Riot is reborn as Riot V

Mark Reale encouraged band to carry on after his death
By Peter Lindblad

Riot V is bassist Don Van Stavern,
guitarists Mike Flyntz and Nick Lee,
vocalist Todd Michael Hall and
drummer Frank Gilchriest

Mark Reale's health problems were far more serious than he let on.

In 2012, the founding guitarist of heavy-metal cult favorites Riot died after an almost lifelong battle with Crohn's Disease, only months after the reunited Thundersteel-era lineup released the power-metal tour de force Immortal Soul. 

His passing shocked and saddened the metal community, and many figured Riot, having been through so much in its 30-odd years of existence, was not long for this world either. Reale wasn't having any of it.

Having formed Riot in 1975 with drummer Peter Bitelli as a powerhouse, straightforward metal outfit capable of produced such blazing classics as Narita and Fire Down Under, Reale was the one constant in Riot's existence, reviving and reshaping the band after devastating personnel losses and orchestrating Riot's transformation as a storming power-metal beast on 1988's Thundersteel with new partner Don Van Stavern.

It was Reale who urged his comrades to forge ahead in his absence, as Van Stavern and guitarist Mike Flyntz conspired to write the compelling material for Unleash The Fire, the electrifying new album from a unit rechristened Riot V that includes drummer Frank Gilchriest, guitarist Nick Lee and Todd Michael Hall, a vocalist of extraordinary power and expression.

Flyntz talked in this interview about Riot V's new adventures, Reale's final days and how Riot V carried on after the death of their leader to bring Unleash The Fire to life.

Riot - Unleash The Fire 2014
What was the hardest part about making this record without Mark?
Mike Flyntz: Besides the obvious musical and emotional difficulties the hardest part was not having Mark there for the final everyday decisions. Mark was very generous with letting everyone involved contribute ideas. He let everyone shine. In the end he would decide on different arrangements and tempo changes etc.  Don and I had to make all the final decisions for this record.

They say that tragedy that can sometimes unite and strengthen the bonds between survivors. In that respect, did the writing and recording of Unleash the Fire bring the remaining members of the band closer together, or was it a difficult process?
MF: We were on a mission to make the best record possible since it was written for Mark. We had big shoes to fill and most people didn’t think we could do it or if it was even possible without Mark. We were very close and Mark’s spirit was with us the entire time.

In what ways does the new album seem reminiscent of Thundersteel? That album was such a classic, and a lot of the elements that it made it so special are here as well.
MF: Todd’s voice mixed with the songwriting I think are the main components. Also Don Van Stavern wrote eight of the songs on the new record. He was also a main writer of Thundersteel along with Mark.

“Bring the Hammer Down” and "Return of the Outlaw" are such phenomenal tracks. The singing makes the hair on your arms stand up, and so do the guitar riffs. Was there a real sense of excitement in the air when those songs in particular were being recorded?
MF: The music was done first. Although we heard the demos we really didn’t realize how much Todd was going to step up to the plate until the music was recorded. We were blown away when he added his vocals.

As much as anything, Unleash the Fire is great guitar album, with really strong, tight riffs, fiery solos and really interesting, melodic dual leads. What did you hope to do instrumentally on this record in tribute to Mark?
MF: Our main focus was to stay true to traditional Riot and to honor Mark. I just wrote all the guitar parts the same way Mark and I would over the past 25 years. Mark always liked to combine melodic parts with bluesy elements.

Mark encouraged the band to continue on after his death. Why did he feel that it was important to do so, and how much pressure was there in trying to make a record that would make him proud?
MF: During the recording of Immortal Soul Mark was having trouble recording his parts. He told me to record the parts, and he would come in when he was better. I wound up doing all the solos and 90 percent of the rhythm guitars. He heard the recordings and approved them. He was very proud of us and said to keep going. We didn’t realize how sick he was.

What inspired the words to “Land of the Rising Sun” and was there a sense that you wanted to make a more hopeful statement with the lyrics here?
MF: Don wrote this about our first trip to Japan in 1989. We were shocked at the reception at the airport and the hotel. There were hundreds of people awaiting our arrival. We felt like the Beatles. We will never forget this and chose to write a song for them to say thanks.

Going back to Thundersteel, just before that Riot was trying to rebuild and re-establish itself after some problems with record labels and some lineup shuffling. Even though you weren't in the band then, what are your thoughts about that record?
MF: Mark did want to experiment with a new sound and Donnie was real influential in the Thundersteel sound. A lot of older fans didn’t like the change. On the other hand, there was an entire different fan base developed with the new sound.

What are your impressions of that record today? Was it somewhat ahead of its time?
MF: I think  the songs are great. It was ahead of it’s time. When we play live the Thundersteel songs are constantly requested and always go over the best.

With The Privilege of Power, that was such an experimental album, with the use of horns. What did you think of it?
MF: I think it was a great idea. Everything in life is timing. Not sure if the timing was right with the grunge era approaching, but who knew?

It is natural, given all the lineup changes over the years, to wonder how solid this version of Riot is. Is it different this time around? Do you sense that this group could stay around for a while, or are you guys just trying to live in the moment and not think too much about the future?
MF: We are looking towards the future now. At first our idea was to pay tribute to Mark and see how the fans reacted. Due to the blessing and constant support from the Riot fans it is obvious to us that we should continue. As long as Mr. Reale and the fans want it we will continue.

What would be the greatest compliment you could receive with regard to this new record?
MF: Already happened. The fans have spoken. The fans have showed overwhelming support and enthusiasm over this new record. To our surprise the writers and critics have all joined in too. We are so thankful.

