Thursday, May 31, 2018

Talkin' Trash with SHAD MAE (Guitarist of DEVOID)

When the debut effort from Devoid showed up in my mailbox, I had no way of knowing how much it would still be impacting me all these months later!  A more powerful melodic metal album I have not heard in recent memory, and had I received it earlier, it very well may have been the Album Of The Year for 2017 here at Glitter2Gutter.  So, when band founder/lead guitarist/chief writer, Shad Mae and I started kicking around the idea of an interview, I knew it was one I wanted to run with.  So, if you have a few minutes, hang out as Shad Mae joins me for Talkin' Trash....


G2G:  Shad, I want to thank you for taking the time to chat with me here a bit!  Not sure if you saw our end-of-the-year lists, but Devoid was definitely one of our favorite efforts of the year...we just got it so late!  What a truly, truly great record, though...

Shad:  Thanks to you, Arttie.  Yes, I saw glad about it!  I feel really honored to receive such good feedback, and to make you list as one of your favorite records of the!  It pushed me to make a second one quickly.

G2G:  Whoa!  Are we getting some sneak peek, inside information here about a new Devoid record?

Shad:  Yes, I've just finished to write eight songs, and I'll contunue with my mates, Gwen and Jorris to reach twelve tracks.  Sorry about my English, by the way...(Laughs)

G2G:  No worries about your English..I took two years of French and trust me, we don't want to try that!  (Laughter)

Alright, before we jump too far into the future of Devoid, let's talk a bit about the past, shall we?  How did Devoid come together in the first place?

Shad:  Yes, sure.  Devoid came after the second Shadyon (Shad's previous band) album.  I wanted to write a more direct and powerful album with no compromise.  So, I decided to write a full album and
submit the final stuff to the musicians.  We had problems with the Shadyon lineup, and I did not want to waste my time without releasing anything new.

G2G:  So, are any of the guys in Devoid carry overs from Shadyon?

Shad:  Yes, Jorris on keyboards.  We always work together.  And I work with Gwen Kerjan for the producing.  He worked on the Shadyon Mind Control album.

G2G:  When I first heard the Devoid record, it wasn't only your guitar that grabbed my attention, but also the vocals.  Can you tell me how you and Lizard got hooked up?

Shad:  I am a BIG fan of the Evidence One albums, and I was...and still am...very impressed by Carsten's (Carsten "Lizard" Schulz) vocals.  Classic rock touch with a real talent for a catchy chorus...he's such a melody-maker.  So, when I thought about a singer for Devoid, I decided to contact him.  He listened to the stuff and said yes.  I'm really glad and proud to have him on board!  His performance on Cup Of Tears blow my mind and he go further than I expected.

G2G:  His work on the LaValle record blew my mind, as well.  But, I have to ask how you dealt working with a guy named "Lizard" in the band.  Did you worry it would change the band's image at all?  (Laughter)

Shad:  (Laughting) I think I must change my name to Shad "Snake" Mae, and maybe do a concept album on reptilians!  (Laughter)

G2G:  Yes!  (Laughter)  So, do you consider Devoid to be a band, or more of a project?  Is playing live shows something you hope to do with Devoid, or have you already had that chance?

Shad:  Devoid is first a studio project, but I received some good new for gigs, and the most important is I've got great pleasure to work with these guys, so let's see what happens in the near future.  With a second album, maybe we can do some live stuff.

G2G:  You currently live in France, correct?

Shad:  Correct.

G2G:  What is the musical scene like in France?  I know in the 80s and 90s, there was a fairly significant underground metal/hard rock scene.  FISC, ADX, Sortilege, Demon Eyes...all pretty good bands I tracked down over the years...of course, Trust...  But what about now?

Shad:  Oh, yes!  You're right, we've got great bands in the 80s.  You could check Manigance, Satan Jokers, Nightmare, Now or Never, Adagio...really great bands.  Of course, my other band, Shadyon... (Laughs)  The scene here is very diverse, but when you play melodic metal, it is more difficult.  Gojira is the most renowned French metal...great songwriters, but far more brutal than Devoid...

