Κυριακή, 28 Ιουλίου 2019

Metal Nerdism Vol. 1: Albums Vs Mini Albums Vs EPs

The legacy of heavy metal EPs (and mini-albums).


There is a common assertion, that the best albums in the field of traditional metal (heavy, power, thrash, you know what I mean) were released during the '80s. And while this is a debate that can be analyzed in the future, most of the classic albums of the '80s had a track list of 7, 8, 9, 10 songs or so. The estimated running time was 30 to 45 minutes in most of them and you can hardly have a "filler" or two in those classic albums. What is a classic album? Blizzard of Ozz, Heaven and Hell, Hail to England, Don't Break the Oath, Marching Out, Hall of the Mountain King, Abigail... stuff like that.


From the '90s and all over the '00s, when the compact disc format ruled the field (while vinyl was having a rest), the running time of the albums and the number of tracks was raised. A lot. And so did the "fillers" in most of the albums, especially the ones released by major labels, including the independent ones that became bigger. However, from the '10s and on, vinyl started having a stronger comeback, mainly in the underground scene, so more EPs (actually, mini-albums...) and albums with a running time of around 40 to 45 minutes were released. Then, all labels (including major ones) entered the vinyl game, but major ones, kept asking for more songs. Now, let's go back in the '80s...


When Savatage recorded their first album, they had many songs completed for that session, so it was decided that few of them would be released later and not all together, so their first release won't be a double album. You know, back then, vinyl ruled the land and there was a time limitation for each album. So, in 1983 Sirens was released and a year later, the rest of the songs of that session, were released under the title The Dungeons Are Calling, but that wasn't a full-length album. It was a mini-album, or MLP (mini LP) if you prefer. It didn't last for many years, but there were also mini-albums back in the '80s. In the years to come though, the mini-album term, was completely replaced by EP. So, you have LP (Long Play = full album) and EP (Extended Play = something between a single and a full-album).

All those mini releases, and according to Metal Archives (the Bible of modern metalhead; an important tool, however) are now considered EPs and the mini-album term is long forgotten... It was different than the EP, different than the full-album, but in many cases, things were confused.

Let's go back to The Dungeons Are Calling. That mini-album had 6 tracks, 25 minutes running time and vinyl is played at 33rpm. Most of those mini-albums were played at 33rpm, while most EPs were played at 45rpm, like the singles. There were two kind of singles, 7" and 12". Singles were released mainly from bands supported by a big label or a label that believed that the band/artist could have some commercial success. The first single from an album was released before the official release of the full-album. The single/main song could enter the charts, played on radio, and even a video clip could be filmed. Sometimes, nothing of these happened... And there was just a single release.

Artists like Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne, Def Leppard and Saxon had single releases. In the 7" version, most of the times you had the main track on side A, and on side B, most of the times, there was an unreleased track or a live track or another track from the upcoming album or a different version of another song. In the 12" version, most of the times, you had an extra track on side B.


However, there are also some different kind of singles. The kind of singles that were privately released, or from independent labels and didn't accompanied a full-album. Singles that are also considered as EPs from few people. There were many of them during the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and the worldwide underground metal scene. Also, during NWoBHM, Venom released few singles with songs that weren't included in the albums of that period.


Now, let's go back to the paradox of the mini-albums (that nowadays are considered EPs). Back in the '80s, the difference of the mini-album and the EP, is that most of the times, EPs had a maximum of 4-5 tracks and a maximum running time of 20 minutes. Mini-albums had 5 or 6 tracks and a running time more than 20 minutes, less than 30 minutes.

Let's go to some examples. Warlord's Deliver Us (1983) is one of the most famous mini-albums of our field, while Slayer's Haunting the Chapel (1984) is a famous EP. The funny thing, is that Warlord's Deliver Us has 6 tracks, running time of 29 minutes and nowadays is considered as an EP, exactly as Ruffians same-titled release (1985) that is 30 minutes, while Bathory's same-titled debut album (1984) has a running time of 27 minutes... And if we want to add more paradox in the equation, Slayer's Live Undead (1984), a considered live album (7 tracks), has a running time of 23 minutes, that is less than most mini-albums (that today are considered EPs). Are you confused or the term mini-album sounds more relevant now?


In 1986, Slayer's Reign in Blood was released. An album of 10 tracks with  running time of 29 minutes. Until that time, there were many albums with a running time more or less of 30 minutes, but I believe that this specific album was the turning point that changed things, and in order to identify a release as a full-length album, it needs to have a running time more than 30 minutes. The number of tracks is also relevant but there are some cases that it makes no difference. For example, Agathocles' If This Is Cruel What's Vivisection Then? (1990) has 10 tracks... but it is just a 7" with a running time of 10 minutes! So, when we talk for subgenres like grindcore, the number of tracks is not something we can count on.


Until the end of the '80s, there were more mini-albums released (they were also advertised this way) that today are considered EPs.