Where there moments in the making of Unleash the Fire where you said to yourself or to the others, “Mark would have really liked that,” or, on the other hand, “Mark would have really hated that”?
MF: There wasn’t a day when Mark’s name didn’t come up whether we were asking “how
would he do it” or just joking about things he would have said. We constantly used Mark’s sayings and jokes throughout the entire recording process.

I have to ask about the cover. You used the seal from Fire Down Under, and you’ve utilized it extensively for Riot album art. What is the story behind its use and why was it important to bring it back for this record?
MF: Not sure where it came from. It is referred to as “Mighty Tior” or “Johnny”. Since the album was a dedication to Mark and the entire Riot catalog we wrote music and used themes that combined all the eras of Riot’s history.

What’s next for Riot?

MF: We look forward to touring and then doing another record and DVD.

CD/DVD Review: Whitesnake – Live in '84 – Back to the Bone

CD/DVD Review: Whitesnake – Live in '84 – Back to the Bone
Frontiers Music Srl
All Access Rating: A-

Whitesnake - Live in '84: Back to the Bone
Slide It In had everyone hot and bothered in 1984. The first Whitesnake album to chart in the U.S., it eventually went multi-platinum, oozing sex and sweaty machismo from every pore. Even at the ripe old age of 30, it's still a hit with the ladies, or at least it thinks so.

Not everyone was onboard, however, with Whitesnake's transition from gritty blues-rock drifters to glitzy pop-metal sleaze merchants, Slide It In having almost completed the transformation. Original guitarist Micky Moody wanted no part of it, so David Coverdale hired John Sykes from Thin Lizzy, adding to the myriad personnel changes that had already taken place earlier.

From their armchairs, the critics howled, slagging their increasingly glossy, commercial sound and wagging their fingers over what raunchy, immature little boys they'd become, what with their leering sexual innuendo and double-entendres. David Coverdale paid them little mind. Going out on a world tour in support of Slide It In, with a restructured lineup consisting of Sykes, drummer Cozy Powell and bassist Neil Murray, Coverdale wanted to bring audiences to orgasm, dazzling crowds with explosive melodies as big as their hair, ostentatious stage shows and flashy, vigorous musicianship, as they do on Live in '84 – Back to the Bone.

Revisiting a time when Whitesnake was on the cusp, gathering momentum and setting the stage for an even bigger breakthrough to come, this raucous assortment of live audio and visual recordings from Coverdale's private collection, out via Frontiers Music Srl, documents the rip-roaring, untamed manner with which the foursome plied their trade that year. Starting with a blustery march through "Gambler" – the sound somewhat muffled – and "Guilty of Love" and that song's sparkling guitar harmonies, Live in '84 – Back to the Bone settles into an arresting "Love Ain't No Stranger" before kicking up a fuss with a rowdy, stomping "Slow An' Easy" and the rough-and-tumble, red-hot funk of "Ready An' Willing."

A searing guitar solo from Sykes, whose playing here is edgy and wild, and Powell's powerhouse drumming exhibition bracket a haunting reading of "Soldier of Fortune," and the mid-tempo blues of "Crying in the Rain" is executed with a flair for the dramatic. Throw in a rollicking medley of "Gambler," "Guilty of Love," "Love Ain't No Stranger" and "Ready An' Willing" that represents Jon Lord's final performance with Whitesnake – plus a DVD of these performances with extras such as the "Slide it In Slide Show" and snippets of demos from Coverdale gathered in a music bed for your listening pleasure – and this release, celebrating the 30th anniversary of Slide It In, becomes a reminder of how ambitious and riotous this incarnation of Whitesnake was, the sonic clarity of this release capturing the raw energy of the band while, at the same time, exposing all its flaws and imperfections and building up the lusty enthusiasm of its crowds.
– Peter Lindblad

CD/DVD Review: Dennis DeYoung – Dennis DeYoung ... and the Music of Styx Live in Los Angeles

CD/DVD Review: Dennis DeYoung – Dennis DeYoung ... and the Music of Styx Live in Los Angeles
Frontiers Music Srl
All Access Rating: B+

Dennis DeYoung - Dennis DeYoung and
the Music of Styx: Live in Los Angeles 2014
As responsible as anybody for the massive success Styx enjoyed in the 1970s on into the '80s, Dennis DeYoung deserves joint custody of the band's catalog. His turn to have the kids, so to speak, came earlier this year.

Faithfully revisiting a laundry list of Styx classics – with a few solo favorites sprinkled in – at Los Angeles' El Rey Theater in March 2014, DeYoung and his six-piece backing band rolled through a nostalgic set captured live for AXS-TV in high-definition sound and video.

Effervescent and celebratory, and buoyed by an enthusiastic audience fervently voicing its appreciation at every turn, this captivating performance is now available as two CD/DVD set titled Dennis DeYoung ... And the Music of Styx Live in Los Angeles, from Frontiers Music Srl.

Still possessing the commanding vocals for which he's known, DeYoung brings heightened drama and theatricality to transcendent versions of "Foolin' Yourself," "Mr. Roboto," "Come Sail Away" – the crowd, in full throat, singing along with every word – and the always-urgent "Too Much Time on My Hands," and if DeYoung's band played with more economy, rockers like "Renegade" and "Blue Collar Man" might pack a harder punch, but that doesn't mean these takes aren't satisfying. Too often here, though, they're guilty of gilding the lilly and overplaying, as they do on a version of "Grand Illusion" that's too ornate, something Tommy Shaw and James "JY" Young would never let happen.

