The Garden (Excerpt)

Here’s an excerpt of one of my recent stories, “The Garden.” I’m currently sitting on a ton of original stories, but I’m not quite ready to publish any of them, so I figured I’d share a piece of a newer one. Hope you enjoy.

***

The lilacs in Alice’s garden were dying. Their newfound gray palette, a shadow of the vibrant purple they once been, was mocking her, their decay a satire of her inability to cultivate life.

Worst of all was that she hadn’t even grown them. Alice had bought the plants fully grown at a nursery; she had been desperate to push past the initial weeks of germination that had proved so troublesome, and had thought raising a fully grown plant might make the ordeal more feasible. She was wrong, as her dying plants made clear

Alice watered them, making one last effort at rehabilitation. She stood and picked up Snots’s leash. The dilapidated boxer hobbled along at her side, his three legs doing their best to keep up.

On her way out of the space, she passed her friend Jen’s garden. It was still alive and thriving, despite it having been three years since Jen had departed. Alice had heard rumors that Jen’s husband had continued keeping it alive, but she had never seen him in the garden.

It appeared the speculation was true, as the garden was more vibrant than it had been the day Jen had died. The space was surrounded on three sides by a bunch of flowers, which had grown closer to the low, white-picket fence that enclosed the garden. In the center were patches of vegetables, nearly ripe. Their diversity was an accomplishment in itself; carrots, zucchini squash, beets, and more she didn’t recognize.

Beautiful as they were, the rest of the plants in the garden paled in comparison to the lush display of lilacs in the center, their violet a beacon of attention to any who walked by. Every time Alice passed, she would stop and stare, mesmerized by the beauty of their deep purple. Those lilacs always reminded Alice of Jen.

She was the reason Alice had started gardening, and her inspiration to continue to do so. Despite all of the failures, this sentiment was what had allowed her to push through the grief at the loss of her friend.

While the lilacs in Jen’s garden lived, so did she.

Alice, frustrated by her ineptness, opened the gate to the garden, resolving to get closer to discover what it was that made these lilacs thrive while hers always perished. She inched inward, striving to get close enough to see without disturbing the serenity she was intruding upon. Solidly within the confines of the fence, she stared at the flowerbed, searching for that secret something she had been missing.

Her fixation was broken by a tug on her arm. Snots was pulling forward, yanking his bodyweight on the leash. Alice tried to maintain her ground, but the weight of the three-legged animal was too much. He pulled deeper into the garden and sniffed the soil between the black-eyed Susans and the vegetables. Snots dug.

“No, Snots, stop!” Alice yelled, horrified by the irreverence of the animal. She tugged on the leash, attempting to drag him backwards, but failed in her efforts. Alice continued pulling, desperately, when a flurry of soil landed on her boot. The contrast of her yellow boot and the dark brown earth highlighted a shade of crimson.

Confused, intrigued, and paralyzed, she let the dog continue digging. The more Snots excavated, the more prominent the red in the dirt became. He dug until his body was significantly below the surface, and his spots of white fur were dyed red. He stopped and whimpered, distressed at his findings.

At the bottom of the hole was a ripped plastic bag with four fingers sticking out. Alice, nauseated and shaking, opened it. Inside Alice found a severed limb, in tact from digits to elbow.

She screamed.

Time To Heal, New Acoustic EP

This past weekend (on October 3, to be specific) I debuted my sophomore release Time To Heal. This time around, I released an EP that was quite different from my debut album, so I thought I’d explain myself a bit.

A little less than a year ago, I released my debut solo album Reclaiming Humanity, a progressive thrash metal album. Looking back on it, I am quite proud of that effort. I still think that the guitar work, lyrics, and songwriting are great, but there a few things with Reclaiming Humanity that in hindsight are not exactly ideal. The drums are pretty lackluster, mainly due to the fact that I had given up the drums three years before, only relearning how to play a month before recording because I couldn’t find a drummer. The production was also pretty terrible because I had no idea what I was doing and had no recording equipment other than a Blue Snowball podcasting microphone. Worst of all though, were the vocals, although considering I learned how to sing a month before laying down the tracks and had no idea how to compose vocal melodies is understandable.

I wanted to put out another release that amended these grievances. So, I improved my vocals via practice and lessons, upgraded my equipment, learned what it meant to actually be producer, and decided to completely forgo drums by making the release an unplugged EP. This last idea was also important because it lined up with where I was artistically at the time. I had been playing with the idea of an acoustic EP for some time. Over the years I had accumulated a collection of acoustic songs that I never had any chance to utilize. So, I finalized the arrangements, wrote another song, and was ready to go.

I am most proud of this collection of music because I made something unlike anything I ever done before. My goal with this EP release was to create something that was the exact opposite of Reclaiming Humanity, not because I was unhappy with it, but just to challenge myself in a way I never had done before.

Reclaiming Humanity was heavy, progressive, and long. Time To Heal is soft, simple, and short. Reclaiming Humanity contained outward focused lyrics concerning the future of humanity. Time To Heal takes a more introspective approach, focusing on personal emotions and experiences.

Time To Heal also provided me with an opportunity to finally incorporate the influences I draw from Eastern music and culture. I had hinted at these influences before, but I had never quite incorporated it as fully as I would have liked. Putting these inspirations on full display, the music incorporates Eastern and African instrumentation while drawing lyrical ideas from Eastern philosophies of yin and yang and life and death.

Time To Heal is also a pseudo-concept album. Not in the strict sense of the term, which is commonly associated with stories of a hero or heroine journeying through space on intergalactic adventure. It’s a journey, not a story. The album aims to take the listener on a journey through life, a journey if healing. This life is hard and at some point, if we live long enough, things eventually hurt us. We all must experience pain. Time To Heal is about embarking on a journey to overcome this pain and hopefully one-day turn it into strength and wisdom. It starts off in a place of pain and isolation and brings the listener to a destination beyond these sufferings, a place some might call enlightenment. In reality, however, few people actually reach enlightenment, so we never can actually quite make it to the end of this journey. But that’s okay, for all that matters is becoming stronger each day and striving to overcome all that which hopes to tie us down.

