Metallica “Kill ‘Em All”

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In a previous post on this blog, I investigated an oddly-timed riff from Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” that is allegedly in 5/8 meter. This certainly isn’t the only song in which Metallica does really interesting things with their timing—meter changes and tempo changes are practically a basic element of the band’s style in their early albums, and their music would sound really different if they followed a metronome nailed to a single tempo for each song. But there are also several riffs like the one I analyzed from “Master of Puppets” that don’t easily fit into a recognizable meter. In this post, I’ll be looking at a riff that accompanies the guitar solo in their first original song “Hit the Lights.” This riff is usually transcribed with a 7/8 measure at the end, but I’ll be arguing that it actually never changes out of 4/4.

This riff begins at 2:35 in the album version of “Hit the Lights,” right after the third verse. After a few repetitions of the riff, it is transposed up a whole step and continues underneath the guitar solo. This riff is then repeated kind of like a vamp through to the end of the song.

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Meshuggah “Nostrum”

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The paradigm-defining Swedish progressive metal band Meshuggah just released their new album The Violent Sleep of Reason today, but we’ve already had weeks to listen to two singles the released leading up to the album: “Born in Dissonance” and “Nostrum.” There’s any number of things I could say about how bone-crushingly heavy these two songs are, which you can probably read in a hundred other blogs and metal industry news sites. I could also talk about how the band is continuing to use some of the same riff-writing techniques the band has used for decades. I could even show how many songs on the new album are great examples of musical structures scholars and fans have already found in Meshuggah’s music. (Meshuggah has definitely attracted it’s fair share of scholarly research — conference papers, several Master’s theses, chapters in doctoral dissertations, and even an article in one of the most prominent music theory research journals, Music Theory Spectrum.) But instead, I’d like to talk about something Meshuggah does in “Nostrum” that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, either in writing about the band by other critics and scholars, or in my own analyses.

(Update October 11, 2016: Dr. Olivia Lucas, who received her PhD from Harvard this last May, has just written me to tell me that in chapter 2 of her dissertation about extreme metal, she observes a similar kind of isorhythm to what I describe here in the Meshuggah song “Pineal Gland Optics” from ObZen (2008). She pointed out that in “Pineal Gland Optics” the pitches form a repeating pattern, but in the second riff from “Nostrum” there is no repeating sequence of pitches, so it’s not exactly the same, but it’s pretty similar. Based on the few pages I’ve just read, I highly recommend her dissertation to anyone interested in rhythm and meter in Meshuggah’s music!)

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Early “Ride the Lightning” Review

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Sorry I haven’t posted in a while! I’ve been hard at work on other things in my life (like starting to write my dissertation). I have a research project about Metallica that is gradually making some progress, though, because I’ve spent a fair amount of time scouring the internet for interviews with the band and reviews of their early releases and performances. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find as many sources from the early- and mid-1980s as I had hoped for—that is, until I put a search into Jason Netherton’s incredible fanzine archive Send Back My Stamps! which has a number of German zines with articles about Metallica dating from 1984 or 1985. I think part of the reason I had missed these until now is that I was searching in English. Also, where else on the internet can you find scans of photocopied amateur metal zines from thirty years ago? Really, there is nowhere else. Thanks to Jason Netherton for putting together such an amazing resource!

Logo from the cover of Speed Attack #2 (1985). For the whole of issue #1, see

Logo from the cover of Speed Attack #2 (1985). For all of issue #1, where this review came from, see <https://sendbackmystamps.org/2013/10/16/speed-attack-1-germany-1984-auf-deutsch>

What follows is my own transcription and translation of a review by “Peter” appearing in the German fanzine Speed Attack #1 (1984). Continue reading

Motörhead “Overkill”

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I’ve been looking at two Motörhead albums very closely this week: Overkill (1979) and Ace of Spades (1980). Motörhead is a unique band with a unique relationship to genre. Many metal critics relate them to the British punk explosion (and implosion) of 1977,1 but Motörhead outlived the career of virtually any 70s punk band and remained relevant thanks in part to a close relationship with a metal scene that they were never really entirely within. Motörhead served as an influence and even a kind of godfather to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) that took off in the early 80s; Lemmy Kilmeister (RIP, Dec. 2015) was from an older generation than most of the British teenagers that formed bands like Saxon and Diamond Head at the end of the seventies, but despite steering clear of all of the musical tendencies and lyrical trappings of the kind of heavy metal these bands began producing, Motörhead frequently shared venues with the NWOBHM bands and even developed close working relationships with some of them (especially Girlschool, who released a split EP with Motörhead in 1981). The two Motörhead albums I’ve been looking at are from the year or so in which they first became successful on the British charts.2