When it comes to ballads like "Don't Let It End" and "Desert Moon," however, DeYoung and company make them glow, tugging at heartstrings while giving them a lush treatment. And spellbinding renditions of "Suite Madame Blue" and "Crystal Ball" retain much of the witch-y magic of the originals in DeYoung's hands, meanwhile, and "Lorelei" has a gleeful bounce in its step.

A target for critics who've always laughed at their pomposity and taken pot shots at their ham-handed social commentary, Styx never paid much attention to its detractors. And if we're all being honest here, they deserve kudos for constructing memorable pop-rock anthems and championing the underdog, for examining in great depth the death of the American Dream and approaching bigger questions with a sincerity and honest concern for humanity that will forever resonate with fans.

On this night, DeYoung, ever the showman, casually interacts with them as if they were old friends, joking and reveling in Styx's unabashed bombast and wearing his romantic heart on his sleeve while singing a swooning break-up song like "Babe" with youthful conviction. Amid a sea of colorful lights and a cosmic backdrop seemingly designed by artsy aliens, DeYoung does more than just make peace with his past, savoring instead the impact, the emotions and the history of a band maligned by some, but still adored by millions more.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Cavalera Conspiracy – Pandemonium

CD Review: Cavalera Conspiracy – Pandemonium
Napalm Records
All Access Rating: A-

Cavalera Conspiracy - Pandemonium 2014
A raging, all-consuming swarm of roaring metallic noise has descended upon the world, and its name is Pandemonium, a fitting title for the latest dose of anger-inducing, teeth-gnashing vitriol from the brothers Cavalera, Max and Igor.

Abandoning melody just as the disillusioned and hopeless might turn away from God, Cavalera Conspiracy delivers their most visceral record to date, combining the heavy brutality of Brazilian death/thrash metal kingpins Sepultura – founded in part by Max and Igor – with the hammering industrial violence of latter-day Ministry.

Every track is a delirious aural madhouse, beginning with the bludgeoning, buzzing hive of activity "Babylonian Pandemonium" and rushing headlong into the pounding "I, Barbarian," with its odd, fun-house guitar effects. Air raid sirens, barking dogs and snippets of speeches contribute to the disorienting sonic melee, flooded with Max's gutteral bellow and blunt lyrical imagery, drums relentlessly pummeling away, down-tuned breakdowns and searing, psycho guitars going off in unusual directions, as if following some insane muse.

Any red meat tossed in the vicinity of the ravenous "Bonzai Kamikazee" would be immediately be devoured whole, its pawing, clawed riffs lunging at enemies real or imagined. Charging just as hard, the thundering "Cramunhao" simply overwhelms the senses, growing increasingly powerful and dense. And even when Cavalera Conspiracy is in danger of going completely off the rails – the unhinged insanity of "Scum" and "Apex Predator" being two instances – they are forever grounded in mauling, disciplined grooves that leave discernible trails so nobody gets lost, although it is next to impossible to keep up with the runaway speed of "Insurrection" and the swift, strong currents of energy that carry "Not Losing The Edge." Not to mention the fact that they stuff the record with a bevy of interesting auditory elements, rewarding repeated listens with new textures and discoveries.

One of the most intense and ferocious records to date from the Cavalera brothers, Pandemonium makes Soulfly seem an unnecessary distraction for Max. This is one Conspiracy theory that demands more investigation.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Brant Bjork and The Low Desert Punk Band – Black Power Flower

CD Review: Brant Bjork And The Low Desert Punk Band – Black Power Flower
Napalm Records
All Access Rating: B+

Brant Bjork And The Low Desert
Punk Band - Black Power Flower 2014
Coated in psychedelic fuzz and deep-fried to a crisp in a bubbling vat of distortion, Black Power Flower doesn't go too far off the desert-rock reservation formerly inhabited by Kyuss.

Once the drummer for the pioneering stoner-metal outfit, whose legend seems to grow by the day, Brant Bjork – now a permanent fixture in Vista Chino with his old Kyuss running mate, John Garcia – takes on multi-instrumentalist duties with a new project that bears his name, Brant Bjork And The Low Desert Punk Band.

Out soon on Napalm Records, Black Power Flower is a gritty, psychotropic stew of heavy, intoxicating riffs, mind-altering effects, dirty blues and ominous undercurrents. Gathering momentum in the aftermath of a doom-laden intro that recalls early Black Sabbath, the heady opener "Controllers Destroyed" becomes engorged with voluminous guitars, rumbling bass and bashed drums. Thick and rugged, "We Don't Serve Their Kind" goes from a slow burn to a steady, thundering stampede, while "Stokely Up Now" sounds more clear headed and lively, its guitars coming into sharper focus with repeated listens.

The rest of Black Power Flower is a smoky, fetid room littered with seeds and stems, junk food wrappers, pizza boxes and filthy bongs, its denizens, such as "Buddha Time (Everything Fine)" and "Soldier of Love," buzzed and slipping into comfortable comas, where tracks seem indistinguishable from one another. That's not such a terrible thing. Every track here is easy to like, throbbing with underlying tension and brimming with menacing, strong grooves that only seem lazy to the uninitiated, solid riffs with a little bit of bite to them and rhythms that move with a muscular grace. And just to show he's not a one-trick pony, Bjork tries his hand at buttery '70s funk with "That's Fact Jack" and bumps and grinds through the smoldering, sexed-up blues of "Hustler's Blues," both attempts satisfyingly seductive, earthy and organic, if not terribly original. Black Power Flower plants a seed. Now watch Brant Bjork and The Low Desert Punk Band grow.
– Peter Lindblad

Megadeth Auctions Decades of Tour Memorabilia

The historical online auction event will feature 100s of pieces of Megadeth tour memorabilia, including 20 tour and studio guitars belonging to Dave Mustaine

Houston, TX - November 4th, 2014 - Backstage Auctions presents a one of kind, rock to the core, online auction event featuring decades of Megadeth tour memorabilia. "It simply doesn’t get any Megadeth – The Countdown To Extinction Auction,” is a not to miss opportunity for fans and collectors around the world to own an authentic piece of memorabilia from one of most highly successful and significant heavy metal bands in music history.

