Metal Chick of the Month – Kayla Dixon

Death falls so heavy on my soul… Death falls so heavy, makes me moan…

Things are about to get doomed, heavy and extremely sexy here at The Headbanging Moose with our metal chick of the month of May. Trained in classical, jazz and musical theatre vocals, as well as acting and dance, the talented and stunning Kayla Dixon, frontwoman for Doom Metal institution Witch Mountain and for Alternative Metal outfit Dress the Dead, is among us to prove once again that black girls do have a place in the world of heavy music, and she has been doing that in great fashion with her beyond powerful vocals since joining Witch Mountain in 2015. Hence, after listening to Kayla singing for the very first time you’ll get absolutely addicted to her voice and performance, no doubt about that, therefore going after everything she has already recorded in her career, it doesn’t matter if it’s metal or not.

Born on March 20, 1995 in Glendale, California and raised between Lancaster, Pennsylvania, California, and Maryland (as you can see, she moved a lot when she was a kid), Kayla has been singing since the age of five, joining a Jazz band at the age of 13, when she began to hone her vocal skills and discovered her passion for performing. Having studied ballet, modern and contemporary techniques at the American Dance Institute, the Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Maryland Youth Ballet, among others, not to mention she’s a trained actor of Stanislavski and Meisner techniques (which contributed to her deep understanding of the importance of storytelling on stage), Kayla has already participated in several projects in her career, such as productions at the Studio Theatre in Washington, D.C., the Levine Music, and the Interlochen Center for the Arts, also making an appearance in in the Sundance award winning movie I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore, on Netflix, as well as in the TV series Portlandia, Grimm and Outlaw. In addition, she said in one of her interviews she doesn’t sit at a keyboard or think about intervals or scales, unless she’s writing harmonies. She usually writes the melody first, thinking about “what words match this melody and how can I put this melody into words?”

Kayla got her first contact with heavy music during her teens due to her sisters, who used to listen to bands like Marilyn Manson, Tool and Nine Inch Nails, and she fell in love for that type of music. After straying away from that for a while, she said it was when she was in the ninth grade that she rediscovered all those bands, later turning her attention to other heavier and more complex bands such as Meshuggah. She mentioned in one of her interviews that it was the intensity of metal music that really caught her attention at first, as she feels she can express all her emotions and feelings through metal. In addition, she also said that the energy coming from the audience while you’re on stage is also what makes heavy music so special for her.

Regarding her career with both Witch Mountain and Dress the Dead, everything started back in 2015 when Kayla, who had recently discovered the music by Witch Mountain, saw on their Facebook page they were auditioning for a new vocalist after the departure in 2014 of the amazing Uta Plotkin, prior to the release of the album Mobile of Angels. She then decided to take a shot at that by submitting a video audition, admitting she was a little nervous as she loved Uta’s lyrics and the vocal melodies, but fortunately for all of us fans of rock and metal Kayla became the band’s new frontwoman (and let’s not forget she was only 19 years old at the time). Four years later, this excellent Portland, Oregon-based band formed back in 1997 released their first full-length album with Kayla on vocals, self-titled Witch Mountain (which by the way she was responsible for all lyrics), not to mention their 2016 single Burn You Down, impressing not only the band’s diehard fans with her potent voice and her ability to easily switch between clean and harsh vocals,  but also her own band members. “When she laid down a scratch track in the studio and was going back and forth between the cleans and the dirties, our producer Billy and us were just sitting there laughing with joy,” recalls guitarist Rob Wrong. “For her that was just a scratch track, and we’re just like ‘most people in the world can’t do this.’ For Dixon, the possibility to cross styles and alternate between clean and screaming vocals is ‘a breath of fresh air.’”

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Then in 2018, one year after parting ways with former The Haunted vocalist Peter Dolving, Dress the Dead announced a new lineup with our goddess Kayla on vocals in an unexpected move by many. “A mutual friend reached out to me about Dress the Dead.  One of my first thoughts was, ‘I don’t know if I’m ready or even at an appropriate talent level to be replacing someone like Peter Dolving for these guys.’  I’d battled with the idea in my head for several months before finally reaching out.  I had listened to and loved 1969, but what really hit me hard was when I heard the other songs that are still unreleased that they sent me.  I had no idea how musically diverse this band would turn out to be,” said Kayla about joining her second major band, but as what happened with Witch Mountain her vocals matched Dress the Dead’s music flawlessly, as you can enjoy in the excellent songs 1969, There Goes The Sun and Promises & Kisses. In addition to that, just to give you an idea of how healthy her relationship with her new bandmates is, take a look at this fun YouTube video titled “Dress The Dead – Crappy Comments”, where Kayla and the rest of the band read and discuss about the most ridiculous comments they received from fans via social media.

