Cattle Decapitation, L’Usine 10.09.17

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Cattle Decapitation are known for their gory lyrics, strong political statements about meat consumption and environmental destruction, and their generally horrific imagery. Watch their videos if you dare. But the live experience is less about the shock visuals and more about the excellent quality of the music. Their highly-technical riffs somehow evoke a sense of impending apocalypse, and the precise rhythmic changes are made even more exhilarating by the ease with which they are performed.

This is exactly the type of music I have been learning to play, and I would love a guitar lesson from Josh Elmore, whose virtuosity was a pleasure to watch from my front row vantage point.

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I don’t think Cattle Decapitation were too pleased with their audience at L’Usine; a Sunday night in Geneva was never going to be much of a party, and vocalist Travis Ryan was understandably a bit miffed that he was busting a gut to a half-empty room of blank faces. You would think telling the audience they suck is a sure way to lose them for good, but he did manage to rouse/shame enough people into action that their was a reasonable pit going by the end. It was unfortunate to see such an acclaimed band playing to a small audience, but I absolutely loved Cattle Decapitation’s set and I’m sorry if they didn’t love us Genevans- we’ll do better next time! Come on a Friday!

CD were admirably supported by Broken Hope; Jeremy Wagner has managed to keep this Chicago death metal band going on-and-off since 1988, and they sounded brutal and brilliant. They all had uniformly fabulous hair, and biceps of the night went to vocalist Damian Leski- lovely. I will definitely be checking out their new album (‘Mutilated and Assimilated’) this week, as well as their back catalogue- with song titles like ‘She Came Out In Chunks’, ‘Gobbling Guts’ and ‘Chewed To Stumps’, what’s not to love?  Nb: If you can’t handle Cattle Decapitation’s videos, don’t look at Broken Hope’s….

I’m afraid I missed the first two support bands, Hideous Divinity and Gloryhole Guillotine (!), as I was putting the kids to bed, but I did buy a couple of their t-shirts which are going to look great on the school run.

This ‘Hell On Earth’ tour is ongoing, with plenty of European dates still to come- highly recommended.

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Like A Movin’ Heartbeat: Def Leppard’s ‘Animal’

The first aIbum I ever bought was the 1987 rock classic by Def Leppard, Hysteria. Eight years old, with a £5 birthday voucher to spend in Woolworth’s, I knew nothing about Def Leppard at the time. But the album was on display in the Top Ten rack and there was something transgressive about the jagged font and sci-fi/terror artwork on the cover that appealed to me. I ended up playing and rewinding that cassette thousands of times, until it wore out completely. Def Leppard’s fourth album, Hysteria was a huge global success, charting at number one in both the UK and US and selling over twenty-five million copies to date. It is full of classic songs, creating seven hit singles and providing, for me, the gateway to a lifelong love of heavy metal. But third track ‘Animal’- that’s where my cassette tape really wore out. This track played a formative role in my youth, and is surely one of the most beautiful and evocative rock songs of all time.

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‘Animal’ is ostensibly a song about lust; raw, raging, animal lust:

I need your touch, don’t need your love, whoa oh
And I want, and I need
And I lust, animal

While this is clearly an unsuitable topic for an eight-year old, most popular music lyrics and themes are similarly inappropriate. And as with many other popular rock and pop songs, ‘Animal’ is conveniently full of metaphors, most of which can be interpreted innocently by a child:

We are the hungry ones, on a lightning raid
Just like a river runs, like a fire needs flame

Cry wolf, given mouth-to-mouth
Like a movin’ heartbeat in the witching hour
I’m runnin’ with the wind, a shadow in the dust
And like the drivin’ rain, yeah, like the restless rust
I never sleep

I misheard ‘lust’ as ‘love’, and originally thought the song was about animals, helped along in this misconception by the song’s video which is set in a travelling circus. Even today I often discover the true meaning of songs for which I had had my own childish interpretations. Pre-sexual stirrings of desire are glossed over by a child’s consciousness and instead invoke a general sense of inspired longing. Despite the lyrics to this song referring to the opposite of romantic love, the layered guitars, sultry vocals and slick-yet-gritty production manage to convey a particular type of Eighties romanticism which construct ‘Animal’ as the very essence of yearning.

