Category Archives: Metal

Is it Metal? – Budgie’s “Breadfan”

Here’s a fun little game to play. I’ll dig up an old song, say at least 30 years old, one that rocks really hard. I’ll link to a YouTube video of it, preferably an actual video recording of the band performing it, and then pose the question, is it metal, or not?

As I’ve mentioned before, whether or not something is ‘metal’ is not easy to define, and it has more to do with style than substance. In the 1970’s and early 80’s, heavy metal was just starting to emerge and evolve, so it’s especially hard to determine whether or not some of the heavy songs from this era could really be considered metal or not. But it’s fun to take a guess.

This week, Budgie’s “Breadfan” from 1973:

Wikipedia says: It’s metal.

My take: Yup, it’s metal. It features fast, distorted, grungy guitars, distinctive thumping bass lines, and a simple drum pattern. If I had to classify it, I’d say it sits somewhere between speed metal and progressive metal, thanks to the lovely melodic interlude in the middle of the song that makes me think that perhaps Opeth listened to a little Budgie in their youth.

Such a great song. I think that fast, dirty guitar alone qualifies it as metal.

Your thoughts?

Image credit: By @abrunvoll (Own work) (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0), via Flickr.

Albums that Rock – In Flames’ Colony

First off, let me mention that this will be one of the recurring features of Fire, Battle, Metal. In Albums that Rock, I’ll feature great albums, primarily metal albums, that I think have something great to offer.

Now, these are not reviews. As I mentioned in my introductory piece for this blog, I think that music reviews are just subjective bullshit. I won’t be awarding each album some arbitrary number of stars or devil horns or headbangers or what have you. I’ll merely talk about each album, try to give a little background about it, express what it is that draws me to it, and so forth. For the time being, I only plan on featuring albums that I enjoy, so just assume that if I’m featuring it, I like it.

Before we start, let me also make a brief note about the album as a musical format. In this day and age dominated by MP3s and pop chart singles, the album is often a forgotten medium. Many artists, primarily in pop and rap music, focus entirely on crafting one or two hit singles, and then stuff the rest of an album full of filler. You can’t really blame these artists, as that really is a recipe for success. (The Black Eyed Peas single “I Gotta Feeling,” for example, has been downloaded over 14 million times!) Thankfully, however, metal seems to be a lasting bastion of the album as a musical medium, and many bands pride themselves on releasing entire albums chock full of fantastic music.

Enough said. Now, on to the first album.

It’s only fitting that the first album in this section is one that holds a particular meaning for me, and in this case, it’s In Flames’ Colony. My friend Stuart first introduced me to In Flames in the summer of 1999, when I was an incoming high school junior, and that album was the start of a long and beautiful relationship with heavy metal.

Let me back up a little and talk about my musical experiences growing up. As a young child, my primary exposure to music was to classical music, which my dad listened to in the car and at home in his study (he often worked from home and found that classical music was soothing and allowed him to concentrate while he worked).

Of course, we also occasionally listened to classic rock. In fact, my dad had a massive collection of vinyl classic rock albums in his study, but he rarely listened to any of them, except for The Beatles. So I listened to classical music and The Beatles.

One day, there was some sort of Paul McCartney concert on TV that we were watching as a family, and suddenly Paul starts playing his Wings song, “Live and Let Die.” I’m sure you know the song. Paul starts out on his piano, and after a 30 or 40 second intro, some fireworks explode on the stage and the guitarist starts wailing away on his guitar. Now, Paul McCartney may not even be in the same realm as heavy metal, but at the time, I distinctly remember thinking: What the heck was THAT? I don’t know but I want MORE!

Shortly thereafter, I got my first radio and started listening to all sorts of different kinds of music.

Fast forward to high school in the late 90s. I’d been listening to metal for some time now. Metallica was a favorite, of course (that’s a story for another day), and I tended to pick up on anything metal-esque that received reasonable amounts of airplay, like Alice In Chains, Tool, and Rage Against the Machine. Then one day, my buddy Stuart plays me (lends me? I forget…) In Flames’ Colony.

I was blown away. I’d never heard anything like it, and I realized that without even knowing it, this was the music that I had been searching for since my first exposure to a moderately heavy riff seen on a televised Paul McCartney concert.

In Flames GuitaristI rushed out to the store and bought myself a copy. (You have to remember, this was before the rise of readily available music on the internet. Napster had only just begun. Quite honestly, I was lucky that my local mega-mart even stocked In Flames.) I listened to that album non-stop. And ever since, I have searched out new fantastic, melodic, aggressive, heavy music in the same vein as In Flames.

Colony was both my first exposure to melodic death metal and to the death growl. Every song was unrelentingly fast, powerful, and heavy (with the exception of the classically inspired “Pallar Anders Visa”), and frontman Anders Friden’s vocals were a revelation.

To this day, Colony is a record I listen to frequently, and it ranks among my ten favorite albums of all time. If you have any interest in melodic death metal, it’s an album you should absolutely own.

Image credits: Banner by cgo2 (originally posted to Flickr as In Flames) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Post image by Henry Laurisch (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

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.

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.