In our last post, we talked about how thanks to the demise of our local scene and our advanced age, handing out flyers to promote our band is a much less viable way to promote than it used to be. Instead, we’ve shifted our time and efforts into running Facebook ads to reach our fans.
Flyers, however, aren’t the only promotional weapon in our arsenal to be displaced by Facebook ads.
In our earlier years, one of our most effective promotional vehicles was the CD sampler. In 2004, we recorded a high-quality, three-song demo at Winterland Studios. Having invested quite a bit of money (at least at the time for 23-year olds) producing this recording, we wanted to make sure we got it out to as many people as possible.
Our friend Chris Peters of independent Sianet Radio owned a thermal printer and CD duplicator and was able to help us make short run copies of this demo which we handed out relentlessly. This demo, which sounded good and wasn’t a shitty CD-R with a Sharpie scrawl, opened a lot of doors for us. In one instance, the day after handing out a batch of samplers, I received a phone call the next day from a Clear Channel rep. I had unknowingly handed him a disc, which he loved. He immediately offered us an opening slot for Exodus – our first opportunity to support a nationally touring band.
The problem with samplers, of course, was their expense. Even doing short runs with Mr. Peters cost us in the neighborhood of $1 per disc. That doesn’t sound too expensive until you remember that giving out 100 discs didn’t necessarily guarantee 100 people were listening to our music. One well-known musician told me years later that I handed him four CDs before he finally stopped throwing them out and put one in his CD player, at which point he discovered he liked us.
The math you have to do when handing out samplers is determining what percentage of the people you hand a sampler to will even listen to it, and what percentage of those people will become a fan as a result.
Let’s say you’re spending $1 per sampler to do a short run. Not a wholly unreasonable price even in 2014. You print 100 CDs. And let’s say it takes $50 worth of your time to hand out all of those CDs – also not an unreasonable estimate. You’re $150 in on your investment.
Let’s estimate that half of the people you hand a sampler out to give it a chance. Probably on the high side, but a fair estimate. And let’s say that of the people who listen to it, about a quarter of them like it. For your $150 investment, you’ve developed 10-15 new potential fans.
Consequently, the cost (if you buy my math) is about $10-$15 per new fan.
For a long time, this was the best investment you could possibly make, particularly if you had a really good quality disc. It worked well for us. The problem is that, again, it’s increasingly difficult to reach a lot of different people handing out samplers at local shows alone. It’s also more difficult to do this as you get older – 21-year olds don’t tend to view people in their mid-thirties handing out CD samplers as being on the forefront of cool, cutting edge music. It’s the same problem we had with flyers.
We needed a solution.
Just as was the case with flyers, we turned to Facebook ads. Facebook ads were particularly appealing to us as they allowed us to directly target people in younger age groups. It’s harder for us to reach younger people now that we’re all over 30. While it’s perfectly natural for most bands to see their core audience age, if we’re going to maintain the ability to draw, we need to figure out how to get younger blood into our crowd. And hanging out at The Garage isn’t the way to do that.
First, we created a web page on our site which is still active at www.cwnannwn.com/metamorphosis. From this page, people could stream or download our song “Stay Forever”. which we embedded from Soundcloud. We then created Facebook ads promoting this page.
All ads were “unpublished posts”, which are just like regular Facebook posts except they’re only distributed via advertising – they’re not served to your fans. All ads targeted people within 50 miles of the Twin Cities who were ages 21-30.
The cool thing about unpublished posts is that it let us tailor the ads to different categories of fans. For example, one set of ads we ran targeted people who were fans of Lacuna Coil. These ads advertised us as “for fans of Lacuna Coil and Within Temptation.” Another set of ads targeted people who were fans of Trivium. These ads advertised us as “for fans of Trivium and Children of Bodom.” See the below.
