Why Spinal Tap is bad for metal

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The world does not need another album by “Spinal Tap.”

I know how that sounds, like I’m a humorless jerk with a yardstick in his posterior, so let me explain a bit. I like “This Is Spinal Tap” the movie, but I think the periodic resurrection of “Spinal Tap” the band is, ultimately, a slap at metal and metal fans.

There’s a big difference between “Spinal Tap” the movie and the band.

“This Is Spinal Tap” is a very funny 25 year-old “mockumentary” about a fictional metal band’s disastrous tour across America. Just like everyone else, I nearly I broke ribs laughing the first time I saw that movie – and I still laugh myself silly every time I watch the “Stonehenge” sequence.

Part of the humor of the movie was that band members David St. Hubbins (actor Michael McKean), Nigel Tufnel (Christoper Guest) and Derrick Smalls (Harry Shearer) were astoundingly dumb. Well, stupid characters often make for entertaining movies … but as “This Is Spinal Tap” gained popular success, something strange happened – People bought into the fiction that metal bands (and fans) were brainless dunderheads, unable to think beyond the next beer, chick or party. That stereotype has been haunting us ever since.

Granted, it’s a stereotype that has some basis in fact. The “hair metal” bands of the ’80s engaged in legendary stupidity, by creating incredibly trite music and by behaving like buffoons offstage and before the press. People who have had no other contact with metal than “Spinal Tap” and, say, Motley Crüe or Poison, can’t really be blamed for thinking metal is “unsophisticated music for unsophisticated people.”

But in the last decade or so, after the eternal night that was “nü-metal” – a horrible subgenre every bit as contrived and vapid as hair metal was at its height –  metal has made an unexpected but welcome comeback. Newer bands like Mastodon, Opeth, Trivium, Machine Head and Enslaved had made critical and commercial breakthroughs, while veterans such as Iron Maiden, Exodus, Metallica and even Black Sabbath (under the moniker “Heaven & Hell”) have been reborn with powerful new albums and hugely popular tours. With both the newer bands and the genre icons, the emphasis is on musicianship, songwriting and performance.

Even metal meant to be funny is being created by highly competent professionals. Devin Townsend’s “Ziltoid The Omniscient” is lyrically ridiculous, but no one can doubt Townsend’s musical prowess and love for metal. Zimmer’s Hole is hysterical but damn serious when it comes to music. Even Brendon Small, the creator of the loony celebrity/metal spoof “Metalocalypse,” is a classically trained guitarist and a perfectionist when it comes to getting the music right – even when working on songs like “Briefcase Full of Guts” or “Murmaider.”

 But now, in the face of all that serious musicianship, we have a resurgence of “Spinal Tap,” indeed “back from the dead” (which is the title of the new “Tap” album) to portray us all as idiots … again. Naturally, they’re also issuing press releases as Spinal Tap, complete with thoroughly idiotic statements. Because, after all, we all know metal bands and fans can’t think coherently.

This isn’t the first time McKean, Guest and Shearer have resurrected “Spinal Tap”: The “band” released “Break Like The Wind” in 1992 and did a tour as Tap then.

I realize I’m being too serious … but I do have a beef when people outside metal want to have a joke and make a buck at our expense.

You might think I also have a gripe against “Metalocalypse,” which also skewers metal. But no: While Small’s characters are portrayed as being selfish and more than a little dim, it’s evident from both the music and the metal inside jokes (Dimmu Burger, anyone?) that Small has an encyclopedic knowledge, and a heartfelt love, for metal. Small – along with Devin Townsend and Zimmer’s Hole and S.O.D. –  have fun with metal, but their jesting is rooted in their respect for the genre and the people who support it.

“Metalocalypse” is a joke – but it’s a joke told by metal fans, for metal fans. It laughs at us, but that’s OK, but it is us. “Spinal Tap,” however, just laughs at us, and that’s crap … and it’s not based in fact.

There are countless metal musicians that are classically trained or creatively brilliant. Metal fans aren’t unsophisticated either. We don’t conform to any one stereotype. No one would assume all classical music lovers are effete snobs, or that all county music fans are shoeless hicks.