The event, aptly titled “Megadeth – The Countdown To Extinction Auction,” is a not to miss opportunity for fans and collectors around the world to own an authentic piece of memorabilia from one of most highly successful and significant heavy metal bands in music history.

The auction will feature flight and wardrobe cases, amps, cabinets, gear, guitars, picks and strings, apparel, set lists, lyrics, tour programs, ephemera, signed items and a whole lot more.
Vic Rattlehead's Combat Boots
There is a wide range of collectibles featured in the auction that will appeal to not only collectors but also to fans around the world who want to own a piece of Megadeth history. There is even a pair of tour used Vic Rattlehead combat boots, for hardcore fans it doesn't get any more unique than owning those boots.

Definitely a big highlight of the auction are the guitars, they are simply amazing – each one having its own history and story to tell. "The selection of guitars in this auction is what Dave Mustaine and Megadeth fans could have only hoped for and dreamed of," comments van Gool. "Dave has been very generous with the instruments that he has decided to make available to the fans and collectors. He wants to make sure that his personal items end up with his fans, who will treasure them as he has."  In addition to two breathtaking double-neck 12 & 6-string V guitars, there is a host of highly recognizable signature model guitars, including the 'Angel of Deth,'  'Fear' and 'Gears of War,' as well as the
Angel of Deth I Guitar
equally infamous black and silver V guitars. And to add even more prestige to these weapons of mass destruction, some of the guitars are truly the first ever build models.

Equally impressive are the original stage back drops from Megadeth tours dating back to the 90s, tons of guitar strings – packed with not only the guitar pick but also the date and location of the show is noted on each package, Big 4 t-shirts from various countries and custom made Megadeth road cases – complete with the Megadeth stamp, custom plaque and most have been personally signed by Mustaine.

The online auction starts December 1st and will run through December 7th. A special VIP All Access Preview of the entire auction catalog will be available online beginning Saturday, November 22nd and is open to fans and collectors worldwide. "This auction has no boundaries – everyone is welcome to participate, regardless of where they live. Our only recommendation is to register early, bid hard, bid to win and have fun," says van Gool.

For more information and to register for a VIP All Access Pass for The Countdown To Extinction Megadeth Auction event follow the links:

Auction Page: Auction Details and Information

Auction RegistrationVIP All Access Pass

BACKSTAGE AUCTIONS is a boutique online auction house specializing in authentic rock memorabilia and exclusively representing legendary musicians and entertainment professionals directly. Every auction event is unique, reflecting the artist's legacy and chronicles their legendary career. Backstage Auctions has represented dozens of notable and very talented musicians, producers and managers in the music industry.

MEGADETH has created metal masterpieces for nearly three decades, selling more than 38 million albums worldwide, earning 11 Grammy® nominations and scoring five consecutive platinum albums including 1992’s two-million-selling Countdown to Extinction.

The band continued to break new ground and earn new accolades with their 2013 release, Super Collider, reaching No. 6 on The Billboard 200 and No. 3 on the Top Hard Rock Albums and Top Rock Albums charts.

On November 11, 2014, Universal Enterprises (UMe) will issue the first five platinum-selling Capitol Records MEGADETH albums on limited edition picture disc vinyl for the first time in the U.S. Titles include 1986’s Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?, 1988’s So Far, So Good…So What! and 1990’s Rust In Peace, as well as 1992’s Countdown To Extinction and 1994’s Youthanasia, both making their debut on picture disc. Each album is pressed on heavyweight vinyl and will feature the remastered mixes by Dave Mustaine with the original album track listings. 

Bobby Whitlock on his 'sacred art,' his Stax education and Delaney and Bonnie

Legendary musician talks about his formative years as a musician
By Peter Lindblad

Bobby Whitlock learned to play the Hammond organ
from Booker T. at Stax Records
(In the second part of our look at the art and career of Bobby Whitlock, we review his early days at Stax Records and his move to Delaney and Bonnie. Part 3 will discuss the downfall of Delaney & Bonnie and Friends and his participation in George Harrison's All Things Must Pass and the creation of Derek and the Dominos)

To Bobby Whitlock, art is art. It doesn't matter if he's making music or doing something else – like making jewelry, his more recent pursuit – the creative process is the same.

"There's no difference in designing a piece of jewelry, writing songs, carving a piece of wood or anything ... painting pictures, no, it's all the same and really ... as a songwriter, I'm just the vessel or the instrument," explained Whitlock, a founding member of Derek and the Dominos. "And the same holds true in jewelry design, wood, root art ... any of the stuff that I do, and it's that way for any artist. They're the tool, the instrument."

Whitlock's humility is sincere. Having played with Delaney & Bonnie and Friends at the height of their popularity, and then performing keyboards on George Harrison's legendary All Things Must Pass album, before teaming with Eric Clapton in the short-lived super group Derek and the Dominoes, Whitlock has every reason in the world to boast.

