2015 Preview: The Darkness, Santana, Soundgarden, Metallica & Costello

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The next 12 months will see several rock’n’roll heroes returning, including the Brothers Hawkins and the San Francisco metal giants.

THE DARKNESS

Massacres, pillaging and brutal ‘medi-urban’ rock, from Suffolk’s finest.

For Justin Hawkins, frontman of The Darkness, a joke is never far away. But when he describes their new album as “medieval rock” he’s not joking.

The album, provisionally titled Cliffhanger, is scheduled for release in March 2015. It follows the band’s 2012 comeback Hot Cakes, and also marks the debut of the band’s new drummer, Emily Dolan Davies, who replaced founding member Ed Graham in late 2014. And as Hawkins explains, the touchstone for the new album is _Black Shuck _– the first song on their debut album, 2003’s Permission To Land – on which they combined balls-out heavy metal with ancient English folklore.

“The new album is brutal,” he says. “It’s definitely stripped back – with the exception of some mandolins. But when you’re doing medieval rock you should have a mandolin on it. And while I wouldn’t say that this is our Rainbow Rising, we’re definitely exploring the myths of old. It’s medieval rock, but it still sounds like The Darkness. It’s medi-urban, I suppose.…”

This album’s epic themes were formed while Hawkins and his brother Dan, the band’s guitarist, were writing songs in a remote part of Ireland. The location reminded them of the TV series Father Ted. “It was like Craggy Island,” Justin says. “It had its own micro-climate and a very other-worldly atmosphere, and it was very inspiring.”

One song is based on Irish history. Its title: Roaring Waters. “It’s nothing to do with an infection of the urinary tract or anything like that. It actually tells the story of a Moorish invasion on the west coast of Ireland that happened centuries ago. There was a lot of raping and pillaging.” Another song, Barbarian, depicts a Viking invasion of England – what Hawkins describes as “a heinous massacre”.

The album was recorded at Leeders Farm Studio in Norfolk, owned by Dan Hawkins. Dan also produced the album. “He’s always been the de facto producer from album one,” Justin says. “And I like to give him the illusion of control.”

A more significant change was having a new band member involved in the recording. Justin says that the split with drummer Ed Graham was both unavoidable and amicable. “Ed has had some well-publicised health problems in the past,” he says. “And for one reason or another he wasn’t capable of doing his job any more. We’re still friends with Ed. But now that we have Emily in the band the worry is gone.”

Emily Dolan Davies had previously worked with Bryan Ferry and Tricky. And, according to Justin, she has “revitalised” The Darkness. “She’s a hard hitter,” he says. “She’s got the chops and the attitude that you need to be The Darkness’s drummer. She also makes us feel like dirty old men.”

Justin has complete faith in this new line-up and in the power of medieval rock. “We’re so confident about this album,” he says. His only concern is the album’s title: “I like Cliffhanger. But it might change.”

In the past, Hawkins joked about naming the band’s second album Brothers In Arms II. And he’s still thinking along similar lines. “There’s no copyright on titles,” he explains. “So we could call this one Hotel California. Or maybe Thriller.”

The Darkness’s new album is due in March through Wind-Up Records.

SOUNDGARDEN

It’s out with the old and in with the new for the Seattle legends.

Those pleased with the vault raiding that Soundgarden did during 2014 which resulted in the deluxe edition of Superunknown and the rarities collection Echo Of Miles… will be pleased to hear that there’s more where that came from. Guitarist Kim Thayil and producer Jack Endino are plotting a re-release of Soundgarden’s first proper full-length album, 1988’s Ultramega OK. “We now have the multi-track tapes of Ultramega OK, and Jack and I went into the studio and he started remixing them,” Thayil explains. “If everything’s approved we’ll hopefully get it out next year.”

Thayil adds that looming anniversaries for Badmotorfinger (25th) and Down On The Upside (20th) in 2016 make both of those title ripe for reissue too. But Soundgarden haven’t forgotten about new music, and a follow-up to 2012’s King Animal, either.

“Once [drummer Matt’s Cameron’s] touring schedule with Pearl Jam is completed we’re going to start working on new material,” Thayil promises. “The catalogue went through thirteen years of being neglected, so we’ve been playing a lot of catch-up. But I think for creative purposes I would say the new record, writing and recording new material, is where the focus will be.”

ETA: 2015

SANTANA

Classic line-up reunion, and a “new skin” for Carlos.

“It’s time to commit career suicide again,” a cheerful Carlos Santana declares, as the guitarist contemplates one of the two projects he has planned for 2015.

The first will be a new, jazz-oriented version of the Santana band that he’ll lead with his wife, drummer Cindy Blackman Santana. “I’m ready to, like a snake, grow a new skin,” Santana explains. “So we’ll be going more Sun Ra, more [late American free jazz guitarist] Sonny Sharrock.”

However, there’s also a reunion of an early Santana band, including keyboard player Greg Rolie, drummer Michael Shrieve and guitarist Neal Schon. The reunited line-up have been working on their first new music together since 1972’s Caravanserai album. “We’re going to call it Santana IV and complete the vision in the best possible way,” says Santana. “It sounds like we never stopped playing.”

All told, Santana is ready for a big year ahead, “I feel very vibrantly, emotionally and spiritually excited about the next year,” he says. “It feels like I’m pregnant again, with a new baby – metaphorically, of course, but it’s kickin’.”

ETA: Throughout 2015.

METALLICA

It’s time to “climb this mountain” and make a new album, say the metal behemoths.

If the members of Metallica had a pound for every time someone asked about their next album, they’d be swimming in money. (As if they’re not already.) The road towards a follow-up to 2008’s Death Magnetic has included plenty of speed bumps and plenty of global touring. But as the calendar turns, bassist Robert Trujillo assures us that the main focus is on new songs. “We’re looking at that mountain of ideas and are like, ‘Okay, it’s time to climb this mountain and get to the top,’” he says. “Everything right now is at the instrumental stage, and we’re just nurturing the songs and bringing them to life.”

Metallica debuted one of their new songs, Lords Of Summer, live in 2014. As for when we’ll hear the rest, he says “none of us can predict when that will be. All I can say is we’re working hard and it is happening.”

However, there will be more Metallica live shows in 2015, and the group have already been announced as a headliner for the Reading and Leeds Festivals at the end of August. And Trujillo plans to shepherd his documentary film, Jaco, about the late great jazz bassist Jaco Pastorius, into film festivals and cinemas, hopefully by the spring, with a soundtrack album that will mix Pastorius classics with some newly recorded covers.

ETA: Summer 2015.

ELVIS COSTELLO

Bespectacled rock icon channels Burt, Broadway and Bob.

Put Elvis Costello on the list of rockers with Broadway in their cross hairs. He’s collaborating again with songwriting legend Burt Bacharach on a stage-musical adaptation of their Grammy Award-winning 1998 project Painted From Memory.

“We’ve written a lot of new material because the script calls for some new songs,” says Costello, who has also just written songs from some unrecorded Bob Dylan lyrics with the New Basement Tapes Band. “We’ve added new songs to respond to the characters and give them some more dimensions.”

Costello would like to have the project completed soon, but Broadway is not built for speed. “It’s very different to standard record releases,” he explains. “But just to be working with Burt again is a real joy, so it can take as long as it wants.”

ETA: Spring 2015.