Metal Chick of the Month – Viktoria Viren

She’s armed… and she’s dangerous…

There isn’t a lot of personal details about our metal chick for this month, but I don’t think you’ll really care that much about it as our chosen one kicks some serious ass with her devilish growls, stunning looks and a badass attitude. Furthermore, if you’re a diehard fan of Swedish Melodic Death Metal titans Arch Enemy, nurturing a special admiration for their almost 15 years with the unparalleled screaming queen Angela Gossow on vocals, you’ll certainly have a blast listening to the ravishing singer Viktoria Viren, the frontwoman of Finnish Melodic Death Metal band Evil Drive, bursting her lungs and delivering high-voltage Heavy Metal with her bandmates, proving once again that the importance of women in extreme music is only growing more and more through the years. So keep your eyes and ears open, because whenever you see a “double V” in Melodic Death Metal, you know it’s going to be brutal, thrilling and, obviously, awesome.

Born on November 11, 1988 (I guess) somewhere in Russia (but also Finnish at heart), Viktoria started her career in heavy music at an early stage of her life, singing in various bands from when she was only 14 years old, with her first major festival happening a couple of years later, when she was 16, performing with a Death Metal band at the Vyborg Castle, a Swedish-built medieval fortress originally constructed in the 1290’s and one of the three major castles of Finland, around which the town of Viborg (today in Russia) evolved. You won’t find many videos of Viktoria from her early metal days, except for this 2012 footage of our diva (at that time part of a band named Alistaja, which I couldn’t find any information about) singing Megadeth’s neck-breaking all-time classic Symphony of Destruction, and this one with a band named Soulcrypt at the Vyborg Castle in 2010; however, based on this sole sample of what Viktoria can do with her voice, it’s easy to understand how she quickly progressed in music until reaching her status today with Evil Drive.

“It was 2004 and the only woman in a metal band that I knew of was Angela Gossow”, said Viktoria in one of her interviews, and that’s one of the main reasons why she decided to follow the path of guttural singing in heavy music. She mentioned that she really likes the growling and screaming, that it makes the music more powerful and energetic, and that she feels stronger when doing guttural. Viktoria also said that, although she could be doing some clean singing with Evil Drive, she doesn’t think that can properly transmit the power of their compositions to their fans. We saw something similar happening with Alissa White-Gluz when she left The Agonist and joined Arch Enemy, when she completely ditched her clean vocals and began doing only guttural for Michael Amott’s iconic band due to the nature of their songs and their musical direction. Maybe we’ll see Viktoria doing some clean singing one day, but for now let’s keep enjoying her beastly roars (as if that wasn’t awesome enough for us metalheads).

In regards to her band Evil Drive, I think we might say Viktoria and the band are one single entity. There’s no Viktoria Viren without Evil Drive, and vice-versa. Founded in 2013 in Kotka, a city located on the coast of the Gulf of Finland, by Viktoria, her husband and guitarist Ville Wiren (who by the way also plays for Finnish Symphonic Power/Gothic Metal band Domination Black), and drummer Juha Beck, the aim was to set up a band which has not been previously heard. All the musicians in the band have a history in a number of different bands and different genres, therefore incorporating many distinct musical styles into their compositions, sounding like a traditional Melodic Death Metal band with a twist of 80’s style Thrash Metal. When asked about the origin of the name “Evil Drive”, Viktoria mentioned the fusion of those two words has a strong influence on the band’s music, as everything they do and try to achieve is characterized by this name. The word “drive” connects to her love for motorcycles, energy and freedom, while “evil” was a wicked combination found by Viktoria, becoming a simple but powerful name in the end.

