All posts by Robert Muller

Rob is a guitarist for the Metal bands ROARGH! and Fenrismaw. He is also a teacher of music specializing in French horn.

Interview: Europe Vocalist Talks David Bowie, Geico, and New Album

Europe is a rock band hailing from Sweden and famous for their 1986 hit, “The Final Countdown”. Recently, they were featured in a Geico car insurance commercial in which they performed the song. Last year, they released a new album called ‘War of Kings’. I spoke with Joey Tempest about musical influences, the Geico commercial, their most recent tour and album, and of course, that famous thirty-year-old hit song.

What inspired the creation of the band and its name?

After playing in different local bands, me and the guitarist, John Norum, formed a band we called Force. We practiced a hell of a lot and were dreaming hard of becoming a touring band. When it started to get a bit more serious we changed our name to Europe. We listened a lot to Deep Purple in those days and our name came from one of their live albums, “Made in Europe”.

What were your early influences in music?

Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy, and UFO.

Being that “The Final Countdown” is your best-known work, what sparked the creation of the song and how does it feel for the song to continue to be successful nearly thirty years after its release?

We were a guitar band, but as a songwriter, I experienced a bit with keyboards and came up with the main theme for The Final Countdown when I was still a teenager. We recorded it some years later for our third album. Lyrically, it was inspired by the first single I ever bought, “Space Oddity” by David Bowie, and the feel and sort of galloping tempo, I guess, came from listening to British rock bands that often used this kind of feel in those days.

How did the commercial for Geico insurance come about?

They approached us quite a while ago and after seeing a similar commercial by Iggy Pop here in the U.K., where I live, we thought we give it a go. We didn’t want to take ourselves too seriously and liked their initial idea of a script. However, we said if we were to do this, we wanted to use a new version of the song and that we were in control of our appearance. Since we’ve been back for eleven years and recorded five new albums, it was just a matter of rolling into the film studio straight from the tour and cutting the thing in a few hours. We had checked out other GEICO commercials and thought they used great directors together with scripts that had a good sense of humour.

2015 saw the release of a new album for you. What were your influences in making ‘War of Kings’?

It’s just an ongoing process and adventure for us. ‘War Of Kings’ is the fifth record since we got together again in 2004. Together with producer Dave Cobb (Rival Sons), we wanted to just do an honest record with a nice vibe. It turned out sounding a bit like those warm classic hard rock records we grew up with, and it’s fast becoming one of our favourite Europe albums.

It seems that you spent most of 2015 on tour. What were some memorable shows/experiences while on tour?

Well, 2015 was a great year for us. We went around the world with our new record and played loads of great gigs. We received a “Classic Rock” award in London and a “People’s Choice” award in our native Sweden. One of those years that we will stick in our memories for sure.

Do you think there is a difference in popularity for the band between the United States and other parts of the world?

Over the last eleven years we have worked quite a lot over here in the U.K, Scandinavia, and Europe, and we have managed to establish the “new” Europe with our latest five albums. We have just recently started going back to the US and now with an American based management. We have a lot of work to do but we are very excited to reacquaint ourselves with American rock fans and media over the next coming years.

What is your favorite Rock/Metal album of all time?
Too many great ones to chose from, but the “rock bible” for us as young musicians and band members must have been “Live In Japan” with Deep Purple. To us, it’s the essence of great rock’n’roll and musicianship. For our generation that album was the beginning of everything!

Interview: Tengger Cavalry Vocalist Talks Upcoming Tour Plans

Tengger Cavalry is a Mongolian Folk Metal band originally from China. Currently based in New York City, vocalist/guitarist Nature spoke to me about the band’s origins, the types of traditional Mongolian instruments used, and Tengger Cavalry’s future pursuits.

How did the band originate and who/what were your inspirations?

The band was originated in China. When I was learning Mongolian fiddle, Morin Khuur, with my Mongolian teachers in Beijing, I came up with this idea of blending traditional Mongolian folk with heavy rock/metal. I listened to many western folk rock and folk metal, and it really inspired me on how you can arrange your sound with folk and metal.

Can you explain the different types of traditional instruments used in the music?

Sure. Our main melodies are carried by the Morin Khuur, a famous Mongolian ethnic string instrument. And then there is the Tovshuur, a two-stringed plucking instrument that we sometimes use as the way we use an acoustic guitar. Also we have the Yatga, the Mongolian multiple-stringed plucking instrument, which has a very bright sound.

Why was the band moved to New York City?

Back in 2013, I decided to pursue a music career and I was successfully accepted to New York University’s composition master program, so that was the starting point of my music career in NYC. After 2 years, I find that NYC is a very open-minded city and it is good for me to write crossover music. People here like to hear different sounds.

Any plans to reunite the China-based lineup?

We already recruited new USA band members, and the current lineup works very well, so we will stick to what we have now.

How would you compare the current lineup to the original lineup?

The current lineup is more professional and efficient than the old one. I am satisfied with the present lineup.

Any plans to tour East Asia in the future?

Maybe next year or so. We keep getting invitations from Asia, but we want to do more gigs stateside first.

