You probably remember Al Leong even if you never knew his name. He has acted in dozens of films as a bad guy supporting other bad guys. Hence the name of the documentary Henchman: The Al Leong Story directed by Repulsion guitarist Matt Olivo, which will see release in 2014.
Olivo has continued his musical career in parallel to his cinematic one. Interviewing dozens of media moguls and high-profile talent such as John Carpenter, Olivo assembled the documentary out of reminiscences and interviews. These enabled him to portray the career and life of legendary Hollywood stunt performer, actor and martial artist Al Leong, famous for his work in Die Hard and dozens of other violent entertaining films.
To help Olivo continue his overtime career (once you’ve been in Repulsion, you’ve wona t life) go to the Henchman: The Al Leong Story Facebook page and make sure to “like” the page, and then spread the word of the film to friends, family, bystanders and any movie industry executives you happen to know.
Every death metal listener has at some point heard some variation on the statement that death metal bands are untalented, and that instead of mellifluous singing, there’s some guy “just standing there screaming” (that’s from my Mom, about 25 years ago).
Despite three decades of these vocals, they remain vastly misunderstood. Leaving aside for a moment the question of their purpose and effect, there’s also the technical question of how they are produced. And how does this compare to regular “sing-a-long” vocals?
When heavy metal vocal coach Lane Taylor reached out to us here at Death Metal Underground, we asked him if he could resolve this issue. Is screaming singing? Is it a technique, with a right way and wrong way?
And most of all, what’s the right way? Here’s our interview with Lane.
You’re a vocal instructor for metal bands. How did you find this path in life?
Heavy music was my first true love. I was hooked the moment I brought home Metallica’s Black Album at the age of 10. As the years progressed and new styles of metal developed I decided to join a couple local bands to try my hand at composing the music I love. I enjoyed minor success in the local music scene and actually came pretty close to getting signed around 2007. As life would have it things didn’t work out with the band so I decided to get into teaching. There are a million guitar teachers out there so I decide to be different and study the art of screaming heavy metal vocal styles. I had already taken plenty of singing lessons at this point but could never find someone who taught screaming! For years I read every book and watched every instructional tutorial I could find on the subject and then later developed my own approach. The lesson feedback from my early students was great and so I decided to make a go of becoming a heavy metal vocal instructor!
Are death metal vocals a form of “singing”?
Technically no. When you sing you are singing musical notes in the keys of A,B,C,D,E,F or G. Musical notes fit together like a language to form musical scales. Screaming is a bit different in that you scream at a pitch instead of singing musical notes. When you scream it is done at a low, middle or high pitch.
Many people would say that metal vocals don’t offer much to the technicalist. Do you have some favorite examples that prove that talking point wrong?
Perhaps screaming is not that technical in a musical note sense but that is because it is a different beast! Metal music as a whole in my opinion is the most technical music there is! Many of today’s metal vocalists sing AND scream in their music which is very tough to do while still maintaining a clean powerful singing voice. Finding the right balance of singing and screaming when performing is technical in its self. Of course it is just my opinion but I believe Randy Blythe of Lamb of God is a pretty technical screamer. The man can do a lot with his voice! He has a lot of awesome vocal tones and really can mix it up with his screams.
Do you instruct people in death metal vocals? What methods do you teach?
Many of my students are into death metal bands like Cannibal Corpse and Bolt Thrower to name a couple. One of my first students even had a tattoo of the band Deicide – now that is a loyal fan! Since guttural low screams are a signature element in most death metal bands I will start the student out with a focus on the lows. After taking the student through several breathing and vocal warm up exercises we get into the meat of the screaming exercises which include “The Medicine Ball Toss”, “The Barbarian Hey!”, “Dog Barks and Growls” and “The Karate Voice Throw”. More information on these techniques is available at Scream Like A Rockstar!
Can you describe, in technical terms, how death metal vocals are produced?
