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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Lyraka

I am Andy DiGelsomina, the composer and lead guitar player for the Wagnerian Opera Metal project, Lyraka, and I'm going to rock the world.

My fiancee Jasmine and I have created a huge epic, encompassing a set of highlight cds (the first cd of the set was released in November 2010, the second is due in 2014), a currently-in-production graphic novel, and a 3-D animated movie. Jasmine created the actual story, concept, screenplay, characters, and website.

The music is all me.

We have employed world class artists Graham Bonnet, Ken Kelly, Veronica Freeman, Tommy Heart, Andre Maquera, Robert Lowe, Mark Boals, Al Atkins, Rob Diaz, Liz Vandall, Thom Carvey, Gary Spaulding, Hannah Beth Crary, and Jeff Pilson to put our vision into action.

I am out to revolutionize guitar-driven heavy metal composition. In fact, my opera is the revolution in progress.

Find out more about my opera, influences, interviews, etc. here: http://lyraka.com/

This is Our Father of Metal, dedicated to Richard Wagner: http://lyraka.com/ourfatherofmetal/index.html

I will be posting reviews and general thoughts here, so keep checking back and maybe you'll learn something.

While you're here, check out the charities to the right of this blog, and give from the heart. Even a small monthly charity does a world of good.


Monday, November 1, 2010

How is Lyraka "Wagnerian Opera Metal"?

Since the release of my cd "Lyraka Volume 1", I have been asked by puzzled listeners:

a) why isn't Lyraka a "metal opera" like the Bon Jovi-meets-Helloween bubblegum pop of Avantasia, and

b) why it doesn't sound particularly "neo-classical"?.With this blog I endeavor to answer these questions, and coincidentally help further define Lyraka.

Question A:
How is Lyraka a "Metal Opera"? 

Answer: Lyraka is not a Metal Opera, it is Wagnerian Opera Metal. It is a different entity from what you've heard before. It is new, it is groundbreaking; it is, to quote our primary singer, Graham Bonnet, something unique. In regard to the "Wagnerian" part of the aforementioned, tenuous label I go into how Lyraka is Wagnerian on the Interviews page of Lyraka.com, so if you wish to have a more elaborate explanation I urge you to go there. I will take the time to explain that "Lyraka Volume 1" is most often Wagnerian from a lyrical, allegorical standpoint, and from the way the music represents the story. An example of a single track on Lyraka Volume 1 that is most obviously Wagnerian from a musical perspective is "Errandia", with its Tristan und Isolde-esque chromaticism, general atmosphere, and motival development. Wagner's last four operas impacted Lyraka in many ways, and anyone who fails to  understand that is at best not a careful listener, at worse a musical ignoramus.

At the risk of sounding stuffy, I doubt that most listeners of my music, including the majority of rock critics, have much familiarity with Wagner's music, or even a firm grasp of Art music in general. In fact, from the beginning of my composing for Lyraka I expected a generally cavalier listening attitude, and feel sorry for those who won't invest their attention. The only way to become fully enriched by any art, including my own, is to mindfully cancel out your ego's judging interjections. The ability to do this separates the casual listener from the kind of listener that will elevate the genre of Heavy Metal beyond its status as a Popular Music genre. Of course, it's far easier to dismiss (or label as "boring") something you won't try to understand. More's the pity for the careless critic, as this music is what's happening today. Out with the old, in with Lyraka.

Ultimately the Lyraka opera is more DiGelsominian than anything else, as I won't settle for aping past masters. There are times I'll not only use different motifs and keys to represent characters and situations, but incorporate various genres of music to emphasize personality and experiential components. I also deviate from the standard Rock/Metal Opera in that the Lyraka narrative is essentially diffuse, that is, broken up into pieces. My opera is built more like a song cycle, with tracks often lacking resolution lyrically and/or musically. Such an approach could be seen as Modernistic and thus at least peripherally related to the early works of  artists like T.S. Eliot, Vincent Van Gogh, Béla Bartók, and Richard Strauss. I mention the early works of Modernists because there's a significant Romantic strain in the music side of the opera.

As for the "Metal Operas" that people are currently comparing to Lyraka, such as Avantasia and Savatage, the comparison is ridiculous and invalid. The only works that have any kind of relation to Lyraka, and then mostly in a precedential way, are King Diamond's pioneering metal operas, the Who's "Tommy" and "Quadrophenia", and the involved concept albums that Uli Jon Roth has released since the mid-1980s. In reference to King Diamond, there weren't any real operas in heavy metal before him, and there have been few since; King was also the first truly epic storyteller in metal, and his well developed stories were both complemented and enhanced by the music he'd write. I am admiringly indebted to him. As for The Who, I recently realized that their operas were a subconscious influence on my writing for Lyraka, probably due to my heavy exposure to them as a young boy. They remain by far my favorite classic rock band, and I consider "Quadrophenia" the best opera in Rock history, including all of its subgenres like, yes, Metal. Uli Jon Roth I mention because he is the first bonafide heavy rock lead guitarist-composer, and his albums from the aforementioned time period were discovered by me in the middle of writing and recording Lyraka Volume 1. Uli's work has had a significant impact on me since, even influencing my choice of singers.

In regard to other projects, I heard Ayreon's "Into the Electric Castle" in October 2011 and liked it, but there's nothing from any of Arjen Lucasson's repetoire that parallels Lyraka. I do find the Bowie and Purple Rainbow-esque elements in Arjen's music to be fun, and I respect him, it's just the Pink Floyd influence that turns me off (I can't stand Space Rock). 

On the negative end, I consider the "metal operas" of Avantasia to be bloodless, anti-dynamic drivel of the most forgettable kind. Besides the Glam Rock production of those excruciatingly edgeless albums, the songwriting is so cliched as to be hopelessly hackneyed. None of Tobias Sammet's output is even particularly heavy, he substitutes overuse of the double bass drum effect for crushing grooves. And to prove I'm not just picking on Avantasia alone, the "operas" of Savatage, Liverani, Blind Guardian, and Trans-Siberian Orchestra do absolutely nothing for me either. The songs all bleed into one sorry mess after awhile, about as emotionally involving (and musically similar in spirit) as the Monkees. I am a great believer in Metal that ROCKS, and has personality. 

