When nothing is off limits, you can reach your full potential. Toothgrinder realized this fact while making their 2017 full-length, Phantom Amour [Spinefarm Records]. While retaining the slippery schizophrenic spirit that turned them into a critical favorite on 2016’s ‘Nocturnal Masquerade’, the New Jersey quintet – Justin Matthews [vocals], Jason Goss [guitar], Matt Arensdorf [bass], Wills Weller [drums], & Johnuel Hasney [guitar] dramatically augmented their unpredictable creative palette through expanding the grasp on melody, incorporating cinematic electronic flourishes, and even going acoustic, to name a few evolutions. As hypnotic as they are heavy, these thirteen tracks signify “progress” through and through.
“Everybody calls us ‘a progressive metal band,’ but I think the most progressive thing you can do is surprise your audience and keep yourself happy,” says Wills. “I feel like that’s exactly what we’re doing here. From jazz and classic rock to metal and experimental, everybody brings different flavors to the table. Then, we pour them into the same pot. That’s Toothgrinder in a nutshell.”
It’s also why the band quietly made a palpable impact with Nocturnal Masquerade. As Revolver dubbed them “A Band to Watch,” it earned acclaim from AXS, Metalsucks, New Noise, Metal Hammer, The Aquarian and more as the single “Diamonds for Gold” [feat. Spencer Sotelo of Periphery] generated over 300K YouTube/VEVO views and “Blue” cracked 384K Spotify streams.
TYLER BRYANT & THE SHAKEDOWN
A dark, twisted circus sideshow that’s built around bombastically grooving melodic death n’ roll is swinging forward with captivating glee, mesmerizing merriment and the plundering power of lethal pirates toward those brave souls who hand over a ticket to be torn by Avatar and their Black Waltz, the fourth album and first proper American release from the Swedish masters of mayhem.
Within Avatar’s diverse songs, a steady focus on the fluid and organic power of the riff (recalling the thunderous foresight of heavy metal’s original wizards, Black Sabbath) takes flight combined with an adventurous sprit veering off into the astral planes of the psychedelic atmosphere conjured by pioneers like Pink Floyd back in the day.
Avatar has found a footing that combines the best of rock n’ roll, hard rock and heavy metal’s past, present and future into an overall artistic presentation that is thought-provoking, challenging and altogether enchantingly electric. With the grandiose showmanship of American professional wrestling, the snake oil salesmanship of early 20th century vaudevillian troubadours and the kinetically superheroic power of early Kiss, Avatar lays waste to lesser mortals with ease. Whether somebody gets their rocks off listening to Satyricon or System of a Down, they’ll find something suitably deranged here.
“We’re in this weird field, caught in a triangle between extreme metal, rock n’ roll and what can be described as Avant-garde,” confesses Avatar vocalist Johannes Eckerström. The all-enveloping theme park vibe of the band’s music and visual counterpart means that, naturally, “it’s turning into something bigger.”
“I have been in this band for ten years. I grew up in this band,” Eckerström explains. “We’re somewhat veterans on the one hand. But we’re the new kids in the neighborhood in America at the same time.”
Avatar came of age as “little brothers” of sorts of the famed Gothenburg scene that spawned the celebrated New Wave Of Swedish Death Metal. The band’s debut album, 2006’s Thoughts of No Tomorrow, was filled with brutal, technical melodic death metal to be sure but already, “We tried to put our own stamp on it,” the singer assures. While the following year’s Schlacht still contained flourishes of melody, the unrelenting metallic fury reached an extreme peak. “Intensity was very important,” he says, with some degree of understatement.
Where to go for album number three? “We basically rebelled against ourselves,” Eckerström says of 2009’s self-titled collection. “We figured, ‘We can play faster and make even weirder, more technical riffs,’ because Schlacht was cool. But to take that another step would have turned us into something we didn’t want to be.”
Instead Avatar rediscovered their inherent passion for traditional heavy metal and classic rock n’ roll. “We decided to remove some unnecessary ‘look at me, I can play!’ parts and added more groove. We added a whole new kind of melody. It was awesome to be this ‘rock n’ roll band’ for a while. It was refreshing and liberating.”
Black Waltz sees Avatar coming completely full circle, returning to a more aggressive form of heavy metal but incorporating the lessons they learned while jamming on big riffs with album number three. “We finally came to understand what a good groove is all about and what a great fit it was for our sound,” notes Eckerström.
Tracks like the appropriately titled “Ready for the Ride,” the rollicking “Let it Burn” (which dips into some delicious stonerifficness), the anthemic “Smells Like a Freakshow” (a modern day twist of Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie) and “Torn Apart” are supercharged with a dynamic range of artistic showmanship on a near cinematic scale and it’s all stitched together by a driving bottom end.
While most European metal acts who dare attempt this level of musicianship, showmanship and attention to detail seem content to toil away in the studio and lock themselves away from the crowds, Avatar have excelled beyond their peers thanks in large part to their continued focus on road work. Careening to and fro on tour busses and airplanes around the world like a marauding troupe of circus performers, Eckerström and his mates (guitarists Jonas Jarlsby and Tim Öhrström, bassist Henrik Sandelin and drummer John Alfredsson) have forged the type of musical bond that can only be brought forth from massive amounts of time spent together on the stage, in hotel rooms, in airports and partying at the venue’s bar.
Whether on tour with bands like In Flames, Dark Tranquility or Helloween, playing gigantic festivals like Storsjöyra and Sweden Rock Festival or demolishing South by Southwest, playing live is what it all comes down to for this band. “That is the final manifestation of our art,” Eckerström insists. “Of course an album is a piece of art in itself, but mainly it’s a means to reach the higher goal, which is doing these awesome shows. Touring is of the greatest importance.”
“We all just love the pirate’s life,” he admits freely. “Sailing into the city on this tour bus thingy, going to kick some ass, have that party and all the while meeting all of these people, entertaining them, encountering a culture that’s not your own. We love that.”
The want for this type of lifestyle goes back to early childhood fascinations for the good-humored singer. Reading about superheroes, watching Hulk Hogan on TV, getting exposed to Kiss – these were the first ingredients for what Eckerström would go on to create with the guys in Avatar and what has culminated now in Black Waltz.
The frontman promises that Avatar will continue to create, to captivate and to experiment. There’s no definitive endpoint in sight. It’s always about the horizon, the journey itself. “As long as you’re hungry as an artist, there are higher and higher artistic achievements. I love AC/DC and Motorhead and what they’ve established is amazing, but we don’t want to write albums that are kind of like the album before. We want to travel to a new galaxy, so to speak, every time.”
The goal is always to conquer what came before. “That is what stays with you as a mentally healthy musician. Or maybe a mentally deranged one, I’m not sure,” the singer laughs. And part and parcel to that continued evolution will be the ever broadening expansion of the scope of Avatar’s worldwide presentation: Black Waltz and beyond.
“We have great visions of what we want to do and the things we want to give to people on a stage,” Eckerström promises. “These ideas, these visions, they require a huge audience. They require a lot of legroom to be done, so I want to get into those arenas, basically. I know we would do something really magical if we got the chance. This idea is one of those things that really, really keeps us going.”
RED SUN RISING
Even as the music business was dismantled and reconfigured, large chain stores shuttered, cable TV abandoned music videos as a format, radio playlists tightened, and thick-headedly bubblegum anthems celebrated, hard rock music has actually thrived, increasing in size and championed by an elite vanguard of ambitious bands.
POP EVIL smashes through the odds like a battering ram, weathering the trials and tribulations of paying dues with a steadfast resilience owing much to their blue collar and middle class backgrounds, and building a worldwide audience one fan at a time. As the moniker promises when emblazoned on a CD or radio dial, POP EVIL conjures aggressive riffs and hard charging sing-a-longs with emotional heft and melodic power in equal measure. It’s music by the people, for the people.
There’s a reason Billboard named POP EVIL the #4 Mainstream Rock Artist of 2014, and it’s not just because of those three(!) consecutive #1 Rock Radio Singles from the last album (and a fourth that cracked the Top 10), the Top 10 Independent debut and Top 40 Billboard 200 debut of ONYX, or that album’s subsequent 180,000 in domestic sales. All of which being undoubtedly rare feats to accomplish as independent artists in any genre of music.
