Obscura in Tokyo

It’s been a few years since the last time I went to a concert. I never went all that much anyway. Ticket prices are always expensive, and you don’t see much of the bands in the big stadiums. When I saw Yes perform in a theatre in Tokyo back in 2014, at least the venue was cozy, and I could clearly see Steve Howe on my side of the stage and had a pretty good view of the late Chris Squire on the opposite side. I could make out their facial expressions.

Last Sunday, I managed to get down to Tokyo to catch Obscura, a tech death band from Germany whose music I have recently taken an interest in. Their recent release, Diluvium, is their fifth and I believe it’s their second with the current line-up. Opening acts were Mason, a thrash metal band from Australia, and Jinjer, a metalcore band from the Ukraine, neither of which I knew about more than my friend having shown me a couple of short video clips.

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Mason

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Jinjer

The venue was Cyclone, which was situated deep under the backstreets of Shibuya. I was a bit late arriving after having spent some time working out the directions to the venue by the actual streets. By the time I found the place and got in, Mason were already on stage and cranking it out. Though I didn’t know their music, I was immediately hooked by their powerful and to-the-gut, classic thrash metal. When vocalist Jimmy Benson announced the band’s name, I decided that I had to get a CD.

Later at the merch table, I had the fortune of chatting with Benson, as well as lead guitarist Grant Burns and drummer Nonda Tsatsoulis. Missing was bassist Steve Montalto. They were really cool guys to talk to and granted me a photo with them. What a great shot!

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I’m not so much into metalcore, but if Jinjer captured my attention it was via vocalist Tatiana Shmailyuk. It’s something else to see a cute woman smile and wink on stage while covered in tattoos and roaring out in death bellows. I’d listen to their music more just for her! Unfortunately, I didn’t see any of the band around after their set.

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Tatiana Shmailyuk of Jinjer

At last, the headliner act Obscura came on stage. I was eager to see them play because I wondered how they would perform their style of technical death metal live. Of course they played fantastically. With each song shifting from speedy and technicality to slower melody parts, guitarist Rafael Trujillo’s fingers were frequently tapping all over the fretboard. Six-string, fretless bass player Linus Klausenitzer frequently stepped forward to scrutinize the audience and then smiled or stopped to throw some fretless bass break at us. Band leader and vocals/guitar Steffen Kummerer roared and bellowed and took a few shared lead melodies with Trujillo. A mosh circle started by Mason and which had cropped up during some Jinjer songs was encouraged by Kummerer when the song called for it.

I had always been apprehensive about mosh pits, but in the small venue there were only a dedicated few who regularly charged around and slammed shoulders. I stood right at the edge and occasionally had to catch a flying body or slam a shoulder to send a staggering body back into the fray. It was really great fun, and I attribute that partially to the congeniality of the audience, whom I determined to be regulars to metal shows and who were all fairly familiar with one another. After the show, I felt there was a certain camaraderie or inclusion among the attendees.

I was very pleased and thrilled to be able to speak with Klausenitzer and Trujillo after the show, and later on we got to have photos taken with the whole band, including drummer Sebastian Lanser.

I had an awesome time and feel totally inspired to go to more shows. Tickets to Emperor in November are already on my hit list. But one thing I was especially pleased about was the possibility of getting photos of the band on stage and from rather close up. I was constantly attracted by the lighting and colours and pulling my phone out for a shot. These are only iPhone shots but I am really pleased with them! Some of them are cropped and filtered on Instagram under my samyaku account.

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Japan’s Killer Queen

My wife has come down with a fever. Queen fever. With an acute case of affliction for Freddie.

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The movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” opened in Japan on November 2nd, and I expressed interest in seeing it in part because I had finally welcomed the music of Queen into my life only the year prior. The first Queen song I ever heard knowing that it was a Queen song was “Radio Gaga”. This was 1984 and the year of new releases by Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Scorpions, Accept, Metallica, Dio, and many other heavy metal bands. This was music to be excited about. “Radio Gaga”? Nothing more than soft eighties pop fluff to my ears. Over the years I heard plenty of Queen classics like “We Are the Champions”, “Rock You”, “Don’t Stop Me Now”, “Somebody to Love”, “You’re My Best Friend”, “Body Language”, “Killer Queen” and of course “Bohemian Rhapsody”, but except for the occasional rock out guitar moment, Queen were to me nothing more than a stadium rock, pomp rock, pop band.

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My perception began to change when I heard their name mentioned from time to time in prog rock circles, but it was hearing that “Stone Cold Crazy” from 1974’s “Sheer Heart Attack” was a kind of proto-thrash song that I decided it was finally time to bring home Queen. One album purchased in 2017, and then in early 2018 I heard about “It’s Late” mentioned as a hard rock song when I was checking out hard rock from 1977. “News of the World” became the second Queen album to sit on my shelf. By the time the movie was announced, I had “Queen II” in my Amazon shopping cart and I clicked the order button for than one too. Now, five albums sit on my shelf with three more on order, one already a few days overdue.

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My wife has always liked Queen since her college days but recently she can’t get enough. She’s on YouTube every day watching videos; she has ordered a photo book of Freddie Mercury pics and three DVDs; she’s a follower of Brain May and Roger Taylor on Twitter and Instagram; and she talks of almost nothing but Queen and Freddie. As I type, she is watching the movie for the fourth time, this time in IMAX, with her sister. The first three times, we watched the movie together. I really enjoy it as well. Yes, I am aware of all the factual discrepancies, but as a movie telling the story of a rock band, it covers a lot of the clichés in a way that Spinal Tap did. I especially love the actors and their performance, so I am not really concerned about “Rock You” being shown as created in 1980 instead of 1976, or when Freddie actually found out about his condition, or if the band really broke up or not. If anything, I have learned more about the band by learning about what was different in the movie from reality.

