Author Archives: Jason Miller

TVD Live Shots: Sabaton, Babymetal, and Lordi at Wembley Arena, 4/15

In the annals of metal history, 2023 stands out as the time when the ultimate spectacle hit the stage: The Tour to End All Tours. This bold proclamation may have raised eyebrows, but the lineup spoke for itself. Featuring Finnish Eurovision metal titans Lordi, Japanese trailblazers Babymetal, and the colossal Swedish power metal band Sabaton, this tour was destined to be etched into the memories of metalheads across the UK and Europe.

Kicking off in Leeds last week, the tour thundered into London on Saturday night, unleashing Sabaton’s massive and spectacular show at the iconic Wembley Arena. As one of the big four of power metal and among Sweden’s most successful metal bands, Sabaton has earned their place at the helm for a night of over-the-top metal theatrics and storytelling.

Formed in 1999, Sabaton has undergone several lineup changes, but the current roster is firing on all cylinders and finds the band at their absolute peak. Joakim Brodén (vocals and keyboards), Pär Sundström (bass), Chris Rörland (guitar), Tommy Johansson (guitar), and Hannes Van Dahl (drums) bring the simple but powerful metal arrangements to life, and they look to be having quite a lot of fun in doing so.

The band is renowned for lyrics centered on historical events, particularly military history and warfare, drawing inspiration from legendary battles and heroic acts of soldiers throughout the ages. With acclaimed albums such as Carolus Rex, Heroes, The Last Stand, and The Great War, Sabaton has garnered a fiercely loyal fanbase and performed on countless stages and festivals around the globe.

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TVD Live Shots:
W.A.S.P. at the Roundhouse, 3/24

Is it too early to claim the best show of 2023? Probably, but I’m going out on a limb to say that W.A.S.P. delivered the number one contender in the metal category.

Yeah, maybe I should preface that with “old school” metal, but from the looks of the sold-out crowd at the Roundhouse last weekend, W.A.S.P. has crossed over to a new generation. And why not? The songs hold up incredibly well, and the fact that Blackie Lawless has tackled numerous trends and continued to remain relevant over forty fucking years is a testament to the sound and the antics that are very often imitated but never replicated.

I feel like everyone knows who W.A.S.P. is—even if you weren’t a metal fan, they have touched you or influenced you in one way or another. The poster child for shock metal in the ’80s, paving the way for Mason, Zombie, Slipknot, and countless others took controversy and explicit imagery to a new level. Their 1984 “hit” single “Animal (Fuck Like A Beast)” was banned in many countries while also becoming arguably their biggest hit. (It’s an incredibly catchy number, by the way, which you’ll be happy to know that after a long absence, it’s back in the set, and it fucking rips.)

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TVD Live Shots: Gojira at Alexandra Palace, 2/22

I’ve seen some heavy shows in my life, but holy hell, this one takes the cake. Gojira absolutely destroyed the ten thousand-plus capacity Alexandra Palace in London last week, and this show was mental.

Not only was the music next level, but the stage show was one of the biggest and best I’ve seen in the past decade. Flames shooting up from the stage like a metal volcano, smoke machines and lasers—it’s like they were trying to set the place on fire, but in a good way. And the crowd, they’re going mental too—headbanging, moshing, crowd surfing, and screaming along to the words as if there was a prize for the best Gojira karaoke of the night. This was my first time seeing these guys, and I can’t believe it’s taken this long, as I really had no idea what I was missing. It was a sight to behold.

While French and metal aren’t two words you hear very often together in the same sentence, Gorija has put France on the metal map just as Sepultura did for Brazil back in the ’90s. And while there may be a few similarities in styles, brothers Joe (lead vocals, rhythm guitar) and Mario Duplantier (drums), along with Christian Andreu (lead guitar), and Jean-Michel Labadie (bass), Gojira is not your average metal band. These guys are on a whole other level. Their music is like a force of nature, with crushing riffs and complex rhythms that hit you like a tidal wave.

There’s no denying that Gojira are the current reigning kings of metal on the global stage, and no one can fucking touch them right now. As one of the most innovative and influential bands in the genre, they’ve developed a unique style that blends elements of death metal, progressive metal, and post-metal creating a sound that is both heavy and atmospheric. This technical prowess is also evident in their live performances where they are known for their tightness and precision. Their songs are complex and challenging with intricate rhythms and time signatures that push the boundaries of what is possible in metal music.

