“What happened to the Metal scene here?” “Man, this sucks! I gotta drive to <pick a town> to see any good shows anymore.” “Nobody is playing around here this weekend.” “There are only a couple of good bands here and I have seen them a million times. Uhhhghh!” “We never get any good shows here anymore.” These are all statements that I constantly see, hear and read just about every day, from folks all over the world. Thankfully, these sentiments do not apply to my home state of Florida. No matter where you live here, there are almost too many shows to choose from on any given evening, especially on the weekends. The more difficult decision usually becomes “Do I go to see ‘X’ or do I see ‘Y’ or drive a little further to see ‘Z’?” We have also seen the rise of legendary bands like Death, Deicide, Obituary, Nonpoint, Trivium, Shinedown, Savatage, Cynic, Iced Earth, Kamelot, Six Feet Under, Molly Hatchet, Alter Bridge, Limp Bizkit, A Day to Remember, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Tide, Creed and many, many others over the years. The pool of talent seems to be bottomless here. All of these bands had to start somewhere and the next generation of bands continue to emerge in Florida at an exponential rate. Such was the case with the Halloween show at The Haven in Winter Park, FL, Saturday, October 29th, 2016 which highlighted some of the premiere Metal acts available from Central and South Florida. Although it is exhilarating to see national and international acts in a large venue, local bands have the fire and talent at a comparable or higher levels in our own back yards.
As a special treat, all pictures are credited to my guest photographer Matthew Degele!
First up was Ft. Lauderdale’s own Ornimental (“Orni” being the Latin prefix for “to celebrate or decorate” and root word “Mental” meaning “of intelligence or insanity”). Being a heavy supporter of local music, I am still baffled how this band has flown under my radar for so long. Members include founders, lead guitarist and vocalist Danny Perry and drummer/vocalist Julio Garcia along with Ariel on rhythm guitars/vocals and Sully covering bass duties. Formed back in 2010, Ornimental set out to create Metal paying homage to Metallica, Megadeth and Pantera with guitar flavors influenced by Eddie Van Halen, Led Zepplelin, Beethoven, Eric Clapton, David Gilmore and Nu–Metal bands like Disturbed and Trivium. An amalgamation of Classical, Blues, Hard Rock and Metal styles pulled off with dazzling results due to second-to-none songwriting abilities. Their unique sound has earned them spots with Children of Bodom, Death Angel, TYR, Nonpoint, Havok, Lacuna Coil, Eye Empire, Sid Wilson (Slipnot) with Keen & Sid and even played at the legendary, Revolution Live. Members of Ornimental have also been interviewed by Horns Up Rock, The New York Times, been featured on Blabbermouth magazine and been the only Florida band selected for membership by the PIAA Project Independent. They have one, extremely successful, self-titled release from 2014 and a new CD in the works for release on the near horizon (I talked to the band and will be reviewing this beast as soon as the tracks are complete, so stay tuned! I cannot wait for this one!). Well, this was my virgin foray into what Ornimental had to offer and found myself absolutely mesmerized. Their sound is very heavy at times with times of clean atmosphere, providing the listener with a tasteful and flowing direction of music and lyrical intent. The set included “Escape With Me”, “Black Sabbath”, “Encage” and “Love Thy Enemy” which accurately showcases the outright talent of individual players and how well they play together. The accurate and speedy feet of the drummer Julio Garcia along with the chorded and/or slap style bass lines of Sully provide a strong foundation for the impossibly complex guitar work and semi-clean and clean vocals of Ariel and Danny to navigate. In the middle of the show, Danny Perry even took five minutes to “noodle” on his axe. Noodle? Whatever… This man is a monster! A polished, five minute solo interspersed with Van Halen and Dime is “noodling” most guitarists would aspire to play within any song on stage. That being said, all members have great stage presence and administer bone crushing music that engages and entertains as well, if not better than any band I have seen. Ornimental being one of the two bands I had not had the pleasure of hearing before, definitely gained at least one big fan very quickly! Super freaking band! Watch out for them as they begin touring after December!
