Interview: Trivium goes for the throat with “Shogun”

 

When Roadrunner releases the deluxe addition of Trivium’s new album, “Shogun” this week, the list of extra goodies will include video of guitarists Matt Heafy and Corey Beaulieu teaching aspiring shredders how to play Trivium riffs.

Guitar players excited by that prospect had better warm up their fingers, however. Keeping up with guitarists the caliber of Heafy and Beaulieu won’t be easy.

Heafy, who also handles lead vocals for the band, doesn’t practice much on tour. After all, shredding through blinding riffs night after night onstage is practice enough. But Heafy said last week he readies himself for every performance.

“I definitely warm up,” Heafy said. “Since we tour so damn much, we don’t need to practice.” Part of Heafy’s pre-concert routine includes playing scales written by John Petrucci, the virtuoso guitarist of Dream Theatre.

Heafy and Trivium have rightfully gained a following based on top-notch musical performances, and “Shogun” is another jaw-dropping example of the band’s power. Songs like “Into The Mouth of Hell We March,” “Kirisute Gomen” and “Down From The Sky” combine both brutal roars and soaring vocal harmonies, frantic guitar attacks and swirling arpeggios, raw aggression and melodies that are, let’s face it, just lovely.

“With this record, it’s a combination of everything we’ve done right musically,” Heafy said. “A big thing with our songs was always to have melody and brutality, too. When it came to this record, we wanted to take those lines farther.

“We like to have it all,” Heafy said. “We’re big fans of songs that are melodic and catchy. It shows we … like to meld everything into our sound.”

Somehow, the band – Heafy, Beaulieu, bassist Paolo Gregoletto and drummer Travis Smith – does manage to do it all. It’s enough to make any musician a firm believer in his own abilities. But Heafy said guitar players should remember there is more to the instrument than just speed.

“My thing with technical stuff, I think it’s more important to be able to write a song,” Heafy said. “You’ll remember a McCartney and Lennon song more than you’re member” someone who can play at super speeds,” he said.

“The song is first. Everything else is secondary,” Heafy said.

For “Shogun,” Heafy drew on both Greek mythology, religious imagery and even Japanese history  for lyrical inspiration. While Heafy researches every song, the phrase “kirisute gomen,” which was a Samurai term for, essentially, “excuse me while I chop off your head,” struck a particular nerve, he said.

“When I heard that, I thought, ‘holy #%*!, why hasn’t anyone used that?'” he said. Unlike previous Trivium albums like “The Crusade,” and “Ascendancy,” Heafy said there are no literal meanings to the songs on “Shogun.”

“This could be seen as a cop-out answer … When it comes to this record, I want the interpretation to be up to the ear of the beholder,” Heafy said. “If (a lyric) means something to them, then that’s right. I want them to create it themselves.”

When it came time to record “Shogun,” the band members stepped outside their collective comfort zone by tapping Nick Raskulinecz as producer, leaving behind Jason Suecof, who had produced “Ember to Inferno,” “Ascendancy” and “The Crusade.”

“It was a great way to challenge us,” Heafy said. “Jason really knows his (stuff) about metal … (But) I think Jason and Trivium had learned everything we could from each other. We needed someone who could challenge us and think of new ideas.

“With this record, we did everything differently,” Heafy said. “With (previous) records, we recorded at a friend’s house.”

For “Shogun,” however the band traveled to Nashville, to record at a studio more familiar with Hank than heavy.

“We decided to bring metal there,” Heafy said.

With the album on the verge of release, the band has been playing “Into the Mouth of Hell,” “Kirisute Gomen” and “Down From The Sky,” as a way to familiarize audiences with what “Shogun” has to offer. So far, the crowds have reacting “amazingly” to the new material, Heafy said.

“Into the Mouth of Hell” is particularly my favorite to play,” Heafy said. “It’s a challenging song to play, but we like to be challenged with what we do and have songs fight us back a little bit. It makes it that much more fun to play.”