Running these ads allowed us to track the following:
- Total impressions (times our ad was seen)
- Total people who clicked
- Total Soundcloud plays (both stream and downloads)
- Total new Facebook fans gained as a result of our ads (a reasonable metric approximating how many new fans we won)
How effective was this investment? After spending $150 on ads promoting our new single to various audiences, we received the following:
- 202 people streamed our new single, Stay Forever
- 15 people downloaded the song
- 31 people became fans of Cwn Annwn on Facebook even though there was nothing in our ad asking them to do so
- All of these people fell within the age group we were trying to reach (21-30), and it’s reasonable to assume the vast majority of them had no idea who we were prior to seeing our ad
Whereas CD samplers resulted in us paying somewhere in the neighborhood of $10-$15 per new fan, Facebook ads allowed us to spend less than $5 per new fan ($150 divided by 31 equals $4.83).
In other words, Facebook fans were between two and three times more effective than CD samplers at acquiring new fans, and the people who became fans were in the age bracket that is more likely to come out to shows on a regular basis.
The other cool thing about using Facebook ads to get our music in front of new people is that it allowed us to get a sense for what type of music fan would be into our music. We calculated the amount of money it cost us to acquire a single Facebook fan based on the type of people we were targeting. The results were as follows:
For this campaign, we ended up paying three times more money to get a fan when we targeted people who like Nightwish compared to people who like Testament. In fact, even though we have a female singer and featured her in the ads, attempting to convert a fan of female-fronted metal into a fan of Cwn Annwn was not a cost-effective endeavor. As a result, the next time we run this type of advertising, we’ll likely spend more money on attempting to attract fans of thrash and metalcore than female-fronted metal.
In our last post, we asked whether bands should even bother with flyers, and it’s fair to ask whether they should bother with CD samplers. The answer’s the same – just as with flyers, handing out samplers in person involves handshakes and personal contact that’s especially valuable to younger bands who have next to no contacts or relationships with other bands in the scene. You need relationships and friends when you’re a young band – moreso than you need fans.
Once you have these connections however, if you have a finite budget (and if you’re in a band, you probably do), you’ll get twice the bang for your buck at getting your music out if you opt for Facebook ads instead of CD samplers.
One of the most memorable gigs in Cwn Annwn history took place when we were very young pups. We had landed a Wednesday night gig at the Urban Wildlife in downtown Minneapolis. We were the headlining act, and the two openers were indie-pop bands whose name I can’t remember. We hit the stage a little after midnight and played to about 20-30 of our friends. The indie-pop fans cleared the room pretty quick once we hit the stage.
After the show, the club manager gave me a dressing down, saying that he expected the headliner to bring a lot more people. I was annoyed. We hadn’t been around the block very long, but I knew what your average band was drawing after midnight on a Wednesday, and we had exceeded it. Plus, if the manager was so concerned about draw, maybe he should have made a concerted effort to make sure the bands he books play in even tangentially similar genres.
But despite how unfair I felt this charge was, 20-30 people wasn’t exactly Live At Budokan. I vowed that if my band was going to get read the riot act by promoters and ultimately barred from venues, it was going to be because we just weren’t good enough to make the grade – not because we weren’t willing to put forth the work.
For the next several years, I went to every metal show that I possibly could. I taught myself Photoshop, created some of the shittiest flyers you’ve ever seen and handed them to anyone who would take them. On average, I was attending 2-3 shows a week, shaking everybody’s hand who would extend it – good bands, bad bands, and everything in between.
And it worked. Because we were perceived as a band who was willing to promote, we were asked to be a part of increasingly higher-profile shows and cultivated a bonafide audience. Not as big as the “power” acts of the day who were headlining First Avenue, but big enough to justify a weekend slot at a decent club. One member of a notable band recently told me I actually handed him a CD sampler four separate times over the course of a year. The first three times, he put the sampler in the back of his car and never listened to it. On ball four, he finally popped it in his player, loved it, and has been a fan ever since.
Over time, however, we began to notice that the effectiveness of our flyering efforts had started to wane. At a certain point, just about everybody who went to local shows had made up their mind about us – they either liked us and were willing to come to our shows or they weren’t. The number of new people we were reaching through flyering started to decline pretty noticeably. As a result, the amount of flyers we handed out started to show surprisingly little correlation to attendance at our shows.
Moreover, the effectiveness of any single flyering opportunity had fallen off noticeably. In the mid-aughts, there was a local metal show with at least a hundred in attendance every Friday and Saturday night. Occasionally, there were shows with several hundred. As the scene began to fragment and shows with over 100 attendees became the exception rather than the rule, going out to flyer ceased being cost-effective. Whereas five years earlier I might reach a couple thousand by flyering a few shows, now I was only reaching a few hundred.
