Metal Chick of the Month – Mikaela Attard

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I flew high on black wings when death looked me closer in the eye…

The Headbanging Moose is about to become The RED-banging Moose this summer with our multi-talented, sunning and rebellious metal chick of the month of June, and you better get ready because she’s out for blood. I’m talking about Mikaela Attard, a vocalist, composer, lyric writer and producer hailing from the island of Malta, in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea, with a wide vocal range that allows her to easily sing in multiple rock and metal styles, known in the metal community for her time with Maltese Extreme Metal act Martyrium and more recently for her wicked solo project MIKAELA. Born on May 8, 1993, Mikaela has been singing since the young age of eight, having actually started with classical singing training as well as classical piano training and examinations. In addition, she won the Pop Idol in Malta when she was 13 and released her first Alternative Rock EP Hear Me Out when she was 15, with all the singles from the EP getting constant airplay. Do you want more? Alright, here we go.

Having performed on several stages around Malta and overseas, including cities like Los Angeles and Boston, in the United States, and several European countries, Mikaela studied Vocal Performance on campus at Berklee College of Music in Boston and furthered her education with a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Production with Summa Cum Laude, always attracted to the creation and production side of the music, and also getting into the science and engineering behind it as well as into Game Audio and Film Scoring. All that passion, talent and education resulted in multiple awards in her career, including Best New Artist in 2010, Best Female Artist and Malta’s Export Artist in 2011, Vodafone Upcoming Artist and Berklee College Singer-Songwriter, and Best Metal Band in 2019.

Let’s begin her journey in our Heavy Metal universe with her two-year stint with Martyrium (or MartYriuM), an Extreme Metal band from Malta formed by Count Mortem in 1999 with the spawn of the second wave of Black Metal, offering fans of extreme music a unique blend of Black and Death Metal with a specific sound design introducing sinister orchestrations and industrial elements to the style. Our red-haired diva began her time with Martyrium back in 2018, and Mikaela herself mentioned that it was a great learning experience in the beginning. However, as time passed by she started to feel very uncomfortable inside the band, stating that things got unacceptable literally, from the conditions how they treated her as a frontwoman and how they used her pictures, never wanting to hear what she had to say about those topics, leading to her departure form the band in 2020. It is what it is, unfortunately, because as you can see in some live videos such as Martyrium playing the song Curse Of Salvation at Oskorei Midvinter Festival in 2019 and the song Vital in Willemeen, Arnhem, Netherlands during the Female Metal Voices Tour 2018 with the Butcher Babies and Kobra and The Lotus, Martyrium kicked some serious ass with Mikaela fronting the band. Not only that, Mikaela had also been part of several collaborations such as Xirka Rock, and collaborated with the legendary multi-instrumentalist Marco Minnemann on his album My Sister on the songs My Sister and A Working Town. In addition, she was also a member of a metal band called Hex Omega during part of the 2010’s.

A few months after leaving Martyrium due to the personal issues listed above with the other band members, our Maltese metal goddess founded her stunning solo project MIKAELA, having already released her debut effort Nocturne In Red in 2020 alongside guitarist and bassist Kyle Farrugia (from Maltese metal band Align the Tide) and the aforementioned Marco Minnemann on drums, bringing to our ears an electrifying and sexy fusion of Metalcore, Deathcore, Progressive, Black, Death and Nu Metal, as you can see in the excellent song Chaotic Mind. According to Mikaela herself, Nocturne In Red is a conceptual album and also comes to terms with her personal experiences. “The concept of the album is about state of the mind. In fact, even it is even portrayed in the artwork on the album. I hold on a crystal ball and assigned to it the human brain. It is dripping black blood from it, and basically what it means is that it is about six different states of the mind and it is different how we perceive them, but sometimes we still are the same in the difference. So that is what it generally is about. All the songs are about a particular episode and that is what inspired me to write a particular song,” said Mikaela, complementing by explaining the idea behind the song Bring Me Blood. “That was inspired by an extreme event I went through in the past. I was the victim of an attempted murder here in Malta. I wrote that song in literally five minutes basically, it was just spitting out the words and music. It just came right on and that is why I decided that it should be the first single on the album, because it is so authentic. It is like: I left from somewhere over there. The song speaks about the anger I felt towards the situation and also towards the misunderstanding of court. I do not think it was well dealt in court, I think justice was not delivered.” And you can watch Mikaela discussing about that in an interview to Gabriel Gignac from Grizzly Media named 10 Bites of Nocturne In Red.

