My Year In Ten Bits Of Gear

Hobbies can be expensive, and metal is no exception. You can listen to music pretty much for free, but the all-consuming nature of metalhood compels you to also buy the clothes, collect the vinyl, go to the gigs etc.. Then there’s my guitar obsession: equipment, lessons… it all adds up financially. But the way I justify it, being a metalhead is cheaper than being a middle-class schoolmum.

Bottle of prosecco with the ladies? £20. Plastic cup of beer at a gig by myself? £3.

Cashmere cardigan from Boden? £80. Satanic band tee from a merch stand? £10.

A year of hairdressing appointments? £200. Not even bothering to brush my hair anymore? Zero quid.

And since I have completely changed my lifestyle, I reckon I have saved enough money to deserve those concert tickets and ever-expanding collection of black t-shirts. So here’s a rundown of the metal purchases that changed my life in 2017:

1. Vox Amplug 2 Metal mini amplifer: This tiny little battery amplifier, smaller than a matchbox, was a revelation: plug it directly into your guitar and earphones and you’re away, with distortion and everything. Why has it changed my life? Because now I can take my guitar into the bathroom and hide from the kids. Undisturbed practice = priceless.

2. Moldex Rocket Earplugs: There was a time not long ago when I poured scorn on earplug wearers. What kind of a metal pussy are you, with your, your.. earplugs? But how little I knew. Ear protection is essential and I never go to a gig without it now. In Switzerland where I now live it’s practically regulation; they hand out packets of yellow foam plugs at the doors. But much better than the bog-standard ones are these little purple guys. You can’t lose them because they go on a string around your neck, and they reduce just the right amount of volume rather than muffling everything. Now I can enjoy being right at the front of gigs, safe in the knowledge that my ears won’t be ringing dangerously in the morning.

3. Seymour Duncan Invaders: I play grindcore, usually downtuned to B, so I’m after the maximum depth and resultant tones from my sound. The Seymour Duncan Invader is the mother of all pick-ups; it’s not for the faint-hearted, and when I switched the standard pick-up on my trusty PRS to a set of Invaders, I instantly became 100 per cent more badass. You can’t really play clean any more once you have these, but who the hell wants to play clean?

4. Boss GT-1 Guitar Effects Processor: When I first started out playing electric guitar, my main goal was to build an impressive and pointless collection of colourful pedals, and build a pedalboard like the above. But since my electrical and carpentry skills are even weaker than my guitar ability, that was unrealistic. And then the other guitarist in my band recommended a multi-effects processor. This one has over 100 built-in effects, including noise suppressor. A game-changer.

5. Spiky boots: I bought these cheap in a vintage store, and they have actual spikes on the front, very useful.

6. Multiple Wallet Chains: Me and the sixteen-year old bassist in my band are waged in a long-running competition to see how many chains we can dangle from our jeans. I just don’t feel properly dressed without them now.

7. About 150 t-shirts: My collection is getting out of hand, but since I wear one every day I think it’s ok. You can’t go to a gig and not visit the merch stand. It’s just rude.

8. Battle jacket: I’ve finally collected enough patches to get sewing on something other than school name labels. Do I want to look like a middle-aged hairy biker bloke from 1983? Of course I do!

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9. ESP Alexi-600 Greeny Signature: Ok I didn’t actually buy this- it was a birthday present from my husband and kids. But it’s the most beautiful, wonderful guitar in the world and I love love love it. Everyone told me not to get a pointy guitar: ‘You’ll have someone’s eye out, it’s try-hard, you won’t be able to sit down to play it’. But who wants to SIT DOWN to play metal? Anyway you can sit down, you just wedge it satisfyingly against your inner thigh. Yes it’s a lethal weapon, yes it’s so big it doesn’t even fit in my car, yes it’s got a fluorescent green skull on it, but I look totally badass with it and hopefully one day I’ll sound badass as well.

10. Roy The Reaper Bobblehead: Ok he didn’t change my life. And I didn’t buy him either, he came free with my latest Children of Bodom hoodie. But he’s so cute and I just love having him nodding about on my desk. And come to think of it, my forthcoming novel (to be published this year, hurray!) is basically about the Grim Reaper, so perhaps Roy’s inspiration did change my life after all.