Our hardcore vegan (yes, she’s a vegan) had also been involved with several other bands and projects before joining Witch Mountain and Dress the Dead, each one offering Kayla a chance to showcase all her highly developed vocal skills. For instance, she was (apparently) the vocalist for a Cleveland, Ohio-based Groove/Death Metal band named Demons Within during an unknown period of time, and the lead singer for Sacramento, California-based Power Metal act Helion Prime from 2016 until 2017, with whom she recorded the sensational single Remnants of Stars, in 2017. Apart from that, she also started lending her unique voice now in 2019 to a British/Romanian Atmospheric Doom/Death Metal band named Clouds during some of their live performances, and she also appeared as a guest vocalist in the song Buried In Sand, from Clouds’ 2018 release Dor – Bonus Album;  in the electrifying title-track Terminal, from the 2017 album Terminal, by British Melodic Progressive Metal band Divinity Compromised; and more recently in Living Light, from the 2019 album Divided by Darkness, by Phoenix, Arizona-based Doom Metal act Spirit Adrift, to be released later this month.

Touring is always one of the most difficult and demanding tasks in the life of a musician, and as a talented vocalist that Kayla is she obviously warms up her voice (and mind) properly before going on stage, sometimes meditating for a few minutes to reach her desired state of mind prior to performing. As a matter of fact, Kayla mentioned that meditation was one of the main activities she discovered through the years to fight her childhood traumas, to work on her spirituality and to remain strong when facing any type of adversity. She also said that, to keep her body and mind healthy while touring with Witch Mountain, who by the way have a very aggressive touring agenda, she tries to eat well and work out whenever she can, avoiding things like partying and drinking. Even with all those precautions to stay in shape, Kayla said that due to her incendiary performances each show ends up being fairly exhausting for her but energizing at the same time, saying it’s another form of “meditation” for her. “Music is a way for me to express that negativity and get it out. There’s also a positivity about it. So, it’s very energizing. Music is what makes me happy and I believe it is my life’s purpose,” commented Kayla, and if you take into account the fact that when she’s not on tour she can be giving vocal lessons or acting (albeit she hasn’t being doing a lot of that lately due to her busy schedule), it’s the utmost proof she was born to be an artist.

As curious as this might sound, Kayla always mentions in her interviews that she considers herself an introvert, although she’s not actually afraid of talking to people. Despite having introverted tendencies, she confronts that inner fear by working really hard on it, saying that fear doesn’t have to be who she really is or her story. And even more curious than that, she mentioned that one thing she loves doing for relaxation and fun is watching horror movies, with her favorite one being the 1982 cult movie Poltergeist and also mentioning Suspiria as another movie she enjoyed a lot (I just don’t know if she’s talking about the 1977 original one or the 2018 version). She said Poltergeist really freaked her out, that it was extremely scary in her opinion, so how can this be a relaxing activity, right? Anyway, still talking about ghosts and paranormal activities, she said she had a few paranormal experiences in her life, as her mother was really into that kind of thing and would tell her about ghosts she saw. She mentioned that when she was seven years old she was sitting in the living room around Christmas time watching the classic TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and when she went to her room there was this white figure of an old man standing. In addition, her dad, who’s by the way a pastor, also claims he’s seen a ghost in his church, which used to be an old-fashioned one-room school house back in the 1900’s, describing the appearance of the ghost in great detail. If ghosts truly exist or not, no one knows for sure, but if Kayla channels those encounters and experiences into her music, and we all know the unknown has always been a magnificent inspiration for all genres and subgenres of heavy music, we can rest assured she’ll keep providing us first-class rock and metal for decades to come.

Kayla Dixon’s Official Facebook page
Kayla Dixon’s Official Instagram
Kayla Dixon’s Official Twitter
Kayla Dixon’s Official YouTube channel
Witch Mountain’s Official Facebook page
Witch Mountain’s Official Instagram
Witch Mountain’s Official Twitter
Witch Mountain’s Official BandCamp page
Dress the Dead’s Official Facebook page
Dress the Dead’s Official Instagram

“When I get on stage, I lose control and there’s not much I can do about that.” – Kayla Dixon

Album Review – Cloudscape / Voice of Reason (2016)

These awesome Swedish metallers provide us once again a well-balanced fusion of progressiveness, feeling, professionalism and an endless amount of our most beloved element, Heavy Metal.