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TVD Live Shots: Dream Theater at the Eventim Apollo, 2/21

The first time I heard Dream Theater was back in 1992 when “Pull Me Under” took the US metal market by storm. I was working in a record store in St. Louis while going to university, and I remember thinking, what in the hell was this? It was heavy and melodic; it was progressive metal for metalheads. 

As soon as “Pull Me Under” hit MTV and the local radio station, people were coming in droves to buy this record. The problem was no one had heard of Dream Theater previously, and the majority of people wanted to just buy the single. (Yeah, there was this thing called a cassingle at the time. Look it up.) But there wasn’t one released for this song. The only option was to buy the entire CD or nothing. Images and Words started flying off the shelves. But just as quickly as it flew out the door, it started coming back in.

People were shocked that there were ballads on the record, most notably track two showing up immediately after the hard-driving “Pull Me Under.” “Another Day” certainly slowed the pace down a bit unexpectedly, but the album picked right back up with “Take the Time” and even peaked later on with “Metropolis.” But holy shit, the metalheads just couldn’t accept the fact that there were slower songs on the record. (The lack of patience, and what was acceptable as a metalhead, was very limited.)

Mind you, this is the same year that Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power was released, so extreme was in. (Pantera were label mates with the band ironically.) This was a decisive moment for the Dream Theater, and it split the metal community pretty much down the middle. The record label struggled a bit to figure out what to do with the band, and I think expectations were a bit muddled and the future was uncertain at best.

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TVD Live Shots: Palaye Royal, Yonaka, and Starbenders at Eventim Apollo, 2/10

In 2015 I was invited to speak at a digital marketing event during Canadian Music Week in Toronto. While in town, I mapped out the various gigs I planned to see, with the big one being Faith No More during their comeback tour. After Faith No More, I walked to the nearby Hard Rock Cafe, where there was a showcase happening for up-and-comers. One band in particular was hyped up pretty big, and they were set to hit the stage at midnight. Having my camera gear with me and always up for a shoot, I started snapping away. Little did I know that I was capturing a band that was primed and ready to reinvent a genre and ultimately create their own.

What I saw that night in Toronto was three brothers calling themselves Palaye Royale. They had made a name for themselves with their punk rock DIY attitude of doing everything themselves, building their audience, recording independently, and creating a massive buzz. This was a case where the record labels come to them instead of the other way around. Sumerian Records was that label, and as I remember at the time, it was primarily a metal label but starting to broaden its roster.

One could argue they set a precedence for others, including Earache Records with Rival Sons etc., which very likely kept these labels afloat during the dark days of illegal downloads. It’s easy to see why they would be all over a band like Palaye Royale, especially after seeing the show that night. These guys were young dudes, three brothers, who clearly had chemistry playing together, but furthermore, they were fusing two of my favorite genres; glam and early ’70s bluesy rock ‘n’ roll. Not to mention, much of the leg work was already done—they just needed help pushing them to the next level. Enter major record label.

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TVD Live Shots: Apocalyptica and Epica at the Roundhouse, 2/4

Finnish cello metal band Apocalyptica have been on my radar since I worked in a record store in college back in 1996. Their debut, simply titled Plays Metallica by Four Cellos, said exactly what it did on the tin. It might be a bit gimmicky at first; cello players covering Metallica? It didn’t really make sense to me, but then I gave it a listen. These guys weren’t just fucking around—they were legit cellists who loved metal. And why not? Chamber music can be quite dark and heavy, so why not bring in an element of metal, and why not reimagine songs from the biggest metal band on the planet?

What started out as Metallica for cellos would branch out to modern takes on traditional classical pieces, more covers of popular songs, and even originals with guest vocalists. Over the course of nine studio albums (all charting in their home country as well as the US and several others across Europe), their sound would evolve. In fact, they’ve managed to refine these cellos to sound heavier than many of their counterparts in the metal world. Although cellos are the primary instruments, combining this with heavy drumming and rock vocals becomes a remarkable fusion of classical music, metal, and rock that transcends genre boundaries. To the newbies who hear it for the first time, it’s hard to imagine these guys shredding on the violin’s grandfather.

