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Metal Monday: Katatonia's Dead End Kings

In Katatonia‘s 21 year career, they’ve managed to avoid putting out a single subpar album; even with a slowly rotating cast of members ” vocalist Jonas Renske and guitarist Anders Nystrí¶m seem to be the only permanent members. On their new Dead End Kings, they’ve even played without Fredrik and Mattias Norrman (yes, they’re brothers) for the first time in about 13 years. It would appear that the supporting cast for Renske and Nystrí¶m isn’t of much consequence, as they haven’t skipped a beat with their followup to 2009’s Night Is The New Day.

On recent albums, Katatonia developed a truly unique sound, a perfect blend of sulking heaviness and shimmering beauty. Combining the thick, heavy riffs and chords of Nystrí¶m with the clear, haunting vocals of Renske, Katatonia create deeply emotional soundscapes on just about every track of Dead End Kings. Frank Default contributes a lot to the atmospheres and textures that coat many sections of the album, adding some sparse percussion, keyboards, and strings. As on Night Is The New Day, producer David Castillo aptly handles the mixing and production of the album, and the overall sound is second to none.

Perhaps the biggest difference for Katatonia on this record is the songwriting. While the album is not at all a sonic departure, many of the songs on Dead End Kings feature elements that Katatonia have shied away from on their last few releases. The most obvious changes, as heard on the lead single “Dead Letters,” are the inclusion of more groovy riffs (likely to the extreme pleasure of Tool fans). But it’s not just heavier, groovier parts they’ve added, either (granted, it doesn’t get much more heavy and groovy than “Forsaker“). Songs such as “The Racing Heart” and “Leech” show us that Katatonia are also quite capable of moody, somber passages.

Ultimately, Katatonia aren’t adding anything particularly new to the mix, but rather are refining and perfecting what they’d already achieved on Night Is The New Day and The Great Cold Distance. In 21 years, they’ve managed to very slowly evolve into something uniquely their own in all the right ways. When you’re so far ahead of the curve, does it really matter if you’re not constantly making massively different music? I’m not so sure it does. I’ll be happy if Katatonia keep making only slight tweaks to their current formula, as they’re already in a league of their own. One listen to Dead End Kings further drives this point home.

Dead End Kings comes out at the end of August worldwide. You can grab your copy from Peaceville Records’ online shop. Get a taste of the new album below with the lead single from the album, “Dead Letters.”

Metal Monday: This Year In Metal…So Far

Perhaps more so than the last handful of years in metal music, 2012 has been pretty crazy, especially when considering the density of phenomenal albums released so far. In typical music fashion, there have been blockbusters, surprises, let downs, newcomers, and game-changers. Thankfully, most of the surprises (for me anyway) have been good ones. Many of the albums and bands covered below have already been featured in Metal Monday this year”if you’re following along, then you’ll be familiar with most of these acts already.

Both Cannibal Corpse and Dying Fetus released strong albums that largely feature more of the same from the two bands. Fear Factory‘s follow-up to Mechanize further cements their comeback, of sorts, and shows that they’re still the same old Fear Factory. Shadows Fall dropped an album that doesn’t particularly change their mold either, but is good none-the less. The real surprise from a more high-profile act was High On Fire, whose De Vermis Mysteriis was a huge step up from their last album, Snakes For The Divine. Job For A Cowboy‘s Demonocracy also featured more of the same, but a bit better this time around (not surprising, given the quality of the Gloom EP from a few months prior).

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Exclusive Q&A: Opeth Unleashes Their Heritage

OurStage Exclusive InterviewsA few months ago, we featured a post celebrating twenty great years of music by Opeth (which you can read here ). Obviously, we have lots of respect for Mikael í…kerfeldt and company. They’re progressive death metal juggernauts who never seem to disappoint fans and critics. Despite numerous great albums, amazing tours and boatloads of positive critical reception, they’re still hard at work, releasing their tenth album Heritage earlier this year. Not too long after our article was published, we were able to put together an interview with the frontman of this iconic band, and it was well worth the wait.

OS: Opeth has been in the metal world for quite some time now, and you’re considered by many to be one of the best metal bands of all time. What helps you put out such great material so consistently?

