for the shit-show, when I get home I hope things get sorted in some way or another. Who knows what is going to happen.”
Now, after all of that, I have no idea who to believe or what is really at the root of the problems. I will say that the WORLD UNDER BLOOD record that Deron just released is much better than anything I’ve ever heard from CKY so I’m fine either way. However, imagine the emotions going on when you’re playing your final show after being in a band for 10+ years. Then, add in about 20,000 lunatics who are painted up like clowns. Yeah, that’s a shitty way to end your band…
CKY will be playing on the main stage at this year’s GATHERING OF THE JUGGALOS, which kicks off today and runs through Sunday in Cave In Rock, IL.
Jesus Christ, every time I type that I feel like a 13-year old girl. However, I am beyond excited to hear what the legends have in-store for us with their 13th studio effort. The songs that have been made available thus far are pretty good but I’m holding back judgement until I hear the album as a whole. Something just doesn’t sit right about spelling ‘Thirteen’ like that… it makes me worry that the title is telling us what to expect with the record.
One thing’s for sure though, no matter if this album is good or bad — you should not miss the Big Four in New York City next month. September 14th will see some of the world’s favorite metal bands team together for an unforgettable day of madness at Yankee Stadium. Also, take a look at your calendar and see that the day before the Big Four show is the second Tuesday of the month… Interesting…
For now, check out the new material from MEGADETH that will be included on ‘Th1rt3en’, which will be released on November 1st via Roadrunner.