The band will play Headliners Music Hall in Louisville on Oct. 14, with All That Remains, 36 Crazyfists and The Human Abstract. People coming to hear Trivium’s set can expect a musical “kick in the ass,” Heafy said.

“Whether we’re playing in front of five, 500 or 5,000 (people), whether it’s 25 or 80,000, you’re getting the same show. There’s no fancy #&!* going on with this tour. It’s just us, the music and the crowd, and I think everyone is going to have a good time with it.”

Tickets for the Healiners show are on sale at www.ticketweb.com

Several tracks off “Shogun” can be heard at www.myspace.com/trivium

If that’s not enough, check out the band’s channel on YouTube channel, which includes the video for “Down From The Sky.”

Interview: Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt talks about the recording of “Watershed,” new band members and life on the road

Fredrik Akesson, Martin Axenrot, Mikael Akerfeldt, Per Wiberg and Martin Mendez

Opeth, from left: Fredrik Akesson, Martin Axenrot, Mikael Akerfeldt, Per Wiberg and Martin Mendez

Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt says “Watershed,” the band’s ninth opus, isn’t a concept album. But there was definitely a “concept” driving the songwriting process.

“This one was all personal lyrics,” Akerfeldt said, during a phone interview before a Sept. 23 concert in Cleveland. “But there was no concept between the songs. It’s based on what happened in my life during the past few years.”

“What happened” to Akerfeldt was both wonderful and terribly difficult. Last October, Akerfeldt and his wife, Anna, welcomed their second child, Ebba Maria. That was the wonderful part — but it did get Akerfeldt thinking about the state of the world and the passing of time.

By the time Ebba’s was born, the difficult moments had already passed. The first came in May 2006, when longtime drummer Martin Lopez, who had played on every Opeth album since “My Arms, Your Hearse,” left the band due to health problems. The second fell on May of 2007, when guitarist Peter Lindgren (who had played with Akerfeldt since before Opeth was officially a band), hung up his guitar to pursue a career outside music.

“The lineup changes did influence me to write, and the fact that I became a dad,” Akerfeldt said. “I’m more of a sensitive person and protective person … It doesn’t take much to be disgusted with your surroundings, especially when you have kids.

“It made me write lyrics that are pretty negative about society,” Akerfeldt said. “… I’m scared all the time, I’m afraid of everything. I’m also more aware of my mortality.”

Out of such dark thoughts, Akerfeldt crafted “Watershed,” a monumental album that builds on the band’s sound while continuing to expand it in new directions. From the quiet opening of “Coil” to the huge closing chords of “Hex Omega,” “Watershed” swings between breathtaking beauty and searing rage in the space of a few seconds. The album also pushes the boundaries of metal beyond what people might expect, to include jazz, folk music and “Kansas” style classic rock in the death metal mix.

“The Lotus Eater” speeds like a freight train for several minutes of blast-beats and alternating clean and growled vocals – before keyboardist Per Wiberg shifts the action with an organ riff not too far away from jazz, “Burden” is a soaring ballad with an acoustic coda that slowly, intentionally collapses into musical disarray, like the final groan of a dying music box. “Porcelain Heart” is as brooding and dark as anything in the band’s catalogue – at least until the five minute mark, where the song gives way to acoustic beauty, Akerfeldt’s “clean” vocals and, believe it or not, an oboe.

“Watershed” is the first album recorded since Lindgren and Lopez’s departure. To replace Lopez, Akerfeldt tapped Martin Axenrot, who had played with Witchery and Bloodbath and had sat in for Lopez during the lengthy “Ghost Reveries” tour. As lead guitarist, Akerfeldt recruited Fredrik Akesson, who had been fired from Arch Enemy (to make way for returning member Christopher Amott) just as Akerfeldt began searching for someone to replace Lindgren.

Some longtime fans were sad to see Lindgren and Lopez go – but worries that the departures would hobble Opeth musically were unnecessary.

