Pick Your Rock and Metal

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Ballsy Bakken burst forth with power début

REGULAR readers know we here at Belfastmetalheadsreunited have no time for labels. Yeah, sometimes you need to add a wee classification, but if it's good metal, hard rock or punk then that's all needs to be said.

Bakken could, potentially have several labels attached to them, but they deserve more than to be labelled as thrash/classic metal/NWOBHM/power metal crossovers. The sum of the parts is more - much more
Having burst forth from seemingly nowhere they have produced a life-affirming album, Death Of A Hero, which is to be released in September. Hold on to your hats people, because Bakken have produced a spectacular début platter.

For a band who have had their fair share of turmoil and tragedy is remarkable that they have emerged with fists pumping, guitars roaring and a pounding defiance that whaever fate has thrown their way they can emerge stronger.

Album opener Darkest Day is eight minutes plus of snarl, riffs, rumbling with a Maiden-esque rhythm and a contemporary structure. Niall McGrotty's drums and Brian O'Kane's bass the power-house upon which the song is built.

With Simon Pickett's vocals dripping with attitude the flesh of the track is on Pickett's and Mark-Anthony McGinnis's twin guitar attack the template is set for the rest of the album.

Up next Mystic Mogul and Cursed are now available from the band to listen to for free. Mogul has more than a slice of NWOBHM at its heart, with Pickett's vocals taking a slightly higher tone, emphasising the roots of the song. Cursed [sampler below] has more of a contemporary feel; steady paced and chopped chords breaking up the riffs; married with a chant of the title makes a perfect setting for the middle eighths and breakdowns.

However, debts any twin guitar act have to their predecessors must be paid: self-proclaimed Lizzy fan Pickett pays that debt in full in Sasquatch, with a Celtic feelign series of harmony guitars layering together nicely.

The album closer Voyage of Aodh is perhaps where the depth of the band can be found. After a heavy opening, subtleties of structure, slower sections and emotive lyrics build up over almost eight minutes; there is a feeling in the complexities of prog metal, a dash of black metal and a cap nicely doffed to the likes of In Flames, pace varies, tempos change before a headlong rush of melodic guitar lines, underpinned with impressive drum lines and rampant bass.

In pulling together this album - other tracks are the equally impressive Back to the Future, Get Back to Your Feet, and Fortress of Evil - Bakken have laid down a marker of future intent. All in all a welcome addition to the local output that surprises with its depth and delights with its structures in this ballsy début release

Monday, July 30, 2012

I've got a band, got some tunes...what next?

IT's a difficult time out there, economically, with austerity the word of the political day. And, with an ever-growing number of bands cutting tracks, what can you do to make sure your hellraising, hard rockin', ass-kickin' outfit of rock 'n' rollin', headbanging, axe-wielding mean mothers stand out from the crowd.

On more than one occassion Belfastmetalheadsreunited have been asked for some PR or marketing advice. Some know, as principal writer for the site I cut my teeth with six plus years full-time journalism, before 15 years in PR; some even know I have been part of an award-winning PR team.

But, sometimes advice given to a band for free, isn't always valued the way paid advice. Nevertheless, I cringe at some the basic errors that bands make as they try to make sure their work receives the right audience at the right time. Of course a large part of that is if you manage to get signed by a major label and they help out with the hard business of distribution.

So, below are some hints and tips to help out as undergo the metal odyssey of a crowded media marketplace, all the more complicated by that 'tinterweb beast.

Put it bluntly, following these tips won't get you a major deal and a million-selling, but they might help you.

One sheet

Right, if you don't known what a one sheet is, now is the time to learn. You will not get anywhere quickly without a one-sheet. As the name says it is information about your band that can fit on to one sheet of paper, even if it is in electronic version.

At the top the basic details: list who you are, what the album is called, catalogue number, etc and possibly where you are from. Nice to put a picture of yer ugly mugs beside it, or the cover of your latest album or ep release.

Then simply describe yourselves in three or four concise paragraphs, and details of the release. Put web links and contact information at the bottom. Using a text box list the band members (and what they play), the track list of your release and any relevant discography.


You want the groupies to know who you are don't ya? Okay, that suonds very 1980s and your missus might kill ya if you're caught, so be careful out there; still it is important for the hordes of autograph hunters out there to recognise you.

If you can't afford a professional photoshoot then get hold of a decent SLR and have someone who knows how to use at least the autofocus. And remember of you're a death metal band don't go all smiley. Equally, no matter what genre of punk, hard rock or metal you are in, do not, under any circumstances scowl. It makes you look like a neandrathral with a headache.

Wear your stage clothes for the pics! Sounds simple, but that's how people recognise you (and if you don't have clothes that you regard as stage clothes then....get some now and set them aside as your live gear).

Pick a good backdrop for the shoot. In Northern Ireland there are dozens if great locations if you don't have access to a studio. Giant's Causeway, Dunluce Csstle, Giant's Ring, Loch Erne, Loch Neagh, bridges across rivers (Foyle Bridge?), industrial sites...take your pick for the pic.