G2G:  Is there a good live scene?

Shad:  Yes, great activity and really great local bands.  And, we can't forget Hellfest!

G2G:  I've heard big things about Hellfest, but have obviously never been.  Pretty crazy scene?

Shad:  Yes, great place with nice atmosphere.  The programation is outstanding...very diverse bands, from Iron Maiden to more obscure death metal bands.  You should come!

G2G:  I may take you up on that some time!  So, tell me about Devoid.  Technology is really a huge part of the band being able to come together, correct?  The members are pretty spread out, right?

Shad:  Yes, right.  Thanks to the Internet!  For this record, we recorded our personal musical lines in our own studios.  I sent the demos to all the guys and then I let them do their own parts.  They all write their own stuff.  I wrote the songs...the guitars and lyrics...but I prefer to let the guys be free to play what they have in their mind for their parts.  It's more fresh, more natural.  Then we debrief and validate the stuff.  I'm going to try to co-write a bit for the next record.

G2G:  That's a pretty unique approach...

Shad:  Yes, we all live in different countries, so...more easy to work like this.

G2G:  ...and now, technology let's you and I communicate like this live!  It truly is amazing when you stop and think about what we seem to take for granted...

Shad:  Yes, it's far, but so connected!  Imagine in a few years...all go faster, only for the better.

G2G:  Now, you are quite a bit younger than me, but your music comes across as so much more mature than a lot of newer bands.  Tell me about growing up and your musical background.

Shad:  Well, I'm a child of the 80s, so I grew up with bands like Europe, Toto, Winger, Simple Minds, Metallica...  When I was 13 years old, I began to learn guitar and I was deep into guitarists like George Lynch, Dann Huff, Randy Rhoads, Kee Marcello, Nuno Bettencourt...  I used my fingers playing their songs!  (Laughs)  Then, I discovered Dream Theater.  Images And Words and Awake were big revelations for me.  I became a prog addict.  Shadow Gallery, Fates Warning, Symphony X, Angra, Rush, Kansas, I love it all.  I also really like Evergrey, Devin Townsend, and Winger.  Henrik Danhae and Reb Beach are some of my favorite guitarists.  In the early 2000s, I fell in love with the Swedish metal scene and with bands like Soilwork and In Flames.  Their works on riffs and guitar arrangements are stunning!  Their songwriting influences me a lot, particularly for the riffs.  You mix all of that together, and you get Devoid.  

G2G:  Did you have a musical family?

Shad:  Not really as musicians, but as listeners, yes.  My parents were into pop music and typical Britain stuff, and Celtic tunes, too.

G2G:  Do you remember your first guitar?

Shad:  Yes, sure!  A BC Rich Warlock like Max Cavalera from Sepultura.  I was such a rebel! (Laughs)

G2G:  Big Bloody Roots fan, were you?

Shad:  Yes, I am!  And I love Chaos, A.D., unique atmosphere and a really cool album.  

G2G:  Agreed.  I found myself really drawn to the speed and thrash scenes after going through my 70s classic rock and 80s hair metal stages...

Shad:  Great!  I love thrash...Testament, Megadeth....

G2G:  Testament is my favorite.  I love Anthrax, as well...both eras...and the first four, and the latest, Metallica are all essential...

Shad:  Yes, Alex Skolnick solos are excellent!  Anthrax is so groovy and powerful.  Yes, all essential.

G2G:  Alright, so let's jump back to Devoid.  When we started chatting, you mentioned we may not need to wait too long for new Devoid music.  Can you fill us in on any details?

Shad:  Yes, sure!  All the demos are done, just have to finish some detals.  But, the songs are ready.  You can expect catchy riffs and heavy choruses, with the mighty Carsten Schulz doing vocals again.  Just need to book the budget.  And there are some great guitarists involved!

G2G:  So you brought in some extra guitar fire power outside of yourself?  I thought you did amazing work on the first record!

Shad:  Thanks, indeed!  Yes, I play most of the parts on the album, but I really wanted to share leads with guitarists I love.  That's why I manage to bring in some guitarists on the songs, just for the pleasure to hear them playing on my song.