Bobby Whitlock with his
second solo album 'Raw Velvet'
He's had an incredible career in music, including helping out on records by Dr. John, the Rolling Stones, Clapton and John Lennon, playing with Booker T. & The MGs and Sam & Dave, and issuing a series of well-received solo albums. While with Derek and the Dominos, Whitlock wrote classics such as "Anyday" and "Tell The Truth." More recently, Whitlock has been performing with his wife, CoCo Carmel, also a supremely talented musician.

At home, however, he's just Bobby, quietly creating art out of whatever's available, including the cedar stumps and logs he's collected over the years from a river area near his home in Austin, Texas. To him, what he does is "sacred art." It's natural and organic, like his root art, and it has very little to do with the modern world.

Bobby Whitlock's "The Mountain Ring"
Hearing that term, "sacred art," for the first time, Whitlock didn't know what it meant. He does now, and it means the world to him. It's a good description for his jewelry creations, one of which is the "Mountain Ring," currently up for auction. Here's all the information ( Download Bobby Whitlock's Official Press Kit Today and bid via email to for the public sale of the "Mountain Ring." For auction rules, see

"It comes from sacred place," said Whitlock. "I didn't sit around with a computer and an imaging machine come up with it. Nobody did. It's not involved. As a matter of fact, I cut out some people in my experience who wanted me to do that. They wanted me to start using computerized imagery, and I'm like, 'No, no, no man ... hell no. That's like using a rhyme book (laughs)." In his Southern drawl, Whitlock added, "That ain't happening man."

His mentors at Stax Records certainly would not approve of that sort of thing either. As a teen growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, in the mid-to-late 1960s, Whitlock spent a lot of time hanging around Stax artists, including Sam & Dave, Booker T. and the MGs, the Staples Singers and Albert King. It was where he received a priceless education in soul music, having learned to play the Hammond organ watching Booker T. Eventually, Whitlock became the first white artist signed to Stax's Hip label, doing rock 'n' roll and R&B.

"What I brought with me from that time was simplicity," said Whitlock. King's guitar playing "emobodied" that, Whitlock added. So did Steve Cropper and his playing, as Whitlock cited Cropper's solo on "Green Onions" as a prime example.

"He may not be Eric Clapton in the fluid department, but there ain't but one Eric Clapton," said Whitlock. "For Eric, it's all in the wrist. Well, you've gotta have that wrist (laughs)."

A lot of people wish they could play like Clapton, including Whitlock, himself a guitarist. "But then it wouldn't be special if everybody played like him," Whitlock said.

There were plenty of special artists at Stax, including the songwriting team of Isaac Hayes and David Porter.

"I met them when they were a songwriting team at Stax," said Whitlock. "So I watched them work. I watched songs come into expression in one room and taken into the studio room, the artists' auditorium – Stax was an old movie theater ... taking it to the auditorium and recording it on a four-track machine upstairs."

Observing Cropper work his magic in the studio and the control booth, expertly and skillfully taking a recording from a 2-track to cutting acetates and incorporating fades, Whitlock was exposed to a kind of artistry that others never witnessed.

Bobby Whitlock played
keyboards on two 1969
Delaney and Bonnie albums
Raised on gospel and Southern music, Whitlock said, "I have a real colorful background," one that offers him incredible inspiration. "And my inspiration is from everything around me," he added, "and I don't know anything about things that I don't know."

So the subjects of Whitlock's songs, as well as those of his art, come straight from his own experiences.

"It's all brand new," said Whitlock. "Every moment is a learning experience."

And he's tried to soak it all in, as he said, "I sure am enjoying the ride." Part of his secret, he says, is "surrounding myself with people who are better at doing what they do than I am at what I do."

Some of those people were Cropper and Donald "Duck" Dunn and Don Nix, who were all set to produce a Whitlock solo album for the Stax subsidiary Hip, when Whitlock left to join the husband-and-wife team of Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett in a soul revue project they were putting together. Whitlock played keyboards and sang vocals on two 1969 Delaney and Bonnie albums, Home and Accept No Substitute.

In the beginning, Whitlock compared the situation to a family. "We were all really close," and he says that "carried on until 'D&A' got involved." And by D&A, Whitlock means "drugs and alcohol." Whitlock said everyone could relate to one another and "nobody told anyone what to do." Whitlock said it was similar to "birds flying." That situation wouldn't last, though.

Soen's 'Cognitive' development expands on 'Tellurian'

Complexity, melody not mutually exclusive for progressive-metal think tank
By Peter Lindblad

Soen is Martin Lopez, Kim Platbarzdis,
Stefan Stenberg, and Joel Ekelof
There's a domesticated rhinoceros sitting down to a meal of very small, naked human beings – possibly children – on the cover of Soen's sophomore album, Tellurian. Even for prog, that's some pretty bizarre artwork.

Designed by artist Jose Luis Galvan, the piece is striking and thought-provoking, and when asked how it tied into the lyrical themes of the new record, singer Joel Ekelof talked of a strong connection between them.

"We just thought his work and our work, as it sounds on Tellurian, fitted right away," said Ekelof, who released two albums with the band Willowtree before joining forces with former Amon Amarth and Opeth drummer Martin Lopez, bassist Steve Di Giorgio (Testament, Death, Sebastian Bach and Obituary) and guitarist Kim Platbarzdis in Soen in 2010.

As enigmatic as the album art is, Soen's byzantine brand of melodic progressive-metal – imagine if Tool were more song-oriented – is just as difficult to pigeonhole, and that's just how they want it. Poetic and dark, Tellurian is elaborate, multi-layered and full of exquisitely crafted detail, like the artwork of M.C. Escher, and in the same way Escher's work is delightfully strange, Soen, too, creates sprawling music that is both accessible and challenging.

