Three songs were enough to make us curious about this power metal band from New York City. Authentic sounding US Metal, completed with high pinching female vocals, speed changes, fast guitar solos and drums, that roll like a thunder in the night! In a very short time, I was thrown back to the early eighties, when it was more like a natural thing (I’m not referring to the UFO song here!) to come up with a demo CD like this. Realizing, these songs are written in 2003, I knew right away that we are dealing with a very special old school heavy metal band here. The band is called TWILIGHT ODYSSEY – a name you won’t easily forget – and below you can read their story……
When did TWILIGHT ODYSSEY get together as a band, and how did you actually meet up?
Ben: “PJ (Pamela Berlinghof – vocals), Sal Pellerito (drums), and myself (Ben Asaro; guitar) are from the band URSHURAK originally. In September 2003, Gennady Khirich was let into the band. I had seen Gennady at many shows at L’Amour, and we had mutual friends, so we would hang out. Gennady was a guitar player, but when he heard we were looking for a bassist, he volunteered to switch instruments. I loaned him a bass, he auditioned, and the rest is history. After Dan Castro left in January 2004, I started looking for a second guitarist. Many people were interviewed, some even as far away as England. Greg sought me out online. We auditioned him, and he was the most qualified.”
What music style did you play as URSHURAK and what led to your name change as TWILIGHT ODYSSEY?
Ben: “I started URSHURAK in late ’99. We were a progressive four-piece heavily influenced by BLACK SABBATH and RUSH. Our entire catalogue consisted of two songs, both around twenty minutes long. Sal came into URSHURAK as the third drummer. Just as things were picking up momentum, the singer quit. I met PJ and we spoke a couple of times. The day she auditioned we wrote “Onward To The Games” right on the spot! That’s when the winds of change starting blowing, because I could see the vast potential we could tap with PJ singing. I didn’t change the band name right away, even though the music started changing from what we originally set out to do. For example: “The Endless Days Of A Stranger”, originally, in three sections, and twenty minutes long, was cut down to just the first movement, which is what you hear today of that song.”
Did you record anything with URSHURAK?
Ben: “URSHURAK released two EPs, which was our entire catalogue. The first one was “The Endless Days Of A Stranger”, running at about twenty minutes long. The second one was “The Wizard In The Tower”, running about fifteen minutes long. I specifically targeted the progressive rock audience in magazines like Progression, Colossus, Dutch Progressive Newsletter, and Sea Of Tranquility.”
Why did this band actually split up?
Ben: “To quote The Hitchiker’s Guide To The Galaxy: “The latter was built on the ruins of the former.” URSHURAK had gone, as far as it was going to go. The music was changing, and there was a lot of confusion over URSHURAK and how to pronounce it. I wanted something easier to pronounce, as well as better reflect the more classic sound we were going for.”
Who came up with the name TWILIGHT ODYSSEY, and why?
Ben: “PJ had the name on a list, and I loved it, after I had a couple of beers to think it over”.
PJ: “For a number of years, I kept a list of potential band names. Anytime I saw or thought of something that sounded like it might make a good band name, I added it to the list (irrespective of genre). It ended up becoming a sort of pet project and the list got quite long. When the time came for us to select a name for the group, I started sending the guys a few pages at a time. One night, we looked on the list and there it was: TWILIGHT ODYSSEY. Everyone agreed that it captured the feel of our music – very metal, a bit progressive, dark at times, and decidedly epic.”
When listening to your demo CD, we hear influences of IRON MAIDEN, next to many old school US Metal bands. Maybe you can name us some (other) bands, that influenced the sound of TWILIGHT ODYSSEY, and can you also point out some influences of the individual members here?
Ben:“Musically, I really enjoy guitar music from the seventies and eighties and my influences include (in no particular order): IRON MAIDEN, JUDAS PRIEST, DOKKEN, LOUDNESS, DIO, RAINBOW, RUSH, RACER X and BLIND GUARDIAN. My other influences are: Warren DeMartini, Dave Mustaine, CACOPHONY, James Horner and Hans Zimmer.”
