If the purpose of Stepping Stone is to shine a spotlight on the bands and artists which started us on our way to metal, then Ronnie James Dio is one of the biggest stones in our path. Whether just by listening to his music at an early age or being influenced by his vocal style, the number of artists who have owe a debt to Dio is immeasurable. He is one of the largest names in a scene obsessed with the cult of personality, with plenty of drama and lore to back that figure (Ozzy vs. Dio, the "horns" and more). But I'd like to focus on a different story for this Stepping Stone, on mine rather than on the grandiose depiction of grand narratives within our scene and community. I'd like to take you back to the days when I was jut discovering metal and the power it had and what that power meant for the teenage version of Eden.
Swedish act Lechery was born when Martin Bengtsson left Arch Enemy to pursue his own musical vision. The band, who play a very traditional and familiar style of classic, epic heavy metal, released their debut album Violator in 2008, and it was well received, but the band subsequently fell on hard times, with a series of unfortunates accidents and setbacks keeping them from capitalizing on the album release as well as they should have. Luckily, they managed to find their footing again, and now in 2018 they've released their third, and likely best, album, We Are All Born Evil.
Last week on Voices of The Void, we discussed the idea of fachs in the metal world. If you haven’t read up on the Dio fach, do yourself a favor and get caught up. After Dio established his voice as uniquely metal, new personalities quickly hit the scene with new vocal ideas. The next big metal voice was Rob Halford, frontman of legendary metal gods, Judas Priest. For this segment about him, you can follow along with our nifty Spotify playlist at the end.
I guess this was inevitable. When I originally conceived of this column, there was a lot of details I wanted to get into. Vocalists who started as screamers and turned into great clean singers. Vocalists who pioneered new styles. Vocalists who simply have unique voices. But before we get into all of that, I feel as though we have to establish some of the basics of metal singing. Back in the 70s, metal singers were simply rock singers with a louder band behind them. There weren’t distinctive styles. However, as metal became more and more separate from hard rock, the playing styles of each instrument involved in making metal developed their own identity and distinct style. In opera and classical singing, teachers and singers refer to voice types as “fachs”. The fach system was developed by the Germans to make casting operas easier. As we talk about the emerging styles of metal singing, I will be using this term. Arguably, the first metal fach was the Dio-fach. So, to establish these metal basics, I will be doing an overview of Ronnie James Dio’s voice, his career, and how he established this fach.
The music industry is huge and can be intimidating. It’s complexity, breadth, and depth is unmatched by any other entertainment industry. That massive output can be quite discouraging if you really want to keep up with everything. As someone who recently transitioned from being an average listener to a serious writer of music, I totally and completely sympathize. Every week, there seems to be some new big happening with music, some new album, some new hype, and if someone tunes out, even for just a week or two, it seems like an eternity has gone by. Trends live fast and die hard in music, making it easy to feel left out. This is totally by design based on everything previously discussed. Labels are trying hard to make something stick and curators are trying to keep up with their massive output. Here’s a little advice to listeners (and journalists) who feel burnt out constantly listening to new music:
Misdirection. Sleight of hand. Tools used to create confusion often, and especially so, in the name of showmanship. This type of confusion that has fueled many a magic act over the years and a variant of it is on display on Ghastly Sound’s self-titled EP. There are times that bands span genres and styles over the course of their career to keep fans slightly off-balance but rarely do bands try that on an album, let alone an EP. Ghastly Sound says “hold our drink” and proceed over the course of four songs to throw a lot of influences and ideas at the wall on their debut.
Witherfall may be the savior power metal has been looking for. The quartet (although currently a trio, due to the tragic death of drummer, Adam Sagan) plays technical and thrilling progressive power metal that is matched in quality only by a handful of veterans in the business. These guys do not sound like a new band and there’s good reason for that. All the members, except the bassist, have long resumes with power metal heavyweights like Iced Earth, White Wizard, Circle II Circle and Into Eternity. Even considering their extensive experience, their debut album, Nocturnes and Requiems, still passes expectations.
Metal has, for all intents and purposes, pretty much reached the peak of how far it can really go with the extremity and weirdness while still remaining in its musical sphere and not moving into genres like noise or purely avant-garde. Subgenre movements like brutal slamming deathcore, atonal death metal, and noisegrind have been pushing the limits of slowness, weirdness, and overall listenability into strange, bizarre, wonderful new territories, and although the experimentation is certainly welcome, after a certain line is crossed, the returns start to diminish quickly, and what we're left with as a musical community is a handful of bands that are great in the context of a clambering race to the tipping point, but really don't serve much purpose for a listener who wants something, you know, metal. Don't get me wrong - I love Gigan, Jute Gyte, and probably any other ridiculous and 'unlistenable' band you could throw my way, but shit, what's a guy to do at this point if he's looking for something more reminiscent of the classic sound?
Neil Fallon (Clutch) needs little introduction. Not only is he an amazing vocalist but his lyricism is unparalleled in its mythology and world building power. He seems blessed with a true midas touch as far as side-projects go, with every track he features one (like the guest spot on HARK's previous album) turning to gold. What happens when you put him together with three other experienced musicians in a heavy metal band inspired by Iron Maiden and H.P Lovecraft? Dunsmuir happens and excellence happens. Dave Bone (The Company Band), Brad Davis (Fu Munchu) and Vinny Appice (Dio, Black Sabbath, Heaven & Hell) joined forces with Fallon to make this beast comes alive and alive it is.
This song might not win over everyone, but if you're a fan of heavy metal from the 70s, you will definitely be a fan of this stuff. The song is just fun in every way, and while it may not be the heaviest thing you ever hear, it's proof that metal has such strong roots that even 40 years later they can still rock like they did back in the 70s.