Mí…: Well, we don’t really regard ourselves in any way as one of the best bands or whatever, we just try to write and record music that we want to hear, and I guess the big difference is that we have a wider range of influences than your regular metal band. I mean, we’ve been around a while of course, but really we’ve just been putting out records we want to listen to, first and foremost, and I guess we’ve just been fortunate that other people like that shit as well.

OS: Speaking of that, the critical reception of Heritage has been pretty great, and it sold pretty well, even though it’s quite different than your other material. How do you feel about the album’s reception so far?

Mí…: I’m pretty happy with it I think, but I don’t really go looking for it. I’m not really seeking approval from anyone. You know, even if I like getting good reviews and people telling me they like the new record, it doesn’t really matter so much for me anymore, I can’t really say why. I love it, you know, and that’s all that matters.¦If you go on the Internet looking for some type of approval you’re gonna end up with a lot of shit too, and I don’t really need that in my life right now, to be honest. (more…)

Metal Monday: 20 Years of Opeth

Just over twenty years as a band and coming up on eleven studio albums, Opeth have almost guaranteed their spot in the metal hall of fame given the legendary status of many of their albums. Though formed in the fall of 1990, the band’s lineup wasn’t really solidified until a couple years later. Opeth’s musical style has mostly been the brainchild of Mikael í…kerfeldt, the only constant member of the band appearing on every Opeth release. As members have shifted, so has the band’s sound (even if it’s been a subtle change). At this point, you’d probably be hard-pressed to find a metalhead who wouldn’t bestow the progressive death metal crown atop Opeth’s head.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Opeth is their consistently great releases and continually evolving sound. Unlike many metal bands, Opeth don’t really have an album that is uniformly respected and beloved above their other albums (for example, Slayer’s Reign In Blood or Judas Priest’s Painkiller). When asking Twitter at large to name their two favorite Opeth albums, the first four tweets mentioned six different albums (Blackwater Park, Ghost Reveries, Still Life, Damnation, Watershed and Morningrise)”a testament to this notion of slight style changes and a fantastic catalog. Still need more proof? Well, on MetalStorm.net, Opeth has seven albums in the site’s “Top 200 albums of all time” list, which is no small feat, with all of their albums receiving above an average score of 8.5, as rated by users of the site.

Opeth Decibel Magazine coverBack in 2003 Opeth released Damnation, which was a rather bold move by the band. Damnation, as an album, isn’t metal in any way. It’s not just acoustic rehashes of old material, either. It was totally new, non-metal songs. Perhaps Opeth fans are just a different breed, but for most highly-revered metal bands, major deviation from the path doesn’t really go all that well (just ask Morbid Angel). Damnation, however, was incredibly well-received by the (usually close-minded) metal community, and rightfully so“it’s a masterfully done album.

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California Hard Rockers Lucid Fly Win Free Strings From Ernie Ball

The Ernie Ball Competition on OurStage has awarded free strings to some of the hottest artists on the site, giving them that extra little push they need to keep the music coming for a whole year longer. With their ethereal vocals, driving rhythms and soaring choruses, west coast hard rockers Lucid Fly are no exception. The California quartet climbed all the way to the top of the Hard Rock Channel in March with their song Blind, and landed themselves a year’s supply of free strings and accessories from Ernie Ball. We recently caught up with guitarist Doug Mecca to get a little insight into their musical world, their influences and to find out what’s on the horizon for this up-and-coming act. Check out our exclusive interview below, and for more information and tunes, hit up Lucid Fly’s OurStage profile. Don’t forget that artists in the Indie Pop Channel are currently battling for the Ernie Ball grand prize, so if indie pop is your bag, go show them some love in the judging department!

OS: You guys relocated to Los Angeles from Florida a few years back, how has that change affected your fan base? Any major differences between east coast and west coast followers?

DM: Since we moved we’ve had to connect virtually (mostly online) with our fans back east while building a name as a new band in LA.  We’re in a much bigger city now and the diversity and numbers out here are amazing.  We were attracted to that more of everything that LA exemplifies and we’ve been loving that”both as artists and as music fans ourselves!! If anything we realize more the similarities”word-of-mouth is still the greatest way to find new music and to be found. We all enjoy sharing things that move us.  Every week we find new music and fans not just from the east and west coasts but also Canada, Mexico, South America, Europe, Japan, Australia¦ with the technology of  the web and social networks, Internet radio, podcasts and of course sites like OurStage.com that give independent bands a platform to be discovered!!

