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Shred/Metal Mash-Ups

9 Apr

The first 5 minutes or so of this video featuring guitarist Ben Higgins superimposing licks by (mostly) first-class shredders on top of rhythm sections from well-known metal bands is the most fun I’ve had all week:

To my ears, the real gems are the shred/death metal mash-ups. There are some great lead guitarists in death metal (like Trey Azagthoth, featured here) but they tend to default to atonal chromatic runs. This makes sense since the abrasive flight-of-the-bumblebee thing fits the genre aesthetic. The lack of deviation from this approach, however, is largely a function of how atonal chromaticism spares guitarists the hastle of conveying and maintaining a more traditional tonality while playing over frenetically complex, harmonically mercurial riffs. But when skillfully executed (as in the Yngwie/Morbid Angel and Satriani/Nile mash-ups), a solo built from more refined scales tends to sound dramatically more interesting as a complement to lurching down-tuned aggression than 99% of post-Slayer atonal flurries.

Also on offer here: further confirmation that Kirk Hammett is wasted struggling to achieve “shred” over Hetfield’s speedy thrash rhythms—the Load/ReLoad years demonstrated he’s far better suited to languid hard rock grooves and bluesy cadences. So much so that (apparently) he can make even Motley Crüe sound appealing.

 

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A Valentine from Warrel Dane

14 Feb

Celebrate cultural diversity with a traditional Valentine’s Day metal ballad. (And as a bonus, enjoy the most beautiful guitar solo of the nascent millennium courtesy of Mr. Jeff Loomis).


Besides, fellow Americans, BLIZZARD AND FROST ABOUND–you bumpin’ Katrina & the Waves? No. Embrace the metal.

Thanksgiving Youtube Spread

28 Nov


And finally, some text, just in case you’re one of those zealots who takes ritalin even on holidays. I share with you a heartwarming note from my old MRIHR comrade, Harvard researcher John Spritzler:

A holiday in a class society such as ours has two generally opposite meanings: the official meaning that reflects the world view and values of the ruling class, and the meaning that most ordinary people give it. Yes, Thanksgiving’s official meaning is a celebration of the European upper class’s success in dominating the natives of North America (and also, by the way, dominating the working class of European and African descent.) But for the vast majority of ordinary Americans the meaning of Thanksgiving is that it is a day when the family shares a special meal together even if they are living in separate regions of the country normally and it is a day when they give thanks for having each other in their lives and a good meal to enjoy together.

So, which is the more important of the two meanings? Which is the meaning that we should emphasize? I would say that if one wishes to remove the plutocracy from power, then the latter meaning is the most important one, because it helps people see that there is a positive, decent force in the United States–hundreds of millions of good, decent people who no more want to engage in genocide than you or I–and this force is the basis for hope in building a mass revolutionary movement to remove the genocide-committing plutocracy from power.

But, if one has no serious intention of building such a revolutionary movement, if one wishes merely to complain about the problem rather than solve it, if one wishes mainly to show others that one is not a supporter of genocide (as if anybody thought one was), then I suppose it makes sense to emphasize the former meaning of Thanksgiving.

I choose the latter.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

In Praise of Palace Burners

11 Nov

Any respectable list of the nascent millennium’s best metal albums would have to include Lamb of God’s 2003 career high-water mark, As the Palaces Burn.

What a joy it was then, having woken to a cold, blustery Monday morning and now steeling myself to endure its attendant Monday morning hangover commute, to learn that these rugged Virginians have put out a remixed/remastered edition to commemorate the 10th anniversary of this, the band’s best–and, incidentally, most sonically lamented–record.

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While anniversary reissues are often given a fresh mix/mastering tweak as a way of enticing fans into repurchasing something they already have, there were likely additional reasons behind the decision on this one. Both the band and producer (eccentric Canadian maestro Devin Townsend) have admitted in interviews that they were unhappy with the low-budget production. So much so that Randy Blythe has said that he can’t listen to it and prefers live recordings of the material.

I never had an objection, though. The gritty guitar sound lent those dissonant, trebly riffs a suitably jagged, piercing quality that I wouldn’t trade for the cleaner but less lively production of LoG’s breakthrough follow-up album, Ashes of the Wake (2004). And the punchy, organic quality rarely trespassed upon the dense precision of the arrangements. The airpockets buffeting the tight blasts of ‘Ruin”s obliterating post-solo section register clearly and noiselessly.

That said, the retooled audio production does nicely enhance the record’s already crushing suite of sturm und drang. The bottom end has been disinterred and rendered pronouncedly audible, and it blends more smoothly with the (now crisper) shredding guitars. Some clever processing has expunged the slightly cheesy quality from Blythe’s spoken intro vocals on ‘For Your Malice’. In short, it’s a fresh and polished sonic patina on what was already, at core, a flawlessly executed post-thrash album.

I was struck at the end of my first complete listen by the overall concision here. As the Palaces Burn is a remarkably lean and unhesitating novella of a metal record. From front to back it clocks in at a little under 40 minutes (38:06) and feels shorter.