But with every note of music or word spewed, Spinal Tap paints all metal fans with the “stupid” brush. You don’t have to look far to see how the Spinal Tap stereotype is still stinging metal today. I’ll show you: Spend a few minutes reading reviews of the documentary “Anvil: The Story of Anvil” and see how many times professional reviewers fall back on comparing the movie to “Spinal Tap.” I’m sure the members of Anvil, who have spent their lives pursuing their dream and making music, enjoy having their careers reduced to a lazy punch line.

People who buy into the Spinal-stereotype fail to understand that metal is not just entertainment for fans, it’s practically life changing. In the documentary “Iron Maiden: Flight 666,” there’s a moment after a South American concert where the camera focuses on a shirtless man crying in the audience. When the camera adjusts slightly, another crying person comes into view – than another. For fans like that, metal is something akin to religion.

I don’t expect, and I’m not asking, that the actors behind Spinal Tap respect metal … but I’d like very much if they’d stop trying to cash in by portraying it as a gag.

At the risk of showing myself to be unsophisticated, I wish “Tap” would just shut up.

Interview: Abigail Williams works to create larger than life metal

Abigail Williams (photo by Jeremy Saffer)

Abigail Williams (photo by Jeremy Saffer)

In the early 1990s, Norway spawned two very different styles of black metal — the stripped down,  lo-fi primal screams of bands like Darkthrone and Mayhem, and symphonic black metal bands like Emperor and Dimmu Borgir, who blended blistering metal and breakneck speed with the influences of classical music.

Ken Sorceron, lead vocalist for Abigail Williams, said the band members were both inspired by the symphonic bands and consider themselves part of the black metal movement.

Like the Norwegian bands, Sorceron said Abigail Williams’ goal is to take listeners away from everyday life.

“We’re trying to create a majestic sound, something like a brutal soundtrack to a fantasy movie,” Sorceron said. “We go for brutality, but at the same time (we’re) trying to create atmosphere.”

With the band’s first full-length album, “In The Shadow Of A Thousand Suns,” recently released by Candlelight Records, the members of Abigail Williams are in the midst of a mammoth summer tour that will put them on stage almost every night through late August.

Tomorrow, Friday June 19, the band will perform with Success Will Write Apocalypse Across The Sky, Abysmal Dawn, Kilarus and Giddy Up Gangsta at The Brothers, 624 Emery Dr.

Sorceron said the band has more in common with the Norwegian black metal bands than some of its American counterparts. The band has also opened for some of the big names in black metal, including Dark Funeral, and has shared the stage with progressive Norwegian metal bands like Enslaved.

“We’re all more influenced by the Norwegian black metal scene, the second wave (bands),” Sorceron said. “We took it and ran with it and developed it into our own sound.”

Musically, the band creates an intricate sound, but prides itself on being able to recreate it on stage.

“Everything is there,” Sorceron said of the band’s live shows. “You’ll hear every single nuance of the keyboards and the drumming. Everything is very precise when we play live.”

The band prefers playing live than working in the studio, he said.

“It’s more of an intense thing live, because of the energy on the stage,” Sorceron said. “I think it’s harder to get it down in the studio because I never feel it’s quite right.”

The band’s intense summer touring schedule — which contains almost no days off — seems daunting. But Sorceron said the band prefers playing as much as possible.

“There’s no time to relax” on the current tour, he said. “But … when we have days off on tours, it’s hard to try to get back into the groove the next day.”

From playing with widely acclaimed bands like Dark Funeral, Sorceron said the band honed its craft.

“We watched Dark Funeral play every single night when we were a really new band, and that made an impact on me,” Sorceron said. “It made me realized we needed to get faster.”

For full tracks from “In The Shadow Of A Thousand Suns,” visit Abigail Williams’ MySpace page.

Also, here’s a video from “Into The Ashes.”