This is not a knock against any of these individuals or bands as musicians, they are all great musicians, some of the best in the world. But as composers and producers, they are all sorely lacking in any real adventurous spirit. They fall squarely in the "easy listening" category. Bores me to tears.

I am a risk taker and trailblazer, and this proclivity makes my music have an edge that will unsettle many people. And, to paraphrase one of my favorite bands, Manowar: "kiss my ass if you don't like it, I don't care!". I am writing for the generations to come, for those Guitarist-Composers that give the finger to conventions, and laugh at the norms. Sic Itur Ad Astra!

Question B: "Why doesn't Lyraka sound more 'neo-classical?'"

Answer: Lyraka only has a peripheral relation to the Yngwie "neo-baroque" sound of the '80's. The little Yngwie-influence I have begins with Alcatrazz and ends with bits and pieces from the early Rising Force albums. Even the fast arpeggios I play are far more influenced by players like Joe Stump and Jason Becker. Any resemblence my music might have to "neo-classical" comes from a lifetime of listening to Ritchie Blackmore, Ulrich Roth, and Randy Rhoads, as well as extensive study of the works of Wagner, Bach, Bartok, Bruckner, and Beethoven.

Au fond: I have assimilated my influences into something completely me, in my own musical language, concurrently inventing a whole new genre of music for the ages: Wagnerian Opera Metal.

  

Monday, October 25, 2010

Under A Dark Sky: An Appreciation

Uli Jon Roth is, along with Ritchie Blackmore, the progenitor and pioneer of the movement to fuse Art Music with Heavy Metal/Hard Rock. Though Blackmore was first in incorporating exotic scales and arpeggios in heavy rock in the 70s, Uli took it further than anyone else in the genre: witness the early Scorpions and Electric Sun albums for evidence. The impact of his music is monumental, the post-Randy Rhoads "neo-classical" scene is inconceivable without him. One of the biggest differences between Uli and the neo-classical movement that proceded from his influence is the fact that he has been more serious in integrating the distorted electric guitar into an orchestral context, as opposed to writing lead guitar fixated "concertos" with silly, unnecessary orchestration. Uli took upon himself the role of both composer and guitarist, with no apparent self-consciousness. With "Under a Dark Sky", Roth has reached a peak in his compositional powers; no other artist or release in the genre of heavy rock guitar music has so effectively incorporated distorted lead guitar into an art music context, specifically in terms of compositional intricacy, dynamic range, and thematic depth.

On a more personal note: when I first bought this cd I was forewarned to prepare myself for a listen that would be almost entirely non-Metallic. Once I got past that I was floored by how advanced that Uli's writing has become. He really is a composer that happens to play guitar instead of, say, a lead guitar player struggling to blow up a basic heavy metal structure for an orchestra. He has perfected the place of the guitar among the other orchestral instruments, unlike others who just rewrote the cello cadenza parts for electric guitar. I should also mention that from a purely lead guitar playing perspective, Uli's personal tone, attack, and sense of dynamics has become at least equal to the best living Rock players, such as Jeff Beck and Ritchie Blackmore. Under a Dark Sky takes as its base the pioneering progressive rock of the 70s and, particularly with the lead guitar in Uli's hands, ups the expressive content of the compositions to a heretofore unrealized degree. The guitar becomes like a separate voice, a prime protagonist in an apocalyptic opera.

I must champion also the lyrical content of "Under a Dark Sky". The cd's Weltanschauung operates under a similar air as Beethoven's 9th Symphony, i.e. matters are becoming urgent, hate is killing the world, only love can save humanity. The heavy metal kids might reject such a message in that amusing, willfully cantankerous way of theirs; but, the reality is that humanity remains just as primitive as it ever was, if not moreso with the onset of both the information superhighway and weapons of mass destruction. People cheer murder, worship money, and continue to waste their imaginations on ways to look down on and/or kill each other. Only a devastatingly powerful movement to love can save the world, the answer is inside. Such a sentiment is easy to sympathize with by the mature minded.


It's impossible to overstate the painstaking attention to detail evident throughout this album. In interviews preceeding the release of "Under a Dark Sky", Uli had mentioned how hard it was for him to mix down all the different layers he'd recorded into a single stereo track, and there's no question that this album will be more effectively represented with a 5.1 remix. On the other hand, the limited stereo mix makes the album especially compelling, as it takes many listens to fully absorb the proceedings. The more one listens, the more gets one out of the CD, which to me one of the definitions of great art.

I realize that a lot of people won't like the arty nature of this cd: the choirs, the length, the idiosyncratic song structures. But that's nothing new, as  the great majority of folks don't like to have to focus when they listen to a Rock/Metal cd, preferring to listen to the same song structures ad infinitum. For them, music is mostly entertainment, which of course is fine, it's there for everyone to suit to their own needs. But, as both a musician and composer, I can't help but declare my profound admiration for what Uli has accomplished here. I think this is by far the most musically interesting Rock guitar release so far in the 21st century, with a direly important message.






Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Pete Townshend is Endlessly Wired...Into Great Songwriting




There's a lot on this album that could barely even be construed as Rock, much less hard rock. And the first couple of listens turned me off, as both Daltrey and Townshend are very much showing their age vocally. On the third listen, some of it started clicking in a big way, and on the fifth I "got" it, and found myself inspired.

This album isn't meant to be stacked next to the monster classics like Who's Next or Tommy, though there are elements of those albums on here. Taken on its own terms, Endless Wire is easily the best Who album since Who Are You, and there are actually songs that stand up with their best: "Trilby's Piano", "Tea and Theater", and the Tom Waits influenced "Into the Ether" being the most obvious. They're the kind of songs that help one understand exactly why Pete Townshend is widely considered one of the top five songwriters in Rock history.

The mini-opera "Wire and Glass" is often interesting, and makes the album even more dynamically engaging. But it's the first, Who By Numbers-esque half I most admire, and that half has quite a dynamic range on its own. Compositional subtleties abound on this album, and as usual the lyrics range from clever to spectacularly insightful and expressive. As a Rock/Metal composer myself, I learned a few important things from both the arrangements and instrumentation. There was so much care taken with this, and yet songs like "Mike Post Theme" and the (unfortunately short) "We've Got a Hit" showcase that the band can belt it with plenty of sincerity and relative simplicity when it's called for.

