Cwn Annwn

Twin Cities Metal You Need To Hear: Nopathy

Nopathy Card

“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.

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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.

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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.

Listen to Nopathy on Soundcloud!

Become a fan of Nopathy on Facebook!

Twin Cities Metal You Need To Hear: Hate Beast

Hate Beast Slide

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.
 

Heavy Metal

Djent

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.

 

Hate Beast

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.

Concert Review: Noble Beast, Pestifere, Dawn of Valor, Plagued Insanity

Noble Beast

Since the closing of many Twin Cities venues that were conducive to metal, most notably Station 4, I haven’t made it out to many shows. Not only are there far fewer opportunities to see bands of the noisy persuasion in action, but the few that occur tend to take place in the hellscape of suburban peripheries. There’s nothing like the prospect of a 50-minute drive to Savage to make a Burn Notice marathon seem like the more attractive option for spending an evening. So when I caught wind that Noble Beast would be having their CD release at the Cause Soundbar in Uptown alongside Pestifere, Dawn of Valor and Plagued Insanity, I made sure to carve out time on my calendar.

And for fans of righteous metal, it was an evening well spent. To my delight (and I’m sure the bands’ as well), the room was packed for the duration of the evening – a far too uncommon scenario for Twin Cities metal shows in recent years. Each band played to a crowd that was expansive, engaged, and engorged on palm-muted distortion.

So while the evening inhabitants moshed and drank cheap beer, I paid close attention to bands who, while having been on my radar for a while, I had never actually seen until that night.
 

Plagued Insanity

Plagued Insanity brought me back to my youth when I was a much, much thrashier dude. While the band fastidiously adhered to the rules of 80s Bay Area leather and spike etiquette, it was Plagued Insanity’s punkish undertones that really caught my ear. Although not listed as an influence on their site, the interplay of held-out power chords (sometimes major key progressions!) over speed beats and guttural vocals evoked ghosts of Kreator’s State Oppression cover. Perhaps most impressively, Plagued Insanity’s two-minute assaults were able to move a music crowd in Uptown to mosh – a feat whose significance should not be understated! In fairness, however, if a band with a chain-mail clad drummer named “Hammersmith Fucklord” failed to incite violence, I would have felt cheated.

Check out Plagued Insanity on Facebook!

 

Dawn of Valor

It had been a long time since I’ve seen Dawn of Valor, and I hadn’t quite realized how much of the band had been rotated. New vocalist Justin Howland did a really nice job underpinning the band’s power metal riffage with a commanding stage presence and strong lead lines. If you haven’t listened to them in a while, Dawn of Valor has really taken marked steps towards a thrashier sound à la Iced Earth and Jag Panzer with heavily galloping rhythm guitar and discordant, epic interludes. John Leibel’s proficiency as a lead guitarist is also highly underrated – the man can shred.

Check out Dawn of Valor on Facebook!

 

Pestifere

Pestifere isn’t normally the type of band I would listen to. On their website, they describe themselves as melodic blackened death metal, which raises a caution flag with me – if a band needs three adjectives to describe their genre, it’s probably designed for a metal fan more discriminating and sensitive to nuance than myself. But Pestifere was extremely polished, and perhaps more importantly, effective at weaving a haunting, foreboding sound. The guitar lines were melodic enough to be accessible, but carefully sculpted to make sure that doom and despondence was all one could take away. Pestifere’s fluctuating tempos and avant-garde arrangements successfully built a pummeling wall of sound, but one that didn’t devolve into a piercing drone after two songs – a common pitfall for this type act. Impressive overall.

Check out Pestifere on Facebook!

 

Noble Beast

Closing out the night was Noble Beast. Having never seen the band live before (my only previous exposure was an old demo recording), I was instantly struck by the band’s primary three influences: Blind Guardian, Blind Guardian and Blind Guardian.

Mind you, that’s not intended to be a disparaging observation. Blind Guardian has long been one of metal’s most underrated bands. Singer Hansi Kürsch actually sits within my list of the top ten metal vocalists of all time, while guitarists André Olbrich and Marcus Siepen helped pioneer the speedy power riffage later made mainstream by bands such as Dragonforce.

But if you’re going to wear Blind Guardian on your sleeve, your back and your forehead, you’d better have the chops to pull it off. Thankfully, Noble Beast does. These guys were extremely tight, which was no small feat given the speed and complexity of the guitar lines. Beyond the technicality, however, what impressed me about Noble Beast was the nuance and attention to details. Most bands that I see who try this type of music figure out decent guitar harmonies and stop there. Guitarists Rob Jalonen and Matt Hodsdon have clearly put in the time and effort to ensure their lines were equally melodic and rhythmically distinct. Attention to detail is what separates first-rate from flotsam in this style, and Noble Beast fits into the former.