Rating4

Cloudscape-voiceofreason-cover2400Just like their Scandinavian friends from Norway and Finland, it looks like it’s absolutely impossible to find a bad metal group from Sweden either. It doesn’t matter if it’s the most nefarious form of Black Metal or the most endearing and joyful Hard Rock you can think of, the quality of the music always goes beyond the boundaries of awesomeness. Thus, this is also the case in the high-octane Voice of Reason, the fifth studio album by Melodic Progressive Metal quintet Cloudscape, a band tailored for fans of icons like Dream Theater, Evergrey, Iron Maiden and Yngwie Malmsteen, among others.

Formed in 2001 in Helsingborg, Sweden, Cloudscape have already paved a solid path through the years, showcasing all their superior skills with each and every release and embellishing venues and festivals all over the world with their passion for metal. Now with Voice of Reason, which songwriting started back in 2013 and features another excellent artwork created by Mattias Norén from ProgArt Media (who has already worked with bands such as Kamelot, Evergrey and Sabaton), the band aims at entering new unexplored territories without losing their core essence, flirting with the sonority of their earlier albums. Well, let’s say that they reached their goal in a faultless manner.

The opening track A New Design already blends their classic sounding with modern metal music, with the vocals by Mike Andersson offering the listener melodic lines and hard-hitting aggression at the same time. In addition, its exciting chorus adds a more-than-welcome kick to this solid tune, turning it into one of the top moments of the album. Then, with an Iron Maiden-ish aura and hints of Hard Rock and Alternative Metal, we have the fresh and vibrant chant Futuristic Phsyco, where guitarists Patrik Svärd and Stefan Rosqvist, together with bassist Håkan Nyander, give a lesson in Progressive Metal with their unstoppable stringed weapons; followed by Don’t Close Your Eyes, another powerful song where its gentle but captivating keyboards shine amidst its heavy guitar riffs, not to mention its backing vocals doing a superb job supporting Mike’s performance.

CS-1As its name already says, All For Metal is pure classic Heavy Metal, with its riffs and drums transpiring electricity. Not only this is by far my favorite song of the album, but I simply love when a band pays that type of “tribute” to their roots and heroes without sounding cheesy. Moreover, it’s easy to visualize how incredible this tune might sound live with the crowd singing it together with the band. However, it’s time to slow things down a bit and get as progressive as possible in the 11-minute title-track Voice Of Reason, with the ambience getting stronger due to its keyboards and the heartwarming vocals by Mike, while drummer Fredrik Joakimsson makes sure the rhythm changes all the time avoiding any sort of staleness.

Thunders Of Extreme will please most fans of Scandinavian metal due to its classic guitar lines and uplifting lyrics, which combined will surely make you feel good while listening to it. Furthermore, this superb tune proves this band definitely knows how to craft catchy choruses, enhancing the impact of their already well-engendered compositions even more. Needle In The Eye is perhaps the most modern of all songs, as you can sense nuances of Alternative Metal thoroughly added to their powerful progressiveness, before the second-longest track of the album, In Silence We Scream, concludes the album majestically. Although it begins in a nice acoustic way with highlights to its emotional lyrics beautifully declaimed by Mike, it’s when the other instruments hit the music (consequently making it much heavier and denser) that things get a lot more ravishing and epic.

Tom sum up, those Swedish metallers were spot on with their comments about how Voice of Reason was going to sound like, providing the listener a well-balanced fusion of progressiveness, feeling, professionalism and an endless amount of our most beloved element, Heavy Metal. You can reach Cloudscape at their official Facebook page and YouTube channel, and get your copy of the album on iTunes, Amazon and several other locations. As you might have noticed already, Voice of Reason is what we can call the perfect album to start the year with a true metallic bang.

Best moments of the album: A New Design, All For Metal and Thunders Of Extreme.

Worst moments of the album: Needle In The Eye.