There has been a growing trend of the wearing of horse masks at Metal shows. Has anyone done that at your shows? If such a thing were to happen, what would you think of it?

Ha, I didn’t know this fun fact. Well, so far nobody did it but there was one time a fan raised a portrait of Chinggis Khaan, and it was so cool haha.

Do you think Tengger Cavalry’s growing fame would inspire more Mongolian-inspired bands?

We would like to think that everyone has their own music taste and somehow we crossover somehow we write our unique sound. But it is good that TC is getting more attention.

Any plans to perform at any festivals?

Yes, next year in July we will perform at the French rock festival, Ragnarok festival, as co-headlining.

What would you consider to be your favorite Metal album of all time?

I would say Slipknot’s Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses.

Special thanks to Jason Han for providing additional questions.

Interview: Girlschool Vocalist Talks New Album ‘Guilty As Sin’

I had the opportunity to interview Kim McAuliffe, the frontwoman of the legendary all-female Heavy Metal band, Girlschool. They have collaborated with major artists in the Metal community such as Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead and Ronnie James Dio. Girlschool have a new album coming out on November 13 called ‘Guilty As Sin’ and are very much looking forward to its release.

On the early days of Girlschool: Edin and me grew up together in the same street. Her brother and my cousin both played guitar and so we got interested too! We started Painted Lady as a girl band because we couldn’t get any boys to play with us!

We decided to go pro when we met Kelly [Johnson, guitarist] and because we had all been to all girl schools, we thought that would be a good name!

On 1981 collaboration with Motorhead: We had been touring around Britain and Europe for a couple of years sleeping on top of our gear in the back of the van when a friend who had formed his own record label, City Records, asked us to record a single. UK Subs, our mates, had just done one, so of course we said yes. Lemmy was looking for a support band for their first major British tour, heard our single, loved it, and invited us on their tour!

Lemmy has been a great supporter of us, but also many other women in rock. He is one of a kind. A real lovely bloke!

So looking forward to catching up with him and the boys on tour soon!

On Screaming Blue MurderOh yeah, Screaming was produced by a different producer and we had a new bassist Gil. We went in and went nuts for three weeks. I hope the energy we put in shows through!

On working with Dio on “I Spy”: It was amazing to have Ronnie sing on our song! We had got to know him over the years. We first met him when we supported Black Sabbath at the Hammersmith Odeon for four nights in 1980. A lovely man.

On new album Guilty As Sin: Looking forward to the release of our new album. We are very proud of it and hope people will love it as much as we do. Great working with Chris again!

10 Hard Rock & Metal Songs That Sound Better Live

Photo by Anwar Rizk

Despite the fact that, in recent years, we’ve had quite a few detractors to this medium, I remain a proponent of the live record  Many of the records that I have enjoyed picking up over the years were live albums since they contained pretty much every song I wanted to hear and the atmosphere of the crowd; plus, the arena/concert hall setting adds so much more to the performance.  In addition, there are some songs that sound significantly better live than they do on the record.  Here’s a list of some that I think fulfill that case.

“I Was Made For Loving You” by KISS

Say what you will about KISS having made a disco album (or KISS just being KISS in general), but this song sounds much heavier and harder when performed live.  I first encountered this song when I was in high school looking up the KISS official website.  One section of the site contained a whole section of live audio from the October 31st (Halloween) show at Dodgers Stadium from the Psycho Circus tour.  When I stumbled upon the live rendition of “I Was Made For Loving You”, Paul’s introduction to the song made me a little concerned, but it proved to be a very rocking and heavy introduction followed by an equally heavy and very non-disco performance!

“Existo Vulgoré” – Morbid Angel

The reception for Morbid Angel’s “comeback” album Illud Divinum Insanus was extremely negative.  So much so, that it is now considered by many to be Morbid Angel’s worst album of their entire discography.  On the album, this song sounds pretty flat and tinny.  I saw them perform this song at last year’s Summer Slaughter Tour (2014) at the Trocadero in Philadelphia, PA and the live sound was definitely an improvement.  The video above is from a different show, but it definitely captures the idea.

“Hate Worldwide” – Slayer

Upon its release, I wasn’t a huge fan of Slayer’s World Painted Blood.  It was produced by Rick Rubin and had the same sterile sound as Metallica’s Death Magnetic.  Lucky for Slayer, having seen them twice and also having seen live footage from just about every instance in which they have performed, I can say with full confidence that, in the live department, any song that Slayer plays will sound astronomically better than the record.  Their performance of “Hate Worldwide” on Jimmy Kimmel Live! is proof enough.

“An Ocean of Wisdom” – Gorguts

When Gorguts’ Colored Sands was released in 2013, I didn’t really care much for it, and to be honest, I still don’t.  Regardless, I saw them perform this song while they were on tour with Origin in December 2013 at The Chance Theater in Poughkeepsie, NY and I thought that it sounded so much cleaner and defined where, on the record, it sounded very muddy.  In fact, during the open stringed sections, I was able to hear everything clearly without the use of earplugs (often, earplugs tend to clean up a lot of the extra noise experienced at Metal shows).

