Interview: Obscura drummer Hannes Grossmann talks about “Contamination Tour”

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The members of German tech-metal band Obscura just finished the opening leg of their first major U.S. tour, by opening for death metal legends Cannibal Corpse.

Now, the progressive death metal band is moving into the headliner’s position, as the top act on the Relapse Contamination Tour.

“This is our first big tour at all,” Grossmann said earlier this week, while the band was on the road to the first Contamination show in Alabama. “The band has done several tours in Europe, but not with this line-up.”

Although this is the band’s first major U.S. tour, the members of Obscura – Grossmann, guitarist/vocalist Steffen Kummerer, bassist Jeroen Paul Thesseling and guitarist Christian Muenzner – are not neophytes in the European metal scene. On the contrary: Thesseling played bass in the highly regarded Pestilence and Muenzer and Grossmann performed together in the legendary Necrophagist before joining Obscura.

Now, the band is on tour, supporting “Cosmogenesis” the first release their first major label release. Already, the album has been praised for its ability to combine death metal with precision playing and melody.

In a review on Blabbermouth.net – the “CNN of metal” – music critic Scott Alisoglu said “Cosmogenesis” would “easily be one of the best technical death metal albums of 2009. Scratch that; it’ll be one of the best death metal albums of 2009.”

On Friday, Obscura will perform at the Brothers in Owensboro, along with opening bands Abysmal Dawn and Graves Of Valor.

Grossmann, who has studied s variety of drumming styles, including jazz and fusion, said he did not originally intend to concentrate on metal, but said he was drawn in by the genre’s lack of musical boundaries.

“I didn’t start with metal drumming. I learned everything that was interesting,” Grossmann said. “I got into metal because I liked the music, not the drumming: I liked the guitars more than the drumming.

“With death metal drumming, I want to cross it with those fusion-style tempos,” Grossmann said. “… (Metal) is very intense music. It’s probably the most intense style you can play. What we do is very challenging, and that’s what I like – playing stuff that challenges you, where you have to keep up with your skills and abilities.”

Death metal is one of the most diverse genres of heavy metal. Because death metal is still young in terms of musical development, there are still new frontiers to cross and variations to explore, Grossmann said.

“It’s a little extreme, this kind of music,” Grossmann said. “I like the idea of playing at the edge of extreme stuff. It’s interesting to make something new in extreme music … in classical music, it’s difficult to make something new because it’s such old music.”

The band’s stint opening for Cannibal Corpse was a good introduction to U.S. audiences, Grossmann said. Now, with the Relapse tour, the pressure is on to justify Obscura’s headlining status, he said.

“It’s different, because everyone is waiting for you,” Grossmann said. “Hopefully, it will be a killer live show. We’ll probably play (“Cosmogenesis”) from beginning to end.

“It’s not just standing around on stage,” Grossmann said. “… We want to entertain people, for people to think every cent they paid was worth it. We try to be innovative every evening and make something special if we can.”

For more information about Obscura, including full songs, visit the band’s MySpace page.

Also, here’s the video for “Anticosmic Overload,” from “Cosmogenesis.”

Review: Queensryche “American Soldier”

Today, I’ll walk across the minefield that is Queensÿche’s “American Soldier.”

It would have been very easy to not review this disc. You, my two loyal readers, weren’t out there thinking, “hey, when is that stupid blog gonna review the new Queensrÿche, anyway?” No one would have suffered or lost anything if I’d just let this disc slip away unnoticed.

But, alas, I can’t. I’ve been a Queensrÿche fan for longer than likely most readers of this site have been alive (I have a copy of “The Warning” on tape that is older than the bulk of you, I suspect) … but fandom does not mean the listener must nod and smile like a bobble-headed automaton at anything the band does.

