10 of 10 pt IV: Deceiver of the Gods
<growls into the mic continuously and with great distortion> <Pause> Did you get that?
Back in March of 2012 I met a guy who would quickly become my best friend. We were so attached at the hip it got to the point where if I went out to a bar with another group of friends or by myself, there was an inevitable barrage of, "Hey, where's so-and so? I thought you guys were always together." Well, like...hey man. We're separate people doing our own separate...wait, no. Just got a text. He's on his way. Anyway, this guy was the Thelma to my Louise. The Chandler to my Joey. The John Krasinski to my alien that hunts sound. The guy was my go to when shit hit the fan, when things went well, and when things were middle of the road. We would sit on his back patio discussing our insecurities, our lives, his roommate and I helped him study for some big ass promotion, he schooled me in the art of confidence, and I credit him with two things: the first is teaching me what it is to be comfortable in my skin. He probably doesn't know that, and he might not think he had much to do with it seeing as how we met after I blew everyone's mind at a karaoke. But you know how when actors say they were cast opposite someone really great, and it forced them to step their game up? That's how it was when we hung out. Every time we got together (almost every time, everyone has an off night and that's okay), I thought "alright...you gotta be the best version of you." And with all that practice, I'm still more confident than I've ever been. Which...if I'm being real, is still not very confident, but 1 is still infinitely more than 0. SCIENCE!
The second thing I give him credit for is forcing me to like metal music. Let me explain.
Up till that point, I'd always barely survived in my little bubble of music. I was strictly pop-punk with the exception of Garth Brooks. That was it. blink-182, the Offspring, SUM41, Green Day, Simple Plan, you get the idea. But my friend over here is a complete metal head. In the best possible way. Imagine the blink-182 article I wrote four days ago, how in depth I got, how I could explain everything in a crystal clear manner (because I'm a fuckin' genius and shit), and double it by 5. This guy knows the music so well. So after a few months of suffering through the same albums in my car as we drove around the city of Arlington trying to decide which bar to go to before ultimately settling on the same one every time, one night he took my phone off the jack, and said something to the effect of, "Hey, bud. We're listening to something different."
Usually I'd throw a fit because I'm a child, and I hate change, but for whatever reason I was okay with it that night. So he plugged in his phone, and what followed would eventually become the topic of a blog post, and here we are.
The first metal song I ever enjoyed was by a band called Amon Amarth. The song was A Thousand Years Of Oppression off of the album Versus The World. Seriously, I hated this sort of thing. But as soon as I heard that opening guitar riff, I was mesmerized. There was a dissonance to it. It didn't sound like the layers were written for each other, but even though in my Jesus Freak article I claimed to be a musician, I know very little bout music theory, and I have no idea how these artists put together shit that doesn't;t make sense and make it make sense. Or something. So from there, I started to fall in love with more metal bands. It's still not my favorite genre, but I feel it has a time and place. Like at the gym. Or in a library.
In 2013, the band released Deceiver Of The Gods. There was a mixed reception between me and my friend. He initially thought it sounded a little too pop and probably a little too produced. I, however, loved it. But my main taste is that sort of pop thing. Easy to digest, fun to listen to, a good solid drum sound that meshes with a thick ass bass. I love the production aspect of music, and when it sounds polished and put together, I think you get the best product. I understand the DIY aspect, and sometimes a band can nail that sound in a studio, but by and large my favorite pieces have a high production quality.
Deceiver Of The Gods was the first metal album I listened to from start to finish, and it's a special album to me because it made me realize what I'm capable of as far as being a fan of music as a whole. Almost every aspect of this album, from music to vocals, is something I couldn't stand until my friend really pushed for me to listen to it. I'll get into the specifics in a little bit (of course I will, I'm a terribly long winded terrible writer), but before I do, I'd like to say that music is, I think, one of the greatest universal truths in the world. A 'C' note is the same in Detroit as it is in Osaka as it is in Cairo as it is Warsaw as it is in Fort Worth. And once you open yourself up to the possibilities of music, and don't stick to just one single genre, you give yourself more room to grow in other aspects of your life. I'm not soapboxing, or at least I'm not trying to, but if you can be fully open minded to any and all genres of music, mainstream or otherwise, you can embrace any number of other ideas and ideals, seemingly without limit. Here's a conversation I absolutely hate having:
Me: What kind of music do you listen to?
Dumb Face: All kinds. I listen to literally everything.
DF: Absolutely everything.
Me: You like Amon Amarth?
DF: Who's that?