Interview: S.W.W.A.A.T.S. brings political death metal to Owensboro

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John Paul Collett II, vocalist for Success Will Write Apocalypse Across The Sky, is fan of the old-school death metal that originated in his home state of Florida. Musically, the band blends traditional death metal with technical precision and elements of grind to create a vicious assault.

But Collett said he hopes fans do more than simply bang their heads to the music.

“The ultimate response would be to just open your eyes to what we believe is really going on with this global society we’ve set up,” Collett said. “There’s a small percentage (of the population) that has control and I think that’s scary. We have to wake up here. We can’t allow this 1 percent to (control) the future.”

Success Will Write Apocalypse Across The Sky, Abigail Williams, Abysmal Dawn, Kilarus and Giddy Up Gangsta will perform at 7 p.m. Friday, June 19 at The Brothers, 624 Emery Dr. in Owensboro. Tickets are $10 at the door.

Collett said the band doesn’t use political themes as a gimmick. Instead, the hope is that people will use the band’s music as a starting point to learn about world affairs, he said.

“You can just read. It’s just a matter of doing your own research and seeing how history is repeating itself over,” Collett said. “ … I believe any outlet (including music) can make a change.

“I believe 98 percent of us can think for ourselves,” he said. “Why not use our outlets and talents and make them our tools to straight up better ourselves?”

Although S.W.W.A.A.T.S. was born in the Floridian cradle of death metal, the band members draw on a variety of metal influences, Collett said.

“Most of the early Relapse (Records) stuff from the early 1990s and early 2000s, and a lot of that stuff, was just madness,” he said. “… But we also go back to the great songwriters. With all that combined, we were able to put ourselves together.

“We were able to combine that crazy (early grind metal) we listened to as kids with the classics,” Collett said. “… It was very important for us to have our roots show, but in a cohesive way. We wanted to make it as brutal as possible, but make it tangible for the listener.”

The release of the band’s first album on Nuclear Blast led them eventually overseas, for their first major European tour. In eastern Europe, where the ghosts of Communist domination still linger, the political aspects of the band’s music seemed to strike a chord, Collett said.

“You could see whole-heartedly people in eastern Europe take this music seriously. They take it to heart,” he said. “… Being in East Germany was amazing, because they’re still coming out of it, they’re still trying to work their way out of that hell they were living in.

“They go crazy” for metal music, Collett said. “That’s what we’re looking for … People were really into it and feeling what we were talking about, and it’s amazing to feel we could touch someone like that across the world.”

Collett said he hopes people leave the band’s shows with something to think about.

“I just want to be a messenger,” he said. “I want to be a messenger of a good cause.”

You can hear full tracks on the SW.W.A.A.T.S. MySpace Page.

Live video, including this one, can also be viewed on the band’s YouTube channel.

Interview: Devin Townsend talks about “Ki,” his four-album concept project and returning to music

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Devin Townsend – founder and frontman for Strapping Young Lad and a prolific solo artist – had completely burned out on the music business by the time SYL did the 2006 Ozzfest tour.

“I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that my wife was pregnant during Ozzfest,” Towsend said during a recent interview. The pressure of being forced to leave home and take on the grueling Ozzfest second stage schedule (20-minute sets at rotating times) drove Townsend to self-medicate his pain.

“I was smoking so much weed and drinking so much booze to try to find some kind of solace that it was pushing me away from any peace,” he said. ” … I realized … I had no idea why I was doing what I was doing.

“That ultimately made me second-guess everything I did to where, in a lot of ways, I couldn’t function at a professional musician level.”

After the release of “Ziltoid The Omniscient” in 2007, Townsend announced his retirement from touring and interviews. Townsend continued to work as a producer with bands such as Bleeding Through, Zimmer’s Hole (featuring former SYL bandmates Gene Hoglan, Jed Simon and Byron Stroud) and Misery Signals. 

But now, Townsend is sober, clear-headed and preparing for his return to the road. On June 16, Townsend will release “Ki, “the first installment of a four-disc concept work that will be released as the Devin Townsend Project. All of the albums will be recorded and released this year — but  unlike, SLY or The Devin Townsend Band, each album will be recorded with different musicians.