I guess I’ve already blown most of my 2018 metal budget on tickets for Hellfest. But I do have my eye on a Morbid Angel box set…. happy shopping metalheads!

Damnation Fest, Leeds 4.11.17

This weekend my metal odyssey took me to Damnation Festival, a one-day indoor festival at Leeds University. 4 stages, 27 bands, an incredible line-up, and a whole day and night away from being a mum. I had built up this weekend in my mind so much- could it possibly meet expectations? Here are 10 things I learned at Damnation:fed513_93eb22e675bd4f7caf5de81bd9e91d76~mv2_d_1750_2450_s_2

  1. I am not hard enough for the Nails pit. Having seen hardcore punk band Nails already this year, I knew things would get crazy, so found myself a great, safe viewing spot up on some steps. However a surge of bodies forced me down into the pit, and it was tough to stay upright! I was hit hard in the chest and winded, but there was no escaping from the floor area, so my brother and another big bloke barricaded me into a corner from where I could watch in safety. Nails look like they should be playing the bad guys in Dawson’s Creek, but their set was 45 minutes of pure anger and had an immediate and profound effect on the crowd. It was incredibly intense and despite getting a bit smashed up, I loved it.
  2. Dragged Into Sunlight are genuinely unnerving. Hailing from my home town of Liverpool, Dragged Into Sunlight use ridiculous amounts of smoke and play with their backs to the audience. I was waiting for the moment when they all spun around, until I realised they weren’t going to. Their music and performance was powerful in a way I’m struggle to define, and I’m still sort of processing it.
  3. Agoraphobic Nosebleed’s female vocalist is incredible. As a grindcore aficionado, it was absolutely necessary for me to see Agoraphobic Nosebleed, a drum-machine grindcore band now in their 23rd (!) year. Currently they have a dual vocal line-up but it was Kat Katz (ex-Salome) whose pipes really stood out- wow.
  4. I have a crush on Gregor Mackintosh. He had me at ‘Blood and Chaos’ when I saw Paradise Lost in Geneva last week, and as frontman of supergroup Vallenfyre this afternoon he sealed the deal, with his lovely Yorkshire accent. IMG_2416.jpg
  5. Amazing festival line-ups are actually a bit stressful. My tactical planning was on the military level to make sure I saw everything I wanted. How do I choose between two of my favourite bands on at the same time? Do I eat or do I see Mutation? Queue for beer and risk missing Sodom? Decisions decisions…
  6. Your musical experience is entirely dependent on your crowd position. I’ve been spoilt recently, going to see great bands in small venues where I’m right at the front. So I couldn’t be arsed to watch Myrkur from behind a pillar thirty metres from the stage. I think she might have been brilliant, but I just couldn’t get into it.IMG_2395
  7. Dying Fetus are incredible. By this time I was starving and desperate for the loo, but I was determined to hold my viewing spot for Dying Fetus, and it was totally worth it. I’ll never get over how awful their band name is, but man those riffs… I wanted to see if John Gallagher could replicate his insane arpeggio runs live, and he didn’t miss a note. Again, it went by in a flash. 100 per cent exhilarating.IMG_2415
  8. Get to the merch stand early. We surveyed the shopping area on arrival and planned to come back and make our purchases later so we didn’t have to carry them around. But at 9pm- nooooo- almost everything had been cleared up. No official festival t-shirt for me!
  9. The smaller stages are full of gems. The Tone Mgmt stage was tucked away at the back of the Union and I had a superb time in there, right at the front, with Leng Tsche, Mutation and Psycroptic.
  10. You can actually have too much metal. Perhaps that is a sacrilegious statement. Perhaps I am too old and too ‘mum’ for this. But by 11pm I was knackered after 9 hours of solid metal, and I’m ashamed to say I left before Bloodbath.

 

Damnation Fest was well-organised and friendly with a brilliant line-up. Everything hurts today- ears, ribs, head, feet- and that can only be a good sign. My first Damnation and hopefully the start of a new annual pilgrimage to Leeds!