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In November 2013, Viktoria and her bandmates Ville Wiren (guitar), Niko Huusari (guitar), Marko Syrjala (bass) and Juha Beck (drums) released their debut self-titled EP, getting a lot of attention not only from the Finnish media, but from critics and fans all over the world. The EP consisted of four original songs that would later become part of their first full-length album, entitled The Land of the Dead, released in January 2016. In the official video for one of the tracks from the EP, the excellent Bullet, you can have a very good taste of what Evil Drive are capable of, providing a clear view of the musical direction the band was going to follow with their upcoming releases. The Land of the Dead, released in the beginning of 2016, contained the four songs from the Evil Drive EP plus six original belligerent tunes that helped cement the name of the band in the metallic scenario worldwide, in special in the world of Melodic Death Metal. You can check their two official videos recorded for the album, one for the song War, and the other for the title-track The Land of the Dead (which can be seen at the end of this essay), showcasing the evolution in their musicality and how their looks and the use of military imagery became a crucial part of the whole concept behind their music. Well, Viktoria and the rest of the band don’t need to worry too much about maintaining their warlike visual always fresh and renovated, as they have a healthy partnership with the highly acclaimed Finnish army supply store Varusteleka, making it easy for them to keep the war going.

In addition to that, the band even had some extra fuel to release the single Anti-Genocide on October 12, 2016, to be featured on their upcoming album which is scheduled to be released sometime this year. The new single, which features the band’s new guitarist Juha-Pekka Pusa (replacing Niko Huusari), offers the listener a different theme and feeling compared to The Land of the Dead, which was all about the current world politics and war, according to Viktoria herself. “The new track is about the history of the American Indians and about the fate they had to face when the white men came and took over their land”, said our gorgeous screamer, and as per the official video for the song you’ll be able to see the band truly immersed themselves in the topic, especially Viktoria with her awesome Indian attire.

As every metal band in the world, it’s when the musicians are performing live on stage that we finally know if the band is worth a place in Valhalla among the metal gods, right? Well, there’s a lot of good quality footage on YouTube where you can check Viktoria kicking fuckin’ ass with her Evil Drive, such as two videos from their first year as a band playing in St. Petersburg, Russia on November 22, 2013 (just click HERE and HERE); playing the song Screaming Soul at the now closed PRKL Club in Helsinki, Finland  on July 17, 2015; paying an awesome tribute to the iconic Lemmy and his Motörhead by playing a cover version of the classic Killed By Death at the traditional pub On The Rocks, also in Helsinki, on January 23, 2016; performing at the Finnish winter festival known as Metal Bath on March 4, 2016 in Hämeenlinna, Finland, as you can see in the songs War and again the Motörhead cover Killed By Death; and more recently playing their newest hymn Anti-Genocide live at Bar Bäkkäri in Helsinki on December 10, 2016.

When questioned if the presence of a frontwoman affects the career of a band, Viktoria said that in the past having a female band member attracted more attention because it was a world dominated predominantly by men, but today that’s not the case anymore. We see more and more talented women taking the stage on par with any male musician, and not only on vocals but in any other instrument. Viktoria also mentioned that over the years women have mastered the art of guttural singing, becoming more prominent in metal and, as a consequence, being more accepted in extreme music than before. She said the combination of factors such as the beauty, the strength and the unpredictability turn a female guttural singer into something mesmerizing, and we must agree with her it’s always astonishing to see a woman that looks delicate at first sight start screaming like a beast and headbanging like a maniac on stage, just like we got used to see with Angela Gossow, Alissa White-Gluz and many other exceptional growlers, don’t you agree?

Lastly, there couldn’t be a better place for Viktoria to live than Finland, a land that breathes Heavy Metal. When asked about how hard it is to find the right musicians in her homeland, our red-haired metaller said it’s actually quite easy to put a band together in Finland, as every other person is a guitarist, a bass player or a drummer, but that’s also extremely challenging to keep the band members working side by side in a productive and friendly way, as everyone has different ideas and visions on writing and making music. As long as Viktoria and her band members are able to keep working as a single powerful unity like what we’ve been witnessing with Evil Drive, the world of heavy music will remain happy and energized for more of her impactful demonic growls, no doubt about that.

Viktoria Viren’s Official Facebook page
Evil Drive’s Official Facebook page
Evil Drive’s Official Twitter
Evil Drive’s Official YouTube channel
Evil Drive’s Official Instagram

“Over the recent years females have shown to master the throat singing just as well as men. I think the interest in us is caused by many different factors: the beautiful, strong and the unpredictable – this is mesmerizing.” – Viktoria Viren

Album Review – Rage / The Devil Strikes Again (2016)

One of the biggest exponents of the German Power Metal scene strikes again with more of their enraged and metallic music.