Released in 2016 Dead End Exit Records

Track listing
1. A New Design 5:43
2. Futuristic Phsyco 3:33
3. Don’t Close Your Eyes 4:45
4. All For Metal 5:25
5. Voice Of Reason 11:55
6. Thunders Of Extreme 4:23
7. Needle In The Eye 5:08
8. In Silence We Scream 9:30

Band members
Mike Andersson – vocals, keyboards
Patrik Svärd – guitar
Stefan Rosqvist – guitar
Håkan Nyander – bass
Fredrik Joakimsson – drums, backing vocals, keyboards

Album Review – Anubis Gate / Horizons (2014)

Time to enjoy a purifying journey through Danish progressive music.

Rating4

anubis_gate_horizonsIt’s amazing how the impeccable country of Denmark, with a population of only around 5 million people, has already provided the world so many excellent Heavy Metal bands such as Mercyful Fate, Volbeat, Pyramaze, White Lion, Royal Hunt, and also the band in question here, Aalborg-based Melodic Progressive Metal band Anubis Gate. After five full-length albums and one EP, the band releases now their sixth full-length album, Horizons, a really good experience in terms of progressive heavy music.

Although Anubis Gate released their debut album only in 2003, the band members have been working together since 1984, which gives them a stronger background to produce high quality Progressive Metal. Also, despite their almost flawless instrumental, what really caught my attention in Horizons were the clever lyrics in all songs, which by the way were all connected somehow throughout the whole album, enhancing our overall experience with their music just as the band probably desired while composing the album.

Let the voyage begin with Destined To Remember, an excellent progressive song with lots of harmony and a beautiful melody, with highlights to the riffs and drumming after three minutes, and also to the lyrics focusing on the purity of body and mind (“Don’t stray, you’re destined to remember / ‘Cause you can’t stop thinking ‘bout the day / I pray you’ll find what you endeavour / And make peace on the way”). It’s a long song that goes a little over 6 minutes, which by the way is a constant in the whole album, and that gives the band a lot of time to showcase their abilities as musicians.

The following track is a little shorter, maybe due to the fact it’s being used as their single for promoting the album: Never Like This (A Dream) reminds me of some of the songs by German Progressive Metal masters Vanden Plas, with great vocals and the last part of the song being pretty heavy with excellent keyboards. However, Anubis Gate go back to their unique progressiveness with the amazing Hear My Call!,  a heavier tune the likes of old Dream Theater, with interesting breakdowns and an outstanding solo at the end, making it one of the best of the album for sure.

anubis_gateThings get a little boring with Airways, which despite its good acoustic guitar intro and lyrics (“Inhale, exhale, stay awake, keep talking, don’t give in / The arms of death are reaching out to decompose your skin”), the rest of the song is just average and doesn’t keep up with the same level as its predecessor, but Horizons is back on track again with the Power Metal full of heavy riffs and atmospheric keyboards of Revolution Come Undone, a song that sounds perfect for circle pits, even this being something not so common for any progressive music bands.

The next three songs are Breach Of Faith, a more progressive rock tune not so exciting;  Mindlessness, another very Dream Theater-ish track with nice instrumental; and the title-track Horizons, with its good rhythm and amazing drumming. However, it’s with A Dream Within A Dream, a 14-minute sequence for “Never Like This (A Dream)”, where the band really stands out and proves why they’re one of the best progressive bands in the world of heavy music: it’s a truly beautiful song with lots of variations and solos, which you’ll enjoy so much you won’t even notice when it’s over, even being such a long track.

Finally, we have Erasure, a slow and dense ballad with some more beautiful lyrics to end up Horizons in a pleasant way, leaving us with the certainty Anubis Gate will keep providing us more of their fine progressive music in the years to come. And, of course, we’ll be there eagerly waiting for their new music “journeys” and experimentations.

Best moments of the album: Destined To Remember, Hear My Call!, Revolution Come Undone and A Dream Within A Dream.

Worst moments of the album: Airway and Breach Of Faith.

Released in 2014 Nightmare Records

Track listing
1. Destined To Remember 6:02
2. Never Like This (A Dream) 4:07
3. Hear My Call! 6:23
4. Airways 6:49
5. Revolution Come Undone 5:28
6. Breach Of Faith 7:20
7. Mindlessness 6:31
8. Horizons 4:48
9. A Dream Within A Dream 14:09
10. Erasure 3:31

Band members
Henrik Fevre – bass, vocals
Kim Olesen – guitars, keyboards
Michael Bodin – guitars
Morten Gade Sørensen – drums