Κυριακή 27 Δεκεμβρίου 2020

Metal Nerdism Vol. 9: Top-10 (+1) greatest metal singers you don't see in the lists with the "greatest singers"

Very often (very often) there are lists about the "greatest" singers in magazines and (mostly) online media. These lists are always similar not only because the "greatest" singers are objectively known but mostly because you "can't" make such a list without a few specific names. Name them Bruce Dickinson, Ronnie James Dio, Rob Halford, Eric Adams, Geoff Tate etc. These are legendary voices that should be in such lists for many reasons. If they are "objectively" the best, this is something that's always debated even among professionals, but they're definitely among the greatest.

While those lists are always similar, there will always be singers that never got their share of "greatness" in those lists but a few of them are singers of songs that match the quality of many of those you already know from those lists mentioned above. In the end, a song is not just about the instruments and how "correct" they're performed, or how a voice reaches specific "standards". The greatest pieces of art, sometimes are those who offered something new, something out-of-the-box, something with a passionate and unique performance, something that doesn't follow specific standards. "Critics-professionals-teachers" don't always understand them but the audience does. With that said, we can understand why Blizzard of Ozz or Metallica have sold millions of copies. These are perfect albums and everyone related to these albums can be in such "lists".

Besides all those singers that we use to see in these lists that are many times debatable according to personal tastes or because you can't understand the uniqueness, or talent, or you just don't like the person, there are many more that could be in every of those lists. So here you have the greatest metal singers you don't see in the lists with the "greatest singers".

written by Andreas Andreou

1. Jon Oliva

The Mountain King, the voice of Savatage, one of the best US metal bands. A unique voice with character and passion. From his early performances and his iconic yell in "Sirens" up less known tracks like "The Price You Pay" he was always a character but when he was singing personal lyrics, an unmatchable feeling was dominating each track. During 1989-1991 almost each performance was magnificent, something not very common, even for the greatest singers that use a specific "singing template". "When the Crowds Are Gone", "Hounds", "Summer's Rain", "If I Go Away", Jon Oliva was always unpredictable, a legend on his own.

PERFORMANCE: Tonight He Grins Again (Streets, 1991)

Check also: Russ North (Cloven Hoof)

2. Tony Martin

Tony Martin has a long story as an artist, even if he is mainly known as one of the Black Sabbath singers. Actually, he is the second longest serving singer of the first heavy metal band after Ozzy Osbourne. From The Alliance years up to replacing Ray Gillen in Tony Iommi's Black Sabbath version he was a singer with a talent that just needed the right people. And even if in The Eternal Idol (1987) he just followed Gillen's vocal lines, in Headless Cross (1989), Tyr (1990) and Cross Purposes (1994) he was an important element for one of the better heavy metal styles we love to listen. A solid singer with a huge voice. When he also started writing lyrics during Headless Cross he had the talent to find the most suitable words and phrasing that could perfectly fit with his vocal lines.

PERFORMANCE: When Death Calls (Headless Cross, 1989)

Check also: Russell Allen (Symphony X)

3. Blackie Lawless

In the '90s, the music world was changing despite the fact that there were still a few bands coming from the '80s that expanded their commercial success and fame. But there was also something new, especially in the United States of America, where everything that W.A.S.P. was representing, became "old" and outdated. It was that point where Blackie Lawless started presenting a different, mature face miles away from the '80s party style of the band and the years where they were targeted by the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) along with bands like Twisted Sister. Still though, Blackie  was always different even if his live performance is known for pre-recorded parts. From simple lines like "I'm a wild child, come and love me", to controversial lines like "I got pictures of naked ladies" up to "where is the love to shelter me", Blackie always had this huge emotional voice that made every line sound true even if his self has rapidly change over the years.

PERFORMANCE: The Idol (The Crimson Idol, 1992)

Check also: David Wayne (Metal Church)

4. Robert Lowe

Few bands with more than 5 albums can claim that each one of them is at least great, and one of them is Solitude Aeturnus. The Epic Doom Metal legend from Texas is the greatest band of its kind along with Candlemass and an important element of this (true) statement is Robert Lowe's vocal prowess. A cathartic voice that leads tο redemption while at the same time it is mournful leading to ultimate sorrow.

PERFORMANCE: Mirror of Sorrow (Into the Depths of Sorrow, 1991)

Check also: Simen "ICS Vortex" Hestnæs (Lamented Souls, Arcturus)

5. Steve Benito

While his legacy is limited to Heir Apparent's One Small Voice (1989) and a few more recordings here and there, Steve Benito had an extremely elastic voice that was very different from all those Geoff Tate clones that despite their excellent abilities were nothing new and all sounded alike. However, he didn't make any career in music because of his character since despite being a talented person, he was also extremely brash, offensive, very opinionated and always used to getting his way, leading Heir Apparent to the end after the release of One Small Voice, illegally taking the name and putting founder Terry Gorle out of the band. Still though, from the rehearsal recordings of the Triad release up to the second Heir Apparent album and the available live shows on the web, Steve Benito is an undeniable talented and intelligent singer.

