Lullacry - Their latest: "Where Angels Fear"

After more than a half decade, Lullacry is back with a new album. Having only discovered them in the last 2-3 years I was disappointed to realize that their most recent release was from 2005 and their web site indicated they were searching for a new label. I was worried we'd have to go without new Lullacry material indefinitely. Thankfully, that changed over the last year. Status updates on the website indicated that not only were they back in the studio, but they had made headway on a label for a new album release.

Then over the course of April 2012, "Where Angels Fear" was released around the world and we finally have new music from the band since 2005. I have already and will continue to play songs from the new album on my KGLT radio show. Lullacry hits me right where it counts. They are always melodic, powered by Sami Leppikangas' wall of guitars and Tanja Lainio's emotional vocals. I played the title track, "Where Angels Fear" during my radio show on May 5th, and am looking forward to playing "I Am", and "Antidote To You" in upcoming shows. You can check out their video for the first single, "Bad Blood" on the band's website or on YouTube.

The "Where Angels Fear" album is, to my ear, edgier than the band's earlier material. I don't know if this was a concerted effort or a natural progression but either way it works well for Lullacry. The album sounds fresh and full of energy. The years since their previous release ("Vol. 4", 2005) have helped the band come back with a vengeance, sounding both solidly Lullacry and absolutely contemporary.

I don't know what my chances are of seeing Lullacry in the U.S., so a trip to Finland may be my best bet to catch their show. If you haven't heard the band before, go check them out on your favorite internet music service. If you're lucky enough to live near one of their tour destinations, please go check out their show and give me a play-by-play. I may need to enjoy the show vicariously through your experiences, at least for now. Can you do yourself (and me) that favor?


The Next Album

As I mentioned in a recent article, I've struggled to find the right musical outlet here in Bozeman. This has become more of an issue now that the Danger, Ltd. album and the Scattershock album are complete. I no longer have those projects and their corresponding goals to keep me going and as a result I'm going a bit nuts (yes, even more so than usual...). That, in turn has spawned another one of my "big ideas."

I need a new project, a goal. It needs to be music and it needs to be original songs, not covers. And it needs to be music that's stylistically close to my heart. I listen mostly to melodic sub-genres of metal, e.g. power metal, goth metal, emo/screamo/alt. metal, nu metal, metalcore. It's what I gravitate toward naturally. It's not an intellectual thing, it's about gut instinct. And yet, I've generated very little original music that fits that collection of styles. It's time for that to change. I need to create something that comes naturally, from inside.

I need a band and yet the longer I live in Bozeman, the less likely I think it is that I'll find one here. I need other musicians that live and breath the same musical styles that I do. I need a drummer, a bass player, another guitarist, a vocalist and maybe a keyboardist, all of whom need to have musical instinct in the same rough vicinity as my own. We don't all need to think alike, we just need to have enough overlap to focus on a common goal. I'm beginning to think I need to assemble that band in the heart of the world's best melodic metal. Sadly, that's not here in Bozeman and more and more I think it's not even here in the U.S. Most of the bands I listen to hail from Finland and Sweden, and maybe it's time I acknowledged that.

So my working plan, my slowly crystallizing vision, is to record my next album in some combination of Finland and Sweden. If I can pull this off, I'll identify musicians in Scandinavia that are interested in playing on the album. I will need to develop a budget for this project, because I'll need to pay the players, pay for my own travel, pay for studio time and, most likely, pay someone in that neck of the woods to coordinate things for me. I'm thinking that last role is the key. I need an "associate producer" or "facilitator", someone that has connections in Finland and Sweden and can help me assemble the right musicians for the project and can help oversee the project. If I can find that person, then I think the rest will come together.

To be clear, the songs have not yet been written. That's on me, at least the music. This time around, I'm also thinking that I need to contribute lyrics, unless somehow I get lucky and find someone who's interested in a collaboration, something more than a simple studio musician role. I need to start writing again and at the same time, I need to start making contact with studios and engineers in Finland and Sweden and see if I can find the right fit. There are a lot of challenges that need to be overcome before this becomes a reality, but it gives me something to strive for. A new dream that can pick up where I left off after completing the Scattershock release.

Are you a musician in Sweden or Finland that would be interested in contributing to this project? Are you a recording engineer that can record and mix this project for me? Do you know musicians that would be interested in playing on the album? Are you elsewhere in the world but find the project interesting enough that we should talk? I'm very open-minded about how this comes together, so if you have ideas or suggestions, please get in touch!