My original, four out of five star rating reflects the past to an extent, and I regret it already. In light of the mostly reheated garbage that passes for "Rock music" today, this is a 5 star release.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Your Music Sucks Until You're Dead

The attitude that "the last important music was written by dead people", or past a certain time limit, should have been obsolete decades ago. It astounds me when I hear that assessment today, it's musical bigotry of the most ignorant kind. Hopefully the day is coming when non-musicians will come out of the Dark Ages and accept Rock/Metal music as they would any other genre. A dead giveaway of the musically uneducated person is his or her derogatization of the term "popular music", especially when used as an umbrella to lump in Lady Ga Ga with Uli Jon Roth. Though there are many Rock/Metal songs that stay within the timeless I-IV-V, "popular" framework, there are nearly as many exceptions to this adherence as there are examples.

It's humorous to witness how the snobbily-inclined fasten on the more popular side of music genres, as though any individual bids to popularity prove the invalidity of that whole genre. I've had to deal with people, including some "classically trained" professionals, who had an inordinately hard time listening to Rock/Metal music, saying things like "why does the guitar have to sound like that" and "what's that obnoxious sound?". If they'd let themselves have any perspective, they'd realize that people were saying the similar things about Beethoven's Eroica (too noisy, too epic), and later whining to the high heavens about the introduction of the Wagner tuba (such an unpleasant roar! oh dear!).
After having pored over biographies and music of the great composers, I learned something that completely affirmed my regard toward Rock/Metal music. Beethoven, Schubert, Mozart...they all wrote with money and popularity on their mind, most of the time. The masses, whom go out of their way not to think too much, try to pretend a movie like "Amadeus" or "Immortal Beloved" is fact and not fiction. Take for instance the Hollywood faerie tale that Mozart suffered from poverty because his music was "too advanced", or "revolutionary". What a joke. Mozart lived it up; his letters and myriad testimonies from contemporaries bear that out. He had a very bad habit of getting a big commission, blowing it on high living, then borrowing and blowing it all over again. There's also the myth that he was "woefully underrated in his time". Mozart was recognized as a spectacular composer all across Europe, the only amount of "obscurity" he might have experienced was because Joseph Haydn came before him, and invented the templates that Mozart wrote from.

And Mozart, just like the rest of the greats, mostly wrote music because he was either getting or expecting to be paid. True, there are many compositions that he and the other "classic composers" wrote just out of love for the art; but it's notable that most of the stuff he is remembered for, (not just the catchy stuff), music like Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and the Requiem were paid for in advance. The big knock against popular music, the idea that money and fashion rule over substance, looks pretty silly when viewed in this light. Not to pick on Mozart, a terrific composer of course, but he wrote within the Sonata framework, which is a very set style that was all the rage in that century, (and still knocking them dead well into the 19th century). It was the style that paid.

Tell me the Allegros of the Sonata Facile, Rondo Alla Turca, Eine Kleine, etc. aren't Poppy. There are dozens of other examples.

To quote Jon Lord, as fine a musician as I can think of, "our (Deep Purple's) music is just as legitimate as Beethoven's". And for its place and time, it most certainly is.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Rainbow




At nine years old I was going through my father's record collection when I saw the album "Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow". Upon my first glance at the cover, I thought it was a record for "little kids" (at that ripe old age I'd already assumed I was past that designation). But the fact that it was in his collection intrigued me, so I ran upstairs to my slap the vinyl on my Emerson turntable. First song up was of course "Man on the Silver Mountain", and my life changed. The quasi-religious lyrics, Bach-ian pre-chorus, and moving solo completely obsessed me, and I was weeks playing that song in both my head and turntable. Naturally, I grew to love the album as a whole, and that was my initiation into Rainbow.


I ended up grabbing Long Live Rock 'N Roll and Down to Earth in the years proceeding and actually grew to love those albums even more than the first. But it wasn't until several years later that I first discovered Rainbow Rising, an album which led to another musical revelation.


Allow me to digress: things were so different before the internet came along. These days if you like a band, you can just look them up on Wiki and find their whole discography, bio, everything. But in 1986, though I'd been a huge fan of Rainbow, loved Ronnie-era Sabbath, and admired the solo Dio, I had never heard of Rainbow Rising. Today I wonder if the delay was simply fate: Rising came into my life at a very young, receptive point in my life, after two years of playing guitar.


At the time I was living on the streets homeless, kicked out of college with nothing but my guitar and the clothes on my back. I saw the cassette for Rainbow Rising on my friend's desktop, and was shocked to see that it really was that Rainbow. My friend played me Stargazer and A Light in the Black, and I was devastated. I couldn't believe Stargazer! Before this my favorite Rock song had been Eyes Of the World. But Stargazer, from my very first listen, sounded like the best song I'd ever heard, period. I remember being amazed that I'd gone so long without hearing that song.

I'd been listening to (and enjoying) Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force albums previous to hearing Rainbow Rising, but songs like Stargazer and A Light in the Black sounded as though Rainbow invented the genre and basic guitar style that Malmsteen and his countless followers dwelt within. In fact, Rainbow Rising sounded like the basis for the entire Power Metal genre as a whole. The whole album struck me as being profoundly musical, while maintaining that hard, blues-based edge that originally attracted me to heavy rock/metal.


At the time of Rainbow's heyday, many critics and rock music fans considered them to be an inferior version of  Deep Purple, but I always gave the nod to the former. Rainbow had that mystical side to them, not to mention the best guitar playing and singing in Ritchie Blackmore and Ronnie Dio's respective careers.


To this day I proudly proclaim Rainbow to be my all time favorite rock band and a massive influence on my own music and playing.


Let's all hail the true masters and trailblazers of neo-classical rock and metal!



Sunday, September 26, 2010

Dawn of the Heavy Metal Composer-Guitarist

I have been queried as to whom I consider to be my peers. As far as guitar playing, there are some guitar players out there that either shun the cliches or have worked through them toward their own personal style, and they are the ones I consider my peers. Many of them aren't especially well known, but that doesn't make them any less great.