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Hellfest (Clisson, 16-18 June 2017)

Back from Hellfest, and now that I’ve thrown away boots so filthy they could not be salvaged, had the finest shower known to man, and laid out my 47 new band t-shirts to admire- it’s time to reflect. This was my first Hellfest, and given that it was blazing hot, I’m not much of a camper, and had a non-metal husband in tow, I think I gave it a pretty good shot. An in-depth report will follow for Broken Amp magazine, but here’s a quick round-up and photos.

HELLFEST HIGHS

  • While She Sleeps– this was really really special, an unforgettable set and an absolute privilege to be there. While She Sleeps are having an amazing year and there’s no way they should be playing at 12.15pm on an outlying stage. In any case they performed like headliners, with incredible musicianship and appreciation for their fans. And as for the stage diving- check this out:
  • Decapitated– masters at work. The Polish technical death metal pioneers absolutely blew me away- mesmerised.
  • Ultra Vomit– Ultra Vomit are Hellfest locals (from Nantes) so they may have received some special treatment, but they totally deserved their place on the main stage. Funny, good-natured, they sounded brutal even when singing about ‘ze shit et le pee pee’, and they had the whole main arena singing and dancing.
  • Shopping. Oh my goodness Hellfest was metal shopping heaven. I went completely overboard. Wondering if my new Cannibal Corpse bandana will work on the school run.
  • Clisson– lovely welcome from the locals, and superb organisation. Even the village pharmacy and optician had made satanic window displays; local kids sprayed hot festival-goers with water; despite Hellfest being sold out, I didn’t queue once, for anything, the entire weekend. Everyone knows the stories about local priests and Catholic organisations objecting to the event, but for me there was no evidence of anything but positivity.

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HELLFEST LOWS

  • Steel Panther– I was really excited about Steel Panther; I’ve always found them entertaining and Satchel is one of my favourite guitarists. However my husband was appalled- ‘rapey, juvenile, homophobic’- he just didn’t get the joke, and seeing them live I realised that maybe he had a point. Getting girls up onto the stage then pressuring then into taking off their tops? Not cool. In order for Steel Panther to work, the joke needs to be on them, not their audience. So disappointing. I still want to like them, their music is good and they seem like nice guys- but they’ve taken the joke so far that it’s no longer parody, it’s just offensive.
  • Missing Nostromo and Slayer: aargh, my two big favourites for the festival and they had to play after my flight had left last night. Dying to know how Nostromo did- such a big come-back moment for them.
  • Cashless– we dutifully charged up our Hellfest Cashless cards, only to discover that the only thing you could really buy with them was beer. There was a time when my husband and I could easily drink 200 euros’ worth of beer in one day, but that time has long gone sadly.

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HELLFEST SURPRISES

  • Motionless In White: I did not expect to like this gothic metal band, but I checked them out on the main stage and they crushed it. Great music and much heavier than I expected. I am now a fan.
  • Exercise– according to my husband’s fitbit we walked 42 kilometres over the course of the weekend! Result- makes up for all the burgers and chips we ate!
  • Chelsea Grin–  so, so fun. I may be a mum approaching 40 but I got down with the kids in the circle pit, and discovered I’m rather good at slam dancing. My eldest son would have cringed himself to death.

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LEAST SURPRISING THINGS EVER AT HELLFEST

  • The sheer number of cheese-based food options. The French really do like to eat a lot of cheese, even when it’s 37 degrees and there’s no shade. There were also lots of people eating oysters and mussels that had been sitting out in the sun all day. Bonne chance, mes amis.
  • Blokes in costumes. There were blokes in wedding dresses, monks’ habits, dinosaur suits, tutus, nappies; and there was of course the obligatory aggressive-fat-naked-guy with only a sock over his willy. I almost gagged when he brushed his back sweat over me.
  • Which-band-to-watch dilemmas– with such a strong line-up it was impossible to see everyone I wanted to see, and I was left wanting more- but there’s always next year. I LOVED Hellfest!