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rage_the-devil-strikes-againFormed in 1984 by the iconic Peter “Peavy” Wagner, German Power Metal institution Rage are not even close to call it quits after over 30 years alive and kicking based on the energy flowing from their brand new album, titled The Devil Strikes Again, the 22nd studio installment in their monstrous career and another excellent sample of how exciting German Metal has always been despite all the changes in the world of music we’ve been witnessing. It might not be the best album of their career, but it still has that amazing vibe and punch that elevated Rage to the status of Power Metal icons in their homeland Germany as well as worldwide alongside bands such as Grave Digger, Running Wild and Blind Guardian.

The artwork by German artist Karim König is already a good indication of what you’ll find in The Devil Strikes Again: raw, honest and furious Rage-style Power Metal, with no shenanigans or any other “artificial ingredients”. In addition, although this is the first album to feature the power trio formed by Peavy on bass and vocals, Venezuelan musician Marcos Rodríguez on guitars (who by the way met Peavy on Rage’s 30th anniversary tour, when his own band Soundchaser were the support band for part of the tour) and Greek sledgehammer Vassilios “Lucky” Maniatopoulos on drums , that doesn’t mean their instruments are disconnected at all. Quite the contrary, spearheaded by Peavy, The Devil Strikes Again gives the sensation they’ve been together for decades due to its cohesiveness and overall quality.

Kicking off this heavy album we have the title-track The Devil Strikes Again,  an enraged storm of Power Metal made in Germany, fast and berserk just the way we love, where Lucky starts blasting his drums before Peavy comes firing his unmistakable raspy screams. Well, with that devilish name I couldn’t expect anything less badass than this. My Way is another classic Rage tune with the grim guitar riffs by Marcos giving a touch of modernity to it, boosted by its addictive chorus flawlessly sung by Peavy, who also rumbles his bass like no one else; whereas Back on Track sounds taken from an old Rage album, being recommended for admirers of  old school German Power Metal due to its very traditional fast-paced rhythm, not to mention its melodic vocal lines that prove Peavy is just getting better with age.

The Final Curtain is slightly generic compared to the previous tracks but still a good listen, with the metallic guitar sound by Marcos (including his nice solos) being the main ingredient of the song, followed by War, one of the most thrilling of all songs of the album. Overflowing Heavy Metal and adrenaline, this sensational tune presents a brutal intro followed by a sinister break, with Peavy grasping the song’s acid lyrics powerfully (“In the eyes of the big global players everything’s alright, / It’s their god-given right to abuse us, / So thank you and good night. / In the world’s biggest money machine / They’re delivering the fuel. / Let there be some collateral damage, / That’s their pervert rule, / Yes, that’s their perfect rule.”).

rage-2016In Ocean Full of Tears we’re treated to a thunderous hymn for hitting the road that epitomizes the contemporary sonority by Rage, with Peavy and Marcos delivering sheer metal through their strings, in special the soulful solos by Marcos. They don’t lose a single second and continue their Power Metal extravaganza in Deaf, Dumb and Blind, which follows a similar structure as the previous tune (meaning more high-end metal for us fans). Besides, if you’re a guitar player no matter your style, you’ll simply love the job done by Marcos on this song. And living up to the legacy of the sharper and more visceral German Metal created by Rage and their countrymen Grave Digger and Running Wild, Spirits of the Night brings forward cutting riffs and an old school chorus, with Peavy’s vocals being effectively supported by the song’s potent backing vocals.

The obscure Times of Darkness offers the listener tons of heaviness, but it gets a bit repetitive as time goes by, falling flat after a while even with the potent Doom Metal beats provided by Lucky. On the other hand, the almost 6-minute song The Dark Side of the Sun is by far the most progressive and complex of all tracks, with its blackened lyrics (“In my nightmares, when I die, / I just see my long forgotten, breaking eyes. / I’m afraid I lived a lie, / My life’s challenges, I never did reply. / All so many doors I haven’t tried, / All those wasted chances, ’cause I was afraid. / All the people that I never reached a hand, / ‘Til it was too late, I’m on my final stand.”) matching perfectly with the aggressive musicality crafted by Peavy and his crew. And in case you purchase the Digibook Edition of the album, you’ll get an awesome bonus CD containing three brand new B-sides and three fantastic covers for classics by Skid Row, Rush and Y&T, with Slave to the Grind being the most gripping of them. It might not be as perfect as their versions for “The Trooper” and “Jawbreaker”, but it’s truly electrifying, with Peavy’s vocals fitting the music perfectly.

