The title says it all! Opinions expressed here are those of the authors. Personal tastes may vary, and we are cool with that.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Podcast Episode #2: Metal Rant- Misconceptions about Guitar Shredders

You can download the podcast episode here.

One of the biggest things that really pisses me off in the world of metal is how people criticize metal guitar shredders! Guys like Yngwie Malmsteen, Jason Becker, Paul Gilbert, and Rusty Cooley all get equally blasted for not having any “feeling” or “soul”, or that they play “mindless scales quickly” in their guitar playing. To these people who criticize them, unfortunately, they only think inside the box and don’t ever consider why these guitarists want to play in a different style! They aren’t always going to play the blues scale or the pentatonic scale just because so many other guitarists do! I don’t understand at all! I don’t really care if people think this way because opinions are like assholes and everyone has one, but the way people harp on about it is what drives me nuts!

Being a guitar player myself, I know that playing a solo by Yngwie Malmsteen is much more difficult than playing a solo with the blues or pentatonic scale due to the tremendous amount of speed that he plays his solos and also the melodic approach he puts towards his guitar playing! In this Youtube video here, you can see just how much skill and accuracy it takes to play “Far Beyond the Sun”:

It is difficult as hell and anyone who actually plays guitar knows this!

As much as I like shred guitar playing, I also do like a lot of blues driven solos as well. I am not that narrow-minded, so don’t think that I only like guitarists who play at 800 MPH! A good example of a great guitarist who complements both a bluesy and a shred approach is Ritchie Blackmore. In this Youtube video, you can see how he shows his skills as a guitarist:

Ritchie Blackmore is easily one of the greatest guitar players of all time. In fact, he is one of my all time favorite players as well! My own guitar playing is heavily influenced by him and he is indeed one of my idols and biggest inspirations! So the mix of both blues and shred really complement each other well with his style of playing!

One of the biggest misconceptions about shred guitarists is that “they have no feeling” cliché that everyone seems to misunderstand. When you play the same scales that the shred guitarists use on an acoustic instrument like a violin, viola, or a piano, it sounds like a classical masterpiece. A lot of people like to hear these scales performed on those instruments, so why is playing it on electric guitar any different? I don’t get it! It’s the same scales, same style for the most part (with of course added effects that the acoustic instruments were limited to), so why do people always say these great guitarists have “no feeling”?

I know I may be a little uptight here on this rant, but lately it has started to piss me off! The other day I was in a guitar store playing a guitar from the rack and I was playing a little lick from Sonata Arctica. If anyone is familiar with them, they are pretty fast so I was playing a pretty fast guitar part. Anyways, as I was playing this, some guy came up to me and told me that I needed to start “playing slower” and “to start expressing myself more”! I was really pissed off at this because first of all, I can play whatever the hell I want to play! He had no right to say that to me. If he likes to play blues scales all day, am I going to go up to him and start criticizing him on his playing? NO! That would be selfish of me to do that! Also, whenever I go to a Youtube video that features a guitar shredder, you have almost half of the comments on the videos saying this: “He has no feeling, look up Jimi Hendrix” or “Mindless shredder who has no expression”. Don’t believe me? Go to those videos and see those comments for yourself! I don’t get why people would waste their time looking up guitar players they don’t like! It really makes no sense to me!

To conclude this little rant of mine, I just want to say that just because these guitarists play a different STYLE than what the average guitarist plays does not mean that they have no artistic integrity or that they are “mindless scale playing guitarists”! These guys have a lot of talent. In my personal opinion, I think playing this style of guitar is the hardest to master! I like blues scales too, but I don’t say that they “play too slow” or that they “need to play more notes”. That would be very hypocritical of me! I respect all good guitar playing no matter what the style is! I know everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but when some guy tells you in a guitar store that I have “no feeling”, I am bound to get a little pissed off! So my advice is to keep an open mind and understand that everyone plays different styles at different speeds and that all of these genres and styles should be well respected!


Almagest said...


Thank you, thank you, thank you! You took the words right out of this moment! This issue has been bugging me for SO long now.

In fact, I've been using the exact same argument you're using here - many times a classical pianist (or violinist) basically does the same thing and NOBODY is accusing him of having "no feeling" and "just playing mindless scales"! In fact, I've never heard such knee-jerk complaints come from people knowledgeable in classical music or who otherwise know what they are talking about.

Funny enough, by people not accustomed to classical vocals, Tarja's singing is criticised in ways that remind me a LOT of the typical knee-jerk "guitar virtuoso criticism". What's even more shameful is that even the Nightwish guys have started to ride that horse. Also embarrassing how Tarja is accused of a "lack of feeling" by people who act like pretentious "music experts" otherwise, gushing about the songwriting in Nightwish etc., i. e. people who should be expected to know better (though personally I think those are wannabe-elitists and posers who don't really know that much about music at all), while many of the biggest fans of Tarja's singing are musically totally naive and not even used to classical music otherwise.