I also was fortunate enough to pick up a copy of their self-titled full-length and was equally impressed. Unlike a lot of recordings I come across from unsigned bands in this genre, Noble Beast’s full-length boasted a professional-quality mix. Appropriate balance, reasonable volume and no apparent EQ butchering immediately placed Noble Beast in the upper echelon of independently-released recordings in my collection.

More importantly, however, the songs were strong. Noble Beast’s mastery of power metal conventions results in an experience that is, although familiar, unabashedly delightful. Creative guitar harmonies, such as the stuttering bridge in The Dragon Reborn or the Maiden-esque interlude of We Burn, demonstrate authentic and honest passion for the genre, while blistering solos (such as the Hammett hurricane in Disintegrating Force) showcase the band’s virtuosity.

It’s when Jalonen painstakingly recreates the multi-part vocal harmonies of Blind Guardian, however, that the album truly reaches its apex. The magnetic chorus of Behold the Face Of Your Enemy features a meticulous construction whose insidious hook belies its complexity, while the judicious application of multiple vocal layers helps bring the album’s title track to life.

Check out Noble Beast on Facebook!

Listen to Noble Beast’s album on Bandcamp!

Classic Cwn Annwn Gig Posters

When you’re a poor, unsigned band, you’re creating your own gig posters. And when there’s nobody in your band with any design talent, the job ends up falling onto the guy who was able to come across an outdated version of Photoshop.

Over the years, we’ve played many shows, and as a result, I (Neil) became the master of the Magic Wand and Drop Shadow tools in Photoshop. I also developed quite the knack for Googling How to -blank- in Photoshop and following tutorials. As such, I created many the amateur poster.

Going through my computer today doing some routine cleanup, I came across a number of old gig posters I had made (and a handful that others had made). Sadly, the really old ones never survived a computer migration. A handful of them were printed out and hang up in my basement and will have to be scanned in at a later date. I was pleased, however, to find such a variety of bands and venues that we were lucky to collaborate with over the years.

Enjoy, and if you have any old posters you’re sitting on, feel free to mail them to neil [at] cwnannwn.com!

Aeous - 14 Clicks - These Worlds Collide - Cwn Annwn

Autonomy - January Voodoo - Cwn Annwn

Cimmerian - Cwn Annwn

Civil Definition - A Second From The Surface - Cwn Annwn

Cold Colours - Epicurean - Paroxysm - Cwn Annwn

Epicurean - Defile - LTD - Cwn Annwn

Killwire - Echoes Of The Fallen - Cwn Annwn

Less Than Nothing - Lost In Prague - Cwn Annwn

Lost In Prague - Less Than Nothing - Cwn Annwn

Necromis - Vile Red - Indethist - Cwn Annwn

Quazar - Necromis - Vain - Cwn Annwn

Revelence - Cwn Annwn - Among The Living - Risingfall

Risingfall - Arcangel - Cwn Annwn

Skeletonwitch - Cwn Annwn

SpacemanIAm - In Tandem - Cwn Annwn

The Goodyear Pimps - Cwn Annwn - Kwang - Model 43

Trivium - Gojira - Cwn Annwn

Usurper - LTD - Defile - Cwn Annwn

VIle Red - Cwn Annwn

35 Famous Metal Songs As Minimalist Charts

Recently, Flowing Data published an awesome poster – Famous Movie Quotes As Charts. It was an extremely clever take on iconic cinema through a minimalist lens.

Inspired, we attempted to reduce some of the most famous metal and hard rock songs ever made into similar minimalist charts and created the following poster. We had an absolute blast doing this, and we hope you enjoy it!

35 Famous Metal Songs As Minimalist Charts

Embed This Image On Your Site (copy code below):

Twin Cities Metal You Need To Hear: We Are Legion

We Are Legion 1

The history of extreme metal in the Twin Cities is richer than those from out of the area might think. Minneapolis and St. Paul has spawned legacy acts such Anal Blast, respected veterans such as Demonicon, strong newcomers such as Ghost Hook, and djent-superstars such as, well, take your pick.

That said, Cwn Annwn has always had a complex relationship with death metal. Many of the genre’s fans (and musicians) have historically viewed us as, uh, well, pussies. Such is life. But the instances where we’ve developed friendships with bands of the extreme persuasion have typically been rooted in a mutual admiration for technical prowess. While you won’t hear much of it in our own sound, we’ve always held a deep respect for the highly-honed skills of death metal bands like Obscura, Carcass and Nile.

One band who exemplifies the best that Twin Cities death metal has to offer is We Are Legion. Active since 2009, We Are Legion is a five-piece strike squad of brutality that has shared the stage with numerous touring acts including Deicide, Chimaira, and Obscura. In September 2013, the group debuted their second full-length album, Exit Humanity, through Zero Budget Records.