In summary, the unstoppable Rage, one of the biggest exponents of the German Power Metal scene (although we can say that today they’re only one third German, right?), strike again with more of their infuriated metal for our total delight, pointing to a bright future with this new band lineup without a shadow of a doubt. You can enjoy The Devil Strikes Again even if you’re not a fan of traditional heavy music from Germany, which proves once again that bands like Rage and musicians like Peavy don’t just generate music, they go far beyond that threshold, breathing more adrenaline and power into our everyday lives. And that’s what real metal is all about.

Best moments of the album: The Devil Strikes Again, My Way, War and Slave to the Grind.

Worst moments of the album: The Final Curtain and Times of Darkness.

Released in 2016 Nuclear Blast

Track listing
1. The Devil Strikes Again 4:25
2. My Way 4:23
3. Back on Track 4:23
4. The Final Curtain 4:13
5. War 4:24
6. Ocean Full of Tears 4:04
7. Deaf, Dumb and Blind 4:18
8. Spirits of the Night 4:52
9. Times of Darkness 5:21
10. The Dark Side of the Sun 5:56

Digibook Edition bonus CD
11. Bring Me Down 5:01
12. Requiem 3:55
13. Into the Fire 5:25
14. Slave to the Grind (Skid Row cover) 3:24
15. Bravado (Rush cover) 4:36
16. Open Fire (Y&T cover) 4:38

Band members
Peter “Peavy” Wagner – vocals, bass
Marcos Rodríguez – guitars, additional vocals
Vassilios “Lucky” Maniatopoulos – drums, additional vocals

Album Review – IceThurS / Unlocked Door (2016)

Inspired by the Norse myth of the Ratatoskr, this Russian power trio brings forth nine first-class atmospheric and upbeat compositions in a unique fusion of genres labeled by the band as “Urban Folk Metal”.

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icethurs-unlocked-door-cover-1500%d1%851500x300dpi-rgbBrothers in arms, behold the rise of an awesome Russian Urban Folk Metal horde known as IceThurS who, guided by the one and only Ratatoskr, are going to put us all to dance around the fire pit and engage into some brawls to the sound of their debut full-length album, the uproarious, fun and catchy Unlocked Door (or НЕзапертая дверь in Russian). In Norse mythology, Ratatoskr, Old Norse for “drill-tooth” or “bore-tooth”, is a squirrel who runs up and down the world tree Yggdrasil, an immense mythical tree that connects the nine worlds in Norse cosmology, carrying messages between the Veðrfölnir (a hawk sitting between the eyes of an unnamed eagle that is perched on top of the tree) and the wyrm Níðhöggr (a dragon who gnaws at a root of the tree). If you got slightly lost with the explanation of who our hardworking squirrel is, just see it as a symbol of degeneration and constant change of the existing, the main ingredients of a diverse album evoking the feelings of joy, festivity, sadness, victory and defeat, sometimes all in one song.

Formed in 2011 in the city of Moscow, IceThurS bring forth a unique blend of modern Melodic Death Metal with traditional Folk Metal and Russian music in Unlocked Door, resulting in atmospheric and upbeat compositions that live up to the legacy of ancient Slavic tradition and myth. Singing about topics such as nature, paganism and Norse folklore, the power trio formed by lead singer Ekaterina Loky, guitarist Anton Garm and bassist Andrey Konurovskiy, supported by a legion of amazing guest musicians on bass, drums, backing vocals and other instruments, delivers nine distinct songs in Unlocked Door that will surely entertain you from start to finish, each one telling their own story and all being an important part of the bigger picture proposed by the band.

