Metal Chick of the Month – Vicky Psarakis

vicky01

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

Album Review – Against The Plagues / Purified Through Devastation (2015)

The devastating new album by this Blackened Death Metal band from Chicago is undoubtedly the perfect soundtrack for the total extermination of our species.

Rating4

ALBUM_COVER_2015We all know that the human race has proven countless times to be a failed experiment of Mother Nature and that, consequently, there’s only one last resort to restore balance to the world, which is the total extermination of our species. Thus, as there’s no other way out, why not conducting that mandatory purge to the sound of the demolishing music found in Purified Through Devastation,  the brand new release by American Blackened Death Metal act Against The Plagues?

Based in Chicago, Illinois, this brutally heavy and technical band has been pulverizing the world with their Blackened Death Metal since their inception in 2005, mixing speed and slower tempos in a precise and explicit way for the delight of fans of extreme music. Featuring another first-rate artwork by renowned Swedish artist Pär Olofsson (you might remember him from some of our previous reviews such as the latest albums by Exodus and Irreversible Mechanism), six of the nine tracks in Purified Through Devastation were already part of either their 2012 EP The Quaternion or their 2015 EP Extermination Event, which altogether offer the listener a concept album that will leave you disoriented after its 47 minutes of annihilation are over.

Their pulverization begins in less than five seconds in Man’s Modern World, where lead singer Shaun Albro delivers potent screams and growls (hence leading the band’s dense musicality) while drummer Varyen Chylinski shows no mercy for mankind, sounding like a machine gun behind his drums. The brutal and atmospheric All Flesh Had Corrupted, showcasing a more modern version of Death Metal due to its background sounds, continues the band’s carnage and also presents some amazing guitar lines by Jon Corston and Aaron Covarrubias, especially their solos. And what can be said about Praetorian Icon, slightly faster, heavier and more demonic than the previous tracks, reinforcing their impressive technique to sound so destructive and tuneful at the same time?

photoThe next song, Theokratia, is a magnificent neck-breaking chant perfect for admirers of Melodic Death Metal but with sharper instruments, in special the bestial drumming by Varyen and the even deeper growls by Shaun. And their heavy artillery doesn’t give any sign of slowing down as seen in TerrorForm, where hints of Symphonic Black Metal blend perfectly with their traditional shredding, beats and screams, making it a highly-recommended tune for getting smashed in the circle pit. The same is valid for the awesome chant Extermination Event, where its initial siren alerts a scathing bloodshed is about to begin in the form of demented Death Metal.

Let’s say the album needed a short break from all extermination going on with the instrumental track Falling Further, but it’s just for less than two minutes before the psychotic tune Enblightened comes crushing your skull with its Black Metal elements, enhancing the already amazing harsh vocals by Shaun. And lastly, we have the threatening Enemy Herein to close the album, with all instruments getting darker than usual and Jon and Aaron firing more of their striking guitar solos.

Against The Plagues can be found on Facebook and ReverbNation, and there are so many awesome versions of Purified Through Devastation available for sale I don’t know where to start. You can grab your copy of the album at their BandCamp page, a limited edition CD signed by all members at their Big Cartel page, and both the regular version of the album or a special combo CD + T-shirt at the Non Serviam Records webstore. If the brutal extermination of mankind deserves a proper soundtrack, Against The Plagues are indubitably the ones to help us with that gruesome task.

Best moments of the album: Man’s Modern World, Theokratia and Extermination Event.

Worst moments of the album: Enemy Herein.

Released in 2015 Non Serviam Records

Track listing
1. Man’s Modern World 7:06
2. All Flesh Had Corrupted 4:58
3. Praetorian Icon 5:25
4. Theokratia 7:47
5. TerrorForm 5:12
6. Extermination Event 3:56
7. Falling Further 1:39
8. Enblightened 4:46
9. Enemy Herein 6:49

Band members
Shaun Albro – vocals
Jon Corston – guitar
Aaron Covarrubias – guitar
Milo Kovacevic – bass
Varyen Chylinski – drums

Album Review – Disturbed / Immortalized (2015)

If you love Mr. David Draiman and his crew more than anything in your life, just go for it.

Rating5

disturbed_immortalizedDiehard fans of Alternative Metal can take a rest now and enjoy some peace of heart (or maybe not), as American Heavy Metal icons Disturbed finally released a couple of months ago a brand new album after a long hiatus, entitled Immortalized. And although the sixth studio album in their career (the first since their 2010 release Asylum) might be far from being a masterpiece and won’t change anything in the heavy music scene as we know it, it will surely put you to scream, jump up and down and raise your fists in the air together with Mr. David Draiman and his crew. But that will most probably happen only if you’re addicted to their music, so to speak.