Simply put, POP EVIL is a larger-than-life true rock n’ roll band blending the earnestness of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden with the celebratory showmanship of Motley Crue and KISS, capable of empathizing with the daily struggles of their fans while simultaneously offering the escapism a truly bombastic concert provides. It’s an attitude and a way of life POP EVIL has put proudly on display on tour with Godsmack (as part of Rockstar Uproar), Five Finger Death Punch, Three Doors Down, Papa Roach, Stone Sour, Three Days Grace, Theory Of A Deadman, Black Stone Cherry and more.
Purposefully assembled at Studio Litho and London Bridge Studios with producer Adam Kasper (Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Foo Fighters), UP is the sound of a rock band cementing a powerful identity that’s steadily materialized over the course of three prior full-length slabs. The inspirational soon to be live staple “Footsteps,” the swaggering “Take It All” – POP EVIL prove their burgeoning success is no accident.
“There were many more highs than lows in the wake of ONYX,” summarizes band frontman LEIGH KAKATY. “The only real low was that it was hard to be gone from our families for another year. But the highs were amazing. We experienced our first #1 record with ‘Trenches,’ followed by ‘Deal with the Devil,’ and then again with ‘Torn to Pieces,’ which was a song about my father, who passed in 2011. Having that song go to #1 was a nice tribute to my pops, and closure for my personal journey.”
“Then came ‘Beautiful.’ Having four singles at radio from any album these days is a huge honor itself. We were just grateful. It humbled us,” he says. “We tasted the fruits from all of the previous years, from when we felt like nobody was listening.”
After a self-released record and EP kicked up a buzz, the first proper POP EVIL album, Lipstick on the Mirror found its way to listeners via a major label re-release, despite the business trouble that resulted in Pop Evil tearing up their major label contract on stage, in what Spin Magazine called one of the Ten Best Moments of Rock on the Range. The band’s pristine follow-up, War of Angels, brought Pop Evil to a worldwide audience, driven by the strength of radio ready tracks “Last Man Standing,” “Monster You Made,” and the Mick Mars collaboration, “Boss’s Daughter.”
Produced by Johnny K (Disturbed, 3 Doors Down, Megadeth), ONYX represented a bold new creative achievement, and provided several career milestones, including a triumphant return to Rock On The Range where the band played “Trenches” with Rock and Roll Hall Of Famer Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels as 13 U.S. Marines (showcasing the Lima Company Eyes of Freedom Memorial) stood behind them.
“People ask me all the time, ‘What it’s like to hear your song on the radio?’ It never gets old!” Kakaty declares. “It’s a reminder of hard work, and of having that dream sitting in your garage, trying to write a song that someone would love one day. That dream happened for our band and it’s something that we don’t want to take lightly.
“Now it’s time to step up our game and let people know we can back it all up,” he adds. “We want to prove we aren’t a one hit wonder. We didn’t just get lucky.”
UP is a bold reintroduction and step forward, with guitarists NICK FUELLING and DAVEY GRAHS, bassist MATT DIRITO and Kakaty at the top of their game. It’s always a bit cliché, not to mention questionable, when a band says their new album is the best one yet. But in the case of POP EVIL, it’s an absolute fact.
“When I listen rock radio today, I think, ‘Where’s the fun?’” Kakaty explains. “Where’s that release that gets people away from their everyday stress? The more we toured on ONYX, we realized we wanted more of that element in our set. ‘Some songs have a lot of discipline, anger and angst to it, which is one side of the band. It’s do or die. Other songs deal with temptations, or loss. ONYX came from a dark place, so with this album, UP, we wanted to remind ourselves to have fun, too. That attitude has led to a rebirth, a growth we haven’t seen before. We’re excited about it.”
POP EVIL sees each of their records as a time capsule, a testament to who they were and where they were at in their lives when they made it. Having conquered Rock Radio with three consecutive number one singles on the last album, the question became, “Where to from here?” They’ve been careful not to repeat themselves. The band constantly pushes forward, evolves, experiments and adapts, while staying true to their core.
It’s with this attitude that POP EVIL succeeded in building a lasting bond with their fans. It’s the type of environment created by the groups who listeners treat like family, and the bands celebrate the same way in return. Fans bring bands into their lives, they make the songs a part of them. Music doesn’t belong solely to the songwriters who create it. It’s a shared experience, a community possession, the moment it’s unleashed across the airwaves and strikes a chord with someone else.
It’s why powerhouse sports teams like the Anaheim Ducks, New Jersey Devils, Boston Bruins, and the band’s very own Detroit Red Wings, Tigers and Michigan Wolverines bang their anthems over the loudspeakers. POP EVIL’s music brings people together, energizing listeners with power; on the radio, on ESPN, FOX, ABC, and anywhere.
POP EVIL won’t criticize the wide variety of tools at the disposal of artists these days, finding nothing inherently wrong with programming, loops, samples, or studio enhancements. Nevertheless, POP EVIL champions the special magic found when a rock n’ roll band strips it back down to drums, bass, guitars and a microphone. “One of my greatest accomplishments in life was learning how to play that guitar,” says Kakaty. “At first, it’s intimidating. You don’t even want to touch that thing! But once you learn, anytime you walk by one, you’re like, ‘Give me that damn thing.’ It’s a gift.”
That spirit, that motivation, that nearly indescribable feeling that unites people across cultural, economic, religious, and all other divides – it’s Zeppelin. It’s Sabbath. It’s Aerosmith. It’s James Brown. It’s Woodstock. It’s transcendent purity.
It’s POP EVIL.
You don’t have to change everything. However, realigning can be the healthiest remedy after nearly two decades in the music business. Going into their eleventh full- length album, Kill The Flaw [7 Bros. Records/ADA Label Services], Sevendust changed a lot around them regarding the infrastructure of their organization, but they didn’t alter what matters the most—the music. Following their first significant break (two months) since forming, the Atlanta group—Lajon Witherspoon [lead vocals], Clint lowery [lead guitar, backing vocals], John Connolly [rhythm guitar, backing vocals], Vince Hornsby [bass], and Morgan Rose [drums]—entered their new creative hub, Architekt Studios in Butler, New Jersey, completely inspired and invigorated.
“For the first time in our careers, the avenues were swept off with all of the trash we had on them before,” admits Lajon. “We didn’t have certain people’s hands in our pockets or helicoptering the situation to what they thought it should be. We took a lot of things in our own control. As a result, it’s a new chapter for us.”
“That’s why the record is called Kill The Flaw,” explains Clint. “It’s basically about cutting off the baggage from your life and career and trimming down the excess that holds you back. We’ve had a lot of struggles with the industry. We changed everything about our business. It’s a rebirth in a sense, as far as what we want to do, how we’re going to do it, and who we’re going to it with. We’ve learned from our mistakes.”
There were a few other significant changes as well. Instead of holding up in a hotel, Lajon, Clint, and John rented a house together. The sessions became “24-hour” as the guys cooked breakfast together, hit the gym, and then locked themselves in the studio until midnight every day for five weeks. They also penned the music alongside one another in the studio, jamming everything out in the same room.
“It made everything feel like it did when we first started,” smiles Lajon. “We went in, sat down, looked at each other, picked up the instruments, and began rocking out. Recording like an actual group gave everything more substance.”
“I wanted to embrace what Sevendust is,” declares Clint. “It’s the contrast of the melodic vocal over a very percussive, heavy musical landscape. That’s what we’ve always done. That’s one of those things our fan base really connected to. They’re our life’s blood.
There’s no question. We allow our fans to have more of a voice than other bands. We love putting out records that people can say, ‘This what they do. This is the type of band I want to support.’”
The first single and album opener “Thank You” upholds the pillars of their signature style with a buoyant guitar groove, bombastic drums, and soulfully striking refrain. “There’s always someone trying to keep you down,” sighs Lajon. “At the end of the day, that negativity makes you stronger. You’re still going. It says, ‘Thank you for putting me down. Thank you for making me work harder. Thank you for hating!’”