People have been asking me to describe the music, wondering what genres I am delving into now. Honestly, I am not quite sure. I am tempted to label it as something along the lines of World Music or Folk Rock, but that doesn’t seem quite right. I have been calling it acoustic rock for lack of a better term, although that doesn’t seem to suffice either. If I had to compare it to other artists, I’d say it’s a mix of John Butler, Damnation era Opeth, some singer-songwriter style acoustic rock, and Asian and Middle Eastern World/Folk music. If that sounds a little confusing, I apologize. Maybe you can come up with a better genre label for me. I would be most appreciative. Regardless, I hope you enjoy my newest release.

And, as always, please remember to

Sacrifice, Endure, and Go The Distance,

Ryan Loftus

PS: check out the album at these sites:

iTunes, Spotify

CD Baby- http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/ryanloftus

Soundcloud- https://soundcloud.com/ryanloftusmusic

YouTube- https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCpoTgWtJrq57R6HkPZFBLmA/feed

My pages:

Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/ryanloftusmusic

Twitter- @RyanLoftusMusic https://twitter.com/RyanLoftusMusic

Instagram- @RyanLoftusMusic

My Band’s Facebook page- https://www.facebook.com/pages/April-Uprising/845794345455844

Contact me at ryanloftusmusic@gmail.com

 

Reclaiming Humanity Lyrics

Here are the lyrics to my first solo album, Reclaiming Humanity:

Mortality:

Why would you pass on for my life? I’m worthless you are not.

I have no reason to live on. I should take your place.

I can’t believe your ignorance: leaving life behind.

I took a father from his sons; living with guilt.

What have you done? Now I must live.

Fate wanted me to die.

You thought you’d show favor saving me, but you did it

For yourself, you sacrificed. Choice of ignorance.

But you died out of selfishness; interests of your mind.

I blame you for this pain I fell; living with guilt.

What have you done? Now I must live.

Fate wanted me to die.

Saving me was a mistake, altering the plan of the divine.

My journey was fated to end, leaving behind.

Revoking the laws of nature and the divine, betraying your kind.

A purposeless life, I had nothing for me to leave behind, my absence a gift.

I was doing the world a favor. I had determined my fate,

but instead you gave me the guilt of being alive.

What have you done? Now I must live.

Fate wanted me to die.

Open Your Eyes:

I can see in front of me:  a thing every man has inside of him.

Are you blind? Vision nigh? Injustice in front of your eyes.

Or is it me? What can it be? Deep inside of me, I want to shelter thee,

From the lies that we lead. How can it be, nothing to keep?

It’s time that we open our eyes!

What is this? I can’t believe. What is this in front of me?

How can it be we are deceived? It’s time that we open our eyes.

Perpetuate indecency; their life of poverty for your life of luxury.

No rights for thee, how can it be? He is a man just as much as I

We can’t conserve the hate that burns. Our vision blurred, we can’t discern.

We must equate, assimilate, every race of mankind.

It’s time that we open our eyes!

What is this? I can’t believe. What is this in front of me?

How can it be we are deceived? It’s time that we open our eyes.

I love my fellow man. Each time you speak I can’t breathe.

Born in sin, trapped within; perpetuate supremacy.

When i see how far we’ve come, passion burns inside of me.

Yet we are so far; so much left to go.

I foresee a world where love is not a crime.

One day we’ll wake and see all that we can be.

We can’t conserve the hate that burns. Our vision blurred, we can’t discern.

We must equate, assimilate, every race of mankind.

What is this? I can’t believe. What is this in front of me?

How can it be we are deceived? It’s time that we open our eyes.

I love my fellow man. Each time you speak I can’t breathe.

Born in sin, trapped within; perpetuate supremacy.

Open Your Eyes

To Breathe:

Assistance is plight, no trying to aid.

All shall fall to life’s brigade.

D’you realize, inside, the struggle within?x

I can’t believe. What can’t you see? Deceived.

Castrated mind, guilty inside.

Living a lie, denied.

D’you realize, inside, the struggle within?

I can’t believe. What can’t you see? Deceived.

So long ago I was all alone.

I can’t believe where I was.

Simply I have found a home.

I can’t believe how far it is away.

Simply I was alone; a truth to be found.

All I want is to breathe; to be.

All you feel and see through me.

All you believe to be; deceived.

All this air you breath is me.

So, as I wait, wait for you, you leave me here

To suffer by, by myself, you leave me to

Become the broken one, bring future to the past.

You don’t know what I have suffered through.

You think you’ve helped but you can’t understand.

You want me to return to the place where I was.

Isolation; to frustration.

Torn apart, shredded by expectations wronged.

Forced to sustain pain for numbers on the page.

D’you realize, inside, the struggle within?

I can’t believe. What can’t you see? Deceived.

A prolonging mind, secrets to hid.

“Please stay in line,” defied.

D’you realize, inside, the struggle within?

I can’t believe. What can’t you see? Deceived.

So long ago I was all alone.

I can’t believe where I was.

Simply I have found a home.

I can’t believe how far it is away.

Simply I was alone; a truth to be found.

All I want is to breathe; to be.

All you feel and see through me.

All you believe to be; deceived.

All this air you breath is me.

So, as I wait, wait for you, you leave me here

To suffer by, by myself, you leave me to

Become the broken one, bring future to the past.

To The Souls:

Living life not for yourself; alone in this world, no one to love.

Sacrifice all you have. Innocence among the defiled.

Life has gone on as you’re wronged.

Giving yourself up to the Skye.

Example of a Desire to Give, All in Return, ’til no passion burns.

Living is plight. Existence is numb. In disbelief I live; never return.

Sacrifice all you have. Innocence among the defiled.

In another world, you’re alone. Standing behind I watch in vain.

Slowly collapse, brain splits in half, vision is blurred, slicing the nerve.

Agony ensues, nothing I can do as you fall in suffocation.