When asked about what us fans should expect from her first solo album, Mikaela explained how different the music style would be from her previous years with Martyrium. “My background of influences are quite different from Martyrium’s, although obviously there’s a lot of common favorites. I, however, like a more dynamic plateau of sounds and textures. I am a lot into deathcore, jazz, classical, electronic, groove and progressive music apart from all the metal in general. Obviously, I have a fond love for Black Metal and Death Metal too as well as all sorts of rock and metal in general. But I’m not quite a one kind of music-kind-of-girl. For that matter, I also love techno and industrial.” Regarding her main influences and idols, as expected she keeps getting inspired by a vast array of distinguished musicians and bands the likes of Ronnie James Dio, Metallica, Megadeth, Rammstein, Nine Inch Nails, The Prodigy, Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne, Opeth, Janis Joplin, King Crimson, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Lamb of God, Otep, Gojira, Slipknot, Thy Art Is Murder, Whitechapel, Jinjer, Bring Me The Horizon, Suicide Silence, Northlane, Chelsea Grin, Behemoth, After The Burial, Emmure, In This Moment, Arch Enemy, Wage War, ERRA and Ded, just to mention a few, which explains why the music found in her solo project is so difficult to label, so unique and diverse.

An accomplished vocalist, Mikaela can easily switch from clean singing to powerful growls and screaming vocals, and when asked about how she grew to like and practice this kind of singing and who were her heroes or inspirations that got her into that, she said that she’s a trained classical singer with a fond love for rock and metal who has always listened to those styles, having been introduced to them at a young age by her parents, and as her voice has always had sort of a rasp and natural scream it was a smooth transition for her to start doing guttural vocals. “My first experiences growling and screaming in public came gradually but once I launched some of the music at my debut, it was then official,” commented Mikaela, who’s also absolutely passionate about being on stage. “I must have been 9 singing in public, festivals, auditions, cathedrals, singing with organs and orchestras, stages, karaoke’s, we used to do it all the time when I was kid. It was fun. My first official outside country experience in public was singing in Johannesburg, South Africa though on a much larger scale and I loved it. I never feared the stage, can’t really say I got ever shy or anything… And I guess that still shows to this day.” And although she believes the pandemic might destroy metal music if nothing is done urgently, she understands the whole situation and keeps working off stage in anything that requires her attention. “We’re doing this massive sacrifice to help stop the spread of covid which now I don’t even know when that will ever stop but let’s hang on. When I’m off stage, there’s still a lot of things to do for a musical act so I keep myself entertained and focused by practicing on my own, coming up with ideas, drawing, writing, preparing orders and doing everything necessary to keep it going.”

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As a woman that performs in a genre that is always connected with power and strength, when asked about what she would say to women in general who face sexism and undermining and are considered weaker than men, she believes that all women in metal and in life in general should not go down to the level of the bullies who are being sexist, as it’s a waste of time. “If you share negativity, that’s what you’ll get. So be positive, feel it for real and just shut them and their vibes out of your life. The world is much better than that. Always be yourself and look for people who share the same ambition, who can see through you for real and what you’re after in life and music. You deserve better, we are strong and our strength should be celebrated just as any man can,” commented Mikaela, who also thinks that music shouldn’t be divided by gender or sex at all, as if we don’t all have a pair of vocal cords and we all can sound unique no matter what techniques we use to voice our hearts out.

