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, 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.