The most beautiful aspect of this song, from the very beginning, is the complex guitar sound. This was the sound that made me fall in love with the guitar. As a musician, whenever I hear a song I automatically transcribe it in my head into standard notation and guitar tablature, but it’s very difficult to decipher exactly what is going on in ‘Animal’.  So the first question one asks is- how on earth did Def Leppard come up with it?  And the answer is- with difficulty. The Hysteria album was notoriously difficult and expensive to make, and ‘Animal’ caused particular headaches. First written by Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen in 1984, it took another two and a half years before the song was recorded. This was a turbulent time for the band; drummer Rick Allen had a terrible car accident and lost his arm, famously continuing to play afterwards using a modified drumkit. Meanwhile the band were struggling to adapt to their new lifestyle as rock stars and, under pressure to replicate the success of their previous album Pyromania, the budget spiralled wildly. The band’s disagreements with producer Jim Steinman resulted in him being replaced with their former producer, the legendary John Robert ‘Mutt’ Lange, whose winning, perfectionist stamp is all over Hysteria.

The vocal melody to ‘Animal’ came first, and the uniquely layered guitar sound was developed long afterwards via the band playing experimentally under the vocal line.  The combination of clean and distorted tones is irresistible, and Mutt Lange made extensive use of delay, reverb and other effects to create a rich sonic landscape. Heavily produced it may be, but this only exemplifies the full expressive range of the electric guitar, all of which can be replicated live. A simple yet evocative solo ends with an iconic pinch harmonic which is immensely satisfying and also anaphonic, intentionally or not, as it mimics the cry of a wolf.

When I first bought Hysteria I had no idea Def Leppard were British.  Theirs is the sound of late 80s America: road movies, Hollywood, small towns, canyons and scrubland. Joe Elliott’s singing voice sounds as if he is from anywhere but Sheffield; it’s almost a Californian drawl, with a rock rasp but also a certain whispery languidness, particularly on ‘Animal’. And of course Mutt Lange’s American power-ballad feel on the album is also distinctive. Indeed, Def Leppard, despite being part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, experienced American success before they made it in Britain. ‘Animal’ therefore becomes not the sound of America, but the sound of American dreams.

            There’s a poignancy to ‘Animal’ that’s very hard to define; and in fact, how can one ever define poignancy in music? The vocal harmonies, the tantalising bassline that dances around the dominant and subdominant, the ‘important’ chorus key change- all of these factors contribute. But the song never becomes syrupy, because Def Leppard continually remind us that they are, above all, a hard rock band. After the second chorus there’s a ‘heavier’ breakdown, with low register beast-like growls and a metal-style riff, plus there’s a certain grittiness that Lange managed to retain through the overdubbing. Perhaps the poignancy then comes from this Beauty and the Beast dichotomy- a rock band known for drunken escapades and misbehaviour stumbling upon something beautiful, showing their vulnerability. A song about raw sexual desire stumbling upon romance and tenderness.

There have been no significant cover versions made of ‘Animal’. It would be difficult for an artist other than Def Leppard to record this without replicating it entirely, for to put one’s own stamp on the song would be to lose its essence. It has remained intact, classic, of its time and yet timeless. ‘Animal’ may not have the best lyrics, or the best riff, or the best solo, or the best chorus; it has a very subtle beauty which is unique.

It’s been thirty years since I first heard ‘Animal’, and these days I write about metal and play death metal guitar. Most of the music I listen to and play is far more extreme than Def Leppard, but as with most true metal fans, I always return to Def Leppard and accord them the respect and honour they deserve for their seminal role in rock history. And I always return to ‘Animal’, one of those glorious songs that stirs up memories unfettered by adult concerns. The peculiar irony of a song about lust invoking a very romantic and innocent form of nostalgia.

 

 

Cute Stuff My Kids Say About Metal

Metal is all-consuming, and so is parenthood. I’m a stay-at-home mum with four small children, who have no choice but to share in my love of metal. The kids are there for my guitar practice, they listen to the albums I review, they help choose my clothes; in fact the only time I’m ever away from them is when I’m at a gig.