PJ: “I grew up primarily on hard rock and metal, so my influences are generally in those genres. As far as singers go, definitely the sacred trinity of Halford, Dickinson, and Ronnie James Dio and, of course, PAT BENATAR and Leather Leone (CHASTAIN). I’m also a big fan of singers like Russell Allen, Michael Kiske and Eduardo Falaschi.”
Gennady: “As much as I love MAIDEN, I must admit that my favorite band is RUSH and I absolutely worship Geddy Lee. You definitely can’t hear much of it on the demo since I was still in the learning process of playing bass (and still am!) but hopefully much more of that will emerge on the full length album. Other than RUSH, I indulge in non-generic power metal (MANTICORA, GAMMA RAY, HELLOWEEN, etc), Progressive Metal (SYMPHONY X, EVERGREY, OPETH) and instrumental stuff (TONY MACALPINE, PLANET X, VINNIE MOORE, etc).”
Greg:“John Petrucci (and DREAM THEATER), Jason Becker, Dave Mustaine (and MEGADETH), PANTERA, IRON MAIDEN, ANGRA, TOOL and SOILWORK.”
How would you describe the music of TWILIGHT ODYSSEY yourself?
Ben: “Speedy yet melodic guitar music.”
PJ: “I would describe our sound as ‘classic’. If you like your metal melodic as hell and loaded with riffs, then have we got a band for you! Honestly, we’re all about trying to have the best of both worlds. TWILIGHT ODYSSEY seeks to combine traditional metal elements with fresh and challenging aspects. Like I said, it’s heavy on melody, loaded with riffs, dripping with ear candy and time changes, and full to the brim with tone.”
Greg: “It sounds like the new wave American answer to the old wave of British heavy metal.”
Gennady:“Straight up, grade-A old-school metal \m/.”
Who writes the lyrics to the songs of TWILIGHT ODYSSEY, and what are they about?
PJ: “I write all of the lyrics and Ben writes the music. I’m an avid reader and I’m interested in just about everything (history, science, philosophy, art, esotericism, etc.), so lyrically our topics are pretty wide ranging. At this point we’ve got songs like “Gettysburg”, that deal with actual historical events and songs like “Defiler”, that deal with unleashing ancient curses! Ultimately, what I really like is a good story, so the songs are really narratives. Thematically, we’ve got everything from bullfighters to horror tales. Some of it is fact and some of it is fantasy with the occasional venture into allegory or parable.”
We don’t have your first demo, but can you tell us which songs were on it?
Ben: “The first demo was released in 2002, and was called “The Sorcerer Sessions”, as part of it was recorded at Sorcerer Sound in New York. It contained the original demo versions of “The Endless Days Of A Stranger”, “Into The Lair”, and “Onward To The Games”.”
Let’s take a look at your live shows for a moment here. Your first show was at the famous L’Amour, supporting ANGRA. What was that experience like?
Ben: “Fantastic! The crowd was amazing, and ANGRA were great, both on stage and off.”
PJ: “For a debut show, it was pretty amazing. We’re all huge ANGRA fans, so to be able to share the stage with them was simply fantastic. All of the band members were extremely friendly and eager to hang out and talk.”
Gennady: “It was my first big show, and I’d only been playing bass for less than two months at this point, only once a week with a pick at practice, thanks to a friend who would lend me his bass. At the show, I remember my hands being so sweaty from nervousness that I would constantly skip strings or drop the pick. We had an amazing reception though, and for a first gig, it felt like we were a co-headliner of ANGRA!”
Greg: “I regret that I wasn’t in the band at that time, and missed out on the honour of playing with ANGRA!.”
Do you also play any covers during your live set, or do you just stick to your own penned material?
Ben: “At this point, it’s all original. We have only worked up one cover song as a band at this point, and that was for a tribute CD that was just released by Steelheart Records. The CD is called “Tribute To The Glory Of 80’s Metal”. We contributed a cover of DOKKEN’s “Unchain The Night” for the CD.”
When I take a look at the impressive list of bands you’ve supported, I see names (besides ANGRA) like BLAZE, OVERKILL, SYMPHONY X, NIGHTWISH and OCTOBER 31. Did you learn anything from them, and which band was the nicest experience?
