It's always a pleasure to receive new CD's in the mail to listen to and review. After all you're not paying for them. But it seems with greater frequency these CD's, whether it be AOR or heavy metal, do not have any longetivity. You spin them once or twice, review them and put the CD aside with no desire to listen again, the X factor missing, that key ingredient that keeps you coming back for more time and again. It causes you to lose faith in the musicians and if they can create anything with durability, something that deep down you know many eighties artists had no problem with. Arizona's Wycked Synn were poised for that same response on my behalf. For several months the promise of dealing with the four piece metal outfit had me wondering if they would elicit the same response as many previous such power metal type acts encountered in past reviews- all the heaviness, speed and bluster in the world, but little to distinguish them from the pack and convince you it that it's for real.
For once I have been proved wrong. Finally. Wycked Synn's Chavis Records debut 'The Vision' is fifty minutes of heavy metal which never lets go, keeps pounding away at you until you're satiated. All the time you might sit there thinking 'where are the ballads', after all isn't that the token gesture? A few rockers then a cop out, lighters in the air crowd pleaser, when all anyone wants is to bang their heads? That's where Ken Orth and Wycked Synn excel. They've played it straight down the line and conjured an album which revisits the sound of 80's favourites like Queensryche, Dokken, Iron Maiden and Leatherwolf, with results that end up giving them their own identifiable sound instead of being labeled copyists. Bearing all this in mind I had the chance to talk with Wycked Synn guitarist, keyboard and all round mastermind Ken Orth and discuss everything Wycked Synn, and get the lowdown on a band putting true heavy metal back on the map.
When thoughts turn to Arizona, heat and humidity are two of the first things. Growing up as a metal fan Ken Orth could probably appreciate a classic track like 'Desert Plains' by Judas Priest and adopt it as a personal anthem. But this is where Ken Orth has made his home, a place beloved in the mans heart. Not originally from the area my first question for Ken is what prompted him to move to East Arizona? "My parents moved out to Phoenix back in 1988" he explains "and I loved it so much I decided this is where I really want to be' comes Ken's simple answer. Considering Ken's amazing performance slinging his six string on 'The Vision' thoughts turn next as to how Ken developed such a passion for metal and pursuing a career in it, a brave move in a depressed marketplace for the genre. " When I first heard Randy Rhoads on 'Diary Of A Madman' that kind of hooked me on the guitar" says Ken, certainly a familiar story from many guitarists who were influenced by the late, great axe hero. But once Rhoads was lost Ken's thoughts then turned to his proper successor. "When 'Bark At the Moon' came out I then turned into a Jake E. Lee freak" he remarks pointedly, "Ozzy always had the ultimate guitar players." Ken then turned his attention to other major 80's guitar players. "I then discovered many influential players like Lynch, Malmsteen, De Martini, Impelliteri, Aldrich and a slew of other great guitar players, just like everybody else. So in theory a piece of each has influenced me in some way. I am a metal freak so it was a natural progression for me to create my own metal" he explains forthrightly.
The next logical step was to get a band together, one that shared Ken's desire to replicate the metal of his idols. Before he assembled any personnel Ken set about creating the music that would become the bulk of 'The Vision'. How long had Ken been working on this material that formed the basis of the debut? "The Vision was recorded between March and August of 2001, the music basically being completed in that timeframe" comes his surprising answer, the music then having existed for some time. "The vocals and lyrics happened quite a bit later" he continues " I had a difficult time finding the right vocalist with a powerful voice that could pull off what I was writing for and equally performing live."
Ken found the voice finally in Gary Grant. Grant's classic high ranged metal vocals are an essential part of the debut, giving the band a voice that provides an identity, just like Bruce Dickinson does for Iron Maiden or the reuniting Rob Halford once did for Priest. In Wycked Synns biography however it states Ken and Gary met by 'chance' after Ken had unsuccessfully auditioned other singers. I have to ask Ken what kind of chance meeting was this? "I went through approximately twenty five vocalists before I found Gary" recalls Ken, almost painstakingly at the recollection of the process. "A friend of mine was auditioning a guitar player for his band and mentioned my problem to him" he goes on "and this guitar player gave my buddy Gary's phone number and told him I should check him out." I called Gary and gave him some lyrics to work on. When the audition came Gary sang one verse and I knew he was the one." Grant's considerable talent is not lost on Ken, who is quick to praise his frontman. "Gary 'Screamin G' Grant is an incredible vocalist and a superb musician. As I said right away he was the one. Throughout the creation process certain things happen and gel. A magical thing happened with Gary and as a musician I felt it."
