Friday, May 28, 2010

the state of "metal"

My wife and kids will tell you that I'm rather opinionated about the state of music today- and, strangely enough, even more so on the topic of heavy metal.   And, yes, I said heavy metal.  Yes, I am somewhat of a "jazzer", but I listen to everything, or at least try to.

First, let's say what heavy metal is: Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Iron
Maiden, Judas Priest, Motorhead, early Metallica, Dokken, Living Color,
Pantera, early Slayer, Megadeth, Dio, Ozzy, Rainbow, Sevendust and
anything with Tony Iommi, Richie Blackmoor, Randy Rhoads, Dimebag
Darrell, KK Downing, Steve Harris, Paul D'Anno, or Rob Halford in it.  I
will go as far as to say that bands like AC/DC, Kiss and a few others
that skirt the edge of classic rock, as well as things like Dream
Theater and Tool also fall into this category.  (And, no- I'm not
interested in what you call heavy metal.)

Second- let's say what heavy metal is not: Darned near anything else that calls itself metal- especially these days.  Specifically, I'll state that bands like Mudvayne, Cannibal Corpse, Napalm Death, new Metallica, Mastodon, Killswitch Engage, Into The Moat, Korn, Limp Bizkit, Bring Me The Horizon, As I Lay Dying, Gwar and, yeah- even Opeth (my apologies to the Swedes) are no more metal than say, Abba.  I dare you headbang to "Dancing Queen".  Go ahead.  I'll wait

(And, before I go too much further, let me again state- I am not interested in what you call "metal".  This is my blog.  Get your own.)

Now, let's get specific.  Both my son and my wife are what I like to call "rivet heads"- they enjoy a bunch of different bands, and make regular trips to various concert venues around Seattle to see some bands that tout themselves as metal, but I can't stand them.  It's not the cookie monster vocals that bother me.  It's not the "black magic", death images or even the satan worship stuff that bothers me.  (The satan worship cracks me up, actually)  It's not the screaming, unintelligible lyrics; the crunching guitars; the swearing; the constant barrage of sexual and dismemberment images; the darkness- none of that bothers me.  It's just schtick.

What bothers me is the kick drum.  What????!???

It used to be that heavy metal had some lyrically social relevance and actually required a certain amount of ability for all the players to pull it off.  Now, all it requires is a drummer with a double-kick pedal that functions like a pneumatic jack-hammer and at least 2 guitar players who do nothing but play dropped D5 chords that sit on top of the kick drum firings, and you have what people call "heavy metal".  There's no concept of major, minor, diminished, half-diminished chords, no semblance of melody and certainly no semblance of style - and all the tunes are the same thing, regurgitated, straight from whoever can tune down the lowest.  Even a lot of the theatrics are gone.  Heavy metal is now nothing more than a shriek and a kick drum, and all the "new metal" - all of it - is completely and totally irrelevant.  No one tries anything new anymore. 

The other evening, as I was driving home from a jazz gig, I was trying like mad get "All The Things You Are" out of my head, so I flipped on Sirius Radio and tuned into one of the metal stations, and I was immediately struck by the fact that every, single, solitary band sounded exactly alike.  I thought, "ok, Marc- you've turned into your dad" and felt sick to my stomach at the very thought of it.  (My dad considers Supertramp to be "hard rock"........yeesh.)  Then I flipped to one station who was playing "Wishing Well" from Sabbath's "Heaven And Hell" as a tribute to Ronnie James Dio (someone who is TRULY deserving of many, many tributes) and I was equally struck by the absolute genius of it all.  It's dark.  It's stylized.  It's got intelligence.  It's got balls.  Dio sings like his head is about to come off and fly through the speakers.  I turned it up to about the highest the radio could go, and reveled in its dark glory.

Last night, while on (yet another jazz) gig, I found myself talking to one of my guitarist's students, who was obviously another rivet head.  We got to talking about what his band does, and he proceeded to tell me that they all "tune down to B!"  (like that's impressive) and that most of their songs are centered around "the B note", and once again, I was saddened to hear this.

Why has this happened?  What took guys like Yngwie Malmsteen and Rising Force and made them into The Jonas Brothers with Cookie Monster from Sesame Street on vocals?  Doesn't anyone care anymore?  I miss the days of Maiden and Priest- bands who had something to say and a way to say it that was original - and I desperately now believe that all double kick pedals should be removed from all but Dennis Chambers' feet.  How about you metal-heads- you know who you are- learn a couple of actual chords - not barre chords, by the way- and learn to write a song rather than a kick pedal ornamentation?  What you're doing isn't heavy- it's just crap.

Friday, May 7, 2010


Lots and lots of stuff going on here- family stuff, music stuff, work stuff.....just lots of stuff.  Since, apparently in the blogsphere I'm something of a malcontent, I have to share one thing- but I think that this topic transcends more than just the obvious.

Lately, I've been working on a side project- I can't go into too many details about it, but it's an online music education system that, if it's done right, will be a total game changer.  The concept is something I've never seen before, and it's truly revolutionary.  It's been dreamed up by two players who are in that strata that can only be described as "the best of the best" (and, no, I hardly qualify in this company) and will be something that will be emulated- I guarantee it.  If it's done right.


The problem is that in the "inner circle" of this project is one person who I'm not sure really understands what is being attempted.  He has a modicum of technical knowledge, but that knowledge is really limited to his skillset (he's a marketing dude) and how to hook this piece of barely functioning software to that other piece of barely functioning software in kind of a "cobbling" methodology.  And, the gameplan seems to change day to day, minute to minute, and I'm partially convinced that this happens for his own amusement- but, I'm more convinced it's because his knowledge of what's being attempted is at such a high level that he can't get down into the weeds (where I am) and worse than that- he doesn't want to, nor does he see any value in it.

We've all experienced people like this in our personal and professional travels.  They've experienced a small amount of success in doing something a certain way, and that certain way becomes their hammer.  The trouble with always wielding a hammer is that everything else begins to look like a nail.  Pretty soon, all the identity of what you're trying to do -be it a web site, band, widget - goes out the window and what you're left with is something that is far, far less than what you started out envisioning. 

Why am I telling you, my gentle readers, about this?

In this day of microwave society, everything anyone does has just become mediocre.  It only has to be good enough, and no one expects or wants craftsmanship.  They don't see the value in deferring to people who have been doing things for years and years at a level that they don't understand.  Some of that mindset is actually good and warranted- it keeps things simple- but when the person who is directing your efforts has no interest in the value that you are providing, you're faced with only two options: Educate or Eradicate.

I like to err on the side of Educate first.  That's where I am right now with this thing.  I'm extremely passionate about how this thing is supposed to work, and I'm passionate about working with the two owners of the project.  The marketing guy seems to see our passion as unnecessary- and we're having a devil of time convincing him otherwise.  If we can't convince him that the passion is an absolute requirement in order to do this correctly, we'll have to move to Eradicate.  Hopefully it won't come to that- unlike him, I see the value that he is providing in his misguided way.

The next time you're faced with someone who's "know-it-all" attitude just doesn't have the juice to back up what's trying to be attempted, my fondest hope is that you'll remember this and identify it for what it is.  Misguided.