Ben:“In most cases (by the time you’re in a position to play with these bands, there is very little to ‘learn’), you’re more interested in fine-tuning your stage craft. Virtually, every show we’ve played with big headliners has been great, but the ANGRA show, in my opinion, stands out the most. That was the first show where people lined up to get my autograph and were asking for guitar picks!”
Were there any bad experiences as well, without throwing with mud of course?
Ben: “No real complaints. The management for OVERKILL was less than kind to us, and threw us out from the back stage area at Metal Meltdown this year. Other than that, there’s nothing to report.”
I also read that you participated with local acts like MAGUS BEAST, ZANDELLE, CONQUEST, GOTHIC KNIGHTS and OVERLORDE. I reckon some of these bands are operating in the underground US Metal scene, and they fit much better to the raw unpolished sound of TWILIGHT ODYSSEY. How was that experience and what’s the biggest difference between playing with these bands and supporting the bigger names, that I mentioned earlier?
Ben: “I learned a lot watching ZANDELLE! They definitely inspired me to let loose more, when I hit the stage. They are a phenomenal live band, as are the other bands you mentioned. I always have a great time playing with my friends. The guys in ZANDELLE, MAGUS BEAST, and GOTHIC KNIGHTS are our neighbours. Our rehearsal studio is downstairs from ZANDELLE’s and John Tsantakis from GOTHIC KNIGHTS lives two blocks from my house. We’re not only from the same generation, and share music in common, we’re from the same place. I see these guys at the pub and on the bus. This only helps cement the bond between us. There is a lot of healthy competition. Playing a local show versus a show with a big opener is a trade off. With a local show, you can stretch out more, and hone your craft, even though it’s to a smaller audience.”
Gennady: “When you play shows with these local bands, everything is just much more personal and brotherly. There is a common fan base, and the bands help each other out There is just this great vibe throughout the gig. A lot of times, all the bands agree to split gear provisions. For example, one band might bring a bass rig while the others each bring a guitar cabinet or something. If someone is lost in the mix or something is wrong with their equipment, I’ll be the first one to run up to the front of the stage and get their attention to inform them. You can’t really do that with big-name acts.”
You even played at the Metal Meltdown V, the Classic Metalfest III and the Metal Mind Rage II festival. What do you think about playing at these huge metal festivals?
P.J.: “Well, we’ve done a number of these festivals now, and played with bands like OBITUARY, NASTY SAVAGE, VYNDYKATOR, IRON CROSS, TWELFTH GATE, SEVEN WITCHES, and our personal favorites, TWISTED TOWER DIRE, CONQUEST and OCTOBER 31 (King Fowley rules!). Festivals are great! They bring a lot of killer bands and fans together in one place and they help up and coming bands reach new fans from all over the country. The only down side is that the tight scheduling generally allows virtually no time for set up, breakdown, sound checks, etc. and it’s a lot of long hours and traveling. If you have a good stage manager and a roadie, it’s certainly better! That being said, we always have a kick ass time and end up meeting lots of very cool people.We love playing live and festivals always have a special vibe to them.”
Any nice or funny stories, you want to share with our readers about the many gigs you’ve played so far? There must be some nice memories about ‘life on the road’, that you want to tell us about?
PJ: “We’ve had a lot of fun on the road. None of us are particularly introverted, so just putting all of the personalities together in one van for, oh, seven hundred miles or so, is a recipe for comedy. One of my personal favorites though is when Ben and I almost got kicked out of a club we were performing at in Chicago. Ben and I were trying to relax and have a beer and this guy comes over trying to peddle cigarettes to us (the club had sales people from some cigarette company walking around doing this sales promotion). I told the guy to piss off. I can’t stand pushy sales people, who persist even after you’ve told them “No, thanks.” Anyway, the sales guy got really upset and basically went and told security, that I had ‘threatened’ him! The next thing we know we have this huge security guy in our faces saying, he’s going to kick us out of the club. The funny part of the whole thing is that I’m five foot two!! I’m not a big person at all and certainly not physically intimidating. The security guy was acting like I was some highly dangerous criminal type, that was going to go crazy and start pounding on people! Ben and I were laughing hysterically the whole time and the security guy (who was so serious) kept saying “You think this is funny?!?!” Of course, the more he said it, the harder we laughed!! We almost got kicked out, before we played!!”