Get ready to start dancing and prancing while drinking a pint of mead as their Urban Folk Metal comes crushing in the opening track En Sjörövare Sagan (Пиратская Сага), where the fantastic vocals by Ekaterina guide the listener through a vibrant folk journey with highlights to the harmonious and electrified solo by Anton; followed by Gift (Дар), with its futuristic beginning morphing into modern Folk Metal with elements of Alternative Metal added to the background, while Ekaterina’s vocals continue to hypnotize us. In addition, guest bassist Igor Batsov provides the musicality his special blast of grooviness through his metallic lines, enhancing the overall quality of this solid tune. Then we are treated to a fun devastation brought forth by IceThurS entitled Compotator (Собутыльник), an explosion of Death Metal where Anton is a beast with his guitar, delivering a blend of Thrash and Death Metal riffs that sound at times like a folk version of Arch Enemy.

icethursGetting back to their foundations, the band brings forward White Road (Белая дорога), a charming Folk Metal chant where Ekaterina has a very passionate performance whereas guest drummer Efim Burak makes the song more potent and aggressive through his beats, with its second half being a violent and melodious display of modern folk. Efim continues to pound his drums in the epic and thrilling Loki (Локи), supported by guest bassist Ivan Izotov, providing Ekaterina what she needs to showcase all her vocal range throughout the entire song. And exhibiting elements from the band’s cultural background, Razguliai (Разгуляй)  reminds me of some of the creations by their countrymen Arkona, sounding very traditional but with the band’s modern touch added to it. The only issue for me is that the song loses some of its electricity after a while, despite still being very enjoyable until the end.

The rebellious War (Война) presents a powerful vocal duo comprised of Ekaterina and guest singer Dmitry Stempkovsky, an enraged song with blazing guitar lines and a very melodic atmosphere that will inspire you to raise your fists and glasses in the air, before Vengeance of Veles (Велесова месть) offers the listener once again modern extreme music mixed with traditional Russian elements. Furthermore, Ekaterina fires some sick growls while Andrey smashes his bass strings in a potent way in this beer-drinking anthem, and if you know nothing about Russian please enjoy the translation to part of the lyrics as they’re truly poetic (“Everything that existed before / And was pleasant for heart / Became our ice grave / Let the blood in the veins / Get cold / Fury has raised up / This heart”). Last but not least, the title-track Unlocked Door (НЕзапертая Дверь) is sheer heaviness blended with an intricate instrumental, all spiced up by Ekaterina’s thrilling vocal lines. Showcasing a beautiful balance between demented gnarls and folk clean vocals, this full-bodied composition perfectly depicts everything IceThurS stands for.

IceThurS and their wild Slavic music are waiting for you on their Facebook page, VKontakte and YouTube channel, and if you want to take the fast Ratatoskr home you can go to the Bud Metal Records’ BandCamp page, to the band’s Facebook shop, to iTunes or to Amazon and grab your copy of Unlocked Door. In other words, enter the world of Urban Folk Metal crafted by IceThurS, and consequently make a friendly mythological squirrel extremely happy, how about that?

Best moments of the album: En Sjörövare Sagan (Пиратская Сага), Compotator (Собутыльник) and Unlocked Door (НЕзапертая Дверь).

Worst moments of the album: Razguliai (Разгуляй).

Released in 2016 Bud Metal Records

Track listing
1. En Sjörövare Sagan (Пиратская сага) 3:47
2. Gift (Дар) 3:52
3. Compotator (Собутыльник) 3:28
4. White Road (Белая дорога) 5:03
5. Loki (Локи) 4:24
6. Razguliai (Разгуляй) 3:34
7. War (Война) 4:05
8. Vengeance of Veles (Велесова месть) 3:26
9. Unlocked Door (НЕзапертая Дверь) 3:40

Band members
Ekaterina Loky – lead vocals
Anton Garm – guitars, vocals
Andrey Konurovskiy – bass, vocals

Guest musicians
Dmitry Stempkovsky – vocals on “War”
Igor Batsov – bass on “Compotator”, “En Sjörövare Sagan”, “Gift” and “Razguliai”
Efim Burak – drums on “White Road” and “Loki”
Ivan Izotov – bass on “White Road” and “Loki”
Svetlana Faliy, Egor Palenik, Jana Artekovskaya, Jaroslav Minchenko, Nancy Dardis, Larissa Kolesnikova, Vladislav Ivanov, Eugene Chub, Dmitri Kalinin – backing vocals, choir