First of all, what is Nu Metal? Nu Metal (with the spelling "N-U" not "N-E-W" and no don't ask me where they got that from) was/is a sub-genre of Heavy Metal music that came to prominence in Mainstream Rock in the mid/late nineties through the mid 2000's. In this essay, I will explain what I think it is, and what it represents to me. For a lot of people, its still a mainstream representation (Still) of what Heavy Metal music is about. A huge percentage of people have different perceptions of what "Heavy Metal" is, but unfortunately, generalizations and stereotypes exist. The main concern with regards to Nu Metal that I have are that people often assume that I am a fan of this style of metal, or when they talk about metal in general they mention bands included in this genre. I still believe that Nu Metal is a form of metal (a highly contentious point with many people), but I do think that writing this post is necessary to dispel a few notions people have about my relationship with the genre, and also to show what my opinion is on its relation to the history of metal in general. I will do something a bit different with this post, I will use the format of a "FAQ" (frequently asked questions, a classic 90s/ early 2000's format used for online information).
Why do this essay?
I already mentioned this but will go over it again.
Because people (especially those around my age) still make the mistake of bringing up nu metal bands that I don't like, and I am at a loss of what to say to them about it. I also get people playing something that's nu metal, expecting me to like it because its "heavy". Well, I know there are many hours in a day, but instead of playing Candy Crush Saga or whatever the fuck they do for hours a day, they can spend 20 minutes reading this essay, instead of me trying to explain all this shit in person all the time (makes my life easier lol).
What is your history with Nu Metal Music?
Not a very healthy one- I used to make fun of it all the time, and thought that only "mainstream preps" who didn't know shit about Metal in general liked it. I was a little elitist loser asshole in my younger days (I've been compared to the guys in the film High Fidelity lol), and have subsequently met pretty credible people who actually like Slipknot for example. To give an example of that, Hypocrisy's Peter Tatgren has stated he likes that band, as a fan of Hypocrisy I can't immediately bash everyone who likes certain bands like that.
Needless to say, at the time of Nu Metal's heyday I was listening to non nu metal bands in the underground and what I call the "Mainstream underground" ranging from Emperor to Blind Guardian and beyond.
What did you think when you first heard it?
I don't remember what the first band I heard was in that genre, I think it may had been Korn. To me, it didn't really seem like Metal at all, kind of a heavier alternative band with some semi "metaly" guitars. I didn't like it, I thought it was kinda timely, kind of like Faith No More but more boring if that makes any sense.
Do you think the bands considered themselves "metal"?
That really all depends on who you asked at the time (or now, recent headline of Godsmack stating they're "hard rock and not metal"). I do recall reading an interview with one (or both) of the guitarists in Korn where they kind of disparaged metal, they said "even though we play in low B (because of using 7 string guitars) we aren't Caracass or some shit". I know that they had said this verbatim, and recall this was the era where even Rob Halford was making such statements as "Metal is dead". Korn later acknowledged metal influences at times, but the impetus even back then was they were trying to break from tradition. It was the era (in the mainstream United States Rock scene anyways) where "wanky" guitar solos were frowned upon and high clean vocals seen as "too hair metal" (more on this in a minute). I know that subsequently, a lot of the Nu Metal guys have come forward and acknowledged their traditional metal influences, however, at the time, it seems like they tried to play down their metal influences to some extent (as many metal and grunge bands themselves were doing, like Lars Ulrich from Metallica saying Metallica was no longer metal (or never metal?) just "hard rock". To quote Jonathan Davis of Korn: "There's a lot of closed-minded metal purists that would hate something because it's not true to metal or whatever, but Korn has never been a metal band, dude. We're not a metal band."
Why do you give Metalcore a free pass and bash on Nu Metal so much?
I don't give Metalcore a free pass, however, as I will explain, I have more in common with your average Metalcore fan than your average Nu Metal fan musically. Metalcore bands have usually always acknowledged the history of metal and firmly state in interviews their metal influences. More importantly, they show the influence of metal by having fully formed riffs (a lot of the time when they aren't doing too many breakdowns lol) and aren't scared by doing shred guitar solos in their songs. The music itself is so influenced by the Swedish Melodic Death Metal scene (At the Gates, Dark Tranquility, In Flames, etc) - a subgenre that I was fully into in the nineties that I can't help myself by liking a lot of the riffs either. I prefer the latter bands to most metalcore though, with a few exceptions.
Why do you think there's such a different between the members of nu metal bands, vs the metalcore bands (as far as mainstream US metal that's popular)?
Its a generational difference. Right now, a kid buying his first guitar will have youtube, and it will be a novelty to watch their first Iron Maiden video, for example. They may want to play Metalcore, Djent or whatever, but "really old stuff" like Maiden will seem cool, and interesting.
Back in the Nineties, someone who's in their teens or early twenties would have thought (a lot of the time) of bands like Iron Maiden or Judas Priest as dated, and even make the silly mistake of lumping them in with hair metal bands because of the high vocals!
They had the memories/associations because of how big hair metal became, and it turned them off (with good reason to a certain extent).
