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Thursday, December 3, 2015

My Final Thoughts on Guitar Hero-Syndrome and "Neo Classical" Rock/Metal

I keep being asked if I've heard (insert names of recent Rock and Metal releases) and feel compelled to answer in consummate fashion. I'm really not on the Rock/Metal guitar music page anymore. In fact, I don't care much about what guitarists and people of those genres do nowadays. Though I hear some cool stuff from the Dinosaur Rock Guitar forum (and like the latest Nile and Abbath),  I mostly listen to my favorite old stuff and that's it. It hasn't helped that I've heard one too many rerecordings of past glories, not to mention glorified cover bands (including the original bands that are essentially cover bands these days...hello, Black Sabbath).

Guitarists stopped being my musical heroes a couple of years ago when, after spending so many years studying composition, orchestration, production, and engineering techniques I realized that not one of my guitar heroes (or any guitarists, period) truly stand up anywhere near the great composers or even their Rock songwriting peers like the Beatles and Brian Wilson (in particular the latter's Pet Sounds/Smile era). My studies of the music of these guitarists led me to the inescapable conclusion that as composers, rock and metal guitarists play really good guitar or my personal creation: "It ain't BACH, baby!'.

 Of course, there's nothing wrong with playing really good guitar, but the "neoclassicists" (quotation marks meant facetiously) have been guilty one too many times of trying to make it seem they're the modern day Paganini and/or Bach and pardon me, that's hilariously preposterous. There isn't a single Rock guitarist in history with anywhere near the compositional knowledge (particuarly in terms of texture, counterpoint, harmony) of Bach, and most certainly not the virtuosity of Paganini. It's a ridiculous claim to anyone who's truly studied Bach. I mean, come on people let's get real. Besides the aforementioned Hendrix, who immortalized himself partly by creating the classic heavy rock/metal sound and its bastardized-rock songwriting template, and Edward Van Halen, who truly brought the shred style to the table (with repercussions lasting right into the modern day) rock guitar hero-dom is bereft of innovation (stealing sweep pick patterns and runs from fusion players doesn't count), most especially from a musical perspective. I saw how everyone besides kept running into that thick and frustratingly limited musical wall that the genre survives on (granted, many of the same embrace that template and are often more than satisfied with it, and that's perfectly fine).

The attempts at what is erroneously titled "Prog" rock and metal music only ups the masturbation factor among the musicians, who (even when they're serious) most often are just competing with others...music made into a sport ceases to be worthwhile music, put it that way. Robotic pretenses.

I went decades being crazy over so many metal guitarists. Now the only musical heroes I have are Richard Wagner, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Bernard Herrmann, and Gustav Mahler, full stop. I left the guitar hero thing behind me, because it was ultimately barring my progress from getting deeper into music. And that's the big change I've had over the past few years. Guitar became just another instrument in the orchestra, and to be completely forthright, both the violin and cello (and arguably the piano) are better instruments, with far wider options for articulations and thus expression.

There it is. There's my definitive answer. "Neo-Classical" guitar hero stuff is good for a beginner (it could be likened to a gateway drug)...just don't try to argue the purely musical merits of  a guitar player (or band) with someone who's studied art music for decades, because in our eyes that player is just okay enough to sound and play like everyone else in the genre (that is to say,  basically like Hendrix and/or Van Halen... everyone else are just variations, and that includes the players even I like better). Period.