            Many would say that metal and parenting are incompatible, and of course there are aspects that I need to keep from them, such as excessively graphic t-shirts and album covers, excessive volume on the amps. But in general metal values are positive: power, creativity, independence of expression, commitment, … and fun! A happy mother makes for happy children, and I’m never happier than when I’m doing something metal.  The kids and I discover and evaluate music together, and as I study and improve at the guitar, they are inspired to work hard too. The girls make up ballet routines to Metallica; the boys do their karate training to a Parkway Drive soundtrack. There are few things cuter than a tiny child in a band t-shirt, and in their attempts to understand metal my kids come out with some of the cutest statements. Here’s a selection…

‘Mummy look we’ve been practising our brutal faces!’

 

Before the arrival of friends for a playdate:

  • ‘Mummy you’re not going to play the guitar when they’re here are you?’
  • ‘Let’s just pretend she’s a normal mother’
  • ‘Mum could you not wear the Iron Maiden today’

 

Commenting on my attire:

  • ‘Ooh your t-shirt is scary Mummy!’
  • ‘Why do you have all those chains dangling from your trousers?’
  • ‘I sort of prefer it when you wear a dress.. ‘
  • ‘Poor Daddy’

 

On learning that I write for a metal magazine:

  • ‘Aren’t you too old for that?’
  • ‘You should get a proper job like Daddy!’ (who’s gonna pick you up from school and cook your dinner then, you little fuckers)
  • ‘Oh god, first it was boobs (I’m a breastfeeding counsellor), now it’s guitars. You are literally the most embarrassing person in the world’.

 

Helping me to review the Iced Earth album:

  • ‘Mummy, what’s a Seven-Headed Whore?’
  • ‘I know, it’s like a dragon’
  • ‘IT CANNOT BE KILLED’
  • ‘Iz a bad bad bad lady’
  • ‘It’s definitely not appropriate for us Mum’

 

On hearing the latest grindcore riff I composed:

‘Mum that is so blatantly the tune to Peppa Pig but in a minor key’

And when I try another:

‘Nope, that’s the theme to Octonauts’

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My 5yo daughter is by far the most metal member of the family:

  • ‘This is just not heavy enough for me’ (on listening to Heaven Shall Burn)
  •  ‘Mummy can’t pick me up today because she has gone to Hell’ (to her teacher when I went to Hellfest)
  • ‘Mummy, why are some people born to love metal?’
  • ‘How about some Gojira on the way to school today?’
  • ‘Oh this is EPIC!’ (on hearing the new Decapitated)

 

Arguments in the back of the car that have ended in fist-fights:

  • Whether the Children of Bodom cover of Black Winter Day is as good as the Amorphis original
  • Whether Alexi Laiho sounds like a goblin or an orc
  • Whether the Killswitch Engage version of Holy Diver is actually better than Dio’s original
  • Whether KISS is metal or not

 

And finally, for now, my 2yo before she went to sleep last night:

‘You’re my metal mama and I’m your metal baby’

 

 

With the little one still a baby, it will be a long time before we can do a family camping trip to Download or Bloodstock. However as my eldest approaches his teens, the possibilities for embarrassing him increase and I await them with glee. Just wait til I start my band…

 

 

 

 

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’

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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Swiss Metal Alliance- Dispatches From Metal Suburbia

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This weekend I’m supposed to be writing up an article on Nostromo for Broken Amp magazine, and preparing for my big Children of Bodom interview tomorrow. That is in itself unrealistic with four children running wild around the house. But I’m distracted by a little metal concert I attended last night, so I’m going to write about that instead. Partly an exercise in procrastination, mainly a tribute to three bands who are keeping the flame alive and doing what they love.

Versoix is an affluent suburb on the banks of Lake Geneva; a residential area where not much happens.  But last night its community entertainment venue, Les Caves du Bon Sejour, played host to the ambitiously-titled ‘Swiss Metal Alliance’. A group of Swiss bands- Deep Sun, Elferya, Headless Crown and others- are on a mini-tour of the country this spring, and I am an aficionado of random metal concerts in unlikely places. Plus, when there’s free metal happening around the corner from your house, it’s a moral duty to attend.

