Music, My Stories

Heavy Metal

Steppenwolf was seen as an Heavy Metal act once upon a time. Black Sabbath was more extreme. Led Zeppelin was never heavy metal, however when the 80’s MTV metal wave came, most of the acts referenced Led Zeppelin as an influence and suddenly, the Zep is metal.

Regardless, it doesn’t matter how many times the labels and the media outlets tried to kill it, mainstream it or commercialize it, Heavy Metal has remained consistent from when it began. Whenever pop music became pretentious, heavy metal was the alternative. Well at least it was it my truth.

But something changed in the late 80’s. Metal music was in the Top 10 of the Billboard charts and suddenly Hip Hop was proving to be the alternative, talking about social issues. But metal kept evolving, become even more extreme, the antihero to the mainstream hero.

When heavy metal and hard rock dropped off the mainstream, it was never gone for long. Grunge ruled the airwaves, until Industrial Metal became a thing, with NIN and Ministry. Then Nu-Metal became a thing. The lifestyle and attitude of Metal is the answer to all things corrupt. It is the soundtrack.  

Typically most metal fans come from working-class homes or changed family dynamics. The mainstream always ignored metal music, seeing it as too dumb. Of course, when a band breaks through, the mainstream are the first to jump on the wagon.

And metal music is known as so many different things.

There is Classic Metal/Rock, Thrash/Groove Metal, Melodic Death Metal, Metalcore, Black Metal, Death Metal, Heavy Metal, Alternative Metal/Rock, Progressive Metal/Rock, Math Rock/Metal, Shock Metal/Rock, Symphonic Metal/Rock, Power Metal, Folk Metal and Stoner/Sludge Metal.

Seriously do we need that many categories.

Music is music. You either like it or not.

And the term heavy metal has become synonymous with a lifestyle more than anything, of being free, having a voice, questioning everything, living within a community spirit and living the way you want to live and not the way others want you to live.

Of course elitists will always have their own truths, but hey we don’t serve them.

And in the words of Rob Halford.

When the power chords come crashing down, they go tearing through my senses. It’s for the strong, not for the weak, in a light and dark dimension.

It stimulates and regenerates, it’s therapeutic healing. It lifts our feet up off the ground and blasts us through the ceiling.

Heavy metal, what do you want?

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Metal Journey

I grew up in a time when AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and Iron Maiden were classified as metal acts. Black Sabbath was seen as a bit more extreme and darker. Venom even more so. But as the years went on, the way people viewed metal music had changed.

Suddenly it’s faster or groovier or math like or whatever else you like and depending on the act, you wouldn’t be able to understand a word they are saying, without referring to the lyrics. So on occasions I cannot resonate with all the acts today classed as metal.

But one thing I do know is that music labelled as “metal” is made for loyalists.

You hook in a fan, they would be along for the ride, dedicating their lives because they believe. And hearing a song just once, is never enough. To become a fan of an artist, it meant you had to invest time and be prepared to take the journey.

Recently the Evergrey album became a journey, exploring the depths of darkness, depression and hope. Every 13 years, the Tool Comet comes past Earth and a new album drops and when it does, that in itself is a journey. Rival Sons took me on a journey deep into the Delta and Volbeat showed there is still life in streets of the 60s.

Take us on a journey and we are fans for life.

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Classic Songs to Be Discovered, Influenced, Music, My Stories

Live Albums

There is a blog site I follow called Thunder Bay Arena Rock, run by the well informed hard rock and metal guru known as Deke.

Just recently, Deke had a list of his Top 10 live albums ever, with the rule being only one release is allowed from each artist.

You can read Deke’s post here.

And in the comments I mentioned a few releases that I would include in a list and suddenly I had a list ready in my mind.

So thanks to Deke for getting this list out of me.

Iron Maiden – Live After Death

It was my first exposure to Maiden and I became a fan for life. And the set list is a “best of” selection from the first five albums.

