Metal Chick of the Month – Shiori Vitus

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Breathe life into the essence…

As Japan seems to be an unlimited source of kick-ass metal girls, first with Dr. Mikannibal at the end of 2015 and then with Lena Abé starting off the year of 2016 here at The Headbanging Moose, let’s travel back to the Land of the Rising Sun to pay one more humble tribute to another incredible Nipponese woman that has been not only promoting Heavy Metal in her homeland but, even more important than that, creating stirring and innovative music that transcend all geographical boundaries and reaching the hearts of different types of people all over the world. If you love melancholic and sorrowful sounds, and if you nurture a true passion for Dark Metal, you’ll simply feel amazed by the charisma and talent of Shiori Vitus, lead singer and lyricist of Japanese Gothic Metal band Eleanor.

Born in Osaka, Japan on November 17 (of an undisclosed year), Shiori seems to be a very persistent woman who doesn’t give up and keeps fighting for what she believes is right, which is the main reason why she’s the frontwoman for Eleanor today. Although there aren’t many details about her background in music and her career prior to Eleanor, she mentioned in one of her interviews that she decided to pursue a career in singing even being a “terrible singer” at first, one who couldn’t reach the right tones or provide the necessary power and balance to her voice. However, as I said she didn’t relinquish her dream as she felt from the bottom of her heart that was the right path to follow, and with a lot of experience gained due to intensive training and live performances she was able to overcome all barriers, frustrations and failures, becoming the stunning singer we know today.

It was in 2005 when Shiori, together with Japanese guitarist Ippei Shimada (or “Ippei J. Malmsteen”), founded Eleanor, also spelled “eleanor” in lower case or if you prefer エレノア in Japanese, impacting significantly the music scene in Osaka. Featuring melodic and atmospheric passages, thoughtful lyrics and ennui vocals, the band’s Gothic Metal has evolved in the past few years to a more experimental sounding, especially with their 2013 album, entitled Breathe Life into the Essence, offering something deeply distinct to their fans. Needless to say how important Shiori has been to the band, helping them keep their essence while at the same time always adding new elements to their music. So far, she has released with Eleanor a self-titled demo in 2006, a demo called The Second Dawn in 2007, their first full-length album A Circle of Lament in 2008, a demo entitled Fragments / Rise Above (Revive) in 2009, and more recently the aforementioned full-length album Breathe Life into the Essence in 2013, and the special single In Gloom… in 2014. In regards to this single, it’s a new version of one of their songs from their debut album A Circle Of Lament, re-recorded after changing the lyrics into Japanese and rearranging the song so as to fit their more recent musical tastes. And get ready, because Eleanor are about to release a brand new album now in 2016, which is always an exciting milestone due to their constant musical evolution.

You can relish her idiosyncratic vocals (always singing in Japanese, to make things even more interesting) on many distinct studio songs by Eleanor, such as Mourning and In Gloom…, and several others at their SoundCloud page. In case you fancy live music you can take a listen at her awesome performance in the songs Blue Moon, Sorrow and Eleanor’s cover version for the song Summer by Nuclear Valdez (you can compare it to the 1989 original song by clicking HERE). Or maybe a live version for the excellent Fatal Movement would suit you better? Anyway, I personally consider Shiori’s live performance a crucial component of Eleanor’s music, mainly due to her theatrical moves and gestures, enhancing the ambience already generated by their musicality. Apart from her life with Eleanor, she lent her voice to the song Caged… from the 2006 album Construction of Despair, by Japanese Melodic Death Metal/Metalcore band Smash the Brain, which by the way was a project led by her bandmate Ippei Shimada.

Perhaps one of the biggest achievements of Shiori and Eleanor to date was their performance at the 11th edition of the famous Belgian festival Metal Female Voices Fest in Wieze, Belgium on October 20, 2013, playing along with names such as Tarja, Lacuna Coil, Liv Kristine, Cadaveria and many others, as you can see HERE. You can see more about Shiori and the other members of Eleanor’s journey to Europe HERE and HERE, as well as check their excellent performance in the festival with the songs Blue Moon and Mourning.

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Regarding the uniqueness of the culture and styles found in Osaka, when asked about how different the music scene in the city is from Tokyo and the rest of Japan, Shiori commented about the fact that it’s a lot easier to go against the flow in Osaka than in Tokyo, which opens the doors for endless creativity and originality as opposed to the more “strict” market in the capital city. She even mentioned the names of a few important bands hailing from Osaka, like the unstoppable Heavy Metal band Loudness and Grindcore/Hardcore band S.O.B., as examples of how fruitful the city can be for heavy music or any other type of music. Tokyo obviously has also a lot to offer to fans of Heavy Metal, but I totally agree with Shiori with the fact that huge metropolitan areas are not the best places for bands who put creativity above money, or in other words, if you don’t want to be just another name in the music scene, run away from the big city.