Tellurian, a word meaning "of or inhabiting the earth," may seem a series of complex corridors leading to uncharted territory, but the melodic character of the music makes it approachable. And therein likes the genius of Soen. They make beautiful sounds, while still managing to be quirky and arty.

Recruiting people like Dave Bottrill (Smashing Pumpkins, King Crimson and Muse) to mix the record and Adam Ayan – both of them Grammy winners – to master it only speaks to Soen's passion for musical quality control, as Platbarzdis produced Tellurian.

Di Giorgio having been replaced on bass by Stefan Stenberg, Soen appears to be solidifying its lineup and growing more confident in its abilities, as Tellurian is one of the more interesting releases of 2014. Ekelof and Lopez recently talked about Tellurian and the band's inner workings in this interview.

What's the significance of the album title Tellurian? Do you see the music as having a very earthy quality?
Joel Ekelof: Not necessarily earthy, but sometimes we could take a step back and reflect on the implications of our actions. Whether we do it to ourselves, people around us or our environment.

These tracks sound so intricate. Is that important to the band, to make something complex and yet record an album that flows and is accessible? And is that especially true of this album, as opposed to Cognitive?
JE: The complex parts of the album never come from a decision that we should do a complex part. But the small change in a part that makes it complex might give it a tension that resolves in a release when a more straightforward part follows. In the same way that dissonant chords make you hold your breath until [their] released. Still, this is not a "theory" that we follow, rather a pattern that can be read out of the result.

Talk about the concept for the video for "Tabula Rosa" and how it relates to the lyrics of the song. Why did it make sense to release that as the first single?
JE: It was very hard for us to choose one favorite of the album, so we decided to let people around us have a say. The concept of the video is addressing the fact that people feel they cannot affect their lives.
Martin Lopez: The fact that we're not in charge of our own future, and that humanity and solidarity are very rare these days. That's the key concept of the video, to somehow show the anger towards injustice that the majority of us share.

How has the songwriting and recording process evolved for the band from Cognitive to Tellurian? Did the process remain the same for both?
JE: Both are the same. But for this album we had more time to work on the music. We spent a lot of time going through details, something we didn't do with Cognitive.
ML: We also gained some experience while recording Cognitive and that helped us save time and avoid error while recording Tellurian.

How is it different from other bands you've been in? What do you enjoy most about this experience, as opposed to your experiences in other groups?
ML: There isn't any pressure from the outside, and there isn't any economical expectations behind Soen. We do the music that we love without any outside factors affecting our mindset and all our decisions are made based on how they'll affect us as a band and as individuals, and that can be hard when you're part of a band that has a greater following and that many people economically depend on. Also, we maintain a very relaxed and positive relationship within the band and that makes everything a lot smoother.

Were there things you tried on this album that you didn't on Cognitive?
ML: Not really. The main difference is that we eliminated every part we considered filler and put a lot of effort on being more direct and "close" to the listener.
JE: Basically, we have refined the sound from Cognitive.

Soen - Tellurian 2014
The album art is amazing. Tell me about the artist and what your reaction was when you first saw this work? In what ways did it relate to themes you explored on this record?
JE: Jose Luis Galvan designed it. He's an amazing Mexican artist.

The band's musicianship is something that really stands out with Soen, and yet, there is a real emphasis on song and melody. Have there been times in the studio where you had to rein yourselves in because you thought you were going overboard showing off your chops at the expense of the song?
JE: No, we always try to look at the song as a whole. Sure, we've cut away a few complicated parts that didn't make it to the album when we wrote the songs, but it was never an issue about it was too ... complicated, "show offy," hard to play. The only interesting parameter is if it has a purpose in the song.
ML: Our music is about balance. Song comes first, musicianship second, but both are every important and need to illuminate each other.

"Kuraman" is probably my favorite track on Tellurian. Talk about how that song was conceived. It reminds me of System of a Down a little, with really heavy, complex parts and big melodic choruses and that violent drumming in the middle.
ML: I pretty much wrote the whole song as a bass line, and we added vocals at a very early stage so we had quite a good song before even adding guitars and drums. So it was all about choosing wisely while adding drums and guitars so that the vocals and bass would still carry the song.

I wanted to get your thoughts on some other tracks on Tellurian, starting with "Koniskas."
ML: "Koniskas" started as a ballad and while going through it with Joel, we noticed that we should make it heavier, add drums and distortion but still try to keep the warmth of the song.

"The Other Fall" has some really interesting rhythms, as do a lot of the tracks on the record. How did that song come together, especially with regard to the drums?
ML: Drums came first, then bass and then we noticed we could build a song around that theme, so we picked up the guitar and keyboard and wrote some harmonies as a platform for Joel to sing on. We wanted the song to be really heavy and proggy in a violent way.

What do you feel is the heaviest song on the album? I might argue that it's "Pluton."
ML: The heaviest emotionally, at least for me, is "The Words" and the heaviest musically may be "Pluton" or "The Other's Fall."

There are a lot of passages to wander through as a listener on this album. It's almost like a series of tunnels or a maze. Do you think of albums in that sense?
JE: Not in general. Most albums give some kind of abstract feeling. I guess this kind of music consisting of many different parts that take many turns have a tendency to give more of a maze-like feeling, rather than an open landscape with rainbows ...
ML: I'm glad you feel this way because we wanted the album to have some kind of adventurous aura over it.

What would be the greatest compliment you could ever get regarding this record?
ML: Don't really need compliments ... just coming to a show and sharing a moment with the band is more than enough.