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Queen fever has returned to Japan too thanks to the movie. On a TV program this morning, it was explained with a bar graph how movie goers had been flocking to the theatres with ever increasing numbers, ticket sales increasing more than tenfold by the fourth week when compared to the first. Many were repeat viewers but the number of new viewers was almost half of the fourth week figure. Young women especially have been turning out, often after being taken along by their mothers. Several young ladies commented on how “heart-warming” and “easy to catch” the melodies were.

The movie soundtrack has been selling very well, but most surprising is the live DVD of Queen performing in Montreal in 1981 with their Live Aid performance included. The DVD sold a modest 200 copies between September and October, but after the release of the movie, sales increased 277 times! The publisher is currently out of stock and manufacturing more.

The media in Japan is also hot for Queen. “BURRN” magazine has a special feature on Queen as do at least three or four other music magazines published this month or due for publication next month. The national broadcasting network, NHK, interviewed Brain May and Roger Taylor a few days ago and recently reran a 2002 program called “The Bohemian Rhapsody Murder”, and the other day, a program called “Songs” featured four celebrities giving their comments about Queen’s songs.

What makes Queen so popular in Japan? One woman in her sixties offered her remarks. Back in 1974, the big rock bands were Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. Guys loved the music and talked endlessly about the gear – guitars, amps, etc. Few women felt inclined to follow the conversation. But Queen brought fashion, presentation, flamboyancy, and an appeal that women could be excited about. As such, Queen’s following in Japan quickly swelled as word spread among female fans. In particular, Roger Taylor was a female favourite pin-up boy. One man on the program even stated that Queen was something you liked in secret. Men had to be manly and like tough guys. Queen appealed to the feminine side and thus was a little embarrassing for some guys. One TV director I know recently posted on Facebook that he was alright with the long-haired, flying fashions of mid-seventies Queen, but was shocked to see the “hard gay” image Freddie sported in 1979.

Another commentator said Queen’s anthemic melodies very catchy and certain lines in the lyrics easily stand out. Perhaps the 1976 song, “Teo Toriatte”, a song with the chorus sung in Japanese, also is a reason why Queen have connected so well with Japan.

I know a couple of men around my age who love Queen’s hits, and a high school student of mine really got into Queen earlier this year, well before the movie was advertised.

Strangely enough, many of Queen’s classics that I did not care for in the past have become recent favourites of mine. I can listen to some songs again and again and not feel the need for a break. “Radio Gaga” is now actually a good song to my ears, though I still find “Body Language” and most of the songs on “Hot Space” a career misstep.

I am surprised, however, to heard just how heavy the band could be in the early seventies, or at least through their first five albums. Though I am still waiting for the debut to show up in my mailbox, “Queen II”, “Sheer Heart Attack”, and “A Night at the Opera” pack some wallopers, while “A Day at the Races” only just dropped into my mailbox yesterday. Some songs that are a joy to my early heavy metal appreciation lobes are “Father to Son”, “Ogre Battle”, and parts of “White Queen (as it began)” and “The March of the Black Queen”, and I think I may add “The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke” as well, and that’s just “Queen II”. From “Sheer Heart Attack” there’s Brian May’s guitar work in “Brighton Rock”, “Stone Cold Crazy”, “Flick of the Wrist”, and “Now I’m Here”. “A Night at the Opera” has “The Prophet’s Song” and of course the rock out head banging section in “Bohemian Rhapsody”. But other songs also delight, such as “Bring Back that Leroy Brown” and “39” among others. I am still familiarizing myself with all the music. I am especially looking forward to “Queen” as metal music journalist Martin Popoff holds this album in very high regard.

queen-bandI’m a bit hesitant to order any of the later albums like “It’s a Kind of Magic”. It seems each of the later albums has a rock number but also has a lot of eighties pop which is really a distaste for me. Some songs still have that Queen power to them, but others are very light-weight in that eighties kind of way. Especially Roger Taylor seems worst hit as his drumming is restricted to stale eighties 4/4 beats. At least Brain May still gets a guitar solo.

 

As for Queen fever in Japan, several movie theatres have special large screen screenings with high volume music and the audience is encouraged to stand up for the Live Aid scene. Some people requested this and the theatres responded. The movie is still going strong with some women claiming to have watched it 25 times already.

Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple still have a place here, but Queen might just be the rock band for Japan.

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Five Canadian Metal Albums and One Strange Story

I love finding out about Canadian talent that I have never heard before. It doesn’t matter if it’s metal or prog or sometimes something else, I’m always thrilled to hear home-grown talent, even though I don’t live at “home” anymore.

Recently I heard about three such bands and managed to acquire an album from each. Then there was an old favourite whose classic album I never had, I finally bought. And then there was a band I had never considered, who never actually were a band but a band with an interesting and peculiar story.

First, I was watching a YouTube video, a compilation of old school trash metal bands with many obscure bands or bands that I just hadn’t heard before. The creator of this video had kindly added in what country the bands were from and I was thrilled to see that three of them were Canucks! (I also got to know of Artillery from Denmark, and Exumer and Protector from Germany.) Here’s what I got!

Aggression – The Full Treatment, 1987

Formed in Montreal in 1984 under the name Asylum, The band changed their name a year later and in 1986, recorded their first album, which would not be released until 2005. After some line-up changes, they recorded a second album, The Full Treatment, which was released in 1987. The album is fast and furious thrash metal with a fair bit of hardcore punk in the mix but also a sharp sense of musicality with quick rhythm and tempo changes. This is a brutal album because the recording job makes them sound like an-overloaded fright train careening down a Rocky Mountain railway and barely staying on track. But beneath the auditory assault, I hear finely-honed skill, at least in so far as a brutal thrash metal band can be concerned.