Example of a Desire to Give, All in Return, ’til no passion burns.

Living is plight. Existence is numb. In disbelief I live; never return.

So pure, innocent at heart. His life was ended too soon.

This life and death more precious than anything.

I remember a time when life had a sacred value.

Protected by the code of human decency.

Aren’t we all one and the same, divided by shades of gray?

We’re all part of the race of humanity.

For the cause you have passed on, the death to end all deaths.

A gift only to repay through human decency.

So pure, innocent at heart. His life was ended too soon.

This life and death more precious than anything.

I remember a time when life had a sacred value.

Protected by the code of human decency.

Of No Grace:

All those lies, darted eyes, shoulders turned, gaze avert.

All I said doesn’t compare to the lies you have led.

Thought I heard it all before, but now I know

The things you did. Never avert, I returned only to

Be shamed and turned.

So do all those years mean nothing to you?

How can’t you see all I do?

I lived a lie where you had integrity.

Can’t you see you were meant for me?

So long ago you had a heart of gold.

Now from lack of use it’s shriveled, black, and cold.

In your eyes I see a gray, empty void.

I see a friend who lacks a soul.

You live in a shroud only without me.

You see me as bleak to misery.

You suck the life from my friend’s sheath.

I guess I’d known you’d kill all those close to me.

So do all those years mean nothing to you?

How can’t you see all I do?

I lived a lie where you had integrity.

Can’t you see you were meant for me?

Forgive; forget.

The stories I tell do nothing to please,

and the words you speak mean nothing to me.

Destiny calls, and it beckons my name,

as you wallow in grief and I never feel the same.

So do all those years mean nothing to you?

How can’t you see all I do?

I lived a lie where you had integrity.

Can’t you see you were meant for me?

I will forgive, but I will not forget.

Hearts Of Steel:

Life alone, guilt untold. Born to give eyes and limbs.

Castrate me. Make me bleed. Give to thee eyes to see.

I exist to give my lungs to live. Surgically feast.

Tear out my heart. Slurp in my blood.

Transplant my eyes. Leave in my mind.

I run from you, as you tear my heart out and feed it to your gods.

My body’s for you, a single purpose. Only my soul is mine.

Strife. Feast. Dissect me.

Organs for you, no rights for me. Take what’s mine can’t deny.

I am a shell of human deeds. Nothing to see; only my soul shall leave.

I exist to give my lungs to live. Surgically feast.

Tear out my heart. Slurp in my blood.

Transplant my eyes. Leave in my mind.

I run from you, as you tear my heart out and feed it to your gods.

My body’s for you, a single purpose. Only my soul is mine.

I can’t believe what this world has come to.

This is disgraceful. It’s fucking baneful.

Is this a life where it’s worth leading?

Humans replaced with person-like steel forms.

Sacrifice love for a heart made of steel.

Give up your hold for a fist made of gold.

Trade in your sight for an all seeing.

Turn in your souls for a robotic mind.

What is the cost that we will repay?

Is it worth it never to be slayed?

I can’t believe that we have devolved.

Is it worth it never to be slayed?

Divinity:

Selflessness is a thing I’ve always known, never living for myself.

I wanted this time to be the last.

Now I look and see what it’s worth: a loveless man in a loveless world.

For a fiery place you yearn, but in hell you would have burned.

I saved you from a fire down, but you wish things were reversed.

Inside you know you cannot hide. You refuse my selfless sacrifice.

Sacrifice is the greatest gift you can give in this world.

Refusing love, denying your savior you’re alone with nobody.

If you knew what I left behind, you would see the value of my gift

it was intrinsically, was selflessness.

How could it be any less? How could you even doubt?

For this you will suffer in hopelessness.

I should’ve let you die.

I saved you from a fire down, but you wish things were reversed.

Inside you know you cannot hide. You refuse my selfless sacrifice.

Sacrifice is the greatest gift you can give in this world.

Refusing love, denying your savior you’re alone with nobody.

Here with you, suffer alone dying on the inside, you want to trade

For my place. Wishing you were in my… grave.

Where I am allows me to see that I’m right.

I am not what you think of me to be.

I am half of what you are and half of what made you.

Something Unquestionably Sacred.

History Repeats Itself.

You are all of humanity; you shall feel my wrath;

All is bigger than yourself.

History Repeats Itself.

Your salvation is shared by all. Alone you shall live.

United you cannot die. All you must do is accept.

Dissatisfaction, denying the fate you live; thankful for nothing.

Gratefulness is a debt you cannot pay.

Living alone cast out from the Promised Land, I beg you to revert.

A giver of life and grief I am, rejection always burns.

So you cast yourself out from, from, from the life I gave.

Silence living alone. Plight, existence is numb.

Salvation, denial; all you must do is accept.

Creedant, Righteous, Unsatisfied. Chastising Ignorance,

self-righteous, Foolish You should die.

I saved you from a fire down, but you wish things were reversed.

Inside you know you cannot hide. You refuse my selfless sacrifice.

Sacrifice is the greatest gift you can give in this world.

Refusing love, denying your savior you’re alone with nobody.

Here with you, suffer alone dying on the inside, you want to trade

For my place. Wishing you were in my grave.

9 Tips To De-clutter Your Life And Become More Productive

Time is finite. There is so much that needs to be done, and so little time to do it.

In the last year I have noticed a lot of people around me saying things like “There’s not enough time in the day.” This really bothered me, since scarcity is an inherent characteristic of time.

The fundamental principles of economics are as follows:

  1. Wants are many.
  2. Resources are few.
  3. Decisions must be made.

Time follows an almost identical set of principles:

  1. Commitments are many.
  2. Hours are few.
  3. Decisions must be made.

I’ve got some disturbing news for you: you cannot make a day any longer. You can try things such as forgoing exercise and sleeping less, but that will make you less productive and lead to your downfall. What you can do, though, is optimize your use of time.

The key here is to eliminate excess. Eliminate all distractions, time absorbers, and inefficient systems, and you will effectively be able to add to your day all those hours you desire.