Me: A Swedish metal band.
DF: Oh, no. Never heard of them.
Me: What about Slipknot?
DF: No, I don't like them either.
Me: What about Korn? Children of Bodom? Pantera? Mastodon? Tool? Gojira?
DF: I don't like metal.
Me: What about blink-182?
DF: Not into punk either.
DF: Ew, pop is gross.
Me: What do you listen to?
DF: Oh, ya know, Journey, Boston, U2...that sort of thing.
Me: So, like...Stadium Rock?
BIG DUMB FACE: Yeah, I guess you could call it that. But I really enjoy literally everything.
NO YOU DON'T!! First off, you mean figuratively. How do people not get that yet? Second, don't try to sound like a worldly person, you liar. Say stadium rock or something similar to that, and I'll get the picture. We might not have a lot in common, because I don't listen to much of it, but we can bond over "More Than A Feeling" and move on with our lives. No one's gonna judge you for having a favorite genre like that, and if they do, they're a bigger piece of shit than you are, but don't say "I listen to everything" because it's more often than not a cop out that makes you sound like a lazy douche bag. My personal favorite answer that I've ever gotten when I asked that question was "There's at least one song in every genre that I like." I've adopted this as my own personal answer, but I change 'song' to 'artist'. Is it a little broader than saying "everything", or is it less vague? No, it's not. But does it open the door for a better conversation? Yes it does. Can I back the claim up? Read all four of my 10 of 10 and tell me I can't. I mean, Jesus Freak should be the primary indicator.
Stay focused, Robbie. Stay focused. So yes. With the introduction of Amon Amarth into my growing arsenal of favorite bands, and with Deceiver Of The Gods as my favorite metal album at the time, I learned that every stereotype I had believed about metal was completely dispelled. Here we go.
"If you need more then five pieces, you suck as a drummer"
Back when I started playing the drums, I wanted a Neil Pert kit. A shit load of drums, maybe a xylophone incorporated into the mix. But as I kept practicing, and since I was broke and my parents wouldn't spring for extra drums, I learned what a 5 piece drum set was capable of. Maybe it was that budding skill coupled with my growing arrogance or ego or whatever teenagers deal with, but I became a devout believer in "less is more" and letting the drums do the talking. So in that regard, metal was the lowest for of music to me. I was the bassist in a rock back from 2008 to 2010, and I fought the drummer on her use of the double bass. I thought it was unnecessary and fucking stupid. And why did drummers need all those toms? The hell is that shit about? Why are you in what is essentially a room made of drums? How do you not get claustrophobic? Ridiculous.
Then I heard "A Thousand Years", and when the song was just a barebones intro, and the crash cymbal crescendos in and then the double kick takes over, it becomes a drive. An awakening. This song was my introduction into what a humongous drum kit could do. The more I listen to this style of music, the more I appreciate the drums as more a character in a story than just another instrument. If you need a giant sweep across your racked toms, you can only do so much with two or three. If you have 7 lined up, different sizes and tuned to different pitches, you can get a beautiful wave of sound that song calls for. And then there are songs like "Father Of The Wolf" which almost has a four on the floor beat during the verses and a punk beat through one of the guitar solos, it's a "better to have it and not need it" scenario. And honestly, to handle a huge kit in such a manner that it adds to the song instead of detracting from it, you have a great drummer. Slipknot had that with Joey Jordison, and they found it again with Jay Weinberg. It takes immense skill to to be that kind of drummer. I know that now.
"Those guitarists are the worst and can't actually play"
So what? They strap on their guitar, turn the distortion up to "Mother Of God", and then torture the instrument. Who hears music in that? It's so stupid. You can learn three chords and make a living because the people who listen to this crap are fucking stupid.
Okay, before we go any further, the people that listen to metal are *not* fucking stupid, and some of the nicest people I've ever met are metal heads. More on that later. Section 4 probably.
After getting into more and more bands, you learn one pretty solid fact: A lot of the guitarists in this genre are classically trained. I'd say most, but I haven't done that much research on the topic as a whole. Some are probably even naturally gifted, which I hate saying because I don't really believe that anyone is naturally gifted at anything. Then again, I'm a naturally gifted idiot, so there's that. Regardless, classically trained or not, these artists have skills that I didn't even know were possible. If you need any proof, listen to Alexi Laiho's guitar work in Children of Bodom's "Ugly". Not only is there some hardcore stamina in his rhythm playing, but when he solos you'll hear a fantastic combination of blues, jazz, classical, and rock and roll all spun together to create a multidimensional guitar solo in disguise as a death metal solo. That's sheer, unbelievable talent. Living and breathing an instrument to the point where you know the ins and outs as if it were a long time lover. That's weird, sorry. But seriously, this is years of dedication, practice, and absorbing as much music as any human being possibly can so when it comes time to put together a record and do some solos, you can find the proper tone, turn the volume up to "Oh Sweet Jesus", and pull out all the stops. That depth of knowledge not only creates fresh content, but it also keeps the craft endless for both the band and the fans.
