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