Gennady: “I have a terrible tendency to knock things over, trip over stuff, etc, which landed me the nickname “Godspilla.” While in the middle of our set, PJ was introducing the band members. When she got to me, she introduced me as Godspilla, and conveniently enough, there I was, tangled up in a bunch of wires, dancing wildly onstage to get them unwrapped from my feet!”
What’s the metal scene like today in NYC? I have a feeling that heavy metal is slowly gaining popularity again, or is this only my imagination and wishful thinking?
PJ: “I think that you’re right about heavy metal slowly gaining popularity again. NYC has been dominated by hip-hop and dance music for a long time now, but I think the pendulum is slowly swinging back the other way. There have always been a ton of rock and metal fans in the NYC area, but you usually don’t see them until a band like IRON MAIDEN comes through and then all of sudden, blam! 30,000 metal heads come out of nowhere! There are quite a few good bands in the NY area right now and I think that if metal got more support from local radio and the clubs, the scene would come right back.”
Are there many clubs where you can play live?
Ben: “The clubs seem to come and go. As our brand of music gains popularity, more places open up. L’Amour recently closed its doors, though, and that has proven to be a very sore blow to us. I’m honoured to have played some shows there. Our fans are great, though! They seem to come out of the woodwork no matter where we play.”
We reviewed your second demo in MM#35 (March 2004), and we really couldn’t believe our ears. This is what classic metal is all about!! How did the other press react and did you also get any negative reviews?
PJ: “Wow, thank you! The press regarding the demo has been overwhelmingly positive. The few negative reviews we’ve gotten have generally been by reviewers, who just don’t like female fronted bands or who just don’t care for our type of metal. Honestly, we don’t worry about it. We’re just going to keep on doing what we do regardless of trends.”
Apparently, you signed a record deal with the Italian Steelheart label. When can we expect your debut album, and will the new songs sound different from your previous stuff?
Ben: “The sound we have is pretty much set, but I’m always looking for some new melodic bit to throw in here or there. If you like the demo, you will love the CD, because it’s the fully-realized vision of what you can only get a peek at on the demo. It all pretty much follows the NWOBHM/old school thread, that’s on the demo. The album is scheduled to be released in October. There are two songs on the album that are longer than “Defiler”, so there’s some material that gets pretty epic.”
What’s your favorite TWILIGHT ODYSSEY song and why?
Ben: “My favourite song to play is a new one for the album, titled “Plaza De Toros”. It’s about bull fighters, band it has this great old PRIEST/MAIDEN sound to it. It’s not really challenging to play, just very melodic and has a great feel to it.”
PJ: “That’s a tough question. I’m attached to them all in different ways. If I was forced to choose though, I would have to say “Under The Black Flag” (which will be on the upcoming album). It’s just so much fun and it’s melodic as all hell. Completely and totally infectious!”
Gennady: “Mine would probably be “Near Dark,” because not only is really melodic, but it is probably the most progressive of all our tunes. I still think that this is Ben’s most mature musical composition to date.”
Maybe you can also give us your top five of all-time favorite (metal) songs?
Gennady: “Too hard. Just pick five random songs by RUSH, IRON MAIDEN, HELLOWEEN, SYMPHONY X, and um… RUSH and I’m sure you’ll be close!”
Ben: “At this moment, because the list always changes, I would go with: DOKKEN “Burning Like A Flame”; RATT “Round And Round”; CINDERELLA “Nobody’s Fool”; DARK MOOR “Dark Moor”; BLACK LABEL SOCIETY “House Of Doom”. ”
What are the future plans for TWILIGHT ODYSSEY, in short term and long term?
Ben: “Short term goals include solidifying the lineup, and finishing the album. Anyone who’s ever watched “Pinky And The Brain” knows the long term goal: to take over the world!!”
If you could go on tour with any band of your choice, who would you choose then?
PJ:“No doubt about it, IRON MAIDEN or JUDAS PRIEST either one.”
When can we see TWILIGHT ODYSSEY play live in Europe?
Ben: “Just as soon as we get a reasonable offer to go over, we will do it!!”