Disciples of Power – Power Trap, 1989

Disciples of Power were formed in that hotbed of metal music, Medicine Hat, Alberta. ??? Yeah, I know. I am surprised too. But hey, I can’t say I know what the metal scene was like in Medicine Hat so I’m actually thrilled to hear of a band from there. Power Trap was their first full-length album after three demos recorded in 1988. For a debut, Power Trap shows a mature thrash band that displays song-writing capabilities that I compare not by style but by ability to the space between Metallica’s Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets. They are listed as thrash/tech death on Encyclopedia Metallum. The band has released four other full-lengths since then, the latest being in 2002.

Obliveon – Carnivore Mothermouth, 1999

Formed in Montreal in 1987 as Oblivion, they changed their name to Obliveon in 1989. Between 1989 and 1999, Obliveon released four full-lengths and a number of demos. Their debut, From This Day Forward, has been given a fair bit of praise on Encyclopedia Metallum and one reviewer interestingly writes of competitive rivalry between Obliveon and Disciples of Power. By Carnivore Mothermouth I feel their futuristic theme and the sound of the music is not far off from Fear Factory, keeping in mind that the only Fear factory album I ever had was Remanufacture.

Razor – Violent Restitution, 1988

Razor’s fifth album and the last with their vocalist Stace “Sheepdog” McLaren. I had their second and third albums, Evil Invaders and Malicious Intent, on cassette in the eighties and finally bought Evil Invaders on CD a couple of years back. I kept Violent Restitution in mind until I started to see it show up on favourite thrash metal album lists. I bought it and I was not disappointed. The sound is better than Evil Invaders and still has the raw Razor rip and shred feel to the music. “Taste the Floor” includes a chainsaw and it fits in just perfectly with razor’s sound.

Piledriver – Stay Ugly, 1986

I remember seeing both Metal Inquisition and Stay Ugly in the eighties Canadian metal mag, Metallion. At the time, I was really getting the feeling that too many bands of lesser talent were getting signed and releasing albums, and based on the cover art and the song titles, I reckoned that Piledriver were a band best left alone. I forgot about the band until a couple of weeks ago when someone in a video or on the Net somewhere mentioned Piledriver and that the band was from Canada. I have been collecting a number of the old eighties metal bands from the Great White North, but did I want to try to get a hold of Piledriver? A quick listen to Metal Inquisition on YouTube made me sure that I was right to avoid the band. Curiosity, however, got the better of me and I went back to listen again. It wasn’t so bad.

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Metal Inquisition is not so easy to get a hold of but Stay Ugly was ready for order for a normal price, and so I placed my order just a few days ago. It hasn’t reached me yet but in the meantime, I found some interesting information behind the Piledriver albums.

Piledriver was never a real band. As the story goes, as told by vocalist Gord Kirchin,  Piledriver was created by a suggestion from Cobra Records. The fellow Gord refers to as “Record Weasel” said that if they made a metal album with a crazy cover and songs to match, they could easily expect to sell 20,000 copies. Gord claims to have received $250 in payment for his services as the vocalist. The album Metal Inquisition was released in 1984.

Two years later, David DeFeis of Virgin Steele was told by his manager that he owed the manager money and if he’d write material for three projects, he’d be forgiven his debt.  DeFeis and Steele guitarist Eddie Pursino worked on material for three albums, one of them becoming the second Piledriver album and another one was Convict. Gord Kirchin sang on both of these. Convict didn’t go far but apparently the Piledriver albums garnered an underground following, all unbeknownst to Gord! He did try to turn Piledriver into a real band but then changed the name to Dogs With Jobs and “de-piled” the material he had prepared for a third album.

Several years later, Gord Kirchin got himself a computer and connected to the Internet to discover that the two Piledriver albums had actually sold quite well. Yet he and others involved never saw a cent after their initial work was paid for. In 2004, Gord tried to put together a new lineup for a new, Exalted Piledriver (the name was modified since there were already other bands out there using the Piledriver name). He currently heads the band and they have at least one new album out. David DeFeis has given his blessing to Gord to use the material he and his guitarist wrote for the Stay Ugly album.

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interview with Gord Kirchin

interview with David DeFeis

This story about Piledriver led me to the YouTube channel of Nasty Metal Productions, where the young gentleman who hosts the channel enlightened me about the so-called “metalploitation” phenomenon of the 1980’s. There were at least two companies, Cobra Records and Metal Enterprises, who released dozens of albums recorded in the same vein as the original Piledriver albums. In some cases, real musicians would be called in to write something to help pay off a debt while in other cases, bands and musicians who were not yet (and not necessarily likely to be) professional were given studio time to knock off an album or two. The band would then, in most cases, cease to exist.

The purpose of this was to sell metal albums to eager youth who wanted their next new metal band fix. The quality was often sub-par at best and ludicrous at worst, apparently. Corroseum has taken an interest in the releases from Metal Enterprises. While most of these albums and bands have faded into obscurity, Piledriver seems to have remained an important legend. This actually reminds me of the Crown Records label I wrote about in the post about The Firebirds / The 31 Flavors, a late sixties band who were in a similar situation, recording an album of questionable material for a label that only wanted to sell sub-par music to unsuspecting youth.

Music Is A Journey Video Series a Success!

Music Is A Journey is posting its seventh episode this week. Each episode so far has featured different music artists and some of the albums on which they have played. Episode One was entirely dedicated to the late Colin Tench, and Episode Four was all about Oliver Rusing’s band, KariBow.

For Episode Seven, the video series turns its spyglass toward five albums – most of them recent releases – that have captured my aural heart, albums by Forever Twelve, Evolve IV, Colouratura, Fabulae Dramatis, and Babal. Clips from five songs from each of the five albums are included in the latest video.

Episode Eight won’t be recorded and prepared until late July or even early August, but that episode will be about the bands 3rDegree and Cell15.

Future episodes will first feature more artists and bands at first and then move on to specific genres and periods in the history of progressive rock and heavy metal.

Comments about the video series’ individual episodes have been very positive!

