by guitarist, Neil James
I’ve always been fascinated by how different people approach being creative. In my day job, advertising, I’m exposed to a wide variety of ideation processes. Famous copywriter Luke Sullivan, for example, attempts to draw his ideas in a two inch box – the logic being if they’re not powerful in a small space, they’re unlikely to make an impact at full size. Creative director David Droga famously won’t leave the office until he’s come up with a total of 100 different ideas for an assignment.
But for all the literature about advertising creative, there isn’t much out there about the creative process for music. To that end, I wanted to share my process for writing metal lyrics. While my walls aren’t exactly adorned with platinum records or Grammy trophies, and I still can’t afford to buy cocaine with the money I make from music, I’ve been able to build what I believe to be a pretty refined set of steps for writing lyrics that are quality and memorable. Like any good process, I deviate from time to time when moved to by my muse. But in general, the more I stick to these steps, the happier I find myself with the final product.
To add context, I will show how I applied this process when I wrote the lyrics for the title track from our latest album, Metamorphosis.
Step One: Pick A Theme
The first step to writing lyrics is to pick a theme or a subject for your song. This probably isn’t some earth-shattering revelation – everybody does this. In this process, however, it’s really important to pick a theme as soon as possible. If you’re not sure what you’re writing about, the later steps get really hard.
In a metal band, you generally have a fair amount of latitude when picking your subject. I’ve found you can get away with some pretty cheesy themes and still end up with really cool lyrics if you do a good job later in the process. The Djinn, one of the more popular songs in our catalogue for example, is loosely based on the low-budget horror movie Wishmaster.
For the song Metamorphosis, the types of riffs I was writing were heavily influenced by Cynic, a band whose imagery and themes are heavily influenced by metaphysical concepts. To authentically pay tribute, I felt that my lyrics needed to come from a similar vein.
Eventually, I settled on the idea of trying to picture what it might be like when one dies, but wholly unencumbered by traditional religious canon. If you throw out all your knowledge of Heaven, Hell, Nirvana or Valhalla, where do you ultimately think you’ll go when you die? I mean, none of us really have an idea of what happens – anything is as good as anything else. If you believe in the concept of a soul and differing levels of consciousness, it’s reasonable to think that your mortal brain couldn’t possibly comprehend or articulate the afterlife – it could only contextualize it in a limited capacity.
At least that was the theme I was going to try and write to. Pretty ambitious and definitely some potential to come off cheesy or pretentious, but a lot of canvas for exploration and definitely in alignment with a song that’s musically influenced by Cynic.
More often than not, I pick a song’s lyrical theme about halfway through the music writing process. Once I’ve written a handful of riffs, it’s usually not too hard to find a subject that complements the guitar’s overall mood. I usually don’t like to pick a theme before I write the song as I’ve found it tends to increase the risk of the final product being cheesy. But I have done it. For example, I knew that Seasons was going to be a song about confronting mortality before I ever played a note on guitar.
Step Two: Free Write
Once I’ve decided on a theme, I start to free-write. I open up my notebook and write literally anything that comes to mind as a good lyric. I don’t worry about vocal lines or melody. I don’t worry about verses, choruses, lengths, structure or rhyming. The only thing I worry about is writing with as much as I possibly can within my chosen lyrical theme.
When free-writing, I try to make sure I expend extra effort on coming up with what I think are strong metaphors or imagery. For example, in the song Stay Forever, a song about my frustration with people who ceaselessly complain without doing anything to solve their problems, one of the free-writing lines that ended up in the final song was “a winged horse with an affection for the ground.” The “winged horse”, in this instance, represented a person with considerable potential, while their “affection for the ground” reflected their self-driven unwillingness to take flight. Quality metaphors and imagery are, in my opinion, your best weapon for keeping your lyrics from treading into Annihilator-level cheesiness.
Once I’m done free-writing, I give myself a little time to let my brain clear itself. After a few days, I’ll go back to what I wrote and underline or circle the lines I like the most. I’m still not worrying about whether lines are verses or choruses, how long they are or how I’d sing them. I may not even use all the lines I select. But I’ve at least created some anchor points that I’ll be able to weave into the what will be the final lyrics.
The picture below is some of the free-writing that I did for Metamorphosis. You’ll notice that, just as I described in my process, I circled several lines that I particularly liked, most of which made it into the song. You’ll notice on the left of this sheet are the final lyrics for the verses and prechorus. How did I get there?
Step Three: Write Basic Vocal Melodies
When I was younger, I used to write vocals with a guitar in my hand. Like a lot of people, I’d play my verse riff over and over and do weird things with my voice until I sort of fell into something that sounded cool.
There’s nothing wrong with that – that’s probably the most common way that people write vocal lines. The problem I’ve found with that approach is that it tends to result in vocal lines that overly conform to the guitar lines. The accents in your lyrics will tend to always line up with the accents in your riff. That isn’t bad in a vacuum, but over an extended period of time, like a setlist or an album, it becomes harder for the vocal lines to distinguish themselves. You’ll end up with lyrics that, over the course of 45 minutes, get pretty boring.
Nowadays, I try to get some sort of audio tool to loop the various sections of my songs. Sometimes I do it in Guitar Pro. Other times I do it in Ableton. It doesn’t really matter what tool you use. You just need something that can loop your verse over and over and over without you having to play it.
Once it’s looping, I try to write vocal melodies. Sometimes I hum them. Sometimes I go to my guitar and sculpt them. How you get there isn’t as critical – the goal is just to end up with a melody that can play off of the backing music but doesn’t rely on it to be memorable. The melody could stand on its own if it had to.