The distance between the kids coming up now in their 20s or teens and the kids in the nineties are very different with regards to historical context. The people growing up in the Nineties that got into Nu Metal were told time and time again a lot of the metal cliches and even for awhile the very word "metal" was dated, dumb and overindulgent. They got images of leopard prints, high falsetto vocals, rock groupies and dragons in their heads and during this time the stuff was not "cool". Beavis and Butthead, Bill and Ted, and Wayne's World put out media images of Metalheads as morons, and this made people want to steer away from a lot of the tropes and ideas inherent in classic metal, from thrash to hair metal.
Ironically, the Nu Metal bands had taken some of the musical characteristics of alternative and alternative metal, but returned to a lot of rock excesses. Some bands would even have lyrics in between about "partying" among their more angst ridden numbers. Bands like Andrew WK or Crazy Town brought back a lot of what had been "missing" since hair metal, but done in a way that would appeal to your Korn fan, and some bands would alternate between the teen angst and the partying. Nevertheless, Nu Metal still distanced itself from a genre that had similarily "mispelled" band names, hair metal, though during its peak it reached much of the same popularity and permeated the public perception of what modern metal was.
Metalcore, in contrast, has a lot of the same fanbase, but many bands that start out Metalcore eventually either branch off or become more metal. Metalcore seems like hardcore kids that got into metal and through the years become more and more into it. Solos are plentiful as well as admissions of classic metal influences (Killswitch Engage covering Dio for a famous example). The usage of breakdowns and the style of vocals are the main things that turn me off of a lot of it.
Do you hate Nu Metal because of its simplicity?
Yes and no. I'm a huge fan of punk rock including classic Misfits, I love simple straightforward songs a lot of the time. Its just that Nu Metal didn't really have the same emphasis on melody that other simple bands have or had. The hooks were lacking, to me anyway. There were a lot more droning styles of writing vocal melodies that recalled grunge or even industrial rock that were inherent in Nu Metal that weren't inherent in other styles of metal (and to me, not done half as well as those two aforementioned genres). And as I said in another question, why listen to something that sounds like watered death metal + teen angst lyrics when you can listen to fully formed death metal songs about the necronomicon, space, or whatever and mosh to that stuff?
As for the hooks, no one can deny bands like System of a Down, Sevendust, or even some Disturbed songs have some decent hooks. However, the dumbing down of the riffing takes away a lot from Nu Metal's appeal to me in general (see the next question), and I'd rather just listen to some classic punk rock that has less overly slick production than most nu metal that's a little catchy.
What Makes Nu Metal so different than other metal you like?
This is really where the heart of this essay lies and the first question that should be read if one were to read this. For me to say "its the association with rap music" would be disingenuous. I recall some early rap metal bands I thought were cool, especially a little known band called "The Hard Corps" who were around in the early nineties. They were the real deal, seriously (though I haven't heard them in years). I've always liked Body Count though I consider them to be Metal/Hardcore Punk Crossover (something metal archives should acknowledge) and never disliked Faith No More, and always thought Anthrax's "Im the Man" was funny. Its not the mixing of metal and rap that made me turn off of nu metal (people have actually assumed this at times, even if a lot of nu metal doesn't even have rapping, just some of it). So let's begin answering this question by using musical modes and other musical terms as examples why Nu Metal is different.
Nu Metal in many ways was an acceptable way for kids in the nineties (when metal was not "cool") to still like something "heavy" without "succumbing" to metal's "cliches" (not only hair metal but Metal as a whole). However in its quest to rid "metal" of its cliches, it also took out a lot of what I found appealing about metal to begin with, in an attempt to make metal "relevant" "urban" or "hip".
I must say that there's nothing wrong with appropriating traditional African American musical/cultural styles. But Nu Metal does it in such a dorky way its almost like seeing your grandfather use street slang to "fit in". If Enimem did a Metal Band, you know it would be a lot more interesting than say, Fred Durst's.
Taking out most or not all guitar solos because they sounded "too eighties" (or 70's, or 60's, or 50's) was a fatal flaw, even if not all bands need "wanky" guitar solos all the time. My mind goes to the Metallica film, Some Kind of Monster wherein Kirk Hammett was complaining about the lack of guitar solos on their (then) upcoming album St Anger (which recalled Nu Metal in some ways) and complaining that it would be "dated to that time" because of its lack of soloing. Well, he was right of course!
Traditional Heavy Metal music uses a few different keys/modes that usually contextualize it with regards to other forms of music. A common mode to use is the natural minor mode, as well as the harmonic minor mode at times (a mode found in alot of classical and baroque and romantic styles of orchestral music). As a matter of fact, a lot of the usage of natural minor/aeolian came to prominence in the eighties (When your metal non listener says something "sounds eighties" in regards to a song, a lot of times) where bands ranging from AOR to Dance to metal itself used these keys.
A lot of times this creates an "anthemic" quality that power metal bands also exploit nowadays. Bon Jovi's Living on a Prayer is in Natural minor, as well as Iron Maiden's Rhyme of the Ancient mariner. Also bands such as Metallica made a lot of usage of the Phrygian mode (a bit more middle eastern sounding or exotic in a way). Nu Metal in contrast, used a few of these modes at times, but also limited their scope of usage. Often in the context of a riff, the minimalism inherent in the riffs would only play 1-2 chords in the context of a huge part of the song. The minimalist guitar riffs present a challenge not because they're "simple" but because they lack "resolution".