Mini-albums were also releases that helped labels to bridge the period between two full-albums. Some of them, didn't have only new material, but also a mix of new material with older songs or live tracks, something like a mini compilation.



The term mini-album is completely gone now, and everything under 30 minutes is considered as an EP. However, if it has more than 6-7 tracks, sometimes it can be considered as an album even if the running time is something like 29 minutes. Like Manacle's No Fear to Persevere... (2018). But again, at the time you are reading this article, if you will check Metal Archives, Emerald's Armed for Battle (1987) is mentioned as an EP, despite the running time of 33 minutes and the same goes for Villain's Only Time Will Tell (1986) despite the 7 tracks and the running time of 31 minutes.


There are few exceptions, where bands intentionally want a release to be considered as an EP in their discography, even if it is not. For example, Dream Theater's A Change of Seasons (1995) with a running time of 58 minutes. The same-titled track alone, is 23 minutes, while the rest are covers. And if this is a sort of a "special" release, we also have Reverend Bizarre's Harbinger of Metal (2003) that has a running time of 74 (!) minutes and it considered an EP...


Don't be afraid of EPs (and mini-albums). Some great music runs within those less than 30 minutes releases, and there are already few great ones out there, released over the recent years, like Dawnbringer XX, Gatekeeper Grey Maiden, Idle Hands Don't Waste Your Time, Sabïre Gates Ajar, The Temple As Once Was, and more.


Crystal Logic 10 favourite '80s mini albums / EPs:

1. Warlord - Deliver Us (1983)
2. Savatage - The Dungeons Are Calling (1984)
3. Queensrÿche - Queensrÿche (1983)
4. Mercyful Fate - Mercyful Fate (aka Nuns have No Fun) (1982)
(note: even if it is played on 45rpm, on the back cover there is printed "mini-album 45rpm")
5. Helloween - Helloween (1985)
6. Valhalla - Valhalla (1984)
7. Glacier - Glacier (1985)
8. Ostrogoth - Full Moon's Eyes (1983)
9. Agent Steel - Mad Locust Rising (1986)
10. Masque - The Dead of Night (1988)


10 underground '80s metal classic EPs (in alphabetical order):

Black Knight - Master of Disaster (1985)
Dark Age - Dark Age (1984)
Heathen's Rage - Heathen's Rage (1986)
Jag Panzer - Jag Panzer (aka Tyrants) (1983)
Medieval Steel - Medieval Steel (1984)
Parasite - Parasite (1984)
Ruffians - Ruffians (1985)
S.A. Slayer - Prepare to Die (1983)
Savage Grace - The Dominatress (1983)
Sortilège - Sortilège (1983)


10 thrash '80s metal classic EPs (in alphabetical order):

Anthrax - Armed and Dangerous (1985)
Destruction - Sentence of Death (1984)
Kreator - Flag of Hate (1986)
Metallica - The $5.98 EP - Garage Days Re-Revisited (1987)
Nuclear Assault - The Plague (1987)
Overkill - Overkill (1985)
Possessed - The Eyes of Horror (1987)
Razor - Armed and Dangerous (1984)
Slayer - Haunting the Chapel (1984)
Sodom - In the Sign of Evil (1985)

5 NWoBHM & British classic EPs (in alphabetical order - no 7" singles):

Cloven Hoof - The Opening Ritual (1982)
Crucifixion - Green Eyes (1984)
Holocaust - Heavy Metal Mania (1980)
Paralex - White Lightning (1980)
Traitors Gate - Devil Takes the High Road (1985)

5 classic EPs from the doomed dark age (in alphabetical order):

Atlantean Kodex - The Pnakotic Demos (2007)
Isen Torr - Mighty & Superior (2004)
Memory Garden - Forever (1995)
Saint Vitus - The Walking Dead (1985)
Solstice - Halcyon (1996)


p.s. 1: This year, we celebrate 40 years of Saxon! The debut self-titled album (1979), is one of those albums with a running time less than 30 minutes. Less than few mini-albums (that today are considered EPs).

p.s. 2: Today, despite the fact the many new bands want their first release to be an EP (it would be a mini-album in the '80s), labels don't feel very comfortable, since the manufacturing cost is the same as a full-album, but they can't market it as such, and it must have lower wholesale price for the distributors, while promotion is also difficult.


Photos are from my personal collection (Andreas Andreou)


Which ones are your favourite EPs?

Δευτέρα, 8 Ιουλίου 2019

Black Powder of the Sabbathian Riffing: Interview with Kimi Kärki / Lord Vicar

After hammering the final nails to the coffin of Reverend Bizarre, Peter Vicar followed his vision of a new Doom Metal band and brought to life, Lord Vicar. "We took our sacred oaths and never run", yell the children of Doom, and Lord Vicar stand in the circle of the most arcane form of metal.

