Decompressing

I decided to be lazy last night. I had the opportunity to go see Texas Hippie Coalition at The Masquerade in Atlanta and I chose, instead, to stay home on my sofa and watch movies I have seen a few dozen times. It’s not a very metal thing to do, but it is a very human thing. After spending the past few days sick at home, it was probably the wise choice to sofa surf instead of trying to brave a crowd of alcohol fueled metal fans. I further justified my decision by listening to a few demos from new bands and spending a little time online, helping to keep the peace in the latest troll frenzy we are seeing in metal groups in Facebook. After the third demo, my ears were tired and my brain was ready for entertainment that required no thought. Several days of online arguments (it ceases being a debate when people insult you personally), coupled with lingering effects of illness, had me on the ropes. Off went the computer, on went reruns of THE BIG BANG THEORY and my brain went to idle

While in relaxation mode, I began thinking about some of my favorite musicians and the ways they let go of stress. When I spoke with Kyng’s Eddie Veliz a few months ago, he reported he has become a big proponent of hitting the gym after a show and during down time. Seeing recent photos of him, it appears to have paid off. Everyone in Kyng looks great and in shape. This was probably enhanced by touring with Black Label Society. I don’t know if Zakk Wylde is still an active weight lifter, but with arms like his, I could only assume he’s hitting the gym regularly.

Many bands have publicly discussed the slippery slope of drinking/partying to release stress after a show. I thought about this for a bit. On one hand, how stressful can it be to play music, something they profess to love? I then looked into my own (short) history as a semi-professional musician. It’s a tough job. You’re expected to be on cue with every song. One flubbed note can turn a masterpiece into a pile of crap. There’s the stage presence you’re expected to generate, the super human creature fans expect you to morph into. Failure to provide the entertainment factor to the masses is met with not only disgust, but with decreased money from merchandise sales. One bad night may not wreck a profitable tour, but it can certainly put a cramp in the living style of the band. That constant stress takes a toll. Meditation, exercise, healthy diet choices, making sure adequate rest is had sound like sure things to maintain sanity, but not in a van filled with unwashed bodies who have been living on fast food. The temptation of the quick release is always there. Some bands survive self medication. Motley Crue would be one of the more famous bands to make it out of the lion’s den, but for everyone that skates the thin ice without falling, there are dozens that implode, often losing band mates in the process.

My mind drifted back to music and the statements I had read years earlier from my several of my musical heroes. Dickie Betts and Gregg Allman have recounted numerous times how they turn to jazz to let go of the stress of touring, as well as to inspire them for their improvisations. Keith Richards is still known to turn to classic blues recording from the 1920s and 1930s for relaxation. All That Remains Phil Labonte has been raving about Taylor Swift as his go to music for down time on the road. The power of music is obvious. Much of the music I listen to is adrenaline charged and designed to move me forward. These artists who move me use music to also calm the storm that rages inside.

I realized I had failed to calm my own storm with the distractions of Dr. Sheldon Cooper and his friends. I turned to my own musical devices. Van Morrison sang about going into the mystic and I felt the valve loosen. The internal pressure was lessened by the soulful bliss of his voice. Another crisis averted.

Brilliant! (with acknowledgement to the Guinness guys)

I check out a lot of new bands for a guy a who’s full time job has very little to do with music. One of my hobbies is helping to run a few online metal groups and as a result, I see a lot of videos and listen to a lot of demos. Some are good, some are bad and some make believe this is my penance for committing evil in a former life. I try to be objective and be supportive. I remember the days of trying to produce a demo tape and gain acknowledgement from a record company and the emotions that go with being told your sound isn’t right. I get responses that range from,”F*** you, man!” to “Thanks for your feedback.” It just depends on the situation.

I also have a lot of bands post on the sites I help run and try to sell their albums and merch. While I despise spam on any level, I typically turn a blind eye to this use of bandwidth. Bands have it hard today. Record companies are tight fisted and unwilling to give the payouts they did in the past. Bands have to work harder and smarter to succeed. If I can help them pay their rent by posting their wares on my groups, I am fine with it. In doing this, I see how different bands work in the limitations of the internet. There is a lot of variance. Some are flat out belligerent, insulting those who dare to question their music. Others shine with brilliance, thanking everyone for their input and working to improve their product. One band has caught my fancy like no other.