As far as overall compositional ability goes, I think that besides Uli Roth I am without peer in my genre. That is, I am the trailblazer in guitar-based heavy rock/metal composition. The way that I apply techniques like remote keys, multiple voices, motivic permutations that positively reinforce the lyric and musical themes, radical yet smoothly transitioned tempo changes, polytonality, durchkomponiert, and involved orchestration is unparalleled. I have taken the element of dissonance far beyond the worn out "extreme metal" method of obnoxious cantankerousness, and made the orchestra's involvement overall more heavy metal than it's been since Richard Strauss.

Speaking of the orchestra (I include both the Rock instruments and vocals in this designation), in our music the orchestra goes far beyond simple accompaniment. It often portrays alternating, intertwining situations and landmarks. The orchestra will also represent the inward workings of characters; it will serve the story in the way that scholars theorize the Ancient Greek choruses worked in the Classical tragedies.

The literary and thematic ramifications of all this are groundreaking developments in the genre of guitar-based heavy metal. In fact, they are landmarks for the entire Rock field. It's widely understood that Pete Townshend of the Who invented, pioneered, and perfected Rock Opera, and as brilliant as his work assuredly was, the abovementioned facets of my work revolutionizes the genre.

With my opera, Rock/Metal finally makes the full maturation from Popular Music into the profoundly Erudite, all without the losing the hard edge that constitutes the best of heavy Rock/Metal.

Up until me most everyone in Metal has been too awed by past masters. The guitarists who call themselves neo-Classicists are typically quick to be made afraid of the Great Composers and their works. Most of the blame for this lies in the musicians' putting too much stock in the opinions of critics. Yes, the works of the old masters can be unbelievable, awe-inspiring. But today is today, and what I'm doing is today. Most critics themselves are failed musicians, and will bitterly bare their teeth at anything innovative and daring, labelling it "pretentious". My question is: why defer to people whom have failed, better yet why defer whatsoever. I say, let critics toss off my work as mere entertainment, when from all perspectives it is some of the highest Art in this century, and history will prove it, long after my detractors have been buried in their own anonymity.


As intimated earlier, the only contemporary person whom I see as being especially advanced these days from a compositional perpective (operating within the same guitar-driven Rock/Metal genre as myself) is Uli Jon Roth. Though the music Uli did with Scorpions was the best they ever did, it's especially inspiring  to hear how he much he's progressed since then, both as a composer and guitar player . His work from Beyond the Astral Skies to this present day has been mostly sensational. He probably set the only real precedent before me as a heavy rock guitarist who became a Composer of real quality. I don't include Townshend in the heavy rock guitar designation, as he worked more within the British Invasion context of Rock, the one that didn't focus as much on the lead guitarist.

I've listened to/endured alot of Heavy Progressive Rock/Metal, and I can tell you as a composer that Uli has taken it the furthest before me. I feel it neccessary to mention both Karl Sanders of the band Nile and Ihsahn's work with Emperor as outstanding examples of advanced and risk taking composers, however those two are specialists in the Extreme Metal genre, a genre that I only partly explore in my own music. I respect and admire both of them.

I must mention Allan Holdsworth, as the man is probably the greatest guitarist-composer of the past fifty years, and right up there with Liszt in terms of combining virtuosity with compositional brilliance. But Allan is known by most as a Fusion Jazz-Rock musician, and rightly so. That doesn't take away from that fact that he stands above everyone in any genre, from any and all musical perspectives. He has set the bar for guitarist-composers dauntingly high, no one has even begun to scale his heights, only imitators abound.

Getting more into the genre I'm about, I also greatly admire the groundbreaking styles that players like Ritchie Blackmore and Tony Iommi brought to the fore, but ultimately none of those players (as spectacular as they are) can be categorized as composers, they are great songwriters.

I would now like to take the time to make distinctions between the words "Songwriter" and "Composer". A songwriter typically uses ideas from pre-existent structural models. That is, he or she will most often use set progressions and melodic patterns, including the classic I-V and I-IV-V, to base things on. A songwriter will also rely on harmonies and rhythms that resolve predictably, in order to set a "cruise control" type of flow to the song. Most songwriters aren't composers because they lock themselves (or are impressed upon to retain) a certain style. This is not always by choice: many feel compelled to not bring forth or even try their hand at more advanced writing because of monetary considerations, comfort issues, etc. And hey, songwriting is a more than legitimate, fulfilling way of making a living and expressing oneself.

Now, a composer can and often will apply the songwriting techniques described above. But the composer will be more often interested in adjusting the chords, progressions, harmonies, and tempos to suit his or her inspiration, not to suit some borrowed structure. The composer will use, disuse, blow up, and/or ignore traditional song progressions if those progressions are not expressing what he or she feels. If a composition requires a modulation that is remote from the home key, or an abrupt stop or start to get the composer's point across, so mote it be.

I am here to announce that there will be a wave of the future, pioneered by Uli Jon Roth and brought to fruition by me: the Heavy Metal Composer-Guitarist.





Advice For the Aspiring Composer-Guitarist

Here are some ideas for the aspiring Composer-Guitarist to try. As with anything, use what you can to fit your own personal needs, and disregard the rest.

a) Teach yourself how to really listen to music, to all the different voices in a composition. There are typically more layers in classic Art Music (Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Mahler) than in Metal/Rock. So really expose yourself to that as well as the heavy. There are some fascinating things going on in real Jazz music as well, daring contrapuntal stuff. You can also learn a lot of invaluable things about tempo manipulation and polyrhythms from funk, reggae, and rap. Actually, that's kind of a bigoted statement, since you can learn more about those musical variables from all kinds of music. It's just that the above mentioned genres can give you ideas from outside the metal/rock/classical box. Don't blindly write off any type of music; limiting your musical input ultimately cheats you from both educational and entertainment perspectives, and can lead to bigotry in other areas of your life. Just as you can learn something from any person, you can learn from any type of music...even if it's just to verify that you don't like that particular piece of music (laughing).

b) While you're working on building your listening skills in music, strive also to prune your listening skills when it comes to the opinions of others. You are not obligated to take to heart the opinions of anyone else, and you are completely free to take whatever is positive in any situation and turn it into a self-affirming experience.