Episode One: Colin Tench

“Thank you so much for this, Peter! Very well done, natural flair, and a nice overview of the brilliant work of Colin Tench.” – Murky Red

“It’s good – it’s almost too good! You’re very good and not scared of cameras at all! You explain it all so well, and Colin must be smiling now! I’m deeply impressed and touched. Thank you, Peter!” – Pasi Koivu (Corvus Stone, Wolmari)

Episode Two: Petri Lindstrom, Blake Carpenter, Andres Guazzelli, Stef Flaming, Gordo Bennett

“Peter Skov’s videos are of such an added value to the music that I have the feeling that they will become iconic!” – Yolanda Flaming (Murky Red)

Episode Three: Steve Gresswell, Marco Ragni, Peter Matuchniak, Hamlet

“It’s Wonderful! Thanks a lot, Peter. Really appreciate it” – Marco Ragni

“A nice review of my musical past and present by Peter Skov – thank you, sir!” – Peter Matuchniak (Evolve IV, Gekko Projekt, Bomber Goggles, solo)

“Thanks for highlighting so many amazing projects (including mine!). – Hamlet (Transport Aerian, Fabulae Dramatis)

“Thank you for doing this. I love your videos and the way you promote the bands. The perfect pronoun of MRR. Much love and respect.” – Nick Katona of Melodic Revolution Records

“Another awesome job, Peter. Brilliant! You’ve got the knack, eh!” – Gordo Bennett (GorMusik, GorFusion, GorAcoustic)

“I’m truly fascinated at how it isn’t just an appreciation of the music, but how personal it actually is. You get to know the artists and dive into the micro universes of each one that many may never get to know.” – Jason Johannson (Theoretica)

Episode Four: Oliver Rusing and KariBow

“Peter Skov did it again and all I can say is ‘Chapeau’. Please take your time and watch this wonderful video. I highly recommend it to everybody who appreciates ambitious music projects, witty eloquence and charming presenters with a sense of subtle pronunciation issues. Thank you, Peter, for all your effort…” – Oliver Rusing (KariBow)

Episode Five: Phil Naro, Pete Jones, Grandval

“Peter was kind to talk about Grandval and the four fantastic guitarists!” – Henri Vaugrand (Grandval)

Episode Six: Sean Timms, Marek ArnoldChris Gill

“I had a blast watching this last night… even showed it to my wife… she was very proud. It’s a bit surreal when people such as yourself really enjoy what I do. Thanks for the kind words. I’m thankful, humbled, and honoured.” – Sean Timms (Southern Empire, Unitopia)

“Peter made 2 nice and funny videos about my releases with my prog bands… Thanks, Peter Skov – for your support. I really had much fun watching it.” – Marek Arnold (Seven Steps to the Green Door, Toxic Smile, Flaming Row, Damanek, etc.)

“Thank you so much for doing the video… Makes me feel like a rock star…” – Chris Gill (Band of Rain, The Nonexistent)

Explosion of Metal Subgenres in the 80’s

I entered my teens when heavy metal became a household word. Back in 1983/84, heavy metal was the music of choice among my friends. We had such a choice, too. There were Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and the old boys, Black Sabbath. Then there were the hits bands like Quiet Riot, Def Leppard, Twisted Sister, and Motley Crue. There were the German bands: Scorpions and Accept. And then there were all the bands who managed to squeak a video on the late night video programs, bands such as Killer Dwarfs, Krokus, Kick Axe, and so on.

Helix

Helix

Back in those days, heavy metal was not neatly divided into various sub-genres as it is today. Van Halen, Blue Oyster Cult, Motorhead, Venom, Saxon, Helix, and even AC/DC all fell under the metal banner. If your music was loud, hard, heavy, pounding, fist-pumping, head-banging rock, that was enough. Headpins “Turn It Loud” was metal enough. Santers made it in the heavy metal pages. Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, KISS, and the list goes on. These days metal scholars and fans are much more critical and discerning about what gets called metal and what is hard rock. Metal itself has splintered into so many subgenres, and I would say that the 1980’s were responsible for this rapid branching of the metal tree.

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Exodus (photo from Full In Bloom Music)

The first subgenre I heard about was thrash metal. While the Los Angeles metal scene (which gave us what is now referred to as glam metal or hair metal) was producing wild and colourful bands like Ratt, Poison, Cinderella, and so on), metal purists who loved Judas Priest, Motorhead, and Venom and who also liked hardcore punk, decided to go against the grain and emphasis speed and aggression over party rock and cosmetics. The leaders here in the 1983 to 1987 period were Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer, Testament, Exodus, Death Angel, Violence, and a host of others. The music became not only faster but, as in the case of some bands, it also became more technical.

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Anvil

Around this same period, specifically 1982 to 1984, three other countries also saw movements toward extreme metal. In Toronto, Canada there was a concurrent metal movement that was initiated by the band Anvil. Anvil are often seen as the link between traditional heavy metal (Judas Priest, etc.) and thrash metal. But Anvil were not alone. Sacrifice, Slaughter, Razor, and Exciter were also part of this speedier and more aggressive scene. The Canadian label Banzai began stamping albums with a speed metal logo. Quebecers, Voivod, also earned this label, as did some European bands like Destruction. Speed metal today is recognized as being different from thrash metal and also power metal in that it is a little looser, and bit more biker-ish. As it was described on Banger Lock Horns (44:55 to 45:15 in the video), it’s like power metal but with a five-o’clock shadow.

Meanwhile, across the pond in England, the hardcore punk scene was taking an interest in metal. Going the opposite route from American thrash metal bands, who added hardcore to metal, British grindcore bands added metal to hardcore. By the latter half of the 80’s, you had two similar metal scenes with different roots.

