Opeth & Enslaved to tour U.S. in May

I got this e-mail Wednesday. At first, I screamed, “whoo hoo!” But after slightly closer inspection of the tour dates, I muttered, “aw, crap.”

Yes, Opeth and Enslaved – the two best bands of Northern Europe – are teaming up for a U.S. tour in May. That’s awesome … but the sad news is dates aren’t scheduled for St. Louis, Cinci, Nashville or Louisville. The closest shows are Chicago, Knoxville and Columbus, Ohio. Oy vey.

Anyway, here are the dates. If you’re in the mood for May metal road trip, this is your tour.

May 1—Starland Ballroom, Sayerville, NJ
May 2— House of Blues, Boston, MA
May 3—Medley, Montreal, QUE
May 4—Sound Academy, Toronto ON
May 5—Mr. Smalls, Pittsburgh, PA
May 6—House of Blues, Chicago, IL
May 8—Sokol Auditorium, Omaha, NE
May 9—Fox Theater, Boulder, CO
May 11—Knitting Factory, Boise, ID
May 12—Roseland Theater, Portland, OR
May 13—Senator Theater, Chico, CA
May 14—Regency Center at Grand Ballroom, San Francisco, CA May 15—The Glasshouse, Pomona, CA May 16—Avalon, Los Angeles, CA
May 17—Rialto Theater, Tucson, AZ
May 19—Scout Bar, San Antonio, TX
May 20—Diamond Ballroom, Oklahoma City, OK
May 21—New Daisy Theater, Memphis, TN
May 22—Bijou Theater, Knoxville, TN
May 23—Newport Music Hall, Columbus, OH
May 24—Clutch Cargo’s, Detroit, MI
May 26—Grand Ballroom at Manhattan Center, New York, NY

May 27—9:30 Club, Washington, DC

Any freakin’ hoo, let’s celebrate this clash of titans with vids for Enslaved’s “The Watcher” and Opeth’s “Master’s Apprentices” and “Burden.”

Interview: Reenergized, Peter Wilchers returns to Soilwork

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Soilwork

Soilwork guitarist Peter Wilchers was sick of life on the road.

Exhaustive touring and recording had been a major part of Wilchers’ life since 1998, when the Swedish melodic death metal band broke into the major metal scene with their first album “Steelbath Suicide.”  In the years following “Steelbath,” Soilwork – with Wilchers as one of the main songwriters – released new albums in 2000, ’01, ’02, ’03 and ’05. The time between recording sessions was taken up by extensive tours of Europe and the United States.

By the end of the “Stabbing The Drama” tour in late 2005, Wilchers had had enough. 

“The touring really took it out of me,” Wilchers said last week. “I really wanted to get into production and I didn’t see how it was going to (happen) with the never-ending touring schedule.”

Although the band went on without him, Wilchers never lost touch with his friends in Soilwork, and even contemplated doing a side project with Soilwork vocalist Bjorn “Speed” Strid.

Now, Wilchers is back with the band, and is excited to be back on the road and to record a new Soilwork album.

“In the future, Soilwork is going to be smarter with touring,” Wilchers said. “A lot of people in Soilwork are married and have lives back home.”

The band is at the tail end of the “Sworn To The Great Divide” tour, and will play Uncle Pleasant’s in Louisville on March 18. For tix, visit www.ticketweb.com.

Wilchers rejoined Soilwork in September and played his first show with the band shortly after in Germany. The vibe of that first gig was very different from the burnout Wilchers felt at the end of 2005.

“It was kind of strange, because people knew I was coming back,” Wilchers said. “It felt really good: The chemistry was great, we were having a blast on stage and we were enjoying each other’s company.”

When Wilchers quit the band, he moved to Nashville to work as a record producer. While in Nashville, he and Strid began a cross-Atlantic collaboration that will surface someday, Wilchers said.