Quality drumming is the price of admission for any death metal band looking to be taken seriously. And while most acts stop once they have double-bass and blast beats down to a science, drummer Aaron Lanik brings an added dimension and well-rounded approach to We Are Legion’s percussion arising from his extensive background in non-death projects, including Pink Gorilla Vs. Panda Bear and Echoterra. On The Plague Becomes, Lanik combines blasts done at a speed that has to be calculated in Mach units with flourishes that serve as the perfect punctuation to paragraphs of hostility.

Like few other genres, death metal demands athletic aptitude and versatility. Most guitarists possess one of those two. Paul Esch and Will Maravelas, however, bring both to We Are Legion. All throughout Exit Humanity, you’ll find the requisite shredding and arpeggio flares. But its Maravelas and Esch’s ability to add contrast to their demonic trem picking that help We Are Legion stand out in a highly cluttered genre. The tight Schuldiner-influenced triplet riff in A Celestial Awakening, the Spanish-flamenco intro to Shavasana, and jazz-influenced interlude of Ecophagy in particular are examples of strokes not often found in the genre’s repertoire, and their presence accentuates the chaos of the duo’s more traditional death metal assaults.

Vocalist Allan Towne and bassist Neal Pruett are equally critical to We Are Legion’s ability to crush heads. One of the oldest active scene veterans, Towne combines a picture-perfect death metal growl with a refined instinct for catalyzing and directing the band’s on-stage energy. Longtime metaller Pruett is no slouch either, supplying matching freneticism to We Are Legion’s low-end.

Perhaps more importantly, We Are Legion are even better people than they are musicians (and that’s no dig at the latter). Towne in particular has worked tirelessly since his days fronting Si6ks to advance the Twin Cities metal scene, promoting bands for no more reason than a deep love for independent music. Al is the founder and primary contributor to Undead Metal Scene TV a YouTube channel with over 100 videos featuring unsigned Minnesota metal acts.

In addition to being a well-known presence at Guitar Center, Maravelas reps for Zero Budget Records, an independent label that has helped distribute the latest from Killwire, Saturnalia, Eldergaad and Witchden among others. Will is also the proprietor of 14:59 Studios, which has recorded Cold Colours, Dawn of Valor, These World Collide and many more.

Purchase “Exit Humanity” from We Are Legion

Become a fan of We Are Legion on Facebook

Catch We Are Legion at Goat Fest, January 24th and 25th in Mankato

Advice For Young Bands On How To Level Up

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Depending on when you want to start the clock, Cwn Annwn has been a band for 12-16 years. And like any band who has crossed the double-digit mark, we’ve enjoyed plenty of good times and we’ve suffered through lots of bad times.

Sadly, we’ve never achieved what are typically considered the standard industry benchmarks of a successful career in rock and roll: a lucrative record deal, wheelbarrows of coke and bevies of silicone-injected strippers.

That said, we’ve been blessed with numerous opportunities to share the stage with nationally-recognized acts we admire. If my hands were to get chopped off tomorrow, I’d be able to look at what we’ve accomplished with far more satisfaction, gratefulness and pride than regret.

Recently, it occurred to us that we’ve picked up a lot of wisdom about the music biz over the years that might be of use to a young band struggling to make a name for themselves. Although we’ve been fortunate to have received counsel throughout our career from accomplished scene veterans, more often than not, we had to figure things out for ourselves. And the resources out there to help a young band figure things out on their own leave a lot to be desired.

To that end, we wanted to share some of what we’ve learned with you, the legions of young musicians and bands who are bumbling about the Internets. Hopefully, you can pick up a few nuggets of helpful information and avoid having to learn things the hard way like we frequently had to.

What Four to Five Sweaty Dudes And The Occasional Female Vocalist Want

A byproduct of our longevity is that we’ve been able to witness many an independent band progress through their lifecycle. In some cases, we’ve seen musicians work their way through three, four, even five different projects.

And while every band is different in terms of genre, style, savvy, odor, et cetera, there’s a common thread that binds all of them – they all want more fans.

The process of acquiring fans is part art and part science. While the art part will be unique to every band, the science component tends to be more straightforward.

The first step any original band needs to take is to set appropriate goals. Setting goals, however, is surprisingly hard when you’re young, dumb and don’t know anything. What exactly is an appropriate goal?

Most local bands who see a fellow independent act playing to 800 people in the First Avenue Mainroom (or whatever the prestigious venue is in your city) are prone to one of two reactions. They either get discouraged because they have no fucking clue how they would ever get to that point, or they just assume that the big-drawing-act has some sort of advantage (like rich parents) that are responsible for their success and get pissed.

Neither reaction is productive. Yes, there are bands who are sporting jetpacks unattainable us mere plebeians, but most of the acts who’ve tasted success have done so primarily through sweat equity. And with rare exception, they all started the same way Cwn Annwn and everyone else’s band did – playing a Monday night at one of the city’s D-level bars.