One of Motörhead’s most famous singles is “Overkill,” and though most people say it is important because it introduced the use of two bass drums to heavy metal, I think another reason it’s significant is that it really creatively plays with the conventions of ending a song. Continue reading

  1. For example, Ian Christe introduces Motörhead at the end of a section about the ’77 punk moment. See Christe’s 2003 book Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal, p. 29. []
  2. Only a few of Motörhead’s most recent albums sold well enough in the United States to make it in the top half of the Billboard 200. []

Primary Sources Page

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Dear Readers,

I just wanted to announce a new resource I’ve put together listing primary sources about metal music. It seems like every week there’s exciting documents, recordings, and information about the history of metal and rock music being made available for free online. You can read through the collection I’ve put together by clicking on this link, or by clicking on the new “Primary Sources” link on the navigation bar to your left.

I’ll try to add good resources as I come across them. Feel free to contact me if you know of a great site that could be valuable to others interested in studying heavy metal and hard rock and their more recent incarnations. For now, here are a couple of pieces that illustrate what kind of amazing resources are becoming available.

1. Aardschok No. 1

The Dutch metal magazine Aardschok is one of the earliest publications about metal that is still running today. While it’s now a glossy, full-color commercial magazine, their first issues from the early 80s look like they were put together with an electric typewriter, scissors and tape, and a black and white photocopy machine, like the fan-made zines from the rest of the 80s and 90s that connected the underground metal community before the internet era. Aardschok has recently made their first four issues available online. I’ve selected from their first issue this review of a 1980 concert by Girlschool, an excellent early New Wave of British Heavy Metal group that just happened to be all-female.
aardschok_1_girlschool

2. Euronymous of Mayhem talks about his domestic life

Death-metal-bassist-turned-author Jason Netherton is putting together a fantastic collection of early metal fanzines, many of which are scanned and available online at SendBackMyStamps.org. There’s literally dozens of different fan-made publications from countries all over the globe, featuring early interviews with too many bands for me to count. It’s absolutely fantastic what he’s drawn together. It was really hard to choose something to share here out of all of the incredible interviews and album reviews, but I decided on this decidedly mundane moment with the much-mythologized guitarist Euronymous from the pivotal Norwegian Black Metal band Mayhem. If you want to read the rest of the interview, which appeared in the Polish fanzine Holocaust in 1990, you can browse through that whole issue of the magazine here.

[Interviewer:] How’s life in Norway?
[Euronymous:] Norway is an OK place to live in, except for that everything costs a fortune here, and I wouldn’t mind getting rid of the winter. Here we pay $1 for a litre of milk, $1-2 for a bread and $4-8 for half a litre of beer. Yeah, it sucks. The apartment we were living in recently costs $1230 a month… If you aren’t rich, it’s not too easy to live here.

Euronymous and his bandmate Dead

We have to spend so much money on food, man… we can barely afford all these leather jackets and medieval weapons! It’s such a BUMMER! *sigh* [photo: wikipedia]

Type O Negative “Black No. 1”

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This is my first post in quite a few months. I’ve taken a break from working on this sort of thing to study for my qualifying exams. I’m happy to say that I passed all of them, which means I have time to write about heavy metal again!

Another unfortunate consequence of studying for my exams was that I had to miss the wedding of the two loveliest goths in the whole world, N and R. N introduced me to what is now one of my favorite bands, Type O Negative, by playing their song “Black No. 1” for me several years ago. Apparently it’s one of her favorite songs–inside sources tell me this song was played on the dance floor at the end of the wedding–so I thought it would be fitting to dedicate this post to N and R and their marriage, may it be long-lived and happy and shrouded in spooky cobwebs.

