Entries in Amaranthe (5)


Nightwish/Kamelot in Salt Lake City - the reward for months of planning

We've had this trip planned for around six months, the last of our big summer of metal travels. We split the drive from Bozeman to Salt Lake City ("SLC") roughly in half, staying in Rexburg, Idaho on Friday night and rolling into SLC mid-afternoon on Saturday. Our only complication was my son, Zane's, sudden onset of some GI ailment, leaving us unsure how much of the show he was going to see. But we managed to get the kids a quick swim in the salty swimming pool at Howard Johnson's, a satisfying dinner at P.F. Chang's and then we headed to the The Complex for the show.

We immediately knew that we'd "arrived" as we drove up. There was a line around the corner, down the block and all the way to the train tracks. This was definitely a metal crowd, lots of black attire and concert T's. It became clear we were facing yet another complication once we'd stood in line for 30 minutes after the doors were scheduled to open. Apparently sound checks had run over by 60-90 minutes and they'd only been able to let 400 people into the main lobby of the venue. Fortunately, much like Calgary, this was also a well-behaved metal crowd,

Eventually the line started moving and we all were able to redeem our Will Call codes to get into the show. It was fortunate that this show had no opening acts, just two headliner-caliber bands. Once we were all in the venue, there wasn't any further delay; Kamelot kicked into their set with a vengeance. I've never seen Kamelot before and was immediately impressed with their energy and polish. I was especially struck by the energy of their new vocalist, Tommy Karevik, and his ability to get the crowd involved. More so than recent shows we've seen in Sweden and Canada, the crowd in Salt Lake City made lots of noise, chanting, yelling and singing along throughout the set.

The four of us also had an extra connection to Kamelot, being big Amaranthe fans. We really enjoyed seeing Elize Ryd, one of Amaranthe's three singers, performing various lead and backup vocals for Kamelot. It was icing on the cake to see and hear Elize live for the second time in less than two months. Now we can hope that, with Amaranthe's new album due out in 2013, perhaps we can see Elize 3 times in one year. I was also impressed with The Agonist's Alissa White-Gluz's vocal contributions to Kamelot's set and was particularly struck by her stage presence. That makes we very curious to see The Agonist if I get the chance.

Kamelot wrapped up a very tight, and perhaps a little too short, set. Thankfully, after the long wait in line, it didn't take the stage crew too long to transition over and get Nightwish onstage. In truth, Nightwish was the reason we made the trip and I was excited to finally be hearing them live. They immediately launched into "Storytime" one of my family's favorite Nightwish songs, and played "Amaranth", another favorite, third. I immediately found myself thinking about how much I enjoy Anette Olzon's easygoing and friendly stage presence, and her sweet, comforting voice. Yes, many fans were disappointed when Tarja Turunen was asked to leave Nightwish, but I have found that both the albums featuring Anette (Dark Passion Play and Imaginaerum) are in my "favorite albums ever" list. In a way, with Anette and Marco Hietala, the band became more listenable for me. The grandiosity of their symphonic elements is counterbalanced perfectly by the rawness of Marco's voice and the personal familiarity of Anette's.

It was fun seeing Marco, and how essential he's become to Nightwish's stage presence. He would be a natural fit for Kopiklaani, both in looks and personality, adding a raucous humor and forcefulness to Nightwish that I welcome.

My daughter, Kiley, had mentioned to me right after dinner that she wanted Nightwish to play a long set. Well, she got her wish. They were on stage for about 90 minutes, playing heavy hitters like the aformentioned "Storytime" and "Amaranthe", along with "Ghost River" and finishing up with "Last Ride of the Day". In between they treated us to acoustic versions of "Nemo" and two of their more folk-infused pieces ("Finlandia" and "Last of the Wilds").

Since the show started late, Zane was completely wiped out by the end of the set. Kiley gave it her all but was also pretty tired. Still, we were all content as we walked the few blocks back to our car and drove the quick trip back to our motel. Once we get back to the room, I was still pretty energized and not quite ready to fall asleep, so I dug around a bit trying to learn a bit about the show and some of the guest performers.

In the process, I discovered just how lucky we were. Having driven over 7 hours to reach Salt Lake City, and dedicated an entire weekend to attend this show, we hadn't allowed ourselves to worry that the show might not happen. Little did we know how close we came to that outcome. Reading through postings on Nightwish's Facebook page, I learned that Anette had been hospitalized the previous night, unable to perform in Denver. I also learned that the band had scrambled to live up to their commitment to the fans in Denver. Thanks to valiant efforts by Elize and Alissa from Kamelot, Nightwish played the Denver show, despite missing their lead singer.