Lillian Axe: A sound firmly established

Recently, Lillian Axe's February 2012 release, "The Days Before Tomorrow", arrived in KGLT's new loud rock bin. The front cover art immediately got my attention, although I reserved judgment until I previewed some songs. Often, the higher the ratio of skulls to surface area, the more likely the album is hardcore death metal, and therefore falls outside my melodic needs. As always, though, I gave the album a chance, and was immediately rewarded. I've been playing songs from the disc ("The Great Divide", "Lava On My Tongue", "Death Comes Tomorrow") ever since and it just keeps growing on me.

Through the Lillian Axe wikipedia entry and iTunes, I've gleaned quite a bit about the band. Unusual for a metal band in their New Orleans roots, I immediately got the sense there was something different about them. Sure, they gained early notoriety because the late Robbin Crosby (Ratt) produced their 1988 debut and some of their earlier material definitely has a hair metal bent. But this didn't read like the classic relocate-to-Hollywood-rags-to-riches story. And that's a good thing because their uniqueness is not just their history, it's their sound.

Having listened to "The Days Before Tomorrow" beginning to end a few times now, I knew the album is consistently strong, with soaring vocal melodies. But it's more timeless, not just the simple meat and potatoes hair or power metal melodies. I wondered whether that was a new development for the band or whether it's always been there. I went back and listened to earlier albums, trying to get a sense for how those albums relate to the latest album. Absolutely, their late 80s and early 90s material has a big dose of hair metal, but there's something more. Harmonically, these guys aren't afraid of motion, both in terms of the rhythm guitar and their layered vocals. There's an artistry to their songwriting that's less about riffs and more about form, structure and progression. There's no fear of major keys or repeat cycles longer than 4 bars. They give the feeling that their focus is on the songs and delivering a cohesive story.

At this point, it's hard to put my mindset back where it was in the late 80s or early 90s, but I still remember vividly enough. As I listen to "The Days Before Tomorrow", I hear a band that has honed its sound over decades and fed all of their experiences and energy into a truly great album. It is both soothing and stretching, it comforts and demands more of you. Perhaps Steve Blaze, the sole founding member, holds the key. Perhaps the band assembled for this album combined to generate the magic. And maybe the real truth can be found in Steve Blaze's own words, "This is the best record I have ever written for Lillian Axe". Whatever the secret, this album belongs in your collection and once you are familiar with it, feel free to work backwards in time to learn more.


Blood and fire: my first concert ever

I come by my love of the "theater of metal" honestly. In fact, in a future article I'll go into some detail about how I think theatrics and metal go hand in hand. For now, though, I want to explain where it all started for me.

I'd been listening to the likes of The Monkees, Elton John and Steve Miller for a good chunk of my youth. Somehow, and honestly I don't remember how, I learned about KISS. I picked up their latest record, Destroyer, and also had the collection of the first three albums (Kiss, Hotter Than Hell, Dressed To Kill). I particularly liked "Detroit Rock City" a song that I still like listen to; it sets such a mood. The music registered for me in a way that was different from the mellower stuff I'd followed previously. But, honestly as a pre-teen, Marvel-comic and horror film loving kid, what really got me was the costumes.

Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons. A superstar and a demon, platform shoes, big hair... I was hooked. Ace Frehley, smoking pickups, trashed guitars. Awesome. Peter Criss and the big drum kit. I'd never seen anything like it. It was mesmerizing and the timing of my discovery was perfect. KISS was coming to the Oakland Coliseum, right near Berkeley, where I grew up. I had to go. But wait, I was only 13 and, though my parents were always very supportive and open-minded, there was no way there were letting me go see KISS alone.

To this day, I have no idea what the conversation was like between my parents. Did they draw straws? Did the winner take me or did the loser take me? No clue, maybe they'll shed some light on this once they read the article. However the decision was made, my dad was taking me to the show. Lucky for him we had seats, not the floor. I don't remember anything about the drive to the show or parking. All I remember is my dad sitting next to me, with his fingers in his ears the whole night. But that didn't get in my way. It was heaven for me. Pyrotechnics, Gene Simmons spitting fake blood and stalking around the stage. Bombastic and immersive and incredibly entertaining. The show sucked me in, not just to that night at the Coliseum but into the rest of my musical life.