Then there was Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden. Inspired by the music of Judas Priest, Motorhead, Black Sabbath, and Venom, new bands emerged in these three countries that would prove to be very influential in the development of new emerging subgenres. In Germany, Kreator focused on violence and aggressive, heavy music. Though similar to thrash metal music, Kreator’s sound was more evilly intense, more threatening, the vocals gruffer and growlier. Switzerland produced first Hellhammer which evolved into Celtic Frost. Here was a band that combined the speed of thrash metal with the slow and heavy riffs of doom metal and featured a vocalist who could growl and roar even lower and more ominously than Motorhead’s Lemmy or Venom’s Chronos. Finally, up in Sweden, a young Tomas Forsberg created Bathory, a band which focused on Satanic lyrical themes and, like others, combined speed and heaviness. Most outstanding was Forsberg’s vocal style: a back-of-the-throat, rattling, croak that could resemble a wicked witch singing. Though they were not yet fully developed, the subgenres of death and black metal were gestating amid the sounds of these bands.

Back in the U.S.A., two important bands were taking thrash metal in a new direction. Possessed from California released “Seven Churches” in 1985. The music was thrash-based, but Jeff Becerra’s deep, roaring, guttural vocals and the band’s Satanic themes took thrash metal as Slayer had conceived it into darker territory, if that were possible. Across the continent in Florida, Chuck Schuldiner was putting together Death and the first album, “Scream Bloody Gore” was released in 1987. While thrash metal lyrics were more about violence and war, death metal focused on gore and the occult. The American death metal scene produced bands like Morbid Angel, Obituary, and Autopsy in the late eighties, and by the early nineties the scene had fully grown, particularly along the East Coast and up into Quebec with bands like Cannibal Corpse, Immolation, Malevolent Creation, and Gorguts.

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Darkthrone – Black metal from Norway

By the late eighties, both Norway and Sweden had picked up on the sounds of black metal and a second generation was born. Though both countries would contribute, it was basically Norwegian bands that moved from death metal over to the black metal scene, while in Sweden death metal became the more popular.

Taking a cue from as far back as Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, power metal was yet another subgenre to emerge from the eighties metal scene. Ronnie James Dio, who had sung with Rainbow in the seventies, took the knights and dragons theme further in the mid-eighties on his “Sacred Heart” album (the tour featured a towering dragon on stage).

Virgin Steele

Virgin Steele

Virgin Steele in New York also moved from a trad metal approach into power metal. As someone on Banger TV said, power metal is trad metal but with louder, bigger, more over-the-top, with bolder melodies and an almost symphonic approach to music themes. It’s totally conceivable that symphonic metal developed from a combination of power metal and prog metal. The vocal style is usually more operatic, and Judas Priest’s Rob Halford can be seen as creating the blueprint. Manowar, Helloween, and Blind Guardian are recognized as early true power metal bands; however, elements of power metal can be found in the music and also the lyrical themes of bands like Iron Maiden, Queensryche, Uli Jon Roth era Scorpions, and Accept.

While it seems a natural course for heavy metal music to become more aggressive, more technical, darker, faster, and heavier, two other subgenres that emerged from in the eighties were looking to travel with their guitars down slightly different paths. Perhaps the older of the two would be progressive metal. The instigator would likely be Iron Maiden. Bassist and founding member Steve Harris was a fan of progressive rock bands of the seventies and right from the debut album in 1980, Iron Maiden proved there were more than just a band of three to four minute songs. They included instrumental sections that were not just dedicated to guitar pyrotechnics and even instrumental tracks. Iron Maiden was clearly an influence on two important American bands now associated with the development of progressive metal: Fates Warning and Queensryche. Add to that Crimson Glory and Watchtower and you have four of the earliest prog metal bands.

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Queensryche

Following the lead of Iron Maiden, these bands endeavored to write music that had complex instrumental parts, or danced around odd time signatures. Lyrics were often more intellectual and socio/political. The star child of progressive metal would be born in the eighties but not stamp its mark on the subgenre until 1992. Dream Theater was the band that seemed to define what progressive metal should be about, and yet the desire to take metal into more progressive territory was already spreading to the thrash and speed metal scene in 1986/87 as Metallica introduced longer songs with multi-part musical themes on “Master of Puppets” and “…And Justice for All” and Voivod created their own form of space sci-fi prog metal, culminating in the classic album “Nothingface” in 1989.

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Godflesh

The other new and also more experimental subgenre of metal was industrial metal. Musicians combined metal’s heaviness and aggression with techno and electronica, giving birth to a new underground movement. Ministry, Godflesh and others both in the U.S. and overseas in Europe (Germany’s KMFDM) kicked off the first generation of industrial metal in the latter half of the eighties and the movement continued into the nineties, gaining a second momentum by the middle of the decade.

One other important subgenre that came into its own in the eighties would be doom metal. Originally born in the sound of Black Sabbath in late 1969, bands such as Saint Vitus and Pentagram (who were actually active concurrently with Sabbath in their heyday) emphasized slow and heavy riffs and particularly Saint Vitus sought to recreate that early seventies sound. As the eighties progressed, some bands combined the speed and deep guttural vocals of death metal with the slow and heavy riffs of doom metal, and thus the death/doom subgenre was also born. Autopsy were one band that emerged from the Florida death metal scene who liked to slow down at times and get heavy. Meanwhile back in England, My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost also emphasized deep, growling vocals and slow heavy riffs. Interestingly enough, the European bands would go on into new directions now labeled gothic metal and post metal, as would many bands from the black metal scene.

It’s not uncommon to hear people criticize the 80’s for a lot of crimes against pop music and rock. However, I find it really interesting to see how heavy metal experienced an explosion of growth in subgenre branches. We saw thrash metal, speed metal, grindcore, black metal, death metal, progressive metal, industrial metal, doom metal, and death doom all emerge from the heavy metal tree. Now we recognize traditional metal, hair or glam metal, and hard rock as the three most popular forms of heavy music in the eighties. But in the underground, so much more was happening.

Canadian Hard Rock Invasion

The British Invasion of the sixties is well documented and regarded as a pivotal and defining moment in pop music history. The music of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who, The Animals, and several others reached the American airwaves and music stores and had a tremendous influence on the development of Rock and Roll not only in the United States but across the world.