Ozzy Osbourne – Randy Rhoads Tribute

How Randy Rhoads crafted his triple tracked guitars from the albums into a single cohesive live track is worthy of a listen.

And the tempo is upped just a notch, which makes each track blistering.

Add to that a few Black Sabbath songs and the best version of “Children Of The Grave” I have heard, makes this album a keeper. Plus when I was learning how to play guitar, this album was my bible.

Evergrey – A Night To Remember

From Sweden.

I love their melancholic, depressing and yet hopeful style of themes.

On occasions their music borders between progressive metal, heavy metal and hard rock.

There is even a Maiden “Live After Death” reference here, when Tom Englund gets the crowd involved for the song “The Masterplan” the same way Bruce Dickinson gets the crowd involved for “Running Free”.

Bruce Springstreen Live 1975-85

It was my first box set.

So much music and unbelievable live performances. No wonder Springsteen is called “The Boss”.

Even when I typed “Boss” in my Spotify search, Bruce Springsteen came up, however I was actually looking for the Aussie hard rock band called “Boss”.

Dream Theater – Live At Budokan

John Petrucci’s solo on “Hollow Years”.

You know how guitarists have a guitar solo spotlight during a concert with just them and no music. Well on this occasion, Petrucci’s solo is part of an extended solo in the song.

And its brilliant.

Dokken – Beast From The East

As a George Lynch fan, this has to be included and the band overall are in top form, regardless of their love and hate towards each other.

John Sykes – Bad Boy Live

He released two live albums.

One under Blue Murder called “Screaming Blue Murder” in 1994 to fulfill his Geffen contract and “Bad Boy Live” in 2004 under a Japanese label. While the Blue Murder live release focused more on his Blue Murder songs, “Bad Boy Live” is a career best of.

He kicks the show off with “Bad Boys” from the mega selling Whitesnake 1987 album. The second song is the excellent “We All Fall Down” from the second Blue Murder album “Nothin But Trouble”. Then its “Cold Sweat” from the last Thin Lizzy album, “Thunder and Lightning”.

So far, it’s a blistering set.

Sykes is back to the 1987 Whitesnake album and his take on “Crying in the Rain”. “Jelly Roll” from the debut Blue Murder album is next and “Is This Love?” from the 87 Whitesnake album makes it a perfect set so far.

Next up are a few tracks from his solo career, in “Look in His Eyes” from the very underrated “20th Century” album released in 1998, the punk rock pop of “I Don’t Wanna Live My Life Like You” from the self-titled solo debut in 1995 and his first ever solo single,   “Please Don’t Leave Me”, released in the early 80’s.

To round out the set, there is an 8 minute version of “Still of the Night” and a blistering version of “Thunder and Lightning”.

And tying it all together is the band.

John Sykes does all the vocals and guitar, Marco Mendoza is on bass and backing vocals, Tommy Aldridge is on drums and Derek Sherinian is on keyboards and backing vocals.

Twisted Sister – Live At San Bernardino 1984

It was released as part of the “Stay Hungry” album and I watched this VHS tape every day.

Dee Snider as a front man rules the stage.

His banter between songs and how people can’t even look at the camera man is hilarious, bordering on SNL comedy.

Plus the band is in top form, delivering the goods.

Alice Cooper – Trashes The World

I don’t think it was ever released as a CD, but it did come out on VHS and I was all in.

Plus I got to experience all the classic Cooper cuts with a modern sound.

And his backing band is top notch, with Al Pitrelli and Pete Freisin on guitars, Tommy Caradonna on bass and Jonathan Mover on drums, with Derek Sherinian on keys.

Yngwie Malmsteen – Trial By Fire – Live In Leningrad

This concert sums up Malmsteen’s prime, with Joe Lynn Turner as his vocalist.

If Jeff Scott Soto stayed around, it would have been his name mentioned as well.

Anything else that came after for Malmsteen couldn’t repeat the success of the Odyssey album and tour.

Kiss – Alive III

I have a mate who is a mad Kiss fan, and he reckons it’s sacrilege that I can even think “Alive III” is better than the previous “Alive” releases.