OS: You mention in your bio that as a band, you are constantly evolving. What are the next steps for Lucid Fly?

DM: We’ve been writing our next CD so we can’t wait to start recording that and then get out there to tour and perform these new songs for everyone. The new music seems to be evolving in a more dramatic way and naturally lends itself to something more visual both onstage and in video.

OS: Who are you listening to right now? Is there any band or artist in particular that’s had a noticeable impact on your writing style?

DM: We’ve been really into some amazing bands from Australia like Karnivool, Dead Letter Circus, Birds of Tokyo¦ there’s something going on there and we can’t get enough of whatever that is! Also bands like Katatonia and Baxter are still getting serious rotation in our playlist lately, both from Sweden incidentally.  Music from there seems to have this dark and mellow quality even when it’s heavy. Maybe it’s the cold weather and dark winter thing but we like it. Haha.

OS: How do you utilize online tools to reach new fans? What do you think are some of the most important things for bands to do to reach new audiences online?

DM: We jump on any new social network that helps us find like-minded people”especially the ones that will filter people based on their music interest.  Sites like OurStage.com, Last.fm and Jango.com play songs mixed in where there’s a good chance of overlapping tastes and we get lots of activity from those as well. The first thing we do when someone mentions an artist that we don’t know is typically go straight to one of the big social sites because we want to hear the music!  The easier it is to find and hear, the better so we try also to make our songs easy to find. We feel that just connecting with like-minded people in general, online or off, is key.  Music is meant to be shared so we believe in genuinely interacting with people because it’s rewarding, not for any motive. The more tools that make that easier, the better!

OS: What was your reaction when you found out you’d won the Grand Prize? Are there any shout-outs you’d like to make or people you’d like to thank?

DM: Woohoo!  It feels fantastic to be recognized and to know that people out there enjoy listening to our music as much as we do making it.  To be supported by Ernie Ball and OurStage is huge for us and other independent bands to be able to do this.  Everyone knows that it costs money to tour and record so a year’s worth of strings and accessories was a very welcome and appreciated surprise! A lot of people have helped us get here and continue to create and we appreciate you all!! For sure everyone who’s ever listened, downloaded or shared our music with their friends¦ you make this happen for us and we can’t thank you enough.  Big love to OurStage and Ernie Ball for hooking up unsigned bands like us get heard!

Lucid Fly currently plans to get back into the studio some time this year so if you like what you hear, be on the lookout for more music coming soon.

Metal Monday: Are The Swedes Best At Metal?

There are certain countries that are considered to be a cut above the rest in terms of the metal they produce. At the top of the metal food chain are countries like Canada, Finland, Italy, Sweden, Norway, the UK and the US”but who reigns supreme in the metal world? There is a strong case to be made for each of these countries, but in the last two decades it’s hard to argue against Sweden as metal’s capital.

Alternative metal band, Katatonia

Though Sweden might not have the most metal bands out of all these countries (that title probably belongs to the US), they have birthed a few bands in the last few decades that have gone on to pioneer, revolutionize, or create a new sub-genre of metal. Bands such as In Flames, Dark Tranquillity and At The Gates are the forefathers melodic death metal (and what would be come to known as the “Gothenburg sound”). Meshuggah are often considered one of the most unique metal bands of today, inspiring countless bands to come after them are”they’re also often cited as the main influence for the recent trend of “djent” bands). Opeth is largely considered the pinnacle for progressive death metal bands, with each of their nine full-length albums earning extremely positive critical response. Candlemass is one of the original epic doom metal bands that would carve the modern and current definition of doom metal.

The legendary Dark Tranquillity

Even if you take out the list of heavily influential metal bands that shaped the current lay of the metal land, you’re still left with a list of massively talented bands: Amon Amarth, Arch Enemy, Katatonia, Bathory, Hypocrisy, Bloodbath, Soilwork, Scar Symmetry, Cult of Luna, and the list goes on. One of the biggest deciding factors, in addition to the quality of these bands, is their longevity. Even pioneering bands like Dark Tranquillity, Opeth and Meshuggah are still putting out landmark releases. That’s what it’s all about: sustained, high quality, albums year after year.