Much less documented and by no means famous or even well-known was the so-called Canadian Invasion of the 1970’s. Several Canadian rock bands found audiences south of the border and were supported and promoted in the States. Other bands were less successful southward but nevertheless a part of the burgeoning rock music scene in Canada.

Naturally, Rock and Roll became popular in Canada almost simultaneously with the U.S., and a few Canadians, most famously Paul Anka, found success in the American market. But there was a real struggle back home for bands to get noticed. Canadian radio stations favoured American or British artists and local promotion on the air was not always easy to come by. Furthermore, there were few record companies in Canada and they were much more cautious about what bands they signed. A lot of great Canadian talent went south where there was a better chance of finding stardom.

The Guess Who was probably the first Canadian-based band to hit the American charts big time. Their 1970 #9 hit “American Woman” opened doors for them both stateside and at home in Canada. With proof that home grown talent could be successful, Canadian bands became regarded with less scepticism at home.

Two important developments were to take place in the early 1970’s. One was the establishment of CanCon (Canadian Content), which refers to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission requirements that radio and television broadcasters include a specified amount of Canadian material (content that was at least partly written, produced, presented or contributed to by Canadians). In 1971, this percentage was set at 25%. To acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of Canadian artists, the Juno Award was created by Stan Klees. Thus by the early seventies, Canadian music was on the rise at home, and with more bands getting their music on disc there was material to promote down south.

As the hard rock scene flourished in the nineteen seventies, so did many bands from the Great White North. Here are some of the (mostly) hard rock outfits that hit the charts at home and to varying degrees made themselves known stateside.

april wineApril Wine formed in Nova Scotia in 1969 but soon relocated to Montreal. Their eponymous debut album in 1971 scored a domestic hit for the band. Over the next two albums, the brothers Henman and their cousin would depart as the band’s sound moved toward the arena rock style that they became famous for. Their success mounted in the mid-seventies and by the end of the decade, their album “Harder… Faster…” had peaked at spot #64 in the Billboard charts and reached Gold in the U.S. Back home in Canada, however, they had three Platinum albums and two Gold, plus a string of hits. Their international success continued into the early 80’s.

btoBachman Turner Overdrive was Canada’s biggest success story in the 70’s. It has been said that if The Guess Who had introduced Canadian rock to the States, then BTO had introduced it to the world. Formed by former Guess Who guitarist Randy Bachman, the band emerged from the collapse of Bachman’s first project, a country rock band named Brave Belt. Encouraged to play more of a heavy rock style, Bachman’s new band with Fred Turner (bass/vocals) spent a few years on the top of the charts, hitting the number one spot with “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” on November 9, 1974. The song went to number 1 in 21 countries! During their run of hits, BTO had 10 singles reach the Billboard Top 100.

chilliwackChilliwack’s success south of the border actually came in the early 80’s, even though they raked up six songs in the charts in Canada. Part of the problem was that the band kept changing labels, their first five albums being released by four different labels. When they finally found some stability with Mushroom Records and released three albums, the label went bankrupt. By the end of the seventies, only Bill Henderson from the original line-up remained, but with the addition of Brian McLeod (who would later form Headpins) the band’s chart fortunes began to look up. Their music throughout the seventies was an array of styles including country rock, progressive rock, experimental music, hard rock, and lighter pop rock.

A Foot in ColdwaterA Foot in Cold Water are perhaps known for their Canadian classic rock radio staple “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want)“, a sweet ballad with strings that was later covered by the Canadian hard rock/glam metal band Helix in the 80’s. The band released four albums in the 70’s, starting out with a very hard, heavy and gritty sound on their debut, and then gradually spreading out to include a more mainstream sound, light rock, and somewhat progressive directions. Though the debut is an excellent heavy rock album and the band continued to write quality material, they weren’t able to reach the heights of some of their contemporaries.

mahogany-rush-20150527024849Mahogany Rush was a trio led by guitarist Frank Marino. The band name later changed to Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush and then just Frank Marino. Their style was like a heavy rock version of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, especially thanks to Marino’s guitar playing style which on early albums had an uncanny similarity to the famous deceased musician’s, so much in fact that there were rumours that Marino’s body had become occupied by the sprit of Hendrix. The band’s albums “Child of the Novelty” and “Strange Universe” made it to the Billboard Top 100 and “IV” to the top 200.

max websterMax Webster was a hard rock/rock outfit that added some progressive flourishes. They were well known in Canada for touring with Rush and had a few singles in the charts in the seventies. “Paradise Skies” from their fourth album became a hit in the U.K. reaching the #43 spot. After five albums, the band’s guitarist/vocalist Kim Mitchell established a solo career and scored international hits in the eighties with “Go For Soda” and “Patio Lanterns”.

moxyMoxy was a solid hard rock band from Toronto that formed in 1974. Thanks to support from KISS-FM in San Antonio, the band received American airplay early in their career. They toured frequently in the U.S. and opened for AC/DC in 1977. Due to disagreements between the producer and guitarist Earl Johnson, Johnson was kicked out of the studio and American guitarist Tommy Bolin, who was about to embark on a solo career and eventually take over for Ritchie Blackmore in Deep Purple, was in the studio next door and asked to play the solos on the debut album. By their second album, the band were getting comparisons to Aerosmith, Rush, and Deep Purple, and U.K. music journalist Geoff Barton would call Moxy the Canadian Led Zeppelin.

prismphotoPrism was meant to be a vehicle for the music of Bruce Fairbairn. He put together a band comprising members of two other Vancouver bands and called it Sunshyne. Jim Vallance wrote some of the songs and a recording contract was pursued. The debut album was released in 1977 and produced the Canadian hit “Spaceship Superstar”. Two more albums were released in the seventies and were successful in Canada, but it was not until 1981 that Prism would get a hit in America. The band split up in 1984 but later re-formed with some new members. On March 6, 2011, “Spaceship Superstar” was the wake-up song for the crew members of the International Space Station.