Compounding the diminishing effectiveness of flyering was the ever-shrinking amount of time I found myself able to dedicate to it. As you get older, your band starts to end up in serious relationships or getting married. You buy houses cause that’s what responsible people do, and you start working longer hours to make sure you can pay for it. You start to spend a little more time with family. It became increasingly difficult to justify spending my limited time promoting in an environment that wasn’t generating returns. The only reason I continued to flyer to the extent that I did was that it allowed me to maintain a presence in the eyes of the promoters I depended on for shows.
We needed to find a new way.
If you consider yourself a purist, at some point, you’ve probably said “I remember the days when bands handed out flyers and didn’t rely on Facebook for promotion.” And I get it. I can only take so much begging from people I hardly know for votes to land a 10 AM slot on Warped Tour.
At the same time, I want to see Facebook posts from bands I like letting me know about their shows. I don’t care whether my favorite band lets me know about their show by putting a piece of paper in my hand or sticking a post in my news feed. I’d rather know that Noble Beast is playing than miss it because I wasn’t notified the right way.
Here’s one thing most musicians don’t know about Facebook. When you post as your band, you only reach about 6% of your fans.
If you have 1,000 fans, when you post, you only reach about 60 people.
Intuitively, most bands kind of know this. That’s why they post the same thing over and over and over and over and over.
But whereas most bands who recognize the diminishing effectiveness of Facebook posts tend to just complain about the medium, we saw an opportunity to make a meaningful change in how we promote.
Let’s say you want to hand out flyers to promote your show. On Vistaprint, you can order 1,000 flyers for $74.99. Then, you have to hand them out. It’s probably going to take you at least five hours these days to hand out all of them. If your time is worth $15 an hour, you’ve paid a total of $150 to get a thousand flyers out in the wild. At a minimum.
Contrast that to what you get if you pay to advertise your show through promoted Facebook posts. As part of our outreach efforts for our CD release show, we spent $30 promoting posts to make sure we reached as many of our fans as possible – not just six percent. For this $30 spend, our ads were delivered 2,100 times.
In other words, Facebook ads let twice as many people know about our show compared to buying 1,000 Vistaprint flyers, and at $30 versus $150, we paid 20% of what Vistaprint would have charged us.
In plainer English, we got about ten times more bang for the buck buying Facebook ads than we would have buying and handing out flyers.
Should bands stop handing out flyers entirely?
I don’t think so…hence why the post is titled why we rarely flyer anymore. Not why we don’t flyer anymore.
The difference between a flyer and a promoted Facebook post is pretty small if the recipient is a stranger. For example, let’s say you’re standing outside First Avenue yelling “Doro” and handing flyers indiscriminately to those leaving a show. The difference between this interaction and just paying to promote a post in someone’s news feed is pretty minimal.
If you know the recipient, however, it’s more impactful to shake that person’s hand and have a human moment. This is still a relationships business, and impersonal Facebook posts will never fully recreate the intimacy of human contact.
But whereas five years ago, I would have handed out flyers if there was any palm-muted distortion, these days I pick and choose my spots. I’m far less likely to hand out flyers at shows that I know aren’t likely to have a lot of people, or shows that might be more well-attended but is unlikely to be comprised of people who are interested in my band. When I do flyer, it’s either a situation where I know the entirety of the audience is likely to be interested (if you’re promoting a death metal show, it’s worth your time to flyer at the upcoming Death DTA Tours/Obituary show, for example) or if there are going to be a lot of people I personally know in attendance.
Young bands just getting started out should still attempt to flyer even if it’s not necessarily cost-effective, mostly because they probably don’t have the existing relationships that they need to get to the next level. You need to cost-effectively advertise no matter what stage of development you’re at, but if you don’t have any friends in the scene, you need to make some before you do any other promotion. Go to shows. Introduce yourself. Let people know you’re willing to support good music, good clubs and a good scene. Once your band becomes a known quantity in its scene, then you can begin to more effectively transition into paid advertising.
