For the older among us, being in a band was something of a badge of honour; sure, there were more than a few bands around, but not so many that it was still worth comment when people learned you played in one. Musicians were and are not all that common, but music scenes are inherently incestuous and the number of bands expands until nearly every musician is leader of his own that features players from other bands. It was comradely, fractious, fun, and instructive. But in the modern music world the concept of the band is in rapid decline.
Popular music, in all its hydra-headed forms, has become completely synthetic – written and recorded by a few faceless producers using fake instruments and fake plastic people as puppet fronts. Only the two underground genres, punk and metal, adhere to the band formula. Of course, because metal embraces the spirit of classical romanticism, there are more than a few stellar one-man bands – like Beethoven or Schubert musical geniuses who only need the assistance of some technical experts to give life to the musical visions they have created. By and large, however, there are metal bands. This truly is a prized possession for the genre that often goes unacknowledged.
What manner of bands? Friends get together to play in a totem to friendship rather than from any musical vision. Truly, some of this author’s dearest memories are playing in bands of this sort. Or one man with a kernel of a vision gathers about him other musicians he needs to execute his vision. This is a more difficult, but often more broadly rewarding, proposition: great songs and strong albums flow from a singular voice, but soon the human equation enters the formula and other members demand that their song ideas, often mediocre or at best unsuited to the visionary’s music, get some recognition; the visionary’s well runs dry and he must lean on others for more and more input; members chafe at being vassals of a single ruler and the band splinters and is never able to find the right pieces to again make a cogent whole. Bands formed to get chicks or make money – this author personally never participated in such bands, seeing those things as merely as happy, yet in practice quite rare, adjuncts to the main purpose.
The guitarist has a new riff idea. He starts playing. Feet start tapping along with the tempo and heads angle downward as the other musicians listen carefully and consider. A stark drumbeat enters like a spring shoot soon to flower into intricacy as the roots of rhythmic understanding of the riff grows deeper. A few bass notes drop here and there like raindrops, slowly forming into rivulets as the bass lines flow between the crannies of the riff and cascade off the stones of the drum’s downbeats. At first a ramshackle affair, especially if the band has not been together long, but quickly confidence grows and the riff mutates as new pathways are suggested by drum fills and bass lines. The vocalist enters singing or growling nonsense words, merely getting a feel for land. Each instrumentalist takes his turn in the forefront to take the idea as far as possible and thus create more room for growth. The riff expands and eventually starts to contract back to its original formulation. One musicians stops playing and waves his hands and yells, without much effect, over the din. Slowly each instrument tapers off. The first to stop tries to explain a new idea that would work with the riff; the vocalist makes funny noises into the mic, the drummer fiddles with his hi-hat and tightens his snare, the guitarist causes his amp to feed back. Nobody is paying particular attention because fucking with people is fun, especially with loud instruments. Soon enough relative quiet obtains and as beer and marijuana are consumed the idea is explained and the process starts anew.
Most bands fail. Most music produced by bands is terrible. But the process is sound. Friendships will be strengthened and deepened in a very profound way. Personal musical skill will be enhanced considerably as playing with a live band, playing even the most simple of music, requires a quickness of wit and a dexterity of technique that goes completely unappreciated by the layman. The sheer personal joy of rocking out to a cool riff while partially intoxicated cannot be matched. With these experiences and skills, musicians will go forth and found a new band and a visionary will emerge to produce something of worth; even the greatest trees and forests grow out of mere dirt. The metal scene, while currently somnolent, will always have the potential for rebirth because its seeds rest in the structure and process of the band.