Awesome Tracks – Dream Evil’s Fire, Battle, In Metal!

This is another recurring feature here on this blog. Awesome Tracks will feature standout songs, mostly metal, that I just can’t seem to get enough of.

These posts will be shorter than most, and will feature limited commentary by me about the song.

And the inaugural song is: Dream Evil’s “Fire, Battle, In Metal!”

It had to be this song, of course, the song for which my blog is was named. Is it my favorite metal song of all time? No, definitely not. But it’s darn good, and it has a great name that evokes themes of metal, fantasy, and technology all in one.

First, let’s state the obvious. This is a terrible video. Just awful. Despite being released in 2006, it looks like it was filmed on a camcorder in the early 90’s with a budget of about 400 Swedish Kronor (or about $60).

But the song? Well the song just plain rocks. A little over 3 minutes of pure, unadulterated European power metal, highlighted by Niklas Infelt’s powerful vocals, squealing guitars, and an awesome throwback guitar solo.

So rather than really watching the video, I’d suggest you just listen and enjoy.

Image credit: Featured image by Thargol (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Where to find Science News

I’ve made it clear that I’m interested in science, and that one of the things I’ll be doing around here is posting articles related to science. But that begs a question: Where are some good places to get science news?

While many mainstream news sites will have subsections for science news, like NBC News – Science, this is what I think of as mass-market science, or science news for people who don’t really care much about science. I’m not trying to insult the quality of the reporting, but the coverage is very limited in scope.

Instead, I get much of my science news from some of the following outlets:

Popular Science: An old one but a good one. Popular Science features articles on everything from cars and gadgets to energy science to robots, space and futurism. Their articles are usually well written, engaging, and easily digestible for the general public. They even let you view the vast majority of articles in their print magazine for free online.

Scientific American: Another old one but good one. There’s tons of content available on the Scientific American website, not just news, but the news is good. A lot of it is gathered and shared in collaboration with other magazines, like Nature and The Daily Climate, but it’s good to be able to access it all in one place.

Science: Probably the most well-known, well-respected science journal of them all. It’s a researcher’s dream to publish in Science. I don’t find the user interface of their news page quite as slick as some of the others, but the content is good.

Science Daily: I can’t say that I support or endorse Science Daily, as their web content is usually lifted verbatim (some might say plagiarized) directly from press releases distributed on university and research center websites. With that said, however, if you’re looking for some one-stop shopping for web science news and you don’t mind their suspect business model, you could do worse.

io9: Ok, fair warning here. io9 is not purely a science site. It’s a Gawker media blog that covers science, space, and futurism as well as science fiction and fantasy culture, TV, and movies, not to mention comics and other assorted geeky stuff. With that said, I find it enormously entertaining, and when they do feature science content, it’s quite good and different from the stuff you might find at any of the above sites. I definitely recommend it.

That’s about it for me. What sites do you guys like to visit for your science fix?

Finding Time to Write, Part 1: Choosing your Passion

Ballpoint Pen MacroLots of people want to be writers. Lots. But very few people actually bother to write anything, other than e-mails and work reports and boring things like that. Does that mean that writing is hard? Well, no, of course not. Anyone who is literate can do it. But it does take desire, effort, and, very importantly, time.

Most people who have tried to write fiction have heard of Heinlein’s rules to writing. Robert Heinlein was a famous science fiction author, and one of my personal favorites, who willingly shared his rules on writing with others way back in the 1940’s. You can search the internet and find these rules, but the first is the most telling.

Rule #1: You must write.

It seems simple, but it isn’t, for a number of reasons. Maybe you don’t feel like you have any ideas. Maybe you’re scared to try something new. Maybe you’re more of a dreamer than a do-er. But time always seems to be an important factor.

Let’s face it: it takes time to write. And time is something that none of us ever seem to have enough of. As such, it’s the primary excuse people who wish they were writers use to excuse themselves for not writing. Is it really the main thing keeping people from pursuing their dreams? I doubt it. But it’s a great excuse.

In my case, I have a full time job. I have a family, including a small child (as any parent can attest, children are a time black hole). And I have numerous interests, including reading, playing video games, watching sports, and exercising, and yet still I find time to write, both this blog and fiction. So how do I do it?

Part 1: Choosing your Passion

When I first decided I wanted to be a writer (and yes, even unpublished writers are writers), I somehow thought I would be able to squeeze my writing into my already cramped schedule while still doing everything else I had already been doing.

I soon realized that this train of thought was, quite simply, ludicrous. My day was already completely full of stuff – all kinds of stuff. But that doesn’t mean my day was full of stuff that was really important to me.

And that’s the key. You have to figure out what’s really important in your life, and prioritize. To me, my family is the most important part of my life. I won’t skimp on time spent with family. My job is also important, for obvious financial reasons. That means that time spent writing had to come from the remaining pool of time I spent on everything else.