Promoted Facebook posts aren’t just good for handing out virtual flyers — they’re a great way to gain new fans. In our next post, I’ll talk about how we used some of the cool features that Facebook offers to cost-effectively grow our audience in ways we wouldn’t have been able to five years ago.
Another CD release party has come and gone. If you were among the unfortunate majority who were not in attendance, let’s leave it at this – you missed out. Last night’s show at the Triple Rock was an unforgettable extravaganza not even Kid and Play themselves could have topped. Great time. Great bands. Great music. Great club. Great drinks. This is why we do music.
But these sorts of things don’t just come together on their own. Throughout the process of conceiving, writing, recording, and releasing our album, we received untold volumes of help from some amazing people. Now that we’re dwelling in the afterglow, we’d like to take a few moments to pay tribute to those whose efforts were vital in making this project as successful as it was.
Ian Combs and everyone at RiverRock Studios
Thanks to Ian Combs, lead engineer on Metamorphosis, who coaxed the best we had out of us during the recording process and spent untold hours burning the midnight oil in order to produce a truly unbelievable product. If you purchased our CD and you think it’s amazing, know it would be a fraction of what it is without Ian’s involvement. Engineering kudos are also extended to Eric Blomquist of RiverRock Studios, a fantastic Minneapolis recording studio, and assistant engineers Kevin Israel and Evan Ogaard.
Will Maravelas and everyone at Zerobudget Records
Earlier this year, we hooked up with Will and his team at Zerobudget Records, and we couldn’t be happier. Will’s presence has been indispensable throughout the process, from helping us book the release show to securing distribution to promoting the event. Will’s appreciation of Cwn Annwn and his work to bring our music to the masses has and will continue to do great things for us in the future, and we look forward to the fruits of our partnership in the future. Check out the offerings for sale on Zerobudget Records’ online store!
Gabriel And The Apocalypse and Hate Beast
You can’t have a great CD release show without great bands in support. Our friends in Gabriel And The Apocalypse and Hate Beast brought the 100k Scoville heat and kept the evening electric. We want to thank both bands for joining us, all their promotional efforts, and their general awesomeness. And if you missed them, learn more about them in our Music You Need To Hear series on Gabriel And The Apocalypse and Hate Beast.
Triple Rock Social Club
We’ve played countless venues throughout the years. Some are cool. Some aren’t. Some have good sound. Some don’t. Some are easy to work with. Some aren’t. There is no ambiguity, however, about the greatness of the Triple Rock Social Club. When we play a show at the Triple Rock, we know that the sound will be immaculate. We know there won’t be any drama with staff. We won’t be embarrassed to ask our friends to come out because the club is lame or the drinks suck. We’re appreciative that, once again, one of the greatest clubs in the state of Minnesota was willing to host us, and we look forward to a speedy return.
Joe Kellen and Holly Peterson of the U of M Daily
Joe Kellen and Holly Peterson were willing to brave the exorbitant heat and stifling must that defines our practice space and wrote up a really great profile on us in the U of M Daily. Thanks to them for coming out, and make sure you check out their piece here.
Some Really Cool People
A few people really went above and beyond in their willingness to help us get the word out about our disc and spread our music, and for that, we’re eternally grateful.
- Thanks to John McGovern who volunteered to help distribute our music, and has been able to secure favorable reviews of our CD
- Thanks to Mary Zimmer of White Empress who has repeatedly and graciously endorsed our band and raised our profile in the female-fronted metal community
- Thanks to Renee of Aztalan Turf Podcast and Kilted Farmer Koncerts for pimping our music and release party to the darkwave and industrial communities
- Thanks to KMSU’s Midwest Beatdown and Radio K’s Metal Music Machine for the radio airplay
- Thanks to Greg Chilton of Ritual Madness Podcast and Gene Vogel of Disciples Of The Watch Podcast who showed us extensive love and helped us promote our release
Thanks to Anna, Lisa, Meggen and Shawn who put up with us spending a lot of time away from home in a dank practice space, noodling on the couch to metronomes and placing the band first more often than we sometimes should. Thanks to our families who encouraged us in our musical pursuits. And thanks to our work families for their support, encouragement and flexible policies towards PTO.