Even a band that's dissonant like the Swans or Godflesh, Voivod or Martyr have riffs that are extremely dissonant but they have a seemingly concrete beginning middle and end. Even bands with minimalist guitar riffs like Minstry or Helmet (undoubtedly an influence on Nu metal) have riffs that "resolve" themselves.
This is a music theory aspect I'm speaking of in a way, but I guess I can illustrate by using Metallica as an example. Let's listen to the song "For Whom the Bell Tolls". Its well known that Groove Metal like Pantera brought a lot of influence to Nu Metal. If you listen or sing the main riff of that song "Dun Dun Dun Da Dun Dun Dun Dun Da Daa Daa" (For-Whom-The-Bell-Tolls) the Groove Metal band would play Dun Dun Dun Da only, but maybe keep the chorus, the Nu Metal band would play Dun Dun and then the chorus would be Dun Dun Da! As you can see, phonetically using this as an example illustrates my point. Nu Metal riffs aren't just minimal (a band like Helmet for example), they're watered down!
Also, genres like grunge and post-grunge would come into play with the melodic structures of this song. Grunge and Post Grunge are a bigger influence on Nu Metal than say, Saxon. There are even Nu Metal/Post Grunge hybrid bands played on "Modern Rock" radio to this day!
Limited usage of various modes, along with more dissonant sounding parts (and I am a fan of bands like Voivod who use dissonance nicely) also went along with the melodic parts of Nu metal songs using keys like Mixolydian- a mode that was used in a lot of grunge music but not a lot in more traditional metal which used more modes like mentioned above.
The use of dynamics in Nu Metal also recalled grunge in a lot more ways than that, the classic (Pixies derived) use of soft/heavy parts made famous by Nirvana was used as well. When there is melody, its more post grunge, post rap, and post pop punk, and the relation to traditional metal melody is barely there. But what got on my nerves was the way singers like Jonathan Davis made use of these dynamics. The singing had more in common with someone like Trent Reznor rather than Rob Halford or even James Hetfield or say, David Vincent.
It had this whiny suburban"teen angst" quality about it that made it seem almost forced in a way (and I'm a fan of NIN).
When there is melody, its more post grunge, post rap, and post pop punk, and the relation to traditional metal melody is barely there. The modes/scales used are watered down in a way refined to be simplified for the common listener, when its not just the dissonance I mentioned earlier.
While bands in the grunge genre paid tribute both to proletarian ideas in music as well as "college educated" middle class (a famous example being one of the first Seattle grunge bands, Green River, wherein two of the members were more "metal" two others "alternative"), Nu Metal had firmly middle class (namely suburban) roots that entail a mentality that is more "middle school" or high school rather than college. It didn't draw upon the lower class meets high brow sentiments that bands like those of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands did, nor did it have the political relevancy of punk (with a few exceptions).
The "angst" of Nu Metal sounded more suburban in nature rather than being rooted in anything substantial. It drew upon stereotypes of how White American Teen Boys behave/talk when angry, rather than argue substantive political points like say Napalm Death (a grindcore/death metal band that makes Slipknot seem as light as Lawrence Welk in comparison!). To give an example of how "juvenile" Nu Metal could be, let's look at two song titles: "Break Stuff" and "People = Shit". While these titles COULD have been found on an 80's thrash metal album, these would more than likely be said bands JOKE ("filler") songs alongside more "serious", but these titles are two SERIOUS (or at least two"main") songs by two Nu Metal bands (Limp Bizkit and Slipknot respectively) (how serious is up to the listener, the use of irony is something that is inherent in nu metal as well)!
What Things Do You Like About the Metal Styles That You Do Like Does Nu Metal Not Have?
Ironically, even though I am a fan of many different styles of metal, this is not a tough question to answer. I can use a few examples just to give the gist of some of what I do like.
I really really really really like Dual guitar harmonies. Its obvious from my love of bands like Maiden, Priest or Helloween that this is a factor, though not with every band I like. Name me one band in the Nu Metal genre that used dual harmonies and I'll give you 20 bucks.
I like grand theatrical concepts involving themes from literature, fantasy or the occult.
Most King Diamond albums are album long horror stories written from his twisted imagination. Voivod albums all follow a Science Fiction story concept that the band members wrote themselves. Blind Guardian has a whole album based on JRR Tolkien's the Simarillion, and Iron Maiden write 13 minute songs based on romantic era poets like Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. Meanwhile, nu metal bands like Trapt have lyrics like "Headstrong, I'll take on anyone". Wow you are so tough man.
Also it must be said, with the aforementioned bands, their music would still have many of those same qualities without vocals or lyrics, because those are the images that they dredge up from the way they play and structure their songs. You would still think you're in a hall of medieval bards with Blind Guardian just listening to the music itself, you would think that you're in some weird part of space with Voivod, etc. And the list of bands that have these different themes and go in these cool directions within regular (non nu) metal are endlesss. The only thing the actual music of Nu Metal brings up with me is an image of some angry middle class white boy acting retarded and angry at the same time, and speaking in ebonics but seeming like more of a dork than any white rapper ever was! And I'd prefer not to have those images.