Akerfeldt and Lindgren are both solid guitar players, but Akesson is a master soloist, who adds a fury to already thoroughly blackened tracks like “Heir Apparent.” Axenrot proved he was more than up to the task of replacing Lopez during the “Ghost Reveries” tour, and doesn’t disappoint on the new album. Axenrot blasts his way through “Watershed,” especially on “Heir Apparent,” “The Lotus Eater” and the startling “Porcelain Heart,” where Axenrot solos frenetically, increasing speed as the band crunches through the sludge-filled main riff.

Akerfeldt said he didn’t alter his songwriting for Akesson or Axenrot, but said he was inspired to find ways to display their talent.

“The first song I wrote, I wanted them to show off a little,” Akerfeldt said. To the naysayers who were lamenting the lineup changes, “I wanted to show them these guys can play,” he said.

“It didn’t really influence my songwriting other than that,” Akerfeldt said. “In a way, I’ve been writing music without thinking about who was playing it.”

Like the albums that came before, “Watershed” effortlessly mixes light and darkness, with Akerfeldt switching between “clean” vocals and a glass-shattering death metal roar in a heartbeat. The alternating sun and shadows in the songs is not a product of design, Akerfeldt said.

“The dynamics of the songs are very important to me and always have been, but I generally don’t think too much – ‘time for a soft part,’ or ‘time for a heavy part,'” Akerfeldt said.

Despite the complexity of many of Opeth’s songs, the band members aren’t studio rats, creating musical confections that can’t be reproduced live.

“I think the most complex song is “The Lotus Eater,” and we play it every night,” Akerfeldt said. “I don’t think we’ve ever written a song that’s too complex to play (live). Recording an album, I would never add stuff if we can’t play it. When you play live, you realize (the song).”

Success has been a blessing, but it has come with a price. The band toured extensively for “Ghost Reveries,” keeping Akerfeldt and company away from wives, girlfriends and families back in Sweden for about two years. When asked how being a family man has changed his perspective on touring, Akerfeldt said he almost hopes there will come a time when the band is less in demand, so they can cut back on extensive stints on the road.

“I enjoy the shows. I don’t enjoy the traveling,” Akerfeldt said. “… It’s painfully obvious I’m away from my family more than I should be. You can’t get away from the feeling that you’re away from them. It’s not fun. It’s horrible, and at some point, I’m going to ease down on the touring.

“I’m a musician, that’s never going to change, but (touring is) quite grueling to think about,” he said. “… But, I still love playing shows.”

At concerts, Akerfeldt seems to be having a good time, smiling, joking and even answering shouted questions from the audience. It just comes naturally, Akerfeldt said – and is much better than being the stereotypical, ego-inflated rock star, who barely acknowledges the fans in the pit.

“If I feel good, I talk (smack),” Akerfeldt said. “It makes the whole experience more personal. We’re just regular people who like playing music.”

Opeth is in the midst of a large fall tour of the U.S. The band will perform at Bogart’s in Cincinnati – headlining the show with support from High on Fire and Baroness – on Thursday Oct. 23.

“I’m pretty bad at selling out shows,” Akerfeldt said. It’s not a lot of fireworks or costumes, it us playing. People like us because of our songs more than anything else. We really don’t need anything other than the songs.”

www.myspace.com/opeth

Also, former “Metal Maniacs” editor Jeff Wagner discusses Opeth and other progressive metal bands, in a lenghty interview below (look for it in the Metalliblather category) . A review of “Watershed” can also be found in the Reviews category.

Interview: Ivar Bjørnson and Grutle Kjellson of Enslaved

The members of Enslaved don’t seem to believe in vacations.

The band — which was one of the first members of Norway’s black metal scene — spent much of 2007 on the road, playing festivals and doing two tours of the United States in support of their spaced-out, psychedelic Viking epic, “Ruun.” Since then, the band has played festivals and showcases in the U.S. and Europe, members Ivar Bjørnson, Grutle Kjellson and Arve Isdal (aka Ice Dale) worked on the side project Trinacria and Bjørnson even took time away from metal to play jazz.

Ivar Bjornson, Cato Baekkevold, Ice Dale, Grutle Kjellson and Herbrand Larsen. Photo by Karoline Bruland Moen.