With all that build-up and self-absolution, you might think I’m about to belch out a big “it sucks” to “American Soldier.” Well, no, not exactly. Instead, my opinion is decidedly mixed: While I admire the scope of concept and find the album not unpleasant, American Soldier” falls short in the crucial area of musical execution – which is another way of saying “American Soldier” might be a decent light rock album, it’s certainly not metal – the foundation upon which Queensrÿche built its empire.

queensrycheamericansoldier5001Let’s spend a moment on the concept. Queensÿche has a solid track record with concept albums, and vocalist Geoff Tate felt the flame of inspiration when preparing to write “American Soldier.” Energized by the stories of his father, who served in both the Korean conflict and the war in Vietnam, Tate spent what must have been countless hours interviewing U.S. combat veterans from World War II to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The lyrics are often direct quotes from veterans and the stories are harrowing, sad and frightening at times. The band also uses sound bites from veterans – to particularly good effect in “Unafraid” and “If I Were King.”

Tate handles the concept tastefully and the exercise never feels exploitative or as if the band is capitalizing on the veterans’ personal stories. All that is well and good, I agree: But the lyrical concept alone doesn’t make the album. In the end, an album has to be judged by the music.

On that score, “American Soldier” falters. The album is not terrible, but it’s musically forgettable.

The band takes only a few chances with “American Soldier.” “Sliver,” with its barked drill sergeant chorus, comes close to being rap and “Unafraid” throws out traditional verses altogether for samples from interviews Tate conducted with two soldiers from different conflicts. The sampling makes “Unafraid” the most interesting track of the album, but it doesn’t compel repeat listens.

The rest of the album is difficult to describe – not because the songs are so adventurous that they’re unable to classify, but because they’re so similar they tend to run together.

“Hundred Mild Stare” is a decent but placid power ballad, with few fireworks. “A Dead Man’s Words” and “Middle Of Hell” feel almost like the same song, although the saxophone solo and Tate’s vocal work are impressive on the former track. “The Killer” has a decent chorus … but when the saxophone turns up near the end of the track,” it feels like a repeat … and when it pops up again (for the third track in a row) on “Middle Of Hell,” it just feels overused.

“If I Were King” and “Man Down!” are decent songs, particularly “If I Were King” … but then the band makes the curious choice of stacking two ballads (“Remember Me” and “Home Again”) on top of one another. “Remember Me” is the best of the two, although somewhat reminiscent of “Silent Lucidity” in the verses. “Home Again” is a duet with Tate and his 10 year-old daughter, Emily, singing from letters sent between a father deployed overseas and his child at home. The vocal similarities are uncanny – Emily Tate even has some of Geoff’s odd pronouciations – but the song is rough. I know: I understand the band is reaching for an emotional impact by having father and daughter sing a duet. It’s a daring choice, to be sure, but the song’s too long – especially following on the heels of “Remember Me”- and drags the album down.

The album closes with “The Voice,” which comes closest to the epic tone the band seems to be reaching for throughout “American Soldier.” It’s a solid enough ending – the big choruses make the track the best on “American Soldier,” but it’s not striking enough to warrant being added to my mp3 player.

In retrospect, I wonder if the band was musically intimidated by “American Soldier.” The album feels safe musically, much too safe: With the exception of “Unafraid,” no real risks are taken here and the album seems to be reaching for a non-metal fan base. Toning down the metal and keeping to the straight and narrow might help “American Soldier” find a broad appeal, but I’m not sure it will win the band any new metal fans or help return the old fans to the fold.

Win Tickets to the Relapse Contamination Tour’s Owensboro show!

Wanna go to the May 1 show at The Brothers for free? Well, I have two free passes to give away. Here’s how it works.

Just send an e-mail to jmayse@messenger-inquirer.com. Be sure to put “ticket giveaway” in the subject line and include your name and phone number in the body on the message. Each e-mail will receive a number, based on the order in which they are received.

On Tuesday, I’ll randomly pick a winner – likely by pulling one number out of a goblet or Viking helmet. Then, I’ll pass the name on to Betsey, Relapse Record’s publicist extraordinaire, and she’ll add you (plus one other person, so you can bring a buddy or your squeeze) to the guest list. Presto! An evening of Obscura, Abysmal Dawn and Graves of Valor, free of charge.