Meanwhile, “Death Dance” builds from an eerie clean guitar into a towering distorted verse that’s as robust as it is raw. Everything converges on an undeniable vocal chant during the chorus. “That’s the summer dance jam right there,” chuckles Lajon.
“It’s based around the social media era we’re in with all of its vanity and ego,” reveals Clint. “We all get caught up in it. People try to enhance their looks without putting any energy towards giving back. The dead are society staring at their iPhones. You’ve got to see the world. You can’t look at a screen for that.”
Then, there’s “Not Today,” which is equally stirring and soaring with its six-string beatdown and vulnerably vibrant vocals. “That’s another one about change,” continues Clint. “It’s us as a band basically making a choice to change who we work with and how we do what we do. It’s us addressing things that have stopped that from happening. You’re lashing out at someone and explaining how you’re going to be a different version of yourself.”
Thankfully, they’re still Sevendust through and through, and that’s what forged one of hard rock’s most diehard audiences. 2014’s acoustic offering Time Traveler’s & Bonfires saw an overwhelming response from that community, being quickly funded through a highly successful PledgeMusic campaign. Just a year prior, Black Out The Sun entered Billboard’s Top Hard Music Albums chart at #1 and landed at #18 on the Top 200. They kicked off their illustrious career with an untouchable string of three gold albums, beginning with their self-titled 1997 debut and continuing with Home in 1999 and Animosity in 2001. Along the way, they’ve sold out shows everywhere and given unforgettable performances at the likes of Rock On The Range, Woodstock, OZZfest, and Shiprocked! to name a few. However, the new chapter starts now.
“I hope people know we’re the real deal,” concludes Lajon. “That’s the most important thing. There’s substance here. That’s why everybody keeps coming back, and we’re beyond thankful for that.”
“I want everybody to walk away surprised,” Clint leaves off. “I hope it’s better than they imagined, and they get this reassurance that we’re all connected. We want to give people fresh, quality music. I hope they feel prideful they’ve stuck with us through all of these years.”
The number five holds a deep significance.
We have five senses. Five points adorn a star. Five represents man in theology. For the five members of Hollywood Undead—Johnny 3 Tears, J-Dog, Charlie Scene, Funny Man, and Danny—the digit perfectly encapsulates their fifth full-length offering—FIVE [Dove & Grenade Media/BMG].
“We’re five brothers, and this is our fifth record,” affirms Johnny 3 Tears. “Nothing gets to the essence of the music like this number does. Numerology has a lot of power. When we said Five, it just made sense. The fact that we could all agree on one word codifies who we are. It also nods back to ‘No. 5’ from our first album, because it was our fifth song. Moreover, it hints at this secret society of fans supporting us for the past decade. The number is significant, and this is a significant moment for us.”
It’s also a moment that the Los Angeles band has been working towards since the release of their RIAA platinum-certified 2008 debut, Swan Songs. Along the way, the group’s unmistakable and inebriating distillation of rock, hip-hop, industrial, and electronic incited the rise of a bona fide cult audience comprised of millions. For the uninitiated, think Trent Reznor producing Enter The Wu-Tang Clan – 36 Chambers in 2020, and you’re halfway there…Quietly infecting the mainstream, their 2011 sophomore effort American Tragedy went gold and bowed at #4 on the Billboard Top 200, while 2013’s Notes From The Underground seized #2. In 2015, Day of the Dead spawned another smash in the form of the title track, which amassed 21.1 million Spotify streams and 17 million YouTube/VEVO views. Known for atomic live performances, the quintet regularly sells out shows around the world from Massachusetts and Miami to Moscow and Manchester. They’ve toured alongside the likes of Avenged Sevenfold, Korn, and Stone Sour in addition to notching features from Billboard, Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Revolver, and more.
2016 saw Hollywood Undead unfurl the next chapter of this saga. For the first time, the band found itself free from the major label system. They launched their very own imprint Dove & Grenade Media and forged a strategic alliance with BMG. That independence became a cornerstone of the creative process behind Five.
“This time around, we took matters into our own hands more as a band,” says J-Dog. “We did more writing and producing ourselves. We were more hands-on than ever before. We realized that nobody knows our music better than we do. When we made this record, we didn’t have to think as much. We could go with our hearts more. It’s a group effort. One or more members put their blood, sweat, tears, and soul into every song. We took the reins of our own destiny.”
“We had complete creative control,” Johnny 3 Tears continues. “BMG is a partner with us. We’re working together. They saw our vision. It wasn’t about pandering to anyone or having to write a hit single. Because everything fell on our shoulders, we really held ourselves accountable. Also, now that we’re an indie band, we might finally get some of that hipster pussy.”
…Time certainly hasn’t softened their sense of humor, nor their edge for that matter—only sharpened both. Five bursts out of the gate with the opener and first single “California Dreaming.” Powered by neck-snapping guitars and fast and furious bars, the song cycles between guttural rapping and quick quips. Everything culminates on the choral chant “We never sleep, in California we’re dreaming.”
“It dissects both sides of California,” J-Dog reveals. “You’ve got the glitz, glamour, sun, and surf. Then, you’ve got the super fucked side of people not being able to afford rent, celebrities being assholes, and that fake façade. We wanted to do a heavy song with a Red Hot Chili Peppers-esque chorus. It’s an old school vibe explored in a new way.”
Elsewhere, “We Own The Night” struts between stadium-size guitars and a visceral volley on the verses punctuated by lines like, “If you fuckers want to die, fucking with Undead is like committing suicide.”
“It’s the quintessential Hollywood Undead song,” exclaims J-Dog. “It’s got that shit talking. There’s a fresh vibe with the organ though. We were inspired by Hans Zimmer’s use of it in Interstellar, so we added this cinematic element to the track.”
The airy and ominous “Bad Moon” explores “a fascination with the occult and fucked up things people do at night,” while “Ghost Beach” represents another breakthrough as the first “HU song with all clean vocals.”
“Your Life” closes Five with elegiac keys, jagged riffing, and an 808-boom propelled by edge-of-your-seat raps and an undeniable plea, “It’s your life. It’s do or die.”
“We were shitfaced drinking in the rain under an awning on Wilcox Avenue in Hollywood at three in the morning,” recalls J-Dog. “That’s how the chorus came about.”
“It’s true,” smiles Johnny 3 Tears. “I love when ideas come about organically. It’s personal, but it’s a statement for everyone. It might be cliché to say, but it needs to be repeated: You can’t waste your fucking time. It’s a self-affirmation. Every moment you waste worrying is a moment you could’ve been done something that might actually have consequence by the day you die.”
Threading together this collage of metallic instrumentation, street corner poetry, and industrial haze, the group tapped the mixing talents of Dan Lancaster [Bring Me The Horizon] for all 14 tracks, while reteaming with longtime collaborators Griffin Boice and Sean Gould behind the board.
A decade on, the raw anger and passion that defined Hollywood Undead since day one is more dangerous than ever before.
“A lot of guys who have been in bands a lot longer than we have say stupid shit like, ‘It’s just a paycheck at this point,’ but that is so not the case—we still eat, breathe, and live Hollywood Undead,” J-Dog leaves off. “We still write music as if it’s our first record, and we have to prove ourselves every single time. This is our whole world. We appreciate how far we’ve come. We appreciate that we’ve gotten to travel the world. We’re passionate about life, family, and shit we put our energy into. We’ll forever be Hollywood Undead. It’ll always be ingrained in us. I think that’s why people connect to us. They know it’s genuine.”