A warning: the smallest people will try to convince you that their reality is all there is, when that's all they're really talking about, their reality. They will try to infect you with their smallness because it's the only thing that makes them feel bigger.

c) I urge the composer-guitarist of today to work toward being the best, the trailblazer, the Landmark in his or her genre. Don't let yourself stay overawed, and don't let anyone make you afraid. You have to make yourself what's happening. Your day is here.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Michael Schenker Group- Assault Attack



I often call this album Michael Schenker's Rainbow because I think this might have been close to what Rainbow's Down to Earth would have sounded like if Martin Birch had been in the producer's seat. Birch's production here is fantastic: Bonnet and Schenker sound better than ever before. Bassist Chris Glenn's highly contrapuntal playing is mixed perfectly, and even the relatively obscure drummer Ted McKenna comes across CRUSHING on a Cozy/Bonham level.

Opener "Assault Attack" is a perfectly paced Rocket-launcher of a track; the Beethoven-esque beginning gives way to a fast but spine tingling verse riff. Graham Bonnet propels the track with a personality and power the likes of which hadn't been seen since Dio or a classic Ian Gillan. The solo is a lesson in Heavy Metal Chamber Music, restrained yet contrapuntally outstanding for the genre. Listen to the bass guitar during the harmonised leads, it's more "neo-classical" from a counterpoint and harmonic perspective than Yngwie Malmsteen ever dreamed of being. Schenker's sparse lead melody here shows an astounding amount of maturity, poise, and taste that puts the final cast of cement on his statue in the Metal Guitar God Pantheon.

The next track, "Rock You To the Ground", is very much blues-based, but we're talking more like a defining, Blues-Metal style. The outrageous, belting vocals of Bonnet, as well as the perfectly fitting rhythm parts, launch this track into an instant, unforgettable Classic. During Schenker's parting lead, the various changes in the backing track drive him toward a jaw-dropping performance. Each change in the backing makes the sections play out like a chapter in a book: driving home various, highly memorable perspectives. This different-chapters-in-a-book approach to lead guitar has appeared in previously classic solos by other people (Jimi Hendrix's leads on "All Along the Watchtower"are a good example). But the solo on Rock You To the Ground is even more tasty and melodic. Overall, this song, and solo, have to be heard to be believed.

"Dancer" is the single/"All Night Long" of the album, and not without its charm. Though a bit long and awkward at times, it's hard to fault Bonnet and Schenker at this point in their careers, as they are truly firing on all cylinders. Great vocals and Michael is a peak of tastiness.

"Samurai" is considered by many people to be the song of the album. Again we have involved harmonies, this time in Bonnet's verse delivery. The chorus is extremely aggressive, and the ending where Bonnet holds the last note over the word "Samurai" whilst Schenker melodies on is absolutely spine-chilling.

For most others, "Desert Song" is the best song on the album, and there is good reason. "Desert Song" is easily up there with best "slow songs" of Classic Heavy Metal: "Stargazer", "We'll Burn the Sky", "Heaven and Hell", "Hallowed Be Thy Name", "Beyond the Realms of Death", "Fade to Black", "Love to Love", etc. The main riff, in thirds, is a classic of classics, impossible to forget. Bonnet hits a note right before the solo ("cooling the man") that is quite literally beautiful and moving. And again we have taste, restraint, and class during the middle lead break, whilst the passion springs forth after the last, emotionally delivered verse.

After this we have a couple of more meat-and-potatoes tracks, "Broken Promises" and "Searching For A Reason". The former is notable not only for the powerful high notes of Bonnet, but a musically very interesting bass guitar-to-drum syncopated beat, and an overall quirky atmosphere.

The last song is by far one of the greatest solo showcases in Rock/Metal history (and the foundation of Joe Satriani's entire career), "Ulcer". Although Schenker admitted later that this song was heavily overdubbed, there's no denying the exhiliration experienced when listening to this track. The middle, super fast lead break is both awe-inspiring and strangely catchy. Due to the latter aspect, it's difficult even referring to the solos on this track as "shred", there's too much personality and memorability to them.

In my humble opinion, this album is even better than the magnificent, Resoundingly Classic MSG albums that preceeded it. For me, that's saying alot, as I find the second MSG studio album in particular to be completely outstanding, despite the not-quite-so-great production.

For guitar players I assert that, in terms of overall guitar performance, there was never, and I mean NEVER a Shrapnel album that even comes close to this. Get this before you buy ANYthing produced by that massively overrated label. And if you've never heard Yngwie or his followers, get this before you buy ANYthing by him or his ilk, this way you'll learn more about how to play with feeling and melodicism, rather than masturbate the Harmonic Minor, Phrygian, and Aeolian scales ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

If there is a fault to this album (besides the doesn't-seem-quite-finished "Searching For A Reason") it's that a few of the songs repeat the chorus twice at the end. This might seem a bit lacking in imagination to some, but once you listen to the album you'll find yourself not caring. The overall sound, songwriting, guitar playing...shoot, overall playing by everyone, is incredibly inspiring and not something to be missed. This album inspired me greatly in writing my own music for my heavy metal opera Lyraka. I even got Graham Bonnet to sing my songs, which as you can imagine has been thrilling for me!

My favorite ever cds are this one and Rainbow Rising. I first heard both albums in 1986, after I'd been playing guitar for a couple of years. At the time, I was dropped out of college and homeless. Times were really horrible for me. I'll never forget hearing Assault Attack and being completely awed. I was already quite familiar with both Bonnet and Schenker, but for some reason this release had fallen through the cracks for me. Every time I thought about giving up the guitar back then(usually due to pressures resulting from my homelessness), I'd look at that cover and get renewed determination and strength. It looked to me like Michael was holding up that guitar out of rebellious determination in the face of terrible opposition.

But more, it looked like he held that guitar up in TRIUMPH, as though Assault Attack signified his sweet revenge against those who tried to keep him down. This album would help anyone to stay on track, to persevere against even the worse exploding warheads.