Exes for Eyes is new on my radar. Musically, they’re not bad. It’s not the caliber of early 80’s Priest of Maiden or Metallica, but it’s pretty darn good. That’s not the brilliant part. There are more good bands out there than there is time to listen to them all. The brilliance is in their marketing drive. They have decided to become the only metal act in 2014 to earn a platinum record. How do they do this? They sell their EP for a dollar per digital download.

Other bands have been doing similar things, offering lower priced downloads in an effort to promote sales and increase album distribution. In this age of increased music piracy, decreased recording company support and challenging economic stability, I personally have a hard time paying ten bucks for a digital copy of an album on iTunes or Amazon, especially when i can get a hard copy at the local used CD shop for $6. These guys have hit me where I live: a good product for dirt cheap that’s 100% legal. Brilliant!

I certainly have done my share to help Exes for Eyes meet their goal. I won’t be a gauche as giving you the link to their site. Go and Google their name, if you are so compelled. ¬†It’s a dollar and you’ll be helping a promising band do what only Taylor Swift has accomplished this year: earn a platinum album.

A quick welcome to new readers in Norway, Finland and Poland! And a huge thank you to readers everywhere. Thanks for reading my blog and promoting good music where you live!

Where is everybody?

I had the privilege of seeing one of my favorite bands, Maylene and the Sons of Disaster, last night. I’ve written in detail about them before, so I won’t bore you with minute details. I can say this time differed on two levels: 1) I got to meet and briefly hang with Dallas Taylor and 2) it was at a local metal club, not in Atlanta. (I will warn you now that this entry is going to go in several different directions, so be prepared). As far as the music went, it was great. MATSOD rocked the house, as did openers Phinehas and Death of an Era (there were more, but I arrived late). Even with all the line up changes MATSOD has suffered, they continue to bring their “A” game and kept the (small) crowd enthralled. While watching the show last night, one question continued to bother me:”Where is everybody?”

Swayze’s (the venue for last night’s show) is a hole in the wall in a slightly run down strip mall. That’s not bad, it’s just what it is. It’s convenient to the interstate, it’s large enough to hold around 200+ people without violating the fire code, and the acoustics, while not wonderful, didn’t suck. They have a vinyl album dealer attached, to give the bored something to do, and there’s a gas station in the same strip mall, in case you want something other than the bottled water or other beverages they sell. No smoking inside, no alcohol, no fighting and no attitudes (it’s posted on the door as you enter). It should have filled up easily. Instead. there might have been 100 people present (including girlfriends, friends and band members, none of whom pay for entry). That leaves maybe 50 paying patrons (still better than the last two times i saw Crobot at the Masquerade, but still…). again:”Where is everybody?”

As I pondered this thought, I looked at the crowd. They were the same general crowd I see at most shows: younger (ages 16 to 22), predominantly white, appeared to mostly be middle class. This would definitely coincide with the make up of the local college and high schools. There was no shortage of folks using smart phones, so I imagine most attendees were plugged in to Twitter, Facebook and other social media sources. This was the normal crowd for a metal show in Atlanta, just much smaller. Why?

I looked again at how bands promote themselves. Some do it VERY well. Crobot and Kyng are not only two of my favorite newer bands, but they use the internet and social media to their advantage. Constant updates to their pages, encouraging posting pics of shows, hash tags galore and so on. Maybe they are blessed with a manager to these things for them or maybe they divide the duties in the band, they invite their fans not only to their shows but also to share their lives. Constant postings of pics from the road, updates on recording plans, new merch designs and constant tour updates. They keep their name out their.

I thought about Maylene. Their band website¬†has been defunct for some time. I don’t Twitter often, but I never see updates from them. Their band Facebook page was dormant for a long time and only in he past few months has come to life. Finding their merch has become an exercise in futility, unless you can wear small t-shirts. The answer to the question comes to light.