“Everything else in my life has come and gone at some point or another except for Hollywood Undead,” concludes Johnny 3 Tears. “It’s much more than just a band. We had a fellowship long before we started writing music together. I’m just so happy the people I get to write music with happen to be my best friends as well. It’s interesting because we’ve gone through so much in life together before Hollywood Undead. Going through this experience, it’s much more than the band to me. I can’t imagine life without it. Long after we stop someday, it’s going to be something I look back on and appreciate. Our fans make us feel like we’re in the biggest group in the world. How much they care about the music inspires us to never let them down. Five is for them.” – Rick Florino, July 2017
STONE TEMPLE PILOTS
WITH ZAKK WYLDE
OZZY OSBOURNE is a multi-platinum recording artist, a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee and a three-time Grammy® winning singer and songwriter, who has sold more than 120 million albums worldwide. OSBOURNE’s career has spanned more than four decades (as both a successful solo artist and as the lead singer of Black Sabbath) and his music is as relevant today as ever, still being heard daily on TV, in movies, on radio and at stadium sports events. In 2011 OZZY reunited with Black Sabbath and in June 2013, after more than three decades of waiting, the band released their critically acclaimed 13 album (Vertigo/Republic), which entered the charts at #1 in 13 countries. Produced by seven-time Grammy-Award winning producer Rick Rubin, 13 features the original BLACK SABBATH: OZZY OSBOURNE, TONY IOMMI and GEEZER BUTLER. In 2014 the group won a Grammy® Award in the Best Metal Performance category for the album’s first single “God Is Dead?” In May 2014 OSBOURNE was honored with the Stevie Ray Vaughan Award for his dedication and support of the MusiCares MAP Fund at the 10th anniversary MusiCares MAP Fund® benefit concert. Later that year (November), OZZY was presented with the “Global Icon” award at the 2014 MTV Europe Music Awards in Glasgow. This year also marks 20 years since OSBOURNE created his name-sake hard-rock/metal touring festival, OZZFEST, which has had a hugely successful run across North America, Europe and Japan and will return to the U.S. this September. OZZY is currently on tour in Europe with Black Sabbath on their massive 2016 The End world tour, which will return to North America in August.
Unpredictability drives progression.
When art can’t be pigeonholed or pinned down, it elevates the very medium itself. Bad Wolves thrives on that sort of unpredictability, standing confidently at a crossroads between anthemic hard rock infectiousness and thought-provoking technically-charged heavy metal. Think a cross between the mind-numbing musical malevolence of Meshuggah and Sevendust’s timeless irresistibility, and you’re halfway there…The vision of ex-DevilDriver co-founder and previous driving force John Boecklin [drums, guitars] and vocalist Tommy Vext [Snot, Westfield Massacre] as well as Doc Coyle [guitar], Chris Cain [guitar], and Kyle Konkiel, the group’s full-length debut represents metallic evolution in its purest form.
The result of a musical journey he kicked off in 2014, Boecklin describes the style best.
“We sound like a heavy-slightly prog rock band that tunes low and cuts off most of the fat,” he explains. “Watching Faith No More on the reunion tour made my thought process change. I was standing there, and it hit me that I don’t want to be in a metal band with screaming all the time. We’re heavy, yet from track-to-track, things change quite a bit.”
“More was revealed, so more was required,” adds Vext. “The overall tonality and approach resonated with me as an opportunity to challenge myself and grow as a vocalist. I was given a platform to tap into some musical influences I hadn’t yet explored in previous bands. All in all, it was some of the most diverse, original material I’ve gotten to wrap my hands around.”
“In no rush to put together something reminiscent of [his] musical past,” Boecklin quietly wrote over the course of 2015. During summer ‘16, he entered Audio Hammer Studios with longtime collaborator Mark Lewis [Trivium, All That Remains] and tracked what would become the group’s debut album.
“Starting from scratch is never easy,” admits Boecklin. “Many musical roads were traveled before getting to what you hear today—it’s trial and error. I kept reminding myself not to do what I’ve done before. Eventually, we started to hear what we wanted.”
Now, the first single “Learn To Live” snaps from a chugging polyrhythmic riff into a hummable bridge before colliding with an undeniable refrain that’s impossible to shake and the final scream, “You’d better learn to fucking live.”
“The aim of the song was to basically challenge listeners to ask themselves, ‘Am I willing to take personal responsibility for my own happiness?’,” says Vext. “It’s a concept I use in my day-to-day life as a sober life coach. It’s meant to address situational depression, anxiety, and the disconnect from interpersonal relationships as a byproduct of social media addiction.”
Album opener “A Toast To The Ghosts” delivers a searing gut-punch punctuated by sharp succinct fretwork, smart-bomb precise percussion, and another searing vocal performance. Everything culminates on the pensive and punishing “Blood and Bones.” Vext adds, “It’s like an open letter to an abusive relationship partner that no longer serves you or the opposing counterpart. It’s left open to interpretation.”
Defined by a push-and-pull between incalculable instrumentation and soaring melodies, Bad Wolves will keep listeners guessing and thinking on their path to hard rock and metal supremacy.
“This is something new for me,” Boecklin leaves off. “It’s the most unique drumming I’ve ever done. Tommy has never sounded so good. The songs are much more diverse than anything from our collective past. I’d love for people to take away some sort of connection emotionally. That’s what all of the bands who inspire me do. Everything else doesn’t really matter.”
In Humor and Sadness, the debut album from ’68, demonstrates the loud beauty of alarming simplicity. A guy bashing his drums, another dude wielding a guitar like a percussive, blunt weapon while howling into a mic somehow manages to sound bigger and brasher than the computerized bombast of every six-piece metal band. A splash of roots, a soulful yearning for mid century Americana and the fiery passion of post punk ferocity rampages over a record of earnestly forceful tracks like a runaway locomotive.
Josh Scogin wasn’t out of elementary school when the Flat Duo Jets laid their first album down on two tracks in a garage. But the scrappy band’s spirit of raw power, punchy delivery, tried-and-true rhythms and urgent sense of immediacy is alive and well in ’68.
Heralded by Alternative Press as one of 2014’s Most Anticipated Albums, In Humor and Sadness is a snapshot of a fiery new beginning for one of modern Metalcore’s most celebrated frontmen. Produced by longtime Scogin collaborator Matt Goldman (Underoath, Anberlin, The Devil Wears Prada), the first full offering from ’68 is a broad reaching slab of ambitious showmanship delivered with few tools and fewer pretensions. The scratchy disharmonic pop of Nirvana’s Bleach is in there, for sure. And while many associate the setup with The Black Keys, ’68 is more like Black Keys on crack.
“I wanted it to be as loud and obnoxious as it can be,” Scogin explains. “I want it to be in-your-face. I want people who hear us live to just be like, ‘There’s no way this is just two dudes!’ That became sort of the subplot to our entire existence. ‘How much noise can two guys make?’ It’s obviously very minimalistic, but in other ways, it’s very big. I have as many amps onstage as a five piece band. Michael only has one cymbal and one tom on his kit, but he plays it like it’s some kind of big ‘80s metal drum setup. It’s minimalistic, but it’s also overkill. We get as much as we can from as little as we can.”
Like many pioneers, North Carolina’s the Flat Duo Jet’s blazed a trail for more commercially successful people. They played rootsy rockabilly but with a punk edge. Band leader Dexter Romweber’s solo work was a fist-pounding celebration of audacity and disruption, which influenced the likes of The White Stripes, among other bands.
“I got excited when I thought about the distress, the chaos that this two-piece arrangement would create – one guy having to provide all of these sounds, with a bunch of pedals, with certain chords wigging out and missing notes here and there,” he says with excitement. “That alone makes up for the chaos of having five people up there.”
That idea of less is more, of building something big from something small, persists today at the top of the charts with The Black Keys, just as it’s lived and breathed in the bass-player-less eclectic trio Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, the rule-breaking early ‘90s destruction of Washington D.C.’s Nation of Ulysses, and in the two man attack of ’68.
“Jon Spencer’s records always sound like he’s kind of winging it and I love that,” declares Scogin, letting out an affectionate laugh. “In my last band, that’s how we tried to make our last record feel. The excitement and imperfection is something I love to draw from.”
Before paring (and pairing) things down with friend and drummer Michael McClellan, Josh Scogin was the voice, founder and agitprop-style provocateur in The Chariot, who laid waste to convention across a brilliantly unhinged and defiantly unpolished catalog of Noisecore triumphs and dissonant art rock rage. Recorded live in the studio, overdub free, The Chariot’s first album set the tone for a decade to come, owing more to a band like Unsane than whatever passes for “scene.”
Scogin was the original singer for Norma Jean and left an influential imprint on the burgeoning Metalcore of the late 90s that persists today, despite having fronted the band for just one of six albums. Whether it’s the genre-defining heft of Norma Jean’s first album or the five records and stage destroying shows of The Chariot, there’s a single constant at the heart of Josh Scogin’s career: a familiarity with the unfamiliar.