So, I prioritized. I spent less time watching TV. Less time playing video games. Less time aimlessly surfing the web. Less time watching sports (my resolve is constantly tested during college football season). I still exercise twice a week, as my health is important, and I still read, as it’s important for any writer to read prolifically. But most of my extra time now goes towards writing.

I think the main point here is that you have to actively CHOOSE to do something you are passionate about over doing other things that you are indifferent about. If you truly are passionate about a topic, you can and will find time to squeeze it into your schedule, and if you find that you simply can’t make time for something you think you are passionate about, then perhaps it’s time to reevaluate your passions.

In upcoming posts, I’ll go more into detail about other ways to free up time for writing.

Image credit: By Dennis Gnad, published under the GNU General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation, via Wikimedia Commons.

Dubstep that Doesn’t Suck – Dubba Johnny’s Brief Tutorial on Dubstep Production

Let’s talk about dubstep, shall we.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, no, dubstep is not some niche subgenre of heavy metal. It’s actually a niche subgenre of electronic dance music. It’s a relatively newer genre that grew out of breakbeat and drum-and-bass (two other electronic music genres) that usually features syncopated drum and percussion patterns and prominent baselines in the sub-bass frequencies. (Sub-bass frequencies are really low-frequency, or ‘deep’, bass, in the range of 20-60 Hz. We’re talking about the bottom range of human hearing, here.) Basically, dubstep is about really deep, aggressive bass drops.

But I thought this was supposed to be a metal blog, you say. I hear you, I hear you. Let me explain.

For one thing, I did mention that I like lots of different genres of music. More than being just a ‘metal blog’, this is a blog about finding and experiencing new kinds of music and literature. It’s about opening your mind to new experiences. But it’s also a blog about finding overlap between music and genre fiction.

A big chunk of my focus around here will be about the connection between heavy metal and fantasy, but it would be short-sighted of me not to acknowledge the connection between science fiction and electronic music. While fantasy has served to influence metal to a great extent, the same is true of sci-fi and electronica. It’s not quite as evident because the influence is not so much about lyrical and thematic elements for the most part, but more a general feeling that electronic music is what everyone is listening to in many of these far future science fiction stories.

But beyond that simple connection, there’s actually a connection between dubstep and heavy metal. Though dubstep first started to develop in the late 90’s/early 00’s, it didn’t really start to gain commercial traction until the tail end of the 00’s. At this point, elements of dubstep started to pop up in both British and American pop music.

Then in 2011, dubstep exploded onto the US market with a specific subgenre that became known as brostep, with American musician/producer Skrillex becoming a poster boy for the genre. So what is brostep? It’s basically a more aggressive, almost robotic version of dubstep that de-emphasizes the sub-bass frequencies and instead emphasizes distorted bass riffs reminiscent of those generated by electric guitars in heavy metal.

That’s right, metal. In fact, dubstep has been described as having “metal-esque” levels of aggression. And beyond that, dubstep has been embraced by the metal community to a certain extent. In 2011, Korn partnered with Skrillex to add elements of dubstep into their album The Path of Totality, which received mixed critical reviews, and if you search for ‘metal dubstep’ on YouTube, you’ll find lots of hits. (Not necessarily anything good, but you’ll find stuff).

So there you have it. Dubstep and metal are, in a way, linked. Of course, that doesn’t mean that all dubstep is metal-like. Some is very far from it, veering towards more standard pop and electronica. Then again, there’s also massive variety between metal genres, so it’s to be expected.

I figured I would start out this recurring segment by featuring Johnny Dubba’s “A Brief Tutorial on Dubstep Production.” It’s exactly what it says it is, an introduction and primer on dubstep, but it’s also a pretty good song in it’s own right. It’ll explain some of the more technical aspects of dubstep, like what sonic elements are used, the song tempo, and of course, the drop.

Listen, and enjoy.

Image credit: Featured image by {{{1}}} (Flickr: Skrillex @ Camp Bisco X) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

What is Heavy Metal?

It’s a good question, isn’t it? It’s one that metalheads and non-listeners alike have debated for decades. And there isn’t a good answer to it.

So how do we define heavy metal? Are there specific rules we can use to measure a band’s ‘metalness’? Well, no, unfortunately not. Anyone who purports to know any hard and fast rules that heavy metal music must abide by to be considered ‘metal’ is probably a little too immersed in their own subgenre of choice to be able to judge the genre as a whole clearly. So what do we do?