But a lot of Nu Metal Bands are SOOO Heavy, Why Don't/Didn't You Like It?
See the aforementioned questions. Does Slipknot really compete with bands such as one like Mortician? Your average Slipknot fan would probably run home to mommy after hearing a band like that! It reminds me of when I saw Pantera in 2000. They (well namely Phil) had gotten Morbid Angel to tour with them and open for their tour with Soulfly. The kids at the show were kind of "rural" to say the least. When Morbid Angel came on, many of the kids in the audience laughed and mocked them, and I doubt it was for the lyrical content. Morbid Angel is a much heavier and faster band than Pantera in many ways (but because Groove Metal kind of begat Nu Metal) but the mainstream "acceptable" liking of Pantera prevented them from enjoying Morbid Angel even when Phil Anselmo himself came out and guested on a song. Its needless to say that Nu Metal has no competition of heaviness or even anger when it comes to bands ranging from Bolt Thrower, to Black Flag. It sounds like watered down amalgamation of a lot of the aggressiveness of the past 30 years of heavier music but done badly and in a very commercial way. Why listen to Evanescence when you can listen to Theater of Tragedy, or listen to Mudvayne when you can listen to Candiria? The examples are endless..
I'm not saying that Nu Metal didn't have elements that I liked in other bands/styles of metal, but the usage of those elements came into question in the way they were used. I feel also there are/were other bands and styles that were far more appealing that had those elements than the Nu Metal bands. A person may like Mudvayne (not a too terrible Nu band) for the slap bass but why not check out Fishbone or Infectious Grooves as well for the same reasons? Just because you've never heard of those bands or they're old doesn't mean that they don't have some of the same elements done well. Nu Metal has an appeal to people, and I am not trying to question the people that like it for various reasons that they find personal to them. Its just that, if/when people question why I don't like it or what my reasons are for that, I have broken these ideas down and hopefully this can explain it.
1. Nu Metal did not follow the trajectory/progression of normal heavy metal music, it took bits and pieces from styles such as groove metal (Later day Sepultura, and Exhorder, or Pantera) and added alternative music, grunge influences, rap (and sometimes other styles like funk) to the mix. It took a lot of the thematic elements, and musical elements that made heavy metal what it was before and replaced it with more attitudes found in rap or some forms of hardcore punk, and also a more angst ridden attitude found in grunge rock as well.
As for the different styles added to Nu Metal, I had found earlier bands flirted with these styles better, such for example bands like Faith No More or Suicidal Tendencies, and hell even Tool or Rage Against the Machine (latter both being heavy influences on Nu Metal). The issue is, that the Nu Metal bands would have alternative metal bands as influences, but as their majority influence, pushing a lot of traditional metal influences to the background and not falling into the real lineage that even Death Metal or Black Metal would.
2. Nu Metal really didn't have a precedent before other than some of the "alternative" metal bands, and like shown in the above point, you couldn't really say "groove metal" begat Nu Metal in the same way that Thrash begat Groove Metal. So, in essence, no real metal subgenre had a huge influence on Nu Metal the way the HYBRID genre of Alternative Metal did.
3. The song structures (some post punk bands played minimalist styles with staccato riffs like Gang of Four), made the music seem not only minimal (as said before bands like Helmet, even the Melvins, had other elements even if they were minimalist in their riffing that made up for the minimalism or the minimalism was done in a cool way) but "hollow" or "empty" to my ears. Having something along with that that reminded me of mainstream "alternative rock" but with super whiny vocals about juvenile subjects really turned me off when I heard these bands for the first time. Nu Metal was/is full of things like that.
4. As for the angst angle, there was always better examples of this that I already knew about/liked that fulfilled any cathartic release that Nu Metal had for some people. I knew of plenty of angry Black Flag or Rollins Band or Suicidal Tendencies or DRI songs that when I was in an angry mood I listened to. I didn't need some upper middle class kid from Bakersfield California with a Seven String Ibanez to make me feel relieved after being pissed off.
5. The angst seemed feigned and fake to me. I can imagine some of it being forced, as you see footage of Nu Metal rockstars and they seemed almost Hair Metal like in their "indulgences" rather than the more forlorn personalities that populated Grunge or even Gothic Rock. It was like the Record Business, in a rush to get more bands befitting of "90's angst" rushed to sign as many bands in these genres as possible, culminating in a huge surge of Nu Metal bands in the late nineties. It was also overcrowded, overhyped, and much hated ironically by the bands that influenced it, as many statements by people like Trent Reznor, Paige Hamilton, or Mike Patton testify to.
6. The fans of Nu Metal liked things "heavy" but seemed to be almost scared to get into more underground extreme metal, or even other groove metal bands like Exhorder or old Machine Head. They may had liked Pantera, maybe some Metallica, and it annoyed me that they had never heard a lot of other bands that were more extreme or different but just as heavy.