A new Metalcore band would be a safe third act for the subculture lifer, but Scogin isn’t comfortable unless he’s making himself (and his audience) uncomfortable. “I definitely wanted to flip the script a bit,” he freely confesses. “I’ve always wanted to play guitar and sing in a band, ever since I left Norma Jean. I needed the freedom of not having a guitar onstage, but now having done that for several years, I wanted the challenge.”
Creative problem solving has long been the name of the game for Scogin, whether he was hand stamping ALL 30,000 CDs for The Chariot’s Wars and Rumors of Wars album or figuring out how to pull off his ’68 song title concept in the digital age of iTunes. Each song on In Humor and Sadness was to be titled with simply a single letter, which when put together vertically on the back of a vinyl LP or compact disc, would spell out a word. However, it’s problematic to name more than one song with the same letter, which would have been necessary to spell out what he intended.
’68 is the forward thinking progress of an artist who finds satisfaction in the expression of dissatisfaction. There’s progression in this regression. Tear apart all of the elements that have enveloped a singer’s performance, strap a guitar on the guy and set him loose with nothing but a beat behind him? It’s a recipe for inventive, fanciful mayhem.
After a raucous debut at South By Southwest, a full US tour supporting Chiodos and many more road gigs on the horizon, Scogin and McClellan are propelled by the excitement that comes along with the knowledge that ‘68 is truly just getting started.
“We’ve just broken the tip of the iceberg. We’re really just exploring all the different things we can do,” Scogin promises. “I’ll get more pedals, we’re try different auxiliary instruments, whatever – the goal is to challenge ourselves and challenge an audience.”
Power Trip executes music with raw energy. They’ve trimmed the fat on every reference they pull from – whether that’s Hardcore, Metal or Punk – to make music that actually cuts in 2017. Hailing from Dallas, the band have toured the world relentlessly for years. Their musical proficiency, perfect song structure, rich tones, fierce riffs, delivery and collective attitude has seeded them as one of today’s most prolific acts in any astute or heavy genre. Power Trip boldly surprise their broad fan base by performing alongside less obvious artists – closing the gap that in 2017’s social climate desperately needs to be filled. One month you can catch them playing with Title Fight, Merchandise or Big Freedia, the next you can catch them on a long tour with Napalm Death or Anthrax. They’re a powerful storm of aggression, gaining more and more momentum with true, honest spirit.
Nightmare Logic has taken Power Trip’s classic Exodus-meets-Cro-Mags sound to new places. With hooks and tightness rivaling greats like Pantera or Pentagram and production by the esteemed Arthur Rizk, Nightmare Logic punishes fans not only sonically but with pure songwriting skill. The sophomore release and second on Southern Lord Records, raises the bar and pushes Power Trip to new extremes. Since 2013’s Manifest Decimation, the band admits they’ve not only gotten better at their instruments, but have also reinvented their songwriting process into a more nuanced and clever system. The shift shows on this record and does so without losing any of the aggression so essential to the band.
Gale’s lyrics reflect that aggression by honing in on the devaluation of human life by those who’ve gained power through money and politics. By creating a broad dissection of human suffering above reproach from personal agendas, the lyrics attempt to unify and inspire listeners. Coming from the hardcore world, where every band vaguely fights “the man”, wants to live free and break down the walls, Power Trip noticeably stands out. Instead of skirting around the fetishization of fighting back, Nightmare Logic focuses in on real oppression felt by many all over the world, whether that’s fighting addiction and the pharmaceutical industry (Waiting Around to Die) or right-wing religious conservatives (Crucifixation). Taking cues from Discharge and Crass in Margaret Thatcher’s UK, Nightmare Logic delivers poignant social information directly into those homes engulfed in the sour turn of global politics towards right-wing agendas. Touring the world on Nightmare Logic, Power Trip will play to scenes much further outside the bubble of contemporary underground punk music than any other current band, all while pushing the envelope of the modern punk ethos.
Nightmare Logic hits stores February 24th on Southern Lord Records.
TEXAS HIPPIE COALITION
Rock ‘n’ roll is all about cutting loose. It’s about throwing back a few drinks, raising your hands, banging your head, and living out loud. Texas Hippie Coalition cook up the soundtrack to your “good time” with their fourth full-length album, Ride On [Carved Records]. Their countrified blues riffs simmer with metallic edge, while each chorus ignites a sing-a-long. The Texas quartet—Big Dad Ritch [vocals], John Exall [bass], Cord Pool [guitar], and Timmy Braun [drums]—have formally landed, and they brought the party with them, in more ways than one.
Nobody describes Texas Hippie Coalition better than Big Dad Ritch does. He grins, “It’s like Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top had a child, and Pantera ended up raising it. We’re Red Dirt Metal. That’s a flag we wave high. There wasn’t a line formed for us, so I created a line and jumped to the front of that bad boy. Ride On is the best example of what we do.”
In order to cut this big, bombastic, and ballsy ten-song collection, the boys retreated from their native Denison, TX to Nashville, TN. Hitting the iconic Sound Kitchen Studios, they teamed up with Grammy Award-winning producer Skidd Mills [Skillet, Saving Abel] for the first time. Cord had only entered the fold in 2013, but he immediately became an integral part of the writing and recording process.
“When we got to Nashville, Cord, Skidd, and I were writing two or three songs a day,” Big Dad Ritch goes on. “We wrote the whole album pretty fast. Skidd’s a great guy, and he’s very easy to work with. My brain fires like lightning. Once an idea hits my head, I’m off and running. Skidd kept up with us. It was one of the fastest albums I’ve ever put together.”
That urgency carries over to the album opener “El Diablo Rojo”. The riff cocks like a shotgun before breaking into a devilishly catchy verse. Big Dad Ritch explains, “When we go down to El Paso, which we like to call ‘Hell Paso’, everybody calls me ‘El Diablo Rojo’. It means ‘Red Devil’. I always loved that, and I knew it needed to be on the album.”
Then, there’s “Rock Ain’t Dead” which begins with a stadium-size stomp refuting Marilyn Manson’s old claim “Rock is Dead”. Big Dad Ritch hilariously contends, “We wanted to make sure people know the state of rock music is not nearly as bad as radio projects it to be. We needed to let y’all know rock ‘n’ roll ain’t dead. It’s just been in rehab. There’s no need to recover. Let’s all just stay strung out.”
Crashing between a chunky guitar wallop and big bass thud, “Fire In The Hole” immediately explodes on impact. “With this album, I wanted to make the world know that not only do we exist, but we’re here to take over,” declares the vocalist. “This is me warning you that we’re coming out you like an air raid. We’re here. We’re in your face. We’re going to bomb everybody with some THC. That’s the theme.”
Elsewhere on the record, Texas Hippie Coalition teamed up with longtime collaborator the iconic Bob Marlette [Pink Floyd, Rob Zombie] to co-write “Bottom of a Bottle”, “I Am The End”, “Ride On”, and “Go Pro”. The latter begins with a clean southern verse before breaking into a triumphant bruiser of a refrain. The singer adds, “It’s a big middle-finger-in-the-air song. It lets people know Texas Hippie Coalition isn’t going anywhere. You’ve got your champions, but you’re about to get one more—this band of outlaws.”
At the same time, Big Dad Ritch lyrically opens up on the pensive and powerful title track, which rounds out this roller coaster ride. Beginning with another guitar groundswell, it burns into one final message from the band. “My dad used to always say ‘Ride On’,” he continues. “It’s something special to me. I live by it. If the Lord gives me a bad road, I get on my bike and ride it out. No matter how bad it is, you can always ride on.”
Texas Hippie Coalition continue riding high after three critically acclaimed albums—Pride of Texas , Rollin , and Peacemaker , which debuted in the Top 20 of Billboard’s Top Hard Rock Albums Chart. They’ve left crowds drunk, disorderly, and begging for more everywhere from Rock on the Range and Rocklahoma to the Rockstar Energy Mayhem Festival. Now, they’re coming for you.