Townsend said, after some time away from touring, he discovered he had something to say musically after all.

“I felt, ‘not only do I know (what I want to say), but I’ve got a ton of music that’s really focused,'” Townsend said.

Strapping Young Lad’s music is chaotic and fierce, with heavily distorted guitars. When writing “Ki,” Townsend said he decided to not rely on technology for heaviness.

“The most obvious (difference) is there is no distortion on the guitar,” he said. “Writing heavy riffs on a clean guitar was a new experience for me and I really enjoyed it.”

Through the writing process, Townsend said he was able to leave behind some of the insecurities he’d developed during the Ozzfest tour.

“Even during ‘Ki,” I kept second-guessing myself: ‘People don’t want to hear this from me. They want to hear chaos,'” Townsend said. “But I want to hear this, and that has to count for something at this point in my career. ”

“Ki” draws on a wide range of musical styles, including extreme metal, guitar virtuosity, elements of ambient, acoustic and funk – and even classic, Elvis-style rock ‘n’ roll. Townsend said he did not want to be confined to just playing stereotypical “metal” with “Ki.”

“I find myself incredulous that, a lot of times,, the heavy metal scene seems unwilling to admit they really liked Creedence Clearwater Revival or ZZ Top,” Townsend said. “… When I was writing ‘Ki,” I wrote without editing what was coming out. ”

“It seems strange to me that an art form I got into because it has such freedom has become so conservative,” Townsend said of the metal scene. “… I just want to write music, and if it fits in, or if it doesn’t fit in, I’m cool with that.” 

The albums following “Ki” will also be eclectic, but will be extremely heavy in places, Townsend said.

“There are four albums this year and a lot of different styles,” he said. “People into heavy music … will have something to appreciate.”

For “Ki,” Townsend worked with almost a totally new group of musicians. With the exception of keyboardist Dave Young (a  member of Devin Townsend Band), the band for “Ki” includes musicians who had not played in metal bands before joining the project.

“They’re approach to the parts was definitely unique,” Townsend said of drummer Duris Maxwell and bassist Jean Savoie, who are not traditional metal musicians. “It was how they interpret the feel (of the songs) and how they swing it.”

When asked if the “Ki” and the other albums in the Devin Townsend Project are autobiographical, Townsend said: “Every record is autobiographical in a vague sense, and this one definitely as well. It’s a lot more literal as well.”

While lyrically, past albums were more abstract, “now I’m like, ‘this song is about this,'” Townsend said. “(I) try to keep it vague enough that it can be interpreted in other people’s worlds.

“When you’re writing lyrics, you have to be aware (that) no one really wants to know what’s going on in your life,” he said. “The idea is to draw on something in your life and make it universal.”

As part of his retirement in 2007, Townsend announced that he would not be doing any more interviews for the foreseeable future. Townsend said he does not feel the pressure now that he felt when doing interviews for SYL three years ago.

“I really think my time in the direct spotlight may have passed,” Townsend said. “… If you’re going to do music, you have to promote it – but me being the Next Big Thing, that’s not what I thought even three years ago.”

Townsend said he is comfortable with “Ki” and with the DTP albums to follow.

“There are going to be people who like it and people who don’t like it – and in the age of downloading, if you want to download it, then download it,” he said.”  … I want to continue making music – and the type is fairly specific – so if you’re interested in it, here’s a bunch more of it.”

The albums will be heavy – but not necessarily in the way that Strapping Young Lad was heavy, Townsend said.

“I think it’s a different type of heavy,” he said. ” … When I say ‘heavy,’ I mean complicated sonically. Some of it is going to by SYL and some of it is going to be orchestral. I’m not out to top anything so much as make a new version of some of the elements I’ve presented” in the past.

You can hear samples from “Ki” and other Devin Townsend albums here.

Metal Mood Stabilizer Song of the Day #4: Cannabis Corpse, “Mummified In Bong Water”

A truly fantastic song from a killer band. But remember: Drugs are bad. Just Say No, kids.