7. The mask thing was done before by Mr Bungle. As a note on that, Marilyn Manson kind of was popular with a lot of Nu Metal fans, but GG Allin throwing poop in the audience trumps the extremity of pretend masturbation on stage. Basically stuff was done before that I heard but in a way I liked more.
8. Fred Durst just sucked. Really. Sorry dude. Nothing against you as a person.
Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Not the Pantera album, but the musical sub-type/sub-genre. So in this following article I will be defending this style from its detractors, and going into point by point what some of their arguments are and rebutting each and every one of them. And in the process, defending what may very well be my most beloved sub genre of metal. Why write this article? Well, because I've had to defend this in the spur of the moment without having all of my intellectual resources armed and ready to fight their onslaught of bullshit and fallacious reasoning. And above all, to explain/explore what this sub-genre means to me and why its sustained its influence over me for so many years. To begin with, let's go back to my early days of metal fandom. The first band in metal that I got into was Iron Maiden. Iron Maiden are/were a semi-progressive and very melodic metal band with influences from prog rock, and also a very literate one at that.
Whether it'd be taking lyrical influences from the bible, Frank Herbert's Dune, or Samuel Taylor Coleridge, they really defined much of the more "intellectual" side of Heavy metal in the eighties and beyond. This fostered my musical development and maybe things would have been different if my first metal band were say, Black Sabbath even, or Pantera. Chunkier guitars and heavier riffs would have been more important to me than dual guitar harmonies and epic songs (not that Sabbath didn't lean towards the latter much of the time). So it makes sense to me, however much I got into shortly thereafter such subgenres as crossover and thrash that my musical pedigree would be greatly influenced by Maiden, and then a couple months later, Judas Priest- that the high operatic vocals of both bands and their musical approaches would form a deep impression on my musical development. Flash forward, the mid-late nineties. I had abandoned metal in some ways, but as my friends got into some of what had been going on in Europe at the time (including extreme and power metal bands) I had a revelation- Metal had survived the onslaught of commercial "alternative" music in the United States but was primarily focused overseas. I also discovered a new genre/style of metal- even if I had owned one Helloween album (though only for a short period of time because of me trading it for another tape as a kid), and was super into Queensryche before- Power Metal. To me, Power Metal was the logical extension of Maiden and Priest. If you toned down the hardcore punk influences in bands like say, Metallica, and took the more melodic (but not less fast) route, you had power metal. That's not to say the only style that gave birth to my renaissance of metal after nearly abandonding it was only power metal as I got into many of the new bands ranging from Anathema to Emperor and beyond. I got into Black Metal, Technical Metal, and Doom and Gothic Metal. I heard the Progressive metal bands that took metal to places far beyond anything I had imagined. The resurgence of metal in my life was both a discovery and rediscovery after years of seeing metal attacked as a "dead" genre in the United States and elsewhere, because of the trend towards disparaging it as dated because of the "Alternative revolution".
By the late nineties however Metal's fortunes seemed to rise again, even if from sometimes dubious sources, like the "nu metal" trend (a trend I never liked). But what of power metal? What is my story with the subgenre? Simply, when I got back into metal (after exploring such things as Industrial, Goth, and experimental Techno) it was something that I really committed to learning about and getting into more than I was before. I had gone the route of denying my "metalness" to a large extent though I would never have said I hated it, or stopped listening to Maiden or something. The rising tides of European metal and all the permutations that the bands were putting on the various sub genres were something I found highly interesting. I had picked up a few Helloween albums, including the fabled "speed metal" album, Walls of Jericho, and was looking for bands in a similar vein. The speed, the melody, the harmonies, and the aggression mixed all in had appealed to me in a way that few other bands did...It was like Maiden but even more aggressive and more intense. That's when I was reading a lot of Metal Maniacs at the time (the famous now defunct magazine that was a goto for mid-underground metal in the nineties, despite having its appearance at a lot of mainstream supermarkets) and I encountered an "playlist" of some famous underground musicians. One was Samoth from Emperor, and at the time, I had hovered around near worship of the band (though thankfully never emulated none of their now infamous extra curricular activities). One of the bands on his list was Blind Guardian's Imaginations From the Other Side, and when I read some other press about this "little known in the US but big band in Europe" I was intrigued. They played a somewhat progressive form of power metal that featured orchestral interludes, lyrics revolving around fantasy novels (a subject I was intrigued by, considering how cool I thought huge conceptual ideas played out in metal), and above all, virtuous musicianship that recalled something that was in between early Metallica and Queen's majestic harmonized chamber music.