The second band, Armor of God, was also the second band that I had not experienced before. Officially dating one year after the formation of aforementioned Ornimental, Orlando’s Armor of God was a concept based in the nineties that came to fruition around 2011. Influenced by all forms of Metal, particularly Stryper; singer and guitarist Orlando Vicente began singing and playing guitar which resulted in his first band, Ellipsis while he was still in high school. By the time Vicente reached college, he had joined the much heavier, Puerto rican band Macheteros as lead guitarist. While with the band, he continued to write his own material with the ultimate goal to produce heavy, inspiring, positive and uplifting music. Soon after meeting drummer and audio engineer Henry Leonardo, the roots for what would become Armor of God were set in place. Lifelong friend and bass player Luis Martinez, who had played alongside Vicente before was the next piece of the AoG puzzle to be set in place followed by guitarist/vocalist Rimond Slaathaug who added a harmonic touch to this developing band. Previously recording an album with La Cooperativa (Puerto Rico), Orlando’s wife Karla Danielle and veteran church vocalist Diana Murillo round out AoG on vocals and have remained a cohesive, single unit ever since. Armor of God’s sound is heavy and fast yet extremely melodic and very well written; both musically and lyrically. Somewhat whimsical and fun, I was subtly reminded of Blackmore’s Night at times; Iron Maiden at other times as the dueling, sharp guitars roared. Not only positive in message, everyone in AoG genuinely enjoyed themselves as they blasted out their set, including “Bread of Life”, “Beneath the Gates of Splendor”, “Faith, Hope and Love”, “Dark Face of Greed”, “The Crusader” and “The Rage of the Angels”. There is not one weak link in this band; every musician playing their chosen instruments seamlessly along with varying vocals ranging from beautiful, operatic leads provided by the two front women along with clean and harsh male vocals sung by the rest of the band keep the sound fresh, interesting and extremely entertaining. This is, by no means, your mom’s and dad’s church music and also not as harsh as other Christian Metal like my favorite, Demon Hunter. The combination of stellar musicianship, positive message and quality songwriting skills will assuredly put Armor of God on my list of bands to watch in the future.
Next up was Orlando’s Arakara. I have been listening to this band for quite some time now, but have never had the opportunity to take in one of their shows. Formed in 2014 as an answer to “autotuned pop singers [that] bleach their hair and blow glitter everywhere, boy bands run amuck, and even metal rarely ventures outside the lowest string anymore and often couple their music with whiny vocals of EDM elements”, Arakara seeks to bring back the aggressive rage of Metal bands like Slayer, Death and Pantera. Big words for a band that took the stage for the first time in 2015, but have already earned their place playing alongside Toxic Holocaust, Helstar, Doyle (Misfits) and Deathcamp (featuring former members of Gwar), Gus G, Angel Vivaldi, Daytonapalooza, Deltonapalooza and SSA Award 2015 Nominations for Musician of the Year (Vince Van Berkum – guitar) finalist, Musician of the Year (Brandon Lee – bass), Songwriter of the Year (Vince Van Berkum), Song of the Year (“Burial Ground”), Band of the Year and Most Unique Style. Members include guitarists and founders Vince Van Berkum and Zack Donovan along with bass player and vocalist Brandon Lee and drummer Shawn Vanderlaan. They already have one CD entitled Burial Ground and play often all around the Orlando and Daytona area in Central Florida but have recently completed a full, East Coast tour from Florida to Boston. Influenced by Dimebag Darrel, Gary Hold, Eddie Van Halen, Tony Iommi, Randy Rhodes, Jake E. Lee, Zakk Wylde, Kerry King, Dave Mustaine, John 5 and many others, it comes as no surprise that Arakara plays straight up, shred guitar based Thrash. Harsh, fast, heavy and unrelenting. No BS, no apologies. I was able to speak with band members just prior to their set and found them to be very outgoing, excited and proud to be performing with other bands playing Saturday night. Always glad to see bands outwardly supporting their music scene and contemporary bands. Once the lights came down and Arakara began playing, it was like being repeatedly struck by a dump truck. Technically played guitar work sits squarely in the forefront of this band. Riffs, neck scorching leads, blasting rhythms with musically interesting bridges and interludes with stress laid on appropriate harmonies abound and define Arakara’s unusual take on Thrash. Damn, can these guys play! While I love their music, this is a live band and can not be fully appreciated until they are seen, not just heard. Bordering on hyper-active, members of Araakara give 110% in their shows and leave nothing in the tank. Their set included “Blood Harvest”, “Digging Graves”, “Mass Master”, “The Chemist”, “Shadow of Violence” and “Burial Ground”; a fitting selection that gives the audience a good taste for their music and direction and all but putting a lock on buying CDs and supporting them when given the opportunity to see them again. Much, much more than I expected!
