Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sad Alice Said

Allow me to introduce you to Sad Alice Said, a gothic metal band from Zhytomyr, Ukraine. They had not one, but three(!) girls in the band at one point, contributing to soprano vocals, keyboards and viola (although no viola anymore, what a shame...). Their music can be described as melodic pseudo-ballads with a rockin' edge to them (think old school Lacuna Coil or Nightwish), very pretty but with a spooky and unsettling atmosphere about them. I love their audacity in sticking with down-tempo songs in a genre that is notorious for blast beats and speedy guitar riffs, (they don't even throw in a "token fast song") and I think they're a unique band worth checking out.

The viola was played by Anna Polozova, who unfortunately is no longer with the band. She played an acoustic viola both live and in studio, which has such a rich tone (as you can hear in the "Open Your Eyes" video), that I can't help but be captivated by this sultry older sister to the violin. 

Official Homepage

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Electric Violin Shop Tour Video

I didn't know a place that specialized in electric, bowed string instruments actually, physically existed! (And in the US, too!)
Watch it and drool.

Electric Violin Shop:

Thursday, January 3, 2013

"Discovering Rock Violin" - Book Review

While reading through Discovering Rock Violin by Chris Haigh, I couldn't help thinking to myself, "I wish I had this book when I first joined a metal band." It addresses many problems the aspiring rock violinist faces at the beginning of their career - what kind of parts should I write, how should I play, what kind of gear should I use? While I was left to guess and wrangle my way through these issues with only the help of my band's guitarists and the indie musicians my college town had to offer, this book walks you through much like a seasoned veteran would take an amateur under his wing. Not only is it instructional, but also very down to earth, relatable, funny, and an interesting read with extra tidbits of history and exclusive interviews sprinkled throughout.

"[T]he bad news is that no one is going to tell you what or how to play, there is no rule book for rock violinists and basically you're on your own. The good news is that no one else in the band, or indeed in the audience, can tell you that 'you're not doing it right'. This book aims to fill that gap".

The book is first an instructional book, but also features interviews, history, and an overview of notable bands within each given genre of rock. It presupposes a basic ability to read music and shows you the different ways violins are used in each different genre of rock by showing samples of styles, chord progressions and techniques commonly employed by that genre. The segments of sheet music are  accompanied by a CD with audio and MP3 tracks. Folk, blues, jazz, progressive rock, metal, country, and pop all have dedicated chapters with histories and overviews of the genres, and a player spotlight showcasing a specific player's rock violinist journey and impact on the genre. Haigh also delves into the gear necessary for being a rock violinist, with an overview of different types of violins, pickups, amps, and pedals. And at the end of the book is a little bonus: a list of the top 20 rock violin solos of all time!

Of course the section that piqued my interest was the section on metal, and I was pleased to find that it was very accurately portrayed, comprehensive and entertaining to read. "It's a land populated by trolls, orcs, dragons, warriors, and Nordic Gods . . . . Band names like Slayer, Hellhammer, Venom, Anvil of Doom, Extreme Noise Terror, Possessed, Morbid Angel, Bleeding Oath and Carcass all suggest that this was not what your parents had in mind when they presented you with your first 3/4 size violin." Haigh features genres from black metal to folk metal, gothic metal, and death metal, and has interview segments with Pete Johansen (Sirenia, Sins of Thy Beloved), Olli Vanskaa (Turisas), Lyris Hung (Hung), and Mark Wood (Trans-Siberian Orchestra). The interviews offer some interesting insight into the social implications of violins in metal;  Pete Johansen explains that the instrument's historical pagan associations make it not as unlikely a choice for metal as it may seem, and Olli Vanskaa discusses the metal violinist as being a subversive force in the status quo of rock music. I found this an altogether fascinating and enjoyable read!

Discovering Rock Violin is a goldmine for aspiring rock violinists, and will help you not only in your playing and writing abilities, but also in making you well-read and educated in the history and styles of the kind of music you are playing. So whether you plan on starting or joining a band, or just want to fiddle around on your own time, this is a great guide for transitioning your classical violin skills into rock violinist awesomeness.