It gets frustrating for me, the loyal fan, to see bomb scare crowds for one of my favorite bands. I would love to see MATSOD play packed houses. I believe they have the talent; they simply need to keep their name out there. The internet has so many active and free tools to use. Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook (there are several hundred metal groups to post in), MySpace (yes, it’s still around), G+ and even Pintrest are ways to tap into the zeitgeist. If the band is too tired (traveling in a cramped van is exhausting), get your girlfriends, wives, moms or whatever to manage your sites. Get your fanbase excited again. And for the love of God, don’t follow the examples of certain bands on Facebook who engage in publicly arguing with you over the quality of your music, merch or whatever. It takes a little effort, but that effort pays off in extra paying fans at your shows, more dollars in merchandise sales and more reward for the joy you bring your fans through your music.

As I drove home after the show, my ears ringing, I found myself hoping MATSOD find a way to return to bigger crowds and better payoffs. If a band isn’t getting paid, they can’t last. I would love to see Maylene several more times. But, they can’t tour for just one guy.

Is evolution a good thing?

I am known for defending metal bands that have broken through and are popular with non-metalheads. I personally fail to see why people feel the need to turn their backs on artists just because they have found financial success. I have heard of some Norwegian black metal artists intentionally recording using sub-par production in order to keep non-fans from buying their albums. That lasted long enough for them to run out of bologna and cheep beer. Then they realize fans are your bread and butter if you’re going to be a professional musician. Certain bands figured this out early on in their careers. These bands often are accused of leaving their original fan base behind as they ride the success train to the top. Is that a correct statement? I decided to let the music do the talking.

I decided to start with Avenged Sevenfold. Friends and longtime readers will know i like the band. I’ve seen them three times in concert and they are worth going to see. I loaded up the trusty iPod with their albums from WAKING THE FALLEN through HAIL TO THE KING. All of these albums are very familiar to me, but I had yet to listen to them sequentially. That’s where the changes became most apparent. As I moved from WAKING THE FALLEN to CITY OF EVIL and then to AVENGED SEVENFOLD (the white album), the band grows and becomes more interesting. It’s less screamo/metalcore or whatever you wish to call it. It’s still definitely metal, but it’s refined and polished. The song structure improves, the lyrical content becomes more mature and the musical interplay becomes more interesting. Then comes the pivotal NIGHTMARE album. With Rev’s death and unfinished work and the use of drum legend Mike Portnoy, the boys put out their breakthrough album. I hate it. It’s a chenge from everything I liked about their previous stuff. There’s shining moments, but overall the album does little to move me. Finally, I come to HAIL TO THE KING. It’s well produced and sold a ton of records. It’s not my bag. It’s not longer true metal, but is more of the heavy end of hard rock.

I ponder the evolutionary process, perhaps unfairly. Avenged Sevenfold lost a key member when Sullivan died. He was not only their drummer, but also was a major part of their song-writing team. While Portnoy is a drumming god, he wasn’t really part of the band. He didn’t have the years of experience and hardship that created the band and brought it forward. Iljay Is a competent drummer and a full band member, but he yet to really shine on record (though he is great live). Taking all of this into account., I needed to look at a band that didn’t have the catastrophic loss.