To me, this is a testament to Nightwish's professionalism and commitment. By my rough count, 90% of fans' responses on the Facebook page were positive, although the other 10% were shockingly unkind and insensitive. Personally, I am in awe of everyone who scrambled to make both the Denver and Salt Lake City shows happen despite the difficult circumstances. As a musician, I have nothing but respect for Elize and Alissa, filling in on incredibly short notice and for the rest of Nightwish for pulling a show together. I realize the fans in Denver didn't exactly see the show they had hoped to see, but in a way, they got to see something extra special. I suspect many will remember the show as a unique experience, one that demonstrates success in the face of defeat and one that they'll remember for the rest of their lives. I also suspect that at least some of them will walk away with a greater interest in Amaranth and The Agonist, having seen what Elize and Alissa were able to do on short notice for Nightwish. Based on some of my own recent experiences with family health and hospitals, I think I can imagine how difficult it was for Anette to get back on stage and give an amazing performance, having spent the previous night in the hospital. I wish nothing but the best to Anette and hope this is just one of those sudden and brief medical challenges, much like I hope for Zane's GI complications.

For those Nightwish and Kamelot fans yet to see them on this tour, you are in for a treat; do not miss the show! For those readers that weren't planning to see them, but still have chance to get tickets to upcoming shows, you really should spend the money and go see this show. If you can't catch one of the remaining shows, but are curious about Nightwish and Kamelot, check out their recent releases (e.g. Imaginaerum and Sacrimony (single)). If you are impressed with Elize's and Alissa's efforts to save the show in Denver, be sure to check out Amaranthe and The Agonist. There's a lot of great music to experience between all of these amazing musicians and I recommend you explore it all thoroughly to find how it overlaps with your tastes.


You Know You're Not In Bozeman When… (Swedish Edition)

Having taken a couple weeks off from blogging to fully enjoy our vacation in Scandinavia, our return to Bozeman has helped highlight a number of distinctions between our experiences in Sweden and our daily lives in Bozeman. In today's article I will explore (in no particular order) some clear signs you are in Sweden, not Bozeman.

- You encounter water craft taller than most of the municipal skyline. In both Stockholm and Gothenburg, on any given day you are likely to see massive cruise ships that are unbelievably tall, in many cases dwarfing the city's buildings.

- You pass Amon AmarthIn Flames and Katatonia T-shirts in less than 5 minutes walking around downtown. Yes, I know folks in Bozeman that might have at least one or two of those shirts, but I've only seen a concentration of serious metal T's at local metal shows (e.g. Agalloch at the Zebra Lounge).

- You wander along a tourist-packed street in the old town, check out the first record store you find and more than 25% of the selection falls under the "Heavy/Death/Black/Thrash/Doom" section. I'm not knocking Cactus Records, but Sound Pollution in Stockholm (on Gamla Stan) is about a quarter the size and has nearly every band I'd every want to play on my radio show.

- You can ride a roller coaster and see Amaranthe within a few hundred meters of each other, on the same day. To be fair, the first half of that is sufficient, i.e. you can't even ride a real roller coaster in Bozeman, but even if you relax the comparison, in Bozeman, you can't ride any amusement park ride and see a heavy metal band at the same venue, not even at the county fair.

- You go for 7 days without noticing a single pickup truck or SUV. Nothing but Eurovans of all sizes from any number of manufacturers (e.g. Mercedes, Ford, Opel, Citroen, Fiat).

- You look through the "services offered" flyers at the local record store and see Deicide and Iced Earth's guitarist offering up lessons. Yes, you're right, Ralph is Italian-American, but point being, he's offering guitar lessons in Stockholm, not in Bozeman.

- You stumble onto multiple flyers for local metal bands you've never heard of. Or artists like TriviumNikki Sixx and Soulfly, headlining big shows in the next month. Truth is, it's rare to see flyers for -any- metal bands in Bozeman. Maybe in Billings or Missoula...

- You see a British woman playing a percussion instrument you've never heard or seen before (Hang), and she's hanging out with about 10 guys from Chile with long black hair, shades and Wacken 2012 T-shirts.

Our visit to Sweden was great. Three generations of the Hearst/Reynolds clan, three cities, two countries and two weeks. Lots of scrambling to figure out public transportation, frantic searches for WC's and many great meals. All in all, an amazing experience!

Before I sign off, I want to thank Thomas at Roaddust for his hospitality and wonderful conversation. We had a great time at Liseberg and really appreciate everything you did to help us plan and carry out this trip. In Helsinki, I was talking to Kiley (my daughter) about what she enjoyed most during the trip and she said "...especially seeing Amaranthe and meeting their road manager, who's really, really awesome."

Next time, Finland...



The Quest: the metal heartland

As I mentioned not long ago in my article about my next project, I'm striving for something new. The ingredients for my next album need to be fresh and unique, yet still completely aligned with my love of heavy, melodic music. Although I have recently become friends with a number of metalheads here in Bozeman, the common theme amongst them leans too heavily toward death metal and guttural vocals to be the right fit for me. I need the contributors for this next album to come naturally to melody; they must be forceful and graceful all at once. And, as I previously mentioned, the most sensible place to look for those musicians is where most of my favorite bands come from: Finland and Sweden.