rushRush probably needs no introduction but no list of Canadian music from the seventies would be complete without mentioning the band. Their fourth album “2112” was revolutionary for some and how they blended heavy rock with progressive rock has sometimes earned them the title of fathers of prog metal. Their biggest success was still ahead in 1981, but before then, Rush was already touring the U.S. and Europe.

thundermugThundermug shares a similar history to A Foot in Cold Water. A hard rock outfit from Ontario, they scored a couple of hits with their debut in 1971, “Africa” and a cover of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me”. They released two more albums, each one less heavy and more commercial than the previous, before finally coming to an end. Their first two albums were released in the U.S. as a single compilation album and their third Canadian album was released with a different cover in the U.S. as their second album. An excellent hard rock act in the beginning, it’s a wonder they never had more success.

triumphTriumph is, after The Guess Who, BTO, and Rush, perhaps one of the most successful Canadian hard rock acts to tour the States. Three albums were released in Canada in the seventies, their debut and sophomore made into a single compilation album for the American market. Rik Emmett’s classical and electric guitar abilities gave the band both hard rock cred and a twist of prog. Their third album “Just a Game” scored two hits, “Lay It on the Line” and “Hold On” where the latter reached spot #40 in the U.S. charts. The album peaked on Billboard at #38, while “Hold On” reached number #1 in St. Louis. The band found even greater success in the early eighties and did a commercial for Pepsi.

Trooper-Harry-KalenskyTrooper is Canada’s band, so it has been said. Always drawing crowds at home but never really breaking the U.S., Trooper continues to perform today. Their big Canadian hits include “Raise a Little Hell“, “We’re Here for a Good Time (Not a Long Time)”, “The Boys in the Bright White Sports Car”, “General Hand Grenade”, “3 Dressed Up as a 9”, “Janine”, “Two for the Show”, “Oh, Pretty Lady”, and “Santa Maria”. From the release of their debut in 1975, Trooper began touring in the U.S. Though their albums second through fifth went gold, platinum, double-platinum, and quadruple platinum (a compilation album) in Canada, they only achieved one hit single in the U.S. with “Raise a Little Hell” which reached #59 in 1978.

There are plenty of other exciting bands from Canada who produced quality music in the 1970’s and we will take a look a little later on at the Canadian progressive rock scene during this incredible decade.

For more reading check out this site and this one.

The Tench Connection

colin everything

In the summer of this year, Corvus Stone received a wave of praise from critics and also reviewers on Prog Archives for their download only release, Corvus Stone Unscrewed. The album was made available for free to people who had previously purchased the band’s albums (Corvus Stone, Corvus Stone II) and it included a menu of remixed songs and new material. Corvus Stone had already attracted much attention for their 2012 debut and won even more fans with last year’s sophomore album.

A multi-national band, Corvus Stone is comprised of Colin Tench – guitars, Pasi Koivu – keyboards, Petri “Lemmy” Lindstrom – bass, and Robert Wolff – drums and percussion, and is based in Sweden. Each member has his background and involvement with projects past and present, but of the four, one member’s history stands out as rather unexpected for a recording musician, one who jests that he’s not a professional even though he bloody well works like one.

The Long Road to London

Colin_TenchColin Tench had been an avid listener to music since a very young age; however, the thought of becoming a professional musician was not something he dwelled on with any degree of seriousness. Originally from England, Colin went to live in Sydney for three years and spent 11 months backpacking across Asia. During his stay in Sydney he began learning to play the guitar. He joined a band alongside some other blokes who were either from England or who had English parents, and they called themselves The Pommie Gentlemen. This humorous appellation would presage Colin’s approach to music in the distant future. The band played parties and joined Battle of the Bands, but by Colin’s own admission they were not particularly good. (An interesting footnote is that the drummer ended up playing on two tracks of Corvus Stone’s debut three decades later!) His band did, however, discover AC/DC’s original vocalist, Bon Scott in the audience one night.

Eventually, Colin made his way back to London via a six and a half month journey across Asia. The guitar was temporarily forgotten until Colin decided to audition for a new band called Odin of London. Both he and another guitarist, John Culley, passed the audition. It was only after the band got going that Culley revealed to the other members that he had been a member of Black Widow and Cressida – a professional with some serious seventies cred. Thus Odin was born there in London in 1981.

Odin of London performed in pubs but gradually grew tired of playing for small audiences. They hoped that by recording some of their material they might release a record and move up to bigger crowds. Unfortunately for them, every record company door they entered became a swift exit. The band folded, but not without three of the members putting their musical heads together to come up with a cunning plan for a new band project.

colin buncha

The end of Odin and the beginning of…

A Bunch of Keys

It was 1985 and Colin Tench, Gary Derrick and Cliff Deighton decided to put together an album of songs that would have absolutely no popularity whatsoever in the mid-eighties. With the discovery of the elusive fourth chord, they deigned to record an album of crossover prog (as those in the know might call it), something that they wanted to create for themselves – a notion that seems decades ahead of its time. Songs they could come up with, but money for studio time was another problem. A game of poker led the lads to the fortuitous encounter with a gentleman who was planning to build a recording studio. Before the evening was out, the three musicians had agreed to help build the studio in exchange for recording time (one wonders if any bets were lost). Thus began the music of Bun Chakeze and what was to be the seed from which would sprout the trunk bearing all of Colin’s musical projects 25 years later.

As the band’s music came together, lyrics were written for some songs. But who would sing them? At last, the band got a hold of a singer, Joey Lugassy, from California. The music had a strong progressive rock sway to it, and Joey did his best to deliver vocals for the songs. The resulting product was rather bold for the year of 1985 – a melange of styles including Pink Floyd, Yes, Genesis, and other classic sounds of the 70’s – but as one could expect, no record companies were interested. Bun Chakeze packed up their instruments, and Colin packed his travel bags and went off in search of adventure in foreign lands… for 24 years!

colin buncha cover

The album that would change the world!