When in doubt, consult Wikipedia. Here’s an excerpt from the article on heavy metal music:

“Heavy metal is traditionally characterized by loud distorted guitars, emphatic rhythms, dense bass-and-drum sound, and vigorous vocals. Metal subgenres variously emphasize, alter, or omit one or more of these attributes. New York Times critic Jon Pareles writes, “In the taxonomy of popular music, heavy metal is a major subspecies of hard-rock—the breed with less syncopation, less blues, more showmanship and more brute force.” The typical band lineup includes a drummer, a bassist, a rhythm guitarist, a lead guitarist, and a singer, who may or may not be an instrumentalist. Keyboard instruments are sometimes used to enhance the fullness of the sound.”

Alright, well that’s partially helpful. It gives us some insight on what sorts of sounds and musicians you might find in heavy metal music and in heavy metal bands. But it’s this line that I find particularly telling:

“Metal subgenres variously emphasize, alter, or omit one or more of these attributes.”

So basically, you could have a metal band that omits numerous elements of metal, adds elements of other music, and is still considered metal. So let’s say you have a band with emphatic rhythms and vigorous vocals, but with pop elements. Doesn’t that just make you a pop band?

Maybe that’s stretching things, you say. Well, what if you have a band with loud distorted guitars, emphatic rhythms, vigorous vocals, and you add in some guitar solos? There’s plenty of solos in metal, but that sounds like hard rock to me. So what’s the defining characteristic that makes metal ‘metal’?

Let’s start with a few facts:

1. No one really knows where the term ‘heavy metal’ comes from.

The first reference to heavy metal in literature seems to have been in a novel by William S. Burroughs entitled Nova Express, where he makes a passing reference to insect people who listen to ‘metal music’. The first mention of heavy metal in a song lyric seems to have been in Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild,” and the first instance of the term used to describe a band seems to have been by Barry Gilford in a 1968 article in Rolling Stone describing the band Electric Flag.

For the record, neither Steppenwolf nor Electric Flag is now considered to be heavy metal.

2. Heavy metal evolved out of rock music.

The history of rock music and heavy metal is far too lengthy to go into any great depth here. Suffice it to say that rock music developed in the early 1950’s, by the late 1960’s rock music had evolved enough to be able to be separated into soft and hard rock, and then somewhere in the 1970’s, metal started to emerge. Though many bands in the mid 70’s straddled the line between hard rock and the newly emerging metal genre, by the late 70’s and early 80’s, metal had firmly separated itself from hard rock and become its own class of music.

3. Bands that are extremely musically disparate are nonetheless considered to be ‘heavy metal’ bands.

Let’s say you could find someone who had never listened to heavy metal, or rock music of any kind for that matter, and you then decided to play him or her a selection of songs. You chose to play:

– AC/DC’s “Back in Black”

– Iron Maiden’s “The Number of the Beast”

– Metallica’s “Fade to Black”

– In Flames’ “Embody the Invisible”

– Nightwish’s “Swanheart”

You then asked him or her to pick out the band that didn’t fit. I have to imagine they would look at you strangely and perhaps pick out either In Flames or Nightwish. In fact, AC/DC is the only band that is not considered heavy metal. Iron Maiden is metal, Metallica is thrash metal, In Flames is melodic death metal, and Nightwish is symphonic metal. AC/DC is just hard rock.

The fact of the matter is that I cherry picked those songs specifically. AC/DC has always been one of the ‘harder’ hard rock bands, but I also chose metal songs that are not particularly extreme. If I had thrown in some hardcore black or death metal, those would have stood out like sore thumbs.

Overall, the point is that musically, it is very difficult to identify what distinguishes metal from everything else, specifically from hard rock. So is there any way for us to identify metal bands? What identifying characteristic can we use if not the music itself?

Well, I think I know what makes a metal band a metal band. Here it is:

Attitude. Confidence. Belief.

That’s it. I’m serious. I mean, guitars and drums help, but I think attitude and desire is the real key.

Have you ever watched Kung Fu Panda? It’s a great movie. It’s a story about a fat panda who learns kung fu and ends up saving his village from an evil kung fu snow leopard. I bring it up because the movie has a quality message. Po, the panda, through training becomes an impressive kung fu warrior, but he still doubts his skills. To aid him, he is given the dragon scroll, which supposedly contains the secret to untold martial arts power. However, the scroll turns out to be blank. In the end, Po deciphers the meaning of the dragon scroll: that there is no secret ingredient. It’s just you. If you want to be something special, you just have to believe in it.

The same is true of metal, I think. Musically, there’s nothing that defines heavy metal, nothing that can define heavy metal, I think. It’s more about belief. It’s about attitude, about your image, about your fan base and your desire. AC/DC never considered themselves a heavy metal band, and so they aren’t. It’s as simple as that.

So that’s my take. What do you think?

Image credit: Feature image by Mark Wainwright from Nottingham, United Kingdom (One) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Mystery, Fantasy, and Science Fiction

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