I bet you also want to know about Shiori’s biggest influences in music, her favorite artists and albums, as well as her hobbies, correct? Let’s start talking about her main influences, or I should say artists that helped Shiori shape up her vocal style, and of course the list wouldn’t make any sense without Anneke van Giersbergen and the early days of Dutch Progressive Rock/Metal band The Gathering. Our Asian diva mentioned she was completely stunned by the expressiveness and quality of their music, pointing out Anneke is indeed unique if compared to most Gothic Metal divas, as she’s not a soprano nor has a symphonic style, which was something Shiori connected to instantly. In addition, Shiori was also influenced by renowned artists such as Janis Joplin and Ronnie James Dio, as well as non-metal/rock Japanese singers like Miyuki Nakajima and Junko Ohashi. However, she made clear she has never tried to copy anyone, but to be able to sing on average level and find her own style, advancing more and more as a musician both in terms of her technique and her emotions.

Her list of favorite bands and albums is simply amazing, showing how much she is a lover of Heavy Metal and Rock N’ Roll above all things. You’ll find bands like AC/DC, The Gathering and Electric Wizard as part of her playlist (which shouldn’t be a surprise at all to you at this point of this essay), with some of her favorite albums of all time being Let There Be Rock (AC/DC), Nighttime Birds (The Gathering), The Cold White Light (Sentenced), Eclipse (Amorphis) and The Best Of The Wildhearts (The Wildhearts). As a true Gothic metaller/rocker, Shiori is also a big fan of literature, with names such as Haruki Murakami and Kōbō Abe being part of her list of top writers. In addition, among her hobbies we can find usual activities like cooking, but at the same time some slightly more unconventional pastimes such as watching figure skating.

Furthermore, when asked to recommend a few bands and albums that perfectly represent what we call “Melancholic Gothic Metal”, Shiori put together another powerful list of darkly ethereal names, including The Gathering’s Mandylion (1995), Sentenced’s The Cold White Light (2002), Eternal Tears Of Sorrow’s Chaotic Beauty (2000), Entwine’s Diversity (2004) and my favorite one of her list (which was already mentioned in this essay), Amorphis’ Eclipse (2006). When you listen to an incredible song such as Leaves Scar and its beautiful lyrics (“Out from the frozen lake / She finally grew into her full might / She grew from a tiny thing / On this lake as I drove there to meet her”), not only it becomes extremely easy to understand why this is one of Shiori’s top albums and also part of her recommendations, but it’s also a very good example of how much our Japanese princess values passion and depth in heavy music.

Shiori Vitus’ Official Instagram
Shiori Vitus’ Official Twitter
Eleanor’s Official Facebook page
Eleanor’s Official Twitter

“We believe that the darkness we hold inside, and depressive thoughts become the drive and essence of a work of art, and by creating music of that kind, we glimpse ourselves and are able to confront the grief in the world surrounding us. Therefore for us to be fascinated by melancholic sounds is a completely natural reaction.” – Shiori Vitus

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Metal Chick of the Month – Vicky Psarakis

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You! Pull me out and plug me in!

As our Metal Chick of the Month beautifully chants in one of her band’s best songs, fear is not her master. Owner of a powerful and wide vocal range that allows her to sing anything from the smoothest Jazz to the most visceral Heavy Metal, she’s the present and future of female singing, with a more-than-promising career ahead of her. I’m talking about the dashing long-haired singer Vicky Psarakis, the frontwoman of one of the most influential contemporary metal bands in Canada, The Agonist, and a woman that represents pure talent in heavy music.

Vicky was born on June 22, 1988 in Chicago, Illinois, United States, but moved to Greece with her family at the age of 10. Her Greek roots were the main reason why she grew up listening to traditional Greek music (as well as Jazz, Blues, Pop and Disco classics), something not very common in the background of most Heavy Metal musicians. Our blonde diva started singing when she was around 5 or 6 years old, when her teachers would make her participate in school plays and musicals. Then when she was 10 she laid her eyes on a piano and fell in love for it, getting her first keyboard and starting playing on her own. When Vicky was attending middle school she started listening to metal and rock music, singing a lot and writing her own songs, later growing an interest towards orchestral arrangements and soundtracks. She mentioned during one of her interviews that the great support she received from people around her was the main reason why she continued to pursue a career in music, leading her to where she is today.