“We’re about swigging the whisky, smoking the weed, and letting the women chase us,” Big Dad Ritch leaves off. “When I first started this band, I thought, ‘There’s an appetite for this sort of music. Once I got in front of people, I saw it wasn’t just an appetite. It was a hunger. The masses are starving to death for this kind of music. Who’s eating with me? I’m serving up some good old Texas Barbecue known as THC.”
In life, two options exist: death or growth.
On their eighth full-length offering The Sin and The Sentence [Roadrunner Records], Trivium choose the latter once again. In fact, the record represents an apotheosis of every element that at once defined the Florida group since its 1999 formation. Moments of malevolent melodicism give way to taut technical thrash, black metal expanse, punk spirit, and heavy heart tightly threaded together by the musical union of the quartet—Matt Heafy [vocals, guitar], Corey Beaulieu [guitar], Paolo Gregoletto [bass], and Alex Bent [drums]. Unsurprisingly, these eleven songs resulted from an unquenchable hunger for improvement.
“It was a do-or-die moment,” exclaims Heafy. “There were no two ways about it. We’ve always had this will to be better. I started taking inventory of everything we’ve done right or wrong, and it made me apply that thinking to the new music. What ended up coming about was, in my opinion, a combination of the best things we’ve ever done. We all agreed, ‘We have to make the best record of our career right now.’”
Given their global success, this goal proved nothing short of a tall order. 2015’s Silence in the Snow ignited something of a renaissance for the boys. Moving 17,000 copies upon debut, it bowed Top 20 on the Billboard Top 200 and claimed the #3 spot on the Top Rock Albums chart. “Until the World Goes Cold” arrived as their biggest single to date, achieving the band’s first Top 10 at Active Rock and generating a staggering 17.1 million Spotify streams and 14.9 million YouTube/VEVO views and counting. The Guardian, Classic Rock, Ultimate Guitar, and more praised Silence in the Snow as they sold out shows worldwide.
Despite the explosive nature of the previous campaign, the musicians quietly commenced work on what would transform into The Sin and the Sentence, collating ideas and assembling songs on the road. Without telling anyone outside of the inner circle, they retreated to the Southern California studio of producer Josh Wilbur [Lamb of God, Gojira] for just a month in 2017.
“By the time we got to Josh, 99% of this was written,” explains Heafy. “With Vengeance Falls and Silence in the Snow, we came into the studio with about 50% completed. When we’re as prepared as possible, we make our best music. This was more like Ember to Inferno, Ascendancy, Shogun, and In Waves where we brought a cohesive vision into the studio. Josh pushed us to refine that and make it even better. We made the kinds of songs we wanted to hear.”
An important first, Gregoletto took the reins writing lyrics. The results freed up Heafy to soar on the mic.
“Matt and I were really collaborative in the studio writing a lot of the lyrics for Silence in the Snow right before he went in to track them,” he recalls. “On The Sin and The Sentence, I pushed for lyrics and vocals to start much sooner. We devoted the same amount of time to them as we do to the riffs, drumbeats, and music. We put the lyrics through the ringer. I’ve helped Matt a lot in the past, but I wanted to learn more about the craft and technical side of writing. I was reading books and trying to glean different things. By the end of it, I was picking up more about how to use rhymes and how words bring momentum to a song.”
“This thing was like a film,” adds Heafy. “Paolo was the writer. Josh was the director. I was the actor. I feel like I was able to actually get into different headspaces singing the lyrics, because I wasn’t the one attached to all of them from creation to completion. I think Paolo did an incredible job.”
Without so much as a social media plug or formal recording announcement, Trivium broke the silence about their latest body of work and uncovered the music video for the first single and title track in the summer of 2017. It arrived to a groundswell of fan enthusiasm, racking up 1.9 million YouTube views and nearly 1 million Spotify streams in just four weeks’ time. The near six-minute lead-off charges forward at full speed on a double bass drum gallop, thrash intricacies, and hummable guitar lead as Heafy delivers one of his most powerful and ponderous vocal performances ever.
“The idea is condemnation, being ostracized, being pushed aside, and not quite understanding how to deal with those feelings,” remarks Heafy. “This is definitely reactionary to the world and things that have happened to us.”
“I read this book called So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” Gregolotto reveals. “It was all about internet shaming culture. The whole thesis of the book was the amount of punishment for something. Somebody makes a tasteless joke and loses a job. I kept thinking about that and the idea of the witch hunts blaming people for inexplicable happenings. It’s easy to pin something on others because you don’t like them. You join the mob by attacking someone over something little. The Sin is the infraction to the public. The Sentence is the pile-on and ruining someone’s life and career. Does it add up? You might be on the other end at some point, so be careful.”
Meanwhile, “The Heart From Your Hate” hinges on a gang chant, fret fireworks, and an undeniable and unshakable clean refrain, “What will it take to rip the heart from your hate?”
“The emotion of hatred is so powerful,” Gregoletto sighs. “It’s the opposite of love. When someone is deeply in love or hate, it can be very hard to change this person’s mind. That was the concept. It’s the inability to kill off emotions like that.”
“We love to have a dynamic contrast,” adds Heafy. “Ascendancy is the fastest thing we’ve done, but it’s got one our simplest songs, ‘Dying In Your Arms’. ‘The Heart from Your Hate’ shows that end of the spectrum.”
On the other end, “Betrayer” unleashes a barrage of intensity driven by black metal percussion, tremolo picking, and earth-shaking screams before yet another hypnotic hook.
“I wrote it around the same time as ‘The Sin and The Sentence’,” says Gregoletto. “They have a brother-sister connection. Matt’s speaking directly to ‘The Betrayer’ who could be a friend, significant other, or someone you thought you knew who ended up using you. It’s personal.”
Everything leads up to the crushingly epic closer “Thrown Into The Fire.” A conflagration of incendiary riffing, guttural growls, and entrancing harmonies, it’s a fiery final word.
“I wanted to build a character like a preacher or televangelist who’s leading his flock and taking and taking from the congregation,” Gregoletto continues. “He’s preaching how they should live, but living the opposite.”
Following the 2003 independent breakout of Ember to Inferno, Trivium arrived as metal’s hungriest contender on 2005’s Ascendancy. Heralded as “Album of the Year” by Kerrang!, it stands out as a 21st century genre landmark. As they went on to cumulatively sell over 2 million units, they scorched stages with idols such as Metallica, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and more in addition to regularly making pivotal appearances at Download Festival, Bloodstock, KNOTFEST, and beyond. In Waves and Vengeance Falls both soared to the Top 15 of the Billboard Top 200 as the band staunchly secured its place in the modern metal pantheon.
By growing by leaps and bounds, Heafy, Beaulieu, Gregoletto, and Bent become what they were always meant to be—Trivium.
“With this, we wanted to knock everything down and think from the ground up about how we write songs,” Gregoletto leaves off. “We enhanced everything we’ve done.”
“I want everyone to know we made this with our hearts and souls,” Heafy concludes. “It was all or nothing; we gave it our all. We’ve been through lots of ups and downs and felt like this had to capture that. It had to summarize everything that is Trivium. I feel like we did that.”
BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE
After the release of their album ‘Fever’, which debuted in the Top 5 album chart globally, BFMV continued their assault on the rock and metal markets, with an 18-month world tour that took in over 30 countries across 5 continents. Highlights in the UK included a landmark sold out show at the 10,000 capacity Wembley Arena. Further afield, the band toured in 2011 in Australia as part of Soundwave Festival tour, followed by two lengthy pan-US tours alongside Avenged Sevenfold, and broke new markets with their first trip across Latin America including a sold out 3,500 capacity show in Mexico City.
The band have since released their fourth studio album, ‘Temper Temper’ through Sony BMG. Throughout 2013 the band performed at numerous festivals (UK and EU) and headlined the Monster Outbreak Tour in the USA, followed by their ‘Rule Britannia’ UK arena tour.
The band has received constant support from press such as Metal Hammer, Kerrang!, Rock Sound, BBC Radio 1 as well as international press and radio.
Past achievements include albums ‘Fever’ and ‘Scream Aim Fire’ debuting Top 5 in the album charts globally and winning Best British Band at the Kerrang! Awards for 3 years running; 2008, 2009 and 2010.
