Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Different Matter: Musical Atheism

Categories: Different Matter

Originally Published on: January 11, 2012

You can’t handle the truth?

Well, actually, I think it is high time you learn to.

I was raised to respect my elders. I’m guessing most of you were too. However, I think that there is some confusion between being respectful and being a sycophant.

When it comes to old bands/musicians, there seems to be an automatic and often unjustified ‘reverence’ for them and everything they do. I guess that is why we refer to them as ‘rock gods’ because some have a fantasy of them being incapable of making mistakes. Well, I have yet to find any proof of that. Is it blasphemy to say that not every single thing that one of these ‘gods’ do is brilliant? Some people certainly act as if it were.

The fact is, very few bands achieve such a heavenly status early in their careers; even if they release an amazing debut album followed by stellar shows to support said debut with a huge push from a major label. Although there are a rare few that break into the stratosphere that early, most build up their cult status over time. Some even break up years, or even decades, before they reach divinity.

Now, let me just clarify, I am not trying to diminish the achievements of any band. I also recognize that there are bands that have made huge contributions either in innovation or plain and simple being kick-ass. I also believe that these people should be held in high regard for these achievements and should reap the appropriate rewards (including respect) for their efforts. However, I do not think that one of these rewards should be the expectation by the band nor their minions that all of us simply accept what we might otherwise consider tedious, sub-standard, lameness as a pious gift.

Just a small example:

I am a huge fan of pretty much everything Metallica released up to and including the ‘Black’ album. But even in that time frame there are definitely songs I like less than the rest. After the ‘Black’ album, however, I was not into what the band was doing… at all. That’s right; I did not like their change in direction. I will even go so far as to say that I think quite a bit of it is purely unlistenable. That does not mean that I didn’t respect their choice, nor does it mean that I think they sold out. I have been accused of both of these things by defenders of the Metallica faith who feel it is unacceptable to say a negative word about their deities.

The thing is, I honestly think Metallica have done exactly what they wanted to do artistically at every stage. It has also proved lucrative for them as although some, like me, have not latched onto their newer direction; they have more than made up for those losses with newer fans. I may not enjoy listening to everything the band has done, and I may not agree with all of their choices, but I do greatly respect them and what they continue to do. Yeah, even the Lulu thing (which I have been warned is horrid).

I could easily make similar statements about any of my favourite bands that lasted more than a few albums and/or have been going for more than a decade or three.

Wait…this just in!!!

As I am writing this, the new Van Halen song “Tattoo” has been posted to Youtube. This will serve to make my next point perfectly. That point being that worship isn’t reserved for the work horse bands that have persisted in plugging away over the years. Sometimes the worship is extended to bands that not only changed styles drastically, but actually disappeared for extended periods of time to suddenly reform in their twilight years to exploit their Godliness. (NOTE: Exploit is not a bad term in the music business. It simply means to use in order to make profit, as any business needs to do, rather than to swindle.)

I was, am, and probably always will be a devoted fan of the original line up, mach 1, Van Halen and those first albums before the miserable switch to the Red Rocker. And as most of the folks like me who loved those early albums, I was thrilled and excited to hear that the original line-up was getting back together. The reviews from the reunion show at a small club in New York last week went to bolster the hopes that the reunification would give us back a little of the magic that we lost in the post ‘1984’ (album) break up. And that magic may still exist in the live performances from the boys, but the video and the new song suck!

Now, the singer of my old band and I happen to have had the opportunity, about 10 years ago, to hang out with David Lee Roth for a few hours. We crashed a press only pre-tour rehearsal he did to promote D.L.R.’s solo all Van Halen material tour. It was amazing. He and his band were truly fucking awesome. Hanging out with him afterward talking about him, Van Halen, our band, and the issues that all bands have to deal with was a real education. He was personable, down to earth, and quite simply the hero and legend I had hoped he would be. Nothing will ever change the way I feel about him nor the appreciation I have for him taking so much of his personal time to hang out with a couple of younger rockers and give them sage advice.

By the same token, with all of my feelings about him and the importance of those early albums in my life, nothing is going to make me say that “Tattoo” is anything but a shit song and bad attempt at rekindling a long dead fire. I still love the band. I still respect them for their contribution. I am very happy that the reunion finally happened as it is always good to see old band mates bury the hatchets and get back to having fun, but none of that is going to make a bad song good. I am just hoping that when they play the old stuff live, they can still manage to pull it off.