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Things I Have Learned About Metal

Two years ago I walked into a guitar shop with a newborn baby strapped to my chest, and said the following words:

‘I’d like to buy a guitar and amplifier please. For playing heavy metal’.

I came home with an Ibanez SA360, a Marshall DSL5C, a bag full of cables, picks, pedals, and a ridiculous guitar strap covered in skulls.  I did remember to bring the baby as well. But at that moment my life changed forever; not because I have become an incredible and famous thrash metal guitarist (still working on that), but because I became a Metalhead. And it has made me happy.

            When my metal renaissance began I had no idea how much there was to learn; I was a freshman at the University of Metal, and although I’m still a long way from graduating, it’s time for a moment of quiet reflection in my very loud life.

  1. Knowledge Is Power

Two years ago I thought I knew about metal, because I had a couple of Iron Maiden and Metallica albums and had once seen a Korn concert. I knew nothing. I was so achingly naïve about metal that I cringe at some of the early posts on my blog. Metal prides itself on its history, and is constantly referencing that history, so that in order to be a true metalhead you must educate yourself. In order to join a subculture you must gain ‘subcultural capital’[1]. So I set about listening, reading, and building up my ‘scene knowledge’; from the basics such as metal’s roots in Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, to metal’s 90s wilderness years, its split into countless subgenres, and the musical motifs that define those subgenres.

Now I write for an online metal magazine, Broken Amp, and although I can hold my own in some areas (musicology, my favourite subgenres thrash and grindcore, and, er.. fashion), I am so far behind the rest of the guys who write for the site- they are veritable encyclopedias of metal. But that just makes me excited about how much more I have to discover!

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2. Metal Is Intelligent

Metal was saddled with a low-brow, apolitical, mindless reputation in the 1980s, thanks to affectionate spoofs such as Spinal Tap, as well as more sinister anti-metal campaigns waged by Tipper Gore and other conservatives. But those of us who love metal know that it is a complex, beautiful art form, which attracts intelligent and sensitive people.

Metal is now an academic subject in itself, with peer-reviewed journals, academic conferences and books containing the highest quality analysis. There is also some excellent metal journalism; I am constantly impressed with the standard of writing in Metal Hammer, Terrorizer, as well as many online magazines.

Metal is filled with cleverness, and I feel enriched from the people I’ve met. Testament’s lead guitarist has discussed with me the various merits of Thomas Mann novels; the bassist in Children of Bodom has explained Mozartian counterpoint to me; metal lyrics have led me to read HP Lovecraft, Carl Jung, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

 

3. Metalheads Are Nice

Of course there are Beavis & Buttheads, misogynists, neo-Nazis, nutters like Varg Vikernes. But they are on the fringes, and there are nutters on the fringes of everything. Metal welcomed me with open arms; I felt accepted from the beginning, and everywhere I go I encounter niceness- at gigs, festivals, even on Twitter, it’s a world of positivity. Metal fans take care of each other- picking you up if you fall over in the pit, queueing politely for beer. My favourite moment of Download 2016 was when I emerged from the pestilent horror of the flooded portaloos and a man with a tattooed face offered me a squirt of handgel.

             My guitar teacher is in a well-known grindcore band that plays the angriest, most evil music you could possibly imagine. On stage he is terrifying. But in person- you couldn’t wish to meet a more gentle and considerate man. Metalheads are in touch with their feelings, perhaps because they have a safe outlet for them. A recent study at the University of Queensland found that listening to metal calms people down as much as classical music.

4. Metal Musicians Are Highly-Skilled

As a teenage pianist I needed a second instrument in order to get a place at a conservatoire, so I chose classical guitar. After a few lessons I plucked up the courage to tell the teacher about my metal ambitions. He was furious and launched into a tirade about how metal was not proper music, that these guys were ‘just twiddling about and pressing buttons’. I knew he was wrong but this was so deflating, and my classical guitar lessons fizzled out not long after.

Metal musicians are in fact the most highly-skilled in popular music. In the 1980s virtuosi such as Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, Yngwe Malmsteen, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani professionalised guitar playing, and since then metal guitarists have openly strived for technical excellence.