With “INTO THE WILD LIFE” Halestorm reach deep within and conjure their most engaging and eclectic songs to date. On “INTO THE WILD LIFE” they push their musical boundaries further than we’ve seen thus far in their catalog, crafting songs that rise from a whisper to a scream and back again, proving that there’s no limit to creativity. And nothing will stop them from realizing their artistic vision.
On “Sick Individual,” which opens with a drum solo and blends into a dramatic rock anthem, Hale sings, “I’m doing this thing called ‘whatever the f— I want, want, want.’” The attitude- laden lyric encapsulates the vibe and versatility of the record. Shards of metal, passages of pop and reams of rock – both classic and contemporary — abound throughout “INTO THE WILD LIFE,” the exuberance of which is only matched by the band’s passion and confidence.
“On the last record, we hit all these crazy milestones,” Hale says. “All of a sudden the world was aware of us so we celebrated unabashedly.” Indeed, “Freak Like Me” and “Love Bites (So Do I)” both reached #1 on Active Rock charts, making Halestorm the first ever female-fronted band to top the format’s airplay ranking. In addition, the band won a Grammy for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance for “Love Bites (So Do I).” The accomplishments didn’t stop there. Hale collaborated with “America’s Got Talent” star Lindsey Stirling on the EDM song “Shatter Me” and performed with country maverick Eric Church at the CMT Awards, demonstrating her versatile vocals mix with any genre. On top of that, Hale was honored by Gibson Guitars, which celebrated her accomplishments by creating a Lzzy Hale signature Explorer guitar.
“All of the attention was amazing and fueled our confidence,” Hale says. “So we decided to throw everything we were used to out the window and just go for it.”
Indulging every whim, Halestorm wrote songs that pulsate, pound and soar, as well as confessional, heartstring-tugging tunes and everything between. “Amen,” grooves to a chain- gang shuffle and sparse keyboards, featuring a verse reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac and a chorus that has more in common with Joan Jett. Then there’s “Mayhem,” a confrontational blast of adrenaline that builds from echoey seduction to full-blown euphoria.
“To me, this album is about independence and the bravery it takes to step into the unknown,” Hale says. “It’s not like we strayed from what we are, it’s just a lot more of what we are.”
In addition to experimenting with previously unexplored styles, Halestorm took an equally bold approach to recording. Instead of tracking all the instruments separately and then tweaking them later, Halestorm recorded everything live in the studio with the help of producer Jay Joyce (Cage the Elephant, Eric Church).
“It was literally the four of us in a circle in this church playing everything the same way we do onstage,” Hale says. “We had to play everything over and over again until we were all riding the same wave. Without making a live record, we wanted to capture the kind of chemistry and energy we have in concert.”
After Halestorm recorded the songs, Hale went back and redid some of her vocals to maximize their emotional intensity. And Joyce applied the same rigorous standards to her final vocal takes as he did to the band’s initial recordings. “If I wanted to do something over again, I strapped on the guitar and sang all the vocals from start to finish,” Hale says. “In the beginning I said to Jay, ‘Hey, if I don’t quite hit that note we can just fix it, right?’ And he said, ‘No, that’s not what you guys said you wanted. You gotta do it all over again.’”
As frustrating as the process sometimes was, by the end of every final take Halestorm were ecstatic. “It really brought out the best in us because we had to trust ourselves and literally be ‘on,’” Hale says. “It was hard, but the results were so much more rewarding because we didn’t try to compromise, and I feel like the excitement of that shows through all over the record.”
Instead of recording in a major studio in Los Angeles or New York, Halestorm created “INTO THE WILD LIFE” in East Nashville, and when they weren’t at the studio they soaked in the musical culture of the legendary city. “I’m sure a Southern bug crawled into my ear just from hanging out there for a while,” Hale says. “There are a lot of great musicians there, for sure, as well as a lot of great classic rock. That was a big part of this album. While we were doing it, I was listening to a lot of the same stuff that first got me inspired. I went back and listened to a lot of Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper and some Zeppelin. Our attitude was, ‘Let’s immerse ourselves in the things that got us excited in the first place. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel we said let’s be the wheel and be the best wheel we can be.’”
The first single from “INTO THE WILD LIFE” is “Apocalyptic,” a bluesy belter about a turbulent relationship and amazing chemistry between the sheets. While Halestorm alluded to sex and decadence in past songs like “I Get Off” and “Love Bites (So Do It),” on “Apocalyptic” and “Amen” Hale drops the metaphors and tells it like it is. “I wanted some songs were a little confrontational and sexual,” Hale says.
The more acoustic-based songs on “INTO THE WILD LIFE” are just as revealing as the rockers. In the confessional folk-pop number about love gone wrong, “What Sober Couldn’t Say,” Hale sings, “Heading for a blackout, hurting like hell/finding my way to the bottom of the bottle.” And on “Dear Daughter,” she starts with spare, delicate piano chords and builds into a poignant ballad filled with pearls of wisdom: “Dear daughter, hold your head up high/there’s a world outside that’s passing by.”
“The last album cycle we did was the first time my mother didn’t come with us; for a long time both of my parents were working for us,” Hale says. “As soon as your parents are gone, at first there’s a stage where you go, ‘Whew, nobody’s going to tell me what to do!’ And then you think, ‘You know what? If it wasn’t for my parents’ support we would have never started the band as early as we did. And we probably wouldn’t have gotten to this point.’”
With “INTO THE WILD LIFE,” Halestorm have developed as a band without compromising their identity. From the start, they’ve had the conviction and songwriting skill to appeal to fans of both Heart and Metallica. Now, they’ve stretched their musical boundaries even further to come up with an album that exhibits a sheer joy for whatever style of music they chose to embrace.
“Doing this album reminded us that being in a band is still magical. And four people that actually love each other and can rock out with each other can experience this refreshing kind of creative freedom,” Hale says. “At the end of the day, we can laugh and turn to each other and say, ‘Look, guys. We are still here! For whatever reason, we still dig each other and we still love making music together.’ And now we can go out there and do whatever the hell we want.”
Shinedown have built their name on rock songs both brutal in power and epic in scope. Now, with their latest album, Shinedown (Brent Smith, Barry Kerch, Eric Bass, and Zach Myers) veer away from that densely layered sonic palette and take a more direct approach. Featuring lead single “Cut the Cord” — a blistering track that shot to #1 on Active Rock radio — Threat to Survival finds the multi-platinum-selling band achieving their most powerful sound ever and offering up their most important album to date.
As Smith explains, Shinedown’s approach on Threat to Survival had much to do with the emotionally raw material at the heart of the album. “When we started the writing process we realized the changes that had taken place over the past 2 years, our experiences, the relationships that had come and gone, the album really took on a life of its own,” says Smith. “It’s like the songs were saying to us, ‘The songs were so honest, it felt necessary to present them in the most straightforward way possible.”
In forming the emotional core of the album, Shinedown delved into many of the most thorny issues facing the band members in recent years, such as Smith’s navigating his role as a father. “There’s not any song that’s directly about my son, but as we were writing I was asking myself a lot of questions about what it means to be a good father,” he says. “It forced me to look at who I am as a person and what’s really important to me at this point in my life.” In both the writing process and in the final product, that unflinching self-examination proved sometimes devastating but ultimately life-affirming. “I always say that I write songs because it’s therapy, and that very much held true on the writing of this album,” Smith notes.
Throughout Threat to Survival, Shinedown explore matters of life and death and beauty and pain with a fierce energy and indomitable spirit. On “Cut the Cord” — a song that continues a record-setting streak in which each of the 19 singles released over Shinedown’s career has climbed to the upper regions of the radio charts — the band looks at the insidious nature of self-destruction and puts out a call for self-empowerment. “Some people might listen to ‘Cut the Cord’ and think it’s about drug addiction,” says Smith, pointing to one of the song’s most piercing lyrics (“’Cause agony breeds no reward for one more hit and one last score”). “But really it’s about anything that might wrap itself around you and keep you from becoming the person you truly want to be.” Produced by Shinedown’s own Eric Bass, “Cut the Cord” fuses Smith’s growling vocal work with thunderous drumming and lead-heavy guitar riffs, weaving in spooky, choirlike background vocals to thrilling effect.