One last point:

A few years back, (over a decade actually) there was a huge flood of legendary rock god bands reuniting. Most of them only did a few shows or maybe a bit of touring. Unfortunately, most of these bands should have never gotten back on stage. With some great exceptions* that maintained the energy and skill levels of their heyday, most of these bands came across as either lazy bastards who couldn’t even be bothered to put in a few rehearsals to get up to worthiness of an audience, or more sadly as slowed down, arthritic, has-beens trying desperately to relive some past glory.

Again, even seeing these depressing exhibits that would have better been kept in a rehearsal room if only to mend any open emotional wounds between the band mates, my respect for what these bands had given the world when they were great is undying. I can even appreciate them doing these sad reunions, but I am in no way obliged to like the results.

Indeed, I think it is more respectful to acknowledge their mistakes a band makes and to voice our dislikes as they come along. NOT doing so and giving blanket, blind praise to all things rock god only serves to sully the memories of the true gifts they have given us.

*For me the reunited bands back then that I saw who were good enough to justify charging for the shows were: The Buzzcocks, The Gears, and The Misfits (the 1st tour).

Beaten To Death – Xes And Strokes

Categories: Reviews

Originally Published on: January 13, 2012

According to Beaten To Death’s website ,actually just a poorly managed REVERBNATION page where it isn’t even clear who is on what instrument- , “Beaten To Death was born out of a necessity for speed…They found one common ground, speed. The rest is history.”

From that one might expect to get a full on assault of blindingly breakneck riffs at the cost of any melody or feel. Luckily, this is not the case. Whoever is managing the band’s site is selling them extremely short (and should really put some more effort into the whole presentation). This Oslo based bunch of brutal riff wranglers have a lot more tricks up their combined sleeve than just speed! During the course of the 18 minutes it takes to traverse this 9 song collection of magnificent mayhem the band gives a nice mix of varied speeds… Sometimes all at once!!!

There are a few times when Beaten To Death masterfully mix insanely fast psycho blast-beat drumming with tasty riffs and wonderfully juxtaposed melody lines. For me this element hits its pinnacle in “3-2-1, It’s On” where the bass backs out to make plenty of space for the mosh pit on your psyche performed by blast-beaten drums over quirkily competing guitar arpeggios. Then, just when you are about to collapse from the stress, the bass joins back in to take you on the weighty march of the broken necks!

Fortunately, these guys know that heavy doesn’t necessarily mean fast. The gravity of their slower chunking dirges could hold its own with a black hole. The pull of the mid-tempo dirge at the heart of “A Soulless Alarm” with its anthemic vocals actually takes the song deeper into the depths than I thought possible during its epic intro. Yes, the speed may have been the common ground, but dynamics and weightiness are the history that is being written here.

The toolbox these guys have access to must be the size of a warehouse. And they know how and when to use these tools. The orchestration and arrangements are brilliant; leaving plenty of breathing room in the wall of heavy assed noise. Things like violin imitating volume swells on the guitars, harmonized bends, and ‘Earth A.D.’ style feedback are all used in context and to great effect! The combination of the guttural vocal with the angst ridden higher vocal prone to screaming combine perfectly to bring the entire world Beaten To Death have created to completion.

I am highly impressed by the production on this collection of songs. Although compression was definitely used on many of the elements to achieve the individual tones, the final mixes were spared the detrimental yet commonplace smashing by over-compression. All of the individual, super intense elements are clearly audible while still coming together as a perfectly cohesive group. If I have a complaint, it’s that the kick drum is too clicky for me; it is called a ‘bass’ drum after all. However, I acknowledge that this super clicked kick has become the standard for the faster double kick contingent. Overall, bravo to the mixer/producer/engineer!

On the last song, “Xes And Strokes” the guys hit us with one last surprise to put a huge smile on our faces and a dip in our hips. Throughout the entire 18 minutes the bassist lays out a solid as steal foundation with some intensely cool grooves and fills, but on ‘Xes and Strokes’ he lays down such a big ass funky groove that by the end of the song you’ll find yourself doing a James Brown slide back to the stereo to hit play again… and again!

Now, fix that web-page and get us more!