Well to me, it is, because of the set list.

I like those 80’s songs more than some of the 70’s songs that appeared on the first two “Alive” albums.

Give me, “Creatures Of The Night”, “Unholy”, “Heavens On Fire”, “Lick It Up”, “I Still Love You” and “I Love It Loud” any day.

If they added “War Machine” and “Exciter” to the list, I wouldn’t have complained.

Lynyrd Skynyrd – One More For the Road

It was my first exposure to Lynyrd Skynrd and the 13 minute version of “Free Bird” was enough to get me hooked.

Plus there are so many other good songs like “Searchin”, “Tuesdays Gone”, “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Saturday Night Special”

Metallica – Live Shit: Binge And Purge

This one cemented to me how good James Hetfield is as a front man. He has the crowd in the grasp of his hand and commands them to get crazy and they respond.

Vote James for President.

And all the songs are sped up, the energy is intense and the set is blistering.

Well that’s it folks.

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Music, My Stories, Unsung Heroes

Rock and Metal School

My kids have been watching “School Of Rock” and “The Pick Of Destiny” on and off over the last few months, so here is my \::/ salute to Jack Black for spreading his love of rock and heavy metal to the masses.

The movies capture what rock and roll is all about;

  • going against the grain, 
  • breaking rules set by the institutions/parents and having fun along the way. 

And it’s a far cry from the rest of the world. We have people betraying each other for cash. We have companies treating their employees as costs to be minimised instead of assets. We have people causing chaos in the name of religion. We have musicians complaining about Spotify without realizing that if they have a song that captures people’s attention, Spotify will pay you forever.

The thing that keeps rock and metal alive is our ethos. We are the outsiders. We share our stories and we care, so when society takes up arms against us, we come together. And what keeps us together is the music. The sounds of the distorted guitars, the chaotic drums, the galloping grooves and the soaring melodies which filled up our bedrooms. You couldn’t help but smile. Rock and metal music made life worth living.

Remember when Led Zeppelin was seen as a heavy metal band while Black Sabbath was at the extreme end of metal. Today, bands which are considered extreme metal make Sabbath sound like a kids TV show.

But the world changed, so we changed. It stopped being about “us versus them” and it became about who has more. Suddenly our community standards of togetherness started to be violated and we allowed it to happen and failed to change the standards to adapt to an evolving world. But as Def Leppard sang, “Rock of ages, rock of ages, still rolling, keep a rolling, we got the power, got the glory, just say you need it and if you need it, say yeah.”

So much truth in those words and it looks like people today need rock and metal music more than ever. And we have the sounds from the last 40 plus years to study like the Holy Book at our fingertips. And on those days, when the future is uncertain, metal and rock music is the sound we turn to. Rock and metal can save lives; people just need to let it.

It’s a long way to the top if we want to rock and roll. And we all need to begin somewhere and we need someone to believe in us or we’re not going to make it. Because as much as we want to be social creatures, we don’t believe we belong, afraid of saying something that might make us sound dumb or not saying anything at all.

And the truth is rock and metal ran culture. The artists pulled the strings and the public loved it. 

Let’s make sure it will never be forgotten. 

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A to Z of Making It, Derivative Works, Music, My Stories, Unsung Heroes

Metal Music

Heavy F…. Metal.

In 2018, it will be 50 years from when Steppenwolf, screamed the words, “Heavy Metal Thunder” in their iconic “Born To Be Wild” song. And while the reference to “heavy metal thunder” was the loud sound of the motorbike, it seemed to stick for a style of music that was just around the corner.

But heavy metal goes back a bit further than that. You see, in the 1930’s there was a guitarist called Django Reinhardt.

He was a jazz shredder who passed away in 1953, well before heavy metal became a tour de force. But to become a shredder, wasn’t easy for Django. You see, a fire in the late 20’s extensively burned his left hand and other areas of his body. His right leg was paralysed and his fourth and fifth fingers on his left hand were badly burned. The Doctors told him that he will never play guitar again and they wanted to cut his leg off. Django refused the surgery and within a year, learned to how walk again with the help of a cane. But his two fingers remained paralysed. So Django had to relearn how to play the guitar by using his thumb and two fingers.