G2G:  Any hints or clues?  Come on, quit teasing!  (Laughter)

Shad:  In my dream, I want to have Reb Beach and George Lynch...but it's just a dream....

G2G:  Lynch is probably too busy with one of his other fifty bands and projects!

Shad:  Yes, so true...

G2G:  Did you have a good idea of how you wanted to attack this new record, since you already had one Devoid album under your belt?

Shad:  Yes, I want to attack with a power song, very, very heavy riffs, and some acoustic surprises on it.  And, in terms of business, I have to discuss things with my actual label, get feedback about the first one.  I really want to make a real clip for this one.  And I think about a co-writing session with Gwen Kerjan from the Slab Sound Studio.  We actually worked on the new demos and we plan to rearrange the songs together.  I want an external vision on the songwriting this time.  It could bring more surprises on this record and force me to change my routine.  My goal is to be finished with the producing stuff for the end of the year, then a release in 2019.

G2G:  Shad, one thing we like to do is a quick response, trash talking section in our interviews.  Are you ready?

Shad:  Ready...

G2G:  Best concert you ever attended?

Shad:  Evergrey

G2G:  Worst concert you ever attended?

Shad:  Manowar

G2G:  Really?  No!  Say it isn't so!

Shad:  Sorry...really...

G2G:  Was Ross the Boss still with them?

Shad:  No, not with Ross.  It was the Warriors Of The World Tour...which is a stunning song, by the way.

G2G:  Okay, the world needs to know...were they wearing loincloths and carrying Thor's hammer with them?

Shad:  (Laughter) was leather...(laughs)

G2G:  Alright, moving it KISS without Ace and Peter?

Shad:  No, not KISS...

G2G:  Van Halen or Van Hagar?  We refuse to acknowledge Cherone was ever in the band...

Shad:  Van Hagar.

G2G:  Really?  Why?  I'm good with either answer, personally...

Shad:  I love the For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge album.  I also love David Lee Roth's solo stuff...

G2G:   Balance is probably my favorite Van Hagar effort, but For Unlawful... is definitely a really good album.

Shad:  Their first album is still my top album, but Hagar's vocals are so soulful...

G2G:  While we are on Van Halen...sort of...which Michael Jackson song has the better guitar solo?  Eddie Van Halen's solo "Beat It", or Steve Stevens on "Dirty Diana"?

Shad:  Steve Stevens.  I love his bends on that solo!

G2G:  Stevens is majorly underrated, don't you think?

Shad:  Yes!  His work with Levin Bozzio Stevens is magic.

G2G:  Did you know he did the guitar parts on the theme song to Top Gun?  I just found that out not too long ago.

Shad:  Really?

G2G:  Have you heard his Atomic Playboys album?

Shad:  I love it and I got it!

G2G:  Aldo Nova...overrated or underappreciated?

Shad:  Underappreciated, for sure.

G2G:  Do you have a favorite Aldo Nova record?

Shad:  Blood On The Bricks

G2G:  Good stuff...good stuff, indeed!  Yngwie Malmsteen, musical genius or bloated egomaniac?

Shad:  Genius with his first album, but now just an ego maniac.  I prefer Jason Becker!

G2G:  Cacophony with Marty Friedman is killer!

Shad:  Oh, yes!

G2G:  Speed Metal Symphony is a shred masterpiece!

Shad:  Yes, absolutely...

G2G:  Okay, so we've chatted a bit about some of the 80s guys that have influenced you,  but what about earlier, classic hard rock guys?  What about a guy like an Ace, or Eddie...or even Hendrix?

Shad:  Well, I love the free playing of Jimi Hendrix.  Without him, there's no hard rock.  And Van Halen is THE guy...tasty and innovative, great soloing and also an awesome rhythmician.  Not a lot of an Ace Freheley, KISS stuff, guy.  Sorry.  I love Kerry Livgren, though!

G2G:  Have you heard the songs he did with Ronnie James Dio?

Shad:  No!  I must check!  Which song?