Everyone thinks of themselves as a great writer. You're not. Lyrics, yes, blurb no. Even after writing every day since I left the hallowed institution of advanced drinking, called university, I learn something new about writing every time my little fingers grace a keyboard. Get a mate to look over what you do, have band colleagues check it out, and use all the writer's tools: metaphors, alliteration, etc etc but no adverbs!

Hype kills. Every music journalist despises bands who claim they are the best thrash/rock/death/black/industrial/old school act to pick up an axe. You are not. Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer, Iron Maiden, Motley Crue, Amon Amarth, The Answer, Behemoth are all rightly at the top of their genre. Do NOT under any circumstances claim to be the best ever/the definitive/greatest exponent. You're at the start of your journey to stardom - you're not superstars yet!

It helps if you can reference acts that you are similar to. If you look at the reviews section of many of the major magazines, quite often they'll tail the review with a simple line: For fans of...


They're all scum, right? Wrong. Unlike the tabloid press, most music journalists are generally interested in the music. And if they work on Metal Hammer or Terroriser they're not likely to be into Kylie Minogue. That also means they are very discerning. While blogs tend to be more effusive or more vicious, again most are fans first, bloggers or magazine reviewers next. First off, if you get a bad review, get over it, suck it up and use it to motivate yourself for your next show.

Next, develop relationships with music journos - no not that type of relationship! Make sure you know they're Twitter names, like them on Facebook, find out they're email address to send tracks to, or even if you have a hard copy of your latest release ask if you can get their address to send it to them, they appreciate it. Don't get downhearted if they don't review it, but a polite request for feedback can produce wonders. Remember - polite.

While the main music magazine writers get paid, most blog sites get a pittance, or nothing at all for their efforts bar the music to review or a +1 into a gig.

Social Media

This is the area where so many bands screw up  - thankfully very few in Northern Ireland make the mistakes other bands to. The community nature of much of the music here means that there is a mutual support.

Do NOT beg for people to check you out, listen to this, listen to that. If you have content to share, just say it. Think, what sounds better: "Check out or fantastic new music video!" Or: "We've just released new video - what do you think of it?"

The latter line invites people to watch it and give you feedback. And then you can re-tweet that or give it a like on Facebook.

Find out who is following you and liking you. Follow them back, apprecite it and send them a thank you.

Other bands are in the same position, roughly, as yourselves. Follow them, like their content and make sure you mention when they are gigging - that usually means they'll return the favour.

People follow/like other people who share good content - therefore make sure you are regarded as a good source for other 'stuff' and it pays off.

Do NOT ever, ever post/tweet anything involving nudity, anythingm sexist, rascist, sectarian or otherwise stupid. It will cost you, it could lead to being unfollowed, and people mouthing off about you. Such posts are not big, and they're not clever.

And do NOT pester anyone. It sounds desperate.

It's business

Yeah - it's called show business, and while you're delivering the show, the business side can slide. Set aside some time to make sure that you are taking care of business. Simple things help you a lot. Does your band have a bank account? It helps organise your finances - and means you can out aside the money for buying merch, for example, or petrol money for going to play gigs. It really is simple. If travelling to a gig costs £20 in petrol, withdraw that, and deposit the fee you receive (if any) together with merch or CD sales.

Yes, I know you want to practice every spare moment, but a fortnightly band meeting to agree the finances really helps everything stay on an even keel. Agree who and when you're posting items on social media, which journalists you're contacting and sending stuff to.

Management? Do you need it? Can you afford it, or are you better doing it yourself? And, should you decide that you need management, some basic rules. Never pay an up front fee; check out their track record; ask for references from other bands; get everything in writing; and, make sure you have someone professional, or experienced to check over any contract before you sign it.

Equally, be very, very careful should a label approach you. Membership of the Musians Union is a valuable investment. You can benefit enormously.

Equally, think carefully before you agree to any marketing or distribution deals.

And, finally...

Your music should stand up large enough for you to gain some form of acknowledgement, the rest is common sense.

Be polite, be courteous ["Thanks for that review", "Hey, thanks for following us.Here's a link to our latest single", "Cheers man, that was nice of you"].

And then, rock as hard as you can, to quote Metallica, "bang that head that doesn't bang" and enjoy yourselves! You know your music is good, you know that you are always learning, and when you tip that first post-gig beer back you will know that not only have you delivered a 'cracking' set, but that all that time on Twittter, Facebook, contacting journos and sharing other bands' material will mean that you are amongst friends

If you have other tips you want to share with other bands, or friends, post them in the comment box, or if you want to contact me directly, my email addy is here.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Forged in fire, tempered by tragedy

"GOOD music is something to fall back on in tough times." The words of Bakken's Simon Pickett, when we caught up with the lead singer and guitarist of Northern Ireland outfit Bakken as they prepare to launch their début album 'Death of a a Hero' in just over a month's time.