Available for purchase through Amazon or Hal Leonard.

Chris Haigh's homepage:

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Whispered - Thousand Swords

If you do a search for "samurai metal" on the internet, you will inevitably run across Finnish band Whispered's album Thousand Swords. This concept album about the story of a samurai is a hidden gem among metal albums. Incorporating the best of melodic death metal, extreme metal, and symphonic metal with a fusion of traditional asian instruments, this is a unique and thoroughly enjoyable album. Now, you may ask, how does a violin come into play here? The violin is sometimes imitating the traditional Chinese instrument, the erhu, and sometimes adds to the symphonic soundscape of this album's epic story. The violins on this album are played by none other than Olli Vanska, violinist of Turisas.

The violins are most noticably featured on the songs "Blade in the Snow" and "Dead Cold Inside."
"Blade in the Snow" is their 15 minute long epic finale, definitely worth listening to all the way through - this song is a masterpiece!

Photo Credit

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Sirenia is a female-fronted gothic metal band from Stavanger, Norway. Starting out with a very traditional gothic/doom metal sound, I fell in love with the style of At Sixes and Sevens, which incorporated a throwback to traditional goth rock. Later on the band evolved into more of a symphonic gothic metal sound and the female vocals took on more prominence. (I personally believe that their current vocalist, Ailyn, is the "hottest chick in metal," but then again I am a girl so take that for all it's worth. )
Despite not having a permanent violin player, they have been surprisingly consistent in employing different session violinists on their albums. These session musicians were: Pete Johansen (on album At Sixes and Sevens), Anne Verdot (An Elixir for Existence), and Stefanie Valentin (The 13th Floor, The Enigma of Life).
They have violins on almost all their albums (see those mentioned above) but my personal favorite is At Sixes and Sevens, I recommend giving it a listen! They have had live violinists in the past, but I haven't seen this in recent shows. In the live footage linked below, Pete Johansen is playing what looks to be a Zeta Strados electric violin, however, the violin on the recording for At Sixes and Sevens sounds acoustic. Anne Verdot's violin recordings sound acoustic as well. Stephanie Valentin is pictured on her homepage with an electric violin (possibly also a Zeta Strados?), and it sounds like she recorded with one as well.

Sirenia Official Site:

Recommended Songs for Violin Listening: "In a Manica," "At Sixes and Sevens," "Voices Within,"
 "The Mind Maelstrom"

A live clip from 2003, featuring Pete Johansen on electric violin:

Photo Credits: OHP

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

How to Play Violin in a Metal Band - Headbanging

When I first joined a metal band as a violin player, I had grand illusions of headbanging in the windmill fashion a la Amon Amarth, until I realized that a violin, unlike a guitar, is held up by your chin and hence makes the art of headbanging considerably more difficult. So how does a violinist in a metal band headbang, or move in general, when they are on stage? I think this would be better explained by showing you examples than having you read my writing about it, but here's just a few quick tips before I get on with the videos:

1. Move your body as a whole to give the illusion that you are headbanging instead of actually moving your head separately.
2. As a violinist, you probably won't be playing during every part of every song, so headbang when you're not playing.
3. Beware of long hair getting on your violin strings after you headbang, or else you may try to bow over your own hair and your instrument will not make any noise.
4. Folk metal violinists have the option of "dancey" footwork during upbeat and festive songs, which usually works quite well.
5. Power stance is always a good thing.
6. And then there are the electric violins with shoulder straps, like the Stingray or Flying V types, which will allow for freer head movements.

And without further ado...


Meri from Eluveitie is a good example of points 2 and 4:

Rose Noire, a gothic darkwave duet from Japan has good stage movements and headbanging that would also work in a gothic metal band as well:

And then there's Michael Schulmann, who showcases pretty much all the movement possibilities the shoulder strap violin has to offer:

Comments or suggestions? Please comment below!

Friday, April 27, 2012

News - Korpiklaani Violinist Interview

Korpiklaani released an interview today with their new violinist Tuomas Rounakari on their facebook page, in which he talks about his musical background as well as his relationship with nature and experience being a shaman. 