In your throat you have the true vocal cords which are very thin pieces of tissue that allow you to speak and sing. These vocal cords block the escaping air that is pushed up from your diaphragm muscle and this creates a tension on the vocal cords. As the air pressure escapes through these cords they vibrate and produce speech or singing. There are thicker more durable pieces of tissue attached to the vocal cords and these are known as the false cords. These false cords are what a screamer relies on to produce a scream. When these cords come together with the right tension and air pressure it basically turns your throat and mouth into an echo chamber and your scream is produced. The false cords are very necessary in heavy metal vocals because they take much of the strain of the true vocal cords. Without the false cords the true vocal cords would be damaged very easily by screaming.
What are the benefits to a metal vocalist of receiving instruction? Are there ergonomic and health benefits as well as performative ones?
For the beginner screaming lessons are a must! If you are new to screaming and practicing with poor technique it is important to correct it so you don’t injure yourself. Just as it takes time to build muscle at the gym the same is true with building up strong vocal cords that can handle this type of extreme music. For a seasoned veteran screamer a good instructor can provide great ways to warm up which will help ward off vocal injuries and will also help to increase vocal stamina when performing. In my program I also provide vitamins and supplements you can take if you get sick on tour or need to bring down vocal inflammation.
How do people avail themselves of your services, and do you work remotely?
I am based out of the North Bay area here in California but for those who aren’t local I also have an instructional DVD at my website Scream Like A Rockstar. The DVD took 3 years to make and contains lots of goodies to help metal musicians reach their rock star dreams! At the website I also run a blog with some good free tips to help novice screamers. Thank you very much to the staff at Death Metal Underground for allowing me the opportunity for this interview!
Kam Lee, former vocalist of Mantas/Massacre and former editor of Comatose Zine, has contributed art for the official Glorious Times tshirts printed for fans of the book and the time period. The shirts are white print on black and feature the Glorious Times stencil logo and art on the front.
We have covered Glorious Times in the past, but for the newcomer, it is a book of retrospectives by people who were active in the death metal underground from 1984 to 1991, which were the formative years of the genre and its earliest internal differentiation. Featuring many rare photos and perspectives, Glorious Times helped kick off the current retrospective view of the old school death metal scene that has brought many bands out of hiding and seen many classic recordings and publications re-issued.
An ex-Absu member in this band means that comparisons to Absu will be inevitable. However, Absu is basically a death metal band (Barathrum V.I.T.R.I.O.L.) who morphed into a Mercyful Fate-styled heavy metal band with black metal vocals and technical death metal drumming and vocals. The Black Moriah evokes the best of that style by bringing us a more Americanized version of the underlying speed metal that Mercyful Fate made famous (Don’t Break the Oath being its classic) with modern black metal vocals and straightforward death metald drumming.
What is great about The Black Moriah is that these songs preserve what has always separated heavy metal from the rest, which is its ability to tie riffs together and then reduce them to an entirely new statement through a concluding riff. Most of the riffs that form the body of each song are umptempo tremolo-strummed shorter riffs etching out brief melodies suspended in chromatic fills, but these set up each song for concluding material that transforms similar melodies and creates a radical shift in context. The result brings out what death metal did best, which was like H.P. Lovecraft stories evoke new worlds out of the mundane.
Casket Prospects shows us the basis of this band’s vision and where it can improve. Its unfortunate choice of name will lead most people to think The Black Moriah is a metalcore act; further, its similarity to Absu will be appreciated by many but also puts The Black Moriah in a difficult competitive position as an underdog. Also, what The Black Moriah is trying to do is in general a hard sell, since the speed/heavy metal audience has differentiated out into power metal which has driven the death metal audience further apart. However their style evolves, this band have shown a strength in songwriting that will take them far if they can get the aesthetic elements in line.
To partake of underground metal in the current year is to keep eyes open for new possibilities. Because this is underground — meaning-first and surface appeal later, where everyone else does it the other way around — music, this requires looking past early limitations to see if a band has the outlook required. This worldview is a desire to make music in the true metal spirit, with a personal voice that reveals vastly impersonal truths.