When you’re starting out in your band, you need to know what “level” you’re at. Your immediate goal isn’t to figure out how to mooch your way onto a First Avenue or national show you don’t deserve. Your goal should be to figure out how to get to the next “level”. Once you get to that level, your goal then should be to proceed to the next level. Eventually, by progressing through levels, writing halfway decent music and picking up some breaks along the way, you’ll be that band who can be on a first-name basis with the premiere booking agents in town.

“Wait,” you’re asking, “what are these `levels’ you speak of? I’ve never heard of these!”

It’s a fair question. These “levels” don’t exist in a book or a guide. But they’re very much real. Virtually every band I’ve known over the years fits into one of them, and the smarter, hungrier ones are doing what it takes to advance to the next one.

If you’re going to get to the next level, however, you need to know which one you’re at.

No Crowd

Level One: Anonymity

Unless you or someone in your band was in something recognizable, chances are, you’re starting out here. Nobody knows you. Nobody has heard of you. You are anonymous. In a sense, you’re a little ahead of some other bands in that you don’t yet have a bad reputation. Nevertheless, anonymity is a frustrating stage for any band. Any opportunities you do come across are likely to involve crappy nights at dreck venues and possibly unscrupulous promoters.

That’s okay though. Just about every successful band has been there. Here are the keys to graduating from anonymity to the next level:

  • Learn to be comfortable playing on stage. Try to understand the nuances of what constitutes a good live act (things like eye contact with the audience, stage movement) and moving around.
  • Go to as many shows in your genre as you can. Big bands. Small bands. Big venues. Small venues. Try and develop a sense of bands you might want to play with and how advanced they are in their career relative to you.
  • It should go without saying, but when you do play, try to draw as many people as you can. You don’t need to draw 100 at this point, but you need to have more than five.
  • Don’t play too many gigs – a good rule at all levels but particularly the early ones. Your friends will stop going if you play too many shows and your draw will suffer. Worse, you will start to get a reputation as a band that can’t bring anybody.
  • Focus on being professional. Honor your commitments, have a positive attitude and build good habits now. Your reputation is the primary vehicle that will carry you through each level, and your goal at this stage should be to avoid tarnishing it.

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Level Two: Making Allies

At this point, you’ve played a few shows. While you may have exhibited some growth, you might be discouraged that you’re not selling out arenas. Don’t get too down, but what got you here isn’t going to get you there. Pretty soon, your friends are going to get tired of seeing you play, and you need to figure out a way to get people to know who you are.

To get to the next level, you need to become known within your genre.

  • Your goal at this stage is to start getting bands who are more established than yourselves to offer you chances to open up for them. Ensuring that they like you is critical to making this happen.
  • Start introducing yourself to bands and musicians within your genre. Make friends with them at their shows and support them.
  • Be somewhat liberal in how you define your genre. If your band plays symphonic power metal or blackened death metal, you should frankly just be looking to play with any metal band. If you’re good enough, you should still be able to attract followers by opening for acts in different sub-genres. Some of the most successful shows Cwn Annwn ever had in terms of gaining new fans and selling merch were when we played with straight rock bands. Don’t be a snob.
  • If all goes as planned, a few people in your scene will have heard of your band and you should start drawing people who aren’t personal friends to your shows.

If you haven’t done so already, you should consider making plans to a record a demo. With a demo, quality trumps quantity. Two killer songs recorded at premium quality beats seven good songs with mediocre production. You don’t need a top-flight demo to advance through these levels. I’ve seen plenty of bands do so without it, but having a three-song demo produced at a premium studio really helped us significantly early on.

Credit: Pete Cronin / Redferns Agency: Redferns

Level Three: Gaining Influence

You’ve been starting to build a name for yourself opening for bigger acts, but eventually, you’re going to need to become the bigger act. But to become the bigger act, you need to be able to draw enough to make booking agents comfortable with giving your band control over quality dates. That’s level four. If you try to skip level three, you’ll end up putting on a Friday night show at a premiere venue to 30 people. Good luck getting that booking agent to trust you again.

At level three, your goal is to continue building your crowd so that when Mr. Big Shot Booking Agent gives you those good dates, you don’t let him or her down. How do you do that?