CD Review: Riot V – Unleash The Fire

CD Review: Riot V – Unleash The Fire
All Access Rating: A-

Riot V - Unleash The Fire 2014
There is life after Mark Reale for the rest of Riot. When Reale, the band's driving force, died in 2012, it appeared that was it for the scrappy hard-rock underdogs, Riot having written its final chapter with 2001's critically acclaimed reunion album Immortal Soul.

Urged by Reale himself, as well as his estate, to carry on in his absence, the remaining members have reconvened as Riot V, picking the pieces to roar back to life with the Steamhammer/SPV effort Unleash The Fire. With bassist Don Van Stavern handling much of the songwriting and guitarist Mike Flyntz assisting in the album's creation, Riot V – also featuring Todd Michael Hall belting out vocals, plus drummer Frank Gilchriest and shredder Nick Lee on guitar – has risen from the ashes, molding and shaping a record that's more than just a throwback to Riot's glorious past.

Unleash The Fire has everything a fan of Riot could want, from its electrically charged riffs to its soaring melodies, gripping hooks and distinctively sculpted dual-guitar leads. Intense and gripping, the gnarled "Kill To Survive," a pounding title track and the striking "Bring the Hammer Down" are surprisingly visceral, somehow managing to recapture the raw excitement of Riot's best work. And yet they pale in comparison to the thrilling barrage of riffs that make the action-packed "Return of the Outlaw" an absolute corker of a track.

A touching and emotional ballad that, without resorting to cliched sentimentality, honors Riot V's fallen leader, "Immortal" offers a testament to Reale's enduring artistry, his dedication to his craft and his stubborn refusal to give up on Riot, even when it seemed all was lost. There's little time for mourning, however, as the dazzling hooks and streaming guitars of "Land of the Rising Sun" light up the darkness, betraying the stylized pop-metal sensibilities of the song's creators.

Unleash The Fire is classic Riot, but because it harkens back to the days of Thundersteel and carries the flag for traditional metal, Riot V could be accused of simply retracing their steps. Such criticism is unwarranted. There is a freshness and vitality to this material that's undeniable, and they deliver it with passion and superb execution, the well-coordinated guitar attacks, in particular, mapped out with an ear for melody and a thirst for power. There is plenty of fire left in Riot V's belly.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Obituary – Inked In Blood

CD Review: Obituary – Inked In Blood
Relapse Records
All Access Rating: A-

Obituary - Inked In Blood 2014
The history of Obituary is a bloody one, and the body count is only going to go up with their Relapse Records release Inked In Blood, the pioneering death-metal maulers' latest aural massacre.

Just as the merciless Floridians' name is carved into a headless and legless torso on Inked In Blood's shockingly gruesome cover, so, too, does Obituary – on album No. 9 now – carefully cut menacing, growling riffs out of raging guitars, and they do it with more brawn, more bleak feel and malevolent tone than almost anybody else.

The dark, surging title track is the product of a diseased mind churning with violent thoughts, as heavy, deeply entrenched grooves are slowly and deliberately plowed into the desolate acres of blackened sonic earth titled "Deny You," "Pain Inside" and "Within a Dying Breed," as if Obituary is at the helm of some murderous tractor. More aggressive and fierce are "Visions In My Head," a swirling tempest of sound, and "Violence" and "Minds of the World," two incurable cases of rabid, rampaging madness that ought to be locked up for public safety. Even more ferocious, "Paralyzed With Fear" simply overwhelms the senses.

Not quite sludgy, but certainly methodical, with pummeling double-kick drum fury and tortured vocals, Inked In Blood has a grip as strong as the jaws of a pit bull, even if the tracks tend to blur together due to a lack of songwriting diversity and imagination. Still, when Obituary increases the speed or toys with tempo changes, the slight shifts are seamlessly executed and always interesting, and executed with brutally efficient.

No need to write that Obituary just yet. They're alive, and this lineup of John (vocals) and Donald (drums) Tardy, guitarists Trevor Peres and Kenny Andrews, and bassist Terry Butler is practically frothing at the mouth to show you just how powerful they are.
 – Peter Lindblad

Live Review: Mastodon, Gojira, Kvelertak in Madison

Live Review: Mastodon, Gojira, Kvelertak
By Peter Lindblad

Mastodon's Brann Dailor, Brett Hinds,
Bill Kelliher and Troy Sanders (Photo by
Travis Shinn)
A lot is expected of Mastodon. Such is their burden, and they don't really seem to mind carrying it.

From the moment Remission dropped from the sky in 2002 and crashed into earth like a devastating asteroid, the legend of Mastodon has only grown larger. Their enormous, surging riffs and enthralling progressive passages – so intricately designed and so hypnotic to behold – made believers out of metal fans and the cult of Mastodon continued to grow.

Nobody does concept albums anymore, and yet Mastodon, typically oblivious to the whims of a fickle music industry, unleashed in 2004 the titanic Leviathan to critical acclaim. For God's sake, it was a record centered around the tale of "Moby Dick" by Herman Melville, and even though it was a story about a maniacal obsession for killing a damn big whale, it's not really the most "metal" thing in the world to meditate on dusty old literary sacred cows. Just who were these people? They are the four horsemen that make up Mastodon, that's who. And they'll do anything they damn well please, because they know you have to have those riffs. You have to have Brent Hinds' otherworldly guitar solos and Brann Dailor's seemingly impossible drumming gymnastics. Without them, the world would be a cold, empty place, indeed.