Andy DiGelsomina

Wagner and Bach






I've always had mixed feelings about the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. I mean, I have adored pieces like his Brandenburg Concertos and Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring since I can remember. And every Metalhead is at least aware of his Toccata and Fugue in D minor. But I found his other works too often stiff and sterile, and have publicly (read: foolishly) criticized them for seeming to lack passion and significant expressivity.

Just recently I came into my first contact with Bach's Chaconne in D minor, as played by the phenomenal Itzhak Perlman, and had my outlook on Bach's expressivity revamped. At first I guessed that my wonder had to do with Perlman's performance (a flamboyant interpreter). But, having previewed other performer's interpretations, I now hear what most people have known for centuries: Bach's works for solo instruments are beyond brilliant (dohhh!). They are, (along with the pieces mentioned above) the 8th wonders of the world, and their expressive nature is evident. But I digress.

I ran across an article here: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Other/Wagner-Gen1.htm detailing a debate concerning vocal pieces by Bach and Richard Wagner. I'm printing my comment here, as I don't usually bother with those yahoo group gropes. Here is my comment (keep in mind, this concerns mostly the vocal opi of the composers):

"Some of the posts here concerning Bach and Wagner are, well...amusing. Attempting to compare the two in terms of quality vocal composition is ultimately futile; for one thing, each had different objectives. Bach's cantatas and oratorios were geared toward emphasizing the human voice, a goal that had existed for a long time before him, and one that would predominate the works of Handel, Haydn, and Mozart. On the other hand, Wagner's vocal composing aimed toward making the human voice equal to the orchestra.

A bit of general musical history: before Beethoven's Eroica, musical works were for the most part based upon structures that had been throughly defined before them. Bach, Handel, Mozart, and even early Beethoven mostly relied upon the Italianate musical language that others before them had originated. They were often rhythmically on cruise control, and thus quite familiar to the performers. The extraordinary thing about Bach, and this is true also of composers like Mozart, they were taking what could be seen as a limiting set of definitions, and perfecting them with spectacular melodic sense (Mozart) and unparralleled counterpoint (Bach), not to mention awe-inspiring craftmanship (both).

Come late-era Beethoven, a revolution in expressiveness was begun, beginning in Beethoven's chamber music, and ultimately culminating in the intensely idiosyncratic operas of Richard Wagner. Few composers before or since have equalled this almost transubstantiational morphing of ego into music. The vast majority were too afraid to try, or instead went the more extreme route, as composers in the 20th Century were wont.

But, I'm getting a little Tiger Beat here. Perhaps how much one admires Bach over Wagner, or vice versa, can be measured by how much overbearing compositional expression one can take...or be subservient to."

Friday, September 24, 2010

Fair Warning- The Magnum Opus of Edward Van Halen




Many fans of Van Halen tend to put down Fair Warning, as it has nowhere near the amount of good time songs as the others. In fact, Fair Warning is the darkest album the band ever put out (unless you want to count VH III as being "dark" due to its being the group's nadir). I rate Fair Warning as the best Van Halen album, not just for its dark, heavy metal atmosphere, but also because it's both more of an Edward Van Halen album and takes more chances from a musical perspective than any of the others.

Several reviewers have looked upon Fair Warning as being reactionary, and for good reason. David Lee Roth seemed to dominate Van Halen's previous album, "Women and Children First", and Edward himself stated in interviews that Fair Warning was a bit like revenge for his relative sidekick status on WaCF . This may have contributed alot to Fair Warning's dark feel: the fact that Roth was more and more overbearing as the band progressively became more popular.

In any case, the album starts with Mean Streets, the prelude of that song being one of the most brilliant, innovative guitar pieces in guitar history. To hear it for the first time is to be completely thrown: virtually everyone I knew in the early '80's was amazed (and some actually disturbed) by this intro, to the point where we all wondered if it was really a guitar making those sounds. The description "ferociously original" fits here.

I have to mention Edward's interjectory guitar pops, squeals, slides, and other assorted jewels throughout the proceedings. He doesn't do a whole lot new in this area since the first album, but his ingenuity and creativity with the technique is, simply put, mind blowing here. In fact, it's safe to say that Edward's guitar personality reached full maturity on this album, there's no one that sounds exactly the way he did, just like there probably hasn't been anyone this original in Rock/Metal guitar since.

How many songs are there in the Rock canon like the borderline jazz bop of "Push Comes to Shove"? The solo alone on that track could be held up in college courses as a masterpiece in expressed personality in art. Quirky, eccentric, and yet somehow there's something very arcane in there. Makes you wonder at Edward's mental state at the time (ironically, he was in the process of getting married to a television star).

"Sinner's Swing" is about as violently heavy metal a track as Van Halen has recorded, and features one of the most "falling down the stairs and landing on your feet" solos as Ed's ever played. Some are very turned off by this type of reckless playing, but then this has been a part of Edward's style since the beginning: anyone who plays like this these days is immediately branded clone. To me, that proves its worth in gold.

Even the most invigorating track on Fair Warning, "Unchained", features a down tuned riff that helps the song fit perfectly into the oddly gothic feeling of the album; and, strangely enough, the blues cheering of "So This is Love" actually reinforces it. Check out how the ending of the latter seems to somehow segue perfectly into the synthesized doom metal double shot of "Sunday Afternoon in the Park" and "One Foot Out the Door". Total sludge, and so totally not Van Halen the band, but almost certainly Edward Van Halen the man.

To me, the music of Fair Warning is a bit like a tone painting of its album cover: at times horrifically ugly, bleak, violent, horribly frustrated. Customized to fit Edward Van Halen's complex personality.

This is an essential purchase, especially if you're into Rock and Heavy Metal guitar.

Richard Wagner- Der Ring Des Nibelungen (Solti/Decca)






I started out with the Levine/Met dvd of this opera/cycle. As most reviewers know, that dvd tends to make the more subtle, quiet portions of the Ring seem endless (just check out the Die Walkure portion). I can't knock that dvd collection too much, because it at least gave me an idea of a more traditional Ring, and hey, the Das Rheingold part of the cycle was often very good (LOVE Christa Ludwig's Fricka! Timeless!).