  • You need to start opening for bigger bands on a more consistent basis – it isn’t enough to just open for any band in your genre.
  • The best way to accomplish this is to start approaching bigger bands, but just begging isn’t going to get it done. More established bands are savvier, and in general, you need them more than they need you.
  • In level three, you’re going to start acknowledging the elephant in the room – money. To this point, it’s probably been about equal door splits and “brotherhood”. That dog doesn’t hunt when working with more established bands. The distribution of wealth on this level is likely to be unequal, and possibly negative for you. Consider it an investment.
  • When approaching bigger bands, you’re going to need to proactively offer them appropriate “tribute” – typically a pre-determined percentage of the door, a guarantee, or both. If you want a big band to headline a show with you on it, you’ll need to promise them 40-50% of the door or guarantee them whatever that equivalent is. They still might say no, but your “yes” percentage will go up significantly.
  • Not only will you gain fans more quickly opening for larger bands, but you’ll also begin to be viewed as a peer of more established acts, building your reputation.

 

independent-woman-copy1

Level Four: Self-Sufficiency

How do you know you’re at level four? If you play a show, your band can bring somewhere between 40 and 100 people regardless of the lineup. At this point, you should have enough sway to begin booking your own shows on good nights (Fridays and Saturdays) at good venues. Your goal, however, isn’t any different. You need to continue to build your fanbase. But the considerations you need to make have changed somewhat since level one.

  • Don’t play too many shows. One a month, tops, unless special circumstances dictate otherwise. You will dilute how many people you can draw if you play too many shows, which endangers your ability to keep getting good dates at good venues from booking agents.
  • Don’t limit yourself to one or two venues. Build relationships with as many venues and booking agents as you can. Besides playing too many shows, the biggest mistake I’ve seen bands at level four make is limiting themselves to playing at just one venue or working with one promoter. Venues close. Promoters get out of the business. If your venue closes or your promoter gets out of the business, your band will backslide to level three pretty quickly.
  • Play with a range of bands. You’ll probably have made some friends at this point, and it will be tempting to play all of your shows with the same 4-6 bands in your circle. Don’t do that. Play with bands out of your genre. Play with bands out of your circle. If you keep playing with the same bands over and over, you’ll be playing to the same crowd, and you’ll have a tough time growing your fanbase.

 immortal

Level Five: Building A Network

To this point, I haven’t even talked about going out of town. You should be able to get to level four in just about any urban area in the world. But if you’ve got your heart set on cocaine and strippers, you’re going to need to get your band on the road.

Doing out-of-town right, however is an art. Just packing up and touring was a questionable investment before gas hit $4 a gallon and unemployment spiked. But that said, you don’t need to book self-financed tours destined for sadness in order to have some out-of-town success.

  • Spend time online and research who the big bands are in other cities that you’d like to play with.
  • Take extra time, if possible, to try and researching the reputation of any band you’d like to play with. You probably have a sense of who sucks to work with in your own town, but you’ll have no clue about what’s going on in someone else’s city. You don’t need to find a perfect reputation – you’re just making sure there aren’t any red flags.
  • Book your shows like you would in level four, but ask one of these out of town bands if they’d like to open. Make it contingent that this show is contingent on them having you open for them in your town. Very rarely will you be turned down.
  • Follow up like a dog to get your out-of-town show. Pretty often, the band you brought in will “forget” to return the favor. Be nice, but be persistent.
  • Build your out-of-town crowd using the principles you picked up in levels one through four.

 

How To Get To The Next Level

Wait, so you actually read this far? And you’re still interested in reading more? Yikes, this article is well past the point of TL:DR already.

Getting to the next level will be the subject of a future article. In the meantime, let us know what level your band is at? How did you get to the next level? Is our model of levels solid, or are we high?

Cwn Annwn Reflects On A Year’s Worth Of Holiday Blessings

It was a rough year for Minnesota metal bands. We lost a lot of venues, including the venerable Station 4. The opportunities for local metal bands have shrunk considerably. The genre has further fractured into sub-genres that refuse to support each other. Bands continued to get their gear ripped off at an alarming rate. By any standard, 2013 will not go down in the books as a banner year for Minnesota metal.

But despite this, we still found a lot of reasons to smile this year. There are plenty of signs that Minnesota metal isn’t going anywhere soon, and beyond, there’s still a lot of awesomeness in the world to celebrate.

As the holidays are close at hand, we took a look back at a year’s worth of blessings. Here’s what we’re thankful for.
 

There’s a lot of people working hard to promote the Minnesota metal scene

Ritual Madness Podcast
Ritual Madness Podcast
Undead Scene
Undead Scene
SlayerMike
SlayerMike Productions
 

There are still a lot of cool clubs having metal shows

Egypt
Iced-Earth-14
Club Underground 1
Annwn
 

Yes Virginia, Bands *Can* Get Stolen Gear Back

 

The heart of gold beating underneath a crusty exterior

 

Axl Rose’s desire for reggae


 

This man became a part of our lives, and we never looked back


 

That I can rock facial hair


 

Remembering that adversity is always a matter of perspective


 

Despite the fears of others, gay marriage did not cause society to break down

1011896_10152937651825471_620883219_n
 

The world finally recognized our style

Cwn Annwn Style
 

Everything About Kids Interview Bands




 

In the distance, I can hear the shithawks returning

The Shithawks Are Returning
 

Kittehs!