“We started writing a little bit – a kind of heavier style with southern rock elements and even bluegrass elements,” Wilchers said. “We’re still talking about (the project). We want to go all the way and do something completely different. I do love mandolin and dobro … When you listen to the music, you get a real positive vibe.”

But Wilchers said the he and Strid do not want to dabble with Soilwork’s core sound. “Sworn To A Great Divide,” which the band recorded without Wilchers, was a disappointment, he said.

“I think the last record was a good record and had some great moments, but I felt that record was a little bit safe,” Wilchers said. The goal for the next record will be cross the heaviness of early albums like “A Predator’s Portrait” and “Natural Born Chaos” with the melodies of “Stabbing The Drama,” Wilchers said.

“This (tour) is going to wrap up the touring for ‘Sworn,'” Wilchers said. “We’re going to start writing the next record after that, and take some much-needed time off.”

The time away from the band has given Wilchers a renewed joy in playing, he said.

“You’ll see a different kind of energy you haven’t seen before,” Wilchers said. “Soilwork has gotten it’s energy back and everyone is having a great time. You want to see the band having a good and we want to see the crowd having a good time.”

You can hear complete songs at: www.myspace.com/soilwork

Here’s also the video for “Exile,” off “Sworn To A Great Divide.”

To my misdirected visitors

I had some unintended visitors today.

Yesterday, in my blurb about local band Factory Damage, I mentioned a link where people could hear their newest track “The End Times.” Today, I excitedly bashed out a brief about a fantastic tour coming to Louisville, featuring bands Lamb of God and God Forbid.

Well, the combination of so many “God” and “End Times” references apparently caused a Christian version of Google to buzz, because I was immediately visited by a number of people clicking in from an array of “Left Behind” and Rapture blogs.

I’m guessing those folks were misdirected. However, I love visitors … and I welcome you to Noise Pollution with a present of sorts: The greatest devilrock song of all time, Iron Maiden’s “The Number of the Beast.”

Enjoy it. Praise be to metal. Hallelujah.

Factory Damage competing for slot at “Taste of Chaos” show in Louisville

factory damageOwensboro’s Factory Damage has been busy of late.

The band is one of 50 bands competing in the “Ernie Ball Battle of the Bands” for a shot to open the “Rock Star Taste of Chaos” tour, when the show stops in Louisville March 15.

Factory Damage, who are in the final stages of mixing their second album, are looking for supporters who can help them land the gig. Winning the spot will give Factory Damager the chance to play Expo 5 with national acts Thursday, Pierce the Veil, Bring Me The Horizon, Cancer Bats and Four Year Strong.

Here’s where you come in.

You can vote for Factory Damage at www.battleofthebands.com. At the site, you can also hear one of the band’s newest tracks, “The End Times.”

Twenty semi-finalist bands will be chosen from the votes. From there, each band will be evaluated by a panel of music experts.

In October, Factory Damage was one of the opening acts when Warbringer came to Louisville, so the band is used to playing on the big stage. They were also featured last year on Dark Sky Record’s “Underground Rising” metal compilation disc, which is now on sale worldwide.

If you haven’t experienced Factory Damage, you can hear them occasionally on WKTG, 93.9 FM’s daily “Out to Lunch” show. You can also hear them at www.myspace.com/factorydamageband, or at their new Web site: www.factorydamage.com.

The band is playing Friday night (Jan. 16) at the Crazy Scorpion at the junction of U.S. 60 East and Kentucky 144. Opening the show is Left With Scars. Cover is $3, and the show starts at 9 p.m.

The 2008 best/worst/weirdest heavy metal short lists

Ah, lists. You love ’em. I love ’em.

At the end of every year, the major metal mags ship out their top 10 (or 20 or 30) album of the year lists. I love reading top 10 lists, but I’m too lazy to do that much work. Besides, I heard, maybe, 50 new albums in 2008, which isn’t a broad enough selection for a definitive list.

 So instead of one long “best of” list, here are my short lists for best, worst and oddest metal albums and moments of 2008.