Those we’ve forgotten
The hardest part about typing these lists is the inevitability of neglecting someone who had a major impact. Such an omission is similar to my failure to purchase toilet paper at the grocery store when we’re out. My forgetfulness is attributable to being a scatterbrain, not a lack of importance. If you think you deserve thanks, you probably do.
Did you buy our CD? Have you shared our band’s Facebook posts? Have you just told someone we’re cool, even if you couldn’t remember how to spell Cwn Annwn? Bands today are made successful not by the greasy A&R label rep but by the little actions of many that mushroom into a big difference. Your appreciation of our music, your willingness to stake your reputation when you advocate it, and your quickness to part with dollars for those encoded audio files and silver discs we produce means more to us than you probably will know. Thank you so much.
With another milestone down, we are looking forward to growing further, and we’re excited to show you all where we’re going. Thanks for being a part of this great journey, and we hope you all continue to stay on the train.
And by the way, we’ll continue to make our album’s first single, Stay Forever, available for free download. If you still don’t have it, grab a copy here.
Despite the fact that the computing technology used to record the genre could put a man on the moon, metal music takes considerable pride in its analog nature. For some hipster purists, anything more sophisticated than overdriven vacuum tubes and active guitar pickups is legal grounds for the dreaded “false metal” label.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that the word “synth” is enough to send most denim-clad headbangers into anaphylactic shock. Yes, the ham-handed, cheese rock applications popularized in the 70s and 80s did no favors to the credibility of synthesized sounds. Still, the graceful beauty of sine, square and sawtooth waves have found themselves largely forbidden from the kingdom of metal.
Which is really too bad. When you think about the defining attributes of metal – aggression, rhythm, depravity and loudness – each of these can be served exceptionally well by synthesis. A true sound sculptor will face little difficulty carving oscillators to complement the caterwauling of well-executed metal.
The extent of the synthesis permitted by most “true” metal music, however, is the gentle, swirling, atmospheric pads that lend symphonic qualities to black and power metal. If athletic enough, the genre also tolerates virtuoso solos à la Children Of Bodom. But want to drop in some white noise, looped samples or arpeggiated synth? GET THAT SHIT OUT OF MY FACE, POSEUR! DEATH TO FALSE METAL! BURZUM 4 LIFE!
What’s interesting is that the bands who have been able to leverage synthesizers and technology to create music that’s aggressive, rhythmic, depraved and loud are thought of first and foremost as industrial rather than metal, even if distorted guitars and chugga-chug rhythms play a prominent role in their sound. Fear Factory is one of the few electronic-reliant bands that is considered metal first and industrial second. Conversely, bands like Rammstein, KMFDM, Sister Machine Gun and Nine Inch Nails are generally considered to be industrial before metal.
In a perfect world, the use of synthesis would not reflexively classify bands as industrial instead of metal. The pinball-bumper-kinetic drum sounds and precision-based riffing of KFMDM is undoubtedly metal. The abrasive 65-minute soundscape that Trent Reznor created on The Downward Spiral is undoubtedly metal. And the scorching, pulsating rhythms of Ministry are undoubtedly metal. But by and large, most people consider industrial and metal to be wholly separate from each other, and they tend to divide their loyalties accordingly.
Until the explosion of djent-acts such as After The Burial and Reflections, Minnesota’s most recognized contributions to metal on a national level blossomed from industrial roots. The success of American Head Charge, capped off by a nationally acclaimed record and an Ozzfest tour, helped create the most vibrant and united metal scene the state has ever known, paving the way for an era where local metal shows had crowds in excess of 1,000 on a regular basis.
Today, Minnesota’s strong industrial tradition is carried on by Gabriel And The Apocalypse. Like Cwn Annwn, Gabriel And The Apocalypse has been around for a long time. The first time I saw the band was at the Urban Wildlife (where I swear I saw them as a four-piece with all different members except for lead singer Lindy Gabriel), and although I can’t remember the exact date, I’m reasonably sure it was prior to 2004 based on this flyer. Like us, they’re one of the few Minneapolis metal bands who have managed to crack the decade plus club.
