Known for possessing one of rock’s most powerful and melodic voices, Miljenko Matijevic is back with a brand-new album comprised of a healthy mix of throwback anthems and modern tunes. Steelheart, Matijevic’s brainchild, entered the metal scene in 1990 with their self-titled debut album, most remembered for the hit power ballad “I’ll Never Let You Go (Angel Eyes),” a stand-out in a hair band era that oozed with infectious odes.
The band had its highs and lows following the enormous success of their initial offering . Sophomore effort Tangled In Reins, released two years later, failed to generate the same buzz as its predecessor in the U.S., although it did perform exceedingly well in Asia, driven by the single “Mama Don’t You Cry,” which reached #1 in Hong Kong and Japan.
However, the first of two major tragedies in the group’s history would occur at a gig opening for Slaughter that year when Matijevic was struck in the head by a lighting truss, knocking the frontman unconscious and causing multiple devastating injuries. The accident, combined with the changing musical environment at the time, resulted in a four-year hiatus for the band. When Matijevic decided to come out of his forced retirement in 1996, behind him stood a completely different version of Steelheart, one which featured guitar virtuoso Kenny Kanowski. The updated lineup saw moderate success with the single “We All Die Young,” featured in the soundtrack to the Mark Wahlberg film Rock Star. However, the song’s title proved to be sadly prophetic, as Kanowski suddenly passed away last month.
Although Kanowski was no longer an official member of the group at the time of his death, Matijevic was still very much in touch with his ex-bandmate and the pair were even on the verge of collaborating once again. “We were definitely still in touch,” Matijevic told Royal Flush. “We did several shows and we were working together, and I was considering bringing him back into the camp. And then he just passed away.”
While Matijevic was in Korea, friend Neil Zlozower called him a week prior to Kanowski’s death and asked if he’d heard about his death. When Matijevic looked it up, it was a different Kenny Kanowski. “I even found an article linking him with Steelheart, thinking the same thing,” said Matijevic. “Literally a week later, when Kenny passed, I called Neil and told him. It was awful. He definitely had challenges with alcohol and drugs, and sometimes life just plucks you out of the equation. It almost happened to me.”
Despite the blow, Matijevic is soldiering on. Through Worlds Of Stardust, released September 15, is a labor of love for the singer, a project he’d considered for nearly 20 years. “I finally thought it was time,” said Matijevic. “With the amount of energy I put into my music, I don’t just do things for the hell of it. This is what I do, this is my life, this is how I survive. I didn’t want to lose the beauty and the magic of the past but music changes. I wanted to still feel the Steelheart energy of the classic albums but also be relevant today. That was the whole focus. I’m very happy with how it came out. I’m proud of it.”
Tracks like “Come Inside,” “Streamline Savings” and “You Got Me Twisted” demonstrate a modern edge that will undoubtedly please fans of bands like Halestorm and Alter Bridge, while “My Dirty Girl” and “Lips Of Rain” return to that classic, Steelheart vibe. Vocally, Matijevic is still as strong as ever, a blessing he attributes to some simple, yet important, practices. “Calmness, meditation, hot water, and honey,” he explained. “And lots of rest. I’m not a partier. I’ll get wasted once in a while with some good scotch, but it’s not a normal thing for me. I respect the gift I was given.”
And speaking of that classic sound, “I’ll Never Let You Go (Angel Eyes)” is what Matijevic is asked about more than anything. Nearly 30 years later, it’s a song he doesn’t mind chatting up. “That song touched a lot of people, so obviously we did something right with it,” said Matijevic. “I won’t say it pigeonholed us. It just gave us something that everyone remembers us by.”
Fans can expect to hear both classic and new Steelheart when Matijevic takes his band on the road for a full tour next year. “We were going to tour this fall, but it didn’t come quite together like I wanted. Plus pretty soon it’ll be winter, then Christmas. I want to tour during the summer. We always toured in the winter for some reason, and I’m tired of that,” laughed Matijevic.
“Hopefully people will open their hearts, open their minds, and enjoy the new record,” continued Matijevic. “I had to change and grow just enough where it would be different, but I wouldn’t lose anyone. If I went too far to the left, some people wouldn’t get it. If I went too far to the right, others wouldn’t. It is what it is. You can kick, punch, and scream. But the reality is you just have to follow your path and keep going.”