That’s that, so start e-mailin’. Good luck.

Oh yeah, look below for interviews with Abysmal Dawn and Graves of Valor, fresh from the oven.

Interview: Abysmal Dawn bring technical death metal to Owensboro for Relapse Contamination Tour

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Abysmal Dawn vocalist/guitarist Charles Elliott is a veteran metal musician, and has performed on stages with some of the big names of metal. But, as a songwriter, Elliott draws inspiration from multiple genres of music.

“I listen to a lot of styles of music and metal,” Elliott said earlier this week. “… I’m pretty much all over the place. Whatever I think is good music -whatever gives me a feeling or I think is relevant to me – is good music. Even though metal is what I enjoy the most, I don’t close myself off to any other style.”

Abysmal Dawn’s highly technical extreme sound is both surgically precise, yet infused with a wildness akin to free form jazz. Next week, the Los Angeles band will bring its black-death attack to Owensboro, as part of the Relapse Contamination Tour.

The band is touring in support of its second album, the politically charged “Programmed To Consume.” Although the band already has songs in the works for a new album, Elliott said Abysmal Dawn plans to stay on the road for as long as possible.

“Honestly, I love touring. I might be putting my foot in my mouth with all the touring (we have) coming up, but with all the tours we’ve done, we love playing our songs live,” Elliott said. “That’s what our music is all about – having people enjoy it in a live setting.

“We have done for two songs (for a new album),” he said. “We hope to be (in the studio) by November, but we may or may not be in the studio if we keep getting offered good tours.”

The band has had the good fortune to land coveted opening spots for bands such as Exodus, Emperor, Immortal and Suffocation. Although the band is steeped in death metal, Elliott said Abysmal Dawn works to evolve on every new album and song.

“The direction we’re going has changed. We never want to be a band that makes the same record every time,” Elliott said. “To use a dreaded term, we step up to it. With (“Programmed To Consume”), the songs we’ve written are very technical, but still catchy.

“With each record, we definitely try to progress,” Elliott said. “… We haven’t gotten to the point where there’s no room to grow … At this point, we’re still experimenting and adding different aspects to our music.”

As a young band, Elliott said the members of Abysmal Dawn have learned from touring with older, more experienced bands.

“You gain experience with touring on what to do and not to do,” Elliott said. For example, one essential on the road is wet wipes, for times when showers are scarce, he said.

“I remember the guys in Decapitated, they used to take showers in sinks,” Elliott said. But what Elliott took away from touring with veteran bands was the need to always bring the best performance to the stage.

“You see these guys do it every night without complaint and that’s what you have to do,” he said. “You know you have to perform at the same level with these other well-established bands.

“We always try to bring a real high energy show,” Elliott said. “The more the crowd is into it – the more energy they put our way – we put 10 times more into it.”

Abysmal Dawn will perform with Obscura and Graves Of Valor on Friday, May 1 at The Brothers in Owensboro. Tix are $8 in advance and $10 at the door. Tickets can be purchased on-line at www.theticketrumba.com.

To hear full songs, visit Abysmal Dawn’s MySpace page.

And, just for kicks, here’s the vid for the “Programmed To Consume”

Interview: Graves Of Valor looking to make an impression with audiences on Relapse Contamination Tour

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The Relapse Contamination tour has served as the career launching pad for multiple bands that went on the audience acclaim. Mastodon and Nile were introduced to metal fans through the tour, and High On Fire and The Dillinger Escape Plan also spring-boarded off the tour into the metal spotlight.

Damon Welch, vocalist for South Carolina’s Graves Of Valor, knows this year’s Contamination tour – which stops in Owensboro May 1 –  is an opportunity for the band to infect cities both large and small with its extreme death metal sound.