The venue seemed deserted from the outside, but the faint sound of operatic warbling over blast beats led me down into a basement where Deep Sun, a symphonic metal band from Solothurn, had just begun their set. I am not a fan of symphonic metal- it’s a bit of a cheesefest let’s face it- but Deep Sun’s vocalist Deborah has some serious pipes, and I was really impressed by her note-perfect performance. She worked the tiny crowd as if she was in a huge stadium, her stage gestures making full use of some magnificently toned biceps.

Unfortunately Deep Sun were beset by Spinal Tap issues; at one point the guitarist’s instrument stopped working, so he disappeared off and could be seen faffing about with cables at the back of the stage. The rest of the band did their best to cover for him with some extra forceful headbanging, but even a symphonic band needs a guitar. Where’s your sense of urgency man? Eventually he manoeuvred himself sheepishly back into place, and introduced some welcome guttural growls to the proceedings. Although the band do need to come up with a better lyric than ‘METAL!’ for him to shout repeatedly.

During the obligatory ballad, two youths wearing Obituary denim jackets held their lighters aloft, a poignant moment until they were told to switch them off. Oh you Swiss and your regulations.

So I’m still not sold on symphonic metal, but Deep Sun I salute you and hope this tour brings you success; I bought your t-shirt and will wear it with pride.

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There was time for a quick people-watch before the next set, and what a strange mixture of listeners in that basement. There were metalheads of all ages who, like myself, had straggled along to see what could be gleaned metal-wise from a Saturday night in Versoix. There were plenty of Nightwish fans due to the symphonic bent of the night, a few goths, and a lot of confused looking middle-aged couples wearing cashmere and chinos, who had maybe wandered in after dinner in the next-door Chinese restaurant. There was a man in a Breton-striped jumper having a cup of tea in an armchair, and a couple of guys wearing suits, despite it being a Saturday. Perhaps they had confused Swiss Metal Alliance with an aluminium manufacturing conference. The Swiss earplug brigade were out in force; I am coming around slowly to the idea of earplugs, but seriously people, it wasn’t that loud.

Next up were Headless Crown, a classic metal band from Geneva. This was officially the most fun you can have with your clothes on in Versoix. Headless Crown, average age around 50, clearly grew up with the classic metal masters and their music is heavily influenced by Iron Maiden. They would probably have more financial success as a tribute band, but they stick doggedly, and admirably, to their own material, which is solid stuff. They were enjoying themselves so much that it was impossible not to get swept up. There was so much pointing- at the crowd, at each other, at their guitars; so many guitar faces, from the constipatory to the orgasmic; so much guitar-swinging, back-to-back playing, running about the stage. I would love to know what their day jobs are, with those haircuts; indeed their diminutive drummer, who wore Nicko McBrain style cycling shorts, had the most absurd hair I have seen in many years.

Their best track sounded as if it was called ‘Satisfy Myself’; how wonderful and Steel Panther-esque to have a serious metal song about wanking. So I was disappointed when I realised towards the end that it was probably called ‘Searching for My Soul’.

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All five members of Headless Crown are excellent musicians who could easily have held their own in a much bigger band, which led me to muse on the vagaries of fate that brought them here. Lead guitarist Ced’s solo to ‘Reach Out For The Light’ was nothing short of miraculous, and he had a beautiful guitar tone. In fact, whoever was in charge of the acoustics at this tiny venue did a great job.

Headless Crown you were wonderful, and I want to be in your band! If you ever need a new guitarist….

Finally the main act of the night was ‘power and melodic’ metal band Elferya. Again, not my type of music unfortunately, but it was great to see such a determined young band, who have put a huge amount of thought into their image and stage presence. They have a beautiful violinist who gives their music a rich and distinctive character, and having already shared stages with the big symphonic names, including Epica and Eluveitie, they may be one to watch for the future.

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So- although Swiss Metal Alliance is obviously not a true representation of the Swiss metal scene, it’s a lot of fun, and there are worse ways to spend an evening. Support your local metal!

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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