BEST ALBUMS (not exactly in order)

1. Opeth “Watershed” – This one is likely no surprise to anyone who has ever looked at this site for more than 30 seconds. With “Watershed,” Opeth main man Mikael Akerfeldt took all of his angst  –over fatherhood, his fears of impending mortality and family security and his anxiety over soldiering on as Opeth without longtime drummer Martin Lopez and guitarist/band co-founder Peter Lindgren — and turned it into a dark, gloom-infested, angry and often beautiful piece of metal art.

“Watershed” goes from a whisper (“Coil”) to a scream (“Heir Apparent”) in the space of the first three minutes, turns the tension and emotional intensity up to an unbearable level and never lets up. I wrote a full review months ago, so I won’t bother with that now. Instead, I’ll say, IMHO, “Watershed” is the best album in the Opeth library.

2. Hail of Bullets “Of Frost and War” – A vicious album about a vicious subject, “Of Frost and War” is musical tour, of sorts, through the fire, terror and carnage of Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union.

 Yeah, it’s a heavy concept, and could’ve been botched by a hack. But someone in HOB has been staying up late, reading histories of World War II. The lyrics are full of small details and are splattered with the blood of the millions of massacred Russians. This isn’t NSBM — there’s no love for Nazism in this album — it’s a blow by blow account of the main battles on the Eastern Front, filled with atrocity, carnage, bravery by Russian troops (including the woman bomber pilots of “Nachthexen”) and incredible misery.

Musically, this is pure death metal — tuned-down, triple picked, double-bass-kicked and bellowed from the gut. The bombast is also intermixed with melody (particularly on the epic “Berlin”) and the band isn’t afraid to slow down when the song calls for a slow, grinding march. Epic.

3. Avantasia “The Scarecrow” – I’m not a huge Edguy fan. I don’t hate them, but they sound like Queen to me, and I was never the world’s biggest Queen fan.

But Edguy front man Tobias Sammet is some kind of genius, and his Avantasia side-project really blew me away in 2008 with “The Scarecrow.” Musically, Avantasia is about as far away from Hail of Bullets as a band can get while remaining in the metal genre. It’s not “broootal” at all: It’s metal opera.

Yeah, “metal opera” sounds corny. But so what? It works. Sammet has a dynamic range and can really nail the high notes, and he puts his voice to the test on “The Scarecrow.” Every song is different here: “Twisted Mind” is straight-on rock song, “The Scarecrow” is an 11-minute epic with acoustic moments, strings, a guitar solo and big, BIG choruses. “Shelter from the Rain” flirts, just barely, with thrash and “Carry Me Over” is the best hair-metalesque ballad ever. Alice Cooper shows up for a creepy lead vocal on “The Toy Master.”

Sammet’s all-star cast also includes Eric Singer (formerly of Kiss)  and Rudolf Schenker of The Scorpions. In addition to Cooper, Sammet brings in an army of male and female guest vocalists, who all brought their “A Game” to the studio. Not bad.

Other standout tracks are “I Don’t Believe in Your Love,” “Devil in the Belfry” and “Lost in Space.” I always skip over the super-schmaltzy “What Kind of Love,” but that’s just me. Otherwise, this is a great album that I still spin regularly, almost a year after picking it up.   

MOST UNNECESSARY ALBUM

Exodus “Let There Be Blood” – Gary Holt and the gang got a lot of flack for rerecording the 1985 classic “Bonded By Blood” with new vocalist Rob Dukes. The comments I read on Blabbermouth were largely from people accusing Holt of attempting a cash grab, or that it was somehow a betrayal of Paul Baloff, who sang on “Bonded” and died of a stroke in 2002.

Frankly, the cash grab theory seems unlikely — although I can’t rule out contractual obligation — but the criticism is boring, and pushes aside any real discussion of “Let There Be Blood.” The album itself sounds good — it’s well-played, the production is crisp and Dukes is in great voice … but the whole affair feels unnecessary.