It doesn’t take much listening to learn that Gabriel And The Apocalypse is a good fit for people who appreciate the angsty, hyper-distorted industrial mania perfected by Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson. On Here Comes The Crash, the frenetic drums of Deter Steinkamf (sorry if I got this wrong – not entirely sure if this is who did drums) during the verse do an excellent job capturing the apocalyptic energy of famous mid-90s industrial à la Wish or Big Man With A Gun. Lindy Gabriel’s distorted vocals more than capably evoke Trent Reznor at his distorted best.
Whereas Here Comes The Crash showcases the band’s ferocity, Silent War exhibits a more fragile, brooding beauty. Keyboardist Figgles Mcgee’s piano intro is particularly well composed, introducing a pseudo-classical sound reminiscent of early-era Tori Amos. A strong, memorable chorus driven by droning guitars and well-crafted synth shows the influence of gothic mainstays Lacuna Coil and Within Temptation.
The longevity of Gabriel And The Apocalypse is particularly evident on Until We Dream – the band’s newest and easily most mature and well-constructed track. Until We Dream illustrates the band’s full mastery of industrial and metal conventions, marked by a strong interplay between McGee’s keys and the guitars of Jake LaCore and Cody Hoffman. Rather than competing for prominence, McGee, LaCore, and Hoffman have carefully sculpted their instruments to gracefully bring out the best in each other. A pulsing, electronic bass sound helps create a driving rhythm that makes the song suitable for inclusion in a vampire-movie rave – the truest indicator of quality industrial music as anyone knows.
But what’s the best part about Gabriel And The Apocalypse? They’re providing direct support for us at our Metamorphosis CD Release Party on Friday, July 18th at the Triple Rock Social Club in downtown Minneapolis. From now until the show, you can download the album’s first single, Stay Forever, for free by clicking here.
It’s been six months, but Cwn Annwn is finally making a live appearance. It’s our last show before our upcoming CD release. Get your fixin’ while the fixin’ is good to get.
Saturday May 31st, Cwn Annwn hits the Nether Bar (basement of Mill City Nights) with Noble Beast, Maeth and Rad Enhancer.
18+, music starts at 8:30. Some sort of cover. More than 5 but less than 10.
Want to see if your friends are coming? RSVP on the official Facebook event page.
“Simple” is a common charge levied by headbangers against more popular styles of music. Contemporary music’s slavery to verse-chorus-verse and indifference towards technical athleticism, they say, render it inferior to metal – a genre that’s nobly willing to sacrifice mass appeal at the altar of brutality and virtuosity.
And as Pitbull and Crazy Town have shown us, contemporary music is often crappier. But any focus on simplicity as the root cause of musical inferiority is misplaced. While complexity is a potent pepper that can add much-needed flavor and zest to a dish, it can just as easily transform even the best ingredients into something wholly inedible.
When constructing music, complexity is a highly volatile tack. Done well, complexity can add a distinctive layer to an otherwise conventional approach – think of how Master Of Puppets’ quickly shifting time signatures add to the song. Carefully practiced, complexity can also evoke moods that are difficult to replicate through traditional means – a feat achieved throughout Cynic’s entire catalogue, for example.
In metal, however, the application of complexity is often ham-fisted and done for its own sake. This frequently manifests as music that can be identified by the presence of the phrase “influenced by Meshuggah”, where sonics takes a clear back seat to mathematics.
Many times, excessive complexity takes work to appreciate. I personally think that The Dillinger Escape Plan and Between The Buried And Me are two of the best active metal acts today, but it’s hard to find condemnation in my heart for people who say they don’t get what those bands are doing.
When complexity is at it’s best, it’s almost imperceptible to your average listener. Anybody who has ever played in a band knows that Rush is flying at altitudes most of us will never touch, but your average classic rock listener perceives precious little difference in complexity between The Spirit Of Radio and, we’ll say Hot Blooded. Metallica was also a master of `invisible’ complexity – Beavis and Butthead themselves could recite the entirety of And Justice For All without any knowledge of the sophisticated composition that underpinned the headbanging.
The best way to incorporate complexity, in my experience, is to approach it like a stompbox. Just as the balance between clean and distortion creates dynamics that take listeners through a song’s natural peaks and troughs, the careful application of both complexity and convention can have an equally powerful impact, weaving emotional textures that serve as an expression of the individual artist.
