Tag: prog

Album review: Empyre

EMPYRE Self Aware [self-released] The opening track ‘My Bad’ sets out the template for the debut by this Northampton quartet and their wrought, minor-chord melodrama of a debut album. Solid…

Self Aware [self-released]

The opening track ‘My Bad’ sets out the template for the debut by this Northampton quartet and their wrought, minor-chord melodrama of a debut album. Solid and thick rhythms; crunchy blues-metal riffs, intense-yet-introspective lyrics sung by front-man Henrik Steenholdt. Self Aware is not something that’s ever going to wash over you in the background.

Taking their cues from the likes of Alice in Chains and Stone Temple Pilots, with occasional forays into Muse-like bombast, Self Aware is a thrilling and atmospheric ride to be on. Recent single New ‘Republic’ is the first heads-down rocker to come along, cruising confidently on those Soundgarden-style verses and Metallica vocal workouts. 

A band that’s no stranger to accomplished and almost progressive songwriting ideas, they aren’t afraid to be bold when they need to, as ‘Just A Ride’ with it’s gentle feedback passages, ably demonstrates. But then ‘Too Close’ shows they are able to be just as melodic as any classic band you care to name. Steenholdt’s wail on the latter is something to truly behold too, holding long notes with aplomb.  

‘Drive’ perhaps sees them coming too close to aping their heroes, not offering the originality that’s clearly evident elsewhere on the album.  It’s the mid album dip I guess; same applies to ‘Only Way Out’. ‘Cut To The Core’ though has a touch of the pop-punk in its rhythm, and it suits them well. The previous single, the catchy and hard-hitting ‘Too Little Too Late’, is the one to ease yourself into their world; the drums cut hard, as do the lyrics. By the time the finale, the atmospheric and epic grunge workout ‘Homegrown’, finishes you do feel emotionally exhausted, but in the best way possible.

A hard-working band, the general buzz around Empyre is there for good reason. They come alive in the gig environment, and they’ve done a great job of getting that energy in the studio across these eleven tracks, whilst still adding enough texture to warrant repeat plays. If you like your hard rock with some proggy bites then Self Aware really should be happy nestling in your collection very soon.

Phil Moore

Self Aware is out now


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New Music Friday: Stereo Skull

Stereo Skull, the four-piece prog metal band from Wellingborough [via Latvia], have concocted something special with new single ‘Play God’, not to mention the accompanying video. Inspired by the likes…

Stereo Skull, the four-piece prog metal band from Wellingborough [via Latvia], have concocted something special with new single ‘Play God’, not to mention the accompanying video. Inspired by the likes of Fear Factory, Lamb Of God, Coal Chamber, Mudvayne, and American Head Charge, the band consists of Arthur Sambars [vocals, guitars, programming], Aivars Sambars [guitars, programming], Carlos Fandango [vocals] and Mat Williams [bass]. New Boots had to find out more, so spoke to Arthur. 

How  did you guys get together?
The founding members, myself and Aivars my brother, have been into music since childhood. We arrived in the UK in early 2009 and four years later met Ethan [ex Decadent, Still Remains UK, Motorpace, Black Rose Society]. Another two years later we met Carlos who took some time off vocal duties after departure from Black Ink Sun, then another year passed and we met Mat who just left disbanded Black Ink Sun. The drummer left last summer and after an active search, we’re still auditioning people. Our love for heavy music, being in front of the audience, getting better and bigger are the main reasons for what we do. 

How would you describe your sound? 
The musical background for each band member is different. Everyone adds something to it. The end result is the mixture of industrial, death, and progressive metal.

What was the reaction like from the public to the ‘Madness’ EP from last year? 
Our friends and followers were excited and supportive. We streamed a live Facebook video from the studio the day we released it, and it had whoppi ng thousand views during the stream. Everyone could watch us at home from their mobile devices anywhere around the globe. The EP is entirely self released, it’s available on all streaming platforms, but we’re putting together the physical copy as well, it’s going to be a nice surprise for our fans. Can’t reveal too much at the moment. 

Tell us everything about this new release, ‘Play God’.
There was this track sitting on the shelf for around ten years, and we decided to polish it up. Carlos added the lyrics and with help of our former drummer we improved the track dramatically. It’s a nice blend of black, thrash, Nu, prog and cyber, with orchestral elements – and with a triple layered death metal vocals! We wrote and recorded at our home studio [currently branded ‘Salamander Media Works’].  