“New Millennium Cyanide Christ” – Meshuggah

This is a classic Meshuggah tune that definitely sounds awesome on the record, but even so much more incredible live.  I, myself, have never actually seen them perform, but my favorite performance comes from their Alive 3.0 DVD.  For the first time, I can actually hear every single note exactly without them sounding ambiguous at times like they do on the album ‘Chaosphere’.

“Valhalla” – Blind Guardian

 I’m starting to think that at this point, we will be getting into classic tunes from classic records.  “Valhalla” from Blind Guardian’s Follow the Blind is most definitely one of those tunes.  One of the significant differences in the live experience and the recorded version is that the pre-chorus section of the song is sung by Kai Hansen of Helloween.  I found that when Hansen’s vocals come in, the song sounds like a Helloween song for a moment instead of a Blind Guardian song.  Live, when Kursch performs it, the song becomes more uniform, and the character of the song is maintained.

Also, a typical trait of live recordings, is that there is the addition of the hall’s reverb, which in just about any case in which I have heard a live version of this song, it always gives it an extra boost of heaviness.  The live versions of “Valhalla” also allow for the band to be more expressive and also to interact with the crowd which also becomes a part of the song.  I saw them at the Monsters of Rock Festival in 2007 in Zaragoza, Spain and those qualities were prevalent there as well even if the entire audience knew every single word to every single song and drowned the band out a bit (Blind Guardian is one of the top five Metal bands among Spanish Metalheads).

 “I Am The Black Wizards” – Emperor

The Black Metal community typically doesn’t hold Black Metal bands with symphonic sounds in high regard.  Emperor, being that they were the founders of this sound, but also maintained Black Metal’s signature rawness, is one of (possibly, the only) symphonic bands that is held in high regard within that community.  Outside of that community, the band is equally successful.  I’ve heard both recordings from the ‘Wrath of the Tyrant’ demo and ‘In The Nightside Eclipse’.  Depending on which version you listen to, especially on Youtube, each time, the song may sound slightly different.

One version sounded masked by some sort of atmospheric effect which many Black Metal fans will say is “the point” (I’m sorry).  Another version sounded very full, but it’s the kind of full that makes me think of someone “talking with their mouth full” (again, I’m sorry).  Even though I have not seen them perform live,  their live recordings are a world of difference from their demo/album recordings.  There is no atmospheric effect to mask any of the sounds of the instruments.  All of them are completely audible.

This goes for the ‘Emperial Live Ceremony’ live album as well as the live performances at Wacken in both 2006 and 2014.  The differences between each one are that the ‘Emperial Live Ceremony’ version is played much faster than the original version; the 2006 Wacken version mimics the ‘Emperial Live Ceremony’ version, but is played more to the tempo of the original; and the 2014 Wacken version sounds very close to the original in terms of atmosphere, but the tone is like the previous live versions.  My personal favorite is the ‘Emperial Live Cermony’ version for its speed, it’s aggressiveness, and lastly, Ihsahn’s encouragement to the crowd, “I WANT YOU TO REALLY BANG YOUR HEADS FOR THIS ONE!”

“Godzilla” – Blue Öyster Cult

My first experience hearing this tune was on a live album called Some Enchanted Evening.  To this day, I still enjoy the live album’s version as Buck Dharma’s leads are much more expressive and free-sounding.  The song is also heavier and a lot of the effects that are heard on the original are performed live and aren’t really masked by anything.  The ending is also very solid as opposed to the fade out on the album version.

 “Mad Butcher” – Destruction

The Teutonic Thrash classic “Mad Butcher” comes from the EP of the same name.  On this EP, the sound is generally on the thin side.  Schmier’s high-pitched siren vocals in the post-verse sections of the song last for about a split second with some delay added.  On Live Without Sense, the song is basically the same with a sped-up bridge section.  The most recent live album ‘The Curse of the Antichrist – Live in Agony’ has the heaviest version of the song as it is both downtuned and has a great amount of reverb as well since the performance was recorded at Wacken 2007.

The siren vocals in the post-verse section are sustained for much longer and could quite possibly rival Tom Araya’s siren vocals in “Angel of Death” or “Aggressive Perfector”.  However, during the solo, since Harry Wilkens left the band in 1990, lead duties have been taken care of solely by Mike, so the harmonies that appeared on the EP and ‘Live Without Sense’ versions did not appear in the current live version.  I still have yet to see them also, and what’s worse is that I’ve had the misfortune of missing them twice so far.   Hopefully, there will not be a third time.

“Propaganda” – Sepultura

Chaos A.D. was an album that marked a shift in Sepultura’s sound.  This shift consisted of more downtuned and groovy riffing.  While the album version of “Propaganda” is quite strong, the live version featured on the band’s ‘Blood Rooted’ compilation is even stronger.  The heaviness is definitely beefed up, it’s played faster, and the vocals are significantly more aggressive than in the original.

I found a video of a recent performance of this song in Russia.  Even though the Cavalera brothers are no longer in the band, and have been missing from the bands lineup for quite some time, this version of “Propaganda” is very much like the original recorded version, but downtuned further.