PERFORMANCE: Cry for Rome (live session 1988)

Check also: Vittorio Ballerio (Adramelch)

6. Eric Clayton

Eric Clayton's story is a story that could be larger than the man himself and his band, Saviour Machine. A life of wounds and scars, each one of them present in each song and each performance. The scars in the soul of Eric Clayton were created from deep artistic and emotional wounds and after chasing monsters for a lifetime he finally found love and redemption. His songs are his legacy and within them, you can feel the wounds, the pain, the feelings, his revelation and his art. An emotional baritone with a unique ability to transfer his inner feelings and soul to the listener.

PERFORMANCE: The Night (Legend Part I, 1997)

Check also: Eric Wagner (Trouble)

7. J.D. Kimball

Born John David Kimball in March 12th of 1958, died by cancer in October 3rd of 2003, the voice of bravery can be heard in Battle Cry (1984), Warning of Danger (1985), The Curse (1986) and Nightmares EP (1987) of Omen, one of the greatest US underground metal bands of the '80s. "Nothing worthwhile is easy, the path isn't always clear", Kimball sang in "At All Cost" and his life was indeed unclear and difficult but his legacy will remain.

PERFORMANCE: Don't Fear the Night (Warning of Danger, 1985)

Check also: David DeFeis (Virgin Steele)

8. Devon Graves (Buddy Lackey)

A haunting and hypnotic voice that  transforms every single line into an image. There are very few singers that can catch the exact mood of the music and lyrics; Buddy Lackey (later Devon Graves) is one of them. Dreams, pain, anxiety, fear, life, society and a wider abstract philosophy around them finds the perfect voice to transform words into images through a unique performance that cannot be easily copied. From "Hangin' on a String" riding on an endless carousel of wishes, hopes and dreams up to the Deadsoul Tribe, the voice that whispers in our ears speaks in words that come from inside, crashing the waves upon the shore. Pure art.

PERFORMANCE: I Remember (A Social Grace, 1990)

Check also: John Arch (Fates Warning, Arch/Matheos)

9. Mike Baker

The voice of the first five albums of Shadow Gallery left the mortal world on October 29th of 2008 by heart attack but he marked our lives forever. Despite the fact that he wasn't a composer or lyricist and even most of the vocal lines were written by others (mostly Carl Cadden-James) his performance was an important element in the music of Shadow Gallery and truth to be told, Shadow Gallery's vocal lines are like songs within the songs, and among the best ones in metal music. Baker's emotionally trembled voice had a specific feeling in most of the songs adding a further uniqueness.

PERFORMANCE: Hope for Us? (Tyranny, 1998)

Check also: Alan Tecchio (Hades, WatchTower)

10. Dee Snider

There is also another kind of voice, the "life" voices. The confident singers who put their voice's uniqueness and character on top of their lyrics, mainly talking about life, like they already lived what they're talking about. It can't get more real than that and Dee Snider has one of the most powerful voices that grabs you at once no matter how many better singers you can easily think off. Recognizable from the first second, Snider might very well also be the greatest metal frontman ever walked the stage.

PERFORMANCE: The Fire Still Burns (Come Out and Play, 1985)

Check also: Biff Byford (Saxon)

+1: Jutta Weinhold

Those lists are male-dominated in all media, probably just because heavy metal also looks like. However, we can't act alike so here is our pick: Jutta Weinhold, the German singer mostly known from Zed Yago and Velvet Viper but she also had a solo career in the '70s.

I saw live Jutta in Germany at the Keep It True Festival in 2015. Born in 1947, she was 68 (!) years old that day. She didn't look more than 50 and she didn't sound more than 40. That was a legendary performance for a person that's nearly 70 years old. Bring in your mind someone at that age and then imagine that one on stage performing "Zed Yago", "The Spell from Over Yonder" and "Revenge". Unbelievable. Jutta nailed everyone, and EVERY man close to her age.

PERFORMANCE: Zed Yago (From Over Yonder, 1988)

Check also: Leather Leone (Chastain, Leather, Malibu Barbi)

Κυριακή 20 Δεκεμβρίου 2020

Metal Nerdism Vol. 8: Top 10 (+1) drum sounds in metal music.

How many times have you listened to an album and besides each one's widely or personal reception, you recognize a specific element that sounds great? We don't want to write again about "great" singers or albums with the "best" guitars or the "best" solos, since there are probably many out there in magazines or the internet.