G2G:  "To Live For The King".  (I emailed Shad the video at this point...)

Shad:  That is a great, great song!  Very melancholy vibe.  I love it!

G2G:  There's another..."Mask Of The Great Deceiver"...

Shad:  Thanks for this discover!  Livgren and!!!

G2G:  If there was a solo out there that you feel people absolutely had to hear, what would it be?  Doesn't matter the time frame or genre...

Shad:  "Mister Crowley" by Randy Rhoads.  "Symphony of Destruction" by Marty Friedman in Megadeth.  Eddie's solo on "Beat It".  They are all perfect with awesome feelings.

G2G:  I always steer people towards "The Idol" by WASP, with Bob Kulick on guitar.  Amazing!

Shad:  Yes!  Amazing song and awesome album!

(Shad at left at Shadyon reunion show)
G2G:  So, while we're waiting for new Devoid music, is Shadyon something that you might return to in the interim?

Shad:  We actually made a live comeback last week with a new drummer and bass player.  We've got all new demos finished, and Walter, our new drummer, wrote a lot of songs and he is so, so good.  So,
you can expect new stuff soon.

G2G:  Shad, this has been a blast!  I love talking to people around the world, and a lot of our readers do, too.  How can fans keep up with you?

Shad:  Facebook is a great way, mate, and there is also a Devoid Twitter page.

G2G:  Shad, this has been awesome.  Thanks so much!

Shad:  Thanks to you!  I appreciate it a lot!


Awesome stuff from our new friend, Shad Mae!  If you haven't checked out his bands, Shadyon or the absolute masterpiece that is Devoid's "Cup Of Tears", you need to do so as soon as possible!  You should be able to find both projects fairly easily, even on Amazon for those who don't mind using evil corporate giants!  (That's a joke, folks...)  

Back To Talkin' Trash

Saturday, May 19, 2018

STEEL CITY "Fortress"

(c) 2018 Kivel Records

  1. Do You Love Me
  2. Heart And Soul
  3. Turnabout
  4. Picture Of Beauty
  5. Too Little Too Late
  6. Someone Like You
  7. Passing Ships
  8. Shame On You
  9. Rock! In The USA
  10. Back On The Streets
Bryan Cole--Lead Vocals
Mike Floros--Guitars, Backing VOcals
Scott West--Bass
Ron McCloskey--Drums

Additional Musicians
Tony Stahl--Keyboards
Mike Talanca--Bass on 1, 5, 7, and 9

It is a true treat for me when I come across a band that is able to create an album that sounds like it could have come straight out of the glory days of the 80s melodic hard rock scene, before everyone was trying to copy the sound of everyone else and not doing anything on their own.  New bands came out that sounded like new bands, not clones of someone else.  Steel City is one of those bands that truly "gets it", when it comes to the sound and style of that scene, and they do it the right way, incorporating the big arena sound of the 80s with strong songwriting and top-notch musicianship to create an album of songs that is catchy and comfortable, sounding like it could have slid into rotation among the Whitesnakes and Bon Jovis and Dokkens and Slaughters of the era.

What is immediately noticeable about Fortress is the powerhouse combination of musicians at work here.  Floros is an absolute beast on the guitar, whether setting the stage for the vocals with his rhythm work or working his magic on a fingers-flying solo.  McCloskey's drums have that huge, pounding arena sound that is so clearly missing in so many similarly-styled bands, and the bass work, whether from West or Talanca, perfectly completes the foundation upon which these hook-laden melodic gems are built.  To have a huge, powerful vocalist such as Bryan Cole belting out the lyrics is just proof of the embarrassment of riches that is Steel City.  At times recalling the early vocal power of a singer like Marc Slaughter, such as on tracks like "Heart And Soul", and of course the Vinnie Vincent Invasion cover "Back On The Streets", while at other times possessing a very Michael Sweet vocal quality, such as on "Someone Like You", Cole is a supremely talented vocalist with an easy movement throughout his entire vocal scope, never sounding like he is straining to reach the rafters nor bottoming out to plumb the depths of his range.  Add in some excellent backing vocals, courtesy of Floros, and you have a massive wall of sound blasting you with waves of guitar-driven, vocally-charged, high energy melodic rock.