Kittehs
Kittehs 2
 

The future of local leadership has never looked brighter


 

The internet enables us to pursue our passions


 

We have talented people who are working hard to bring our new music to life

 

We have so many fans who listen to us, love us and tell others about us. Without you, we don’t do this

Cwn-Annwn-Small-Shot1

The Five Best Vocalists In Heavy Metal

The Five Best Vocalists In Heavy Metal
If there’s one element of metal music that’s criminally undervalued, it’s the vocals. After all, metal bands can still be iconic even if their singer is pedestrian (cue to Tom Araya and Kerry King slowly nodding).

A superior vocalist, however, is often the key ingredient that allows metal bands to transcend their sub-genre and cultivate widespread appeal.

Unlike other genres, a metal vocalist must marry technical precision with an aggression that complements machine-gun rhythms and blistering guitars. Mastery of this convention is often the difference between a band’s fame and anonymity.

Over the past four decades, metal has seen innumerable talented vocalists come and go. In my opinion, here are the best:

Phil Anselmo

Who was the most important member of Pantera? Here’s a hint – it wasn’t anybody whose last name was “Abbott”.

Okay, stating it in this manner is somewhat unfair as Dimebag Darrell and Vinnie Paul are as gigantic of figures in the genre as you can be. I actually believe that, as a lead player, Dimebag is somewhat underrated – the man is only one plane below Eddie Van Halen.

But for all the greatness of the brothers Abbott, it’s easy to forget that this band toiled in absolute obscurity for four albums prior to Cowboys From Hell. Moreover, although it’s easy to forget due to his tragic on-stage demise, Dimebag’s post-Pantera work (Damageplan) was hard to describe as anything greater than mediocre both commercially and artistically.

It was the presence of Phil Anselmo that propelled Pantera to its five-year, post-Black album run as the undisputed heavyweight metal champions of the world. From 1994 though 1998, Pantera seized the crown that was abdicated following a string of near-comical missteps from the genre’s leaders (to this day, it’s almost unfathomable to note how the three year period from October 1995 through November 1998 brought us Stomp 442, The X Factor, Load, Cryptic Writings, Reload, Virtual XI, Diabolus in Musica and Volume 8: The Threat Is Real. No wonder Fred Durst’s ascent to popularity went virtually unchallenged.)

Anselmo was not a vocal gymnast a la Geoff Tate, nor did he possess the unearthly wailing abilities of George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher. Anselmo did, however, possess a violent bark bordering on unhinged that he blended with underrated clean vocals in a way the few singers could (and can still) match. This talent was further complemented by Anselmo’s tough-guy persona that, unlike his legions of imitators, came off as authentic rather than contrived. As Terrence Lee and Pat Lachman can attest to, Anselmo was the catalyst that transformed Dimebag and Vinnie from anonymous, regional superstars to bona fide deities.


 

Bruce Dickinson

While few would ever deny the greatness of Bruce Dickinson, only through its absence can it be fully perceived. Yes, you will occasionally encounter the Dead Kennedys-adoring hipster who somehow lives in a world where Paul Di’Anno was the superior vocalist. But let’s not forget – in 1998, the height of the Blaze Bayley era, Iron Maiden was actually scheduled to play the Medina Entertainment Center in Minnesota, a venue whose website places a link to “Bowling” in the header and predominantly features acts who can’t come to financial terms with the local casino. Upon Dickinson’s return to the band, Iron Maiden not only returned to rightful relevance but enjoyed a multi-generational resurgence (catch a Maiden show in the states and it will amaze you how many complete families are in attendance).

There are definitely more technically proficient singers than Bruce Dickinson, and from time to time, it feels as if it takes all of the man’s willpower to prevent the David St. Hubbins genes sewn into his DNA from turning a fine piece of Steve Harris craftsmanship into Stonehenge. But the ever-so-slight holes in his game are more than compensated for by his boundless energy. I was at the show in the video below. The temperature crossed 103 degrees that day, breaking a century old mark. Two people died of heat stroke. And here’s a 54-year old Bruce Dickinson with a voice indistinguishable from a 24-year old Bruce Dickinson thrashing around in a full-length jacket like a Highlander pursuing The Quickening.


 

Ronnie James Dio

Any list of the greatest vocalists in metal that don’t place Ronnie James Dio somewhere near the top should frankly be reported to Google as spam. Moreso than any other singer in the genre, Dio’s voice personified righteousness. More than one B-grade power metal act has tried to copy the diminutive Dio’s white magic, and (thankfully) most are recognized as poor imitations and relegated to obscurity.