I have been battling away with my electric guitar for two years now, and it is slow going; even though I have a degree in classical piano, I still sound pretty rubbish and can just about knock out some standard riffs. The electric guitar is a complex instrument to be treated with as much respect as any orchestral instrument.

And let’s not forget about the other metal instrumentalists. Have you ever tried to fathom what Meshuggah’s drummer is doing? Because it’s a complex mathematical equation, and that’s before we even consider the immense passion and expression he adds to the mix. Steve Harris may be a ‘lowly’ bassist but he is the powerhouse and genius behind Iron Maiden’s 40-year success. Extreme metal vocalists are not just randomly growling and screaming into a microphone; extraordinary amounts of control are needed to achieve their range of sounds without damaging their vocal chords.

 

5. Metal Is All-Consuming

Before I became a metalhead, I use to listen to Radio 4, classical music, and sometimes even a bit of (god forbid) pop music in the car. Now I struggle to listen to anything that isn’t metal- I’ve become completely intolerant.

I’ve put on a stone in weight because instead of going to the gym I’m playing the guitar or writing about metal. And when I do go to the gym I no longer listen to ‘dance mixes’ but to Carcass and Exodus to get me pumped up.

I have thrown away from my wardrobe anything remotely floral, Boden catalogue, Marks & Spencer- basically anything that could be categorised as ‘Mum’. I only wear black band t-shirts, ripped jeans with an awesome chain hanging off them, and my beloved biker boots. Dressing is SO much easier nowadays.

I don’t buy women’s magazines anymore, only metal and guitar mags. I should really be getting a proper job again now my littlest is going to nursery, but I’m far too busy writing metal reviews for Broken Amp- that is now my job!

 

6. Metal Is Fun

Metal is the most fun I have had since I was a student. Metal is more fun than riding down the street in a shopping trolley after eight Long Island Iced Teas, eating a kebab at 4am then throwing up in the gutter. Actually looking back it wasn’t that fun.

Now I get up in the morning with things to look forward to beyond childcare and domestic drudgery. And that makes me a better mother, because I’m a happier mother. I look forward to gigs with the excitement of a child counting down to Christmas. When my copy of Metal Hammer arrives I get a warm glow and stash it away for a quiet moment without the kids, so that I can savour it. I listen to songs about dragons and Vikings without a trace of irony, but simply because they are fun. And extremity begets extremity- the heavier you go, the heavier you need, so that with my current favourites being Carcass and Entombed, goodness knows what I’ll be listening to in another couple of years.

 

7. Most People Hate Metal

My friends and family treat my new hobby with overwhelming contempt. She’s having a midlife crisis, she’s attention-seeking, she looks ridiculous, etc etc. It’s the elephant in the room, something we can’t discuss- as if I was having an affair or had had some sort of absurd facial cosmetic surgery failure.

            The only person who has attempted to join in, mainly because he would like to see me once in a while, is my husband. He has bravely attended gigs with me and is even coming to Hellfest for a ‘romantic weekend’. But he just doesn’t like the music, and he has really tried. The only time he has found something to like thus far was at a Zeal & Ardor gig.  Perhaps it’s either in you or it isn’t. My husband is understanding but in a sort of sympathetic way, as if I’m having a sort of prolonged nervous breakdown.

            The kids roll their eyes:  ‘Let’s just pretend she’s a normal mother’, I once heard them say to each other. My guitar-playing is mainly an annoyance because they can’t hear the TV when I’m practising, and they live in constant dread of me getting it out when they have friends over for playdates. Occasionally they indulge me- last week I had to review the new Iced Earth album so we played it in the car on the school run. ‘Mummy, what’s a Seven-Headed Whore?’ They answered it themselves:

2yo: ‘Is a bad bad bad bad lady’

5yo: ‘It’s like a dragon’

7yo: ‘IT CANNOT BE KILLED’

10yo: ‘It’s definitely not appropriate for us’

 

8. Metal Is A Global Community And A Force For Good

The first big metal gig I went to was Testament, when they passed through Oxford- just after I bought that first guitar. Seeing hordes of people making their way down Cowley Road wearing matching tour t-shirts gave me an enormous buzz, a sense of belonging, and this feeling is addictive. When you go to an Iron Maiden concert you are part of a global tribe. I love it when I spot a fellow metal shirt-wearer in an incongruous place, we catch each other’s eye and have a shared moment of fellowship. I suppose it’s like being a football fan, except that metal transcends local and national boundaries. It gives people an outlet, a voice, a safe space to channel aggression.

