As far as heavy metal music goes, there is only one area of expertise I have. I couldn’t play an instrument to save my life. I tried to play piano and couldn’t get past the first measure of “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” My singing is so bad that I can’t get more then half a verse into a song before both of my small children scream at me to be stop. I couldn’t carry a tune if it had handles. I tried reading music a few times and would have been better off trying to translate the Dead Sea Scrolls. My only skill, if you could even call it that, is that I am totally and completely aware of what I like. I certainly can’t tell a musician how to sell a million records, but I can tell them how to sell one. Here’s what you need to know if you want me to become maniacally obsessed with your band and take ten dollars that I could be putting in my children’s college fund and use it to help support your music career…
Come Up With An Interesting Lyrical Theme
I’m really sick of most of the themes that are regularly used in metal. I’m not interested in another song about Norse Mythology, I’m bored to tears by anything that mentions the Book of Revelation, I could care less how much you drink or what other substances you choose to put into your body and I would rather be attacked by wild dingoes then hear another song about war. All of these themes have had their day. Every once in a while, there is a clever take on these ideas, but a lot of it just devolves into the terminal rehashing of well-worn, hackneyed lines that perform the sole function of making sure that the lead singer has something to do while on stage. Do something different! I’d love to hear an entire album dedicated to the history of knuckleball pitchers or an LP that seriously discusses the ideas of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel or 50 minutes of music punctuated by lyrics about cheese production in Bolivia. It’s a big world….use it!
Reuse Good Musical Clichés
I get that this contradicts my last point on some level, but I am not nearly as open-minded when it comes to the actual music. There are a lot of great ideas out there that could be used over and over and never get old. You know that part in the song “Flash of the Blade” where the guitarist from Iron Maiden is soloing and everything underneath it disappears leaving the guitar in the midst of an orgiastic explosion of brilliance, then, all of a sudden, the drums and bass kick back in underneath. Do that on every song. It will never get old.
In Solitude borrows heavily from early Iron Maiden, Ghost uses a lot of ideas that worked for Mercyful Fate and The Blue Oyster Cult, and Sodom basically writes Slayer songs that Slayer forgot how to write. All of these bands mix excellent ideas from other groups and give them a unique flavor. Those are the three bands I’ve listen to more than anyone else over the past year. If you are going to steal stuff then take ideas from excellent bands. No one wants to hear homage to Right Said Fred and if they do, they should be abducted and released in the bear cage at the San Diego Zoo.
Get A Singer Who Can Sing
A band can survive a bad drummer, a miserable guitarist and a non-existent bass player. If your singer is awful, it will almost invariably ruin the whole enterprise. A perfectly sung chorus can make me forgive and forget nearly any musical transgression. If you don’t have one of these you are paddling upstream with no oars.
Keep It Under Five Minutes
Lately, it seems like a well-written song under five minutes is about as common as a California condor sandwich. Seven to ten minute metal songs are regular occurrences on almost every record. Everyone seems to feel the need to end their album with that 14-minute epic song that has a good 10 minutes of dead space in the middle. The Opethification of Metal or the Benjamin Breeg Syndrome or whatever you want to call it has turned nearly every song into an all-day affair. For every great long metal song, there are fifty that could be a few minutes shorter.
Speed Is A Great Deodorant
A bad fast song is better than an average slow song. If you don’t have a great idea or an amazing riff or a cool solo or you just aren’t that good, just play quickly. Not absurdly fast, just speedy enough to push me through another four minutes on a treadmill. I’ve got a lot of thrash albums I love that aren’t interesting in any way whatsoever, but they have some giddy up to them and that’s good enough for me. There are some monumentally fantastic mid-tempo and slow songs out there, but if you miss slowly you’ve lost me and I’m not coming back.
I can’t say doing any of this stuff is going to make you rich and famous. I am a middle-aged history teacher and dad with next to no disposable income. I am hardly the demographic that you should be spending a lot of time trying to entertain. That being said, if you make an album that follows these basic rules, I’ll follow you to the end of the earth.