A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories

New Music Releases vs Maintenance Music Releases

Looking at the recent spate of releases from bands that I like, I am asking the question;

When did new music change from being about new and original music to a maintenance model of new music?

Five Finger Death Punch’s new album “The Wrong Side Of Heaven Vol. 1” is “American Capitalist” Part 2. So I am assuming that volume 2 of “The Wrong Side Of Heaven”, will be “American Capitalist” Part 3.

In order to define what I mean by new, I will use Metallica as an example.

Metallica released “Kill Em All” in 1983, which paid homage to the “New Wave Of British Metal” movement with the tempo’s increased to 200 beats per minute. It was new, and there was a technical element to it. It spawned a thousand imitators.

In 1984, they released “Ride The Lightning”. It wasn’t the same as “Kill Em All”. It was vastly different musically and lyrically and it was new. The people responded and Metallica went into refining the “Ride The Lightning” model with great success.

“Master Of Puppets” is a very similar sounding album and the track listing mirrors “Ride The Lightning”. The difference between the albums was the songs. Metallica improved as songwriters. The people responded even more. Then came the technical masterpiece of “..And Justice For All”. Again, the structure of the album was built around the “Ride The Lightning” model. However, even though it was a new album, it was still released under the maintenance model built around “Ride The Lightning”.

Then in 1991, they pressed the reset switch and released “Metallica”. It was back to the new and the people responded in the twenty millions. The “Load” and “ReLoad” albums that followed fell into the Maintenance model of releases that followed the format of the mega successful “Metallica Black” album.

Then in 2003, they pressed the reset switch again and released “St Anger”. It was back to something different. Regardless of what others thought of it, it was a gutsy move to release an album that sounded like that, along with chaotic song structures.

Then in 2008, they pressed the reset switch one more time and delivered a new album rooted in the old. They had taken the best things from the “Ride The Lightning” model and the “Metallica Black” model to deliver “Death Magnetic”.

All bands encompass these transitions.

Let’s look at Dream Theater.

In 1988, they released “When Dream and Day Unite”. It was new, taking influence from the metal bands at the time and merging those influences with progressive elements.

In 1992, they released “Images and Words”. It was new again. They didn’t go and re-write “When Dream And Day Unite”. The people responded and the album was a success.

In 1994, they released “Awake”. This album formed part of their maintenance. A good album, however you can tell they tried to rewrite “Images and Words.” The people didn’t respond to this album as they did to “Images and Words.”

Then in 1997, they released “Falling Into Infinity”. This was a new album as it moved the band into a more mainstream progressive sound. Although it had progressive elements from all previous releases, the band was pushed to enter this direction. Again, it didn’t meet the expectations of the record label and it also caused division amongst band members.

In 1999, they pressed the reset switch and released a career defining album in “Scenes From A Memory”. People responded again to the band. It was a new album in every sense.

So in 2001, they went into part new and part maintenance mode. “Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence” kept with the concept theme on CD 2. CD 1 was all new tracks that showcased a very metallic element of the band as well as a very Tool style progressive element. Of course by 2001, Tool were huge all over the world.

Then in 2003, they pressed the reset button again and came out with the best progressive metal album in “Train Of Thought”. Any die hard metaller that wasn’t sure about the band, committed to them with this release. People responded as well, as metalcore was also on the rise and those young kids were looking for other forms of heavy music.

So in 2005, instead of re-doing “Train Of Thought”, they went into a part new / part maintenance model again with “Octavarium.” A notable influence this time around was Muse, who by 2004, were huge all over the world.

With the change of record labels, “Systematic Chaos” saw the band return to the metallic elements of “Train Of Thought” in 2007 with great success.

2009 saw “Black Clouds and Silver Linings” which encompassed everything that Dream Theater is in six tracks. It was New and it set a standard.

2011 saw “A Dramatic Turn Of Events”, the first album to not feature Mike Portnoy, who wanted the band to take a 5 year break and when the band said no, he departed. This album following the maintenance model of “Black Clouds and Silver Linings” and “Images And Words.”