Last year I emigrated due to my husband’s work, and that sense of displacement is really hard, especially for the trailing spouse. Metal gave me a very important sense of still belonging somewhere, as well as a ready-made community here in Switzerland. It also gives me an identity; as a stay-at-home mum who gave up her career, it can be hard to accept that people only associate you with pushchairs, nappies and breastfeeding, when once you were a career woman in a suit. I’m still a mum, and I’ll probably never wear a suit again, but I’m also a Metalhead, and that gives me an inner strength.

The Tipper Gore/Parental Advisory/’metal is Satan’s music’ days are long gone; metal bands care about their fans, care about young people, care about the environment. Metal is a force for good.

 

9. Metal People Tend To Like Wrestling

When I joined twitter a few months ago I followed lots of metal fans and writers, and noticed that they were all on about WWE. It just so happened that my sons also got into WWE this year, so now I know all about Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Sasha Banks, Chris Jericho and the rest. I actually love collecting wrestling facts and toys with the kids- I’ve even been to see a live RAW show. And yes, wrestling is quite metal- counterintuitively positive values, escapism, tight trousers, controlled aggression, post-ironic visions of masculinity. And I am totally into it.

 

10. I Don’t Feel Marginalised As A Woman

Nobody within metal seems bothered either way that I’m a woman. In fact I’m rather regretting my ‘metal mama’ persona on social media, because it’s not even a thing. So what if I’m a mama? And I love that.

            Of course there are problems with sexism and misogyny in metal- but hang on- that’s the world in general, sadly. And at least metal gives women a space to experiment with alternative versions of themselves. It’s no coincidence that a disproportionate number of metal scholars in academia are women- Rosemary Lucy Hill, Michelle Philipov, Amber Clifford-Napoleone, to name but a few. They want to understand why they were attracted to this form of music that supposedly excludes them.

            Nowadays there are loads of female metal musicians, and not just the amazing vocalists like Alyssa White-Gluz and Cristina Scabbia. Nita Strauss is one of my favourite guitarists, Reba Meyers is completely brutal in Code Orange. Lzzy Hale is a metal star who happens to be female, but it doesn’t define her. It isn’t even necessary to mention when bands have female members anymore- it doesn’t need to be a thing.

11. Earplugs Are Ok

In fact they are more than ok- they are essential. When I first started going to gigs, particularly in Switzerland, I was astounded to see so many tough-looking people with bits of yellow stuff in their ears, and I even took the piss out of them. What kind of a pussy are you, with your earplugs….. metal is SUPPOSED to be loud! I was obsessed with the notion of affective overdrive, the need to drown myself in sound. But you can still do that while protecting your ears. As someone pointed out to me recently ‘There’s nothing metal about tinnitus’. I plan on still being able to hear this stuff when I’m old!

 

12. Metal Is Thriving

Anyone who thought metal’s heyday is long gone would be completely wrong. The old gods are still there, doing victory laps, comeback tours and ‘Best Of’ albums. But they are joined by a constant flow of exciting new bands. I’m supposed to be working on a ‘Best of 2016 so far’ album list for Broken Amp, and I simply can’t choose. And when I go to gigs there are loads of young people getting into the scene. These are exciting times for metal- the 1980s may have been glory days, but perhaps we are living new glory days now.

 

13. ‘Once A Metalhead, Always A Metalhead’

I believe it was Rob Halford of Judas Priest who said this. There is absolutely no going back for me now- this is my lifestyle.  I will continue my quest for new and more extreme forms of metal, while worshipping my heroes and the classics. I will wear my metal clothing with pride. Next week I will be setting off on my first pilgrimage to Hellfest, where I hope to be taking my children and grandchildren for many years to come.