Corrosion Of Conformity – Corrosion Of Conformity

Categories: Reviews

Originally Published on: January 17, 2012

When I described the problems I was having writing this review to a friend of mine, he said something along the lines of, “Put what you just told me. That is the best review I think I’ve ever heard.”

What I told him was, “Man, writing this review is almost impossible. Every time I put on the album I find myself dancing around the room. I need to force myself to sit down and giving it a deep critical listen.”

I’m not going to bother comparing this to the previous slew of C.O.C. releases. Those albums all stand up in their own right and so does this one. However, what some people might be interested in is that this album sees the return of the original trio of Mike Dean on Bass/Vocals, Reed Mullin on Drums/Vocals, and Woody Weatherman on Guitar; the 1985 line up for groundbreaking album Animosity.

This album is set to mark the 30th anniversary of the band’s inception. I am more than happy to say, especially in the light of my debut editorial for Alternative Matters (Musical Atheism), that these guys suffer in absolutely no way any of the negative possibilities of reformed older bands. This album is a top notch display of skill, song-writing, power, aggression, and fun! This is what all bands should aspire to regardless of how long they have been around.

Damn it! It happened again! I just can’t help it. I am trying to sit down to listen to this thing so I can give you fine people a detailed description of all of the different elements of this album, but I just can’t stop myself from being sucked into it! I am already predicting that this will be in my top 10 for 2012! Hell, maybe of all time!

Okay, I am going to have to settle for giving you an overall description of what you get with this album (without it playing so I can concentrate). I would give you some individual song highlights, but all eleven of these tracks absolutely kill. From the first pulsing guitar riff of ‘Psychic Vampire’ through the instrumental masterpiece ‘El Lamento de las Cabras’ to the last punches of ‘Time Of Trials’ Corrosion Of Conformity grace us with all of the influences they have picked up over the years without ever pandering to a single one.

They have managed to take all of these influences and make them a part of their own voice. Although you hear and feel elements from eras gone by, they are not used simply for homage or as a musical crutch. Rather they are used as valid elements of what they are saying today. All of the punk, metal, prog, jazz, funk, rock elements get fused together seamlessly to bring us right into the center of our own(and maybe their) minds.

Beyond the fact that the music is so well composed, arranged, and performed; its visceral majesty is only complimented by the amazing production quality. The album was recorded at Dave Grohl’s Studio in Los Angeles (CA, USA), produced by the John Custer (this is his 6th C.O.C. record since 1991), and mixed by John Lousteau (audio engineer for Foo Fighters, Fireball Ministry, Alice In Chains, and more). The two Johns have managed to capture and mix the power and energy of the performances exquisitely without losing even the slightest bit of the rawness and dirtiness that is at the heart of these songs.

I say “these songs” but that is a disservice. This is definitely an album. It takes you on a journey. Listening from beginning to end through a stereo or on headphones will take you to a cinema in your mind. And you can do it over and over again as they have done you the favour of not brick wall limiting things to death in mastering.

There is no such thing as perfection in music, but this comes as close as I can imagine. If I gave an “out of ten” rating, this would get a 9.999999! If their live performance is anything near as good as this offering, they are definitely a “can’t miss”!

Now, off to enjoy it again…

1 Comment

  1. Jonathan Lowry says:

January 17, 2012 at 10:04

These guys are truly amazing! It is so fan-frikkin-tastic to see these childhood friends back together, making us all think by frying our brains with unabashed loudness! Mike, Reed and Woody were MADE to play together!

El Caco – Hatred, Love & Diagrams

Categories: Reviews

Originally Published on: January 25, 2012

According to the press release for this album, El Caco is a Norwegian ‘institution’ that the Norwegians have been keeping guarded from the rest of us. Having been a band for over a decade and with four previous full length and various shorter length releases, their debutant offering to the rest of us is heralded (by the press release) to be their ‘Magnum Opus’; incorporating all of the finer elements of the members’ individually eclectic tastes while remaining true to the band’s unique identity.

Well, the first thing I have to say is that I never realised what a damned selfish bunch the Norwegians are. The second is that if they have anything else this good that they are keeping concealed, I demand immediate disclosure to the rest of us right now!