The video is incredible. Tell us about it 
The story goes on. Just when we got to the end of composing of the song, there’s this lady, Scarlet Phoenix, from Leicester asking for help from the bands with her uni Art and Performance project. We respond straight away and she gives us the raw video material she and her model friends Gabriela Sindel and Edgars Karklins filmed in Nottingham, if I remember correctly. Our job was just to add the band footage, but eventually we took over the whole production thing. Mat our bassist is a talented guy in making professional-looking videos. He worked mainly on lyric videos in the past, but with my, pre-production and editing skills we managed to produce a decent music video ourselves. The band shoot has been done at my place; you’ll see how it came about in our upcoming Making Of video. 

You work hard travelling and playing shows. Is that Stereo Skull’s best strength, the live show? 
It definitely is. Carlos is amazing frontman. We don’t stand out too much image-wise: we don’t have our own uniform, the only thing we wear is our passion for music on stage. There are some elements we use that help us to stand out among other bands though, and it’s the sampled synths and live video projections if the venue is big enough. We used to have a live VJ in the past, but now with the help of technology it’s all synced up with our performance. The next step is… nah, I’m not gonna reveal it for now. It’s a work in progress, don’t wanna jinx it. Also we happened to have our own meme in the band which was our drummer, his baseball bat incident particularly. Definitely gathered more people around the Skulls, and kinda changed us a little. We continue revealing our funny side, and life on the local scene in our gig report videos. Everybody loves stupid shit. And it’s fine. 

You are part of the music scene in Northamptonshire. Any favourites you want give a shout out to? 
Big shout out to Andy Green from Blackbush Promotions, we had a great time sharing the stage with the Still Remains UK some years back. Our first out of town experiences were a lot of fun thanks to him. He manages the live gigs in the King Billy: needless to say it became our second home. HOPevents, Lost Island Bookings, Attic Promotions and Castle Mountain Promotions gave us great platform locally. Roadmender, Athletic Club, Zombie Hut, Black Prince, Prince Of Wales, Castle Theatre, Picturedrome, Horseshoe, Raff’s etc, we love them all. 
Favorite local bands are Krysthla, From Eden To Exile, Haema, Siderian, ReaperX, Mutiny UK, Ashborn, Fleisch, Fueled Hate, Primal Holocaust, Darkhorse to mention a few. 

What has been your favourite band moment of the past year? 
The video shoot, and getting back on stage after a long break without a drummer and still cracking it. One proud moment we had just this week; we managed to put our very first tour together by ourselves. It’s been a very busy and exciting year so far.

What is your burning desire for the band to do in the future? What plans do you have? 
For now to finish off the special edition of the EP, and cracking on to the debut album. The concept, album artwork and tracks are pretty much ready, we just have to record it – and probably even sign with some label. We’re going on a UK tour with German/Latvian band Māra as a main support at the end of June; that should be a lot of fun. We will try to get to some bigger stages next year. Will definitely try our luck in Metal 2 The Masses again.

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That Joe Payne debut single and live show

Ex-frontman of The Enid Joe Payne launches his solo career on March 2nd with a single and accompanying launch gig at Northampton’s Picturedrome. Now going under the That Joe Payne…

Ex-frontman of The Enid Joe Payne launches his solo career on March 2nd with a single and accompanying launch gig at Northampton’s Picturedrome.

Now going under the That Joe Payne moniker, ‘I Need A Change’ is the first shot across the bow in a new phase of the singer-songwriters’ life. New Boots sat down and got the skinny on how he got here.

First things first: what’s your musical background – did your love come from family, school lessons, friends…?
I grew up in the small town of Tring, Hertfordshire where they had a community theatre. I spent all my spare time there, rehearsing and performing, and it got me totally addicted to being on stage. Apart from some classical training in singing and piano, I guess I inherited some of my musicality from my dad who would like to play his guitar privately. If anything, I wonder if he followed my example in the end, as he’s now the one spending all his time at the theatre playing for the show bands!

How did you end up in The Enid?
When I was about 19 I decided to book a recording studio for the first time, sick of always recording naff demos in peoples garages. The Lodge Recording Studio was my choice, and just so happened to be home of The Enid. They invited my band to see them at a gig in Chesham, near my home. I absolutely loved it! It must’ve been the first time I’d heard any music that appealed to my taste for classical, theatre, rock and pop, all at the same time.

The band invited me to sing backing vocals for them. About a year later, both recently turned single, Max and I fell in love and started spending all our time together. I was just graduating with a degree in Business Management, so it made sense for me to start running The Enid’s independent record label. Then, having become part of the family so to speak, I was invited to sing lead.

How was your experience of being a part of their journey?
In all honesty, the whole road from joining to leaving was a frustrating one. I was forever under pressure to prove myself in some way. It’s not easy trying to re-brand something that already has so much history.