We're always trying to aim for something different, so this time we will present you a Top-10 (+1) of the greatest drum sounds in metal music according to Crystal Logic. A few of them can also be identified as albums you can also see in different "top" lists but note that we're not talking about best albums but about the best drum sound.

Still though, it is important to mention that besides the fact that a few of them were already in my mind as the "best", I revisited them again and in each album you can see the audio reference. What is most important is that these albums can only be listened in the physical format in order to feel and get the true magnificence of each one, and not in YouTube (even if we will add a link for a "glimpse") or torrents. After all, we need to mention that we're not taking seriously deep discussions about similar articles when the person in front of us is listening to music only through YouTube. It sounds elitistic but that's the truth, sorry.

written by Andreas Andreou

1. Mayhem - De Mysteriis Dom. Sathanas (1994)

Produced by Pytten. Drums performed and co-produced by Hellhammer. Mixed by Pytten, Hellhammer and Euronymous.

Besides its historical importance, Mayhem's first full-length album has a phenomenal and huge drum sound that is perfected by Hellhammer's supernatural performance. Grieghallen (Grieg Hall) is a concert hall located in Bergen, Norway and named after the composer Edvart Grieg. That facility also had recording rooms and a studio. Pytten’s "Grieghallen sound" is the analogue sound of Black Metal and he understood the "chaos" of those young musicians and what they had in mind. Hellhammer’s drums for De Mysteriis Dom. Sathanas were recorded on the main stage of the concert hall in order to catch that huge sound.

Read about the story of Black Metal and what led to the creation of De Mysteriis Dom. Sathanas.

Audio reference: Vinyl (Deathlike Silence 2020 pressing). In this anniversary vinyl box set, you can also find a book with all the recording information and the saga of the album.

2. King Diamond - Abigail (1987)

Produced by King Diamond. Assisted by Mikkey Dee and Michael Denner. Engineered by Roberto Falcao. Mixed by King Diamond, Andy La Rocque and Roberto Falcao. Drums performed by Mikkey Dee.

A bold and massive sound riding on reverb. Mikkey Dee's performance in Abigail can be identified as one of the greatest in heavy metal history and he recorded most of the album with just a specific part of the music so he could control what he wanted to put on with the less possible interference. Complex and at the same time exactly into-the-point, Mikkey's drumming and sound, added a huge part in the visionaire aura of Abigail, an album that is heavy metal, power metal, progressive metal, horror metal and everything in-between.

Audio reference: Vinyl (Roadrunner 1987 pressing), CD (Roadrunner 2005 deluxe edition), vinyl (Music On Vinyl 2014 pressing).

3. Iron Maiden - Piece of Mind (1983)

Produced, mixed and engineered by Martin Birch. Drums performed by Nicko McBrain.

While someone can say that Iron Maiden is the most iconic '80s heavy metal band, Martin Birch is also the ultimate metal producer of the '80s. Starting with Killers in 1981, he connected his name with the "Maiden-sound" and the greatest albums in the catalogue of the British legend. Piece of Mind, one of the albums that can be identified among the most important cornerstones of influence for what followed (including a huge part of US Power Metal), is heavily connected with THE metal drum sound. Similar to the previous and the next Iron Maiden albums, that sound is the essence of '80s heavy metal drum sound.

Audio reference: Vinyl (EMI 1983 pressing).

4. Omen - The Curse (1986)

Produced by Bill Metoyer and Omen. Engineered by Bill Metoyer. Drums performed by Steve Wittig.

The budget Omen used for most of their albums so far wasn't even close to the budget they had for the drums' recording only, of The Curse. And while Escape to Nowhere will always be an exception in their catalogue for many reasons (recording, too) in 1986 with Bill Metoyer on the sound, Kenny Powell and company recorded their best sounding album with that huge drum sound we surely miss nowadays with all those "same" modern metal triggered productions.

Audio reference: Vinyl (Metal Blade/Enigma 1986 pressing), CD (Metal Blade 1996 pressing w/Nightmares EP), vinyl (Metal Blade 2017 pressing).

5. Candlemass - Epicus Doomicus Metallicus (1986)

Recorded in Thunderload Studios, produced by Candlemass. Engineered and co-produced by Ragne Wahlquist. Drums performed by Mats Ekström.

"Heavy Load's rehearsal room/studio was filthy, remote and cold", Leif Edling wrote in the liner notes for the 2011 CD reissue adding, "but we chose it because Trilogy's and Yngwie Malmsteen's demos sounded just great". In the Behind the Wall of Doom massive 3CD+2DVD compilation, there is a 92-page book written by Per-Ola Nilsson including many interesting stories and facts about the recording of the greatest Epic Doom Metal album, and that's all you need to read. Sounding wise, the drum sound of Candlemass' iconic debut is a grand element of the album, a drum sound that is overlooked and lost over the years because of better productions. Still though, every time I am listening to this album, I can't ignore the fact that this sound is exactly what the greatest Doom Metal album ever needed.