El Caco do indeed integrate a nice array of influences into their, as described on their facebook page, “Premium Norwegian Hard Rock!” All the while not sounding derivative and maintaining a cohesive, honest sound throughout this brilliantly self produced offering. (The press release credits Daniel Bergstrand with helping out on the “finishing touches”)

Right off the pole, they hit you with ‘After I’m Gone’, a song that has pretty strong essences of Led Zeppelin, Helmet, and Tool without ever settling into any one enough to make you fully realize it. In other words, you can’t really compare it to any particular song by any of these bands. This, to me, is the key to a good band; don’t deny your influences, use them, but never succumb to imitating them. This is how you make your own sound, and El Caco have succeeded strongly on that front.

The second song ‘Hatred’ moves nicely into an almost Bauhaus, 80s feel while still maintaining a authoritative rockin’ foundation and an uplifting melodic chorus section that fits in with the vibe of the whole album perfectly. They take you on this kind of subtle, almost minimalistic transitioning from feel to feel throughout your audio journey; introducing new elements all the way through.

This power trio have managed to create a huge yet spacious sound-scape for us to enjoy on this epic ride. This is only helped by the extremely first-rate musicianship they hold on all fronts; bags of talent (Øyvind Osa on bass and vocals, Fredrik Wallumrød on drums, Anders Gjesti on guitars) that are aware of their role within the whole. I would like to point out their strong points, but for the sake of time, it might be better to try to point out a couple of the negatives for me on this album.

Øyvind Osa’s vocals are wonderfully strange as they manage to morph between the edge of breaking in his higher range (sounds both delicately pleading and angsty with some uniquely creative vibrato moments) through a warm, smoky, ballady mid-range into a strong throaty roar that has the power to flatten cities. I actually love his voice. I wish I had it! However, he lets himself, and us, down a bit on the last part of track 4 ‘Equivalence’. Here his normally natural and authentic sounding vocal becomes forced and a bit contrived in its almost Hetfield-esque mock tough guy way. His voice is definitely strong enough to not need to do that.

The other negative for me is in the closing piece ‘Disconnect’. A great song, as are the rest, with fantastic use of dynamics, tension & release, and emotion. Yet, for some reason they have chosen to allow this particular song to suddenly lose momentum and weight at about the half-way point. The music is still extremely well written and performed. Once the drop in momentum and weightiness happens there is still a great unison riff on bass and guitar followed by a strong build up of breaks back into a chorus that, rather than ending with force, kind of fizzles out. Because of that, for me, putting this song in a position other than the end would have made for a better choice, but then again, perhaps they are making a statement with this interesting choice of ending.

That said, El Caco manage still deliver an overall masterpiece that keeps you engaged from beginning to end; keeping things interesting and challenging without becoming obtuse and most certainly never boring. By incorporating their collective influences into their own style and sound, they truly have set themselves apart.

I must admit that when I read the glowing, flowery praise in the press release for this album, I was expecting to hate it. Now, I happily admit I was completely wrong in my pre-judgement. These guys are indeed exceptionally talented musicians who know exactly how to use their eclectic influences to give us such a magnificent Opus. I need to make sure I have a copy of this for my next spring/summer drive up the California coast!

Now, how do I convince them to send me their back catalogue to review?

Different Matter: Greed Sucks

Categories: Different Matter

Originally Published on: January 26, 2012

The BIZ isn’t dead, it just deserves to die…

There has been a load of eco-socio-market analysis undertaken to try to glean why our beloved music industry, known as THE BIZ to many within it, has dwindled to the point of needing a hospice.

Quite often the practice of file sharing is stated as the prime reason why the profits of the BIZ have reduced exponentially over the years. I disagree! I think this practice is a symptom of the greater disease and treating just the symptoms never actually cures the disease. (er, hmmm…Hello? SOPA?) I also maintain that the industry has gotten pretty much exactly what it deserves!

It is called the ‘Music business’. It would benefit both the musicians and the business people to understand what these two things actually are and the importance of each.

As with any business, money does need to be generated in order to sustain the industry. This means that being so idealistic as to wish to prevent some profit from being created is plain ignorant. The concept of the ‘starving artist’ gets mystifyingly glorified. Somehow, as a result of some romantic fantasy, some have this horrible view of that in order for a person to be capable of creating art of any worth they must put themselves into a position of suffering.

(Cue SHADOWLESS HEART by Dramamrama here:

“Don’t you know it’s stupid to suffer for art?”)