Five Finger Death Punch was the next reasonable target. They too have gone from basement band to arena headliner and have earned the wrath of metalheads everywhere. I loaded up the iPod with 5FDPs albums and went to work . The differences aren’t as dramatic. WAY OF THE FIST and WAR IS THE ANSWER are so similar they could have been a double album. That’s a good thing. Both a solid metal albums all the way through. WAR IS THE ANSWER had 5FDPs breakthrough hit with their cover of “Bad Company”, but other than that, they aren’t that different. AMERICAN CAPITALIST follows the trend . For some reason, I personally have never been able to focus on AMERICAN CAPITALIST for very long. It’s a good album, though not as strong as the previous two. The trip through the Death Punch sound ends with their double volumed THE WRONG SIDE OF HEAVEN AND THE RIGHTEOUS SIDE OF HELL. Perhaps this is where long time fans lost their patience with the band. It starts off well, guesting The Metal God, Rob Halford on “Lift Me Up.” The albums (Volumes I and II) are fun, but inconsistent. “The bizarre cover of LL Cool J’s “Mama said knock you out” raises an eye brow, as does the bands lack luster version of “House of the Rising Sun.” As Volume II comes to a close, I understand the frustration hardcore metal fans feel. It’s craving a hamburger and being fed a bologna sandwich. I Thought about the first time I saw the band and each subsequent time I’ve seen them. Ivan Moody drives a well oiled machine and he announces his attentions to adoring fans. I saw them open Mayhem Fest and Moody announced,”The next time you see us, we’ll be headlining this thing!” He was right. And when I saw them at a sold out Tabernacle (seats 5,000), he said they would be playing the Arena next. He was right. They sold out the Gwinnett Arena (estimated seating 25,000) and had the fantastic Adrenaline Mob and HellYeah open for them. They continue to increase their success, but move farther from the base that supported them.

I finished my experiment with another band that has seen increasing success, but that has a fan base that is rapidly changing. All That Remains has found a slightly different approach to success. They include a couple of radio hits on each album, but also makes sure there are several hardcore metal tracks. The results are albums that all inconsistent, but actually pretty good. They exhibit improved production and musicianship with each album. The songwriting is pretty level. The radio hits and ballads are good for what they are: money makers that have taken the band from bars and basement clubs to festivals and larger venues. They have yet to reach the pinnacles A7x and 5FDP have reached, but they are on a steadily improving path. I wish them success, but after a three day stretch of listening to all three bands entire catalogs sequentially, I found myself tired of all three bands and their brand of metal.

I sat in silence and pondered the evolutionary processes of each band and of other bands. I recalled Judas Priest’s attempts at crossover albums that failed so horribly and alienated so many fans. Motorhead’s failed attempt at a change in style (ANOTHER PERFECT DAY) was met with derision. Metallica’s amazingly successful albums of LOAD and RELOAD are still discussed with scorn. It was only with DEATH MAGNETIC that fans came back to the Metallica fold. Motorhead quickly reversed their error and didn’t suffer long term effects. Priest (thankfully) returned to form and the fans came back.

Is the problem the success or the changes one makes to achieve it? As each album becomes more accessible to the masses, there is that segment that despises the change and feels alienated. The long time fan feels betrayed and ignored. It’s like the kid at school that goes from being the nerd in the back of the class to becoming prom king. Those few friends he had at the beginning don’t fit in with the new crowd.

I find myself understanding more of the anger metalheads heap on these bands. It’s not just the fact the bands are now driving Bentleys and Porsches. It’s the increasing move away from square one. It’s moving into a territory where others either can’t or don’t want to follow. It’s forced change.

I have put my ATR, 5FDP and A7x albums back in the library. Not because I dislike them, but because, quite frankly, after three days straight of these bands, I’m tired and want to something more of my speed, something not on the beaten path. King 810, Goatwhore and Baroness are lined up. Bands that don’t necessarily have the following but still have the hunger.

I am amazed to see the increase in readers and welcome new readers in Italy, Portugal and Lithuania! Thank you for taking a moment to read my inane ramblings and spread the word!

I got it covered.

I was perusing one of the online metal groups I’m an administrator for and found myself in a discussion about tribute bands. Personally, my take on tribute bands has never been all that great. Having played in a series of ‘cover bands’ back in my youth, I see tributes as cover bands with make-up. It’s fine if you’re a starving college student and you can’t afford $100 (or whatever you favorite band is charging for tickets) to pay $5 to see a KISS knock-off (or whatever your favorite band is). Beyond that, it’s background noise for a party. Or, is it? I began to review my statement and look at some of my favorite bands.

Metallica (who will forever take a mountain of crap for a) cutting their hair, b) producing LOAD, RELOAD, LULU and ST. ANGER and c) not quitting when Cliff died) has done quite a few fantastic cover versions over the years. GARAGE DAYS REVISITED became GARAGE DAYS RE-REVISITED and then became GARAGE, INC. They made a ton of cash off these albums and produced some of the best stuff they did, outside of the first three albums.Where they tribute band or a cover band? Does it matter if it’s Metallica? Are they relevant enough to matter?