Pamela, we’re a magazine totally dedicated to the female musicians in the hard rock and heavy metal. Do you think, that women still need this kind of attention or do you feel you’re getting all the respect and dedication, you deserve?
PJ: “I think it’s great that there’s a magazine like yours. Even though the situation for women in the hard rock and metal scene has changed dramatically over the last twenty years, there’s still a need to promote female musicians. I think the mainstream metal magazines tend to focus more on female singers (especially those that fit into the ‘operatic, goth chick in a bustier’ category) and not so much on the female singers and musicians, who are really fighting it out in the trenches. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, but it does mean that a lot of great performers and musicians don’t get the coverage they deserve. Let me clarify, that I don’t think women should get coverage just because they’re women, but, if a musician has the goods, they should get the glory.”
Ben: “I think what you’re doing is great, and in many ways good female artists still need some degree of specialty attention in order to be noticed. In America, good female guitarists are generally ignored. There are two amazing guitarists in the USA right now, JAY FOUCHER and CHELSEA CONSTABLE. They’re as good as JOE SATRIANI or John Petrucci (DREAM THEATER), but for some reason, don’t get nearly the same coverage. In Japan, there’s a guitarist, Fumihiko Kitsutaka (XYZ - Japan), who just shreds, and is currently an obsession of mine.”
We are based in The Netherlands. What more do you know about our beautiful country, besides the fact that we have beautiful tulip fields and delicious cheese?
Ben: “Uh, does Denmark count?” [note editor: It’s only three hundred miles away from our country, so I give you only a half point for this answer!]
Do you know any Dutch musicians that you like a lot?
Ben: “Yes, AYREON! “Human Equation” is the album of the year, hands down.”
How important is the internet for the evolution of a band as TWILIGHT ODYSSEY, and where can we find your website?
PJ: “The internet has been an essential tool for a band like us. It’s allowed us to connect with fans all over the world and has proven to be invaluable in researching record labels, magazines, radio stations and the like. Honestly, I don’t know how any band and especially bands from the U.S. could get along without it. Our website currently lives at http://www.twilight-odyssey.com.”
What are your goals for TWILIGHT ODYSSEY?
PJ: “We want to see TWILIGHT ODYSSEY go all the way. Every member of the band has a deep and abiding passion for heavy metal music. Personally, it’s why I get up in the morning. There’s simply nothing better in this world than making music. In the short term, our goal is to finish up the album and start touring to promote it. We would very much like to make our way over to Europe this year and are talking with our label about the possibility. In the long term, we’re looking for a good, steady management company to help us develop the band both domestically and internationally and we’d like to really transition from being a national act to an international one.”
You recently obtained an artist endorsement deal with Wayne Guitars. What’s so special about Wayne guitars for you, in comparision to the other guitar brands?
Ben: “Wayne guitars are custom guitars, 100% hand made in the USA by master builder Wayne Charvel and his son, Michael. They are the Jaguar of electric guitars! Most models are exact replicas of the original Charvel guitars of the late seventies and early eighties, made famous by players like Eddie VAN HALEN and STEVE VAI, as well as bands like RATT, TWISTED SISTER, and STRYPER. Recent converts to Wayne guitars include David Murray of IRON MAIDEN, and Murray also used Wayne guitars for his parts on “Dance Of Death”. All of the rhythm guitars on our upcoming album were played on a Wayne Rock Legend through a Fulltone Full-Drive 2 overdrive pedal, and a Rivera Knucklehead half stack …”
Is there anything you’d like to add to this interview?
Ben:“There are two bits of exciting news. First, we’re making our television debut this July. We are taping four songs for a show coming out in the USA called “Upcrack”. And we’re working on our first international gig! It looks like it will be in Toronto this autumn. (Thanks to Betty at Metal Queen Management for the gigs!!).”
Do you have any messages for our readers?
Ben: “Thank you for taking the time to check out TWILIGHT ODYSSEY. We really appreciate the efforts made by people all over the world to hear my music!”
The last words are for you....
Ben: “Any last words? Yes! Check out our site at: www.twilight-odyssey.com. Long live Metal Maidens! Thank you!”
This interview was published in Metal Maidens #37/Oct. 2004.