Considering the musical excellence of 'The Vision' it appears the band personnel have a high degree of experience. What were some of their experiences in the metal scene prior to Wycked Synn? "Myself it was local East Coast tours and stints with other bands" replies Ken, regarding his history. "It was pretty much the same for the others as well. All of us in one form or another played with local or regional bands that had some type of minimal success or hype to them." Then comes the question over the bands moniker. Wycked Synn on the surface appears to be a throwback to a typical eighties metal name, evoking memories of long forgotten acts like First Strike or Princess Pang. This is a notion Ken disagrees with however. "I don't know if I would call it a throwback, because to me this genre hasn't gone anywhere except underground. So the name is as real and current as anything out there right now. We make no excuses about what we do, it's heavy metal' he declares proudly, and with just cause. That said then, how did you think of the name? Had you thought of it before setting up the band? "Not really. It came to me one day while I was doing an interview over the phone. I scibbled it down and it looked cool so I kept it. It has a dark feel to it."
As a live unit one senses that Wycked Synn has the potential to reach explosive heights. I say 'one senses' because Wycked Synn has yet to perform in a live setting, something Ken is keen to explain. 'We've had no live performanes at all, other than bringing in a bunch of friends to critique the band. We have been in the studio the whole time working on the record. And now that it is completed we are rehearsing several days a week. Our live show has tons of energy and we guarantee to rock everybody's asses off and snap a few necks on tour." Are Wycked Synn going to tour outside Arizona however? You bet according to Ken. "We will certainly be touring outside Arizona and the band can't wait. Throughout the summer and fall the band will be on the road" he confirms with restraint, although you can be sure he and the others will be chomping at the bit to get out there and prove themselves to new audiences.
Wycked Synn have benefited greatly from their alliance with Chavis Records, an independant metal label run by Bill Chavis, a metal fan trying to introduce the world to a new breed of US metal. Thus far Wycked Synn have been the recipient of Chavis' biggest marketing campaign, as the label has been everywhere trying to promote 'The Vision'. It is an ideal partnetship. A metal loving label president firmly behind his acts. For Ken was it a case of him looking to Chavis Records for a deal, or Chavis coming to them? "I had been targeting the Chavis label for a while because of the bands they were signing" says Ken, confirming the former. "We had passed on a few deals from other labels because the bands they were producing weren't impressive and I didn't want Wycked Synn lumped in with them." Regarding the signing process, how smooth was it? " The signing process was very smooth" says a grateful Ken, knowing full well how disastrous such routines can become. " Chavis Records took the time to find out what we wanted and built the contract process around that. Bill Chavis is an awesome guy and a pleasure to work with. He understands the music and has the same drive and passion as the band. The great thing has been Bill keeping the band fully in the loop with decision processes. He cares what we think and the eventual outcome. It is an equal sharing process. We work together as a team and that is the way it should be."
Originally scheduled for a June release 'The Vision' was pushed back to late July to fine tune several aspects of the recording, to ensure maximum impact. Despite the delay was there any pressure from Chavis Records to deliver the album? "Not really, it was all discussed going in" Ken says, everything organised and prepared beyond fault before hand. "We knew we needed to get it done by summer" he relates, something well acheived, currently in the midst of another scorching summer season. "Basically we had a timeline and just followed it. Chavis gave us all the freedom we needed to complete the record the right way. It was a very pleasant experience." As Ken stated earlier he provided the bulk of the writing for 'The Vision', was there any other input from band members during the recording sessions? " Well on 'The Vision' it was just Gary and myself since our personnel wasn't complete at the time of production. I had laid the initial tracks on bass and drums and then the studio guys came in and just slammed! The next record will have a lot more input from everyone in the band. The overall songwriting will be shared."