My love affair with heavy music and big stage shows began that night and it hasn't stopped. I know a lot of folks that smirk at KISS musically, and I understand where that comes from. Particularly the original lineup was musically overshadowed by other much more polished musicians. But that's not what it's about. It's a show and if you haven't seen KISS live onstage you are missing out (yep, not even Blu-ray will suffice, sorry). It's the ultimate live music show, and any self-respecting rock/metal fan really owes it to her/himself to see them once. One can follow similar logic to conclude that you have no right to comment on a "Monster Trucks" show until you've attended one. It is what it is.

Which leads me to the strange combination of adrenaline rush and smirk that I experience when KISS and Mötley Crüe announced their upcoming tour. Talk about the perfect lineup: two bands that exemplify the theater of heavy music. Makeup, costumes, straight ahead music and big stage shows. With me here in Bozeman, I'm not sure there's any way I'll be able to catch the tour, but it's tempting. Really, really tempting...

If I can make it happen, will I see you there?



KGLT radio: biweekly routine of a late-night DJ

My life as a DJ started mostly on a whim. It just happened that I learned of KGLT's apprentice class about two weeks for the summer session started. The timing was perfect; there was no opportunity to think too hard before committing. Because of that, I really didn't have a motive or justification for becoming a DJ. It was a chance occurrence, an interesting opportunity that I couldn't pass up.

Looking back now, however, there are a few clear reasons that I continue to DJ at KGLT despite the hours of preparation and the late nights in the studio. To better express those benefits, I need to describe my biweekly routing as I prepare for and then deliver my show.

The cycle begins when I decide on a theme for the show. Sometimes that's easy, when my show is near Halloween or Christmas. Other times, I focus on favorite guitarists or bands that have influenced me. Some weeks I just decide to play whatever feels right. That said, in this article I want to describe an approach that has kept me going for months worth of shows. KGLT has their CDs and LPs filed in different categories, much like a public library. There's an impressive array of rock, jazz, blues, country, bluegrass, etc. There's also a small plastic bin for each style that houses the new releases. My category of choice is "Loud Rock" encompassing all sub genres of metal, plus some punk and heavier alternative bands. Although I have a good collection of music, KGLT's library includes a large number of bands and albums that I've never heard of. After the first few months when I was drawing mostly from my own collection, I reached a point where I needed to mix in a generous helping of new material. That's where my goal began...

I decided to make my way through every loud rock CD at KGLT and evaluate each one for use on my show. My goal was to accomplish that fairly quickly, making "Yay" or "Nay" decisions efficiently. That way I can evaluate enough albums in two weeks to prepare a show entirely out of KGLT material. The key step for me is spending 3-5 hours at KGLT previewing one CD after another. The first level of filtering is always easy. I'll listen to the beginning of a few songs, if any of them grab me, then I jump into the middle of a song, listen to some vocals and try to find a hook that gets my attention. The easy "Nay" decisions for me are songs that fail my "melodic" criterion. Generally that means musical forms with only guttural vocals (screams and growls) get nixed quickly, and that tends to remove about 50% of the albums I review with only a minute or two of review on each. Sometimes things bog down a bit, when I run across bands like In Flames, Amaranthe or the SLoT, where gutturals are used in combination with melodic vocals. I'm typically happy with a balanced approach of that sort, but quick scanning can sometimes give the wrong impression, since songs will often use gutturals at the beginning of a song and shift to melodies in the hook. Bands like that can often take more like 3-5 minutes. Melodic death metal can fool me in the opposite direction: the instrumental parts at the beginning of each song will sound great, sometimes reminiscent of heavier power metal bands, but when the guttural vocals kick in I realize the band is not in my wheelhouse.

Once a band or album makes it onto my "keeper" list, then it's a matter of picking a song. Sometimes I'll scan through the album in search of something that grabs me. Sometimes I'll look in iTunes for songs that have gotten a lot of listens or read through the band's Wikipedia entry to see if any songs played a key role in their success. Having picked one or a few potential songs, then I listen and pin down the song for my set. I keep track of band name, album, song title, track number and track duration in a form that I can quickly migrate into a spreadsheet.