While there are no weak tracks here, there are four that I think deserve special recognition.  "Turnabout" may be my favorite track on an overall excellent album.  The echoing backing vocals on the title word in the chorus are absolutely perfect, Floros' guitar solo is mesmerizing, a combination of fluid speed and melodic sensibilities, and the double-time drums driving their way through the chorus section coming out of the solo are the perfect touch to really set this song apart in my mind.  Cole's vocals are just insanely strong here and the band sounds as if it was having an absolute blast while recording this track.  If this song isn't blaring our of your speakers as you cruise down the highway, my guess is you drive a Prius, chase unicorns, and eat only nuts, berries, and other gluten-free plant products, because this song is pure, driving balls-to-the-wall melodic hard rock at its best.  An easy contender for Song Of The Year here at G2G!

"Too Little Too Late" has a Bon Jovi quality to it in places, especially on the bridge to the chorus, while Cole utilizes a vocal approach similar to Michael Sweet that, when coupled with Floros' guitar work, is not too far removed from Stryper's mid-to-late-80s peak.  Smooth and polished where necessary, but with enough edge to the guitars, "Too Little Too Late" would likely be the song that carries many other bands' albums, while here it enjoys the company of so many other high quality tracks that it isn't forced to do all the heavy lifting on its own.    

"Passing Ships" is a slightly mid-tempo number that isn't so much highlighted here for its musicianship...which remains top notch, with a great solo and outro section from much as it is for its vivid story-telling...not to mention a fun use of nautical terms throughout the track!  The song's protagonist was enchanted by a beautiful woman "in [a] flowered blue sundress" who was "easily a diamond worth any cost"...perhaps a sailor's siren?  But with hurricanes, the eye of a storm, being lost at sea, and coming under siege...this is a relationship that was obviously doomed, despite the "shadows dancin' 'cross the bedroom wall" and the "warmth and grade of [her] touch".  Just good, good lyrical stuff here that is completely absent from so many songs that either try too hard to be deeper than the ocean (see what I did there?!) or come off as shallow as a...dang, couldn't pull that one off, but you get my point.  An excellent example of big time songwriting.

"Rock! In The USA" is just a flat-out fun song that lets the band show off its talent on an upbeat rocker that will likely come blasting out of your speakers once you punch that time clock on Friday, and cause you to threaten the speed limits of your local highway if it is in the player as you are out cruising about (unless you are in that previously mentioned Prius).  When I first saw the title, I was wondering if it was a cover of "R.O.C.K. In The USA" by John Mellencamp...John Cougar...John Cougar Mellencamp...whatever he calls himself now...but I can happily report that it most definitely is not a cover...although, I'd be lying if I said I didn't like that classic song.    

Okay, I lied...I have to mention five specific tracks, because I would be totally remiss if I didn't give a nod to the album's closer, the cover of the Vinnie Vincent Invasion classic, "Back On The Streets".  Similarly powerful, the song is given a bit of an update by Steel City, with a bit more melodic polish to the vocals, the incorporation of more prominent keys, with just a touch less speed through the guitar solo.  A fun way to close out a stellar debut record and a perfect way to showcase the fact that had it been around in 1989, Steel City would have fit into the scene absolutely perfectly...minus the sky-high hair and copious amounts of eyeliner and blush.

The production here is excellent, courtesy of Johnny Lima, who does an outstanding job of bringing out the talent of this group of musicians.  The packaging, as is expected with Kivel Records products, is top notch, as well, with full lyrics and writing credits, a thank you section, and a cool album cover.  The only thing missing is a band photo of some sort, but as grievances go, this one is of minimal importance.

Steel City is uber-talented, make no mistake, and they have set the bar for themselves extremely high with Fortress.  If you have not already sought out this record, you need to do so immediately, as you are missing out on an album that will have to be in consideration for album of the year when 2018 wraps up.

Rating:  Extremely crankable, I have yet to play this album only a single time through when I pop it in.  Crank this to 8!