The cellists, Eicca Toppinen, Paavo Lipponen, Perttu Kivilaakso, and drummer Mikko Sirén, flawlessly executed their intricate compositions with both precision and passion. The sound of their cellos was like a rollercoaster ride from the peaks of heaven down to the depths of hell. Add to that the incredibly diverse (and soulful) vocals of Franky Perez, and you truly have something for everyone. “I’m Not Jesus” was a standout as Perez took to the stage for the third song in the set. This guy can fucking sing, and having toured with the band many times before, there was a chemistry between these guys that was more than just a guest vocalist.

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TVD Live Shots: Sleep Token at the Eventim Apollo, 1/22

Sleep Token is on a tear across the UK at the moment, selling out gigs left and right, playing their biggest headlining shows to date, and putting themselves on the map as the next big thing in metal—but is the hype real?

If you’ve been living under a proverbial heavy metal rock for the past year, it may seem that Sleep Token have seemingly come out of nowhere, but that’s not the case. They’ve been around since 2016 and have two critically acclaimed albums under their belt. You could say they’ve paid their dues and played the game exactly right, sticking to their guns, consistently releasing songs that one up the other, and patiently waiting for the moment when it all comes together. That moment is 2023.

Their music is often described as a blend of heavy metal and ethereal vocals, but that’s taking the easy way out. There’s much more to unpack here, starting with a vocalist who can hit some serious notes, taking his range in places that only a handful of other metal, or even pop, singers can go. Simply known as Vessel, his real identity is not publicly known. Of course, a ton of speculation and several Reddit threads go down this rabbit hole, which can be a fun read.

But the fact that he’s still “unknown” in this day and age may just be because the fans want and need that bit of mystery across a space where every single detail of everyday life is shared and amplified via social media. I would argue it also provides much more musical freedom in creativity and experimentation, as there is no face or excessive image for one to judge. (The band generally doesn’t do interviews or talk to the press.) That must be gratifying in itself.

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TVD Live Shots:
The Cure at Wembley Arena, 12/12

It’s my final show of the year, and it was an incredible one. Night two of three sold-out shows from post punk legends The Cure at the equally impressive Wembly Arena; it was epic. What was initially supposed to be a tour supporting the much anticipated new album became a celebration of the band’s entire catalogue. 

Songs Of a Lost World will be the band’s first batch of new songs since 2008’s 4:13 Dream, and from the three songs played live, it’s not only going to live up to the hype, but far surpass it. While I don’t think anyone expects the album to be released within the remainder of the year, who knows, maybe we’ll get an unexpected Christmas gift. I imagine is Robert ready to push the button at any given moment.

Until then, we’ll just have to replay the bootleg videos from YouTube and dive into the anticipation of the show coming back around next year. Long-serving members Simon Gallup, Roger O’Donnell, and Perry Bamonte, were joined by former Bowie guitarist extraordinaire Reeves Gabrels, and drummer Jason Cooper brought the wall of sound that is The Cure to life with exquisite attention to detail.

Robert Smith slowly walked the entire length of the stage, taking a moment to pause and gaze into the crowd of twelve thousand plus. He was certainly grateful, and it was a bit ceremonial before he got behind the mic and unleashed that signature voice. Opening with a new song is certainly bold, but Jesus, “Alone” was drenched in that brilliant, lush slow burn of a rhythm that reminds us all that these guys invented the genre.

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Needle Drop: Bo Burnham, INSIDE
Deluxe Vinyl Box Set

Does the world need a comedy record on vinyl? Let’s dive in and answer that one.

As a kid, I remember having the first two or three Steve Marin records and listening to them pretty much non-stop. Granted, that was in the late ’70s, and to be honest, I didn’t have much else to do as a kid. Fast forward several decades later, and I take pride in the vast collection of vinyl that I’ve amassed over the years. While I have more vinyl than any human needs (including my priceless ’80s hair metal), there are a few centerpieces in that collection, and I think I’ve just found another.

Recognized as one of the most acclaimed comedy albums of the past decade, Bo Burnham’s INSIDE is not only a cultural phenomenon, but he made history as “the first person to win three Emmy Awards individually in a single year.” INSIDE (The Songs) debuted at number 7 on the Billboard Top 200, held a spot in the Top 10 for six non-consecutive weeks, and remained the No.1 comedy album for 58 weeks and counting. Jesus.