Whether taking astral voyages through Crack The Skye, crafting what may well be the greatest metal epic of the new millennium in the thunderous Blood Mountain or making a video with so much ass-tastic twerking that it made what Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus did look positively Mormon by comparison, Mastodon has always gone its own way, confident in asserting that what they've done is just and right and if you don't like it, there's the door.

Well, some longtime supporters in recent years have looked at that same door and wondered if the party's winding down and whether it might be time to leave. With The Hunter and its follow-up, this year's Once More 'Round The Sun, Mastodon's sound has evolved into something warmer and more colorful, and heaven forbid, more pop. And then came that twerking video, the one for "The Motherlode." That, apparently, crossed some sort of line.

And so, with doubt creeping in and cracks starting to appear in Mastodon fandom, what did these loud and heavy minstrels do? They decided to go on tour in support of Once More 'Round The Sun – which boasts some of their best songwriting by the way; don't let the naysayers' nitpicking make you believe otherwise – with two of the hungriest, most ambitious young bands around in French technical death metal giants Gojira and the ball of black metal and punk fury known as Kvelertak. Got a load of Gojira in this video:

All three invaded The Orpheum in Madison, Wis., on Thursday, and what a spectacular triple bill it was. The monstrous wall of pummeling sound – not to mention their inhuman precision and wrecking-ball swing – Gojira constructed must have caused all kinds of seismic activity in the area, its music infinitely more violent live than on record. By all rights, it's hard to believe the capitol building is still standing. All this coming on the heels of the barely harnessed raw intensity of Kvelertak, a jail break of three guitars, sturdy, roaring riffs and punk energy. Here's what they bring to the table:

Not just anyone could follow that. Again, though, this is Mastodon. Perhaps they felt a need to be pushed on this tour, to have some competition that would give them all they wanted and then some. And with the Duplantier brothers of Gojira in Madison – evidently the birthplace of their mother or she grew up there or something – they were highly motivated to shock and awe, having informed the audience how special this performance was to them.

And it was important to Mastodon and its followers, too, if only to show, once and for all, that they deserved to headline, that they're still as heavy as ever and can still leave audiences spellbound with dreamy, cosmic transmissions, while at the same time delivering non-stop action and landing big hooks right on the chin. There was no "Curl of the Burl," but there was a dazzling version of "The Motherlode," followed by a spacey and powerful "Oblivion." Throw out the set lists. It's not important what songs were played. It's how they played them.

They played them with swagger. They were playful, and they were mighty, their last six or so songs a blur of thick, psychedelic, swirling sound that was as punishing and action-packed as it was melodic and beautiful. It was fast and slow, trippy and as focused as the lasers shooting overhead on occasion, an acid-induced nightmare of a tapestry behind them matching the wild and wooly atmosphere. There was Troy Sanders, throwing down massive bass lines and banging not just his head but his whole body. There were Hinds and Bill Kelliher, cycling through captivating dual-guitar explorations as if tunneling to the center of the earth or hurtling through space to fight alien monsters. And then there are the vocals, Mastodon's unique arrangement of three singers who haven't always been great live. Even if Hinds was a bit muted, they rarely, if ever, veered off track.

And Mastodon performed as if they had nothing to prove to anyone. They knew what they were capable of, and they simply let it rip, throwing caution to the wind, but they were never careless.

Searching for the motherlode of current metal treasures? Look no further than this tour. It's not to be missed.

CD Review: Allen/Lande – The Great Divide

CD Review: Allen/Lande – The Great Divide
Frontiers Music srl
All Access Rating: B+

Allen/Lande - The Great Divide 2014
The name on the marquee says Allen/Lande, but what about Timo Tolkki? How about making some room for the former Stratovarius songwriter, guitarist and producer, too?

For The Great Divide, their fourth album together, Russell Allen and Jorn Lande – two of the most powerful metal vocalists in captivity – relied on Tolkki's musical vision to shepherd this project to its logical conclusion, after having worked with the likes of Primal Fear's Magnus Karlsson and Pink Cream 69's Dennis Ward on earlier efforts.

In his capable hands, Tolkki, who assumed the songwriting and production responsibilities, has shaped The Great Divide into an album of dramatic, high-flying power metal delivered with urgency and a sharp focus, where the choruses are generous, the hooks are screwed in tight, the guitar solos from Tolkki are transcendent and the melodies are heavenly and memorable. Tolkki, by the way, also handles bass and keyboards on The Great Divide.

Electricity races through "Down From the Mountain," as riffs strike like a series of dangerous lightning bolts, and "Solid Ground," with its silvery, expansive synthesizers, is purposeful and determined. In the end, however, it's the heavy, surging dynamics of an epic "Lady in Winter," where Allen seems possessed by the spirit of Ronnie James Dio, and "The Hymn to the Fallen" – Lande's rasp recalling David Coverdale at the height of Whitesnake's popularity – that win the day, even as heady pop-metal rush of "Reaching For the Stars" simply takes your breath away.

While some of the arrangements are less than imaginative – "Come Dream With Me" being a prime example – The Great Divide is a well-orchestrated and powerfully uplifting record, with just a hint of mystery, some beautifully designed intros and a variety of vocal stylings. Here, the leather-lunged Allen, singer for the progressive-metal behemoths Symphony X, and the expressive Lande, front man for German power-metal heroes Masterplan, test their impressive range, willing it to great heights, although at times, they lay it on a bit thick – Allen's overly dramatic reading of the title track, in particular, needing to be reined in considerably, as do the vocals in "BitterSweet," a lifeless, uninspired power ballad that cannot be resuscitated.

There is greatness in The Great Divide, even if it's not quite a masterpiece.
– Peter Lindblad