Not to play favorites, but Kill the Sound was one of the reasons I made the two and a half hour trip down to cover this show. I have seen them a few times before writing with MN and been dying to get them covered since being brought on the staff. I saw them a year and half or two years ago at House of Blues for, what I believe, was their first show. Boy, has this band moved from the shadow to the spotlight in a hurry! As time has progressed, they have matured from a really good Alt Hard Rock/Metal outfit into one of the premiere and professional Metal bands around after infusing some of the heavier Nu Metal energy into their already wide spectrum of Hard Rock sound. Members include Kim Acoustic on vocals, Senior Darq behind the kit, David Duncan and Cori Franks (Welcome back!) on guitars, Madison Jonna Macko covering bass and Michael Turner on harsh vox and have featured Ally Sosa on vocals/bass. This is one high-voltage band with a positive vibe the gets the crowd moving, even pulling fans up on stage or moving through the audience while playing. Kill the Sound’s music, kinetic showmanship and fanatic fan base has earned them spots with Hunter Valentine, Sainthood Reps, Adema, Silver Snakes, Psychostick, Black Tide, Otep and just about every other, well known band in Florida, which are often sold out. They also have a few mini-tours under their collective belts, are endorsed by Jericho Guitars, Dean Markley, Coldcock Whiskey, Medalla, Kkrows, Propaganda Clothing Co., Trajik Apparel, Rock Gator Radio and been featured on WJRR Rock Radio 101.1 in Orlando. No small feats, all, but not surprising after seeing Kill the Sound live. This is a big band with a huge sound. Providing the foundation is Mr. Darq’s penultimate drum skills. This man is an absolute drumming demon! There are few drummers that I can think of that kill the kit as furiously as he is able to accomplish. He is precise and technical, born to reign from his drumming throne. Layering this overt rhythm of the drums are guitarist David Duncan and Ms. Macko’s bass lines, which provide much of the heavier overtones not heard in the early, developing tone of Kill the Sound since last seeing them. Cori’s leads and the beautifully accented vocals of Kim Acoustic provide great harmonies in stark contrast to the uber low, djent rhythms and tastefully used screaming of Michael Turner. Taken together, Kill the Sound has a polished sound with an unusual variety of interesting hooks that appeals to a wide range of fan preferences, from Alt Rock all the way to Death Metal. One of those bands that transcend genre based pigeonholing. Their killer set list included favorites like: “One to Blame”, “Shallow”, “Not Here to Lose”, “We Light the Night”, “Expected”, “Baby You Let Me Down” and “Losing Control”. They so obviously love what they are doing and are such nice human beings, they have no where to go but up. Currently working on the final tracks for their upcoming release, the hair on my arms is standing, ready for lightening to strike around the powerhouse of Kill the Sound. Yet another release I am jonesing to get my grubby paws on. Take a listen to what they have to offer and support them by buying some merch so that we can all get hold of this thing sooner than later!
Fifth on the bill this fine evening was Martyrs Asylum, another killer band calling Orlando home. They are another band that has had my attention for some time now and ecstatic that I finally was able to see them from where they belong on stage. This Hard Rock and Modern Metal band bleed that old-school, Rock ‘n Roll vibe on stage. Even in this smaller, more intimate venue, Martyrs Asylum collective persona was that of Classic Rock stars from the 70’s and 80’s. Larger than life yet so accessible before, during and after the show. Constant movement and banter with the audience provided one of the most memorable acts of the evening. This is brutally honest music laid out bare on the stage for the audience to revel in. Members Sid Stratton on lead vocals/bass, Crow X on lead guitar/backing vocals, Bones playing rhythm guitar and Judge providing his drum skills serve up their tasty vision of Hard Rock influenced by bands like Marilyn Manson, Alice in Chains, Metallica, Avenged Sevenfold and Tool. Powerful leads, shred-worthy solos; strong rhythms layered over distorted bass, complex drum lines and clean/semi-clean vocals bordering on Southern Hard Rock are keystones that define Martyrs Asylum sound and make them such a damned pleasure to listen to and watch. Songs played during their set included … While their recent release of Grudge Against the World is deserving of a prominent place in any Hard Rock/Metal music collection, this is another band that simply must be seen. CD alone does not even come close to the magnitude of Martyrs Asylum up close and personal. Hell, they may even start their own pit or get up on the bar/pool table to entertain you in your own space. They may have that arena rock attitude but shined very, very brightly in this smaller setting. My guest photographer, Matthew Degele does not usually listen to music from the harder side but found a lot to like with Martyrs Asylum. Very impressive band with a very bright future ahead of them for sure!