Under our eye for some time has been Colombian band Cóndor, whose album Nadia represents a good future path for metal that is both innovative and true to the ideals and lifestyle of metal since its inception. It’s underground, so it isn’t groovy, crowd-friendly, slickly produced or designed to appeal ironically. It is exactly as it represents itself, and clearly thrives from bonding its metallic influences with a unique view of the world.
Checking in with Cóndor, we found the band clarifying its vision and intent and also, planning for the future. As is the nature of underground music, this band exists in the interstices of official tasks and required acts of life, filled in with spare moments and sheer will. We were lucky to get a brief update from the band as they barely pause in their quest to become known.
When was Cóndor founded, and what music influenced you? Did you have a plan, stylistically or otherwise?
Cóndor was founded in late 2012. The plan from the outset was to create narrative heavy metal and to have the lyrics deal with the collapse of Western civilization viewed from the vantage point of the great grandchildren of the Conquistadors. Musically we were influenced mostly by the early work of melodic metal bands in various subgenres, such as Amorphis, At the Gates, Mournful Congregation, Sacramentum, Candlemass etc.
Do you have other non-metal or non-musical influences?
Non-metal influences are limited mostly to the realm of romantic classical music, particularly 20th century “nationalist” composers such as Sibelius, Smetana and Vaughan Williams. As far as non-musical influences, the work of J.R.R. Tolkien heavily influences our music, and our lyrical/conceptual outlook is indebted to the conception of time as destiny present in the works of Oswald Spengler and Martin Heidegger. The most important influence however is the landscape of our native region, and the story of our Spanish forefathers, to which we are heirs.
How long had you all been metalheads? Or are you metalheads?
We all got into metal while very young, around the ages of 11 and 12. The level of individuals’ current dedication to metal varies within the band, some of us still being fully devout while others have drifted away, but metal was everyone’s path into music and we all share deep roots in it, thus why we chose it as a vehicle.
What’s the scene like in Bogotá? Is it hard or easy to be a metalhead there?
Even though it is an ever-growing community, unfortunately it is swarmed with people who are attracted merely by the metal aesthetic, or people who don’t really think about what they’re listening to. The same people that go to a black metal concert can then go to a metalcore one the day after, which leads one to believe all they get from listening to metal is fun, rebellious noise. After an initial rush of inspiration in the 80s local bands have since been mostly derivative and boring, which has led to widespread skepticism about newer bands. Add that to the fact that venues tend to be geared towards the 80s rock crowd and gigging locally becomes a hard and often fruitless endeavor. However there are many encouraging factors, for one the sheer amount of metalheads as well as the incredibly devout local medium of cult metal record stores, along with an increasing number of international bands who come around to play in the city. It’s worth mentioning that the scene had many classic bands when it was peaking in the late 80s/early 90s, such as Parabellum, Reencarnación, Kraken, Masacre, Kilcrops, Witchtrap and Acutor.
How did you write the songs on Nadia? Were they conceptual songs, or just kickin’ around some riffs?
Music and lyrics on Nadia were written simultaneously with a view towards creating a coherent atmosphere and a dynamic structure. The concept of the album pertains mainly to the question of identity and destiny in the modern world, viewed naturally through our particular vantage point as Colombians. However, many of the riffs are very old and were simply worked into the broader scheme of the album later on. The material on the album stretches back at least three years in some cases while some of it was written just weeks before recording.
Did your influences change for Nadia from past efforts? How much had you learned since your earlier recordings, rehearsals or live performances?
Nadia was our first effort, and the entirety of the album was written before the band ever played together in a room, so this is a tough question to address. As far as live performances we believe they must reflect visually what the audience is listening to. That’s why we use body paint and use elements such as the accordion and wine during shows, to create an experience that enhances the atmosphere and weltanschauung that is already inherent in the music.
What has response been like so far?