I had already ordered cds from mail order companies that had their ads in Metal Maniacs or other magazines (remember this was before the downloading explosion) and then I got the curiousity to hear Blind Guardian. Upon retrieval of Tales From The Twilight World, I was floored. I had never heard anything like this before- full on choir vocals over speed metal with ultra fast harmonized guitar solos. It took me to a whole other level in metal, and I remember the first time listening to the first song on the album, eyes and mouth wide open with awe. I subsequently got into all the "German Melodic Speed Metal" bands (something a metal maniacs writer came up with, the usage of the term "power metal" was used but it was much less common at the time), Gamma Ray, Running Wild, Rage, etc..It made a huge impact on my life and musical influences. Here were these bands, they could be as heavy and fast at least as thrash, but they added huge melodies and hooks at the same time. I was irresistable. So this got me on the journey to being a Power Metal fanatic, but even to this day, I don't identify myself as a Power Metal person because there is a lot of tiring aspects about the genre that lead me not to use the term. But with regards to the criticisms, I see two types of people as criticizing power metal. There are the metal elitists who may like some traditional metal like Maiden or Mercyful Fate, but they remain ignorant to the fact that not all power metal is dragons and fairies. Sure, the genre uses a lot more major key melodies than a lot of regular types of metal (moreso in recent years) but there are plenty of bands that have clean vocals who are part of power metal but are still dark and heavy (case in point: Helstar and bands of that type, or even Nevermore, which I have never liked a whole lot but they are definitely part of power metal). And is there anything WRONG with having uplifting melodies, majestic songs (say songs by Helloween like Eagle Fly Free, or Stratovarius) that affirm life rather than denigrate it? Is this a threat to these people's tastes that much that they have to criticize this as some abhorrent derivation of metal music? A lot of the same metal elitists may say bad things about "melodeth" or call Opeth "blopeth" (not that some of the fans don't deserve a bit of ribbing occasionally)..its as if anything melodic and musically proficient in metal, if its not according to their little tastes, is bad. There are also people who liked melodeath who hated Power Metal, something I never understood, as Melodeath in a lot of ways was just a heavier more extreme version of the melodic aspects of power metal. Case in point, In Flames- early stuff had a lot of Helloween and Iron Maiden influences (even the riffs have the muted harmonized lines that Helloween made famous), Dark Tranquility basically had said in interviews it was German Power Metal, and technical death metal that were their early influences, I recall an interview where they were listening to a lot of "Scanner, Helloween and Blind Guardian". The second type of person against power metal is the Groove Metal/Death Metal, if its not super masculine its "Gay" crowd. I had a confrontation with a friend recently who I typecast as part of this. He said some derogatory things about the fact that my band played some power metal style songs, but the guy won't listen to any metal less "heavy" than Pantera. Its almost as if, there were no metal bands between Black Sabbath and Pantera, and Pantera being the main proponent of the style they like. Its as if, Metal's evolution doesn't matter, its just whatever you can lift the most weights to or be the most macho with. To me, that's only PART of what Metal's about, and not the main aspect. And that leads me to what I like about power metal. The genre is undoubtedly varied, its not all Reinxeed or Stratovarius happy little ditties. There are bands such as Biomechanical, a band that blends technical groove metal, with more higher pitched power metal vocals, there are bands like the aforementioned Nevermore or Helstar, there are bands that in between Prog and Power metal like Symphony X (Prog Metal being very close at times to Power Metal and some bands being interchangeable), there are tons of bands that such as well and do no service to Power Metal's image as a cheesy genre. The main aspects I like about Power Metal, are why I also like Prog Metal, though I have to edge Power Metal as a genre I like more. I like the literate and intellectual subject matter, ranging from concept albums about famous scientists, to albums based on classic literature, and so on. I like the musical virtuosity, even if its not done in the same way as Progressive Metal, its done in a way that's catchy and aggressive. I like a lot of the influence of Classical music, and this is something that makes it stand out to me, even if other genres of metal are, a lot of power metal quotes more often from famous classical composers and features those parts in their songs (whether it'd be Racer X, Malmsteen (if you consider him Power Metal) or Symphony X, etc). I like the fantasy subjects, I like to have music be escapist a lot of the time. Much of the nineties rebelled against escapism in music, and wanted things to be "real and political" and its refreshing to have metal bands pull you into a fantasy world. I like the positive and life affirming lyrics (everything from Manowar to Stratovarius) and I identify with them through tough times. I doubt listening to Cannibal Corpse lyrics (other than to be funny) would have accomplished the same in my past during dark times). I like the mix of aggression and melody- listen to Iced Earth basically be as heavy as classic Metallica but add a lot of melody to boot (especially older Iced Earth). I like a lot of the major key harmonies in SOME of the Power Metal bands. They're catchy, and as someone who first started listening to the Misfits when he was 11 years old, I appreciate big hooks.
Above all though, music is subjective, and I happen to like a lot of power metal. Its lyrics, subject matter, ideas and musical influences have been a part of my life for a long time, and for anyone to dismiss it and denigrate me as a person because of my liking for it, well they can go fuck right off!