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TVD Live Shots: Kula Shaker at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, 12/8

I knew there was something special here the first time I heard Kula Shaker during the Brit-pop explosion in the mid-nineties. Their debut album, K, is not only one of the best-selling UK debut albums of all time, but it also pushed the genre into a new, unexpected direction that has yet to be matched.

Sure it had all the elements that made Brit-pop great; Stone Roses-type grooves and the attitude and snarl of Oasis, but frontman Crispian Mills added a spiritual element that elevated this sound to another level. It was rock, it was pop, it was psychedelic, but most of it, it was original—and really, really fucking good.

I never got to see Kula Shaker when I was living in the States, at least I don’t remember it, but they have always been a band that I go back to for those first two albums. I thought the follow-up, Peasants, Pigs & Astronauts which came out in 1999, was a more interesting record even though it didn’t have a string of “hits.” However, I saw the band back in 2016 at the Kentish Town Forum and thought they were excellent, but what I saw at Shepherds Bush Empire was different; it was next level.

There is a fire burning in Crispian that wasn’t there six years ago. This guy was electric, almost possessed with the music, and he made the guitar an extension of his body. At times I thought that he was in a guitar battle with Jimi Hendrix, and he made it look easy, like he was born to do this.

Maybe it was the excitement and energy from the slew of new music exploding from the band over the past year, including a stellar return to roots album called The First Congregational Church of Eternal Love and Free Hugs, or the two most recent singles, including a straight-ahead cracking version of the Lennon classic “Gimme Some Truth.”

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TVD Live Shots: Placebo at the O2 Academy Brixton, 11/27

It’s fair to say that 2022 is a banner year for Placebo. Twenty-eight years into their career, you could argue that they have never sounded better in the studio and on stage.

Their eighth album, Never Let Me Go, was released earlier this year to critical acclaim, and a sold-out tour quickly followed. The core of Placebo, eclectic frontman Brian Molko and bassist Stefan Olsdal have evolved as a sonic force to be reckoned with, and I find it fascinating to watch the image of the band transform as well. While they’ve always been provocative with their look and lyrical content, the brand of Placebo—with its beautiful mix of dark shadows and gloriously beautiful bright colors—continues to build on the mystique, evoking that emotional response that is undeniably singular.

And that emotional response can be overwhelming, in a good way, during the live show. If you haven’t heard yet, the band has been very outspoken about using phones and mobile devices during their set. It’s pretty refreshing to see a gig without screens flailing in the air—it reminds me of when I first saw them back in the States on their first tour in the late ’90s. Yeah, I know it’s not fashionable to talk about the way things “used to be,” but previously it was a much better experience. Now, once more, you can get lost in the music without distraction, and they make this point while underscoring the message that’s plastered across the venue: “This exact moment will never happen again.”

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TVD Live Shots:
Jason Isbell and the
400 Unit at the Eventim Apollo, 11/17

Having lived in Texas for nearly ten years and working in the record business during that time, I saw a genre struck with an identity crisis. It was the early 2000s, and the “Nashville sound” started fusing into the newly revived Americana movement. A fresh wave of traditional county singer-songwriters blossomed across Texas.

Although its roots were inspired by Nashville, its heartbeat was strongest in Austin. The best singer-songwriters all seemed to be popping up quite quickly. Charlie Robinson, Bruce Robinson, Bob Schnieder, Pat Green, and several others were bringing a much-needed makeover to the bloated pop-style country being churned out and mass marketed. It was time for a reset, and all eyes were on Texas.

Meanwhile, just a few states away, an Athens-based “rock” band started making waves. The Drive-By Truckers were laying the foundation for a breakthrough in the scene, and the stage was set for the band’s defining moment when they signed with Austin-based New West records. It was also the first time that newish member Jason Isbell would significantly contribute to the songwriting. It was an exciting time when country music was being embraced by the hipsters of Austin.

With complete control of South by SouthWest and arguably the most prominent tastemakers at the time, they were waiting for the band that would bridge the two cities together. The Drive-By Truckers were on a tear and would answer that call. More importantly, in this story, you could see Isbell’s influence and songwriting chops come into play. He would continue to blossom, and it was inevitable that he would need to branch out and ultimately go solo.

