June 1, 2009

Rachel Barton Pine Joined a Doom Metal Band

Rachel Barton Pine at an Earthen Grave show

Perhaps that headline comes as a shock to people who only know Rachel Barton Pine's classical music, but it's no secret that she's a big metalhead.  She's recently gotten her hands on a Wood Violins Viper and, as of last January, joined the Chicago-based doom metal band Earthen Grave as a full member.  It's easy to see and hear in the video below that with her electric violin, she has no problem holding her own against the other loud amps and the drumset.

This is "I Carry On" from Earthen Grave's April 10th show at The Pearl Room in Mokena, Illinois:

Yes!  That song's heavy as hell and rocks like a mammyjammer.

Earthen Grave's past sets have included this song and their other originals "Death on the High Seas" and "Dismal Times" between covers of Black Sabbath, Pentagram and Metallica songs.  Vivaldi's Summer is even listed in one of their setlists.  I wonder if it was a RBP solo or an arrangement for the whole band?

Everybody in this band is an experienced musician who's been in the business for several years.  I've been trying to think of a good way to describe their careers, but this excerpt from their MySpace biography says it much better than I could:
With Mark Weiner on vocals, Ron Holzner on bass, Jason Muxlow and Tony Spillman on guitar, Scott Davidson on drums, and Rachel Barton Pine on an extended-range electric violin, Earthen Grave boasts an undeniable collective metal and musical pedigree. Ron was a member of the seminal and seismic doom pioneers Trouble, with whom he played for over fifteen years. Jason is a gifted guitarist and composer who has lived the music, both as a member of the well-respected band The Living Fields and as the founder of Deadtide.com. Scott's dedication has manifested as a drummer in numerous metal bands, booking shows and running radio station Rebel Radio. Tony has been in and around the metal scene for many years, and has worked with such bands as Trouble, Prong and Ministry. Mark has performed and recorded with several bands including Trifog. And while Rachel has never been in a metal band per se, her status as an internationally acclaimed classical violin soloist has taken her all over the world as both performer and music ambassador. While on tour for classical performances, Rachel often visits rock radio stations to perform metal songs and discuss the music's intensity and compositional complexity.

The band is dedicated to exploring new possibilities for the genre. Jason says, "It's not about being the heaviest band or the slowest – it's about having good songs and playing them live." "Scott, Tony and I played doom metal before it was even called that," Ron continues. "And for Jason, the music we pioneered was his influence. We're bringing the strands of the music together – and with Rachel being the first violinist to be a core component of a metal band, we're taking the genre on a new journey." Rachel points out, "I grew up studying classical and listening to thrash and speed metal, and Jason also loves death metal. We all come from doom, but we're not limited to it."
And there you have it.  The only thing that bothers me about this bio is when they write that Pine is the "...first violinist to be a core component of a metal band" since that's not true!  One doesn't need to look further than this blog for examples of metal bands with violinists who are not only core components, but founders of bands (bands who, by the way, have been around for longer than Earthen Grave).  That being said, EG is still a really good band and I'll definitely be keeping an eye on them.  Find out more about them at the links below:

PS: the amp that Pine is using in the above video is a Marshall guitar amp.  Death to the myth.

Photo by Edward Spinelli

March 10, 2009

Hung Invades Boston

I first heard about Hung, an NYC-based metal band with an electric violinist, two years ago. As a string player and metalhead, here was a combination of two of my favorite things, and I quickly set out to learn more about them. Once I had, much to my delight, I found out that Hung is really good.

Back then, the only available recording was their demo, Matter of the Blood, which unfortunately isn’t a strong representation of their capabilities. However, when they later released their EP, Progeny, – a professionally recorded effort that does represent them well – I snapped up a copy and fell in love with it.

“It would be great to catch these guys live,” I thought. “I’d really like to see how a violinist plays with a metal band!”