The plane tickets are purchased, my family's summer has been scheduled. In mid-August we will embark on our quest, combining the goal of seeing Amaranthe perform in their home territory, with my own goal of making the first round of connections I need for the next album. Earlier this year we had hoped to accomplish the family goal, and see Amaranthe at the House of Metal festival. Nancy, Kiley and Zane are all crazy about Amaranthe, and we were immensely excited until we learned that the House of Metal show was not all ages; neither of the kids would make the 13 year old cutoff. Those were sad days in the Hearst-Reynolds house but they planted a seed that continued to grow. A few months later, while preparing my Amaranthe blog article, I was looking at their website and noticed a show planned for August at the Liseberg Stora Scenen. Being part of a family-oriented amusement park, I quickly contacted the park representatives and learned that, yes, there will not be an age limit. With that information, the quest became reality.

Centered around the Amaranthe concert, we will spend a week in Sweden and a week in Finland. I hope to make advance contact with various studios and engineers in HelsinkiStockholm and Göteborg. I'm attempting to find someone that can act as a champion and coordinator for the project, someone that I will pay for their responsibilities but who will also immerse themselves in the vision. Ideally, this person will be able to assemble a collection of musicians, a drummer, a bass player, a keyboardist and a singer, that are perfectly suited to this project. Then, the coordinator/engineer/producer will help me establish the monetary and temporal logistics for the project. I hope to visit with various engineers and producers, and tour their facilities, so that we have enough opportunity to recognize the right fit when it shows itself.

As a family, there will be more to this trip than architecting my next album. We will see the sights, experience the culture and, hopefully, spend some days outside the city, most likely exploring the Finnish wilderness. But, for me, the trip really hinges on my quest. I will strive to gather enough data to make the path to the next album clear. I will also endeavor to gain enough familiarity with the cities and their music scenes so that I'm prepared for a potential return trip. I suspect, budget-wise and time-wise, it will make sense for me to track guitars here in Bozeman, however, I do think that it makes sense for me to take part in as much of the other tracking as possible. Depending on scheduling, perhaps I can be present when basic tracks and vocals are being laid down.

We will see how it all comes together. If you are a heavy musician in Finland or Sweden and have an interest in the project, please contact me. If you are a recording engineer, producer or studio owner in Göteborg, Stockholm or Helsinki and think you could help me accomplish my vision, please let me know. I would be happy to communicate before and to meet with any and all of you in August. If the vision seems still a bit nebulous, you are right, I'm trying to leave a lot of room for it to define itself, based on the creative people involved. I firmly believe in the magic of collaboration and that "my" vision is really more of a catalyst than an exacting road map. For more information, clarification and questions, please do not be shy, I'd love to hear your thoughts.


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.


Amaranthe - Why are they stuck in my head?

Honestly, I don't remember the exact moment when I discovered Amaranthe. At some point in the last year, as I was wandering around the Internet, I ran across them. At first I viewed them as an interesting new band from the Nordic part of the world that generates much of the music I love. They have the unique twist of 3 separate vocalists, a female clean lead (Elize Ryd), a male clean lead (Jake E) and a male guttural specialist (Andreas Solveström). And, they have a great melodic death metal rhythm section (Olof Mörck - guitar & keys, Johan Andreassen - bass, Morten Løwe Sørensen - drums).

So, that explains why I like them. I like heavy, melodic music and just about any metal that has some reasonable amount of pitch variation in the vocals. But that doesn't explain why they get stuck in my head so readily. I find myself whistling the melodies from their songs at the strangest times. And once I start, it's hard to make it stop.

Fortunately, I figured out why. Oddly enough, it's just like ABBA, a band I never listened to in depth and yet I still hear "Waterloo" in my head, clear as day. It always amazed me how catchy and universal ABBA's melodies are. They churned out a string of hits that bore into your head and never leave. The songs I know are all upbeat and musically motivating, and only in later years did the song themes become more introspective.

Amaranthe touches me in the same way and has the benefit of being right in the middle of my wheelhouse. The music is clearly edgier than ABBA but at the same time revels in sweeping melodies, and layered vocal harmonies that are infectious. They capture exactly what I love about heavy music - this deeply moving energy that gets your heart pumping no matter whether the lyrical message is incredibly upbeat (e.g. power metal) or immersed in death (e.g. goth metal).

If you've heard Amaranthe and love them, you know what I mean. If you haven't, be sure to check out their self-named debut album (Amaranthe). And for those of you that have heard them and found they don't do much for you, I dare you to listen to the album a couple times. See if you don't wake up in the morning with "Hunger", "1,000,000 Lightyears" or "Automatic" stuck in your head. I dare you...