The reality is that many artists of great value have been more than willing to defiantly and terribly suffer in order to do their art. They often fought censorship, persecution, and even outright hatred and violence in the name of following their artistic vision. For many of them it was not a matter of choice, but a matter of no other choice.

It is that willingness to, no, incapability of giving into suffering which is the result of the important art needing to be made, rather than the suffering being the foundation of the art. There is no paradox here; giving a value to art does not devalue it. I am willing to bet that if you asked any sane artist if they would be opposed to making a decent living from their art without needing to neither compromise their positions nor mistreat the customer, they would say, “absolutely not.”

There are quite a few levels of business ranking in the BIZ too. Everyone from the smallest local band doing occasional gigs to the biggest major labels in the world, music is a complicated business that tends to involve a lot of different people and organizations doing a lot of good and important work to keep it all going. And all of these people need and deserve to make a living for their efforts. Let’s face it; even the guy busking in the subway is trying to get you to throw a few coins his way.

This does not mean, however, that the pursuit of higher and higher profits should be the aim. In fact, it is that exact thing that, like a malignant addiction, has been at the very heart of the demise of the BIZ.

What made the BIZ such a powerhouse industry of the mid to late 20th century was the explosion of artists of extremely varying styles who were pushing the envelopes of musical experiment being encouraged and supported by an industry that saw the benefits of such things. There was a hierarchy of venues, touring circuits, and labels that supported and helped foster a wonderfully varied array of talents at every level. And the audience, the music buying public, showed their appreciation willingly through their purchases.

So, what went wrong?

Well, from my perspective, Greed.

Sorry, that film lied. It is not good.

What happened is that the Major Labels started seeing the money making potential of the biggest acts that were selling the most albums. What the Majors failed to realise is that what made these artists such huge sellers (not completely, but in large part) was those artists giving the record buying public something unique that stood apart from the rest, hence making it more valuable. Instead, the Majors, or rather the business people running the Majors looked at music as a commodity rather than as art.

We all know the process now. Majors see a band, or even just a song, get some success or a following. They then scramble to find as many other ‘products’ that closely resemble the valued ‘product’ then flood the market with the copycats in order to milk as much money out of the trend as possible. As a business model, it does make sense.

Well, back in the ‘good old days’ (misnomer!) the majors were willing to foster a few bands that didn’t quite fit the business model. They did need to take risks in order to ‘discover’ the next trend to exploit. However, their willingness to take risks only went so far. This is what gave opportunity for the Independent labels join in the game.

These Indie labels were usually started as a result of a person or group of people who had some money and a love of music not being satisfied with what the Majors were offering. Especially in comparison to the bands they were seeing live in clubs all over the place. Sometimes, these labels even started when someone was trying to get a band they believed in a deal with the majors because the band they supported had great talent and potential. After getting no satisfaction from the Majors these people put their money where their mouths were and put the band’s material out themselves.

These people tended to be rather business savvy as well, but their driving motivation was a belief in the music, not just to get rich. As a result, loads of these labels became huge (Motown, Chess, Elektra, Epitaph, Lookout, Metalblade, enough for the Majors to start using them as their fishing grounds. The Indies could take the risks on the bands that were a bit outside of the ‘safe’ business model, then, when a band on an Indie got a bit of success, the majors could afford to swoop in and buy these bands for their own labels. Sometimes compensating the Indies and sometimes screwing them completely. Hey, no point wasting unnecessary money, right?

This arrangement worked pretty well for a while, but then some of the Independents started getting so big that they were starting to make almost as much profit as the Majors. Of course once they reached that level, some of the folks who started out just trying to support the band(s) they loved and make a little money in the process felt overwhelmed. Some of them simply sold their labels to the Majors for a huge amount of money (to them, not to the Majors) as the Majors were eager to simply assimilate an already profitable label. Others became business partners with the Majors, selling off part of the label for financial and business support, thinking they could maintain artistic control over their labels.

Again, this worked out for many of them; at least until the point that they were no longer as profitable as their partners wanted them to be, or they were presenting an image problem for the Major. Once that happened, the Independents would either be completely bought up (or at least then taken control of) by the Major, or the Major would pull out of the business often leaving it to die a slow and agonizing death; sometimes even bankrupting the people that founded the Indie with such noble intentions in the first place.