2013 saw the release of “Dream Theater.” It has three songs that really stand out in “Illumination Theory”, “The Bigger Picture” and “The Looking Glass”. In the end, this is Dream Theater trying to create something new, however it is another maintenance album.

When you put these bands against the hundreds of millions of other musicians all making music, how does it all stack up.

There is a lot of great music out there that hasn’t been heard. There is a lot of good, a lot of okay and a lot of crap music as well.

With so much music being made every day and released every day, it is impossible for everyone to listen to it all. So when the label bands do end up releasing music, they need to make sure they captivate us to stick around, otherwise we just move on, trying to find something else in the meantime. Some other new niche. That is the new music business.

When an artist has an audience they need to be thankful for that audience. They need to show some respect towards that audience. The label bands have a head start, however if they turnover too many maintenance style of releases compared to something new and refreshing, the audience will move on.

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A to Z of Making It, Influenced, Music, My Stories

Undeniable Greatness with Metallica and Dream Theater

You are a teenager and starting a band. What do you have that could bring you untold fame and riches?

Life is your art right. It forms the basis of the songs that you write. The personal experiences from your life form the themes. So the saying goes, you need to have lived to create everlasting art. So if your definition of success depends upon becoming a household name in the quickest time possible, you’re going to waste a lot of time being frustrated.

The winners that win, do so because they outlast the competition. Metallica isn’t on top at the moment because they were better than everybody else. The same goes for Motley Crue. Both bands outlasted their competition.

What happened to Raven, the band that Metallica opened up for before Kill Em All was released? Even though bands like Slayer, Exodus and Anthrax are still around, they have never done the numbers that Metallica has done.

Anthrax had too many changes and they didn’t have that singer in Belladonna and Bush that could relate to the audience. Exodus didn’t really rate, while Slayer and Megadeth forged out a sustainable career on the back of the Metallica steam train.

Metallica
The best work for me is Ride The Lightning. For others it is Master of Puppets. For others it is the Black album. For this case study, let’s use the sales statistic, so that would mean the Black album is their best work.

The Black album was written in 1990 and released in 1991. James Hetfield, the main song writing force in the band was 27 years old in 1990. Lars Ulrich was also 27. Bob Rock, the producer was 36. The point here is that the people involved in the creation of this masterpiece have lived and experienced.

James, Lars and Kirk Hammet lived through a bus crash, which claimed the life of their band mate and main musical muse Cliff Burton.

Bob Rock by 1991 had worked on numerous big sellers, so he knew what it took to get the best out of the band. Watch the Classic Albums documentary and see how Bob Rock pushed Kirk Hammet to record that classic guitar solo in The Unforgiven.

Some say that Metallica sold out with the Black album, however it is as brutal as all the other Metallica albums that came before it. For all the haters, I dare them to point to any other album as heavy as the Black album that was riding high on the charts.

Forget about the single cuts like Enter Sandman, Sad But True, Wherever I May Roam and Nothing Else Matters. You need to dig deeper to hear the quality. Through The Never is a classic cut from the Master of Puppets era, as well as My Friend of Misery (that has similarities to the Orion breakdown). The best songs by far on the Black album is Holier Than Thou and The God That Failed. While one is classic speed metal in the Judas Priest vein, The God That Failed is the mainstreams introduction to groove metal, a term that Pantera would make famous with A Vulgar Display of Power.

The Black album desensitised everyone and set a standard of heaviness for bands like Korn, White Zombie, Disturbed, Alice In Chains, Rage Against The Machine, Tool, Nine Inch Nails and Ministry to step in and desensitise us some more. It opened the door to bands like Pantera to enter the mainstream.

Dream Theater
The breakthrough album for Dream Theater is Images and Words. Petrucci, Myung and Moore wrote it between the ages of 22 and 24 during the dark days of the vocalist search. The album came out when they were 25 years old. Another Day was written about John Petrucci’s father, who was diagnosed with cancer. Take The Time was written as their struggle at finding a new vocalist and always having to start from scratch when they failed. The music was more mature and better orchestrated. Personality sells. When Dream Theater released Images and Words, they didn’t bland their material to make it more relatable.