 

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[1] Sarah Thornton, quoted in Keith Kahn-Harris, ‘Extreme Metal: Music and Culture on the Edge’

Iron Maiden, Liverpool Echo Arena, 20th May 2017

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There’s little to say that hasn’t already been said about Iron Maiden- beloved, iconic, untouchable- they are an export of which Britain can be extremely proud. And we don’t have an awful lot else to be proud of just at the moment.

Iron Maiden are on their first UK tour in six years, although it doesn’t really feel like they have been away, and indeed I last saw them perform less than a year ago at Download 2016. But travelling to see them in my home city of Liverpool felt like a pilgrimage, a necessity; I simply had to be there. Anyone who has seen the movie Flight 666 will know there’s a church in Brazil where Iron Maiden is preached as a religion; and there is definitely a quasi-religious feel about an Iron Maiden gig. Walking through Liverpool yesterday and seeing Eddie t-shirts everywhere, fellow Maiden fans of all generations heading towards a common purpose, was incredibly exciting. Liverpool is a party city, of passionate people, and at 4pm on a Saturday afternoon every pub, bar and restaurant was full, metalheads mingling with hen parties and football fans.

Attending with my brother was special for several reasons. The last time we went to a gig together was to see Korn in 1995, so this was a family metal reunion after 22 years. And Iron Maiden was where our shared love of metal began; begging our Dad to buy us Maiden t-shirts aged 8 and 9; saving up our pocket money to go halves on a cassette of Powerslave; arguing over our favourite track. My brother is a mild-mannered nuclear physicist, but he also used to be in a band and is a walking encyclopedia of metal. We spent a mini Maiden pub crawl (The Swan, The Pumphouse, The Baltic) discussing the finer points of grindcore versus hardcore, then headed towards the Echo Arena.

Iron Maiden delivered exactly what they always promise- pyrotechnics, giant inflatable and robotic Eddies, showmanship, musicianship, and joyfulness. The energy of these guys, after almost forty years on the road, is unbelievable, and they appear to love it as much as ever. In a set of almost two hours, there were lots of songs from the new album The Book of Souls, keeping the Irons new and relevant, but plenty of old favourites too- Children of the Damned, The Trooper, Fear of the Dark, Powerslave and more.  Bruce Dickinson, who inexplicably wears his favourite black hooded jumper despite the heat and his exertions, was charismatic and brilliant as always. He is one of those people who is so metal he is ‘beyond metal’. I was standing right in front of Janick Gers who was in his own delightful world of guitar tricks. Steve Harris ensured that every member of the crowd was singing. I was agonisingly close to catching one of Nicko McBrain’s drumsticks when he hurled them into the crowd. British audiences are not as effusive as some of Iron Maiden’s foreign crowds, but I hope the band could feel the love out there.

Today feels like Boxing Day, or the day after your birthday; a bit deflated that it’s over, but still riding high. Only a small percentage of the population like metal music, and even fewer people could name more than a handful of Iron Maiden songs, but that hasn’t stopped this band from becoming a global phenomenon. Everywhere you go in the world you see an Iron Maiden t-shirt. Their influence, both musically and culturally, is hard to overstate. They are the epitome of hard work, positivity and togetherness, and I am proud to be a member of the global Iron Maiden family.

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Metal Mama Guitar School: 10 Steps To Becoming The Guitarist You Deserve To Be

As a child you dreamed of being an axe god. In front of the bedroom mirror you were Slash, you were James Hetfield, you were Kirk Hammett- only much better than them. But you waited and waited; you listened to your parents and learned classical piano instead; you got a sensible job, married and had children; and now you’re nearly 40 and still not a famous guitarist.

Well I’m here to tell you that it’s Not Too Late. As long as you’re prepared to spend lots of money and live in a fantasy world, you can still be a guitar god with surprisingly little effort.