Fast forward to the 60’s and an unknown Birmingham guitarist tore off the tips off his middle fingers in a freak factory accident. A visit from the company foreman, alerted Tony Iommi to Reinhardt.

“It really inspired me to really get on with it, and start trying to play.”
Tony Iommi VH1 in 2015.

Although Iommi’s problems weren’t as severe as Django, he still had to do things a bit differently. While Django had to relearn how to play the guitar from scratch using less fingers, Iommi just needed to innovate. The first innovation was the creation of the plastic finger tips. The second was the down tuning of the guitar from standard pitch to accommodate the plastic finger tips.

And while Sabbath are seen as the forefathers of heavy metal, metal in general was more than just Sabbath. It was the attitude, the rebellion, the free-spirited nature, the community and gang-like mentality. And this attitude goes back to the early 60’s. In 1964, Beatles records accounted for 60% of all music sales in the U.S. according to Billboard magazine. Rock became a commercial force, priming the U.S kids for the more abrasive, distorted version of rock would enter in a few years’ time.

But to understand the Beatles, you need to go back to Chuck Berry, the father of rock and roll. The Beatles covered “Rock And Roll Music” and “Roll Over Beethoven”. John Lennon ripped off Chuck Berry for “Come Together”.

Hell, the Beach Boys ripped “Sweet Little Sixteen” from Chuck Berry and called it “Surfin’ U.S.A.”.

ELO’s career was jump-started when they covered “Roll Over Beethoven”.

Let’s not forget “Johnny B. Goode”, a hit when it came out, and in 1977 the song was launched into space with the Voyager I and II spacecraft to await discovery. Chuck Berry was a metal head before metal was even around. He sang about fast cars, women and teenage rebellion. In other songs, he questioned the status quo. And since those days, metal has grown worldwide. It’s the new world music. As an article in the Wall Street Journal states;

“Today’s “world music” isn’t Peruvian pan flutes or African talking drums. It’s loud guitars, growling vocals and ultrafast “blast” beats.”

The internet and mp3 sharing has spread heavy metal music to all corners of the world. Music in general was locked up, behind gates, but now we can hear every song ever recorded online, even the songs from “out of print” albums. People from oppressive countries who wouldn’t normally have access to metal music suddenly had access via their fingertips. Metal music is a lifestyle. You live the way you look and look the way you live. There are no pretensions. And you can’t get more metal and no bullshit than Ginger Baker, a person who inspired future metal drummers going on record detesting the style. That’s exactly the free-spirit of a metaller.

“I’ve seen where Cream is sort of held responsible for the birth of heavy metal. Well, I would definitely go for aborting. I loathe and detest heavy metal. I think it is an abortion.”
Ginger Baker – Cream 

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\::/ \::/ \::/

By the start of the 80’s, the recording business was putting its dollars into new wave and releasing “hits” made by a committee of songwriters. On the odd occasions, a band would come from left field and have a “hit”. It’s hard for people to believe this in 2016, but all of the great Seventies bands had more or less finished up.

Aerosmith was a shadow of itself, Bad Company was on its last legs, Led Zeppelin was no more, The Eagles fractured, Alice Cooper gave in to his nightmares, Kiss was fading and the graveyard list just goes on and on.

And then the revolution slowly started. 1980 gave us “Heaven And Hell” from Black Sabbath, “Iron Maiden” by Iron Maiden, “British Steel” by Judas Priest, “Blizzard Of Ozz” by Ozzy and “Back In Black” by AC/DC. 1981 gave us “Killers” by Iron Maiden, “Point Of Entry” by Judas Priest, “Diary Of A Madman” by Ozzy, “Too Fast For Love” by Motley Crue and “Mob Rules” by Black Sabbath. 1982 gave us “The Number Of The Beast” by Iron Maiden and “Screaming For Vengeance” by Judas Priest.