Because of my being advised by knowledgeable Wagnerites that I had mostly been cheated out of a more dynamic Ring recording, I began collecting the Solti-conducted version, buying one part of the cycle a month. I felt that this was the best way to fully absorb the operas; Das Rheingold one month, Die Walkure the next, etc. This approach worked where the Levine dvd ultimately failed: I was able to hear the Ring recorded in a more controlled environment. Some would be quick to point out the disadvantages to the Solti approach, and I sympathize. A live performance can be far more edgy, spotlighting the interpreter's personalities and lending more excitment thus.

For me, the Solti-conducted Ring has become the performance that immersed me most thoroughly in the Wagner Ring cycle. This set has grown with me. It was through this cycle that I began experiencing the Ring on a distinctly personal level. Please allow me to take time out to explain myself better:

The Ring is composed of characters and situations that are directly related to timeless psychological archetypes. When one opens/immerses oneself completely to the experience that the Ring provides (having a couple of books on the subject really helps as well), one can learn about one's individual relationship to these archetypes.

A really excellent addition to buying the Solti Ring cycle are the libretto books which come with each opera, written out in different languages (including English). These also include famous pictures depicting scenes from the Ring, depicted by artist Arthur Rackham. These are each really excellent inclusions that help the listener's immersion.

I'm going to close by pointing out a couple of faults with the Solti in comparison with the other, famous studio recording of the Ring.Herbert Von Karajan's Die Walkure is probably
the most effecting in terms of the Sieglinde-Siegmund duet...we're talking astoundingly moving singing and tasteful, yet committed orchestral playing throughout the first act. But overall, the Solti Walkure is by far the most rocking interpretation I've heard (and I've heard the Furtwangler, Keilberth classic, Bohm, and Krauss Bayreuth renditions). On a lighter note, I must mention the fact that Heavy Metal (most specifically the bands Manowar, Dio-fronted Rainbow, Black Sabbath, and Judas Priest) led me toward investigating the works of Richard Wagner, and the Ring in particular. I must particularly reccomend this recording of the Ring to any fellow Metalheads out there, as I haven't heard any more powerful performances of the (to paraphrase Manowar bassist Joey DeMaio) "heavy metal-inventing" parts of this opera. I understand also that many would take this in a bad light, and to question my earlier ranking of this recording as being "dynamic". But I must point out the beauty of Siefried's soliliquoy upon drinking the dragon's blood, his death speech, the jaw-droppingly gorgeous Brunnhilde-Siegfried meeting...her awakening. All of these I found more effecting that in any other recording of this work (I DO give props to the singing in the Krauss/Bayreuth rendition however).

I must point out also that the majority of the Karajan-conducted Ring seems to suffer far less from the often irritating (and head-scratch-provoking) intonation problems the Solti recording does. But I feel that's quibbling, BUY THIS RING if you want a recording of a great work that just keeps providing new things to admire and learn from with each listen. I can't think of a more inspiring form of reccomendation than that.

GET THIS!

Michael Schenker Group II M.S.G.


Of the five absolutely essential Michael Schenker Group Releases (which include this one, the self-titled debut, Rock Will Never Die, One Night at Budokan, and Assault Attack), this one is right in the running with Assault Attack as the best thing Michael Schenker ever did. I give the edge to Assault Attack because of a) the overall more involved and intricate compositions, b) Martin Birch, and c) the superior vocal prowess of Mr. Graham Bonnet (I admit a bias for this last aspect). In terms of guitar playing and songwriting, this is Michael Schenker at an absolute peak, one that he remained on for several years to come.

However, that does NOT mean that this album is lesser from an overall perspective. In fact, M.S.G. is an album that is easier to play all the way through, as opposed to Assault Attack, which has bumpy spots. And, though Gary Barden can't be held up to greats like classic Ian Gillan, Ronnie James Dio, or the above mentioned Bonnet, he gives the vocal performance of a lifetime here. His well placed use of falsetto flashes back to the classic Deep Purple sound, and let's face it: for us Dino rockers that can be a very, VERY good thing.

This, the second Michael Schenker Group album, portrays a band that got over the unevenness of their debut and reached maturity together. The songs here are overall more aggressive, often bitter (see "I Want More", arguably the best song here). There is lighter fare here ("Are You Ready To Rock", "Looking For Love") as well as epic cuts (the pristine "On and On" and equally excellent "Let Sleeping Dogs Lie"). But the sense of melancholy and...well, resignation seems to pop up here more often than not. The album even closes on a pleading-though-resigned-to-a-"no" track, "Secondary Motion". One wonders whether the darker feel of this album could be at least partially attributed to the band's conflicts with producer Ron Nevison.

The listener gets more of a feel of a unique Michael Schenker Group personality here than on any of the other Schenker releases. The first Michael Schenker Group album wasn't terribly different from classic UFO (besides more of a classical music influence), and Assault Attack was obviously influenced by the '70's Rainbow material that Bonnet was a part of, as well as the Dio-era of Black Sabbath. It's also notable that the only MSG studio album that ex-Rainbow frontman Cozy Powell played on was the first one that really established and defined M.S.G. as an individual presence in Rock/Heavy Metal. That unique style carried onto the One Night in Budokan album, peaked with Rock Will Never Die, and pretty much disappeared until Barden's re-entry with In The Midst of Beauty...if it ever reappeared at all.

The guitar playing is as outstanding as one could expect, given Michael Schenker's reputation. The album's only possible weak link, the poppy, UFO quoting "Looking For Love," has a completely redeeming outro guitar solo, one that will most certainly have you reaching for your rewind button. The solos are often brilliantly melodic; in the whole of rock/heavy metal lead guitar there is rarely such impassioned, memorable phrasing as on here. The outros of Let Sleeping Dogs Lie and But I Want More are literally goosebump raising.

This is the album that I'd point to first for anyone looking to hear the distinctive M.S.G. sound. It is also one of those priceless albums where pretty much every song is outstanding, inspiring, and ROCKING.

More succinctly,this album is an education in the art of classic metal songwriting, as well as definitive lead guitar phrasing. If you love classic Deep Purple, Rainbow, Scorpions, and their ilk, then you need this.

Mozart and Boredom

Quotes:

"most of Mozart's music is dull"- Famous opera singer Maria Callas.