What was particularly impressive about Dio (RIP) was his longevity. While it’s been 10 years since Geoff Tate possessed anything resembling a pitch that could strike out a big-league hitter, take a look at Dio performing at Wacken a year before his death in 2009. It’s unbelievable. At age sixty-seven, Dio was spitting rhymes in a realm unattainable by anyone not named Hansi Kürsch (an excellent singer, but unquestionably the private-label version of the original).

The only real place you can ding Dio, and the primary reason he’s not #1 on this list, is the relative infrequency that his vocals appear in the genre’s most familiar songs. Everybody loves Holy Diver, Rainbow In The Dark and The Mob Rules, but ask any casual metal fan to start rattling off the songs they believe define the genre and it’ll probably be a while before they name a song sung by Dio. That’s less of Dio’s fault as much as it’s a reflection of a way the chips fell throughout his career, but for someone of his reputation and pedigree, you’d expect his material to have carried more significance than it has.


 

James Hetfield Pre Vocal-Blowout

Hey, remember this song?

Yeah, we all had fun with this song on Live Binge and Purge. But few people know the seismic impact that this song ultimately had on the band’s career.

During the recording of this song in 1992, Hetfield blew out his vocals and was forced to adopt a more traditional singing style. To this day, Hetfield listens to a cassette tape of a basic piano-key warm-up prior to singing on stage. While much is made of the band’s affinity for experimentation contributing to the decline in its sound (and make no mistake, it was a decline), I tend to believe that Hetfield’s forced move into the world of crooning played a much bigger role in Metallica’s post-Black sound than any nefarious scheme concocted by Lars or Bob Rock.

Just listen to how Hetfield sings Master of Puppets in 1987:

And listen to how he sang it in 1994:

I’m not here to deconstruct Metallica’s career or the artistic decisions they have made over the years – that’s another article. But even the untrained ear can tell that 1994 Hetfield, while not bad or embarrassing, is clearly a shadow of the titan that was 1987 Hetfield.

Dickinson and Dio get points for not losing speed off their fastball throughout their career. But pre-blowout Hetfield was doing things vocally that nobody had ever done. Whereas Phil Anselmo needed two voices, two characters, to achieve his sound, Hetfield’s ability to hit pitch with the level of aggression he did was probably the most critical component of the band’s success. Put crooning Hetfield on Ride The Lightning or And Justice For All and you still have good albums. You just don’t have two of the greatest albums ever made.

Hetfield was able to scream accessibly, an art out of the reach of most vocalists even today.


 

John Bush

Getting back to singers who can still throw a fastball…..

What the fuck was that?

While the least famous of any vocalist on this list, in my eyes, John Bush is unquestionably (in my mind) the best metal vocalist ever.

Similar to Dio and Dickinson, Bush simply never ages. Listen to any recording of the man from 1984 to 2013. He’s as consistent as the sunrise.

And whereas Hetfield made the art of on-pitch screaming famous, John Bush perfected it.

Few people even know that during the band’s formative years, Metallica asked John Bush to join as their vocalist. Sadly, he declined, citing his commitment to Armored Saint. Just look what could have been.

And just like one of his obvious influences, John Fogerty, Bush boasts a surprisingly wide vocal range that’s belied by his bassy timbre. Hear the notes that he hits during 1991’s Reign Of Fire.

While ultimately nowhere near as influential on the genre as those preceding him on this list, it’s difficult to conceive of a more technically perfect singer than John Bush. Death/extreme genres notwithstanding, the man could capably sing anything.

Honorable Mention: Rob Halford, Geoff Tate, Hansi Kürsch, Devin Townsend, Corey Taylor

7 Easy Steps To Help Demonicon / Daigoro Get Their Stolen Gear Back

Help Demonicon Get Their Stolen Gear Back

You’re a musician in a band. You and your bandmates have invested thousands of dollars in gear – amps, guitars, drums, processors, you name it. Not only that, you’ve spent nearly as many hours practicing, rehearsing, writing and gigging because, well, you’re a musician. This is your passion. Without music, life is monochromatic.

Now imagine if every piece of gear you owned was stolen. In a single instant, the tools that enable your art have vanished.

It’s every musician’s worst nightmare. And it just happened to our friends in Demonicon and Daigoro.

Thankfully, it is possible to recover stolen gear. Nobody commits this type of crime and then just squats on their ill-gained loot. Eventually, the turds who ripped off our friends will attempt to profit from it.

Our friends in A Moment Without recently recovered some of their stolen gear after a similar robbery thanks to a friend who spotted one of their amps at a local Music Go Round.

The key is to remain vigilant, and this is where we hope we can help.

We created a seven-step guide for people who want to help Demonicon and Daigoro get their gear back. After completing these steps (which should take about five minutes in total), you’ll receive e-mail alerts whenever key items stolen from Demonicon or Daigoro show up online. With any luck, one of these alerts will help the band recover their gear and bring the assholes who committed this crime to justice.