Regarding her view of the metal scene in her homeland Malta, she mentioned that although Malta is a small island with a population of only around 500,000 people, it’s pretty much the same population as Iceland, but a lot of great artists come from Iceland. “I do not think it is quite within the culture to appreciate Metal a lot. It is not the mainstream at all. With the Metal scene, there are a lot of bands and actually, if you play here, a lot of the people in the crowd perform themselves. In general, I think it is very hard to make it, you have to skip the first step and it has to be outside of Malta, unfortunately,” said our screaming queen, complementing by saying that despite the fact there are several excellent metal bands showcasing a lot of potential on the island, the lack of a proper market or industry makes it extremely hard (albeit not impossible) for most bands to reach a decent level of success. In addition, if you want to know more about Mikaela and her beautiful home country, I highly recommend you watch two very interesting interviews with her done by local publications, one being 73 Questions Malta, where she talks about her thoughts on the metal industry in Malta and what it was like growing up there, and another called Lovin Malta Meets: Mikaela, where Lovin Malta’s resident music journalist JP Azzopardi discussed everything with her, from her musical origins to the world of metal and her future plans.

There are many TV performances of Mikaela on Youtube with the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra during an event called Rockestra, a collaboration that Mikaela considers really amazing, singing in front of 13,000 fans in her homeland even with the fact that metal is still a controversial style in Malta. For instance, you can enjoy her powerful vocals in absolute sync with her country’s national orchestra in songs such as Metallica’s Enter Sandman in 2011, Guns N’ Roses’ Paradise City in 2012, Ozzy Osbourne’s Crazy Train in 2016, and AC/DC’s Back In Black in 2018, showing her performances with the orchestra were not a once-off, but she’s a recurrent guest during such unique festival. Also, there’s another great video of Mikaela performing Black Sabbath’s Children Of The Sea live on the Maltese TV channel One on the program Q, always showing her support for metal music in Malta.

Our talented Mikaela also loves to interact with her fans and followers on social media, not only posting pictures but also writing lengthy captions and asking them questions as well as for opinions or suggestions; however, people tend to simply “ignore” her questions and give her only compliments in the comments. Mikaela said she actually appreciates all the comments and compliments, not judging anyone for not answering any of the questions posted and always valuing the interactions with her followers. She also likes to keep track of the number of streams of her songs, which countries she’s listened the most and merchandise purchases, as she believes it’s very important to know where her music is being enjoyed. For instance, she mentioned in one of her interview that Germany is amongst the top countries where her debut solo album is being listened to, as well as the United States, Canada (and The Headbanging Moose is proud to contribute to that, of course), Mexico and Russia.

Having several beautiful tattoos all over her body, Mikaela said it all started with ‘Rock and Roll’ inked on the side of her palms some years ago and she has never looked back, having her two full arm sleeves, palms, fingers, front side of the thighs, some on the neck, ass and full back all covered (and always ready for more). “I love tattoos, I think it’s like turning a house into a home. I feel confident in my body and what I represent. In my country it was still a taboo, especially on women, until a few years ago, but things slowly started changing thankfully. I used to get looks for having red hair in the past, can you imagine when I had the first tattoo sleeve? Older mentalities still judge a woman with tattoos greatly and to be fair, it is still not the norm and could get a lot of judgement,” commented Mikaela, who’s always encouraging uniqueness and trying to lead by example. Furthermore, when asked why she has chosen red as her main color, when her zodiac sign says it should have been green or pink, she answered by saying she loves red a lot along with black, representing a lot of things for her personally and becoming an important part of her identity. Mikaela also has some interesting hobbies whenever she’s not listening to music, writing, playing the piano and experimenting with mixing and sound engineering. For example, she loves to paint occasionally with pencils or acrylics and of course to take part in photo shooting sessions, among other non-music activities, but yet again she has mentioned several times already that music is her life and vice-versa. “Well, I live the cliché, yes my life is the music.” Well said, Mikaela!