Nadia has received a limited, but largely positive response, which we weren’t expecting to be honest. Colombian record stores have been enthusiastic, though larger distribution has been lacking. A few people seem to really dig the album, which is encouraging.
What’s next? Will you record more, tour or rest awhile?
Album number two is currently in the works and we hope to record it in summer of 2014, which would imply an early 2015 release date. Touring is unlikely for now as the band has been scattered by collegial pursuits, but you never know…
If you had to pick the most important bands in the evolution of metal, how would you do it? What bands would be there?
This is a tough question… I guess the method would be to pick bands that innovated in a way that helped the genre evolve without compromising its boundaries and also managed to make albums that stand on their own as coherent and meaningful works. Clearly, the bands that have had a real significance are most often those with members who really understood what they were doing; this applies for both metal and non-metal bands alike. Unfortunately, most great bands have a good start and release one or two great albums, but then seem to lose their touch and limit themselves to appease their audience, without giving much thought to the composition process.
Obviously objectivity is unattainable in such an endeavor… So without further ado, the much desired, and highly subjective, name dropping: Black Sabbath, Rainbow, Manilla Road, Manowar, Mercyul Fate, Slayer, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, Possessed, Bathory, Fates Warning, Helloween, Morbid Angel, At the Gates, Darkthrone, Enslaved, Thergothon, Beherit, Skepticism, …After this the real innovation stops and the tenets of the genre are pretty much established, but many significant works have been published since then by bands such as Sacramentum, Averse Sefira, Fanisk, Pallbearer, etc. Metal is alive and well; quality output is just a bit slower than in days of yore.
If people are interested in supporting Cóndor, how do they acquire your recordings and keep in touch with the new happenings with the band?
Nadia can be bought both digitally (for whatever price you want) and physically through our bandcamp page. People living in Colombia or Mexico are encouraged to contact us through our Facebook page or our email (firstname.lastname@example.org) to obtain a physical copy directly through a band member. To keep in touch with the band and its happenings follow us on facebook or send us an e-mail and we’ll add you to our mailing list.
Swedish black/death metal outfit Dawn returned from the chaos of the 2000s a year ago and have been steadily moving toward releasing new material since. In support of this, the band will be re-issuing its entire discography through Century Media in 2014.
Formed in 1990, Dawn migrated from the death metal of their early demos into a more complex, melodic, epic and atmospheric style of black/death metal that culminated in Slaughtersun – Crown Of The Triarchy in (1998). Along with Dissection, Unanimated, Eucharist and Sacramentum, Dawn created a hybrid of melodic metal styles that expressed Iron Maiden-style harmony and melodic within the more rigorous rhythmic format of underground death metal.
During the first half of 2014, Dawn‘s back catalog will finally be made available again on CD and — for the first time ever — on vinyl. Carefully re-mastered by Dan Swanö, who also mastered Sacramentum and Fleshcrawl classics, these re-issues feature re-developed artwork done with full cooperation with the band.
I say at the boundaries because this release, like early Sentenced or middle-period Therion, keeps one foot in the relatively accepted worlds of speed metal and heavy metal while another remains planted in the underground. Properly described, it’s a doom metal (of the heavy metal variety) hybrid with death metal.
The deathier aspects are embedded in mid-paced passages that show, in an odd twist for the genre, melodic development in both guitar and vocals, creating a sense much like that Dissection wielded of an inner core of beauty to a crashing heaviness. Slower doom riffing resembles both Cathedral and funeral doom bands to follow like Skepticism, although this would be considered uptempo.
Offsetting those elements are a number of harder-rocking numbers that use repurposed heavy metal riffs in a death metal context to deliver charging intensity at a faster pace. Many of these resemble the interstitial music between speed metal and death metal, like Slayer or Destruction. The melodic balances the spacier pentatonics and the crashing chromatic riffs that connect it together.