Of course, there can be strong arguments made for any of the aforementioned countries”the UK produced Motí¶rhead, Black Sabbath and Judas Priest and creating the entire genre of metal. The US can be credited for producing the “big four” of thrash, among countless other great bands. Still, even considering all of the arguments for other countries to reign supreme, it’s hard to argue against Sweden.

METAL MONDAY: Q&A WITH ONE WITHOUT

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One Without, an OurStage act from Sweden and recent addition to Germany’s Lifeforce Records, is a band on the edge of stardom. A bit of a surprise coming from the heart of Gothenburg, known for acts such as In Flames, At the Gates and Dark Tranquillity, the band has an undeniably pop-hook driven sound that still manages to be completely metal. Listeners might compare One Without to some of the other female-fronted metal bands out there, notably Lacuna Coil and Within Temptation, but the band has found their own little niche (and as they say, please don’t compare them). With a new album coming out in September, One Without could be the next female-fronted band in the metal spotlight.

One Without banner

MTD: Your sound is a bit different from that of the more well-known bands of Gothenburg (the forefathers of Melodic Death Metal). Is this an indication of the next trend of music in Gothenburg?
OW: Well, you never know! It could become a trend after our breakthrough! But we don’t think so, people are pretty stuck in the traditional Gothenburg Metal Sound over here, and we can honestly say that we are the only band with this sound, at least that we know of!

MTD: Whom would you say you have drawn the most influences from?
OW: We can’t really pin-point any special bands. We all listen to so much music in so many different genres, so it comes down to hundreds of bands. We have never strived towards sounding like any other band, we just play what we like. Everyone in the band is involved in the making of songs, and that’s probably why we get the sound we have. It doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of band working like that, which is a shame in our opinion.

MTD: I see that you are releasing an album in the fall (your debut, right?). Can you give us some cool insight on the new album?
OW: The most important part for us in the making of the album, was that we didn’t want to have any songs that we weren’t 100% satisfied with. We didn’t want to have 4-5 songs that were hits and that the rest of the songs would be standard songs just to fill out the album. So you can expect an album filled with hits! Other than that we have worked with some great people in making the album, which resulted in a very explosive, dark and emotional sound in the production.

MTD: If you could play one show with any band, who would you choose?
OW: Killswitch Engage, they seem like a nice bunch, and besides from that most of us love their work, or possibly Katatonia, a great Swedish metal band.

MTD: Are you going to be touring the US any time in the near future?
OW: We have been contacted by some tour bookers and clubs that want us to come over and work with them, but at the moment we haven’t started working with anyone concerning that. But of course we will come over and play for you guys in the near future, we just can’t say when right now!

MTD: If you could have any band cover one of your songs, who would perform it (and what song would it be)?
OW: Jose Gonzales would have been an interesting candidate, and Your Game would be the song of choice.

MTD: What is the weirdest fan interaction you have ever had?
OW: Some years back we played a gig at a small club in Gothenburg, I mean REALLY small, and back then we had not started promoting ourselves in the manner we do today, so we were a pretty unknown band. After the show two guys came up and talked to us, and they told us that they had come all the way from Belgium just to see us that night, and that they were huge fans. That felt pretty surreal. [laughs]

MTD: Describe your band in exactly 8 words.
OW: Emotional, dark, hopeful, explosive, heavy, beautiful, unexpected, unique.

MTD: What would you say if someone wanted to compare you to, say, Lacuna Coil or Within Temptation?
OW: Please don’t.

MTD: Any fun songs you cover live? Any you would want to cover live?
OW: We actually play a song called Om Du Var Hí¤r By Kent, a big Swedish pop/rock act that we all like very much, and people seem to enjoy our metal version of it!

MTD: How did you come to get signed by Lifeforce? Any cool story here?
OW: It actually wasn’t anything special to it, we sent them our album and they liked what they heard, so we started negotiating! Wish we could have given you a great, sick story, but that’s how it went!

MTD: Who is your best friend band at Lifeforce so far?
OW: Nightrage! We have been hanging a bit with Marios in the band, and he has really showed us what a great person he is. Cheers man!