Mikaela Attard’s Official Facebook page
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Mikaela Attard’s Official YouTube channel

“Honestly, the more you know about music, and the more you know how things are done behind that, I think being a vocalist is just the tip of the iceberg. I think it is good to you have some kind of knowledge. I mean, you do not have to have a degree if you just like to read about mixing, mastering and production and you have the space to do so, I think it is just awesome. But I really wanted to get that formal degree. So that is why I applied for that degree course. It was very important for me, it was a game changer, because I have always seen music not from a vocalist perspective. I have always seen it as a musician’s perspective, since I am formally trained and piano classically trained and also jazz trained.” – Mikaela Attard

Concert Review – Guns N’ Roses (Rogers Centre, Toronto, ON, 07/16/2016)

Do you know where you are? You’re in Toronto, baby! Wake up! Time to die!

OPENING ACT: Billy Talent

GNR_Toronto_2016I must confess I’ve never felt so happy in my life for missing an opening act like what happened this Saturday, when I “couldn’t” arrive on time at the Rogers Centre to watch Canadian Rock N’ Roll band BILLY TALENT opening for Guns N’ Roses on their sole Canadian concert from the colossal Guns N’ Roses: Not In This Lifetime… Tour. I had the unpleasantness of watching their lame and tiresome concert once back in 2011, when for a reason beyond my knowledge they played AFTER classic bands such as Exodus, Death Angel, Testament, Mastodon and, believe it or not, the almighty Slayer, and were obviously booed throughout their entire “performance”. Whoever had that brilliant idea of inserting such a hideous group among so many real metal bands might have been involved in the stupid decision of placing them as the opening act for Guns N’ Roses instead of the excellent Alice In Chains, the iconic The Cult or even the not-so-bad Lenny Kravitz, as it’s happening in every city Guns N’ Roses are playing except for Toronto. The only thing I know about their performance is that drummer Aaron Solowoniuk was replaced by Jordan Hastings (Alexisonfire), which doesn’t really mean anything at all for any regular fan of Guns N’ Roses. Their setlist is below, but why bother?

Setlist
Devil in a Midnight Mass
This Suffering
Louder Than the DJ
Rusted from the Rain
River Below
Surprise Surprise
Afraid of Heights
Devil on My Shoulder
Red Flag
Fallen Leaves
Try Honesty
Viking Death March

Band members
Benjamin Kowalewicz – lead vocals
Ian D’Sa – guitar, vocals
Jonathan Gallant – bass guitar, backing vocals
Jordan Hastings – drums, percussion

GUNS N’ ROSES

IMG_1542Who would imagine that after 20 years Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan would not only be reunited on stage, but still kicking fuckin’ ass as if they had never split up in the beginning of the 90’s? I’m pretty sure the entire crowd of over 50,000 gunners who were at the Rogers Centre this Saturday will agree with me that GUNS N’ ROSES were almost flawless during the whole concert, blasting their biggest classics from the 80’s and 90’s blended with some “newer” material from the controversial (but good) Chinese Democracy, their latest studio album. To be fair, after they played It’s So Easy, Mr. Brownstone, Chinese Democracy and Welcome to the Jungle, I was already satisfied enough to go home so good those songs were. Let’s say the only thing that didn’t make anyone happy were all those despicable scalpers trying to extort good people who just wanted to see one the best Hard Rock/Hair Metal band of all time playing. I truly hope very few people ended up getting their tickets from those scammers, and this is only going to end when absolutely NO ONE buys tickets from unauthorized people anymore, but you know how diehard fans are, right?

Anyway, getting back to what really matters, the (official) price paid for the tickets was definitely worth every penny. The whole band was in such perfect sync it’s hard to point any issues with their concert, and except for minor changes I would personally make to their setlist (which might have been already perfect for many) everything else went beyond my expectations. The “least famous” members of the band (Frank Ferrer on drums and Melissa Reese on keyboards, or whatever she was doing on stage) did their job, provinding the necessary support for the other guys to shine. Keyboardist Dizzy Reed (don’t ask me why they have three keyboardists, including Axl) and guitarist Richard Fortus proved why they’ve been with Axl for such a long time, probably even more time than Slash and Duff themselves, especially Richard who was spot-on with his riffs and solos to the point he wasn’t overshadowed at all by the one and only Slash. Quite the contrary, they make an amazing guitar duo together. However, no matter how much I praise those musicians, we know everyone was at the Rogers Centre to see the “heart”, the “soul” and the “blood” of Guns N’ Roses.

