Music has always been an indispensable way to document the achievements of humanity, as demonstrated by the way historians define epochs according to a particular musical genre that emerged within a certain time period. Earlier versions of instruments we take for granted today have existed for thousands of years and have been painstakingly refined over time. Some musicians choose the instrument of their expression. For others, the instrument chooses them. As the electric guitar is relatively new (they became commercially available in the early 1930s), the art of soloing has a relatively young history and today's guitarists continue their endless quest for the perfect guitar solo.
Toby Knapp received his first electric guitar from his grandfather at age 10. Raised on a steady diet of the music of his parents (which included Black Sabbath, Kiss, Uriah Heep and Alice Cooper) and watching Led Zeppelin's legendary Jimmy Page control a crowd of more than 20 thousand people through the power of sound in the movie The Song Remains The Same virtually cemented Toby's career of choice as he progressed naturally into metal while the genre was still developing.
The small town community in Wyoming where he resided wasn't known to nurture many other metal musicians, so Toby began taping himself and played along to his recordings. He sent his instrumental demo tapes to the reputable head of Shrapnel Records, Mike Varney, who was responsible for discovering distinguished guitarists such as Yngwie J. Malmsteen and Marty Friedman of Megadeth. Varney wasn't the only person to take notice of him, as Toby was also nationally featured in Guitar World's reputable Hometown Heroes column in 1991 (which also introduced Nevermore guitarist Jeff Loomis).
In 1992, he landed the deal for his Shrapnel debut, Guitar Distortion, the first instrumental guitar album with death metal influences in the metal scene. On it he played lead, rhythm, and bass guitars while teaming up with drummer Ray Luzier (now with David Lee Roth) and with producer Tony Fredianelli (then guitarist for Apocrypha and now in Third Eye Blind). To this highly personal achievement, he brought catalytic technical facility, passionate & memorable musicality, and a stamina that proved to sustain him through the early '90s when metal was in its worst shape commercially.
Toby continued to listen to underground bands such as Mayhem, Sword Master, Bethlehem, and Abigor. In 1996, a hometown musical comrade convinced him to collaborate on a black metal project that became Darken, who released their self-titled album in 1998 on Defiled Records, which received ample praise from the metal press. While assembling material for Darken's second album, Toby was urged by the label manager to pursue traditional metal, as those riffs were readily distinguishable in his music. Caught in a world between militant underground black metal and neo-classical guitar instrumentals, Toby was, above all, devoted to pursuing ventures that would raise the musical standards of his guitar playing by exceeding the expectations of his contemporaries. He raided his collection of old demos and compiled a band with bassist Randy LaFrance and drummer Jon Pereau of Billings, Montana. Defiled Records sold the band's contract to Sentinel Steel Records, whose president, Denis Gulbey, not only financed the mixing of the record, but also recommended the vocalist Michael Grant (Legend Maker) to complete their line-up. Instead of releasing the album, Gulbey shopped it around to other labels. Century Media Records' German office recognized it as a "power metal masterpiece" and soon signed ONWARD to a multi-album deal.
Completed at Trax East Studios in New Jersey, produced by Denis Gulbey and co-produced by Toby, ONWARD's 2001 debut, Evermoving , was praised by Hit Parader Magazine as "an album brimming with a virtuoso brand of traditional heavy metal unleashed just as the genre is enjoying a rebirth," and Metal Maniacs as "a magnificent work of high speed, riffy and complex power metal that's as well-written as it is played." The contagious rhythms of LaFrance and Pereau, coupled with Grant's impressive lyrics and Toby's flair for performance won over audiences at San Bernardino's November To Dismember Festival, Prog Power Festival in Chicago, and Ultrasound 2001. Live, Toby's improvisational solos are fiery, raw, and energetic testaments to how he has assimilated and mastered his tremendous technique owning up to Brave Words and Bloody Knuckles' description of him as "an axe wizard who is a firestorm of razor-sharp riffery wound tight like a crackhead fistfight with Randy Rhoads and Yngwie [Malmsteen]."
Returning to Audio Art Studios in Las Vegas, Nevada almost decade later to work with co-producer Brett Hansen (Guitar Distortion's engineer), everything appeared just as it was left, ready to record the next installment of ONWARD's discography. Joining the core members of Knapp, Grant and Pereau was bassist Chris Payette, another friend and musician from Billings, Montana. The album would once again come to feature the artwork and layout design by Ioannis (Yngwie Malmsteen, Fates Warning, Dokken), who created the face affectionately referred to by the band as "Tris."
In Reawaken , ONWARD proves they are historians and innovators simultaneously. Manipulators of time, they will treat you to their musical version of schizophrenia and have your left ear planted in '80s metal (their version of Loudness' "Clockwork Toy" would do Akira Takasaki proud) while your right ear experiences all that metal has come to be since then. "Eye Of The Nightmare" (featuring ex-Apocrypha vocalist Steve Plocica) is the backyard party with your best friends that never ended; " Reawaken " is a track on a cassette tape you received from a pen pal that was way ahead of its time; "Where Evil Follows" is what you'll be requesting your local radio station to play; and "The Next Triumph" is a moment of somber reflection that transforms itself into a blistering manifesto of determination and steadfast purpose that will yield to no force, past OR present.
Wrought with poetic (and at times, greatly profound) literary stanzas penned by the life experiences of Michael Grant, his clean baritone aptly pays homage to the tradition of the roaming troubadour whose livelihood depends on his ability to make strangers remember his songs once he's left to his next destination. And when Toby Knapp holds his Fender Stratocaster, you know from the response that years of practice and reverence preceded that touch. The histories of music, of the guitar, and of metal effortlessly coalesce into a gentle genius of intense focus, with bursts of transparent clarity, furiously surging and infectious rhythms, and an uncluttered realization of inspired musical ideas that will help define yet another epoch.
Discover the joys of electricity once again.
In 2007 the band reunited.
15 August 2007:
Onward is back! Well, sort of... Toby has decided to give his new project with Dean Sternberg on vocals the name Onward because he feels the material fits the traditional Onward sound. According to Toby, the band has "no agenda for extensive touring, just a few gigs here and there and a strong new album. The recording/writing process is coming slowly but surely and I an putting no timeline on its completion and release date."
Look for a preview of the new material on his MySpace page in the upcoming days.
10 September 2007: The new Onward lineup (Mk. 2) has begun rehearsing new material and is gearing up to formulate its live set for upcoming gigs. This is a chance for you to give Toby your input on what classic Onward material you'd like to see the band play! Visit Toby's MySpace page and leave him a message there or at his blog telling him your favorite Onward tunes. Be sure to visit the new Onward Fan Page on Myspace!