Northward – Northward

Although Nightwish vocalist Floor Jansen (then still with her previous band, After Forever), and Pagan’s Mind guitarist Jorn Viggo Lofstad had never actually met before, when they played a handful of cover versions during an ‘All-Star Jam’ at Progpower USA in 2007, the two hit it off immediately. Discovering they both shared a fondness for basic, stripped down heavy rock music, the pair sat down the following year and wrote an album’s worth of music quite different to what they were both producing at the time. Continue reading

EXCLUSIVE: Mark Jansen of MaYaN Shares His Favorite Symphonic Death Metal Albums

Legendary Dutch symphonic death metal collective Mayan (or MaYaN) is releasing their incredible new opus Dhyana next Friday, 21st of September, via Nuclear Blast Records. In this exclusive interview with mastermind Mark Jansen (Epica/After Forever), he discusses his personal Top 3 Symphonic Death Metal albums ever, only at Ghost Cult! Continue reading

Xandria – Fire And Ashes

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With the EP Fire & Ashes (Napalm), German Symphonic Metal band Xandria releases their second work to feature vocalist Dianne van Giersbergen.

Only the first three songs on the EP are new and original works. Opening number ‘Voyage of the Fallen’ is impressive with its use of orchestra and choir, but it lacks features that set it apart from other symphonic bands. In fact, it sounds like After Forever, Epica, and Nightwish rolled into one. ‘Unembraced’, however, has a much more unique feel with some guitar riffs and synths that feel more like NDH (Neue Deutsche Härte). This is new and interesting, and is something they should pursue if they want to really stand out from the crowd as the prospect of more high operatic vocals over NDH is very exciting. The final original song, ‘In Remembrance’, is very pure and small, and coupled with the theme and classical style this brings to mind ‘When I am Laid in Earth’ from the opera Dido and Aeneas.

The EP also features two re-releases of old songs, namely Ravenheart, previously on Ravenheart and ‘Now & Forever’, previously on India (both Drakkar). They are both good songs, but neither have enough individuality to really set them apart from other Symphonic Metal bands.

Then there are the two covers. One is Meatloaf’s ‘I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)’, and that actually works really well once they really immerse it in their own style. The other shows a serious lack of judgement, because it is Sonata Arctica’s ‘Don’t Say A Word’. Since this is the same genre of music, everything but the vocals is identical to the original. And the operatic vocals miss the sting that Tony Kakko gives to a line like “Open your blue eyes, tell me that you love me, whore!” Only the bridge is done in a very original manner. This would have been great as a live performance, because Xandria fans are bound to know Sonata Arctica, but it doesn’t have enough that’s recognisably Xandria – or at least, that’s not Sonata – in it to earn its place on an album.

With only three new songs, two old songs, and two covers, it is not clear to me why the band actually made this EP. The new material is good, and has a little more individuality than the older material, but it would be much better suited to an album of its own.

 

6.5/10

 

LORRAINE LYSEN

Kiske/Somerville – City of Heroes

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Some elements of life naturally appeal to our various senses; like the aroma of bacon in our nostrils or like a striking sunset in our vision, so Michael Kiske’s warm, velvety optimistic tones are an aural hot chocolate to our ears. It’s hard to hear his voice, whether it be over a racing Metal speedster or a lush acoustic ballad, and not feel some kind of affirming action has taken place. If Kiske and Devin Townsend were to record together, negativity as we know it would be evacuated from this ball of rock.

Kiske/Somerville is a bit of an unusual but oh-so-grin inducing proposition that is rock, Jim, but not as we know it, with its origins almost Simon Cowellesque. Basically Frontier Records have employed Mat Sinner (Sinner, natch, and Primal Fear) to write a bunch of songs for two people who are quite capable of writing their own, and who have been paired up to record together for the second time (Sinner also penning the self-titled debut of 2010).

Since his banishment from Helloween Kiske, the greatest and most distinctive voice in Euro Metal, has nomadically wandered from project to project, including various solo albums, a reoccurring lead cast role in the theatre of Avantasia and (finally) his own heavier project Unisonic.  Meanwhile Amanda Somerville has appeared with the glitterati of the Power Metal world in Kamelot, Edguy, Avantasia, and After Forever.

And, perhaps due to the oddity of the nature of its creation, in the main, it works. Most enjoyably, too. While the majority of the music beneath is uptempo Hard Rock (of the tinged by Power and Classic Metal variety), above the surface soar unconstrained, with unrefined joy clearly displayed, the twin voices of our protagonists, usually by means of call and answer; a verse for he, a verse for she, and a chorus where they meet to continue their tales of love.