Perhaps the main “issue” with the new album by the band that helped put Chicago, Illinois on the worldwide map of Alternative Metal is not the lack of innovation, but the extreme repetitiousness and hollowness of all lyrics. It’s nothing that ruins the album or makes it unbearable to listen to, but at least for me it feels like many songs are just filler and only their most devoted fans will end up digging them. Anyway, it’s still Disturbed with yet another excellent artwork featuring “The Guy”, designed by Raymond Swanland, and you’ll surely have a good time listening to it at home, work, school or in your car, but other than two or three truly strong songs the rest of the album doesn’t achieve its full potential and will be forgotten pretty soon.

The album begins with The Eye of the Storm, an alternative intro that sets the tone for what’s about to come, the incredible title-track Immortalized, which by the way is the best song of the album by far. You’ll need just a couple of seconds to realize it’s Disturbed at its finest, from its razing riffs to the unique voice by Mr. David Draiman, with its chorus being one of those things you’ll feel honored to raise your fists and sing together with the band (“Oh, in the calm before the storm / Another legend will be born / Another battle will be won / We will rise / Oh, so heed the call of confrontation / Today we feed on domination / Secure a legacy that will never die / Be immortalized”). The Vengeful One is another instant classic where the band offers their fans a unique fighting chant with an imposing rhythm and fierce lyrics, and I bet this song will be a permanent piece of their setlist from now on.

It’s in Open Your Eyes that the aforementioned issues begin: despite being another solid tune where Draiman and guitarist Dan Donegan do a great job together, it’s recommended for longtime fans of the band only as it doesn’t offer anything new, and besides, the chorus ends up getting way too repetitive after a while. And if they wanted to send an inspiring message through the song The Light, I’m sad to say they failed miserably, not only because its instrumental parts are significantly bland but also because its lyrics couldn’t sound more generic. It might be enjoyable for fans who love anything that comes from the band, but for fans of a wider range of heavy music it’s a real bummer. Then we have the interesting What Are You Waiting For, which reminds me of some of their songs from their 2000 classic The Sickness mixed with their 2005 release Ten Thousand Fists. In spite of the repetitiveness of the lyrics and chorus it’s indeed a very pleasant tune, with highlights to the excellent job done by drummer Mike Wengren.

You’re Mine starts in a “scary” Pop/Dance way, fortunately evolving to a much bolder and heavier sonority and therefore without doing any harm to the album; followed by Who, and let me tell you that if you’re not a fan of the band you won’t even notice the transition from the previous song to this one. However, this one is a lot more elaborate and deserves a better listen, with its solid riffs and beats providing Draiman all he needs to deliver his classic vocal lines. Once again lyrics get too repetitive in Save Our Last Goodbye, with its heavy riffs being what really stand out and give the song some significant energy. It should work a lot better if played live, though.

disturbed 2015I’ll never ever understand the reason for a band like Disturbed to record the hideous Fire It Up. I’m not pro or against it, I just think this is not Disturbed, where its weak instrumental  and even weaker lyrics feel like Draiman had the terrible idea to partner with Snoop Dogg so infantile they are (“Fire it up, I like to fire it up / and it feels so right / Fire it up, ’cause when I fire it up / I feel like serenity / I feel like serenity… is mine”). Disturbed should sing about fighting, about the human psyche, hatred and pain, and leave the superficial stuff to R&B and other crap. At least The Sound of Silence keeps up with the band’s tradition of unusual cover songs, this time paying a tribute to Simon & Garfunkel. It’s interesting how Draiman changed his voice for this song, and albeit it’s nothing outstanding and not even close to their awesome version for “Land of Confusion”, it’s still a nice variation to the band’s sounding.

Never Wrong sounds like the early days of Disturbed with its pure Alternative Metal vibe and Draiman showcasing his powerful vocals in a thrilling way. In addition, the entire band is on fire, elevating the song’s electricity and making it a perfect choice for some action inside the pit during their live performances. And lastly, the album ends with yet another decent but not outstanding song named Who Taught You How to Hate, also tailored for old fans of the band, with its repetitive but good-to-sing-along lyrics. And if you get any of the special editions of the album, I personally consider Legion of Monsters the most exciting bonus track of all.

To sum up, Distrubed are offering a decent Disturbed album for Disturbed fans, and that’s it. Nothing truly new, no breakthroughs or any type of new concepts added to it. Draiman knows what he’s doing and what his fans want, and that’s exactly what he did in Immortalized. If you love the music by Disturbed more than anything in your life, just go for it and you won’t feel disappointed at all. If Disturbed are simply another band in your playlist, take a shot at Immortalized and you’ll find some pretty good moments in it, but don’t expect it to have a relevant impact on the way you see music today. As long as you have fun listening to it, it’s mission accomplished for Draiman and his bandmates.

Best moments of the album: Immortalized, The Vengeful One and Never Wrong.

Worst moments of the album: The Light and Fire It Up.