Audio reference: Vinyl (Black Dragon 1986 pressing), CD (Peaceville 2011 pressing).

6. Savatage - Gutter Ballet (1989)

Produced by Paul O'Neill. Engineered by James A. Ball. Drums performed by Steve Wacholz.

What Paul O'Neill did for Savatage and how the band evolved through ups and downs, is one of the greatest chapters in metal music. And while you can read HERE a few interesting bits of this story, that huge and fat drum sound was probably something already set by O'Neill while he was experimenting with the Oliva brothers for the songwriting and performance. Still though, that (probably) easy set up of the drum sound within the Sava-camp remains an example of audio magnificence for most of their albums.

Audio reference: Vinyl (Atlantic 1989 pressing), CD (Atlantic 1989 pressing).

7. Queensrÿche - Empire (1990)

Produced by Peter Collins. Recorded and mixed by James Barton. Drums performed by Scott Rockenfield.

The multi-platinum album of Queensrÿche is the pinnacle of their commercial success but at the same time, it is one of those albums that can combine the commercial sound with artistic elegance. Scott Rockenfield's drumming is one of the elements that added uniqueness and character in 'rÿche's intelligent metal up to Promised Land. From the early years of "Queen of the Reich" up to 1990's "Another Rainy Night (Without You)" the sound of 'rÿche was evolving and changing adding more catchy parts and songs, losing its heaviness in some moments but never its quality, leading to the band's most self-confident album. Without being the band's best album, the production of Empire helped the album's songs and kept Queensrÿche's name high in the charts and the hard rock & metal scene during a period where '80s metal started sounding "outdated" according to media and trends.

Audio reference: Vinyl (EMI 1990 pressing), CD (EMI 1990 pressing).

8. Fates Warning - Parallels (1991)

Produced, recorded and mixed by Terry Brown. Drums and percussion by Mark Zonder.

While audio experts and engineers, producers and drummers have many different opinions, those always come from the professional's side. On the other side, the only thing that probably matters is the sound coming out of your speakers, so if the listener enjoys what he listens to, it doesn’t matter how it was created. With that said, many modern productions might lack the organic, natural and analogue sound of the past (let's say that the "past" is the '70s, '80s, early '90s) still though the sound coming from your speakers can be massive. Or different. What Fates Warning really did with Parallels was something different but don't they always do?

Mark Zonder was always an unpredictable drummer with a unique approach and dynamic that drives against the "classic" heavy metal route. Parallels' production is perfect and Zonder's multi-rhythmic performance is like little songs within the songs but yet, everything is song-oriented and not complex for the listener while he also used electronic drums adding a variety of sounds in the album.

Audio reference: CD (Metal Blade 1991 pressing).

9. Dream Theater - Awake (1994)

Produced, mixed and engineered by John Purdell and Duane Baron. Drums and percussion by Mike Portnoy.

Following the success of Images and Words, one of the albums that changed metal music during the '90s, the decade of experimentation and new subgenres, Awake is free of the triggered snare Dave Prater (producer of Images and Words) used and more or less the "holy trinity" of progressive metal is represented in this list with iconic early '90s albums that shaped the genre, created a new generation of fans and inspiring up to this day with their music, performance and sound.

Audio reference: CD (EastWest 1994 pressing)

10. Armored Saint - Win Hands Down (2015)

Produced by Joey Vera. Mixed by Jay Ruston. Drums performed by Gonzo Sandoval. Drums engineered by Josh Newall and Jay Ruston.

Let's add a modern album, shall we? Not exactly "modern" but how heavy metal should sound in the modern era; Refreshing. I remember playing all the time Win Hands Down at the No Remorse Records' store in Athens, Greece, upon its release. One of those days in 2015, there was Fotis Benardo at the store, drummer of bands like Septicflesh and Nightfall, and also audio engineer and producer. While talking about a project we were working with, I noticed that he was distracted by the music coming from the speakers and he just said, "That's a great drum sound, what is this?" This is Win Hands Down, the album with one of the best sounding drums in traditional heavy metal over the last years. And Armored Saint did it again in the latest album, Punching the Sky.

Audio reference: CD (Metal Blade 2015 pressing)

+1. Metallica - Metallica (aka Black Album) (1991)

I guess that this is an album that can't be missing from any similar list, whether we like it or not. Produced by Bob Rock with James Hetfield and Lars Ulirch, the multi-platinum album of Metallica, one of the biggest selling albums in the history of hard rock and metal music, was recorded over a few months, over many takes, different mixes and a final budget of one million US dollars. We all know what followed and the sound of that album influenced countless releases from Xentrix (Kin) to Paradise Lost (Draconian Times) and beyond.


So, what's your favourite drum sound?