"You can't understand the words when they scream, and they don't really say anything"
Boy. Howdy. I was so wrong about this one. Yes, I'll admit that even listening to Amon Amarth for a month or so I still had trouble understanding Johan Hegg from time to time. And when I first started I sort of just went along with the music. Like...whatever. The song underneath the growling more than made up for it because I had learned to appreciate the quality of the music. The talent and the skill. The vocals came later for me, but when they came they came hard. Or something a little less...you know what? It's out there, let's acknowledge it and move on like adults.
But just like every other...foreign language, I guess you could call it, you begin to pick it up. Just like every other song, the more you listen, the faster you learn the words. At the height of my Amon Amarth binge, I could figure out what Hegg was screaming about. And I got far more than I bargained for: Viking Mythology, Viking History, tales of Thor and Loki. Johan Hegg paints an insanely vivid picture of old, historical tales. The story of Ragnarok. Exiled warriors who return home to fight for the king who sent them away. Things get dark, deep, and sad. And the band really taps into that feeling with the sound of their music. It's almost like Hegg tells these stories around a campfire, and his band is the story taking place in the past. Two timelines playing as one.
On the other hand, you have a band like Iced Earth who made a concept album called Horror Show that's centered around classic movie monster like Frankenstein and Dracula, or cultural figures like Jack the Ripper. That's a really fun record. I recommend it.
Then you have a band like Slipknot who wear masks on stage and sing about...well, sometimes really gross stuff and other times it borders on romantically tragic ("Killpop" and "Vermillion"). Corey Taylor talks a lot about the duality of life, the light and the dark, and in a supremely personal interview with Viceland*, you can really understand where he comes up with all of his lyrics.
Usually the lyrics mean a great deal. All music can be therapeutic, but in this particular genre, you find a great deal of catharsis (if I used that word right) in the subject matter found in these songs. They more often than not mean a great deal to the band, and when you get to a point where you can follow along, you can find that release. Screaming along to "Wait and Bleed" in my car feels so. Damn. Good.
"The people that listen to this shit are all assholes"
One of my favorite memories is moshing to Amon Amarth's "Cry Of The Black Birds". After my friend successfully got me interested in the band, he took me to see them live. When the song in question started, I jumped into the crowd, right into the circle, and just went. Now, this was the House of Blues in Dallas. If you've ever been, you know the floor is a stained concrete or some shit. So it's easy to slip on.
Well, about half way through the song, I slipped on some spilled beer or maybe urine, I don't know I wasn't paying attention. But my ass hit the floor, and the pit stopped. Not even one making sure I didn't get trampled. Every person in the pit was so aware that they all stopped, two guys helped me up, asked me if I was okay, and when I said I was we started up again. After the song ended, a completely different person in the pit came up and asked if I was okay.
There was a genuine kindness there, and it was generosity that I didn't expect because I went into this situation thinking I'd stick out like a sore thumb. I was convinced I'd be a "target" of some kind, but when you the show started, all these people, some more similar to each other than me, and some who were way more different, were all there for the same purpose: to break our necks and rock out to some Viking Metal (a term that the band themselves don't necessarily agree with, but for ease and simplicity we're gonna adopt from here on). Some of the nicest people I've ever met go to these shows.
"The guys in the bands are all depressed, sick people that worship the devil"
I'm not even gonna dignify this with a super lengthy response because it's close minded, and a dick of a blanket statement.
In interviews I've seen, Slayer is a hilarious group of guys. Johan Hegg will ask the crowd to sing along, but just yell if you don't know the words because "it's metal and no one cares". He's said that at both of the concerts I've been to. He really just wants people to have fun.
I'm sure that some band(s) out there might actually be satan worshippers. That's their thing, and I'm not getting involved. But by and large it seems to me that while depression and sadness play a role in a lot of the music produced by metal bands, the feeling are most fuel and motivation for a therapeutic release.
