“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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You should now be at a screen that looks like the following:
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:
Step Five: Create Additional Alerts
Continue to create additional alerts, copying and pasting the following phrases:
“Ibanez” “Soundgear” “SR-505″
Laney AOR (“Pro100″ OR “Pro 100″)
You should now have an Alerts screen that looks like this:
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.
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?
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.