As time went on and the Majors became the semi or secret owners of the larger so called Indies, the process kept getting pushed down to the smaller and smaller labels until only a handful of major corporations had the real control of most of the labels on the planet. Yes, that one too.

As a result, the risks on new and different, experimental artists became fewer and fewer. The ‘copy and push’ business model started to become the standard everywhere. All of a sudden all of the music started to sound the same. Even the radicals of music PUNK and METAL started becoming banal regurgitated mimicry. And all so the money making machine could make some rich dudes richer.

Now, not all of the blame can rest on the shoulders of the Major labels. After all, these people are business minded. Equal blame, and perhaps sadly more, falls of the shoulders of the ‘artists’ that succumbed to the draw of riches and success. Sure, people fell for it at first; buying into the image of what they were meant to want being forced down their throats. People want to feel as if they are a part of something bigger. Marketing to this humanity works… to a point.

If you convince people that they need to buy and eat excrement, eventually, some of them are going to realise it; maybe just subconsciously at first. And if that is all that is available to them, some might just start finding ways of getting it for free. “Hey, Dave… You wanna swap ours rather than buying their Sh**?”

So, that is my theory on why people are willing to, and feel justified in, downloading music and file sharing. Perhaps if they were being offered something they actually wanted and craved, people would be willing to pay for it. It would have to by high quality, have good artwork, and reasonably priced though.

This is where the real Indies of today are making headway. It is back to a very grass roots effort. Sometimes it is even the bands doing it themselves, but it doesn’t need to be. Labels are still a hugely important part of music’s survival. Profit is also still important, otherwise no business can survive. But, and it is a big BUT, profits need to be reasonable and always tempered by the art which they are derived from and intended to perpetuate.

One last point, that is directly related to this subject and has been brought up to me by several people as I have been writing this and I want to touch on, is about musicians giving product and services away for free.

There are situations where giving something away makes sense as a tool for promoting your art. However, it does seem that this idea has been exploited and twisted into this cancer of everyone expecting it to be the norm. This has not been helped by the likes of Radiohead and Prince who were in a position to make their give-aways so hugely publicized. Yes, for them it was no issue to do what they did, but most bands in the world cannot survive by doing this; especially the smaller bands without millions of fans.

Musicians are artist that provide the world with an essential and extremely important service/product. It is about time that we all started to recognize its value and make sure that they can afford to provide us with it. This means paying for it when you like it and making sure that the money goes to keeping all of the people doing it (bands, managers, labels, et. al.) instead of mostly into a few people’s already bursting bank accounts. This includes bands being paid for performing, but I will reserve that discussion for its own article.

So, the moral?

Greed sucks!


  1. Simon Collier says:

January 26, 2012 at 08:07

Awesome article William. Your observations of the history & subsequent rot of the industry is how I see it. I run a my Stereokill Recordings label on a small budget in an attempt to make a little profit so I can re-invest with the intention to bring new & interesting sounds to the fore. Very much in the way the essential middle ground Indies used to.
One point I would pick upon is I do think you have let the public off very lightly in your observation as to why they download for free rather than pay, greed & opportunity without any apparent consequence is the root, of the problem. I believe the majority of people would clean out supermarkets without paying if they thought they could get away with it. However their sense that there is no consequence is ill-founded, it may not be that they are prosecuted for stealing in the way that they would had they stolen a tin of beans or indeed a CD but there is consequence. That consequence is the deterioration in the standard of music on offer in the mainstream is suffering & you brilliantly observed that you can convince people to eat excrement & without the middle independent breeding ground for new music the consequence is that excrement is mostly being served. Corporations thrive on lowest common denominator product & without the public buying into new independent labels the excrement will just keep on coming.
Convincing people to buy new unknown music, however good it is, when they can legitimately get the “superstars” releases for free continues to be the biggest challenge……that & balancing a budget whilst promoting original music.
I persevere but at the moment I fit the bill of ‘suffering for the art’ as I am still doing what I have done for many years because music needs the balance between passion & accountants to be restored. I am one of those people who don’t currently have a choice but I would choose to make a living at it should the opportunity arise again, the suffering financially is an imposition I could well do without.
Keep up the good work, the future of new & innovative music depends on the solution being found & adopted / implemented.

Simon / Stereokill Recordings.