Thursday, October 10, 2013
Carcass - Surgical Steel- rating: 4 out of 5 mutilated and eviscerated corpses Even though it's a few weeks out, I decided to post this review because its still a relevant album that was recently released. And what album is this? Carcass's long awaited new album, Surgical Steel. When news of an official Carcass reunion album were announced, mouths were agape and heads were ready to bang. It had been five years since official reunion, but questions remained about whether or not there would be any attempt from the band to put themselves fully on the map again with a new album. There were also the questions about what the musical content would be, would it be a return to the classic grind of the first three albums, or would it be more in line with the later more melodic strains of 1993's Heartwork? We all got the answer in mid September, when the band released their first album since 1996's Swansong. The album is (likely) a comeback album far more than say, the new Queensryche, as Carcass really seems to have made an effort to recall their glory days but with some new twists and turns as well. It is almost a missing link between Heartwork and Swansong, though with a few nods to previous albums such as 1991's Necroticism – Descanting the Insalubrious. It starts out with the harmony laden instrumental intro "1985" and quickly picks up pace with "Thrasher's Abbatoir", a fast paced song whose lyrics almost read as a more literate version of a typical 1985 Exodus "posers suck" song, complete with the "medical textbook" style lyrics that were a staple of their early work. It quickly goes into "Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System", a song that could definitely have fit well on Heartwork. On this song, a lyrical approach that combines the "goregrind" approach mentioned earlier is mixed with cleverly veiled and sardonic political lyrics (a theme which continues through the album). The album then continues with such future classics such as "The Master's Butcher's Apron" and other songs in the same vein (pun intended) and concludes with the (near) ballad (!) "Mount of Execution". 11 songs that would make newcomers as good as they are like Arsis or Obscura blush. The songs definitely have enough twisted (but accessible) riffs to recall the glorious days of yesteryear, in fact, even the production (by none other than Colin Richardson, who produced most of their classic work) recalls something from the mid-nineties rather than the overly compressed production jobs that are the norm today (though I will admit the mastering could be a little less brickwalled). Is the album perfect? In a word, no, its hard to really recapture the magic of a time long gone by, but it certainly comes close. It certainly stands with "classic reunion albums" that have been released in the past by metal and rock veterans such as "Perfect Strangers" by Deep Purple, or "Brave New World" by Iron Maiden (their classic 2000 reunion with the "classic" lineup of Maiden). And that is some great company to keep.
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Decided to post a lot of the reviews I did for other publications and sites such as amazon, etc on this blog site. It will be to tide people over to the new reviews and interviews I will be posting here soon. Here are some short reviews of various albums over the years: John Arch - A Twist of Fate- 2003. Well, where to start? Its the return of one of my favorite singers of all time, John Arch. On the first three (my favorite) Fates Warning albums, he showed an awesome display of melody, and genius wordplay lyrically. I was awaiting something else from him for the six years I've been a Fates Warning fan. Finally the day arrives when I read on a website that he is returning to the music scene in a project from Dream Theater and Fates Warning members. I was 100 times more excited than when I heard about the OSI project. Now, on to the Ep: One glaring thing I noticed is : Its way too short! I mean, he was out of the music scene for 16 years, and now he only has 30 minutes to give us? Well, I have a feeling this isn't the last we'll hear from the guy, I think he was going for perfection and this is what we have: a stunning set of two epic tunes. The first song, Relentless, is the weaker of the two, similarities to latter day Dream Theater are obvious. While not a bad thing, it doesn't sound as unique with Arch's vocals, and Arch's vocals almost recall James Labrie in a way (or is it the other way around). Also this song is a bit more disjointed, which takes some getting used to. The musicianship is superb, with Portnoy's drumming displaying the usual virtuosity, and Jim Matheos' awesome riffs and spacey synths. The second song is where this album really shines though. "Cheyenne" is another epic song, which was the highlight of the album for me. It has the melodious resemblence to something off Awaken the Guardian, and almost exceeds anything from that album because of the improved production. John Arch is a lyrical/musical genius, and I'm sad that he turned down/or was turned down the Dream Theater spot. But now that he's returned, let's hope he takes it to the next level. Highly recommended epic Prog metal. Megadeth - Countdown to Exctinction (review 2003) 1991. In 1991 - the Infamous Black album was released, alienating many fans of Metallica (like me) while gaining alot of others. The commerical sheen and refined, stripped down songwriting inherent on the album was a formula for commercial success, while still being fully in the "metal" camp. Former Metallica lead guitarist Dave Mustaine had seen his band Megadeth as somewhat competitors to Metallica, and this is the first album that doesn't just equal Metallica's output (don't get me wrong the first four were classics but I'd say they were equals to Metallica's first four) - it surpasses it. Sure this album possesses "Black Album's" commercial sheen and relatively (to Rust In Piece) stripped down, mid paced songwriting- but it is the far better album of the two. What it doesn't possess is the meatheaded redneck lyricisms of the Black Album (Just compare Architecture of Aggression to Metallica's Don't Tread on Me) or the overtly "compromised" vibe. The Black Album also has more filler, while Countdown is filled to the brim with stellar songwriting. And another factor is that while Countdown is more refined than previous albums, it still has a technical edge that was not seen with many bands (example: the nearly prog metal stylings of Ashes in Your Mouth). So overall, this is a near classic by the legendary thrash titans. I hated it when it first came out, but with age and maturity I came to love it. Halford- Live Insurrection - 2003 Rob Halford surprised me with his "Resurrection" comeback. But even more surprising is this live album from his solo band. Even though some of its "liveness" can be put in question like Unleashed in the East, it contains some of his best singing EVER! The album runs the gamut from Stained Class era Priest, to Fight and of course his recent material. The songs from early Priest are old favorites of mine Priest haven't even played for years. The playing is tight and smooth, but the highlight is of course Halford himself. He sings with a renewed intensity not seen on the originals themselves even. This album is probably the best album for someone wanting to delve into Halford AND Priest in general - Highly recommened.
