Jaguar “Back Street Woman”

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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.

Jaguar’s song “Back Street Woman” was first released as a single in 1981, with a song called “Chasing the Dragon” as a B-side. Jaguar had released a couple of demos in the preceding year, but the recording of “Back Street Woman” that appears on NWOBHM ’79 Revisited is definitely from the ’81 single, and no earlier recording of the same song appears to exist. Interestingly enough, of the songs I’ve transcribed so far from this compilation, most seem to be from 1980 or 1981, not 1979. In other words, the title “’79 Revisited” is a bit of a white lie.

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Sweet Savage “Eye of the Storm”

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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.

Sweet Savage’s “Eye of the Storm” is the second track of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal ’79 Revisited compilation.1 According to the extensive and fairly reliable fan database Encyclopedia Metallum, “Eye of the Storm” was first released by the band in 1981 on Sweet Savage’s first demo tape.2 The version on the NWOBHM ’79 Revisited album doesn’t sound like a demo tape, and is from a live session Sweet Savage recorded for BBC Radio1 in 1981.3 Sweet Savage released a few singles in the ’80s, but they didn’t manage to put out a proper album until they had a reunion in 1996, too late to get the kind of fanbase or commercial success that landed bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest in the history books.4 Continue reading

  1. In the rest of this article, New Wave of British Heavy Metal is abbreviated NWOBHM. []
  2. This 1981 demo tape also is the first appearance of “Killing Time,” a song Metallica covered on their 1998 album Garage, Inc. Apparently the title “’79 Revisited” doesn’t refer to the year 1979 specifically. []
  3. This recording was released by the BBC the same year as part of a compilation of sessions from Radio1’s Friday Rock Show. http://www.discogs.com/Various-The-Friday-Rock-Show/release/1722530 []
  4. Eduardio Rivadavia over at AMG music describes this compilation as including “relative unknowns such as Sweet Savage…” []

Pantera “Primal Concrete Sledge”

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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.

The groove metal band Pantera may not seem like an obvious choice for a series of posts about Meshuggah and progressive metal. Pantera began their career in 1981 as a power metal band that performed in spandex and had huge hairdos. In 1987, Pantera switched out their lead singer and started developing a new visual brand and playing style.1 “Diamond” Darrell switched his nickname to “Dimebag,” and the band ditched the leather and the hairspray in favor of t-shirts and jeans. Musically, the new lead singer Phil Anselmo began using a rough, more growled delivery style instead of a power metal falsetto, and the band’s music began to take a few cues from thrash metal bands like Metallica.

But the most influential and innovative part of Pantera’s new playing style was their approach to rhythm in their riffs. They borrowed from the aggressive, percussive approach to playing the guitar that you can hear on some of Metallica’s heaviest songs, with lots of bottom-heavy palm-muted guitar accents and a few string bends. Sometimes, like on the song “Heresy,” they actually sound a bit like Metallica. But on quite a few songs, Pantera uses riffs with syncopated, off-beat rhythms that groove much more than anything Metallica ever wrote. When I say that Pantera is groovy, however, I don’t mean that they are anything less than heavy — in fact, even though Pantera strays farther from the beat than most thrash metal bands, their heavier songs are more visceral than Metallica. (That’s my opinion, maybe not yours — let me know if you agree in the comments!)

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  1. This parallels a general shift across many heavy metal genres away from the flamboyance and theatrics of 70s stadium rock and glam metal, towards a cultivated every-day look and dirtier sound. A notable recent book that tells the whole story is Ian Christe’s 2004 Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal, although his claim that Pantera “fused metal and rap in a more fluid manner than Anthrax” (p. 229) is misleading at the very least, given that vocalist Anselmo demonstrates disdain and near-complete ignorance of rap and hip-hop in many interviews. []

Meshuggah “obZen”

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Meshuggah is on a tour they’re calling “25 Years of Musical Deviance,” marking the 25th year since their first official release, Meshuggah EP (1989). I saw them perform with Between The Buried And Me here in Chicago on June 15th, which got me thinking about commemorating this anniversary in my own way. Meshuggah is famous for their mind-bending rhythm tricks and their devastatingly heavy sound. What better way to pay tribute to their career so far than a series of posts about progressive metal rhythm?

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Death “Torn to Pieces”

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The song “Torn to Pieces” from the 1987 album Scream Bloody Gore by one of the progenitors of death metal, Death, has a simple verse-chorus structure that I’ve seen a lot in early death metal.1 In the version of the song that appears on the album, there are two verses for each chorus, and each of these three units in the cycle has its own riff:

0:00 Verse 1 (Riff A)
0:30 Verse 2 (Riff B)
1:01 Chorus (Riff C)
1:19 Verse 3 (Riff A)
1:50 Verse 4 (Riff B)
2:21 Chorus (Riff C)
2:39 Bridge (Riff D)
2:56 Guitar Solo (Riff D')
3:14 Chorus (Riff C)
[Timings from the album version of the song]

There’s a nice bridge section with a short guitar solo, followed by a reprise of the chorus before the song ends. Unfortunately, Riff D in the bridge section is not very clear on the recording from the album. Many early extreme metal bands recorded their demos and debut albums when the members were just teenagers, and sometimes even at home with amateur studio equipment. Death’s Scream Bloody Gore is no exception — it was recorded before lead singer and guitarist Chuck Schuldiner had reached his twentieth birthday. I don’t know if Schuldiner just had a bad day in the studio and didn’t notice, or couldn’t actually play the riff correctly before he ran out of recording time, but no matter how much I tried re-listening and slowing the bridge section down I just couldn’t figure out what notes were there. Continue reading

  1. Lots of other songs on this album have a similar verse-chorus structure. The demos by Swedish death metal trailblazers Nihilist (later Entombed) also use a lot of similar simple verse-chorus structures. There’s a popular myth that death metal is better than other rock music because it avoids verse-chorus structures, but it’s not entirely true. For lots of examples of this claim, see Natalie Purcell Death Metal Music: The Passion and Politics of a Subculture (2003), pp. 12-15 []

Black Sabbath “Black Sabbath”

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Black Sabbath in 1970

Black Sabbath’s debut album Black Sabbath was released almost 45 years ago in 1970, and alongside a couple of albums by Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, this album is commonly cited as the beginning of heavy metal.1 The standard story is that Ozzy Osbourne, Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi, and Bill Ward wanted to make a new kind of blues rock that would “scare people.” In addition the troubling question of why white British musicians would think of making contemplative and melancholic African American blues music into something primitive, dangerous, and aggressive, one of the mysteries surrounding the birth of heavy metal is: Why blues-rock and why the late 1960s? Continue reading

  1. For example, Robert Walser’s Running With The Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music (1993) gives this version of metal genesis on page 10. []