With the new album The Black Powder out on The Church Within Records, we found Kimi Kärki while travelling to the other side of the world (but not the underworld). Somewhere between Cultural History and Aikido Martial Arts, Kimi Kärki very often offers music full of intensity and heaviness, so we talked about rotten music, "soul" music and Lord Vicar.

By Andreas Andreou



Peter Vicar is long dead. And from his ashes, Lord Vicar rose with Peter Inverted. Did you use black powder in the firearm that killed him? And after all those year, is Doom Metal dead or its "death" was a false preaching?

KK: I actually go with my real name Kimi these days. Masks can sometimes become very boring and even harmful. Doom metal is alive and well, even if it smells rotten at times.

Fourth full-length album for Lord Vicar and you continue spreading slow suffering all over the world. At least to those who follow your path or enter your way. I follow Lord Vicar since the beginning and I guess, I fear no pain. However, I have few friends that are regressive doomsters, and they fear the pain of the traditional sabbathian riffing. Or they try to avoid it. How would you define "true" Doom Metal?

KK: It’s the traditional Sabbathian riffing, clean vocals, full of intensity and power. It’s music that will, if done right, shake your foundations.

Dan Fondelius of Count Raven, told me in an interview we did in the recent past, "Doom is more than just rock music, it is many things". I guess that if someone can express those "things", he will enter the circle of Doom. I think you also have to add a Gibson SG guitar in the equation, correct?

KK: Correct.

To quote Dawn of Winter from their song 'The Music of Despair', "Doom is the soul of metal". If so, our souls are tormented and torn apart, and you keep reflecting sorrow and pain with the opening track of The Black Powder, the 18-minutes long, 'Sulphur, Charcoal and Saltpetre'. That's a bold way to open a new album but I guess you are not a predictable band anyway, right?

KK: Right.

Besides the well-crafted compositions and performance on The Black Powder, there is lot of "soul" therein and I believe that this is the secret that transforms a good album to a great album. Where did you descent in order to create the dark symmetry (for both lyrics and music) of The Black Powder?

KK: Thank you for mentioning "soul". Our music is indeed meant to be "soul" music, even if the themes are dark. One has to take a cold look at the world, the way it is. Certainly there is beauty out there, but there is also all that poison, hate, malice, greed and cruelty. The themes of the album are available whenever I open the newspaper in the morning. Of course some of the material is meant for mental introspection and purification, at least in my case. We all carry a lot of darkness, and need ways to get it out. As a consequence, I am mostly happy smiling and relatively easygoing person. I have also done Aikido for five years now, and that has helped me to access some extra calm and steel. To build a musically good album, we felt, there has to be balance, dynamics and strong melodies.

You had the songs of the previous album (Gates of Flesh, 2016) written years before its release. Did you also have the songs of The Black Powder ready for long time, too? What kind of procedure do you follow during recordings?

KK: Some of the riffs are old, I think Gareth mentioned that some riffs of 'World Encircled' date back to his early years as a musician. In my case all that is on the album was put together after Gates of Flesh. Maybe some of the riffs were on embryonic stage already a bit before that. But the album as a whole, the lyrical themes, how it was arranged, that we did fairly recently. We try to get the arrangements in such a tight order that we can play the music live as a threepiece, with some edits and drop-ins if necessary. That way we got that tight but loose live feel on the new one. I really think we nailed it nicely this time, especially as this was No doubt musically the most challenging and progressive record we have done so far.

You are performing and writing music all the time after the death of Reverend Bizarre. Among others, you have Orne, you release solo albums, and there is Lord Vicar. How do you separate everything and is there a "guide" for each vessel you throw in the sea of music?

KK: I follow my intuition, pure and simple. I try to keep the subconscious mind open and do not stress about time. All things have their right time and place, and slowly the needed elements click together. I just know when it’s right. And I always also try to allow chance and the incredibly talented people around me to affect everything. That way things get raised to another level, they become more than the sum of their parts. It’s creative process seen as something magical, it has some ritualistic qualities, just like live performance. The energy just explodes through the roof when right things take place. I love that feeling, and am always in the hunt for it.

Do you plan any live shows with Lord Vicar?

KK: Yes. We will play some festivals, at least Storm Crusher, and some individual shows here and there. I can’t yet talk about stuff that has not been announced.

Thanks for the music!

KK: Thanks for the interview!



Lord Vicar photo by Darkiya Vaeltaja

DISCOGRAPHY:
2008 - The Demon of Freedom EP    
2008 - Fear No Pain    
2011 - Lord Vicar / Griftegård Split    
2011 - Lord Vicar / Funeral Circle Split    
2011 - Signs of Osiris
2012 - Lord Vicar / Revelation Split        
2016 - Gates of Flesh
2019 - The Black Powder

LINE-UP:
Chritus - Vocals
Kimi Kärki - Guitars
Gareth Millsted - Drums
Rich Jones - Bass

The new album The Black Powder is out now on The Church Within Records



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