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
I'd like to happily announce the relaunch of this blog, and am actively welcoming/seeking content from other writers/bloggers as well. I will also partner with some other content producers to get this blog to be the main hub of metal info in the area! Coming soon: Reviews of new releases including the new Carcass album, and new interviews!
Saturday, July 6, 2013
Its been asked by friends and others why I don't listen to a lot of modern albums. For awhile, I looked at it as just a sign of being jaded after hearing literally thousands of albums, having been a long time veteran of the Metal scene, etc. But as I dug deeper and deeper into self-analysis on this subject, something became clear. I found that the problem I have with a lot of modern Metal isn't neccesarily because of stylistic permutations or lack of songwriting skills (though sometimes this is a culprit), its been because the production on a lot of modern albums are lacking. What does "lacking" mean? Well its not some "necro black metal" trend of production or anything of that matter. As a matter of fact, I am a big fan of the mid-nineties Black Metal scene, and did not like some of the commercial derivations of that, including bands like Cradle of Filth or Dimmu Borgir. Emeperor, Mayhem, or Satyricon may have sounded raw but their production had dynamics that were still exciting and entertained the listener. And it is well known my love for early punk and hardcore. So its not the rawness of a production that turns me off, and at the converse end its not a "slick" production either. Even if its lacking in songwriting power compared to their first four, I still find Metallica's Black Album to have a lushly sheen and very dynamic and full range of sounds. If you hear songs from it on "Solid Rock" or hard rock radio, it stands against the Shinedowns or Five Finger Death Punches which sound flat in comparison. And therein lies the problem. Many bands choose compression over dynamics, and "loudness" over quality in production. In this series I'll explore the history of the phenomenon and my theories on why it has permeated the music industry.
Thursday, July 4, 2013
About a year ago, the whole current debacle with Queensryche started with the band splitting in two camps: Geoff Tate with hired musicians, and Michael Wilton, Scott Rockenfield, Eddie Jackson and newcome Todd Latorre. I had done a review of the band's latest album "Dedicated to Chaos" previously, and reading articles through the recent years and seeing live clips, etc, it actually came as no surprise to a lot of people. The (alleged) knife wielding of Tate, the spitting on the drummer (though spitting on band members doesn't always have malicious intent, just ask Mike Portnoy!) as well as all the allegations in the press by Tate vs the rest of the band did come as a shock however. The remaining band's legal depositions came out in public, and me being the music nerd I am, read all of them. All of what transpired really stood out to me as being extremely similar to what had happened with Pink Floyd in the 1980's. Roger Waters had claimed to write all of the songs, (read Tate's "81 percent quote") and diminished the other band members contribution. Now Chris Degarmo was not Queensryche's "Syd Barrett" in the least, but a lot of what came out in the press was very similar. For one, let's look into Roger Waters and his claim of being the centerpoint of the band. Its true that he would come up with rough demos and sketches for the rest of the band to flesh out, but the whole band had come up with the music for many of the songs, including their high point as seen by many, Dark Side of the Moon. Roger Waters and Geoff Tate seem to both have the impression that lyrics and lyrical concepts= whole songs but that is just not the case (and as a side note, Roger Waters in recent history has kind of redeemed himself for many of the nasty things he said in the 80's). Geoff Tate plays saxophone, but if he had written "81 percent of Queensryche songs" as he claimed, why the increasing reliance of outside songwriters? Why not present us evidence in demos and guitar tracks he had written and recorded? The truth is already out there, on Queensryche song credits. They are credited to individual band members that cowrote the songs (or in the case of Degarmo occasionally wrote alone) with Geoff, and about 45 percent are Michael Wilton, 55 being Degarmo and occasionally someone else. The idea that Tate was the main SONGwriter (not main lyric writer) is preposterous and not grounded in fact. But a comparison can be made with Waters again as well, though at least Waters actually contributed to more than lyrics and vocal melodies. But listening to the solo demos that Waters did by himself for the Wall for example, its obvious that they were very rough and needed Bob Ezrin and to a lesser extent, David Gilmour, to make them shine. The ideas on Operation Mindcrime as far as concept may be Geoff's, but it took Chris Degarmo and Michael Wilton (alot of Wilton on that one, especially the faster songs and the whole first half) to flesh it out musically, many steps beyond what Floyd had to do with Waters demos. Roger Waters wanted Floyd to stop using the name, and they won the rights the name and had some of the most successful tours while Rogers (somewhat) floundered in comparison, Tate wants the Queensryche name for himself while the band outsold his version of the band nearly double and put out an album, while not perfect, had a lot of the hallmarks that once made Queensryche great. The idea that Momentary Lapse of Reason stylistically took a lot from 70's Floyd but with the flash and not as much substance is a solid argument, and one can also make the claim about Queensryche's new album, while good, doesn't cut as deep as the classic material. Time will tell what will happen with the name and the future history of the band. I will say this, The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking album stomps all over Frequency Unknown a million fold, and that may be an understatement.