Chance Encounters

In 2010, Colin came in to roost and had John Culley on his mind (remember him from Odin of London?). They had been out of touch since 1985, and Colin decided to search for him on the Internet. As Culley had once been a member of Black Widow, Colin tried to get a hold of the fellow in charge of running the Black Widow web site, Pasi Koivu (this guy is instrumental, so to speak). The contact between these two men led to some important things happening in Colin’s life. First, Pasi got to hear some of Colin’s recordings from the 80’s and encouraged him to release the music. Odin of London became available as a download only but BunChakeze was released on CD. Colin began connecting with musicians and other interesting people on Facebook and came in contact with several who liked what they heard. Among them were artist Sonia Mota, singer Blake Carpenter, and musicians Stef and Yolanda Flaming. Then Pasi asked Colin to contribute some guitar to a piece he was working on. And that was where it started.

Over the next two years, remarkable things began happening for Colin and he found himself hauled fret board first into the world of a professional musician. Between 2011 and 2012, Colin formed Corvus Stone with Pasi Koivu, Petri Lindstrom, and Robert Wolff with Sonia Mota contributing artwork and opinions, and Blake Carpenter doing a bit of vocals. They released their debut album in 2012. Colin was also asked to play guitar for Blake Carpenter’s band The Minstrel’s Ghost and his album “The Road to Avalon”. Colin became an integral part of Andy John Bradford’s Oceans 5 and helped create the music for and played guitar on the album “Return to Mingulay”. In addition, Colin re-formed BunChakeze and also began working with other musicians and singers on his own Colin Tench Project. And as if playing in bands was not enough, Colin learned about mixing and mastering and mixed and mastered the debut album “Time Doesn’t Matter” by Stef and Yolanda Flaming’s band Murky Red. Not bad for a guy who hadn’t played guitar since Culture Club was popular!

A Modern Minstrel

Over the last few years, Colin has found himself keeping very busy. Aside from recording Corvus Stone II and the special follow up “Unscrewed”, Colin has been working on a few other projects such as the bands Coalition and Transmission Rails. As well, CTP is coming together, soon to be ready to release a full first album. Colin also played guitar for Andres E. Guazzelli’s symphonic rock peace “Wish You Could Hear” and mixed Murky Red’s second album “No Pocus Without Hocus” and squeezed in some lead guitar on one track. Finally, the project United Progressive Fraternity featuring many musicians and including legends Jon Anderson and Steve Hackett, includes Colin and his music.

colin double neckIt’s hard to imagine a musician with more irons in the fire than Colin. In addition to playing guitar and writing music, Colin also mixes, something he learned to do after he was not happy with the engineer’s job on an Oceans 5 recording, and has learned web page design. Once there was a time when bands had money and hired people to do these things. Now Colin, along with support from his trusted musician friends in Murky Red and painter Sonia, does a lot of different things for maintaining his band projects.

Colin’s playing style is at once easily identifiable with Corvus Stone and impressively diverse in his other projects. Often playing staccato notes reminiscent of Ritchie Blackmore, Colin has a chameleonic ability to adapt his playing suitably to different styles of music. He can adopt an almost flamenco style to his playing and add folk influences or go with a seventies rock groove or switch to symphonic prog guitar. One has to wonder though, after not having played for a quarter century, how does he do it? Colin admits that it is not easy – fingers and memory don’t work like they used to – though he says he can avoid making the same mistakes he did in the 80’s. Some other important points are that:

– He doesn’t take himself seriously though he certainly takes playing and recording seriously.
– He tries to make the most out of each note because he doesn’t play that many in a minute.
– He believes that more than shredding, making a guitar solo work with the melody of the music makes for a good guitar solo.
– He thinks of how to add a different twist to his music, go the opposite way from what might be expected..
– He has fun playing.
– His band Corvus Stone don’t try to sound like anybody and they don’t try NOT to sound like anybody.

Connections

Colin Tench has worked regularly with quite a few people. Here are some.

Blake Carpenter – Colin plays guitar on the album The Road to Avalon by Blake Carpenter’s band project The Minstrel’s Ghost. Blake sings on the Corvus Stone albums and is part of the band project, Coalition.

Sonia Mota – The painter who provides Corvus Stone with stunning artwork, she is also an ideas person who came up with the name for the band. She did the artwork for Oceans 5 and for Progeland, a band that includes Corvus Stone bassist Petri Lindstrom.

Stef Flaming – Colin’s good friend, Stef is involved in Transmission Rails with Colin, played bass in Oceans 5, and appears on Corvus Stone’s cover of Murky Red’s song “Boots for Hire”. Stef is the song-writer, artist, and vocalist for Murky Red and plays guitar as well. Colin mixed and mastered both Murky Red albums and plays lead on one song.

Phil Naro – Phil can be heard singing on some Corvus Stone songs, contributed vocals to the Coalition band project and sings on some tracks of the Colin Tench Project. Phil’s career goes back to the eighties when he played in TALLAS with Billy Sheehan. He currently sings with Unified Past.

Andres Guazzelli – Andres wrote and arranged some of the music on the Oceans 5 album and wrote his own 12-minute symphonic prog piece called “Wish You Could Hear” with Colin playing guitar.

With several band projects on the go at once, it’s difficult to guess where Colin’s machine heads will turn up next. His most recently released appearances are on the forthcoming United Progressive Fraternity album and a CTP release for Christmas called, “Natal”.

In just a few short years, Colin Tench is branching tendril-like into the prog scene. It must be all thanks to him discovering that fourth chord!

Corvus Stone home page

 

 

 

 

 

ron_-bon-scott-24169361-627-476

The Pommie who? No, I don’t ever remember seeing them.