Unfortunately, I lived in Ohio at that time which was uncommon touring ground of theirs, so the closest I could get to them was their website or MySpace page. Of course, that’s not close at all. Luckily for me, I’ve moved to Boston, so I was able to go to their March 8th show at O’Brien’s in Allston.

Hung was third in the night’s lineup. I watched the first two bands secretly hoping their sets would be short (which they weren’t), but had to wait some more after they played while Hung wrestled with an equipment problem. The anticipation was driving me crazy. Thankfully, Hung did not disappoint.

They tore the room a new asshole from the first note. Their rhythmically precise, thick yet distinct layers of sound buried the audience in absolute fury. It was clear that all five band members deeply care about their music and they were hungry to spread it to another city.

Electric violinist Lyris Hung, the band’s namesake, played masterfully. She stepped out of the mix to take haunting solos laden with artificial harmonics, threw melodies on top of everything, embellished the guitar and basslines and lay down in the groove as part of the rhythm section, nicely combining the chunky tone of her Bogner Uberschall amplifier with the rest of the band. My only complaint is that in the beginning of the show, she blended so well with her bandmates that it was impossible to hear her!

Bassist Sam Roon, co-founder of skullsnbones.com and nonelouder.com, expertly maintained the rhythmic connection with the drums while always finding another line that augmented the violin and guitar parts. For Roon, the common guitar-bass doublings that most bands employ were more like a last resort than a modus operandi. His voice was apparent melodically at the same time as it hit me in the chest and rattled my teeth. It was very refreshing since this juxtaposition is sadly uncommon in today’s metal world.

Frontman Dmitry Kostitsyn’s growls and clean vocals have definitely improved in the time since Progeny was recorded (late summer 2007). On the EP, his vocals have a very raw and unrefined sound, which works in context, but at the show his voice was much stronger and sounded even more inhuman. It gave the whole band a more confident and complete sound.

The man on the drum throne only recently joined the band, but he played the set as if he’d been with them since the beginning. He was on top of all the shifting feels and meters, not to mention the polyrhythms and hits. Without a doubt, Hung was the tightest band that night. The other bands chaotically spewed their energy into the air, but Hung focused theirs and put it exactly where they wanted it.

Hung B&W
Their music avoids all the traps that plague the metal genre. There are no mindlessly repeated sections, puny and unmusical riffs, tasteless breakdowns or incessant chugs on the low guitar strings. Even though Roon and guitarist “Evil Jon” Clark have low B strings on their instruments, they don’t play them often. Therefore, when they do, it’s all the more satisfying.

All but one of the songs they played come from Progeny. The exception being the one written about Ivan the Terrible’s resurrection “and your [subsequent] demise,” Kostitsyn snarled. Even though they didn’t announce it as such, I’m certain that this is a new song since it sharply differs from the rest of their set. On the surface, its virtuosity and breakneck speed outpace Progeny’s fastest passages, but on a deeper level, it felt as if it had been written during a brand new, more developed stylistic period.

Hung is a band that will surely continue to mature, and not necessarily in the “faster, heavier and more br00tal” direction. Theirs is a road focused on the music, or more specifically, focused on strengthening the connection between heaviness and musicality. They’re not a band who could be satisfied with complacency and standing still. What they’ve done so far is good by any account, but expect their upcoming work to be great.

Hung will return to Boston on Friday, March 27th for an 18+ show at Bill’s Bar. Until then, check them out on MySpace or Hungrocks.com.

P.S. Just to hammer one more nail into the coffin of the idea that violinists shouldn’t play through guitar amps: Lyris Hung is endorsed by Bogner and plays through an Uberschall – and she sounds awesome.

Photos courtesy of myspace.com/hungrocks.

March 9, 2009

Ne Obliviscaris Tour Support

Ne Obliviscaris March 27th FlyerIn my previous post, I suspected that this kind of announcement would be forthcoming, unfortunately I'm a few days late posting about it. Anyway, five bands are scheduled to open for Ne Obliviscaris on two of their upcoming Australian tour dates.