Before joining The Agonist, Vicky had a band named E.V.E., which started off as a Progressive Rock personal project in 2010. Among the bands that influenced the music by E.V.E. there are some very interesting names such as Pain Of Salvation, Ayreon, Dream Theater, Pink Floyd and Fates Warning. In regards to the meaning of E.V.E., according to Vicky herself it stands for “Equations Vanquish Equality”, where the first word is connected with science, math and technology, while the following words refer to humankind and how each person is affected by modern society, giving the idea of how progress, usually a positive term, can affect our lives in a negative way at the same time. You can take a listen at their only release, the 2012 self-titled EP Equations Vanquish Equality, at the band’s BandCamp page or at their official YouTube channel (by the way, on YouTube you can check out their tribute to the renowned diva Anneke Van Giersbergen with a cover version for the song Beautiful One), and witness how Vicky’s vocal performance used to be in the early stages of her career.

Another key point in Vicky’s career are the cover versions for several different bands and artists available on her official YouTube channel, which are either personal favorites or requests from friends or fans and have nothing to do with E.V.E. or The Agonist. Among all the awesome versions uploaded by our stunning singer, I recommend you go check her performance in Audioslave’s Show Me How To Live, in Nightwish’s Slaying The Dreamer, in Disturbed’s Stricken, and especially in Aerosmith’s Dream On and in one of the biggest Iron Maiden classics of all time, The Clairvoyant. Moreover, what seemed to be just a nice and healthy hobby became in fact the spark that changed her life forever: The Agonist’s guitarist, songwriter and founder Danny Marino sent Vicky a message saying how he was impressed with her covers after watching some of her videos on YouTube, asking her later on if she wanted to try and track some vocal and lyric ideas on a couple of his new songs. Vicky ended up sending him back almost a full song (which is now the incredible Danse Macabre), and after listening to it and sharing it with the rest of the band he asked her if she would be willing to join The Agonist as their new frontwoman.

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Although Vicky’s been with The Agonist for such a short period of time, having recorded only the single Disconnect Me in 2014 and the superb full-length album Eye of Providence in 2015, which showcases all her versatility in songs such as Gates Of Horn And Ivory and A Gentle Disease, she already has a lot of interesting stories and facts to share. When asked what’s easier for her to record, if clean singing or harsh vocals, she said screaming might be faster to track, but it’s something relatively new to her and her clean vocals come out a lot more natural due to her music background. Regarding her live performances with The Agonist, Vicky said she was really nervous before stepping on stage for the first time with the band, but as soon as the adrenaline kicked in all nerves were gone and she enjoyed the moment. She also said the most intense concert with The Agonist so far has been Summer Breeze 2014, where they played for a crowd of over ten thousand people. And it looks like Vicky doesn’t have any issues singing songs she didn’t originally write or record: she just sings them in a way that’s comfortable to her, giving her own personal touch to the music.

Apart from her career with The Agonist, E.V.E. and her cover videos on YouTube, Vicky has featured in some other projects and bands as a guest musician, recording female vocals on the song Siege of Ruad, from the album Nuclear Winter (2008) by Greek Heavy/Power Metal band Orion’s Reign; backing vocals on the album Depressive Icons (2010) by Greek Doom/Gothic Metal band Daylight Misery; female vocals on the album Lasting Forever (2013) by Chinese Power Metal band Barque Of Dante, as you can see in the song The Way to Freedom; additional vocals on the album Anthem to Creation (2013) by Greek Progressive Metal band Until Rain; and female vocals on the 2014 self-titled album by Greek Power Metal band Rage of Romance, as in the song Let Me Breathe Again. Is that enough Vicky for your taste?

Such a multifaceted artist like Vicky couldn’t have a short list of influences, of course. If you thought she would say her favorite singers of all time are Angela Gossow or Phil Anselmo, for example, you’re totally wrong, because as aforementioned screaming is something new to her music career. Although Heavy Metal inspired her to become a musician, her list of influences include names from different genres of music like Anneke Van Giersbergen, Daniel Gildenlow, Mikael Akerfeldt, Mikael Stanne, Devon Graves, Roy Khan, Russel Allen, Tom Englund, Marilyn Manson, Sting, among many others. She also enjoys listening to classics such as Led Zeppelin, and to more modern bands like American Rock group Rival Sons.

Lastly, despite all the growling and jumping on stage, her personal hobbies and interests are similar to what most of us like to do in our free time, including activities such as working out, watching a movie, cooking, hanging out with her friends and going out for a beer or to a good restaurant. In other words, if you’re a fan of Vicky Psarakis keep your eyes open wherever you are: she might be sitting right next to your table, sharing a beer with her friends and having some fun, just like you.

Vicky Psarakis’ Official Facebook page
Vicky Psarakis’ Official Twitter
The Agonist’s Official Facebook page
The Agonist’s Official Twitter

“I believe it’s very important for a vocalist and musician in general to be able to maintain their identity by adding their own stamp instead of copying someone else’s rendition on a song.” – Vicky Psarakis