Then just when you thought that Dream Theater would go all mainstream, they shook things up again with Metropolis II. In the same way that 2112 from Rush laid the groundwork for what was to come for Rush, Metropolis II did the same thing for Dream Theater. It returned their core Images and Words audience and introduced the band to a large seventies era progressive rock fan base.

The next breakthrough album for Dream Theater was the heavy Train Of Thought. If there was any casual metal fan that was sitting on the sideline, this album made them commit. Of course Dream Theater always had metal styles in their music, however Train of Thought was all metal.

The recent promotion on the new Dream Theater album has the usual spin about Grammy nominated band and so on. Yep getting nominated is cool, however it doesn’t ensure long term success. Dream Theater built themselves away from the mainstream. They figured out what worked for them and what didn’t away from the mainstream, until they became so good it was undeniable. That is what will sell the band over and over again. That undeniable greatness.

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A to Z of Making It, Influenced, Music, My Stories

Why did guitarists like Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, Alex Skolnick, John Petrucci and Paul Gilbert rise above all the other shredders of the era that came on the scene between 1984 and 1994?

Rising Above

Why did guitarists like Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, Alex Skolnick, John Petrucci and Paul Gilbert rise above all the other shredders of the era that came on the scene between 1984 and 1994?

Guitarists like Tony MacAlpine, Greg Howe and Vinnie Moore are all good guitarists, however they are still relatively unknowns outside of their niche market.

When I saw Steve Vai on the G3 tour, I saw that he had Tony MacAlpine as a backing guitarist. I knew it, however the other guitarists I was with, didn’t know it or know of Tony MacAlpine.

Does anyone know that Vinnie Moore played with Alice Cooper? Does anyone know that Vinnie Moore had Jordan Rudess play on his solo album called Mind Control and that he is currently in UFO?

In the end each artist needed the hits.

Steve Vai had Yankee Rose to launch him. Who can forget the talking at the start song, between Steve Vai’s Ibanez and David Lee Roth’s vocals? It was catchy, it was entrancing and it rippled through the mainstream. The music didn’t fit the format, however back in the Eighties you can say that Yankee Rose went viral.

Yngwie Malmsteen had sweep picking. That was his hit. A simple technique. He followed that up with songs like You Don’t Remember (I’ll Never Forget), On The Run Again and Queen In Love. However it wasn’t until the Joe Lynn Turner fronted Odyssey album that Malmsteen had mainstream hits. Who can forget Heaven Tonight?

Joe Satriani is the surfing alien. Enough said. The Surfing With The Alien song and album is perfection in instrumental circles.

Another piece of perfection is Eric Johnson and his piece d resistance, Cliffs Of Dover. Hear it and the let the goose bumps come.

Alex Skolnick took a big risk back in the Eighties leaving Testament just as they were getting traction on the thrash metal circuit. So what does he do, he goes all instructional and jazzy. He started taking standard rock and metal songs and re-doing them in a jazz format. Brilliant.

John Petrucci shredded when it was uncool to do so. He got popular at a time when it was uncool to be popular for the talent he is. Why? Images and Words. That is the DT victory lap. It is that album that gave them steam in the Nineties. When that victory lap was fading away, Metropolis II came on the scene. That took them into the Two Thousands and with the release of the very metal like Train Of Thought, a new audience was won over.

Paul Gilbert is an enigma. On the Racer X albums he was just another shred clone. Then came Mr Big and he showed what a great songwriter and what a great performer he is. When the world wanted vintage Van Halen in the early nineties, Paul Gilbert stepped up. When the world wanted a shredder of the Malmsteen sense, Gilbert stepped up. I remember John Petrucci referencing a Paul Gilbert instructional video as an important instructional tool for advancing his guitar playing. The quick lead break before the Pull Me Under chorus is all Paul Gilbert played by John Petrucci. Who can forget Technical Difficulties? Paul Gilbert at his best.

All of these artists created something so good that it sold itself. It could have been a song, a technique, an instructional video and instrumental album or re doing metal standards in a jazz format.

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