First, fans of “Bonded by Blood” likely already own the album, so they aren’t going to invest in new versions of the same songs. While production (and the band’s overall musicianship) has improved tremendously since the early ’80s, the songs themselves haven’t aged well, at least when compared to modern-day Exodus.

Comparing songs like “Exodus” and “A Lesson in Violence” to pretty much any song on the band’s last album of new songs, “The Atrocity Exhibition: Exhibit A,” is like comparing the scribbled lyrics of angry teenagers to the more thoughtful (if equally angry) words of adults. “Let There Be Blood” doesn’t hurt Exodus, but I’m much more interested to hear what Holt, Dukes and the rest of the band come up with on the rumored “Atrocity Exhibition: Exhibit B.”

BIGGEST SURPRISE ALBUMS

Well, Withered’s “Folie Circulaire” was a intricate, swirling, echoing head-trip of an album, while Grand Magus out-Manowared Manowar and was higher than High on Fire with the stomping Swedish pounding of “Iron Will.” Meanwhile, Chrome Division blasted out another fun load of denim and leather on “Booze, Broads and Beezlebub,” Which included a very nice reinterpretation of ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man.” I also admit to being very impressed by the musicianship and superb metal power of Trivium’s “Shogun.”

MOST OVERRATED/OVER-HYPED ALBUM

Meshuggah “ObZen” – This one is rather lost on me. I have a copy of “ObZen,” mainly because I received something like three copies of the disc from Nuclear Blast, as well as a CD single that came in the package of Nachtmystium CDs I bought from Century Distro. Even before the copies started filling up my mail box, I’d already read how everybody who is anybody loves these guys. But man, I just don’t hear it.

Here’s what happened. I’d listen to the first song, which I liked mainly because it was so short it didn’t have time to become boring. But then the rest of the album would start to play … and, I dunno … my mind would lose focus during all that fancy picking and I’d start to think about, well … actually listening to something that was just more than a bunch of fancy picking.

Then, I’d kick “ObZen” out of my stereo and listen to Anthrax, who also pick fancily from time to time, but rarely become monotonous.

I can’t point to any one reason why I don’t like Meshuggah and “ObZen.” They are talented musicians, I admit. But there’s no passion in their music – the words “cold” and “sterile” come immediately to my mind. And gawd, those songs! They. Just. Go. On. For. Ever. I stop concentrating and drift into sleepie time … and …. uh, zzzz. So sue me.

BIGGEST DISGRACE

So hard to choose a worst metal moment of Ought-Eight.

Was it Slash completely trashing any remaining shred of credibility by stooping to play “Sweet Child O’ Mine” with the craptastically terrible Fergie? Is it Bret Michaels, a modestly entering performer live (when I’m drunk), who completely humiliated himself and the world of rock music yet again with his “Rock of Love” reality show? Does Bret really hook up with those girls — and, more importantly, is there really a woman out there that wants to risk  catching who-knows-what by hooking up with Bret?

Or could it be Def Leppard? Things must be desperate in the Def Leppard camp. How else can they explain their decision to do a special on CMT (that’s “Country Music Television,” people), essentially serving as the back-up band for Taylor Swift, Nashville’s manufactured country sensation/ingenue of the moment. That’s bad enough – but what was even more painful was watching Swift blow the old farts off the stage. Jeeze, Swift sings “Photograph” better than Joe Elliott these days. Hey boys, when an 18 year-old – who wasn’t even born when you were doing your best material – mops the floor with you, it’s time to retire to your estates, sip tea and gather dust.

Maybe this is a cop-out, but I’m gonna give the dishonor to the staff of Revolver magazine, who all need kicked in the butt for annually subjecting us to the “Hottest Chicks in Metal” issue.

