Technicality Vs. Songwriting, Part 2
Hi guys, Max here. A few weeks ago I gave you a pretty good idea of where I stand on the tech vs. songwriting debate. This week I’d like to talk more about how it is possible to write great technical music.
Technical skill, to me anyways, is but a tool used to achieve greater means. I find technical music simply for the sake of technicality doesn’t do much for me. I obviously like technical music. I mean, I play in a tech death band. I do believe that there are moments when a technical section can really add punch to a song, but there needs to be a song there to begin with. Being able to mix technical proficiency with good songwriting is an art in itself. It’s a delicate balance that’s very hard to achieve, but that’s totally worth it.
I can remember to this day watching Metallica play a live set on TV during Woodstock ’99. They played “Wherever I May Roam,”, “Seek and Destroy” as well as “Enter Sandman”. I knew I wanted to play guitar. Just like that, the seed was planted. Something about those tunes made me feel something awesome. Not only was the songwriting great, but at the time my young ears had never heard guitar solos like the ones Kirk Hammett was busting out then and there. I knew heavy metal was going to be my calling. Years later my tastes have changed drastically but that drive still remains. Music, and in this specific case Metal music, makes me feel a wave of energy that I just surrender myself to. Whether it be the cool focus of Cynic’s “How Could I?”, the pure and unaltered rage spewing from Devin Townsend in Strapping Young Lad’s “Shitstorm” or the progressive melodies and grooves of Symphony-X’s opus “The Divine Wings of Tragedy”, there is an emotion that comes to the surface to breathe life into your sonic pallet. Other artists I would recommend who mixed dizzying energy with incredible complexity are Charles Mingus, The Mahavishnu Orchestra as well as Frank Zappa.
I’d like to take a moment to mention technical death metal here. After all, we in Derelict consider ourselves to be a technical death metal band. I told you guys a bit about my personal songwriting process last week but I’d like to take a moment to talk about the genre here for a moment. Let’s take a look at Suffocation, one of death metal’s most legendary and truly brutal bands as well as one of my favorite death metal acts. Suffocation definitely fit the technical category, but not in a flashy way. Suffocation pummels your eardrums relentlessly until you literally feel the crushing weight of those riffs smothering you and making it hard to breathe. On top of that Frank Mullen sounds like a savage who will kill your face. I find they chose their name really well. That sound would not be achieved without the speed and generally technical aspect of the riff writing. This is a good example of technical song arrangements. Listen to “Liege of Inveracity” or “Pierced From Within” to get a good idea of their staple sound.
Martyr, from Trois-Rivières, Québec are one of my favorite bands, period. Daniel Mongrain, who also plays in legendary Quebec band Voivod, just might be my favorite metal guitarist. The man is a true world class player who happens to be a huge metalhead. Mongrain has a jazz background and plays session all around the province. Martyr are one of the most technical bands you will ever hear. Not only are they extremely impressive to watch, but they are a joy to hear as well. One of my favorite songs of theirs is “Virtual Emotions” where they deconstruct chord voicings in a technical frenzy of epic proportions. Here is a band who can appeal to musicians and non-musicians alike and do so rather well. Derelict got to open for Martyr two years ago and I was truly grateful to be able to talk to Dan about songwriting and metal in general. I’ll never forget that day. The man really is one of my idols.
Technical metal is getting very popular these days. It’s in the nature of musicians to try to push their limits and try to create new sounds and new techniques on their instruments. I think technical music is important. I think it’s important to try new things and to try to improve as a player, because if anything you end up learning something new, which can only lead to good things. Experimenting is a crucial element of art. Experimenting with new techniques is an integral part of the constant evolution of art, and technical death metal has definitely contributed to that evolution.