Without further adieu:

Step One: Get A Google Account

Note, if you use Gmail for your primary e-mail address, you can skip this step and go to step two.

To get started, you need to get your primary e-mail address set up as a Google account. Luckily, this is super easy.

Go to this link: Google Accounts. Before filling out the form, select the I prefer to use my current email address option. Then, fill out the fields.

You now have a Google Account that is registered to your e-mail address. Your user name is your e-mail address, and your password is whatever you chose.

Help Demonicon Get Their Stolen Gear Back Step One

Step Two: Go to Google Alerts

Pretty simple. Just go to www.google.com/alerts. If you need to sign in, use your Gmail credentials or the credentials you just created in step one.
 

Step Three: Create An Alert

In the field labeled Search Query, copy and paste the following with the quotes and capitalization intact: “Ampeg SVT 4″ OR “Ampeg SVT4″

Select the drop-down menu next to How Many and select All Results.

Click Create Alert.

Help Demonicon Get Their Stolen Gear Back Step Three

You should now be at a screen that looks like the following:

Help Demonicon Get Their Stolen Gear Back Step Four

Step Four: Create A Second Alert

Click Create A New Alert. This will take you back to the screen you were at in step three.

Repeat everything you did in step three, but copy and paste the following with the quotes and capitalization intact in the field labeled Search Query: Behringer “bt2000″

Change the How Many field to read All Results, and create your alert. Your screen should look like the following:

Help Demonicon Get Their Stolen Gear Back Step Five

Step Five: Create Additional Alerts

Continue to create additional alerts, copying and pasting the following phrases:

Crate “GT3500″

“Ibanez” “Soundgear” “SR-505″

Laney AOR (“Pro100″ OR “Pro 100″)

You should now have an Alerts screen that looks like this:

Help Demonicon Get Their Stolen Gear Back Step Six

Step Six – Bookmark The Gear

We have created a special page of our website that lists this stolen gear, which you can visit here. Bookmark this page.
 

Step Seven – Be Vigilant

You should now begin to get e-mails in your inbox alerting you any time one of the above items appears on the internet, be it on Craigslist, Ebay, Music Go Round, or wherever.

If you suspect that one of these alerts might be one of the stolen items, double-check by cross referencing against the list you just bookmarked. You will get an alert every time one of these items go online somewhere. Note: Most of these alerts will be from legitimate dealers or individuals looking to sell their own legally purchased product. Do not harass every individual who puts a Crate GT3500 on the market.

That said, if you feel you have a strong lead, contact Nate, Eli or Anthony through the Demonicon and Daigoro Facebook pages.

 

Wait, I’ve Got A Question

You only had me create five alerts? These guys had a ton of gear ripped off. Why not create alerts for everything?

Good question. The biggest challenge you’ll face when using this method to help Demonicon/Daigoro is that you’ll get a lot of false positives.

For example, if somebody in Florida decides to put their legitimately purchased GT3500 on Craigslist, you’ll end up getting a Google Alerts e-mail. It’s likely that most of the e-mails you receive as alerts will be for legitimate, non-stolen product.

To help minimize how much legitimate stuff you have to sift through, I created queries for the less common items that have unique model numbers and identifiers. If you were to create an alert for “black Jackson Flying V”, for example, your e-mail box would be crushed by the number of alerts you would receive given how many of these things are on the market. That’s not conducive to helping these guys get their gear back.

The biggest aid that anybody can provide Demonicon and Daigoro is in helping to recover just a single item. If one item is found, there’s a decent chance the seller can be traced. When A Moment Without recovered a single piece of their stolen gear, the police learned that it was all unloaded at the same time by the same individual at the same place.

That said, if you want to create additional alerts for the other pieces of gear, feel free. It won’t hurt.

 

Do I have to copy and paste those alerts exactly as you constructed them?

You don’t have to. I wrote them that way so as to minimize the amount of junk, false alerts that you would receive. That said, if you want to modify those alerts or create your own, feel free!
 
 
How can I shut off the e-mails?

Why would you do that, you cold, heartless bastard?
 
 
Seriously?

Just go to www.google.com/alerts, and you can either shut off some or all of your alerts. Pretty simple.
 
 
What do I do if I think I’ve found a stolen item?

Get in contact with Nate, Eli or Anthony through the Demonicon or Daigoro Facebook pages. They’ll help you verify if what you found is legitimately theirs.
 
 
I can’t figure out how to get this Alerts working! What do I do?

Go to YouTube and search for “Google Alerts”. There, you will find a plethora of videos to help you figure out how to use this service.

If you’re still having trouble, please feel free to e-mail me, Neil, at jame0123 [at] comcast.net, or leave your question in the comments, and I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Anthony