That relatively quick runtime is a key virtue, staving off monotony. For AtPB is neither particularly dynamic nor stylistically diverse. Relatively subtle flourishes like the spectral keyboard tones (classic Devy) which weave under the final syncopated waves of riffage in ‘A Devil in God’s Country’ stand out like a mantis shrimp in a deli lobster tank.

And the songs, for the most part, grind out at a brisk, ceaselessly aggressive pace. Some at a steady gallop; others, like the title track, are sprinting torrents of aural carnage. The lurching downtempo grooves featured on some of the band’s subsequent work (eg. Omerta) are deployed sparingly (though when they are, as on the menacing ‘Ruin’ outro, the results are damn impressive).

When at last we arrive–limping, strung out from adrenal fatigue, probably bleeding internally–at ‘Vigil’, AtPB‘s worthy conclusion, something strange happens. By now accustomed to relentless surging aggression, we’re suddenly disoriented by an unfamiliar sound: clean, chorus-tinged guitar tone, demurely ringing out a softly arpeggiated chord progression. As the guitar is presently complemented by an uneasy electric bass pulse and palpably restrained drum-and-synth flourishes, we rightly flinch, as if in expectation of a blow.

We’ve been abruptly dropped at the eye of the storm. It lasts less than a minute.

Then, the inevitable: Blythe’s deep, rhasping–”Our father, thy will be done…”–announces an upsurge of heavy, overdriven guitar doom. And soon even the layered, plodding stonermetal dirge dies off, to be eclipsed by the frenetic staccatto barrage that’s reigned over our ears for the past half-hour or so.

In short, when these guys switch it up, they do it right.

If the occasion for the remixed reissue and its attendant celebratory fanfare is the 10 year anniversary of a landmark metal album, then I think it’s worth closing with some praise for As the Palaces Burn‘s sadly neglected significance as a small-but-meaningful piece of American cultural history.

It has always struck me as shameful that in the years following the horror of 9/11, as the US decimated and occupied two countries in the name of a transparently propagandistic “War on Terror,” American bands provided disgracefully little in the way of protest music. We should, then, also honor Lamb of God’s unflinching willingness to place front-and-center a fiercely defiant stance against the rampant militarism of the Bush II regime.

Here, I want to caution the metallically  uninitiated against a (blandly literal) misreading of what’s at work in LoG’s rebuke of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld junta. It exasperates me to periodically encounter reviews that indulge in facile condemnations of the lyrics’ witheringly grim political pessimism. 

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The apocalyptic vision is only fitting.

Lamb of God is, after all, a metal band. And read in the appropriate context of their genre, these lyrics mattered.

Speaking personally, I keenly remember being an outspoken budding leftist on fairly conservative college campus. At a time when reactionary frat mooks were prone to do things like scrawl “Go join al-qaeda, faggot!” on my door in permanent marker, I was grateful to Blythe & co. for writing righteous antiwar lyrics (see also) and making videos like this one:


(PS: You can watch the accompanying documentary packaged with the 10th anniversary reissue here.)

Slayer’s Jeff Hanneman Dead at 49

2 May

Damn.

Kerry King is the guy people typically identify as “that guitarist from Slayer” since, unlike Jeff Hanneman, he seemed to revel in appearing in magazines and on TV. But one glance at the liner notes reveals Hanneman wrote the lion’s share of classic Slayer tunes, in turn influencing legions of young guitarists. I’m pretty sure I can still play half of the South of Heaven record from memory and my Slayer fandom was always pretty mild compared to most junior metalheads. I even caught a former classical guitar teacher, in his mid-60s at the time, warming up in his practice room with the main riff from ‘Spill the Blood’.

Hanneman had a creepy fascination with the Holocaust and the history of the Third Reich that occasionally manifested in tasteless lyrical/graphic imagery, so reading over-the-top praise for the guy can make one feel a little queasy. But to my knowledge his actual statements on these matters were pretty mundane and I get the feeling he never wanted to be hagiographed anyway.

RIP

Goin’ Like a Sucka

14 Apr

Every time this Waiting on the World to Change tune comes on the radio (typically at a Starbucks, where it will be in heavy rotation, sometimes the grocery store), I get disappointed after a few bars correct my stubbornly wishful apprehension that it’s What’s up Fatlip?

Jon Huntsman: Prog Nerd

23 Aug

From the Wikipedia entry on Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman:

He is a self-proclaimed fan of the progressive rock genre and played keyboards during high school in the band Wizard.[61] On July 30, 2007, he attended a concert by progressive metal band Dream Theater. Later that day, Huntsman signed a proclamation creating “Dream Theater Day” on that date for the state of Utah.

I think my metal brothers and sisters will join me in finding this to be really hilarious.

Not that this guy has a shot in the 2012 primaries, but I think it’s pretty clear the other Republican hopefuls would eventually use his passion for prog against him if he did. All that virtuosic musicianship reeks of cerebral elitism and (probably liberal) snobbery:

 

And to most Americans, the main reference point for this style is Rush, thus denoting something unpalatably Canadian and, ipso facto, socialist and wimpy.

…Not that Dream Theater lack for wimpiness* in the first place.

“Dream Theater Day” must be one hell of an albatross for a Republican politician to bear. Almost as bad as a record of making reasonable comments on economic policy.

*I actually like this song.