And then heavy metal came to the masses and wiped all styles off the map. Bands with roots who didn’t care about convention and the establishments. Bands who refined their sounds away from the mainstream without interference from know it all A&R reps. Bands who delivered songs with an honesty and angst that was undeniable.

And overnight the youth switched allegiances. We found new leaders in artists and music. MTV brought those leaders into our TV rooms. We finally had artists speaking some truth. Opportunities were slim and the odds were really stacked against us. We all wanted something to believe in and heavy metal/hard rock became our religion.

And when thrash metal came smashing through the boundaries and lunacy had found me. The words of anger and unrest got turned up even more.

Remember the truth?

That’s why certain artists became so big. Not because they were the best musicians or their records had the best sound. They spoke a truth that resonated.

And we all knew the truth. Our lives being controlled by the establishments, but we didn’t dare say it. So we persisted to live in a fake land. Fake, because, we all swore in reality, but on TV it was beeped out. We saw violence daily, but on the news, the pictures are blurred and classed as distressing. We knew the game was rigged, but we still played in it anyway. Why do you think cable TV become popular. It was a step towards common sense.

So “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock” resonated. Same deal with “You Got Another Thing Coming” and “Livin After Midnight” from Judas Priest. “Cum On Feel The Noize” exploded. “Fight For Your Rights” from Beastie Boys was written as a parody to heavy metal music, but it became a hit because of its message. “Shout At The Devil” and “Smokin In The Boys Room” by Motley Crue connected. “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne told us life is not easy. “Seek And Destroy” by Metallica made us want to break stuff or each other.

We needed heroes. We needed leaders. Heavy metal artists spoke for the underclass and the repressed. We felt like we could take over the world and for a brief commercial period, we did just that. Actually, recent research has shown how heavy metal listeners have risen to positions of power in corporations and governments.

But as it the beast got bigger, we started picking sides. Black metal over thrash metal. Death metal over heavy metal. Heavy rock over hard rock. Metallica over Bon Jovi.

And then Grunge came to save us from our distress. Suddenly our leaders had no record deals. Judas Priest fractured by the start of the 90’s. So did Motley Crue. Bon Jovi took a break. Guns N Roses was on its last legs. Black Sabbath tried to roll again with Dio. Ozzy toured under “No More Tours”. And from those ashes, Metallica was there to capitalise. At exactly the right time, they released a sonic behemoth with the “Black” album and it was the lyrics of James Hetfield that people connected with. His anger at his Mum’s beliefs in “The God That Failed”, his anger at his childhood in “The Unforgiven” and heartbreak in “Nothing Else Matters”. Added to that a scorched earth marketing blitz and in 2016, we have the highest selling Soundscan album.

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It’s “2015 Chaos AD” and People Are Seeking Filters

A common question today is “How do musicians make money?”

Depending on which side of the argument you are, you either focus on the positives of today’s music market or on the negatives of today’s music market. Artists like Paul Stanley, Yngwie Malmsteen, Joe Perry, Scott Ian, Gene Simmons and Kirk Hammett focus on the headlines that read;

  • Album sales are down
  • iTunes single downloads are down
  • Streaming services are decimating artists incomes
  • Technology and the internet has killed the rock star

But it’s not gloom and doom. The old ways are not coming back. You don’t see people going back to dial up internet, three TV channels and landline telephones. So why do you expect them to start buying albums again on vinyl and plastic.

So what do artists do?

Well you can complain like others for the old ways to come back or you can look at new ways and models to increase your brand and exposure.

In the link, there is a story about Linkin Park. In 2013, they decided that they needed to change their business model to accommodate the changing recorded music market. They restructured their organisation to run like a tech start-up. They parted ways with outside management and brought everything in-house

Prior to that they released music consistently, did video games, art and they licensed their grassroots marketing service to other bands, film studios, TV stations and brands.