While the backing music may, like the dodgiest of petrol gauges, swing from average to bloody good, and it all sits very comfortably in the type of garden we are well acquainted with, surprises are, well, nil. City Of Heroes, though, does what too few albums do and, like boobs in the hands, makes us feel good about ourselves.

 

7.0/10

Kiske / Somerville on Facebook

Michael Kiske on Facebook

Amanda Somerville on Facebook

 

STEVE TOVEY

Nightwish – Endless Forms Most Beautiful

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Nightwish, the rulers of symphonic metal have returned and are ready to take over the world with their new album Endless Forms Most Beautiful (Nuclear Blast). This much anticipated album is the first studio album with not only Metal queen Floor Jansen on vocals, but also Wintersun drummer Kai Hahto, who took over when long-time drummer Jukka Nevalainen had to drop out due to health issues.

Composed primarily by Tuomas Holopainen, the sound on this new album hearkens back to the old Nightwish but one major difference is the vocal performance given by Floor. While she is fully capable of the high operatic capers we know from former Nightwish vocalist Tarja Turunen, there is little of that on this album. Instead, we get to enjoy her full range of power and emotions, from very small and sweet vocals on ‘Élan’ and ‘Our Decades in the Sun’, to the intense and distorted power in ‘Yours is an Empty Hope’. In fact, this album shows an even greater range than her own projects (After Forever, ReVamp) have done.

The album also contrasts with previous Nightwish works in subject matter; while Imaginaerum (Nuclear Blast) dealt with the world of the imagination, this album describes the beauty of the natural world. In fact, the album title is a quote from Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

‘Élan’ is the first single and video for the album, even though it is one of the softest songs on the album; Troy Donockley’s whistles give the son a Celtic vibe, and Floor’s vocals are sweet at first, however, this sweetness does not last the whole song, since towards the end a very pleasing modulation brings more powerful vocals. It might not be the song most representative of the album, but it is beautiful and driven. On the album ‘Élan’ is followed by ‘Yours is an Empty Hope’, a song that brings all the bombast one can hope to find in a Nightwish song. The heavy guitar riffs are supplemented with an excellent orchestra and choir, and it is the heaviest song on the album. Floor totally rips on these vocals, and it a very intense song to experience. Tuomas’ genius as a composer is demonstrated by the contrast between this and the next song, ‘Our Decades in the Sun’. Despite the gentility of this song, with ethereal choir song and such sweet vocals by Floor, the song still doesn’t fall flat, has an astounding energy for a song so serene, and is definitely one of my favourites from this album.

‘Weak Fantasy’ is epic, the title track is very catchy, and ‘Edemah Ruh’ is very smooth. However, there is one song that stands apart from anything Nightwish has ever produced, namely ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’. This is the last song on the album, and lasts a staggering 23 minutes 58. There is no real good way to describe this song, other than as varied as nature itself; it has operatics, power vocals, narration, and instrumental sections and varies from intense piano to orchestral masterpieces, to heavy metal.

Trying to pick out highlights form this album is like trying to pick needles out of a stack of predominantly needles. There may be an occasional pin, depending on your personal tastes, but there is not a strand of hay in sight.

 

9.5/10

Nightwish on Facebook

 

LORRAINE LYSEN

The Consummate Professional – Floor Jansen of ReVamp

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Last month Ghost Cult’s Omar Cordy had the chance to chat with singer Floor Jansen of ReVamp, while moonlighting on her regular gig as the voice of Nightwish. Their interview took place right before the bands’ debut New York City show, of their first American tour in support of Iced Earth. Their latest album Wild Card (Nuclear Blast) came out last fall to critical acclaim, but most importantly beloved by fans of the band. Truly a group in tune with their fan base, ReVamp makes music for themselves, but clearly knows what makes them popular too.

 

 

In order to showcase their music to the world, the band turned to Kickstarter to help make this dream a reality. Crowdfunding can go either way these days, with some campaigns doing great and getting funded seemingly overnight, while others fail spectacularly. We started off by asking Floor about her experience using Kickstarter:

 

There were a lot of people who don’t understand why we would need that and think as a musician you’re making tons of money. Or this is only to make sure I can buy 3 bikinis instead of 2, and have a cocktail at the beach. Those people can be negative about it because they don’t know the income of the average musician, but most people were very positive.”