"Mozart was a bad composer."-Reknowned pianist Glenn Gould


I personally wouldn't go as far as Gould, but I can certainly sympathise with the ever estimable Maria, and not just because she had a fascinating voice. Mozart's music and I have had our fling, one that was ended upon my discovery of Joseph Haydn, late-era Beethoven, and of course Richard Wagner. I'll expand on the reasons shortly, but first allow me to give you some backround.

Several years ago I came under the spell of the movie Amadeus, and went on a bit of a Mozart kick. I bought a bunch of expensive recordings, checked out most of his operas, hung up a picture, etc. Six months later, after listening in depth to Joseph Haydn, as well as late era Beethoven and Mahler, I realized how repetitive and unoriginal that Mozart could be.

Try giving a concentrated listen to his works, early to late. Though obviously masterpieces, he almost never changed the underlying structure. To put it bluntly, Mozart beat to death the same sonata form that Bach, Handel, Haydn, and the Italian masters had already mostly exhausted. The same turnarounds, repetitions of whole sections, theme, development, recap, etcetera...all the stuff that Beethoven blew past with his Eroica and opus 59.

The string quartets that Mozart dedicated to Haydn are another great set of examples: despite the stupendous quality of craftsmanship, and godlike sense for melody, how much different are those quartets structurally from Haydn's opus 20 (or, ironically, Beethoven's later opus 18)?

It's true, there are many staggering examples of Mozart's genius: the Divertimento in Eb, Don Giovanni, and the Requiem are just a few that come immediately to mind. But, for a specific example, listen to the last symphonies he wrote, specifically nos. 35-41. In fact, try setting aside a few hours to hear them back to back. The melodies are amazing, some of the most dazzlingly brilliant in history. His sense of dynamics can be incredibly inspiring, in fact he was a master of light and shade...but, all within the boundaries of the form he adhered to. He rarely deviated. In fact, his resourcefulness in the face of using practically the exact same structure ad infinitum is astounding. Of course, a mitigating factor that must be kept in mind is that Mozart was a hack, like most composers of every age are (nothing wrong with that, ya gotta eat!). There were political variables that demanded the same-y style and sound of so many of his compositions.

Joseph Haydn, Mozart's contemporary, is given consistently lower ratings than Mozart (not too low, of course, Haydn is widely acknowledged as a spectacular composer, and rightly so). But Haydn practically invented, and most certainly pioneered, the string quartet and symphony. No kidding. Mozart carried the ball from the real trailblazer of his generation: Joseph Haydn. This is not meant to take away from the awe-inspiring genius of Mozart, who (with Joseph Haydn) perfected the whole sonata form of his time. Even Beethoven was so under the spell of Mozart that almost all of his early work, and quite a portion the middle, was indebted to him.

Please understand that I tend to look for different things in a composer than do most other people. Joseph Haydn, late era Beethoven, the operas of Wagner, to a lesser degree the mid to late era works of Gustav Mahler...those men just pushed the boundaries. They were aiming toward things that hadn't existed, that were considered unacceptable. And they achieved things in their own language. Granted, most of those composers were given more room to create in their respective political climates.

Still, it's hard for me to listen to anything by Mozart after listening to, say, Beethoven's opus 127. Actually, that particular piece is so fantastic that it's hard to listen to anything else after it, so maybe I'm being unfair (laughing).

This is all of course just my opinion, the opinion of an accomplished modern day composer without even an iota of the popularity of Mozart. I completely respect those who disagree, and I'll be the first to praise all the fabulous music Mozrt has written, the list is obviously much longer than I've given space to here.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Metallica ...And Justice For All




aka "Master of Puppets Extended, Then Beaten to Death"

As I wrote in the title, ...And Justice For All is Master of Puppets extended, and beaten to death. So many of the same keys, chugg-chugga "melodies", vocal patterns, and composition structures are pounded into the ground. Even worse, the compositions themselves are rarely inspiring; the sludgey tempos and easy-to-make-fun-of dour atmosphere predominate throughout, making it hard to finish listening to most of the individual tracks. Perhaps Metallica recycled all of these patterns thinking that their more preachy lyrics would stand out more, there being little more to distinguish the tracks musically from "...Puppets". Either way, alot of time here just goes by without any sort of lift from the frowning "duh" of the vocal delivery.

One of the most significant (hold on, I'm holding my stomach laughing over the idea of the word "significant" applied to any part of this album) differences betweeen this and "Master of Puppets" is the near-complete lack of any worthwhile guitar leads. Hetfield was the only contributor of anything really non-shred (tranlated "memorable") guitar leads on Master of Puppets, but even he fails to deliver much to chew on here. This leaves the blame to rest on the thin shoulders of Mr. Kirk Hammett. There's not a single lick or trick (emphasis on the latter) on this release that Hammet didn't use on the three albums preceeding this one. What's really a bummer for other guitar players (the same ones whom, like me, really loved and looked up to his leads on the title track of "Ride the Lightning" and "Fade to Black") is hearing time and again his total disregard for crafting memorable, or even particularly musical, leads from the chords Metallica plays behind him. Try humming the solo to "One"...hah! After awhile any guitar player (you know, the kind whom grew out of the "look, Mom, I'm playing so faaaassst!" frame of mind) will become either disillusioned or facetious hearing so many oppurtunities wasted. I mean, considering how admittedly terrific and nicely composed his above mentioned Ride the Lightning solos were, we can forgive Hammett for a little redundancy. But after hearing him rely on the same crutches over and over (the wah and/or tapping whenever he runs out of ideas), it's safe to say that even Yngwie had a longer run from compositional perspective. At least he lasted more than two songs.

This album does have a couple of very memorable riffs and chorus/pre-choruses. But overall, there really isn't even one second here that comes anywhere near the invigorating power of,say, Disposable Heroes, or For Whom the Bell Tolls. Points I give for at least attempting to "stay Metal" and sounding sui generis, a distinction which for Metallica in 1988 was worth three stars alone.

They were great, they were the undoubtedly one of the best...until after Cliff Burton died. Do yourself a favor and grab the still awe-inspiring Ride the Lightning, and the only-slightly-less-inspiring Master of Puppets first for your collection. ESPECIALLY if you're a guitar player.