Starting with the “blood”, known as bassist Duff McKagan, he couldn’t be more physical and dedicated to the music he plays. Wearing a Lemmy T-shirt and having a Prince sticker on his bass guitar (a nice tribute to two unique musicians, with only the black star by David Bowie “missing”), Duff was on fire with his rumbling bass lines and awesome backing vocals. And when he was the lead singer, like in their cover version for Attitude, by the Misfits, he showed all his love for Punk Rock and how charismatic he is.

IMG_1541Axl Rose, who will always be the “heart” of Guns N’ Roses, surprised even the most skeptical fan with an absolutely incredible performance on vocals, singing each and every song as if he was the same Axl from Appetite for Destruction and Use Your Illusion. What he did on my favorite Guns N’ Roses songs of all time, the superb Estranged, You Could Be Mine and Civil War (how can the lyrics for this song still be so meaningful after more than 20 years?), was a thing of beauty. He kept running around the stage, danced a lot, wore some almost-classic outfits from the 80’s and smiled to the fans all the time, and by seeing that I finally realized his troubled years might be dead and gone for good. When they played the beautiful ballad This I Love, the touching Sorry and the fun Better, songs where Axl is truly needed as they had zero contribution from Slash or Duff when composed, we could witness a focused and passionate artist that has found peace and is now on the right path to reconquer the world of music. Even when Axl talked about their small incident at the border, when the police found a gun with them, he didn’t get angry or anything like that, simply mentioning it was a funny moment and that “it wasn’t his gun”.

Lastly, what can I say about the “soul” of the band, the unparalleled Slash? That guy is getting better and better as time goes by, delivering his unique riffs and even more unique solos for the total delight of every fan of the band. His guitar duet with Richard Fortus, his beyond stunnig solo in November Rain and his classic riffs and solos in Sweet Child O’ Mine led many fans to an amazing state of ecstasy, a sensation many had to hold for decades to feel again. Let’s just hope Slash remains with Guns N’ Roses for many years to come, because that’s the place where he truly belongs in music. Well, as everything must come to an end, after the masterpieces Nightrain, Patience and Paradise City, together with a cover version for The Seeker, by The Who (which could have been easily replaced by another classic like “Think About You”, “Used To Love Her”, “Don’t Cry” or “Yesterdays”, or even by “Madagascar”), it was time for Axl, Slash, Duff & Co. to say goodbye to the awesome Toronto crowd after almost three hours of concert and get ready for the next city. No one knows if they’re coming back to Canada soon, but based on the reaction of the fans and the smile on the faces of each band member when the show was over, I doubt it will take another 20 years for us to see those guys in action again.

Setlist
Looney Tunes Theme (Intro)
The Equalizer (Harry Gregson-Williams song)
It’s So Easy
Mr. Brownstone
Chinese Democracy
Welcome to the Jungle
Double Talkin’ Jive
Estranged
Live and Let Die (Wings cover)
Rocket Queen
You Could Be Mine
Attitude (Misfits cover)
This I Love
Civil War
Coma
Speak Softly Love (The Godfather Love Theme)
Sweet Child O’ Mine
Sorry
Better
Out Ta Get Me
Slash & Richard Fortus Guitar Duet
November Rain
Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (Bob Dylan cover)
Nightrain

Encore:
Patience
The Seeker (The Who cover)
Paradise City

Band members
Axl Rose – lead vocals, piano, keyboards
Slash – lead guitar, backing vocals
Duff McKagan – bass guitar, backing vocals
Dizzy Reed – keyboards, piano, percussion, backing vocals
Richard Fortus – rhythm and lead guitar, backing vocals
Melissa Reese – synthesizers, keyboards, programming
Frank Ferrer – drums