Q: When and how did you start playing the violin?

A: My father owned a violin. He played it when he was young, but not anymore when I was a kid. There was always music in our house, my parents loved music and listened it all the time. When I was about 6 or 7 years old I started to play violin. At that age I was drawn strongly to classical music. I really loved it, and Bach was my absolute favorite composer. I played classical violin until I became around 13, by then I realized that for me something was missing. Improvisation! Due to the academic teaching of classical music improvisation vanished, at least during the last, say, 50 years.

I started to experiment with several other musical genres and to listen to all kinds of music. One of my big favorites was, and still is, Jethro Tull. I wanted to play on my violin what Ian Anderson played on his flute. This band was one of the biggest inspirations for me.
In 1998 I went to New York to study improvisation, and ended up in the jazz-department. I admired the American avant-garde composer John Zorn, who was one of the founders of Painkiller, a band who played a mix of avant-garde jazz and grind core. Since those days I am trying to find unconventional ways of using conventional instruments. Maybe ten years ago I started with my Shamanviolin project. I play the melodies of the authentic shaman songs from Siberia on my violin, and play the rhythm of the shaman drums by stamping my feet with ankle bells. Herein lies the beauty of the arctic music; you usually play it when you are alone, and have total freedom of expression. Nowadays there are far too few people who do solo performances.

Q: If you feel that way, why did you join Korpiklaani?

A: Well, Jonne asked me. ( Laughs) No, of course that’s not all. My arctic realm has a strong link to Jonne’s living in Lapland, tending reindeer, and his shaman background. Sometimes things come together so nicely. Some time ago I heard that Korpiklaani was looking for a violin player, and I gave that a thought. But at that time I was occupied with other projects, among them a theatre play about the indigenous Khanty people from Siberia. So it was no option. Now, that project has ended, and I was doing only compositional work. I missed the actual playing and therefore I accepted when I was asked. With Korpiklaani I’ll get the opportunity to play a lot, and face new challenges. Maybe we can join our creativity and do some interesting things together, like joiking together with Jonne. But at first I have to learn the Korpiklaani history. This band feels good to me, they know what they are doing. Besides all this, I like their humor, their joy, the combination of metal and folk elements, and the wild things they do on stage.

Q: You’ve said you like their sense of humor, is humor important to you?

A: Humor is very important to me. Finnish people are said to be so melancholic, but that is not as bad as others think it is; we don’t take that all so serious ourselves. Our melancholy is often mixed with humor. I think that our link to nature causes this melancholy; because we have lived so closely to nature we sense the madness of the modern world more deeply. We have to balance between a holistic (natural) life, and the madness of modern society.

I grew up near Helsinki. But every summer our family spent 3 months on a small wooden sailboat. Often we did not see a living soul for weeks. We lived a fully nomadic life during these months, and that was absolutely great. My parents taught me the respect for nature and how to live in the nature without leaving a trace. It’s quite the opposite from the way most people live. Even in Finland we have lost most of the forests in natural state.

Q: You are a shaman. What does it mean to you?

A: One of the basic principals in shamanism is knowing that everyone is the creator of their own world. Our perception of the world shapes our experiences and eventually creates our life events too. I think that most of the people in the west are living from the feeling of being a victim. A victim for bad health, bad politicians, corporations or whatever. But in reality we should step out of that role and take a full responsibility of our own lives. The more you take responsibility, the freer you become. Our society doesn’t teach people to be themselves anymore and many of us have lost the power to live that way. But it has been so for only about 150 years. It’s not that long compared to the 20 000 years of shamanism.

Q: I’ve heard you get into trance when you are playing the ‘Shamanviolin’, can you tell something about that?

A: Through studying the authentic shaman songs I started to learn the authentic way of performing them as well. It is an active trance, which is purifying and healing, and not just to me, but also to some people in my audience. This active trance feels like some sort of uplifted concentration, and is different from a passive trance that is often reached in meditation through relaxation. In this trance state people find a deeper connection to who they are deep down, and afterwards they feel more appreciative towards who they are themselves.

Link to original interview