On March 27th at The Castle, Empyrean, Death Audio and Among the Devoured are on the bill, and the next day at the East Brunswick Club, Empyrean, In Malice's Wake and A Million Dead Birds Laughing will open.

Both flyers are available at MetalObsession.net.

March 1, 2009

Ne Obliviscaris Tour, Full Length Album to Follow

Ne Obliviscaris OZ Tour 2009

According to Ne Obliviscaris' MySpace blog, they'll tour Australia from March 27 to May 23 before heading into the studio to record their first full-length album! As a US resident, it's that second part that I really care about. I previously wrote that The Aurora Veil is amazing, and I'm very much looking forward to hearing more of their music.

Financial support for this tour comes from Welkin Entertainment and MetalObsession.net, but as for musical support, nowhere does it say anything about other bands on this tour. I can't imagine that Ne Obliviscaris would tour alone, so keep watch for another announcement.

Fri, March 27 at The Castle, Dandenong, VIC *all ages*
Sat, March 28 at The East Brunswick Club, Melbourne, VIC
Fri, April 3 at Monstrothic (Rosies Live), Brisbane, QLD
Sat, April 4 at Brannigan’s Tavern, Gold Coast, QLD
Fri, April 24 at Enigma Bar, Adelaide, SA
Sat, May 2 (Day) at The Brisbane Hotel, Hobart, TAS *all ages*
Sat, May 2 (Evening) at The Brisbane Hotel, Hobart, TAS *18+ *
Fri, May 15 at The Basement, Canberra, ACT
Sat, May 16 at The Annandale Hotel, Sydney, NSW
Fri, May 22 at The Barwon Club, Geelong, VIC
Sat, May 23 at The Espy Gershwin Room, Melbourne, VIC

Photo courtesy of Atheny_NeO.

February 7, 2009

The Myth About Electric Violins and Guitar Amps

It’s commonly believed in the electric string world that electric violinists should avoid using guitar amps. Apparently, the same trait that makes guitar solos sound “flashy” makes electric violins sound shrill and screechy. Well, not necessarily.

To demonstrate what I mean, I give you this video of electronica/progressive rock violinist James Sudakow playing with his band through a Marshall guitar amp. This song is called "Orange" from his album Green.

Goddamn right! I love this song and his sound.

Does he sound shrill and screechy through that amp? Not at all. In fact, his C string tone has some serious balls. Remember, guitar amps are the amps with the great tubes, and as guitarists have found, tubes are synonymous with good tone. So take advantage! If a problem with screeching does arise, well, that's why there's an equalizer on the amp.

Take note of what Sudakow is using in this video: a Zeta Strados 5-String Violin with the Strados Series Pickup and, according to his MySpace page, a Marshall JCM2000 TSL half stack. For a better look, his promo pictures give great close-ups of his gear. Unfortunately, his effects pedals aren't visible anywhere; I'd love to know what they are.

The Strados Pickup is worth mentioning because it's an active pickup (in contrast to a passive pickup) and can deliver a fat, low-impedance, noise-free signal to his effects and amp, which is always a plus. There's nothing wrong with passive pickups per se, but their signals are susceptible to RFI and sound a little weaker to me than active pickups' signals. If you have any thoughts about the two, feel free to leave a comment.

My point is: don't follow what people say, follow your ears. Electric string players have many, many options of pickups, instruments, bows, cables, amps, pedals, etc. available to use and it's up to them/us to put everything together and make a sound that evokes that devil inside (or some other feeling of satisfaction). Go play and listen to as much music as possible to teach your ears how active pickups sound versus passive ones, solid state amps versus tube amps, Yamaha Electric Instruments versus Mark Wood's instruments, etc, etc, etc. Only after discovering the possibilities and learning some basics about electronics can one truly "go out and get" the sound that's in one's head.

One last thing, I recommend that you check out James Sudakow post haste. He's great.