From left: Ivar Bjørnson, Cato Baekkevold, Ice Dale, Grutle Kjellson and Herbrand Larsen. Photo by Karoline Bruland Moen.

Somehow, the band found time to write and record their latest opus “Vertebrae,” which will be released next month in the United States by Nuclear Blast USA. The band’s fall schedule is already filling up with tour dates, with more to follow in 2009.

With Bjørnson also writing or sharing songwriting duties with Kjellson on all of Enslaved’s music, he seems almost too busy to sleep or take a break.

“I like down time. I enjoy reading and being outside,” Bjørnson said. “But the most important thing is music, so I’m going to grab every opportunity I have to get it out there.”

Musically, Enslaved is a study in contrasts. Born out the early Norwegian black metal movement that also spawned Emperor and Mayhem, Enslaved has evolved over the years into the most progressive member of Norway’s ecclectic metal scene.

The band’s influences range from metal pioneers like Bathory, Kreator, Sodom and Celtic Frost to Deep Purple, Rush, King Crimson and Pink Floyd — groups usually not considered ‘metal’ at all.

The ‘black metal’ label never fit easily with Enslaved. While the black metal influences are evident, Enslaved’s albums are almost trance-inducing in their psychedlic power, and “Vertebrae” is yet another step well outside the boundaries of what is traditionally considered extreme metal. Musically, “Vertebrae” is aggressive yet oddly lovely, with some songs dominated by “clean vocals” from keyboardist Herbrand Larsen.

With Kjellson’s mythology-laced lyrics and roaring black metal vocals, the end result is both aggressive and expansive – a Viking long ship acid trip to the “Dark Side of the Moon.”

When asked if the band tries to create a vibe or atmospheric feel with each new album, Kjellson says the ambiance happens on its own.

“The funny thing is, we’ve never had any such goal,” Kjellson said. “It’s all about getting into the songs and letting the songs get you into the mood. We’ve never had an conscious goals of making it sound like this or that.”

“These things never happen in a conscious or logical way,” Bjørnson said. “It’s one of those inspired things, where if you tried to verbalize it, it loses its magic.”

The band began following its progressive tendencies almost from the beginning, incorporating keyboards, sound effects, and classical and folk arrangements into early songs like the epic “793 (The Battle of Lindisfarne).” Although the band rose to rock star status in Europe, they were largely overlooked in the United States (mostly due to poor record distribution), until finally breaking through with “Below The Lights,” a Floydian-black metal hybrid that swung effortlessly between extreme power and flowing psychedelica.

Since then, the band’s name has only continued to grow in the States. They’ve won over many U.S. fans on the strength of their brutally intense live shows, and have blown away listeners and critics with their follow-up albums, “Isa” and “Ruun.”

For a band with such diverse musical influences, the widespread pollination of musical styles came naturally, Bjørnson said.

“It’s a cross-genre thing for me, and it’s true for the rest of the band,” Bjørnson said. While the band does not sit down to write with a specific vibe in mind, the goal is to create music with its own natural energy, Bjørnson said.

“It’s all about movement and expansion,” Bjørnson said. “(With) all those contrasting elements, I think we’re trying to create an organic pattern.”

In the beginning, the band focused on tales of Norse history and myth, Kjellson said. As Kjellson and Bjørnson grew as songwriters, they began using those legends and stories as launching pads to discuss broader, more universal themes.

“The concept we started with (centers) around Norse imagery and nature,” Kjellson said. “In the early days, it was a retelling (of myths and histories). After a while, it was swallowed up in my mind, and now it’s looking outwards, taking inspiration from everything and putting it in mythological (contexts).”

While the songs are often dark, they are not without hope.

“It’s mostly about describing human failure and finding solutions,” Kjellson said. “It’s all about idealism and growing as a person.”

Lyrically, the band can find inspiration almost anywhere, Bjørnson said.

“All that searching (takes place) even outside music, in movies and books,” he said. “All these things deal with mind expansion — (pushing) at a higher potential, yet remaining outside the religious side of things. ”

www.myspace.com/enslaved