Of course, this kind of music is a lot more difficult to assimilate and appreciate than most, it's very taxing on your concentration. But that's hardly reason to bash it! I wish people would at least appreciate not only the talent but also the SKILL that goes into being a virtuoso player - meaning MANY YEARS OF HARD WORK, like ANY highly developped skill, be it dancing, acrobat art, cooking, or mastering a foreign language.

What doesn't help that a lot of music critics in the field of popular music are biased in favour of punk rock, indie, hip-hop and mainstream music and openly ridiculise any technically challenging and complex popular music (in stark contrast to, say, film critics, who traditionally look down on mainstream Hollywood fare and prefer "arty" films).

Just look at - when I saw the list "Classical · Bluegrass · Country · Flamenco · Hard rock · Heavy metal · Instrumental rock · Jazz · Jazz fusion · Neo-classical metal · Progressive rock" I wasn't quite sure where country music fits in with this, and I can't claim I'm familiar with bluegrass, but otherwise this list perfectly encompasses all the kinds of music I'm primarily interested in, and - at least within the field of rock music - music critics typically loathe. I think it would be really interesting and worthwhile to dedicate a publication (printed magazine or webzine) specifically to virtuosic players and vocalists in ANY genre (be it rock/metal, jazz, or classical), and regardless of instrument, in order to cater to fans of "complicated" music who have an open mind and are tired of reviews bashing it just for being what it is.

Of course, not every complicated and hard-to-play piece is a masterpiece! That's why specialised publications and reviewers are so important.

(In fact, I have read about Yngwie criticising Impellitteri for copying his style without the substance, saying: "Everyone can learn how to type real fast but not everyone can write a good novel!")

It may be comforting, though, that Mozart in his time was also subject to complaints about the complexity of his music - just think of the famous comment "Too many notes".

Almagest said...

Huh? I meant: "You took the words right out of my mouth". No idea why I typed something entirely different ...

Eric James said...

@ Almagest

Thank you for your insight! :D I am glad that you found my rant very helpful and insightful! You know, people say a lot of crap about guitar virtuoso's because they are either jealous (probably because they simply cannot play that good) or that they just don't have much else to do, so they are willing to go out of their way and look up and bash something they dislike! I do respect other people's taste in music, and people should learn to respect other artist's styles and abilities, but unfortuneatly, it isn't like that at all.

You are right, a lot of people critically denounce complex and technical music just because it isn't want they like or that it is something they do not understand. But yet they like the music that is always advertised, published, and presented to the mainstream media! So it really is a double standard and I wish people would accept different and newer styles of music rather than just not accepting something just because they did not hear it on the radio the other day!

And that is why the metal/music scene sucks where I live! Unless it is popular or on the radio or unless it is always played on television, no one is willing to sit down and listen to something new and different. But it is up to the media to not be afraid to showcase other bands that are unique and have something more to offer other than your typical radio friendly rock band! And that is exactly why I am trying to bring out something new to the area where I live because we need something different instead of the same old stuff all the time!

Almagest said...

Yeah, I'm sure envy plays a big role, too. But the decent reaction to this feeling would be a honest acknowledgement of the feeling, and paying the deserved tribute to the object of one's envy! In other areas of life, like when someone is an outstanding athlete or speaks a lot of foreign languages, people are much more willing to compliment the person for their accomplishment in a positive way and respecting them for it!

However, I think that the negative reactions to guitar virtuosos are also connected with a general trend to disrespect of intellectual achievement. Progressive rock and neo-classical metal in particular reek of supposedly old-fashioned, European-style "high-brow" culture and the reactions pitting the music as dull and lifeless are very similar to how intellectual-type, academic-oriented kids are trashed as being nerds with no real life. (Combining both in a way, I'm reminded of how Tarja was shunned by her envious classmates in her teenage years.) That's the most aggravating aspect about all of this - the more encompassing phenomenon of an anti-elitist "culture of envy", hostility towards anything intellectual and demanding, that predominates especially (but not only, by far) in the US and discourages children who are actually striving to accomplish skills (outside sports), academic or artistic achievements of their own accord.

In the area of popular music, especially rock music, of course, this started in the mid-seventies (stupidly and hypocritically) and again the early nineties (when the guitar virtuosos were suddenly slagged as boring show-offs by the mainstream media), with the hypes surrounding punk and grunge, respectively, although the "backlash against metal (and other styles of the 70s and 80s)" phenomenon hasn't been equally pronounced outside North America. There is a comfort, though: thanks to Kerrang hyping DragonForce, and especially thanks to music games, apparently a new fanbase for challenging guitar-based music has grown among the younger generations. Classic hard rock and metal may still not have quite returned to the mainstream but its following among the kids seems to have strengthened considerably!

Almagest said...

Also, from what I've heard, some relatively mainstream rock bands from the US (such as Disturbed) have refined their music as well, bringing it somewhat closer to traditional hard rock and metal, so the opposition against it seems to be waning.