February 6, 2009

Metal Bands with Strings Part 2

Earl Maneein
Since my Metal Bands with Strings post last November, I’ve found a few more string players in bands who write some really shit-kickin' music:

Earl Maneein
NYC violinist/violist, graduate of the Mannes College of Music and founder/primary songwriter for the self-described “violin-driven post-thrash metal band” Resolution15. Maneein’s deeply distorted and down-tuned 7-string violin handles the rhythm and lead duties with delectable brutality, leaving no room for a guitarist in the band.

Resolution15’s message is a political one and so is their name: they write on their MySpace page that Resolution 15 was “…passed by the North Vietnamese in 1959 to aid the Viet-Cong insurgency, leading directly to U.S. involvement in the second Indo-Chinese War.” Their music takes swipes at injustices in Southeast Asia as well as former president George W. Bush. To understand a little better, I think it’s worth reading a very interesting MySpace blog post written by Maneein, whose family comes from Thailand, about the cost of affluence manifesting itself at the Burmese-Thai border.

Hear it for yourself: their album is available for listening at their website. I recommend starting with "Blowback."

Photo by Gina Martini, courtesy of www.resolution15.com

Tim Charles is a man of many talents. He is a composer, businessman and instrumentalist at home with classical music, jazz and even metal. He is in the Australian progressive metal band Ne Obliviscaris as the violinist (acoustic no less!), clean vocalist, booking agent and co-manager (extreme vocalist Xenoyr is the other co-manager). He handles the business side of things through the company that he founded with Xenoyr, Welkin Entertainment, where he also manages and promotes other bands. That’s pretty impressive, but even more so is Ne Obliviscaris’ demo, The Aurora Veil.

Tim CharlesIf I had to pick one word to describe this album, it would be “epic.” I usually don’t try to categorize music like this since I prefer to let it speak for itself, but the songs on The Aurora Veil are simply that: epic. Two of the three songs are almost 12 minutes long while the third is nine and a half, and each one is a trek through Opeth-esque texture and mood shifts. However, Ne Obliviscaris’ extremes go further than Opeth’s with less repetition. The death and black metal sections don’t fail to pummel while the soft sections are moments of exquisite beauty. When they put the two on top of each other, the result is very dense sound that remains clear and tasteful without suffering from pretension.

Each player’s top-notch technique allows the music to become quite complex, but they always manage to find their own voice within even the most intricate parts of a song. Charles can be found either in the rhythm section, trading leads with the guitars or on top of it all with a melody. Brendan Brown, the bassist, has serious chops which he uses to shred through his unique lines or to double the fast-as-hell guitar parts. Dan Presland is the winner of the 2006 "Fastest Feet" drummer competition in Australia; I shouldn’t need to say any more about the double bass pedaling than that.

The Aurora Veil is available for purchase on the Ne Obliviscaris MySpace page. It’s only 10 Australian dollars plus shipping (AU$5 to send it to me in Boston), which is a deal considering the quality of music that’s on it.
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/toycarphotos

January 26, 2009

Theremin Cellos Part 2

I just found another article about Leon Theremin's cello from Modern Mechanix, posted just over a week ago. It was originally published in May 1932, one month before the article in my first Theremin Cello post.

Theremin Cello
The transcription from Modern Mechanix:

Tones of New Stringless Cello Generated by Electricity

AN ELECTRIC cello without strings capable of producing tremendous volume and exquisite tone has been invented by Leon Theremin, who is shown in the photo on the left demonstrating how his new instrument is played.

Tones are varied by running the fingers of the left hand up and down the heavy black line which replaces the strings, while the right hand works the pump to control the volume.

An external oscillator, amplifier and loud speaker are used with this cello and the tones are generated by the oscillating tubes in the instrument. As the fingers are run up and down the black line, under which a coil is concealed, the player varies the capacity of the circuit which alters the frequency, or pitch, of the oscillating tubes.

There's even a short demo of its sound on YouTube:

As suggested by sidecars, the guy in the video above, search Google for "theremin cello pringle" for more information. Judging by the search results, it's "pringle" as in "Peter Pringle," the thereminist.