And then there was one. Born in Deland, FL in 2007, Seven Kingdoms started life, adjusted their line up, played all of the local dives and independently released their debut album Brothers of the Night before getting their legs, stabilizing their core group of dedicated members and signed on with Intromental Worldwide in 2009 which soon led to a record deal with Nightmare Records. Soon thereafter, their self-titled debut with Sabrina Valentine was released. After playing ProgPower USA, Seven Kingdoms was specifically chosen by legendary Power Metal giants Blind Guardian to open their 2010 North American tour which put this young band in front of tens of thousands of Metal fans all over the US and Canada. Once off tour, they began playing playing selected shows and tours before ending 2011 on the Uniting the Powers of Metal Tour with other up-and-coming Power Metal bands like Artizan, Creation’s End and Widow. After playing their opening show of 2012 in front of 70,000 people as part of the Tons of Metal preparty at the Grand Central in Miami, Seven Kingdoms joined forces with producer Jim Morris (Iced Earth, Obituary, JOP Jag Panzer and many others) in Morrisound Studios to create The Fire Is Mine, released on Nightmare Records in October of 2012. Once released, they were able to procure opening spots with the likes of Queensryche, Jon Oliva’s Pain and Firewind before being picked up by Stratovarius and Amaranthe for their 2013 European tour. This garnered them international attention, allowing them to share the stage with Avantasia, Queensryche, Behemoth, Helloween and Gamma Ray before returning to the states and going on their first headlining tour of the Eastern North America before finishing out the year touring Europe in support of the CD. From 2014 to the present, Seven Kingdoms has toured with Manticora, played a number of festivals and opened for Circle II, Sonata Arctica and Doro and headlined chosen shows like this one. In early 2017, Seven Kingdoms are scheduled to tour with Evergrey, Need and Ascendia which starts in Deland, Florida. With obvious roots in Power Metal, Seven Kingdoms expands the concept with cues taken from Thrash and the classically influenced guitar shred made popular in the late 80s and early 90s spearheaded by Yngwie Malmsteen, Marty Friedman, Jason Becker, Joe Stump, etc. Strong in song structure with heavy stress laid on complexly layered vocal and guitar based harmonies, Seven Kingdoms has carved out their own special corner of the Power Metal world. Members in this stellar band include Sabrina Valentine on vox, Camden Cruz and Kevin Byrd on guitars, Keith Byrd on drums and Aaron Sluss on bass. Being a gear nerd, I was first struck by this killer band’s rigs. Warwick bass (endorsed by) through a Mesa head and Krank cabinets and Caparison guitars sporting Bare Knuckles pickups through 5150 and Engl (also endorsed by) heads into Engl cabinets! Pure, unadulterated gear porn that is exquisitely played by some of the most talented musicians in the business. Hard to believe that this band was just started for fun. These guys shred, Dragonforce style but with a precise, tasteful twist that leaves room for emotional drive without sounding sterile. Bass follows the drums as well as the lead guitars throughout, creating an ever changing framework from which the impossible becomes mysteriously possible. Absolutely CD perfect when played live too. Really amazing. Drums hit so hard in Seven Kingdoms but often provide the brakes that keep this complex beast on the rails. I was refreshed to hear the all to often missed drum solo in the middle of their set as well. If you got it, hell, flaunt it and Byrd has “it” in freaking spades! Rounding out the sound of Seven Kingdoms are the lovely, purely angelic vocals of little Ms. Valentine. I guess huge, pitch perfect vocals from such a tiny woman should not surprise me since Stevie Nicks is but 5’ 1”, Pat Benatar is 5’ nothing and Carrie Underwood is a whopping 5’ 3”. Not the same timber or type of music to be sure, but all equally powerful in their chosen contexts. Valentine also adds a huge amount of fun, playful charisma and bubbly enthusiasm that sucks the audience into what is happening on stage. 70,000 or a couple hundred, Seven Kingdoms slams the accelerator to the floor and does not slow down over their set which included “After the Fall”, “Flame of Olympus”, “Undying”, “Fragile Minds Collapse”, “The Bloody Meadow”, “Kingslayer”, “The Faceless Hero”, “King of the North”, “Into the Darkness” and “In the Walls”. Lyrical inspiration ranges from Harry Potter to H.P. Lovecraft and played with absolute perfection throughout. Being a huge fan of Seven Kingdoms before, I would put them among Power Metal greats like their idols Blind Guardian, Helloween, Stratovarius and Hammerfall. Now that have seen them live, I may even put them in a their own. This is the type of music that will keep future Power Metal players and fans hungry for many years to come!
Alright. I know I went a little long here, but truly believe each one of these bands deserves the attention they have earned through hard work, perseverance and an unrelenting passion for really good music. This exemplifies what a thriving local Metal scene can offer. $15 for six bands playing world class caliber music twenty feet or less from you where you can meet them, make new friends and support local music is time and money well spent. So look around, find where your locals play wherever you are and get off the couch and show them your support. There is always a first time hearing your next favorite band and does not have to be the flavor of the month spoon fed to you by some corporate music conglomerate. Hell, they may even be one of your neighbors. Remember, these bands depend on us just as much as we depend on their gift of music to get us through our days. Without us, they go away. Without good bands, we lose our sanity. It is a love/love relationship that propagates itself with new material, new bands and lasting friendships; a personal symbiosis for all involved!