We’ve reached the end of the Sonic Cathedral Retrospective countdown! I’ve been listing my 20 favorite artists that I’ve covered in my five years of writing at the Sonic Cathedral WebZine. And today, it’s time to reveal the top five – including the artist I chose for #1!
First, in case you’ve missed the previous installments, here they are:
So if we left off at #6, that means we’ll start tonight with…
Home: The Netherlands
Genre: Atmospheric metal
Covered: Four times
Consistency, mood, and a slowly unfolding evolution – these qualities have made Autumn one of the most enduring female-fronted metal bands on the European scene, as well as one of my favorites. One reason is their frontwomen, past and present. Nienke de Jong and current singer Marjan Welman have drastically different voices that have fit Autumn’s distinct sound in their own ways. Another reason is, like Flowing Tears, Autumn brings a different personality to each album. Be it doomy and enigmatic (Summer’s End), rock-oriented and introspective (My New Time), experimental and cerebral (Altitude), or grungey and nuanced (Cold Comfort) – it hasn’t mattered to me. I’ve loved every Autumn album to date. Which might explain why I’ve reviewed three out of the four albums listed above, including their past two releases (2009’s Altitude and 2011’s Cold Comfort). I was also lucky enough to interview Marjan during the Altitude promo cycle. She was incredibly sweet; and as we “talked” (email interview) about her transition into the band, she sounded genuinely excited and grateful to be a part of Autumn and its future.
Home: United States / Sweden / Germany
Genre: Power metal
Covered: September 2012
I bet some of you are thinking, ‘Wait a second. Kamelot’s got a male singer. What are they doing here?!” Well, if you’re familiar with Kamelot’s music, you’ll know that this symphonic power metal band often uses female guest singers on their albums and as backing vocalists for their live shows. They also frequently invite female-fronted metal bands as support acts for their tours. That’s why our staff calls Kamelot a “female friendly” metal band. And in my eyes, that was enough of a reason to go after an interview with Kamelot during their North American tour with Nightwish last fall. And I was thrilled to have it happen! I talked to singer Tommy Karevik for one of his first interviews since joining Kamelot earlier in the year. He was incredibly nice, still in awe of the opportunity he’d been given with the band, and very appreciative of the feedback he’d received up to that point. And yes, I was able to keep my fangirling in check and remain professional. (LOL!) Kamelot will hit North America next month for a headlining tour – and I’m super-excited to see them play live again!
Also, here’s a review I wrote for Kamelot’s most recent album, “Silverthorn,” which I published here at my blog.
#3: The Mariana Hollow
Home: London, United Kingdom
Genre: Alternative metal
Covered: Four times
There are only three bands I’ve covered a whopping four times at SC: Autumn, Within Temptation, and The Mariana Hollow. This as-yet unsigned alternative metal quintet from London is hands down my favorite musical discovery during my tenure at the Zine. I have three good reasons why TMH earned such a high placement on this countdown. First, their music is incredible. It’s a brooding, melodic style that’s equally driven by guitar dynamics and Rebecca Spinks’ searing, emotional voice. Throw in thoughtful lyrics, oceanic atmospheres (figuratively speaking), and occasional progressive twists, and you’ve got something truly unique. Their first two releases – Coma Heart and Velvet Black Sky – also came to me during two separate difficult periods in my life. Playing those albums over and over again during those times brought a sense of strength and comfort as well as creative inspiration. (I can’t help it – I’m a writer!) Second, the band members are genuinely awesome people. The two interviews I’ve done with The Mariana Hollow show their passion for their music, their “familial” bond and friendship, and their hysterical collective sense of humor. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve laughed out loud because of their answers!
Finally, and most importantly, it’s been a joy to interact with TMH. Ever since our first interactions in 2010, the band members have privately gone out of their way to express their appreciation for my coverage of their music and ask for my opinions about unreleased material and advice about the music business. No other band has ever done that with me. All I can think of saying in response that I never ever promote or recommend bands out of expectation for a reward; I do it simply because I love what I hear and I want to help the artist. So, to The Mariana Hollow: Thank you, and keep up the awesome work. 😉
#2: Within Temptation
Home: The Netherlands
Genre: Symphonic metal
Covered: Four times
If Evanescence whet my appetite for female-fronted rock and metal, Within Temptation made me crave it even more. This Dutch symphonic metal quintet is one of the most popular and famous bands that SC covers and one of my all-time favorites. But it’s not just about the bombastic arrangements, fantasy-inspired lyrics, and Sharon den Adel’s angelic voice. For me, my connection to Within Temptation runs much deeper. The first WT album I ever owned, The Silent Force, arrived in the mail the day before my paternal grandmother passed away in 2005 – and one of the songs on TSF is “Memories,” an elegy for loved ones who have gone. I cried the first time I listened to TSF for that very reason.
So, yes, a lot of my “femme metal” past revolves around Within Temptation. I’ve gone to their Massachusetts shows each time they’ve toured in North America. And, not only have I been fortunate to cover Within Temptation’s last three international releases for Sonic Cathedral, but I also interviewed Sharon before the band’s Worcester, MA show in 2011. She was such a sweetheart: very friendly and down-to-earth, and doesn’t take herself too seriously. And before the tour manager whisked me off the bus, I told Sharon my story about “Memories” – and she gave me a (small) present in return! 😀 It’s not every day that you see one of the genre’s biggest bands showing their appreciation for you the fan in something more personal than a contest or a Facebook / social media thank you.
So, who was my choice for #1? After what I thought would be an excruciatingly difficult choice between Within Temptation and this multi-talented artist, I went with…
#1: Arjen Lucassen / Ayreon / Star One
Home: The Netherlands
Genre: Progressive rock/metal
Covered: Three times
Yes, the “Tall Minstrel” himself. He and his music have been an absolute joy to cover. Not to mention Arjen is one of the most prolific artists in the business. Besides the ongoing prog metal / rock opera Ayreon, he’s also the founder of other musical projects such as Star One (“space metal” opera), Guilt Machine (atmospheric prog rock/metal), Stream of Passion (featured at #7 of this countdown), and even two solo albums. So, what do I enjoy about Arjen’s music? Lots. The salient melodies, the mix of concise tracks with winding epics, the balance of bombastic metal arrangements with more toned-down folk and electronic influences… and Arjen’s excellent taste in talent. For his projects he’s invited fantastic male and female vocalists from all corners of rock and metal, from big names (Bruce Dickinson, James LaBrie, Sharon den Adel, Anneke van Giersbergen) to equally gifted newcomers. Actually, I owe Arjen credit for (indirectly) helping me discover several of the bands I listen to today.
Why put Mr. Lucassen at #1? First, I love just about anything he’s made for music. Every album he’s released since the previous Ayreon album (01011001) in 2008 has been somewhere in my top 10 list for its year. (His last Star One album, Victims of the Modern Age, was my favorite album of 2010.) Second, I’ve had a blast writing reviews for his music. The more that an album’s lyrics, music, and vocals seize my imagination, the more creative I get with wordplay and expression; and Arjen’s music does that for me every time. Finally, Arjen is one of the most genuine people I’ve ever interviewed. He’s honest, funny, and extremely passionate about his work. I remember having a huge smile on my face after we got off the phone – and feeling absolutely smitten as a journalist. So, would you believe me if I told you I’m already fidgeting with excitement over the next Ayreon album, The Theory of Everything? 😀 😀
Coming Soon: Come back Monday to read my next CD review for Sonic Cathedral!