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TVD Live Shots: The Hunna at the Electric Ballroom, 11/4

Hailing from Watford, Hertfordshire, alt-rock buzz band The Hunna made an explosive return to London last week to launch their much anticipated new self-titled album. The famed Electric Ballroom, one of my favorite venues in Camden, played host to a wall-to-wall, sold-out gig. I’ve never seen this many people jammed into the place. From the looks of the VIP section alone, it was the venue to be at Friday night, even with some stiff competition just up the road from Creeper at the Roundhouse.

But this was a different kind of show for The Hunna as they opted for a more intimate venue where they would play their new album. The band’s self-titled fourth LP was released just days before the gig. The fact that the crowd was singing along with every word says it all about the reception, and that they came out thrashing across the stage with one of the loudest shows I’ve heard all year sends yet another clear message—these guys are back with a vengeance.

The Hunna are embracing a new beginning that follows a whirlwind of touring and releases after their meteoric rise a few years back. It’s the classic band gets fucked over by a record label, questions their future, and ponders their next move situation. Still, in this case, the story has a happy ending so far. But it certainly wasn’t easy, and the band needed help and inspiration.

Making the rounds with mediocre reviews, the fans still embraced it and set the band up for what would be their pinnacle moment. Calling on the many friends they’ve made along the way, including Fall Out Boy, Blink 182, Twenty One Pilots, and super producer John Feldman, they took all that negative energy and blew it into a narrative that became 2020’s I’d Rather Die Than Let You.

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TVD Live Shots: The Damned at the Eventim Apollo, 10/28

It’s the concert that they said would never happen, but it finally did. After two years of pandemic-related postponements, the original lineup of The Damned kicked off the first show of their much anticipated UK mini-tour.

Seeing all four members walk onto the stage with smiles on their faces was something special, but hearing the explosion of sound that ignited as they kicked into high gear was a once in a musical lifetime moment. The last time the original lineup shared the stage together was back in 1991, and Scabies hasn’t performed with The Damned since the release of Not of This Earth in 1995. The rift between band members was very real and, at times, very public, but tonight hatchets were buried and the most important punk band from the UK showed us that they still have plenty of noise to make.

The importance of The Danmed cannot be understated. They were the first UK punk band to release a record and the first UK punk band to tour the US. Their single “New Rose” was recorded in just one day, and their eponymous debut Damned Damned Damned was recorded in only two. It’s raw, loud, and perfectly captures the chaos in the early days and the creative nuclear blast that set the band on a path of self-destruction. It’s a very different record from the one that slowed things down, upped the production, ultimately grabbed all the attention, and came in the form of the Pistols’ debut.

If you are a fan from back in the day or even a new fan who’s been reading all the stories about the booze, drugs, fighting, and controversies, it’s a miracle to be here now and witness this event. Not to mention that it’s all taking place at the legendary Hammersmith Apollo. Could there be a better venue? I think not.

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TVD Live Shots: Counting Crows at the Eventim Apollo, 10/20

1993, what a year for music. Back when albums still mattered, this was a pinnacle year with debuts from Tool, The Cranberries, Digable Planets, Radiohead, and The Verve. There were breakthrough sophomore efforts from Mazzy Star, Pearl Jam, Lenny Kravitz, Nirvana, Afghan Whigs, and Smashing Pumpkins, just to name a few.

I was in college and working at a record store when another band showed up in our weekly promo box from the record labels. Before I could crack the seal on the CD, people came in left and right looking for “Mr. Jones.” I looked at my record store colleagues, and we all had the same look on our faces; here we go again. What a time to be alive.

It was a mad rush to keep the band’s debut August and Everything After in stock for the next few months. We hadn’t seen anything like this before this. Hootie and the Blowfish, Coldplay, and Dave Matthews would hit the following year, but this one was different. There wasn’t a particular demographic that wanted this song; it was fucking everybody. It was universally appealing, yet it had substance. It was undeniably a hat tip to Van Morrison and REM, but it wasn’t fake nor a copy. This was going to be the year of the Counting Crows, and there was nothing that would stop it.

I saw the band live on that tour. To be honest, I was there for openers Sam Phillips and Buffalo Tom more than the headliner. Still, I remember staying until the end and thinking Counting Crows were pretty solid. Sam Phillips was breathtaking. Both artists shared the exquisite production skills of legend T Bone Burnett, and one was married to him.

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