"It all sounds the same and it's not imaginative"
Look...I'm at work now, and it's 5:18pm on Friday the fourth. This should have been done by now, but life, uh, gets in the way. And I still have to do today's 10 of 10, so my only response to "it all sounds the same" is "no it doesn't, you're just not familiar with the genre." My suggestions that might disprove the "it's not imaginative" claim is to listen to as much Slipknot and Children of Bodom as you can. Slipknot is a 9 piece set up with custom percussion, a guy in charge of sampling and keyboards, and a guy on the turntables. For a metal band, they've got a pretty stacked bench, so if something needs a flourish or an extra accent of some kind, they've got it up their sleeve.
Children of Bodom has a very prominent keyboard player, who not only knows his role in the band and beer adds anything too extravagant aside from what the song calls for, but he's also insanely talented. So talented, in fact, that he's showcased in a duel with Alexi Laiho during their concerts. If you're at all interested in learning something new and exposing yourself to a type of music you might not be too sure about, check out those two bands. If you can let yourself get used to their delivery of lyrics and really listen to the care and thought that these artists put into what sounds to use when, I think you'll be surprised with how much you'll enjoy the genre. Or, shit, go listen to the band Opeth. They meld so many different styles of music on each album, it's mind blowing. Except for one particular album, but I'm not gonna call it out by name. If you decide to go down that rabbit hole, I don't wanna ruin anything for you. But yes...that's a solid list of metal bands to get you started. Good job, Timmy.
Oh yeah, in regard to the topic of the article, listen to "Under Siege" by Amon Amarth. They have this beautiful, war like outdo that slowly fades away into a mandolin (I think) playing the primary melody. It's a very beautiful way to end the song, and the fact that a metal band like them, regardless of how connected their subject matter is to the history of vikings, actually went for that sound means the band has a deep investment in their music and search to find new ways to keep it amazing.
And now I'm home from work. Holy shit, will this post ever get finis-
And NOW...it's 8:15 on the 5th. So I've essentially been working on this article for three days. This isn't how I wanted it to go, guys. I'm sorry. Not only have I deprived you of my witty and grammatically perfect writing for two days, I've also severely let you down by not giving you an escape from your day. This is completely and totally my bad. But with editing the latest episode of my podcast and having to go to an actual job to make actual money instead of the hypothetical money I make in my head when I do things like this, there's only so much time in the day. So here's my promise to you, the people, the ones that I completely ruin my posture by hunkering over this computer for...I'll do write them when I write them, and not a moment sooner or later.
To finally complete this article so I can once again ignore the gym and go finish laundry and cleaning the kitchen, I'm first gonna have to go remind myself of what I was initially writing about, and then get to my absolute final point. So give me four more days to get all that straightened out, and then I'll be right back with you.
So! Deceiver Of The Gods was the first metal album I ever listened to and loved from start to finish, and from there it sparked a curiosity in other bands. But that's what I like about music. Because it is, as mentioned above, a rabbit hole. If you give in to that curiosity, let yourself sit uncomfortably at first with music you're not familiar with, you'll discover whole new worlds that you couldn't even fathom existed. Music is like reading to me. I don't read. I'm either dyslexic or impatient or it's a disease or some shit, but when I listen to music, I can feel, see, and go places that a lot of avid readers do when they snuggle up with a good book.
Even after this whole metallic revelation, I still had a problem accepting new music. I hated Flo Rida forever, but my girlfriend made me listen to "Hello Friday" hundreds of times in a row, and now I love his shit. Newer shit. His older shit legitimately sounds the same to me, as far his delivery of the lyrics. Same cadence through out. Whatever. The point is, I do listen to genuinely everything. Or at least some of everything. I still hate Justin Bieber, but "Let Me Love You" and "Love Yourself" are pretty good songs. Never was a fan of Coldplay, but "Magic" and "Ink" remind my girlfriend of me, and I haven't been able to listen to those songs the same way since. The music that you can form a connection with is the best kind. That's sort of the topic of the next album's article.
Shocker. I've had enough time to figure out the next album in the 2 months it took to write this one. Make sure you start listening to all the metal, because if you don't then I've wasted a 13 months of my life writing this entry. Oh my god. I am so over this.
*I wish I could find the interview in full for free like I saw it, but should you decide to pay to see it, this is not a paid plug, and I don't get any of that money. I genuinely recommend that interview.
Editor's Note: I don't have an editor. If I did, I probably would have had my ass chewed out, and not in the good way, about how long this took to finish. But life and duty calls. This is also not proofread. It only is what it will ever be. The message remains the same.