Type O Negative had released two albums before 1993’s Bloody Kisses, but this third album was the one that marked the band really coming into their own. It was the first of their albums to chart on the Billboard 200, and though all of their subsequent albums charted higher, Bloody Kisses has been the one which has sold most consistently. Bloody Kisses is the only Type O Negative to receive a Platinum rating from the RIAA (for selling over a million copies), and according to Rolling Stone, it was actually the first album released by Roadrunner records to be certified Platinum.1 The flagship single for the album, “Black No. 1,” is a gothic anthem to gloomy vampire queens everywhere. The music video for this song is full of the dark horror-film-inspired tropes that have become the standard visual language of gothic rock. But what about the music? What makes the music “gothic” and “rock,” what does it mean to blend those two, and what significance does that have beyond reinforcing the video’s visual references to gothic culture?

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  1. http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/type-o-negative-singer-peter-steele-dead-at-48-20100415 []

Pre-History of Headbanging

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I just wanted to share this conference paper which I will be presenting in a few weeks! It was written for the Modern Heavy Metal conference this June in Finland, and will be included in a conference proceedings book. But I wanted to make sure the paper was available to anyone, not just people who have the time and money to attend the conference.

The paper can be downloaded for free at the link below; it is copyrighted by myself and by the organizers of the conference, so please do not reprint without contacting me for permission. Enjoy!

“Metal Movements: Headbanging as a Legacy of African American Dance” on Academia.edu

“Metal Movements: Headbanging as a Legacy of African American Dance” PDF

Edit: The full conference proceedings are now available online.

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Tesseract “Retrospect”

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Note: This is part of a series commemorating the 25-year anniversary of the band Meshuggah by exploring the roots and legacy of Meshuggah’s style of progressive metal rhythm.

Meshuggah’s unique rhythmic style is instantly identifiable, and it is easy to hear their influence in a number of recent bands. A number of Meshuggah’s imitators have been clustered together by fans and critics under the genre label “Djent.” This name supposedly refers to the staple sound of the style, a palm-muted power chord played with heavy distortion on the lower strings of a 7- or 8-string guitar. One of the more successful bands in this style is Tesseract, who layer the Meshuggah-influenced Djent sound with clean vocals, soaring choruses, and softer acoustic sections. A representative example of their style is the song “Retrospect” from their second studio album Altered State (2013).

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Vardis “If I Were King”

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Note: This post is part of a collection of analyses based on the compilation New Wave of British Heavy Metal ’79 Revisited, an album put together by Lars Ulrich and Geoff Barton that is not only a significant account of a particularly important period in the history of heavy metal by two people who helped shape that scene, but may also be a revealing window into the influences and musical raw materials that Ulrich drew from when he founded what became the most successful metal band in history, Metallica.

The band Vardis was a threesome who originally began playing together in 1977 under the name “Quo Vardis.” The band had dropped the first word in their name by the time they released their first album, 100 MPH, in 1980. Unlike most debut albums, Vardis chose to compile their first record from live recordings. One of these songs, “If I Were King,” was recorded in a studio the same year and released on a compilation titled New Electric Warriors (1980). This studio recording is the version which appears on NWOBHM ’79 Revisited.

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Metallica “Master of Puppets”

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Metallica’s song “Master of Puppets” has extremely powerful and driving momentum, which is especially impressive given that it is riddled with meter changes and thrashes on for almost nine minutes. The 1985 album of the same name, on which the song was released, was praised by all sorts of critics, and is commonly described as one of the best metal albums ever released.1 The title song in particular is a fan favorite, and is a staple of the band’s live sets. “Master of Puppets” is also one of Metallica’s most popular songs among aspiring guitarists, and the number of home-made transcriptions of this song available online is simply staggering — for example, ultimate-guitar.com has at least 45 separate tabs of this song alone, not including tabs of the whole album.2

But I feel kind of funny every time I look at a transcription of “Master of Puppets.” There’s a lot of changing meter in this song, and there’s one riff in particular in the verses which has several measures of 4/4 followed by what is usually transcribed as a single measure of 5/8. Continue reading

  1. See Steve Huey’s review of this album for All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/album/master-of-puppets-mw0000667490 []
  2. At the time I’m writing this, 911tabs.com lists literally hundreds of “Master of Puppets” tabs hosted on other webpages, but a lot of those are redundant copies of the same transcriptions. []