One of the big surprises at this year’s 29th Annual Review Music Awards was the huge win by Dies To Rise, who managed to ascend above eleven other nominated bands to secure the honor of Best Metal Band – a distinction they quickly rose to share with veteran rockers Burnaround one of the area’s more established bands that have earned this honor numerous times at past ceremonies.
The win was an incredible accomplishment for a group dedicated to performing their own original material, as opposed to cover songs; that since their formation back in 2012 had struggled, strived, and paid their dues to enjoy this moment in the spotlight.
But shortly after their win tragedy struck when Dies to Rise bassist Corey Schneider passed away suddenly at his home, sending shockwaves not only throughout the regional musical community, but to the tightly-knit family of band-mates that have worked so closely and diligently over the years to secure success and solidify their reputation.
“It’s been a tremendous shock for all of us,” reflects Dies to Rise founder, lead guitarist, and songwriter Jim Walkowski. “Not only was Corey an important musician within the group, he was also becoming our lyricist, creating some incredibly powerful poetry. Plus he jumped to the helm when it came to building our image, creating our website, and advancing our music.”
“Corey played with passion,” he continues. “After I heard about his passing, I went over to his house and looked at his bass. It had a beautiful hardwood body and wasn’t that old, yet you could see actual grooves in the wood beneath the fret-board where he was hammering out the sound. That’s some powerful playing and we are all deeply saddened.”
Although the current configuration of Dies to Rise has been together for about five years, lead guitarist & songwriter Walkowski says that the origins of Dies to Rise began taking shape back in the late 1990s when he decided to give up performing cover songs. “I wanted to write my own material and also wanted my own style, so I stopped learning other peoples’ stuff and studied the formulas of my favorite songs and the process involved with building and structuring a song.”
Drummer Darren Malace came into the fold through a friend of Jim’s that shared the same vision. “I had about a dozen songs written,” continues Walkowski, “and Darren helped me flesh out the sound and structure. The main problem we had was finding a good vocalist. Our bass player at the time took a stab at vocals, but it never went anywhere.”
“But Darren stuck with me because he likes the style of our music, which is what I would categorize as Melodic Metal. This style was big in the ‘80s, but was missing through the entire ‘90s, when the Grunge scene more or less took over.”
“I discovered that Melodic Metal was still huge in Europe, so around the time when the Internet started coming around, I would search it out. Back in the late ‘80s Glam Rock and the Hair Metal kind of thing started flourishing, but I was always into Judas Priest, UFO, Black Sabbath and James Dio style of metal – that’s what propelled me,” he continues. “I started discovering these new bands from Europe like Primal Fear and Halestorm and thought it was awesome. It inspired me to start writing more songs; so much of our material was built with Darren.
“It got to a point where we started working with some other bass players and then we found our rhythm guitarist, Matt Mikslovic. We shared a chemistry and I was impressed with his style, so we asked if he could be our other guitarist in the band.”
Vocalist John Cudworth came into the fold after Corey joined the group. “Corey had worked with John and said that musically we were ready to ask him to join, so once we had a solid vocalist, the entire band was ready to move forward.”
Cudworth was trained on classical piano and has also done arrangements for choirs. Musically adept, he says that when he was a teenager practicing Chopin his Father would express concern at the Black Sabbath records he was listening to. “He really pushed me into classical because he was afraid whenever he heard me listening to that ‘Devils’ Music,” laughs Cudworth.
The vocalist also cut his teeth singing with cover bands, but after his daughter was born, he backed off the music scene for awhile. “Eventually I put my nose back out there and was looking for something original that nobody else was doing,” he explains.
“I enjoy doing cover music and its nice to go out and earn a hundred bucks, but when you’re performing original music you are more vested in it. What I like about Dies to Rise is that everybody in this band shares the same sensibilities and feel towards the music. Because I grew up playing classical piano and also directed choir, Melodic Metal and more progressive rock is the stuff that also grabbed me.”
“When we started performing live dates as Dies to Rise, we discovered a lot of people were missing that Melodic Metal style of music. It was like a breath of fresh air,” adds Cudworth. “I can sing Grunge, but I like aggressive riffs with the vocal a bit over the top, yet I also want the song to have a melody and lyrics that you can understand. I enjoy the challenge of what we do. There are some nights when I can let loose and hold a high note and then leave the stage asking myself if I’ll ever be able to do that again. Besides, my daughter really likes our stuff, so that’s a very good sign,” he smiles.
“Vocally we’re blessed because we don’t have that throaty cookie-monster stuff going on,” reflects Matt. “When blended with our guitar solos and the tone of our guitars, all those things come together. There is no scooping of the mid-tones or any dry guitar sound. We use every knob on the amp for what it should be, which for me is to have a rich sound that is easy on the ears.”
“Everything fits together right now,” reflects Jim. “We share a lot of nights with other bands and have a solid 45-minute set of originals. I would say our style fits between the Grunge, Thrash and Hardcore – it’s good transitional material. In fact, a lot of the bands we perform with come up to us and say they really dig what we’ve got going on.”
When asked to distinguish their sound, given the many different contours of the Metal scene, Jim notes how “Our sound goes back stylistically to bands like Iron Maiden, Sevenfold, or Five Finger Death Punch. I also think that musically we sound similar to a band like Halestorm, except for the female vocals.”
“I think we’re more of a ‘Musicians’ Band’,” adds Matt. “We appeal to people who want to listen to the guitar parts and hear different things gong on, instead of a solid wall of sound that is only aggressive.”
Dies to Rise currently have 12 original compositions and are preparing to record their debut CD release, which they hope to have out by the Fall season. “I wrote the music for most of our originals, but now that we’ve got the right players our next writings will be more collaborative,” notes Jim. “John is working on some new material and is also an accomplished guitar player; and it was looking like Corey was going to be our lyricist, as he was turning out some very poetic material.”
With Corey Schneider’s unfortunate passing, Jim says that the band is keeping focused on their musical vision and is committed to picking up the pieces. “We did have a bass player prior to Corey – a younger guy named Alex who has a lot going on and he’s volunteered to get us through what gigs we currently have lined up.”
Dies to Rise next gigs fall on June 6th at The Spider Fest in Clio and then on June 27th at the finals for the Battle of the Bands at the American Legion in Essexville, across from Meijer’s. The group also performs periodically at White’s Bar, The Hamilton St. Pub and Bemo’s, whom have approached them about stepping into regular rotation.
“We’ve also started Dies to Rise Productions,” adds Jim. “We are known for doing full productions with laser shows and full back and front-stage lighting, and few bands go to the trouble of ratcheting things up to that level. When we go out to do a show, we try to make it a big production. We’re hoping to do a July 11th show at The Eagles Club in Carrollton that will be one of our full production appearances.”
Jim says the group has also been working with Todd Hall from Harlet periodically and that he has helped on a few of their originals and assisted with some re-arrangements of their material.
“Hanging with these guys is my social life pretty much,” concludes John. “They’ve become a second family and I really look forward to working with them and building the sound of the band. I’ve always been drawn to music that is more technically proficient, so am pleased with the direction that the band is taking.”
“From the day that I started this project our entire goal has been to start locally and work out way down to Flint, Pontiac, Detroit, and other areas of the State, and we’re finally getting there. Recently we played at Soaring Eagle Casino and had a bus charter and it was amazing how many people signed on to come support us.”
“It’s the fans and appreciation for what we create that makes it all worthwhile.”