The result is a highly inventive album that showcases a study of metal riffing from the early 1970s onward, and by maintaining a doomy mood, expands death metal from raw riff interplay to a science of developing riffs in the context of a carefully planned mood shift in each song. This comes at the expense of the more expansive song structures which death metal could adopt by changing riffs every 24 seconds.
Vic Records has unleashed a quality re-release here with sound quality intact and no loss of detail, building on the strength of the original and delivering an improved experience. With luck this will allow a new generation to discover this often-overlooked (probably because of the misspelled name) German death metal band.
With the tragic early death of Slayer’s Jeff Hanneman earlier this year, it was inevitable that artifacts would unearth themselves, as has happened with the Seeds of Horror release. This album contains both demos for an unreleased concept album by Slayer and a demo from Hanneman’s side hardcore project Papsmear.
The Slayer demos involve material that mostly made it on to later albums but also contain some unreleased and unrealized material. Generally recorded with Hanneman on guitar and vocals and a drum machine for percussion, the demos include some conceptual material like the title track from which this CD/LP takes its name.
Seeds of Horror also contains extensive liner notes introducing each track as it was mentioned by the band in interviews and tracking the lineage of each song, many of which appeared in fragmentary form elsewhere (riffs and other concepts were recycled). Two of the Papsmear tracks will be familiar to any who have Slayer’s Undisputed Attitude. The full demo features Dave Lombardo as well as Rocky George from Suicidal Tendencies fleshing out the mix.
Generation X faced betrayal of the worst kind. Arguably the most intelligent generation produced since WWII, they were aware from early in life that their society was doomed. Even more, they knew why, and were children of parents who were militantly in denial of this fact and shamed and mocked their children for noticing the obvious. As a result, when you see a Generation Xer giving you the eye, don’t be fooled: it’s wary, paranoid and alienated. They are probably wondering to what degree you know you are doomed.
Hank Williams III comes from the dead heart of this generation, having been born in 1972 to the line of Hank Williams, which is as close as you get to musical royalty in the New World. Hank I was famous for simple yet poetic hymns which resembled folk songs with subtle melodic development. His material was far above the rest; Hank III, who facially resembles his grandfather, is trying to survive that legacy and thus made the sensible decision to stop the comparison and move his skills to hellbilly: a combination of punk, metal, rockabilly, 1950s rock and Gothic music.
Hank3’s A Fiendish Threat reminds me of the Misfits. It plays with 1950s rock tropes, inverting them to show the rottenness underneath social assumptions and customer service good graces. It is totally cynical and paranoid, seeing the death of hope creeping in through every vector, but still captures a cryptic sentiment of hope for a glimpse of the beautiful, even if the beautiful doomed, among the rotten industrial edifices that replaced the open fields of yore.
Three decades ago, on December 3, 1983, Slayer unleashed Show No Mercy upon an ungrateful world. This event changed more than one band’s future; it helped launch the next generation in metal.
Combining the fluid tremolo strum of hardcore punk with the melodic song structures of Iron Maiden and the angular, rhythmically precise riffing of Judas Priest, Slayer sculpted from raw elements the future of death metal. With the guitars freed from having to emphasize offbeats, riffs became more fluid and tended toward phrases, jazz-style, instead of bouncy percussion in the style of rock.
This broke metal free from much of what had kept it confined by allowing guitar to become the primary lead instrument in every sense. Rhythmically, melodically and in developing song structure, the guitar dominated and aligned every other instrument including voice behind it. The result was a new flexibility in songwriting that helped launch the genres death metal, black metal, grindcore and thrash.
In addition, Slayer converted heavy metal’s flirtation with the occult from a type of provocation to the easily offended, to a mythological view in which dark occult forces manipulated the weakest among humans in a quest for world destruction. They were thus able to symbolize the darkness, corruption and mental servitude they saw in the society around in the religious symbols of centuries before.
The result was a form of music more powerful and intense than anything before. The band came into their own on the following three albums, relying less on the heavy metal tropes from before and developing their own language in a proto-death-metal style. But it all began with Show No Mercy.