I have dabbled in guitar pedagogy in the past; my ‘Ten Very Easy Metal Riffs’ (see link) is a classic of the genre. But that was before I became the virtuoso I am today. For example, I now own three guitars, one of which has SEVEN STRINGS and is, to quote my sons, ‘epic’. I haven’t actually played it yet, but simply owning it is proof of my abilities. Furthermore, I can now play Master of Puppets at about 70% of full speed. I have also become a recording artist; my guitar teacher and I are currently recording my one-woman goregrind album, entitled Episiotomy. I’ve composed two tracks so far, one of which has an ACTUAL GUITAR SOLO in it.

So it’s time to impart some of my wisdom. Here are a few excerpts from my forthcoming instructional book; I hope they help you to attain the same shredding skills that I have acquired. Forget that whole 10,000 hours theory- just follow these simple rules.

  1. If you make this facial expression while playing, you automatically sound better:

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2. If you buy loads of random pedals it automatically makes you a better player. Just buy a new and differently-coloured pedal every time you go to the guitar shop, even when they tell you it’s a waste of money.

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3. Small amplifiers are ok for home use, but if you get one that’s bigger than your fitted wardrobes, it automatically makes you a better player.

4. If no-one has tried to strangle you yet, it’s probably ok to play The Trooper riff a few hundred more times in a row.

5. If you wear a Slayer t-shirt it automatically makes you play Raining Blood faster. Matching your t-shirt to your riff is not lame at all.

6. The noise suppressor is your friend. Crank it right up, it’s definitely definitely not cheating.

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7. Phrygian is your friend. Don’t bother learning the other modes, it’s not like you’re ever gonna play a solo, you’re terrible.

8. Don’t bother practicing scales or arpeggios. Who has time for that? Who do you think you are, Van Halen? And NEVER play on the clean channel. Stick with the power chords you know and trust.

9. It’s fine to just play the same riff over and over again and never learn a whole song. It’s not like you’ll ever be in a proper band.

10. Always, always finish your practice sessions with Black Sabbath’s Iron Man.

Finally, when you hear comments like ‘Mummy you sound horrible’, ‘I am actually going to divorce you if you don’t turn it down’, ‘Mum when are you going to make dinner’- IGNORE. These people are haters and they don’t understand about metal.

So there you have it- there’s no need to thank me, I’m all about giving back to the fans.

For more tips- get some proper lessons.

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Lancer, ‘Mastery’

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Power metal is a guilty pleasure; you might say it’s irony-free, but I say it has travelled (on its viking longship of course, or perhaps on the wings of a dragon) beyond the far shores of irony into the realms of pure fun, and that makes it ok.  Even the most extreme metalhead can’t resist a smile of recognition on hearing a good old overblown power anthem. You have to admire bands and fans who are so confident in their musical tastes they feel no need to follow trends or diverge from that very purest form of metal. And who doesn’t love a long-haired Teutonic guy in furry underpants? I know I do.

Lancer are a young Swedish band who you may have caught last month opening for Hammerfall on their European tour. Lancer built a solid reputation with their first two albums, and have joined the Nuclear Blast label for their third full-length release, Mastery, out now.

Mastery is a robust achievement with an epic, classic feel and an overriding sense throughout of the sheer joy of playing music. It begins with the anthemic ‘Dead Raising Towers’, and then takes us through a series of stories of a suitably apocalyptic, visionary nature. Lancer’s guitar tone is very old school, the influence of NWOBHM so pervasive as to be almost a homage. There’s a little too much borrowing from Iron Maiden for my liking, particularly in the mid-section key and chord changes, and the track ‘Victims of the Nile’ is almost Maiden pastiche.

But Lancer do show signs of taking the subgenre forward with innovations of their own- fast chord sections reminiscent of thrash, occasional blast beats, and a lack of keyboards keeping it all on the right side of cringe. Isak Stenvall’s vocals are impressively operatic, and if he’s able to hit those high notes live, their concerts must be spectacular.

A competent and enjoyable album, although in Lancer’s future work I’d like to see more musical development; for example more risk-taking solos. Given their technical virtuosity (they met at music school) Lancer are eminently capable, and with Nuclear Blast behind them there’s much more they can achieve. Because even power metal has to move with the times.

Best tracks: Dead Raising Towers, Mastery, Follow Azrael

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