Heavy metal’s influence on me

Never made it as a metal musician, but the high standards of performance (live and recorded) are still something I strive for. As a musician, my weakness is repeating things the same way, can’t do it, too A.D.D. As a result, my strengths lie in jazz, improvised and less strict forms (slow blues, minimalism, electronica etc).
Still I achieve my Master’s in playing saxophone and writing jazz that my band at least, found pretty fun 🙂 Anyhow, maybe it’s not so obvious, but these metal albums really changed the way I see music, writing and the pursuit of virtuousity and originality.

Disclaimer: These should ideally be listened to on vinyl or CD, MP3 sucks, but it at least gives a hint of how good these albums really are in there less algorithm-corrupted form.

5. Martyr – Warp Zone

Heard this in 1998, just a few tracks from this album. This youtube clip is a little over-compressed, but the album exceeds in creative, energetic, texturally rich, groove laden tracks.

4. Metallica – S&M

I hated on Metallica for 10 years. As a hardcore metal fan they weren’t ideal. Yes they made albums that sucked (St.Anger) and yes they’re egotistical and richer than sense. But this album is ridiculous. Michael Kamen did a nice job of not totally drowning the band out and also elevated and expanded the emotive range of certain movements. Hetfield’s musicianship is unquestionable. There aren’t many guitarists on this earth that could play and sing so obscenely well at the same time. Listen to his pitch, it’s flawless, listen to his rhythm while he sings… it’s inhuman.
Kamen’s use of texture really inspired some of my own arrangements, he thinks like a real classical musician, which is how a producer should do – using sounds of strengths and duration that can be heard in the mix and provide a particular colour. Genius. I particularly like ‘Outlaw Torn’ which is played 1hr30 into the set! It’s one of Hetfield’s best vocals IMHO and the sparseness of the arrangement during the verses is really well done. Love it. Feel like a bit of a sellout, but I’m old enough and humble enough to admit that this album is a serious musical achievement and an inspiration. Persistence, not giving up, it’s all in this music.

3. Cynic – Focus

A fascinating album. The production is a little over-compressed and the vocoder vocals are divisive. But these are small flaws on a startlingly beautiful gem. There’s a lifetime of musical ideas in this album and they are ridiculously explorative. Sean Reinert’s drumming is hugely thoughtful and enhancing, Sean Malone’s fretless bass brings an incredible sense of jazz mastery to the record. Singer and guitarist Paul Masdival brings a fascinating spiritual element to the album which are fully realized by the divine level of interplay the band achieved. ‘I’m But A Wave to’ is a fantastic example of this, euphoric violins and Tony Teegarden’s keyboard swell with oceanic, cosmic presence. Lyrics permeate themes of utopia and generally explores new-age/very old mystical ideas which were the anti-thesis of metal’s lyrical content at that time.
This is a trailblazing work of genius that, like a lot of truly innovative works will never really be appreciated en masse. It burst the paradigms of metal and to a large extent, jazz. This is more thoroughly composed than a lot of jazz’s most canonical works and I’d say as an album it’s among one of the most non-replicable. Clearly so much time went into building textures and evolving group dynamics, in insanely virtuosic timings, it’s another stand-alone masterpiece. ‘Textures’ for me is an empyrean voyage, poly-rhythmically, harmonically exotic piece that demonstrates the skills of each member very well.

2. Death – Symbolic

Chuck Schuldiner was an incredibly gifted musician. This band evolved so beautifully. This album, their most concise, political, layered, it just blew me away. Vocally, Schuldiner’s voice matured, gone was the barely comprehensible gutteral utterings from the ‘Leprosy’ album, this was a voice worn out by a decade of touring and dedication, the result is something less bassy, closer, more desperate.
Gene Hoglan’s energy on this album is a landmark acheivement… seriously. If I can summon half that intensity into something, I must be winning!!!
Chuck’s favour for classical harmonies and deviant forms of the minor scale created a unique framework. For any deriders of metal, I challenge you to turn off your gadgets and whatever and just listen to ‘Perennial Quest’. See if you don’t feel the power and honesty of this music!

1. Pantera – Vulgar Display of Power

My friend recommended this to me when I was 11. I didn’t even play music then. The album was so heavy, but I think I drew more from the melodic content. Dimebag was such a genius. ‘Hollow’ is still possibly my favourite lead guitar motif I’ve ever heard. He wasn’t just a virtuoso, he could weave vocalesque harmonies and employ really unique chord voicings implementing 9ths and other lofty extensions.
The energy, the integrity, no matter what style I play, every time I recall the gargantuan stature of this album, I realize how far I still have to go on this journey.


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