The song shuffle function in iTunes is one of the coolest features of the application because I end up listening to a lot of songs that I normally wouldn’t seek out in a listening session. A few nights ago, I was traveling home from a gig and several different songs came up in my iTunes that sparked an excursion into the jungle of the last couple decades of shredding, gained up riffage, and metal.
Metal has become such a broad term and the tracks discussed below certainly run the spectrum of metal. A lot of bands that used to be considered “metal” have been reclassified as rock by a lot of modern listeners. I think this is largely due to how the genre has progressively become heavier and heavier as the decades have rolled over. Certain characteristics within the music and time periods have created sub-genres of metal, (like glam-metal, grindcore, metalcore, Nu metal, speed metal, thrash metal, death metal, mathcore, etc.) which is great for classifying different bands more accurately. All of these sub-genres have components that are valid to learn as a guitar player.
In the following examples, I'm not trying to make a case for specific characteristics that make a song “metal.” Rather, my aim is to point out how different techniques and approaches within the genre, both subtle and obvious, can enhance a composition and your overall playing.
For those of you who are fans of shredding guitar playing, check out the band Extreme, whose guitarist, Nuno Bettencourt, is no stranger to the guitar virtuoso community. Listen to:
“Get The Funk Out”
If you’re looking for a shredding and tapping mentor, Bettencourt is a good pick, no pun intended. I especially admire his ability to fluently tap multiple octave arpeggios with such flare and precision. Check out the solo that begins at 2:49. Bettencourt really knows how to craft a solo. Often times, guitarists play too fast too soon, and repeat the same licks over and over. With Bettencourt’s solos, every four bars not only have their own licks, but their own personality and character.
Here is a video lesson taught by Bettencourt himself that gives an in-depth look at how to play “Get The Funk Out”:
“It (‘s A Monster),” is another song off the same album by Extreme that showcases more of Nuno’s exceptionally clean playing:
Want a closer look at Bettencourt’s hand positions and technique? Take a look at Nuno playing “It (‘s A Monster),” live in 1994.
Also, be sure to check out the intro to “He Man Woman Hater,” which is an incredible display of Bettencourt’s ability to play with MIDI programmed-like accuracy.
Another song that made an appearance during my listening session was “War” by Meshugga.
This track might be one of the most intense pieces of music ever recorded in metal history. Meshugga’s Fredrik Thordendal leaves nothing to be desired when you’re in the mood for angular and heavy riffs. Feel like you’ve got your alternate speed-picking pretty fast and even? “War” will likely make you realize a new level that is possible in the speed-picking realm. Also, Thordendal’s solo album entitled, Special Defects, is a staple record for anyone seeking a thorough schooling on heavy playing.
If you’re looking for a modern heavy band without a vocalist, check out Blotted Science. The absence of a singer really allows you to hear the intricacies of Rob Jarzombek’s playing. Check out these two songs:
These Blotted Science songs include plenty of low-tuned chuggy riffs, pounding rhythms, and sweep picking for all of you modern metal heads. Both songs like to stretch certain riffs across odd time signatures with a push/pull feel that gives the listener the impression that the tape machine is being melted into a piece of audio bubble gum.
Jarzombek also has an interesting video that shows how to use 12 tone rows in different arrangements to create some twisted sounding riffs. These kinds of theory driven ideas are great if you’re in a creative rut and need a way to get your composition juices flowing again. The video gives an up-close look at how Jarzombek approaches the song “Oscillation Cycles,” complete with both rhythm and solo sections thoroughly explained.
Dillinger Escape Plan is another band that uses ultra-dissonant intervals in their compositions, but the main component I take away from a DEP song is how much control the band has over their rhythms. Sometimes, it sounds like they have a winning slot machine as a guest artist on their track, when in fact, it’s just the wacky styles of guitarists Brian Benoit and Ben Weinman. Check out their song called “Panasonic Youth”:
Ugly Kid Joe is often a band that goes unmentioned in conversations among guitarists, but their ability to smoothly blend pop sensibilities with ripping leads and metal riffs can’t be denied.
“Same Side” is a song that displays how well metal style riffs can translate into a swinging, funk-like groove.
The band’s primary guitarists, Dave Fortman and Klaus Eichstadt, are great at playing in unison, which is a skill that has to be developed beyond just being a good guitar player. Being able to play with someone and lock into each other’s note lengths and subtle vibratos is extremely important. Dean Pleasants is also credited as playing additional rhythm guitars on the song, which I’m assuming are the wah parts that give the song its swank.
“So Damn Cool” is a more straight-ahead tune that largely revolves around a single riff. This song shows how changing the length of the notes can completely change how a riff feels. The first half of the verses sport choked and muted chords, which gives the part a very pumpy feel. The second half of the verse utilizes the same chord progression but is performed in amore open manner.
There are so many technique scraps that can be collected from metal, or any genre, that can be applied to making you a better guitarist. Don’t worry about if a band is really metal, or how heavy something has to sound to truly be metal. The important thing to do is to take concepts and ideas from different bands and players so you have a bigger arsenal of knowledge to compose your own original music to share with the world.
—Paul “TFO” Allen