With the heavy of promotion of 'The Vision' Ken must be pleased with the efforts of Chavis to push them. As part of the push many of the bio's and press releases handed about make reference to the bands sound as a mixture of Queensryche and Dokken, of which there are huge shadings of present in the music. What does Ken make of the comparisons though, wanted or unwanted? "We look at it as a huge compliment" he answers unwavingly "there is no other way to view it in our opinions." Those bands are huge influences and have (did?) a huge reputation in the metal scene. So to be compared to bands of that calibur this early in the game is a big deal to us. It goes to show those who have checked us out can associate us with them." So Ken has no problems with the marketing approach comparing them to such acts, in fact he must be pleased with the overall PR campaign right? "The PR team has been incredible to us!" We have a great relationship with the label. Bill (Chavis) and I talk about every day or two about band business or just bullshit about metal in general. Promotion is the key to any bands success and Bill is the master of promotion. He is always lining something up for us. I look at the web and see us all over the place, which is awesome. We do our part as well. We promote the band and spread the word too. Bill enlists the services of NoBoundzRz Media Promotions to help us."
As an avowed metal fan I cant't help but ask Ken about his thoughts on the decline of metal in the nineties and how it affected him. Was he like the rest of us, disillusioned and angered by the metal media's betrayal of its own music, or did it inspire him to form a classic metal project like Wycked Synn as the eighties sound is stamped all over them. "Well, Nirvana and grunge killed the real music and started a trend with the kids that lasted quite a while. I do what I want and I would never write material that didn't make me happy. I'd rather sell all my gear than play Nu-Metal. Music needs a melody"- here here- "it needs heart and soul, and all the 'cookie cutter' bands the major labels are pumping out lack these key ingredients, with the exception of modern country. Country took the bigger than life eighties approach and added their own style to it. Look at artists like Shania Twain booming with great music!" Ken does agree that it would be easy to turn to a more modern style to succeed, but this would be compromising his ideals. "If I really wanted to I could go out and play three chords and sing out of key and the industry would eat it up. That isn't my gig. There are a few modern bands I like here in the States, but 99% of the bands I like today are from Europe, just better music over there right now in terms of heavy metal."
As the most prominent new metal act out of Arizona I ask Ken how healthy the current metal scene is overall in the great state (not counting the Arizona Cardinals!). Has Ken noticed other area bands like Cage, Thieves In The Temple or Chain Link Faith for example? "I dig Thieves In The Temple, but the other ones I'm not up on. I can honestly say there are no other bands in Phoenix like Wycked Synn" Ken says with confidence. "My prediction is that we will start a new trend of melodic metal bands here in the valley because people are really hungry for this stuff, bit only time will tell. If you take a liste nto some of the commercials nowadays they are using old school metal to pull it off. With that and Headbangers Ball and Metal Mania on VH-1 there seems to be a new push for this kind of music. Tuscon seems to be the hot area for heavy music and it's growing all the time so I would say it's becoming decent again."
As an aside I ask Ken what some of his favourite metal albums over the years have been, expecting some interesting results from a wizard such as himself! "Lion, 'Dangerous Attraction', Whitesnake '1987', Queensryche, anything up to 'Empire' (surprise, surprise!), Accept, 'Balls To The Wall', Iron Maiden, everything they ever did (even 'Fear Of The Dark'?) and Judas Priest, everything up to 'Painkiller'" rounds out Ken on his list. I'm sure Ken will be enthused by Rob Halford's return to Priest judging by that response!
With 'The Vision' about to hit shelves soon I ask Ken about the plans for the imminent future. Unsurprisingly they are plentiful. "We are currently preparing for our run on tour and I am already working on riffs for the next record, Chavis wants it already!" he states incredously. As as matter of fact so am I! "After the tour we will take a short break and begin pre-production on the next record and start the whole cycle again." Certainly it will be interesting to see the response to 'The Vision' from the wider metal public. A statement of budding class, Wycked Synn have immdiately put themselves on the map as a contender for best new metal band. No more can the Europeans claim to solely own the best new power and traditional metal bands. Finally the US is fighting back.