Look, I’m no prude: I like a beautiful woman as much as any guy. For example, I find Lacuna Coil only midly interesting musically, but I could look at lead singer Cristina Scabbia all day. But that aside, this “hot chicks” in metal fad has just got to stop. It’s a throwback to the sexist attitudes of ’80s hair metal, when Poison, Ratt and the Crue portrayed women as pretty mannequins to be used and discarded.

Good God, am I making a feminist statement? I dunno. But I do think bands that try to get ahead by pushing a female member (usually the keyboardist) onto the cover of Revolver need to reexamine their strategy.

In other words, either Bleeding Through can cut it musically, or they can’t. If not, all the pictures of Marta in a bathing suit or leather aren’t going to change that. The same goes for Winds of Plague: Keyboardist Kristen Randall, wearing little or nothing in Revolver or the Century Media calendar, doesn’t improve WoP’s sound (side note: The only thing that could improve WoP’s sound would be to A) fire everybody in the band; B) find someone who can write better music and C) get rid of that stoopid band name, so uh, oh well). Anway, Arch Enemy frontwoman Angela Gossow and metal legend Doro Pesch don’t have to flash their breasts to prove they’re awesome.

BEST COMEBACK

Metallica – Sure, some people didn’t like “Death Magnetic.” I understand valid criticism of the album. But let’s face it: “DM” was, by far, the best album the band has produced since “… And Justice For All” in 1988. Despite some weak spots, James, Kirk, Lars and Robert proved they still have the fire to make a true metal album, break-neck tempos, blazing guitar solos, barked lyrics and all. James Hefield’s death-obsessed lyrics seem particularly apropos, considering the man has lived hard, nearly wrecked himself and his band and is only now far enough away from the abyss to realize how close he came to going over. It was a great effort.  

THINGS I’D MOST LIKE TO SEE/HEAR IN 2009

1. The return of Devin Townsend – Devin! I understand you needed to retire from the road, and I sincerely hope you, your wife and your still-new baby are all well and happy. NOW PLEASE MAKE SOME NEW MUSIC. It can be whatever you want: Get back together with SYL, or call up the guys from the Devin Townsend Band and get them in the studio. Hey, even do a “Ziltoid 2.” I loved “Ziltoid.” Just give us some new material, please. The world needs you.

2. New albums by Agalloch and Wolves in the Throne Room – I know, I know: According to Agalloch’s snail-paced work schedule, the ambient/acoustic/black metal masters aren’t due to release another full-length album until 2010. But hope springs eternal, so I hope they solidify that new record deal and get to work asap. As for WITTR, they might be in the studio right this second. I hope so: “Two Hunters” was amazing, so I’m dying to hear what’s coming from them next.

3. New music by Armored Saint – Bring Back Bush! With a new Saint album! John Bush’s talents shouldn’t be left to wither, and Armored Saint is waaaay too good to be a nostalgia act. Screw Rocklahoma, guys! This year, how about Wacken Open Air and a new album?

4. A new album from Type O Negative – I thought Type O was going to dissolve after the band was booted from Roadrunner Records. But instead, the wonderful “four dicks from Brooklyn” landed a new deal with SPV and released the spectacular “Dead Again.” I saw Type O twice on the “Dead Again” tour in 2007 and they were great both times – even though lead vocalist/bassist Peter Steele was sick at the October show and played most of the concert sitting down. It might be bit too early wish for a new ablum, but here’s hoping. 

THIS YEAR, I’M CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC TO HEAR:

1. Anthrax, version 3.0 – Or is it really version 4.0? Whatever. Anyway, Anthrax had fantastic luck reinventing themselves in the early 1990s, when Joey Belladonna left the band and John Bush joined ranks. When Bush was pretty much forced out and then chose not to return a decade later (after a string of great albums), I was disappointed. But I like what I’ve heard so far from new vocalist Dan Nelson, so I’m certainly interested in hearing the new album, which Blabbermouth.net says is tentatively titled “Worship.” Can Anthrax start again a third time? If any band can, it’s probably them.

Whew! That’s a long freakin’ post. I’m done for now. Happy new year.