There are a few tips reach your productivity potential:

  1. Minimize the number of notifications you receive on your phone.

We are too plugged in. It is impossible to focus on what we need to do when the phones are ringing or vibrating every couple of minutes. I’ve heard that it takes an average of 20 seconds to regain the focus and productivity we lose when our attention is diverted. This can add up to minutes a day! Compounded over time, you can save hours by just minimizing push notifications.

Be ruthless about what apps you allow to contact you. Snapchat, Text messaging, phone calls, emails, Twitter: the list is endless. Disable the notifications setting on as many apps as you possibly can. I personally need to have the notifications for every single application zeroed out. Those little red circles give me anxiety and distract me from what is important.

  1. Be Ruthless with your emails

Admit it, you saw this one coming. No conversation about productivity would be complete without discussing emails. I once heard a joke that there are two kinds of people in this world: those with zero notifications and those with 1,000. If you are the first type: congratulations. If you are the latter, I’m here to tell you that you have to become the former.

Having hundreds of unread emails is inefficient. To reach your fullest productivity, that inbox has to be at zero, for all your email accounts combined. There’s just no way to manage all the incoming messages if the notifications are in the thousands.

When it comes to promotional types of emails from companies, utilize Gmail’s feature of dividing the emails into three categories: primary, promotions, and social, and set the notification system to only notify you for primary emails.

 

Be ruthless with unsubscribing. All institutions are required to leave an unsubscribe button at the bottom of the email, allowing you to no longer receive their emails. Do this for as many newsletters as possible, only keeping the ones you truly care about. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t even do this. I just send anything I don’t like directly to spam to save myself the time.

As a general rule: Keep the unread messages as close to zero as possible and never let the number get into the double digits.

  1. Simplify Repeated Tasks

Being the health nut that I am, one of the things I do to make sure I eat the right amount of food is counting calories. I enter every single food or drink I consume into an app called MyPlate. After a while, I noticed that I was often eating the same thing for breakfast and lunch every day, but I was still taking the time to enter in each item individually. To simplify this, I created a set list of meals so that each time I ate one I could press a single button, rather than entering each item individually. This saves me time each time I sit down to eat.

If you need to go for a run and walk the dog, take the dog for a run. If you find yourself eating unhealthy during the week because you are short on time, make all your meals for the week on Sunday and throw them in the freezer. The idea is to make small things easier and less of a hassle.

  1. The News

This one’s going to be a little controversial, but here is my proposition: eliminate all sources of news in your life. No newspapers, no TV or radio broadcasts, no online news articles: NOTHING.

The news is completely useless. There is absolutely no positive effect that comes from being up to date with all of the latest homicides and high speed chases. It is just a source of negativity that will poison your mind. It is unpleasant and takes up too much time.

Be honest: have you ever actually felt satisfied after watching the news?

Probably not.

There are certain exceptions to this rule. Some professionals such as economists and stock traders rely on the news for their job. That’s fine. To a certain extent, it is necessary to be up to date on current events to be a well-informed and voting citizen. My advice is to follow the minimum amount of news to be able to vote during elections. Nothing more, nothing less.

If you absolutely have to know about a current event, you will hear about it through word of mouth. I’ve found this is a good way of only hearing what you need to know. If it affects you, someone you know will tell you about it. If it is irrelevant, no one is going to bother you with the information. Filter the news through the minds of other people.

  1. Clear Out Overhead

Minimalists believe that every possession takes up mental space. From my experience, I have found this to be accurate. Having stuff stored away is overwhelming.

As a songwriter, I have dozens of notebooks to keep track of all my lyrics and music. This takes up valuable space in my brain; space that could be cleared if I consolidated all that information into one folder.

Clear out your draws, throw away the useless papers you have lying around, donate that coat you haven’t worn in a year. Purging is a very freeing feeling. I’m not exactly sure why doing this leads to a higher level of productivity, but trust me, it does.

This phenomenon also applies to the digital medium as well. Over the years I accumulated a large digital closet to keep track of everything worth remembering that I saw in the digital world. I found that purging this space created the same result as purging in real life. All the YouTube playlists, the Google Chrome Bookmarks, iNote files, and Word documents were filling up my mental attic and, like any attic, any more storage would cause it all to come crashing down. Conduct a digital purge, and free yourself of this mental baggage.

  1. Get On The Plane

Getting back to step number one about notifications hindering focus, you can set your phone to either Do Not Disturb or Airplane Mode to ensure that nothing gets in your way while working. Do Not Disturb will not interfere with any of your phone’s function. All it does make sure the phone doesn’t light up and zap your focus. Airplane Mode shuts off all contact with the outside world and is the equivalent of going dark.

I prefer Do Not Disturb because it still allows me to utilize my phone for texting and Internet browsing. If you are the kind of person that has a hard time staying off your phone, Airplane Mode is probably for you.

  1. Work In Intervals

One trick I learned from YouTube fitness guru Big Brandon Carter is to work in intervals. I set a timer for 25 minutes and work without interruption until the time is up. After that I set the timer for a 5-minute break. I use this window for transitioning, doing things such as going to the bathroom, checking my phone, or reorganizing my workspace. Working in this way allows for higher productivity and breaks up the monotony of the grind.

  1. Have A System

Having a solid system to keep track of deadlines and tasks is essential for organizing. Originally, I followed the route of using a planner to keep track of everything. However, after a while, the type of projects and commitments I had began to shift from daily tasks to long-term projects. Always adapting, I invented a new system with a two-prong approach.

First, I kept a small note pad full of two types of lists. The first kind was a weekly list to keep track of all the deadlines I had for the week. The second was a daily list where each day I would write out five tasks I would complete, another idea I got from Brandon Carter. At the bottom of that list I would plan out every hour of my day, scheduling in everything from appointments to gym workouts. To me, the beautiful thing about these lists is the dopamine rush I get from checking off completed tasks.

The second part of the system involves hanging a large calendar on my wall to help me visualize the long term. On the calendar I also write down my appointments, obligations, and deadlines so I understand how they fit into the big picture. It’s hard to understand what next week looks like just by looking at a pad.