Released in 2015 Reprise Records

Track listing
1. The Eye of the Storm 1:20
2. Immortalized 4:17
3. The Vengeful One 4:12
4. Open Your Eyes 3:57
5. The Light 4:16
6. What Are You Waiting For 4:03
7. You’re Mine 4:55
8. Who 4:46
9. Save Our Last Goodbye 4:59
10. Fire It Up 4:05
11. The Sound of Silence (Simon & Garfunkel cover) 4:08
12. Never Wrong 3:33
13. Who Taught You How to Hate 4:57

Deluxe edition bonus tracks
14.Tyrant 3:49
15.Legion of Monsters 4:23
16.The Brave and the Bold 4:34

Exclusive digital bonus track
17. Warning Sign 3:28

Exclusive vinyl pictures disc bonus track
18. The Vengeful One (Instrumental) 4:12

Band members
David Draiman – vocals
Dan Donegan – guitar
John Moyer – bass
Mike Wengren – drums

Album Review – Starkill / Virus Of The Mind (2014)

These promising American death metallers return with an interesting mix of symphony, harmony and darkness.

Rating4

starkill_coverAs promised HERE, it’s time to review Virus Of The Mind, the brand new album by one of the most promising Melodic Death Metal groups in the market today (and they’re not from Sweden this time), American band Starkill. Sounding like a hybrid of Behemoth and Arch Enemy, with lots of symphonic elements and the band’s own unique dark touch, this is an excellent choice for fans of a more contemporary Symphonic and Melodic Black/Death Metal, which is at the same time brutal but very harmonious.

Born in 2008 in Bloomington, Indiana under the name of Ballistika and then Massakren, before changing it once and for all to Starkill and moving to Chicago, Illinois, the band was kind of “catapulted” to significant stardom at the end of 2012 when they signed to Century Media Records, releasing their debut album Fires Of Life in 2013. Now with Virus Of The Mind they sound even more prepared for reaching new heights, especially due to their capacity of mixing so many different genres and subgenres of heavy music such as Melodic Death Metal, Power Metal, Thrash Metal and Symphonic Black Metal in the most professional and polished way possible.

And their symphonic vein can be noticed from the very beginning of the opening track, Be Dead or Die, where the awesome keyboard lines blend perfectly with its Power Metal-ish drums at the speed of light by Spencer Weidner, all guided by one of the band’s trademarks, the harsh growls by Parker Jameson. Winter Desolation follows a more Melodic Death Metal line, especially its riffs and solos à la Arch Enemy, and the first “batch” of clean vocals is a welcome addition in order to expand their music range, while Breaking the Madness elevates the adrenaline of the listener, being perfect for live performances. Moreover, despite the vocals being so harsh, it’s easy to understand the dark and interesting lyrics Parker is singing (“Madness permeates / Into my body and my mind, it starts to break / Bit there is fucking nothing left to take / Nothing to feel / Trapped in the labyrinth, losing sight of what is real / So hard to tell which way to go”).

The title-track Virus of the Mind is a very symphonic tune where the smooth keyboard notes make an interesting paradox with the harsh vocals, while the also atmospheric and dark Skyward focus on the synergy between its guitar effects and keyboard notes. Before Hope Fades, one of the singles of the album, is a good reason why they should stick to fast and heavy music: it sounds a lot like the bland material from the last couple of albums by Nightwish (except for the vocals, of course), being so pop and generic it doesn’t represent at all the true heavy music the band is capable of doing. At least they get back on track with some Symphonic Black Metal the likes of Dimmu Borgir in Into Destiny, albeit the clean vocals do not sound as if they belonged to this song.

starkillThe last part of Virus Of The Mind has its awesome and pretty bad moments at the same time, starting with the amazing apocalyptic musicality in God of This World, focusing heavily on its keyboards and the more obscure and violent lyrics (“I shall smite the earth with a curse / Enemies to ashes on the soles of my feet / Shedding blood as long as it takes / To cease this engine of grief”), followed by My Catharsis, where all elements of Melodic Death Metal can be found: very technical guitar solos, fast drums, heavy riffs and huge doses of guttural vocals. And finally, Convergence, which was supposed to sound more epic, but in fact it doesn’t live up to the expectations and ends up being just filler and, consequently, the worst song of the whole album by far.

In summary, the second installment by those American death metallers is not only a nice and professional combination of harmony and darkness, but above all it also helps consolidate Starkill in the heavy music scene today as one of the most promising names in Melodic Death Metal. Well, I guess we can already stop calling them “promising”, as they’re indeed a reality, right? And if they keep providing us such enjoyable music, maybe one day they can go even further and reach the status of classic.

Best moments of the album: Be Dead or Die, Breaking the Madness and God of This World.

Worst moments of the album: Before Hope Fades and Convergence.

Released in 2014 Century Media Records

Track listing
1. Be Dead or Die 4:36
2. Winter Desolation 5:16
3. Breaking the Madness 3:55
4. Virus of the Mind 4:47
5. Skyward 4:05
6. Before Hope Fades 4:52
7. Into Destiny 4:02
8. God of This World 5:39
9. My Catharsis 3:54
10. Convergence 4:18

Band members
Parker Jameson – lead guitar, vocals, keyboards
Tony Keathley – guitar, backing vocals
Shaun Andruchuk – bass guitar
Spencer Weidner – drums