    • William says:

January 26, 2012 at 12:22

Well, Simon. I know your intentions (we have been friends for over a decade and even suffered a brilliantly shitty tour together where we became family) and I support your efforts and would encourage everyone to check out your work and if the music hits them, BUY IT!

Now, I agree about downloading and people needing to change practices, but I also think they can and will change their current practices if educated properly. I am endevouring with the help of my friend and fellow writer Lav Nandlall (she writes here too) to work through the multiple facets of this issue. We have already started the discussion. If you would like to join in on it, just let me know.

Interview With Mika From Beaten To Death

Categories: Interviews

Originally Published on: January 31, 2012

Some time ago Alternative Matter’s William Graves was very impressed by Xes And Strokes, the latest album by Beaten To Death. On the behalf of the band bassist Mika was mora than happy to share some light on the recording process of Xes And Strokes, the writing process and much more..

Thanks for letting us grill you with a few questions.

You’re welcome, really cool of you to show such interest in what we do!

I was really impressed with the album. Was it recorded in a big, pro studio? How long did you spend in the studio? Who produced it/mixed it?

Thank you! Well, we actually recorded the whole thing 100 % live, standing in a circle in our rehearsal room during one weekend (except for the vocals, which was done a few days later), neither editing or adding anything except the “e-bow”-guitar in the mid-section of “A soulless alarm”. Our guitarist Tommy both recorded and mixed the album, but it was never mastered. We all think it sounds like.. well, like us. So none of us felt the need to go nuts in post-production, we all wanted the gritty, unpolished sound we feel a recording of Beaten To Death should have.

I also really appreciate that the dynamics of the music were spared over compression. Choosing to have breath and range in the music rather than simply going for ‘the louder the better’. Was that a conscious decision or was that left to whoever mixed and mastered it?

The way we did it, was that Tommy mixed the whole thing at home, sending the rest of the band a couple of rough mixes now and then just so we could all agree on the sound. It was a pretty straightforward process, and it didn’t take more than a few days before the entire album was finished. He did of course use compressors, EQ and what not on the tracks, but not at the cost of the pretty naked and slightly crummy sound of the recording. Also, the guitars have kind of a twangy sound, not the heavily distorted sound one might expect on at album such as ours, and this probably opened up the overall sound quite a bit.

The songs are really well crafted, and so is the album. Did a lot of thought go into track order and the arrangements in the context of an ‘album’?

Again, thank you! The track order is pretty much identical to the set-list from our debut-gig, and it felt natural to keep that same order when it came to the album, both because of the individual dynamics of each individual song and the way the tracks work back-to-back, but also – since both the live and studio track order is the same – the album reflects how we sound live, with quick transitions to the next song and little or no time to stop and think, until the whole ordeal is over 19 minutes later.

I love that you managed to put into 9 songs in less than 20 minutes, what loads of bands can’t manage in a career. I actually have to argue the point and benefits of the short song quite often. Could I ask you to defend this ideal for me? Why not make the songs longer?

We’re all used to playing longer and more complex songs in other bands, so Beaten To Death is the band were we can feel free to cut everything to the bone. A “don’t bore us, get to the chorus”-kind of thing, I guess. So, a typical discussion while building a new song at rehearsals would be: “do we need to repeat that twice, or can we just skip the last four bars?”, or “why not make that drum fill one bar instead of two?”, and we always end up with shorter songs than originally intended. Of course, this is in no way a new thing, as most grindcore acts do pretty much the same, so it’s definitely a genre we feel very much at home at.

Is there a main songwriter, or is it a collaborative effort? What do you want listeners to come away with after listening to the album?

The guitarists Tommy and Martin write most of the music, while the rest of the band contributes to the arrangements (if any given member has a better idea, the old idea is thrown out without mercy!) and Anders writes almost all of the lyrics. Tommy usually presents his ideas as 90 % finished demos, while Martin brings his ideas to the rehearsal room, shows us his ideas for us to try out together and maybe combine with other ideas to arrange into a complete song. Also, we have our own little “riff pool” online, where everybody can throw in ideas for riffs, songs, lyrics and what not.

We hope the listener would consider listening to the album again after listening to it the first time, as we believe there are a few hidden gems here and there in terms of arrangements, but if they don’t, we hope they had a fun and bumpy ride the first time.