I believe both systems have their own merits. Choose whichever one works best for you. Also, be willing to adapt and switch systems if need be.

  1. Bounce It Back

While this is going to contradict what I said about having a system, I think it is worth mentioning that lists can sometimes be bad. Similar to what I said in step number five, lists also take up mental space. Investor and YouTuber Tai Lopez has an easy solution: Bounce it back. As soon as something easy lands on your plate, address it immediately. Don’t put simple tasks on a list. Instead of writing a reminder to take out the trash, just take out the trash. If the dishwasher needs to be emptied, empty it. Do not let any simple task take up mental space that it does not deserve.

Now if you have been paying attention, you may have noticed that this contradicts some of the things I stated above about breaking focus. An easy way to work around this is to only bounce something back when your focus is already broken. Let’s say you get an email that needs to be answered by the end of the day, but not at that very moment. If you are in the middle of working on something, ignore it and come back to it later. If you are not focused and are already checking your phone or taking a break, reply to the email immediately.

 

Some of the tips in this article may not work for you. These are just ideas that I know work for me. If you can implement as many of these tips as possible, you will be on your way to achieving your fullest productivity potential.

Damageplan – New Found Power Album Review

1. Sound 9/10

When they were first promoting this album, the Abbott brothers Vinnie Paul and Dimebag Darrell frequently described this album as diverse. After listening to this record, I’d say that description could not be more accurate. With their album New Found Power, Damageplan did an excellent job of finding their own sound in the midst of Pantera’s enormous shadow. The band experimented in many ways, from new effects and arrangements to Dime utilizing new tunings to go lower than he ever had before. The guitar tones are also nothing like the ones Dime used earlier in his career. During his time in Pantera, Dime was known for using heavily distorted, mid-scooped, and trebly tones. This album saw him moving in the opposite direction through his use of a bassy, minimalistic tone to compliment the detuned songs. The songs feature tight arrangements, solid musicianship, and a truly unique sound.

  1. Wake Up– This song serves as the perfect intro to the album. Great riffs, incredible tribal-esque drumming, and powerful lyrics make this one of the best songs on the album. The only disappointment is the solo. It fits the song well, but is a let down considering that we know Dime was capable of so much more. 9/10
  2. Breathing New Life– This song is pretty straightforward, but features a solid performance from drummer Vinnie Paul and excellent dynamics to keep the song interesting. 8/10
  3. New Found Power– Simple, short, and heavy, the title track serves as an exciting listen. The highlights of the song are the bridge and main riff. 9/10
  4. Pride– With its eccentric use of effects, this song steps into Tom Morrello territory. This flashiness is backed up by solid riffs and one of the best solos on the album. Singer Pat Lachman also demonstrates great versatility and range during this performance. 10/10
  5. F**k You– Perhaps the heaviest track on the album, the title makes this song pretty self-explanatory: fast, brutal, and heavy, but simplistic and containing disappointingly childish lyrics. A guest starring by vocalist Corey Taylor adds some dimension to the vocal arrangement, but isn’t enough to save the song. 5/10
  6. Reborn– A strong vocal performance, heavy riffing, and great leads by Dime and guest musician Zakk Wylde make this track a solid addition to album, but lacks the magic to keep up with the more diverse and memorable songs on the album. 7.5/10
  7. Explode– Same as above, but more repetitive and predictable. 6/10
  8. Save Me– Heavy, melodic, and single worthy, this song is perhaps the catchiest on the album. This track sees Damageplan combining the very best of their melodic and heavy roots to deliver something worth remembering. 10/10
  9. Cold Blooded– This continues the album’s trend of diversity and combines it with an infectious groove. The song flows well and is able to make the most out of the main riff without feeling too repetitive. 9/10
  10. Crawl– With this song, Damageplan has truly outdone themselves. The verses are dynamic and energetic, the choruses are unique and melodic, and the bridge brings the song to a climax that serves as one of the best of the album. This song holds up with every listen. 10/10
  11. Blink of an Eye-This song is probably the most bizarre metal song I have ever heard. Sometimes it’s heavy, sometimes the chorus sounds like pop, and sometimes it brings in a refreshing dose of disco. Unique, unpredictable, and incredible. This song is unlike any other. 10/10
  12. Blunt Force Trauma– As to be expected, listening to this song is like getting hit by a 2×4. This track serves as the embodiment of the Abbott brothers’ trademark Power Groove. This song does not disappoint, nor do its incredible vocals and solo. 8.5/10
  13. Moment of Truth– Slow and brooding, this song takes a while to get its point across. But, when it finally does reach its “Moment of Truth,” the climax is incredible. The solo of this song is one of the greatest of Dime’s career, right up there with “Cemetery Gates” and “The Sleep.” 9/10
  14. Soul Bleed– This song serves as an opportunity for the band to demonstrate their range and experiment with an unplugged approach. Its peacefulness, combined with a nice solo and a memorable vocal performance augmented by guest vocalist Zakk Wylde make this song the perfect album finisher. 10/10
  1. Lyrics– The lyrics on this album leave a lot more to desire. There’s really nothing about them that has not been done before. Songs like “F**k You” read like they were written by an angsty twelve year in his bedroom. To an extent, this is balanced out by more mature lyrical content, such as “Soul Bleed.” The lyrics during the first verse demonstrate this quite well: “Now that I’m all alone// Painfully aware// I’m starting to fell the cold// Knowing you’re not there.” While some songs such as “Pride,” “Crawl,” and “Blink of an Eye” are exceptions, the lyrical content of the album doesn’t live up to its fullest potential. 7/10
  1. Overall Impression– Overall, this album is a solid listen. Although there were some weak moments and unnecessary filler, many of the songs are truly memorable. This record is required listening for any Pantera fan so that he or she can understand where the Abbott brothers were at musically before Dimebag Darrell’s death. I would also recommend this album to any metal fan so that they can understand the entire catalog of one of the Abbott brothers, one of the most influential duos in metal. While it is not necessarily they’re best material, it was nice to see the brothers forge their own identity with such a unique and diverse album. 8.5/10

 

 

Overall Rating- 8.5

The Key Change: Useless Cliché or Lost Art?