After I've collected roughly enough songs for a full 3-hour show, I pull my data entries into a spreadsheet and start arranging my show. There are some restrictions that I need to factor into the playlist:

At the top of each hour, we have to announce the station ID and thank that hour's underwriters
Two other times during the hour we need to make public service announcements (PSAs) and play promotional clips
Factoring all that in, I've found that around 2 hours and 42 minutes worth of songs is what I need for a full show, roughly 54 minutes for each hour. Using that knowledge, I start arrange the songs in an order that works for my mood, trying to create three clearly defined blocks of around 54 minutes each. Within those blocks I try to find three groupings of 3-5 songs each, such that I have a PSA/promo slot around 20-25 minutes after the hour and another one at 35-40 minutes after the hour. I add some additional annotations to the spreadsheet to make the breaks stand out and make it easy for me to find the song, whether it's on my own (burned) CD or on one of KGLT's CDs. If I'm bringing any material from my iTunes collection, I burn those songs to 2 sets of identical discs. That allows me to segue between songs, even if I decide at show time to reorder some songs or skip others.

Once I've prepared my playlist spreadsheet, burned any discs from my personal collection and collected any of my own CDs that I have readily available, then I set everything aside until its time for my show. Typically I reach the KGLT studio around 11:30pm. Most nights, Adam (Kish) is in the studio when I get there. Before I do anything else, I go through the new Loud Rock bin and the Loud Rock drawers, pulling any CDs I need for my show. I stack the CDs in the order I plan to play them, inserting my own CDs as needed. After that I chill for awhile and catch up with Adam. We often talk about metal, Iron Maiden, Thin Lizzy, etc. It's always fun talking to someone else that loves heavy music, has eclectic taste and likes talking about it.

Then, somewhere around 11:55pm, Adam starts playing his last song of the night. He clears out his gear and CDs and he submits his playlist (more on that shortly). Then I move my stuff into place, near the 3 CD players and the console. I fill out some paperwork needed from all DJs as part of having a show at KGLT and put the first two CDs I plan to play in the empty players (Adam's last song is typically in one of the players). I get the songs queued up, so that I'm ready to go. Usually Adam's last song ends right around the top of the hour and I'm on my way.

In the last minute before my show, I switch to headphones and activate the mic but leave it potted down (i.e. the gain is all the way off). I also bring up the level on the channel for my first song, usually around -5 dB on the board. Then, just as Adam's song is dying away I bring up the mic gain, read off the station ID, announce the weekend weather and thank the underwriters. The weather information is available on the main screen of the in-studio computer (a Windows PC); the underwriter info is displayed on the side screen of the same computer. At the end of my announcements I hit the play button on the console and start the music.

The console makes it easy to listen to the beginning of each song prior to playing it, using the Cue channel. So, as one song is playing, I'm listening to the next one and deciding whether a slow crossover fade is in order or the next song needs to kick off on a dime. I segue my way through the first block of 3-5 songs, while taking care of another KGLT DJ responsibility: entering band names, album names, song titles and "new or not?" into the playlist app on the studio PC. We need to track all the songs we play so that the radio station pays appropriate royalties. Those same playlists are also posted on KGLT's website. Then, as I'm playing the last song before a PSA break, I once again switch to headphones, get the mic ready and wait for the song to tail off. Then I read the PSAs, announce the last block's songs and fire off the next song.
The pattern repeats for my next block of songs, although perhaps this time I'll use prerecorded PSAs and promos, which are accessed on the studio PC. I still announce the prior block's songs myself and then kick of the last block of the hour, which takes me back to the top of the hour. At that point, my routine is very similar to the beginning of my show (station ID, announce underwriters) but I don't do the weather, and I do announce the songs from the previous block. That second hour and the third hour are very similar except as my show winds down after the third hour.

At the end of my show, no one else is coming in until 6am. As a result, less than a minute before my last song ends, I cue up SAM, the computerized DJ and crossfade at an opportune moment. SAM automatically cycles through songs, plays PSAs and promos, and carries over until the morning DJ comes in at 6am. SAM uses voice synthesis, and she sounds a little strange, but she does a good job filling time and she's happy to tell you that she plays "some smooth jazz". Once SAM is running, I refile all of the KGLT CDs I used. I also burn copies of my show to CD to take home (that way Nancy can hear my show without staying up). Then it's time to turn off all non-essential lights, back down the studio volume and the two other speaker systems in the facility, pack my bags and go home.

It's often tough to get to sleep after my show. I'm usually pretty amped. Often, as I'm trying to settle I start having ideas for my next show. And thus, the cycle repeats itself.

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