At this point, I’m not trying to over-complicate it. I just need a simple memorable melody because, unlike a guitar riff, I’m going to be loosey-goosey with creating variants. The verse in Metamorphosis, for example, started its life as a simple eight note pattern on guitar. I know that when I start fleshing out the lyrics, I’m going to be able to add pickup notes and make alterations in order to accommodate the words that I want to fit in.
Step Four: Match Lyrics To Vocal Line
Now that I’ve got some vocal melodies I’m happy with, I can start mapping them to the lines I liked the most from my free-writing sessions. There’s a couple things I keep in mind as I do this:
- Now is the time to start worrying about chronology. Your song should tell a story, and you should be placing your lyrics within a sensible narrative. In Metamorphosis, the first lines clearly reference the dying that must take place to experience the afterlife: “A rhythm flat and silent – I close my eyes and dissipate.“
- Your favorite, best lines should be reserved for the chorus or whatever part of the song is going to experience repetition. The opportunity for that in Metamorphosis was limited, but I really thought “I shed my skin, I have no fear” captured the essence of what I wanted to express. As such, this lyric was used for the song’s “hook” chorus.
- Although I’m careful not to force it, in order to make things fit, I apply a lot of tweaks to my free-written lyrics and the vocal melodies. I may add a pickup note to my vocal line, for example, or I might swap out an adjective for something that fits cleaner.
- As I’m doing this, I’m very careful to make sure that the syllables of my final lyrics are properly stressed – there’s nothing worse than emphasizing the wrong syllable in a multi-syllabic word (saying UH-gen-da instead of uh-GEN-da, for example).
This approach is particularly useful as your underlying music grows more complex. The pre-chorus of Metamorphosis, for example, has a 3/4 guitar rhythm overlaid on top of a 4/4 drum pattern with some flair at the end that reconciles timing discrepancies. Good luck writing memorable lyrics for that polyrhythmic riff with a guitar in your hand. The below picture shows some scratch notes I made while trying to craft the lyrics that ultimately became the song’s pre-chorus.
In most cases, this approach won’t fill an entire song. In order to fill in the blanks, I go to final step in the process.
Step Five: Fill In The Blanks
At this point, I’ll usually have somewhere between 50-75% of the lyrics written. I can now go back to a more traditional lyric writing process. After all, I know the vocal line, I know the theme and I know the surrounding lyrics. Now it’s just a matter of filling the various holes in my story. While usually I attempt to surgically address missing lyrics one-at-a-time, I have been known pursue a second round of lyrical free-writing at this point.
One thing that I really try to be a stickler about is rhyming. “Try” is the key word in this statement because I’m not always successful. I prefer to rhyme when I can because it makes the song stickier, or easier to remember – usually a good thing. If I choose not to rhyme, it’s because I think that the quality of the lyrics I’ve written and their ability to communicate my point outweigh any value that implementing a rhyme scheme would create. That’s what happened in Metamorphosis – I liked what I wrote so much that I just decided to chuck rhyming out the window. I prefer to avoid doing this whenever possible because I’ve found that a cavalier attitude towards rhyming is more likely to result in lyrics that are cheesy and more forgettable. But knowing when to break the rules is part of being a good musician, and this was one of many cases where I chose my spot.
When I do need to fill in a rhyme scheme, often what I’ll do is go to an online rhyming dictionary. Rhymezone is my favorite since it groups options based on the total number of syllables. Once I find an option that I like, I’ll typically try to back my way into an acceptable line that contains a rhyming word. As noted earlier, it’s not unheard of for me to try free-writing again with an emphasis on rhyming terms.
Breaking The Rules
Rhyming isn’t the only convention or part of the process that I’ll forego when I feel the need to. Although I’m a believer that it’s impossible to write something good when you don’t have a process and you’re ignorant to music theory and conventions, I also believe your odds of producing quality work are just as poor when you’re a slave to process, theory and conventions.
One of the more common ways I’ll deviate from this process is to come up with a vocal line in isolation and then build around it. I remember that I wrote the chorus vocal to Stay Forever in my head while riding the bus to work. I wasn’t trying to write. It just sort of popped into my head. That doesn’t happen often, but whenever I do come up with something viable in a situation like that, I try to write down as many of the particulars as quickly as I can before I forget anything. I’ll pull out some scratch paper from my pocket and jot down both the words and the rhythm of the line I’m hearing. And although I’m not usually good enough to be able to transcribe the actual musical notes of a vocal line in this scenario, I’ll at least try to notate where the notes are in approximate relation to one another. That way when I revisit it later, I can recreate it.
Later, when I get back to my home or practice space, I’ll get an accurate transcription of this vocal line so it’s at least documented and I don’t lose it. Then I’ll try to fill in guitar behind it. Usually because this isolated vocal line is a focal point, the complexity of the backing music ends up being somewhat subdued. If the vocal line is good, I try not to make the guitar do much more than play simple chords with perhaps some complementary rhythm, accents or flair.
And while I do love me some big vocabulary and words, I’m also a strong big believer in the power of the “whoa.” Part of that is attributable to the extensive time I spent in my youth with Bad Religion‘s catalogue. But sometimes, a good extended “whoa-oa-oa” or a “yeah-ah-ah” can really speak on a primal level in a way that words can’t. The chorus of Seasons, for example, is a strong example of this belief in practice.
Throw Out The Playbook
While this is my general process for songwriting, I can and do deviate from it quite frequently. The goal, after all, is to produce the best lyrics that I possibly can. However I get there is how I’m going to get there, and my rules definitely aren’t sacrosanct. But the more I stick to this process, the happier I tend to be with the results. Your mileage may vary. It’s definitely not the way to go for everyone, and it’s not the only way to be successful. But it’s worked well for me and has served Cwn Annwn very well over the course of our career.
What’s your process for writing lyrics? Is it similar or wholly different? Let us know in the comments!
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.