Key changes are almost a taboo subject in the music community. Some songwriters shun the use of them, while others like them so much they employ them constantly. So who’s right? The way I see it, there are two schools of thought when it comes to a key change.

The first mentality is that of the pop songwriter: maintain the same key the entire song and then right when the listener starts to realize the song sucks hit them with a key change (often one step up) to get them through the song. This cliché is why key changes have such a bad reputation. They can be incredibly cheesy. On the other hand, however, they can occasionally work.

When using this technique, you walk a fine line between exciting and predicable. It is possible to use it outside of pop music, as many metal bands have proved. Megadeth, one of the most musically and harmonically unorthodox bands of the ‘80s and ‘90s, utilized this cliché with great success in the final chorus of Foreclosure Of A Dream off of Countdown to Extinction. While sometimes a key change is nice for a “big bang effect,” they can sometimes be the highlight of the song. In Arch Enemy’s Nemesis, the one and a half step key change during the final chorus sounds incredible and completes the song.

It is also possible to achieve the feeling of raising the key of the section while maintaining the original piece. Arch Enemy also uses this maneuver, which I like to call a False Key Change, on the song No Gods, No Master: The main part of the song is in C minor, briefly changes to Bb minor during the bridge, and returns back to C minor, the original key, during the final chorus. All of the choruses are exactly the same, but the third one feels higher and more exciting because of the energy generated from lowering and raising the key during the bridge.

In my opinion, this style of key change is very dangerous. Sure, sometimes it sounds incredible, but a majority of the time is sounds like garbage. Use With Caution.

The second school of thought concerning the key change is to use them freely and often. This type very often defies the cliché outlined above. The change could be by any number of tones, at any point in the song, and may happen between each section. This mentality is essentially the product of years of corrosion of the classical western system of music. All rules go out the window.

This mentality is very freeing, as it pretty much lets you do whatever you want. Death metal legend Chuck Schuldiner of Death fame was notorious for changing the key with every single riff. In his song Bite The Pain, the keys of the riffs are as follows: C minor, D minor, D# minor, no key, F# harmonic minor, D# Phrygian (covers from intro to end of bridge).

Changing to random and unpredictable keys sounds mysterious and often unorthodox, but is often jarring. A great way to work around this is to easy the transition by connecting sections through the use of pivot chords. This gambit is done by linking two unrelated musical ideas through the use of chords and notes they have in common.

To see what I mean, take a look at the analysis to the bridge of one of my songs:

Chord Progression #1 (play 2x)(125 bpm)(F minor):

Fm Absus2 Dbsus2 Ebsus2

Chord Progression #2 (180 bpm)(F harmonic minor):

Abmaj Bbm Cm Cmaj

Riff #1 (180 bpm)(A minor)

When I was writing this song I had two completely unrelated pieces of music: one was in F minor and was slow and depressing while the other was in A minor and was fast and uplifting. On paper they should have been kept in completely separate songs, but for some reason I got a gut feeling that they had to be connected, so I forced them together using the interlude detailed above.

In this example, the song is broken into three sections: chord progression #1, chord progression #2, and riff #1. Finding a pivot for the first two was easy, since the keys are almost exactly the same, save for the seventh degree. The second transition was more difficult, since there was only one chord to link them: Cmaj. Normally in a minor key, the chord associated with the fifth degree is minor. In harmonic minor, however, the fifth is major. (An explanation for this would take a whole other article. Just take my word for it for now). By playing a Cm and then a Cmaj, the key is changed from F minor to F harmonic minor. Now that we pivoted to Cmaj, the key can be changed to A minor, since Cmaj is one of the tonic chords of the key, leaving us at our final objective.

While this was a rather complex example, it shows that pivots can be particularly useful for transitioning into a new and unexpected part of a song.

So what’s the verdict? Is a key change a useful songwriting technique or a bad maneuver? Which type of key change is better?

Personally, I take a no rules approach to songwriting. To me, all theory is a suggestion that can be followed or ignored, depending on context. I believe that key changes follow a trend of diminishing returns. Each time one is used, the smaller the benefit gained next time it comes around. Use them whenever they sound good, but be cautious of overuse.

What are your thoughts on changing key? Do you have any originals or favorite songs that are a good example? Be sure to share your opinion below.

Left Handedness And Musicianship

For today’s article I would like to look into the relationship between handedness and musicianship. The music community, although it is biased toward righties (like the rest of the world), talks a fair amount about left-handed guitarists. That’s great, but there’s a question that’s been bothering me: we’ve talked about lefties playing guitar lefty and righties playing righty, but what about lefties playing righty and righties playing lefty? It’s hard to know if a musician fits into this category because we primarily base our perception of his hand-dominance on performances. By looking at offstage sources such as interviews and record signings, we can see that it is surprisingly common. Two of the most iconic left-handed musicians, Jimi Hendrix and Paul McCartney, are actually the opposite. This phenomenon is more common among lefties disguising themselves as righties. These offenders include Duane Allman, Billy Corgan, and Joe Perry. As a lefty who plays instruments right-handed, I believe this is the best way to learn guitar or bass.

Unlike a pianist, whose hands share the same function, a guitarist’s left and right hands have completely different roles. While the fretting hand’s job requires great dexterity and serves as the voice of the instrument, the picking hand simply helps out by keeping time and picking when needed. I know this is a very simplistic description: the picking hand can add creatively and the fretting can carry rhythm. Many advanced techniques involve one hand doing the other hand’s job, such as tapping and picking a note with the left hand to perform a dive-bomb. Very often, however, this generalization holds true.