Megadeth has long history of covering classic songs. “These boots are made for walking”, “I ain’t superstitious”, “Anarchy in the UK”, “No more Mr. Nice Guy” and on and on have helped round out Megadeth albums. I have yet to hear them do one of these songs live, but they are very well done on the albums. It’s true Megadeth isn’t a tribute band…isn’t it? I needed to investigate further.

Motorhead had a UK hit with their cover of “Louie, Louie” back in the day. They also invited Wendy O. Williams to sing on their version of the country standard,”Stand by your man.” Over the years, Lemmy and the boys have covered the Sex Pistols, The Ramones, Metallica (which is funny, considering the impact Motorhead had on a young Metallica). Surely we would never call the mighty Motorhead a cover band, but they have paid their fair share of tribute over the decades.

As I perused my library, I found almost all of my favorite bands had included some cover songs. Even Rush, known for walking their own path, had their FEEDBACK album, loaded with well done covers.I had to re-evaluate my opinion.

Including the occasional cover doesn’t make a band a cover band or a tribute band, but there’s no denying the tribute being paid. It doesn’t keep music stagnant. Granted, you’re not going to break new ground repeating the work of someone else, but I have yet to hear a band do a note for note rendition of someone else’s songs. Motorhead took a lazy, whiny country song and turned it into a weapon. Anthrax took a KISS classic and made it fresh and new. Metallica turned a tired Bob Seger song and made it solid gold (I still don’t care for it, but they made a ton of money on it). These bands did more than just find a way to fill out an album or a set list. They showed thanks to their influences and showed us, the listening fans, how their influences brought them to where they are today.

Without punk rock, Motorhead and Megadeth may not have the snarl they exhibit. Without Motorhead and the other NWOBHM bands, there would certainly be no Metallica, at least as we know it. It rolls on. Slayer, Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath are continuing to influence new bands. Read interviews by newer artists and you see the tributes and accolades flowing.

I see the difference between a tribute band and a cover band now. It’s the difference between trying to pay the bills and suffering for your passion. I’m not necessarily going to run out to support tribute bands in my area, but my hat’s off to them. They’re doing more than just trying to make a few bucks. They’re trying to impress their love of a band on to other listeners. That deserves my respect.

Before I close I want to give a shout out to my readers and say thank you for giving my blog a whirl. I’m amazed to see it’s not just my close friends and family checking it out, but readers in Chile, Norway, UK, Ireland, France, Sweden, UAE, Germany, Spain, Bulgaria, Mexico, Canada and Japan. I guess I proved my high school guidance counselors wrong. Thank you all very much!

Keep it loud, horns up and have fun!

You want me to wear that?

As I prepare for my Christmas shopping, I have been perusing online metal merchandise sources and, well, I’m a bit frustrated. When I look at the shirts bands are offering up these days, they suck. Not all shirts are in the “suck zone”; only those bands that I actually want to throw my money down on. Bear with me as I rant about the declining quality of what they’re selling.

I’ll start with Baroness. I’m new to the Baroness fan base. Fantastic prog/doom metal from Savannah, GA (a plus in the eyes of this old Georgia boy), Baroness has quickly made it’s way on to my frequent play list. As I do with many bands I choose to support, I made my way to their website with the intent of purchasing a shirt to accent my support for the band. I was disappointed. The shirts offered, quite frankly, suck. WTF does a rooster have to do with the band? Why is there only one shirt presenting the band logo as it appears elsewhere on their albums and website? Why does that shirt suck? I sadly pocketed my money and moved to another website.

The Ocean (also known as The Ocean Collective) is another fantastic prog metal band that stays on my frequent rotation list. I discovered them by accident, buying their FOGLIFTER EP about a year ago, when I was looking for inexpensive music online (fantastic album for under $5 on iTunes). I happily went to see them live when they came to Atlanta. They are truly fantastic live (even without a bass player, like when I saw them). I recall walking to their merch table, only to be disappointed. For a band that has such great album covers, their t-shirts were abysmal. I dropped some money in the tip jar (trying to do my part to keep them rolling), but went home sans shirt. I went back to their website and looked through what is offered, again to be disappointed. they shirts are rather bleh, especially for the prices they command.