They studied other successful artists who diversified. They studied other brands from different markets. They formed a new strategy where creating and selling music plays a supporting role instead of being the main role.

So what about someone just starting off?

A lot of people would say “Linkin Park is huge so they have the power to do things differently.” Read the article. Everything that they have going for them started with the team that was assembled to pack and send CD’s before they made it big.

For anyone starting off, the product is first. If you have no product, you have no publicity. And publicity comes from word of mouth. It’s 2015 Chaos AD and people are seeking filters. And the cold hard truth is that in order to be heard above the noise, you still need someone to promote you and your product.

I remember reading an article about word of mouth and it stated that Google, Facebook and Amazon grew because of word of mouth. Motley Crue and even Metallica had people spreading the word for them. And people will always listen to their friends.

Look at “Phish”. Their business thrives without any media attention and their career is decades deep.

And for the ones whinging about streaming profits, the goal is to get people to stream for years. Instant payola is gone.

There is another story over at the Times called “The Creative Apocalypse That Wasn’t”.

The article states, creative artists are thriving “in complicated and unexpected ways.”

Remember the words of Lars Ulrich on July 11, 2000, in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee,

‘‘We typically employ a record producer, recording engineers, programmers, assistants and, occasionally, other musicians. We rent time for months at recording studios, which are owned by small-­business men who have risked their own capital to buy, maintain and constantly upgrade very expensive equipment and facilities. Our record releases are supported by hundreds of record companies’ employees and provide programming for numerous radio and television stations. … It’s clear, then, that if music is free for downloading, the music industry is not viable. All the jobs I just talked about will be lost, and the diverse voices of the artists will disappear.’’

So 15 years have passed.

Have artists disappeared? NO

Has the music industry died? NO

But what we have are artists using a business model from the 1950’s. Spend time in a studio, record an albums worth of songs and release it. Hope that it penetrates the market and you go on a continuous victory lap celebrating the fact.

Look at any band in the history of music and they all have the definitive crossover album.

Bon Jovi has “Slippery When Wet”, Led Zeppelin has “IV”, Metallica has the “Black” album, Motley Crue has “Dr Feelgood”, Judas Priest has “Screaming For Vengeance”, Eagles have “Hotel California”, AC/DC has “Back In Black”, Kiss has “Destroyer”, Poison has “Open Up and Say Ahh..” and so on. You get the hint.

What we do know is that any record that gains traction will last longer than ever before in the current climate.

Metallica spent close to 18 months on the “Black” album and over a million dollars on it. Depending on which side of the debate you are on, it was either totally worth it or not worth it. From a band perspective, it was totally worth it. The “Black” album explosion also increased awareness in their back catalogue, which if you read my posts, you will note that even in 2015, “Master Of Puppets” is outselling the “Black” album.

But do the fans of 205 want their favourite artists to spend so much time out of the market?

While artists complain about technology changing their income streams from sales of recorded music, they seem to forget that technology has also changed the cost of recording an album/song?

If your main gig is to write songs for others, then we will be hearing your depressing stories in the press, unless you’re a Max Martin. However, if you like to play live, then the new world is for you. It’s simply economics. Recorded music is a product and performing live is also a product. Once upon a time both products were limited. Now recorded music is in infinite supply and live music is still limited. So when one product experiences a price decline, the other product which is limited, experiences an increase.

We don’t care about the corporations when it comes to music. We care about the music and the artist?

And it is unfortunate that the corporations attached the sales metric of record music as f fans caring for artists. So of course, if sales are reduced and music is illegally obtained, the same corporations with some dumb artists toe the line that fans don’t care. However, the fans do care, they just show it in different ways. But the same corporations don’t know how to make sense of the data and the artists are too poor or too far down the chain to obtain any substantial data.

Maybe that is why the direct to fan relationship has become such a focus lately. It means a leaner artist with less handlers. As the Times article states, more people are involved in music today than the glory years of the Nineties.

They are just doing it very different to what artists of yesteryear did.

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