For this reason, I have always found it odd that most guitarists use their off hand as their fretting hand. Why use your weakest hand for the role that requires the most dexterity? Since I’m lefty but play righty, I am able to use my dominant hand to fret and use my weaker hand to pick. My left hand already has an advantage in the coordination needed to fulfill its role and my right hand does not suffer since the skills it needs to learn are based on wrist development, precision, and stamina, all of which do not require dexterous fingers.

While learning to play off-handed could pay off in terms of technique, it also can be much more convenient. Josh Middleton of Sylosis fame encourages new guitarists to learn right-handed no matter what. His logic is that since you always suck at first, you might as well just suck right-handed so you have more options when buying new guitars. This also allows you to avoid being that guy who can’t play in an unplanned situation because he does not have the appropriate guitar with him. Think about how many spontaneous jam sessions would be killed if you didn’t think to bring your guitar and couldn’t play anyone else’s.

This issue is even more problematic for drummers, since at most smaller gigs everyone has to share the same drum set. I can imagine that it would be really annoying to reconfigure an entire drum set before and after a band’s set because the drummer couldn’t play any other way. When I was first learning the drums, I was part of a class of five students and one teacher. Since we all had to share the same kit, my teacher told me that I would just have to learn it configured for righties, even though it was uncomfortable at first. I adapted to the situation by playing open style, similar to Will Carroll, the current drummer of Death Angel. I eventually grew tired of playing that style and eventually learned to play exclusively right-handed, simply because I felt like it.

I feel that it is interesting how musicians decide which way they play. Paul McCartney was right-handed, but has stated that left-handed guitars felt the most natural. I completely flipped my drumming style, showing that a person could be both. Jimi Hendrix was known for being a left-handed guitarist, but was rumored to have been able to flip the guitar and continue playing whenever his dad came into the room, probably because he was actually a righty.

If you are a new musician trying to decide which is right for you, it might make sense to make a calculated decision based on the ideas above. For some of you, though, the best bet may be to go with your gut and do what seems right. While there are some benefits that could come from deciding which way to play, the best option is ultimately the one that leads to the best success.

If you have any cool stories about how you or another musicians’ handedness affected your musicianship, be sure to share them below.

MI Theory and Musicianship Part I: Language and Visualization

Today’s Book For The day is 7 Kinds of Smart by Thomas Armstrong. This book covers Multiple Intelligence (MI) Theory, which is a psychological theory that breaks down a person’s intelligences into seven different types: Linguistic, Spatial, Kinesthetic, Logical-Mathematical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, and Musical. At first glance, it may seem that to musicians and songwriter that only Musical Intelligence is relevant for refining their craft. I, however, believe that all separation is an illusion and that the seven intelligences can be brought together to aid musicians to achieve their fullest potential. In this series, I will discuss how the other six intelligences can be related to music and how you can use them to aid your songwriting and musicianship. In this article I will start with Linguistic and Spatial.

  1. Linguistic

First up is Linguistic Intelligence, which has to do with language-based skills such as reading and writing. For all of the songwriters out there, developing your Linguistic Intelligence is essential for writing lyrics. Mastery in this area facilitates the conveying of ideas and emotions. The area where this is most noticeable is in phrasing. When writing lyrics, it is often difficult to convey what needs to be said in the rhythmic space available. I’ve lost count of how many times I have come up with what I thought to be great lyrics only to realize that they were too brief or longwinded to fit with the music. When in this situation, there is always the option of scrapping the lyrics of starting over. The skilled songwriter, however, recognizes that there is a better option: developing strong grammatical and vocabulary skills to create flexibility. This allows the lyricist to create or fill space as needed while conveying the same ideas.

To demonstrate this, lets look at a hypothetical situation where we need to fill a single bar and want to maintain a 4/4 time signature. For the sake of simplicity, lets assume that we want each syllable to land on a quarter note. Now let’s say we came up with a line that goes “through the conflagration.” If you tap along while singing this, you’ll notice that it doesn’t fit. As you can see below, the phrase has six syllables instead of four:

Through the con-fla-gra-tion

1              2   3     4   5     6

We can solve this problem by switching out ‘conflagration’ for a synonym, in this case ‘fire.’

Through the fire

1             2     3 4

While this exercise may seem simplistic, it goes to show that making an effort to develop your linguistic skills creates more options.

Another useful function of utilizing Linguistic Intelligence is finding inspiration for new music. Reading books is a great way to discover new ideologies and ideas for songs. Notable examples include Iron Maiden’s “Brave New World,” Machine Head’s “A Farewell To Arms,” and Mastodon’s concept album, Leviathan.

The best way to develop your Linguistic Intelligence is to just keep learning: read a book, look at an online dictionary’s word of the day, write a poem. The results will not be immediate, but if you continue to seek out knew ideas and practice your language skills, your songwriting will thank you.

  1. Spatial

Spatial Intelligence, otherwise known as Picture Smart, is based in visualization. In In 7 Kinds Of Smart, Thomas Armstrong defines this intelligence as “the ability to perceive the visual-spatial world accurately and the capacity to perform transformations on one’s own initial perceptions” (45). This is the mark of the artist and the architect. Interestingly enough, this trait is remarkably more present and developed among lefties.

Spatial Intelligence is useful for learning scales and modes, as visualizing these systems allows for a more thorough understanding of fretboard knowledge. A common ailment among beginner guitarists is what I like to call “Trapped In The Box Syndrome” (or simply TBS). A shredder diagnosed with TBS learns the scales in a fixed position and often feels trapped by the knowledge they have acquired. This is normal and to be expected when initially learning theory.

One way out of this trap is to realize that all the boxes are actually connected together. There is no start or end to a musical scale; it goes on forever. The scales we play on the guitar are just the intersection between our fretboards and the infinite stream of notes. I personally visualize the fretboard based on a connection of the scales between octaves.

To put this into perspective, imagine two basic pentatonic boxes, the first starting on the fifth fret, sixth string, and the second starting at seventh fret, fourth string. The first shape is the same as the second shape. The only difference is that they are in different octaves. In order to release yourself from the confinement of these two boxes, noticed that by connecting them with the tonic note at the seventh fret, fourth string, they are actually the same scale. This trend occurs through out the entire fretboard.