Which brings me to Nopathy.
Nopathy, a self-described poly-genre metal band from Minneapolis and one of our favorite acts, has mastered the art of balancing complexity, simplicity and convention in order to mold a highly original sound. Nopathy possesses the ability to synthesize a coherent, powerful milieu from ideas that could easily dissolve into a hot mess – a strength attributable to the band’s extensive experience. Seasoned veterans of various Minnesota bands, few acts boast as many combined years of on-stage experience as guitarists Tony Williams and Chris Colaianni, bassist Stunner Magnuson and drummer John Standish.
While a tool in the band’s arsenal (as evidenced in the full-on death-metal triplet bridge in Steps), hyper-precision metal riffing à la Soilwork or Lamb Of God is not the band’s primary currency. Rather, it’s Colaianni and Williams’ interplay of dissonant, mid-tempo riffs that create the moods of melancholy and somber that define the band’s output. The intro of Cloak exemplifies this approach via a sinking open-string line that’s set against a medicated, descending drone, creating the auditory equivalent of a Neil Gaiman dreamscape.
The album’s title track boasts a similar construct, using dissonant intervals and melodies within the main riff to summon a sense of despair that, in less-skilled hands, would come off more suburban than gothic. A non-traditional 6/8 groove (a rarity for most metal bands, but a staple for Nopathy who also use the time signature in Steps) allows the listener to gently float through the harsh tones, softening the path down Williams’ and Colaianni’s dark rapids.
In a sense though, these aren’t unexplored grounds for the experienced metalhead. Whether you were introduced to these waters by Opeth, Type O Negative or Paradise Lost, these currents are fairly familiar and traversed. What makes Nopathy’s sound unique, however, is their ability to craft strong, powerful vocal lines that mask the complexity of the backing music. Just as is the case with Cynic, Rush and Metallica, you don’t tend to notice how jarring Nopathy’s guitars and arrangements are because the pieces are effectively cemented together by Williams’ saccharine, yet solemn cries.
Nopathy’s poly-genre, melodic approach works best when the brand gracefully glides from ornate to traditional, as they do in Steps. A chromatically-driven verse that Mikael Åkerfeldt would beam with pride at gives way to a glossy, modern-rock chorus featuring Williams’ channeling Jerry Cantrell circa 1995/Grind. The song ultimately climaxes on a straight-forward triplet machine gun interspersed with sweep guitar bursts.
Lest there be any ambiguity about Nopathy’s strength as technicians, Obsolescent features a creative arpeggio construct that transitions into a hyper-aggressive pre-chorus buttressed by Colaianni’s tortured screams and a frenetic drumming assault from Standish. After what is easily the album’s hookiest chorus, a more traditional poly-rhythmic groove successfully conjures the ghosts of late-90s Slipknot and Mudvayne. The song is then capped off by a full-on thrash assault that’s periodically interrupted by a guitar tapping sequence reminiscent of an Atari Space Invader meeting its doom.
To say that Nopathy is a sophisticated band that draws influence from dark progressive bands such as Opeth, Cynic and Katatonia would be accurate, but still somewhat understated. Nopathy is a rare progressive act in that not only do they have the chops to walk in their heroes’ footsteps, they possess the ability to balance showmanship and restraint – complexity and simplicity – in order to create a powerful, original dark sound that is neither derivative nor replicable.
At 34, I’m not an old man. But one thing about metal that has definitely changed for the worse over the years is the genre’s excessive fragmentation. When I was growing up, metal predominantly came in three flavors: thrash, death and glam. To a certain extent black, hardcore, nü and power were legitimate sub-genres as well. But a band’s specific genus was never as important as the quality of their output. Any differences in sound between Fear Factory, Slayer and Iron Maiden were generally associated with the bands themselves, not an implicit commitment to a sub-genre. These were metal bands first – secondary classifications took a backseat.
Today, however, Wikipedia has identified 51 distinct sub-categories within the metal genre ranging from Medieval Metal to Drone Metal to Symphonic Black Metal to Nintendocore. And honestly, 51 probably understates it. Metal fans have also become increasingly obsessed with classifying bands. A search for the exact phrase What genre is Lamb of God – those words in that exact order – produces 68 results on Google alone.