“It’s definitely more important,” Welch said, during a phone interview a day or two before death metal band embarked for the first date of the tour. “It’s not nerve-wracking. I’m glad we have a chance to do this. We’re fortunate enough that Relapse put us on this (tour).

“A lot of the tours we’ve done have been more of a hardcore crowd … this is more of straight metal, so it’s going to put us in front of a lot of new people,” Welch said.

Gates of Valor was formed in 2006 by Dayton Cantley, Jeff Springs and Richard Turbeville, who had all played together in Through The Eyes Of The Dead. Welch and bassist David Hasselbring rounded out the line up, and the band released its first EP, “Famine,” in 2007.

“Famine” was vicious and extreme enough to catch the attention of Relapse Records. Next month, the band will release its full-length debut, “Salarian Gate.” Welch said the plan is to tour extensively this year in support of the album.

“Hopefully, we’re going to do a lot of touring between July and Christmas,” Welch said. ” … It’s kind of like a vacation for us. We always have a good time.

“Before and after the show, we’re always hanging out, watching the bands and talking to people,” Welch said.

For “Salarian Gate,” the band went to Mana Recording Studios in Florida – the state were death metal was born. Welch said the band was given the time it needed to craft the songs and hone the performances.

“The structure is a lot better on the new album, with definite choruses and a lot less breakdowns,” Welch said. “There’s more of a traditional metal feel to it.

“We were able to spend a lot more time in the studio and (on) the writing process,” he said. “Everything seemed to flow really good.”

The Contamination Tour will take the bands through both large cities and towns – like Owensboro – where metal package tours are rare. Welch said the band perfers playing smaller venues.

“We love tours where we go to small towns, when it’s all craziness and packed,” Welch said. “Just come party with us. It’s going to be a night of a bunch of good metal.”

To hear songs from the “Famine” EP and the forthcoming “Salarian Gate,” visit the band’s MySpace page.

The band, along with Obscura and Abysmal Dawn, will perform at 7 p.m. on Friday May 1 at The Brothers in Owensboro. Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door. To purchase tickets on line, visit www.theticketrumba.com

“Relapse Contamination Tour” coming to Owensboro next week! Wanna win free tickets to the show?

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Did ya know that three real, live nationally known metal bands are gonna be here in Owensboro next week? It’s true.

On Friday, May 1 The Brothers venue will present the “Relapse Contamination Tour,featuring Obscura, Abysmal Dawn and Graves of Valor.

Tickets are just $8 in advance, and $10 at the door. You’re not going to find a better deal than that anywhere. For tickets, visit www.theticketrumba.com

Tomorrow, I’ll post interviews with Charles from Abysmal Dawn and Damon from Graves of Valor. An interview with Obscura is in the works and will be posted next week.

ALSO … Noise Pollution will be giving away two free tickets to the show. Check tomorrow’s interviews for details.

If you wanna see more tours like this in Owensboro, then go to this show. It’ll be massive.

Factory Damage to give away copies of new album Saturday in Owensboro

Owensboro’s Factory Damage will be giving away FREE (as in totally free, no charge, no “convenience fees,” no questions asked) copies of the band’s new album Saturday, April 25.

The band will be giving away copies of the album, “Pro-Piracy: In Word Of Mouth We Trust” beginning at 5 p.m. at the Hot Topic store in Towne Square Mall in Owensboro. Copies are limited, so be there early.

The track listing for the new album is: 1) The End Times. 2) Home of the Dead. 3) Nightmares. 4) Dying Too. 5) Don’t Belong.

The Hot Topic session will also be an opportunity for fans to meet the band’s new bassist, Val Batts.  Special FD T-shirts will be on sale, and the band will be giving away other swag. Meanwhile, local comic book artist Allen Freeman will also be selling copies of a new comic that features Factory Damage. The comic includes an indie music CD with the FD song “The End Times.”

The band will be playing the “Bash on the Wabash” at Wabash Valley College in Mt. Carmel, Ill. on May 9. Tix are $5. For more info, go to www.wabashvalley.cc.