The interesting thing about Spatial Intelligence is the role it can play in note selection. Trey Azagthoth of Morbid Angel fame is known for using this in his soloing and songwriting. He utilizes what he calls creative visualization, stating that “using my mind and my imagination to access a deeper place within” has allowed him to create his music in Morbid Angel.

I personally use what I like to call Color Visualization when writing my music. To me, each note and key is associated with a set of colors. I associate note B and E with blue and coldness and D and E with a orange warmth. On the flipside, F, A#, and D# are gray and black, representing darkness.

Like a painter, I arrange the colors of the notes and chords to paint a musical picture. This is a technique I use for writing or learning music that tends to stray outside of a logical harmony or key system. Anyone who’s ever tried to learn a song by Lamb Of God or Opeth knows that trying to figure out the key of their songs is usually a waste of time. Instead of trying to decipher the harmonic weirdness, I just focus on the flow of energy and color throughout the songs.

I will admit that this is not a technique I solely rely on. As I will discuss later in the series, I fully employ the same general scales in theory that all other musicians do. However, this system is useful for freeing yourself from any theoretical ties to express yourself more fully in your music.

Stayed tuned for Part 2 to learn more about how you can apply your natural intelligences to your music.

Sources:

http://www.guitarworld.com/dear-guitar-hero-trey-azagthoth

7 Kinds Of Smart by Thomas Armstrong

Shaky Musicianship- The First Book For The Day

For the first ever Book For The Day, I decided to make a rather unusual choice. Instead of selecting a book to examine thoroughly, I wanted to use a book, one that is seemingly irrelevant to music, as a catalyst for discussion. The book is Shaky Colonialism: The 1746 Earthquake-Tsunami in Lima, Peru, And Its Long Aftermath, by Charles Walker.

Shaky Colonialism covers the 1746 Lima Earthquake and the efforts of the Peruvian Viceroy Manso de Velasco to rebuild the city. The natural disaster was so devastating that of the 5,000 people living in the nearby costal town of Callao, only 200 survived, a death rate of 96%. Viceroy Manso proved more than ready for the challenge and was so successful that by the end of his post-earthquake reforms, Lima was better off than before the disaster. He used the earthquake as an opportunity to consolidate his power and strengthen the local government while simultaneously restoring social order to the city.

Walker’s main argument in the book is that natural disasters have been one of history’s greatest tests of government strength and provide an opportunity for federal and cultural change. I chose this book because I believe this principle can be translated to level of the individual.

The ultimate test of the individual is his or her ability to respond to disaster and utilize the challenge as an opportunity to grow. Throughout our journey we are guaranteed to hit points of despair, scenarios where giving up is the easiest option. But if we push through, we often find that we have risen above our previous circumstances.

In early August of 2013, I was on vacation with my family. During this trip I hit the lowest point I have ever reached in my now eight years of playing music. I hated everything about what I was doing. I hated the songs I was writing and the songs I was learning. I hated my level of technical ability and that I seemed unable to play any of the songs that I wanted. I hated music. I hated guitar. Every note I played disgusted me. I wanted to quit. I wanted to light my guitar on fire. But I didn’t. For some reason or another, I stuck with it, pushing passed the plateaus that caused me anguish. Over the course of the next year, I worked harder than I ever had before, completely reinventing my entire technique of playing guitar and relearning songwriting. At my most vulnerable point, I was able to finally develop my style. I was able to discover my sound and who I was, both as a musician and a person.

A little over a year later, I released my own solo album.

In times of strife and tragedy, surrendering may seem like the safest option, one that minimizes loss. In reality, quitting is the most dangerous, because you relinquish what could have been. Never give up, because if you stick with it, you will ascend beyond your limitations and become the person you were born to be.

How I Breathed Life Into My Playing

I would like to discuss a topic that I personally feel has not been talked about enough in the online music community: taking your playing to the next level.

This is something that I have been personally struggling with for the past few months and, quite honestly, it still continues to challenge me. So, of course, I turned to the internet. After trying many different searches such as “taking your playing to the next level” and “new challenges”, I was left disappointed. All of the articles and videos I found were geared towards less experienced guitarists and intermediates. They contained typical advice such as “work on your bends” and “play to a metronome.” Sure this is great advice for the beginner and intermediate guitarists, but what about the more advanced axe wielders out there? Those that are looking to push themselves into unchartered territory.

I was looking for something more.

I have been playing guitar for just over five years now and although I went threw a brief period of lessons, I am predominantly self-taught. I followed all of the typical advice: I practiced my scales, worked with a metronome, studied my favorite songs, and it worked. I believe that I have become what most would categorize as an advanced guitarist. I even felt so confident as to release my own solo album a few months ago. That was great, but I was left unsure of what there was left to do. What could be next?

I became bored with the usual metronome grind that is involved in developing technique, primarily due to a lack of interest and a sudden skyrocketing of songwriting productivity that seemed to take up all my available time for music.

Around this same time I began to become heavily interested in mediation and the Indian art of chakra healing. My newly zened out approach combined with the chakra principle of third eye intuition led me to realize that I did not actually want what I was working towards. I never had any interest in being able to down pick or shred at warp speed; it was merely just an illusion. Revitalized, I am now looking for some new challenge: I want to struggle like I never have before.

Interestingly enough, my increasing fondness Eastern traditional music has provided this spark. It has refreshed the way I look at music and provided me with my next great challenge: scoring music. As of now, I am still learning to even read sheet music, being the guilty tab reader that I am. It has been a humbling experience. I am struggling, but I love every minute of it. This new stage of my journey has made me feel like I am thirteen again and just picking up guitar for the first time.

If you stuck with me through that wall of text, I’ll leave you with this to take away:

If you are ever in a rut, lacking motivation, or unsure of where to go, go back to the days of innocence when you were just picking up the guitar. Think about what it is you truly desire to get out of music and be aware of when life presents to you another path to choose while on your journey.

Music, Fiction, Poetry