One of the things I really loved about the album was the multidimensional aspect of it. There is great use of tension/release and cool dynamics. It seems like you draw on a good variety of influences to build your own thing. Are there any influences (musically) on the band that might surprise people?

It’s fair to say that Beaten To Death is influenced by other bands within the grindcore and death metal genre, especially those who has been around for some time, but some of us also enjoy the indie rock scene, as well as melodic – and perhaps melancholic – pop music. You may or may not hear that in our music.

Your tones are pretty brutal. Would you like to tell us about your equipment, for our gear geek readers?

Both guitarists play custom baritone Telecasters through an Axe-FX with very little gain. I play a cheap OLP bass through a Music Man HD130 amp, a Fender Bass Man 2 x 18 cabinet and a Boss OC-3 stomp box (obviously without the octave effect on, just the overdrive, which I like a lot). We use a drop G#-tuning. Bartender plays Yamaha drums and Paiste cymbals.

I’m glad to see there has been some updating of your website since I reviewed the album. I see from that update that most of you are also in other bands, with Mr. Svendsen beating the skins in 4 (FOUR!) others. How do you all manage the demands of musical multitasking? How is Beaten to Death unique from those other bands?

Mr. Svendsen is a drum-a-holic, who has always juggled bands to keep himself from getting bored. Tommy and Martin spend most of their energy on their main band Insense, recently touring with In Flames and Trivium, nominated for Best Metal in this years Spellemann (Norwegian Grammy Awards) and with several gigs coming up, but still seem to have a little left for some quality grind-time with the rest of us guys. Anders recently released an EP with his band She Said Destroy, but – like me – he has plenty of time to spread the gospel of Norwegian melodic grind.

As to your second question, I guess the short answer would be that Beaten To Death is the easiest of the bands to be a part of, being the (more or less) just-for-kicks side project that it is. That said, even though the band manages to steer clear of typical obstacles more “serious” bands have to deal with, we never take lightly on the songwriting process or the level of energy we put into playing concerts. If something doesn’t feel right, we work it out, as we all want the songs to have substance and our concerts to be a friendly smack in the face you wont soon forget.

I know you have a gig coming up on February 11th and it looks like you’ve already had at least a few from the photos. How are the crowds reacting so far? Have you played outside of Norway yet? (If yes, how was that?) What do you want your crowd to come away thinking/feeling after your gigs?

We have a few gigs booked for February, which we really look forward to. The crowds so far have reacted like we sort of hoped they would do; with a huge smile on their faces and a feeling of “what the Hell just happened…?” From what we hear, the audience seem to appreciate both the brutal and catchy (if that’s the appropriate word for it) side of the band, and we always get a great response from both metalheads and from pretty girls who normally couldn’t care less about the metal scene but tell us they simply love the Beaten To Death live experience.

Any plans to hit the road and spread the message to the rest of Europe or beyond? (If not, why not? If yes, details, please.)

No gigs neither played nor planned outside of Norway yet, but if’s definitely something we discuss.

How is being on Mas-Kina Recordings? What can you tell us about them? Are they treating you guys well? Do you do a lot with the other bands on the label?

Well, Mas-Kina Recordings is actually just two guys; Christian Hansen and Martin Rygge. And yes, the latter is the same Martin who’s in the band… So as you can imagine, we have a good dialogue with the label. It’s very convenient to have a band where one guy edits all our videos (that would be me, by the way), another records and mixes the album, and another releases it. To us, it has worked out just fine, the album is out, people hear about it, like it and come to our concerts. And that’s all we want.

There aren’t that many bands on Mas-Kina at the moment, so it’s definitely a small and cozy label, and to make matters even more cozy and within the family, Mas-Kina have released (a weird) EP with Defender – a project I did with ex-Motorpsycho drummer Gebhardt – entitled Avalanche Pour L’Amour, and recently also unleashed the quite fantastic She Said Destroy EP Bleeding Fiction, which I highly recommend.

Finally, what is next for Beaten To Death? When can we expect another record?

This year, for sure. We already have like 10 songs to choose from, and as soon as we have 10 more and can dispose of all the crap, we’ll record another – probably just as short – album!

Thanks a lot. For the interview and the great album! –William

Again, thank you so much for taking your time to check us out! Hope to see you and other friends of the grind on tour some day soon!