Mastodon is one of my favorite bands (although I was a bit let down at their show a few weeks back, but I’ve already discussed that in a previous entry). I looked forward to picking up a shirt at their show a few weeks ago. I approached the merch table with money ready, only to once again pocket my dough. The shirts had nothing to do with the albums (one exception: the ONCE MORE ‘ROUND THE SUN shirt). They simply said Mastodon and had a picture that left me scratching my head regarding WTF it had to do with anything.

I could go on and on and on. The point is simple: why not have shirts that represent the band? Band merch is a tricky thing. Bands are asking me to give them money for the privilege of advertising that band. I have a closet full of these shirts, ranging from a $5 Megadeth shirt (I got lucky. It is the real deal, bought from the band’s table at MAYHEM FEST in 2011) to $70 for a 5FDP hockey jersey. I am not afraid to spend my money to support bands I enjoy. But, give me something I will wear. here’s some examples:

1) my first concert shirt was from Rush’s 1984 GRACE UNDER PRESSURE tour. It was a baseball jersey styled shirt, featuring the album cover for GRACE UNDER PRESSURE on the front and the tour stops/dates on the back. I wore it proudly. I made perfect sense as to what it was promoting.

2) The Who’s 1994 QUADROPHENIA anniversary tour presented a fantastic tour shirt. The album cover (see a trend developing here?) on royal blue and the tour dates/stops on the back. Simple, classic and perfect.

3) Iron Maiden has produced some of the greatest/most iconic shirts on the planet. All of them feature their mascot, Eddie, performing some feat. My personal favorite was the BEAST ON THE ROAD tour shirt from the NUMBER OF THE BEAST tour. It made perfect sense. The band name prominently displayed, an image that makes you immediately think,”Man, that’s cool. i need to check out this band” and (of course) the tour dates/stops on the back.

4) it’s no secret to frequent readers that I’m a big fan of Kyng. The power trio from L.A. produces some of the most exciting metal that’s out there today. Their shirts vary, however. I own all of them (like i said, I’m a fan) but some are head scratchers. The coolest one is only available online and features the band as cartoon ghosts (reminiscent of old Scooby Doo cartoons). I keep asking Eddie Veliz to bring this one on the road, but for some reason it’s only available online.

The rest of the shirts vary in appeal. The “shrunken head” shirt differs from all the rest, featuring the band name in a font that is nothing like the script they use to promote everything else (I bought it because Eddie threw in a copy of TRAMPLED SUN for $5). The “Ganesh” shirt feature the HIndu god in black and yellow. I am not overly fond of the shirt, though it is the one that gets more feed back from people when i wear it to concerts and out about town.

Kyng did finally produce a BURN THE SERUM shirt, but I had to order it from their site, as it wasn’t available the lat time I saw them live. it’s not bad, though I personally wish it would feature (wait for it) the tour dates/stops on the back. Surprise.

I could go on with those fantastic concert and band promotional shirts of the past. Metallica produced some fantastic one off shirts that collectible now (The “Captains of the Crunch” being my favorite). Megadeth, Disturbed, Judas Priest, and on and on offered merch that commanded fans’ money and set the bar. Why can’t we go back to a simpler way for promoting bands?

Today’s younger bands are definitely hungry to promote themselves as new and fresh. But, offer something I will spend my money on and proudly wear to promote your band. Quit offering something sub-par and commanding premium dollars for it. Follow the example of the Dropkick Murphys. Whether you are a fan of their music or not, DKM offers well done merch on their page at bargain prices. Follow that example. Quit paying starving art students $20 and a case of PBR for some creepy drawing and slapping it on a shirt.

I’ve rambled on longer than I intended. I suppose I just hunger for something worth throwing down my money for. I am telling people about your bands, I’m encouraging people to attend your shows and buy your albums. Give me something I am willing to display.