Elsewhere on Threat to Survival, Shinedown instill their self-reflection with a brighter mood that’s often exhilarating in its intensity. On the piano-laced “How Did You Love,” for instance, Smith’s soaring vocals demand an exacting reassessment of how to go about building a more meaningful life. (“It’s not what you believe/Those prayers will make you bleed/But while you’re on your knees/How did you love?”). “That song’s about asking yourself about how you’ve dealt with difficult situations in your life, and whether you tried to give some love to the world or just allowed hate and negativity to consume you,” says Smith. “So the lyric is ‘How did you love?’, but really the question is ‘How did you live?’”
A bold statement of determination against all odds, “State of My Head” opens with an ethereal, dreamlike intro before powering forward as a groove-driven anthem (“The only way I’m leaving is dead/That’s the state of my head”). With its stomping rhythm and surging guitar work, “Outcast” is as a full-throttle celebration of unbridled confidence and daring manifesto of Shinedown’s dedication to constantly outdoing themselves as artists. And on “Black Cadillac,” Smith delivers a darkly charged but soulful epic that twists its funereal metaphor into a strikingly hopeful message. “For me ‘Black Cadillac’ is a warning to take inventory of who you are and realize that nobody owes you anything in this world,” says Smith. “It’s about looking around and noticing the things you’ve maybe taken for granted, and deciding to become something better than that before your time’s up.”
“If you’re going to make something that’s going to exist forever, sometimes you have to fight yourself to get out what you need to express,” says Smith. “You need to break down all the walls and get rid of whatever distractions that might be holding you back.”
Shinedown continually bring both staggering musicality and a powerful emotional complexity to their music. “There’s always been a certain level of positivity with Shinedown — that’s even where our name came from,” says Smith. “There’s a sense that everything that’s bad has a little bit of good to it, just like everything that’s good has a little bit of bad. The songs on this album address the reality that we’re all going to die at some point and that sometimes the willingness to survive is all you have. It’s about holding onto that sheer will to live, and getting through whatever might come your way because the legacy that you leave behind is what will carry you on to your next journey.”
The heart of Boston beats within its streets. Those roads set the scene for timeless Academy Award-winning stories including The Departed, The Town and The Fighter as well as for triumphant, tear-filled championship victories by The Red Sox, The Bruins, and The Celtics. Grammy Award-nominated multi-platinum hard rock titans Godsmack preserve their connection to the streets of Boston on their sixth full-length album for Republic Records,1000hp.
Outlasting tides, trends, and a torrential industry climate since forming in 1995, the quartet—Sully Erna [vocals, guitar], Tony Rombola [guitar], Robbie Merrill [bass], and Shannon Larkin [drums]—paved the way for a generation of rock bands. Their last album, 2010’s The Oracle, rounded out a streak of three consecutive #1 debuts on
the Billboard Top 200, an accomplishment only shared by Van Halen, U2, Metallica, Dave Matthews Band, and Linkin Park. Now, these four musicians leap forward without forgetting where they came from.
“On this record, we wanted to return to the roots of Boston and the streets of our hometown,” affirms Sully. “It was about going back to basics. You get a certain feeling seeing the city’s skyline or walking through Southie. I thought it was time to take it back to where we began. That’s the theme of this album.”
Robbie exclaims, “It reminded me of our first two records because we wrote, rehearsed, and recorded at home. It was like going back to those days. It was so cold last winter that we had nothing else to do but stay in and write music. It felt great.”
“People in Boston have thick skin,” Shannon grins. “It’s not just the weather. They’re tough motherfuckers up there!”
In order to conjure that East Coast vibe, the boys built a new Godsmack Headquarters just thirty minutes north of town. They converted an old warehouse into a fully loaded recording studio complete with a control room and live stage room to record. Commencing the writing process individually, Tony, Shannon and Robbie composed demos down in Florida, while Sully wrote in Southern New Hampshire throughout 2013. Everybody regrouped at the new HQ in January 2014 though. With a wealth of ideas, the musicians found a fresh and fiery spark of inspiration.
“We all had our own batches of songs,” remembers Tony. “It shaped into a complete vision pretty quickly. We got right back into the groove.”
“The first half of this record is a new sound,” the singer elaborates. “It’s still Godsmack. It’s tough. It’s powerful, but it’s a little different than what we’ve done in the past because there’s a punk-y influence. It’s very current and vibrant. The second half is more traditional, and it’s meant for our hardcore fans. It’s a hybrid. We wanted to broaden our horizons and open up what this band can be.”
Given the success of 2010’s gold-selling and chart-topping The Oracle, Sully once again teamed up with Dave Fortman [Slipknot, Evanescence] to co-produce. Together, they capture a booming intensity and raw energy that’s equally anthemic and arena-ready.
“Dave gets truly great sounds,” Tony goes on. “We all trust him. He’s just an awesome guy to work with. He’s like having a fifth member because he can play guitar and drums too.”
“To work with him as a producer is always a pleasure”,says Shannon. He’s an amazing person. If he wasn’t a famous producer, he could be a comedian. He’s the guy that keeps us all laughing and comfortable in the studio.”
The first single and title track charges through the gates at full speed. Derived from a thrash-y riff and a walloping chorus, “1000hp” announces Godsmack’s return with a bang.
“I literally wrote that in one hour,” smiles Sully. “All of a sudden, it just came together. The lyrical content covers the history of Godsmack. It goes back to 1995 when we were nothing. We were playing in the empty clubs, and no one gave a shit. Once we took the stage, our whole life changed. It’s our history. It’s very alive.”
Shannon continues, “It’s a fresh new sound. The energy is almost punk rock, and I love that.”
At the same time, the aptly titled “Something Different” veers down a new path for Godsmack. It boasts another monstrous hook, but musically surprises at each turn. Sully admits, “We’ve never done anything like this before. It’s a real powerhouse, but it’s not metal or punk. It’s driving rock. It’s going to hit hard.”
Robbie explains, “It’s simple, strong, and impactful. It reminds me of classic rock, but Sully’s vocals and our styles make it Godsmack. I love playing that one for people. They smile out loud!”
Still, the band also seamlessly venture into psychedelic territory in the tradition of early epics such as “Voodoo” and “Spiral”. This time around, “Turning To Stone” freezes attention with its expansive melodies, lush instrumentation, and hauntingly hypnotic words. “It’s seductive and tribal,” the frontman adds. “That’s a big element of this band. It has been since day one.”
Tony agrees, “Shannon and I had put it together, and Sully dug it. It’s a new avenue for us. It’s heavy and tribal, but there’s some melody. It’s all about creating something that’s different but still sounds like Godsmack.”
An unbreakable spirit and diehard work ethic evocative of their hometown has also remained fuel for Godsmack. They fought hard to secure a place in music history since first smashing their way on to the scene in 1995. To date, they’ve notched a staggering six number one singles at mainstream rock radio, including “I Awake”, “Straight Out of Line”, “Cryin’ Like A Bitch”, and “I Stand Alone”. Moreover, they’ve enjoyed 20 Top 10 hits at the format—the most of any act since February 1999. Selling over 20 million records worldwide, Billboard named them “Rock Band of the Year” in 2001.In addition to selling out arenas around the globe, they’ve headlined all of rock’s premier festivals from Mayhem and UPROAR to Rock on the Range and more.
However, 1000hp sees Godsmack set to cruise even further. “I hope people think this album fucking rocks,” proclaims Shannon. “We wanted to make a high energy record. The coolest feeling I’ve had in this band is making 1000hp.”
Tony says, “We’re growing as a band, and we’re still getting better beyond holding our own. We’ve been doing this a long time, but every day we still work at improving and writing songs. We want to keep it going.”
“It’s solid,” adds Robbie. “It’s got integrity. In some places, we took a left turn, but this is who we are.”
“I want fans to enjoy it like they enjoyed the first couple of records,” concludes Sully. “I think this album will make them feel more at home like the first album did. It has that vibe. There are some new sounds and interesting things for sure to show our creative side. It’s old school Godsmack with a new kind of twist to it. Hopefully, they’ll feel like this band has never let them down and we’re here to stay.”