I was only 22 when I joined, and it felt like no one would take me seriously. To a lot of The Enid’s fans I threatened their idea of what the band was all about. To others I was just a singer, and despite writing a lot of the new music, no one ever gave me credit for it.

Don’t get me wrong, I proved a lot in the end. By the time I left I had made a name for myself, and raised the bar dramatically for the band’s shows. But it was tough to do, and not everyone was willing to move together on everything. Over time I started to feel less and less part of the band and more of a separate entity.

How was the support of the wider prog fraternity?
The prog community and I remain very close. Not only did I front The Enid, but I was also running the record label, booking the shows, arranging PR, etc. So by default I would always be the one to correspond with people. Fortunately for me I made a lot of friends that way.

The wider fan base definitely had my back, and it feels like they still do. Winning ‘Best Male Vocalist’ in the Prog Magazine Readers’ Poll two years running was totally unexpected. Considering who I’m up against, there are much bigger artist than me that have topped these polls. I’m lucky to have so much support. It wouldn’t be easy for me to start again without all these people behind me.

Why did you decide to go your separate ways?
I had a breakdown. Every band has internal politics, but this was a whole new level for me. As far as anyone knows publicly, I left so I could begin recovering my mental health. The point is, for me anyway, continuing working or living with The Enid wasn’t an option. If I’d stayed I’d probably be dead by now.

How was the decision to go solo?
Having a solo project was always something I’d wanted to do, but I wasn’t really allowed to do it. Anything outside the band was considered to be a wasteful use of time which could be spent on the band instead. So that was quite limiting. Once I left the band I knew I’d rather go solo than start a new one. It was my first and only chance to express myself exactly the way I wanted.

But daunting? Hell yeah! I spent the first 6 months of my illness doing nothing, literally incapable of working. The next six months I used to re-educate myself, reading all the music theory books I could and playing the piano every day. I had barely touched one in about 10 years. I only really began writing music again mid-2017. It took me so long to get started, not because I didn’t have the ideas, but because I was still fighting off all those old voices in my head that told me I needed to prove something.

Now that I’ve done it, worked out my writing process, had feedback from the press, those voices have finally been silenced. I’ve learned that those doubts had no place being there in the first place, and I’ve always had it in me to do it on my own.

Is ‘Moonlit Love’ – a widescreen choral ballad – a good signifier of what to expect in the future?
I guess you could say it is, yeah. My writing style is very classically influenced, and I grew up playing a lot of Beethoven and Mozart. It’s that kind of emotive harmony, melodic ideas and modulation that I get a kick out of. It does mean everything is a pain in the arse to play though! Haha

What’s the debut single ‘I Need A Change’ about?
‘I Need a Change’ is probably the darkest thing I’ve ever written. It’s about suicide, guilt, loneliness… At the time when I first started writing it I had nothing left to live for. I was about to lose my businesses, my home, my dog, my relationship. Everything was being taken away from me. So the song is very much about ending one life to start a new one, or dying to be reborn. I had to leave everything behind and start again with nothing.

What can we expect at the Picturedrome show? It’s all local musicians that are playing with you…
The set list is kind of like a greatest hits. I’ll be performing some of the songs I’m best known for doing with The Enid. I made a point of only choosing the ones I was a writer on, and those just so happened to be the most popular tracks at the time. I’ll also be airing some other collaborative work for the first time, plus new material.

I have a great band playing with me. Local boys Dan Battison (Ginger Snaps) is on bass, and Josh Judd (Burrowing Bees) is on drums. I also have Moray Macdonald on keys and Oliver Day on guitar. Both of these guys are renowned throughout the prog scene for their work with other bands such as Crimson Sky and Yes tribute, Fragile.

When can we expect an album?
This year I’m planning to drip out singles. I don’t want to rush the album, but I already know what songs are going on it. In fact I have a three album plan, and this is just the first. Once I feel that I’ve raised my profile enough as a solo artist, I’ll be ready to launch the album. I’m thinking early 2019 would be a good time.

What’s on your stereo this week?
I’ve been getting really excited about Brighton Pride this year, and as Britney Spears is performing I have been solidly listening to her entire back catalogue in consecutive order. I may be a prog artist, but there’s a pop princess in me somewhere!

Who is your favourite local artist?
Definitely Burrowing Bees! Why do you think I invited them to support me on the 2nd of March? I can’t get enough of them.

Tell us something about you the public don’t know.
When I was a kid I auditioned for S Club Juniors, and Nicki Chapman told me I had a “nice smile”. I didn’t get the job…

‘I Need A Change’ is out Friday March 2nd, and available to order on CD here. Tickets for the March 2nd Picturedrome show are available here

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