Archive for August, 2015

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Metal sucks. It is without a doubt an opinion held by most normal music listeners AND metalheads alike in one form or another. In fact, there is an entire website dedicated to that opinion. A band can have 20-string guitars or 300 bpm blast beats in their songs, but to most people around the world the thing that drives the “sucking” status of metal nowadays is always the ever-annoying vocals. Whether its power-melodic, Dio-esque opera belting or Godzilla-soundtrack-goes-live growling, the vocalist of a metal band is often the deciding factor that makes or breaks a band, and in the current metal scene most metal vocalists seem to be breaking down all too much.

With the status of metal on a gradual decline, metal musicians everywhere are looking to bend the horizons while staying relevant and respectable in an ever-changing music scene. There is no shortage of talent among metalheads, many of whom are classically trained musicians. However, composing metal tracks that are technical, listenable, and enjoyable all in one is a great challenge, especially when seeking to reach a diverse audience worldwide. And lets face it – a very small population would immediately embrace a band fronted by a tough guy yelling unintelligible words about pushing the world away.  To overcome this hump, a collection of metal musicians are taking a simple yet dramatic approach: ditch the vocalists and go instrumental.

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A couple of years ago, I played in a band known as Goatstorm. While we really didn’t take our name that seriously, our music was a serious set of technical, progressive instrumental compositions. The songs were solid metal and highly expressive in their own way without being oversalted with solos or other wankery. Plus, none of them had any vocals whatsoever. Goatstorm still plays shows as a four-piece instrumental band to this day, with some of the members taking on other instrumental side projects. And not one of them has had the need for a singer…

Why are bands opting to ditch the vocals? Many reasons: less drama, no egocentric frontman, shitty lyrics, etc. Most vocalists who scream can only hold it out for about 5 years, then must undergo surgery for severe vocal strain.  Many of these vocalists have to resort to singing melodically from that point on, and if they’re not willing to learn to sing then they can kiss their career good What made Goatstorm decide to go vocal-less? To be honest, the original singer stopped showing up to practice, a simple reason to drop one member from the band. In the longer run, the band decided that the music was strong enough to stand on its own, so why spoil it with a crappy vocal track?

 

“Instrumetal” as some might call it is becoming its own scene in many ways among the larger metal crowd. True, instrumental metal has been around for decades with even the biggest metal acts dedicating one or two 10-minute tracks of nothing but powerful, vocal-less thrash.  Even sludge and doom metal bands that feature vocalists might only have a few seconds of vocals followed by 5 minutes of slow, death rock. However, at today’s metal shows instrumental acts are becoming headliners of their own. Bands such as Russian Circles, Animals as Leaders and The Algorithm are a few of those currently leading this growing scene. These bands offer not only brutally technical metal but other styles such as classical, ambient, techno, fusion and jazz to entice the non-metal audience.

 

Even musicians who were part of other established bands have broken away to pursue solo careers that feature instrument-only tracks that test the barriers of metal composition. 9-string guitarist Mike Gianelli of Dissipate/Bermuda impresses tech metalheads with his of his own brand of instrumental djent.

 

For the metal bass players out there, Evan Brewer of Animosity and The Faceless has been a pioneer for stretching the limits of bass techniques in metal music, demonstrating skill and precision to generate sounds that very few bass players out there could even imagine creating.

 

The instrumetal scene will undoubtedly keep growing for years to come and will continue to combine styles from other musical genres to hopefully keep expanding the horizons of what metal music will sound like. If there is any criticism at all of this developing scene of metal musicians, it is that instrumetal doesn’t actually have much to “say.” After all, how can a band that doesn’t have any lyrics possibly be memorable to fans or change society or bring people together? What will this music mean to people looking for the meaning of life? A noteworthy response to this is that there are vocals among the instrumetal scene, but rather than being created on stage they are created among the audience that is listening. A highly technical composition of riffs and shreds can spark a conversation full of interpretations and commentary even long after the show is over. Perhaps through this type of creativity can the metal scene pick itself back up and be a respectable art form once again.