One of the things that ReVamp has been known for is their collaborations with other artists such as Bjorn Strid from Soilwork, Russell Allen of Symphony X fame, Johan van Stratum, Mark Jansen of Epica, Marcela Bovio of Stream of Passion, and Daniël de Jongh of Textures. On working with Devin Townsend twice, the mention of Devy had Floor exclaiming “I love his voice! It was great to hear how it came together.”

 

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Not only have they written with other artists in mind, they allowed true creative involvement by Townsend. “You can only really go for it the person can sing along. With Devin, he really put in a few extra things that made it more Dev-like. But he followed my basic melodies and added his musicality.”

When asked if anyone outside the band has written with them in mind or Floor personally outside of her bands, she explained: “So far that really hasn’t happened before, only in the early days of After Forever. That didn’t go to well because of the timing. And the short notice of Nightwish and Tuomas Halopainen is writing the new stuff, so I don’t have many concerns.”

 

You may have noticed, it seems ReVamp has a thing for writing these multi-part songs. Floor insists that’s not the case. “We actually don’t write long songs. Most of them are not even five minutes. The structures very basic verse, chorus, verse, chorus, mid part its not that complex not always but what happens within the part is a little complex perhaps. Most of it is written by Jord Otto, the guitar player, Ruben Wigga, the keyboardist and me. Together with producer Joost van den Broek who also played in After Forever. Co-wrote the first ReVamp album. Most of this is done through the internet. Everyone adds their ideas and and later on we sit together and work on physically next to each other.”

 

 

With a lot of people not familiar with the band in the states, they’re determined to not lean on her previous bands material to win over crowds on tour:

“It’s only ReVamp stuff. We played some After Forever stuff when we only had one record and headlining shows that were longer than the first album. It was also a good step from the old days into the new with a second album it’s not necessary anymore. In the states we only have 30 minute so were going to do a mix of both and it’s out first tour there.”

 

 

As one of the hardest working artists in music, Floor has no shortage of outlets for creativity. One side project is Star One to which she commented on the state of that band: “I’m as involved as anyone else. It’s a project that sometimes happens, and nothing has happened in many years so..” her voice trailing off in uncertainty.

With the amount of touring she does, she stresses the importance of keeping your voice in tact. “Your voice is a part of your body so your body needs to be in generally good shape. Eat well, sports, get healthy foods. I’m quite strict about those things. They only thing my voice doesn’t like is cigarette smoke and speaking loud, so if I don’t do that, everything is fine. I also strongly believe if you stress too much about it, it backfires on you. So I don’t pay attention to my voice that much, I know it’s doing fine as long as I’, doing fine. Keep my body in shape and don’t do crazy things, it never lets me down.” (laughs)

 

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The touring for ReVamp doesn’t stop with just North American as added. “I am singing in Nightwish now an that’s the bigger band so that determines the schedule, so there’s limited for ReVamp to tour. We’re doing this extended North American tour for six weeks covering as much as we can from that huge continent and then we’ll make it over to South America after that.”

 

It isn’t sorted out yet but, I’m working on getting some master classes set up. I did my first master class for singers here in the Netherlands in March and I sold it out in one day and one in Finland too. There’s many people over the world interested so we’re truing to get some done in the states as well. As soon as I have some more news it’ll be posted on my website http://floorjansen.com I gave lessons on Skype as part of the Kickstarter incentives. I was teaching via Skype before that and unfortunately I don’t have the time anymore, so this is nice to do.”

 

When the subject of the Netherlands music scene was brought up, she was very blunt about it.

Metal isn’t very big here unfortunately, we have a lot of American and English music we glorify and bunch of singer-songwriters that do the same thing. It sounds very negative, but I’m completely done with the Dutch music scene because it’s not very good. And anything that isn’t 13 in a dozen. That’s a Dutch thing, I don’t know if you say that in America. It means everything in the dozen is the same, one more doesn’t really matter; and if you something different like metal, you don’t really stand a chance. Which I find sad because there’s a big market for it and it has to stay underground and its been pushed for back everything is more interesting than playing metal in your own country and it’s sad”

 

But you can smoke pot here without getting arrested so yay!”

 

ReVamp on Facebook

 

OMAR CORDY 

ReVamp – Wild Card

ReVamp - Wild CardIt may have taken time and gone through obstacles to come to realisation, but Wild Card (Nuclear Blast) the second album from Dutch symphonic metallers ReVamp seems to have turned the wait into an aggression and snarl which elevates the beauty and passion of the release to another level. The album is a towering piece of skilled imagination and breath-taking symphonic grandeur, one which explores familiarity as well as originality in creating a new potent wind of invention and glory. Continue reading