In and of itself, obsessive-compulsive classification is neither good nor bad. The harm it inflicts, however, is the extent to which it promotes divisiveness within metal as a whole. Go to a djent show and it’s an entirely different audience from a death metal show, which in turn is an entirely different audience from a black or power metal show. Each of these sub-genres view the distances between them as far more vast than they actually are. For many, the chasm between Whitechapel and 1349 is as sizable as the gap between the latter and Katy Perry.
Consequently, while individual sub-genres have never been stronger, in many cases, their gains have come at the expense of metal as a whole. The following charts indicate how often people in the United States have Googled “heavy metal” and “djent” over time.
While the scope of my collection is pretty diverse and includes acts in virtually every major sub-genre, I’ve always found myself most drawn towards bands that defy categorization. In many cases, this includes bands whose sound is so breakthrough and original that any attempt to label them is done for academic purposes only, such as The Dillinger Escape Plan. More often, however, these tend to be bands whose sound escapes traditional pigeon-holing and is simply best identified as “metal”, like Iron Maiden or even Iced Earth.
Given my affinity for bands that are most accurately described as “metal”, my love for Twin Cities band Hate Beast is somewhat unsurprising. Traditional labels suit the band poorly. They’re not metalcore. They’re not death. They’re not prog. Thrash is perhaps closest, but the band still drifts far enough from the genre’s conventions for the label to fit particularly well.
Simply put, Hate Beast is metal. No-bullshit metal. Hate Beast’s 2013 EP, Civilization And Its Discontents, is a potent tincture of Slayer, Mastodon and Lamb of God processed through a Metal-Mix blender. There are no breakdowns. No epic choruses. No pandering to the gods of faux-brutality. Simply put, Hate Beast is a refreshing homage to bands of all eras whose artistic goals were singularly-focused – getting the audience to bang their heads.
On the EP’s title track, guitarists Aaron Havlicek and Carlos Lebron display a strong sense of balance and dynamics through a galloping guitar line featuring carefully applied harmonies that evoke the best of All That Remains. Lebron’s opening solo sets a melancholy mood that is reinforced by drummer Yousif Del Valle’s pulsing triplet kicks. And while many bands might have crafted a paint-by-numbers hooky chorus that lamented the loss of a suburban lover in order to curtail favor with the local modern rock station, Havlicek’s unrelenting guttural vocals remind you that if you’re here for any other reason but getting your ass kicked, you’re in the wrong place.
On Into the Darkness, Hate Beast demonstrates a mastery of modern metal technique with a blistering riff lifted straight from Trivium’s Ascendancy. Del Valle keeps a quickly shifting arrangement that could have easily turned to mush in the hands of a lesser drummer on point with sharp transitions, aggressive double-bass and metronomic precision. Havlicek’s quirky harmonies and tortured screams recreate the mood of total annihilation reflected in the album’s cover art, while bass player Kevin Dupre exhibits monstrous chops through meticulous lines that stitch the song together.
The Executioner, perhaps the band’s most well-known song, begins with an aggressive attack reminiscent of Megadeth’s Train of Consequences on steroids. Hate Beast’s tribute to Dave Mustaine continues with a pounding triplet assault that quickly morphs into a more traditional, Bay-area-thrash verse flanked by tight guitars and lyrics that celebrate history’s most vaunted ambassador of justice – the burly, hooded axeman. Lebron’s shredding ability and appreciation of Kirk Hammett are brought to the forefront through a meticulous Ride the Lightning-esque solo that transitions into one of the band’s most memorable choruses.
All in all, Hate Beast serves as a reminder that adherence to a restrictive sub-genre isn’t vital to being able to kick ass. As artists, Hate Beast’s goals are the same as those pursued and achieved by metal’s greats – be loud, be powerful, and leave the audience’s ears bleeding and necks sore.
Sadly, bassist Kevin Dupre recently made the decision to part ways with the band, leaving Hate Beast with a significant void in the low-end. Although talented bass players these days essentially have their choice of bands, anybody capable of navigating the bottom end with speed and precision and wants to be part of a kick-ass unit should get in contact with the band through their website or Facebook page.