And Bakken are a band that knows how much it means to have music pull you through. Simon contracted a serious illness and another band member lost a close relative in tragic circumstances. But as a result of this Bakken have pulled through, are a tighter unit and make what statements they need through their music.

Simon spoke to us about the process of recording the album enabled them to move on, grow and develop - reflecting as many readers of this blog know, metal isn't always about darkness.

"It's fair to say that some of the band has had a horrible last few years," he said. "But as I'm sure most metal fans do, I always feel that good music is something to fall back on in tough times.

"When we started the band I was still quite sick and was obviously quite depressed, but I found that airing some of the negative emotions and frustrations I felt through music was a really cathartic process and helped me through it.

And that catharis has produced an inner strength; "For me, heavy metal (or at least the bands I like) always have a positive vibe or an element of strength and hope in the music and this was the same for me when I was writing the songs.

"I like to think that this really stands out in our music too and that other people listening to it can find the positive messages in there and be inspired themselves.."

That musical inspiration can be something apparent as musicians step on to the stage, when a mixture of nerves, angst and excitement bubble into the best of sets. Getting ready for the studio is a different matter.

Simon explained that Bakken were prepared for the challenge: "We actually had the songs very well mapped out as demos and practiced them hard before we gigged them, so that made things a lot easier in the studio.

"Having said that, the pro level studio experience was new adventure for all of us and it took us a bit longer than originally planned to record the whole album, mostly due to the complex nature of some of the songs."

They also had - like many taking to a professional studio for the first time - the challenge of making sure that the live vibe was not lost in the studio.

"Capturing the live feel was quite difficult but was important for us," said Simon. "Specifically we wanted to avoid using a constant unchangeable click track beat wherever possible as this can make some sections sound dull and monotonous.

"We also stayed true to the equipment we use live and tried to resist the temptation of layering the instruments too much. Most of the time there are only two rhythm guitars playing which retains the percusive raw edge to the sound; the vocals also have a raw live feel about them too."

So what can the listener expect from Bakken? The one-sheet explains that they are a mix of classic metal, NWOBHM and thrash. It's a heady mix on Death of a Hero [Review to come later] with early Bruce era-Maiden, Diamond Head, and Thin Lizzy caught up in structures and styles fans of the likes of In Flames, and the better Trivium songs will recognise. They are all clear influences, but they are not slavishly followed.

"The influences are quite obvious to those versed in classic metal," explained Simon. "As the main song writer my main influences come from my love of 70s and 80s rock and metal, Thin Lizzy, Queen, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Helloween, etc.            

"Niall is a hard hitting drummer who is a fan of very heavy contemporary bands and is very skilled at fast “double kick” drums, something we used a lot in the album; also Mark-Anthony (the second guitarist) is also a huge thrash metal fan (as I am too), so combined with these harder influences I like to think we have created a fairly unique sound that doesn't compromise on either melody or heaviness."

But it's not just metal that Simon draws his influences from - he has a musical reference point in common with the late Cliff Burton.

"In terms of finding unique inspiration, I often listen to classical music (composers like Mozart and Bach) [Burton was a skilled classical musician who cited Bach frequently] which has definitely opened up my mind to incorporating innovative approaches to composition.

"For instance, a lot of the time, the two guitars and the bass are playing different things, which when added together give a full, more complex sound. You mentioned contemporary influences like Trivium; some people often comment that we sound a bit like them, although I wouldn't say this would be a result of a direct influence but more probably from a shared set of classic metal influences. That's not to say there aren't any modern bands that influence our style; personally I am a huge fan of melodic death metal bands like Children Of Bodom and In Flames, these influences often creep in to our music too, so its a real mixing pot I think."

Death of a Hero is the soundtrack of a band that has emerged from dark times, who have feen forged in fires of misfortune, but used tragedy to temper their attitude into an honest reflection of how metal can birth hope, and, as epitomised by the words of Simon brings hope and strength.

Review to come later... 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Thrash it to death...after a bit of flaying of course

WE suspect that the good people of Somerset have been boosting the strength of the scrumpy and cider - how else could one possibly explain the sheer ferocity of Flayed Disciple, whose latest release - Death Hammer - landed with a suitable thud on the metal mansion doormat courtesy, of the good people at Grindscene Records.

Flayed Disciple are not the sort of cuddly band to introduce your ma to, even if she still hankers aftedr being a milf rock chick.

These natives of Taunton have released mixture of thrash and death metal that pins yer ears back at the audacity of some of the arrangements. As regular readers know I care not the names many sub-genres of metal are labelled with; if its good, then it needs no label and Death Hammer is a damn good album. Not for the faint-hearted, but good nevertheless.

Riffage from the golden era of thrash in the 80s is forced via guitars weeping in pain into a contemporary feel, with Tim Whyte's vocals at times threatening to become so guttural that passing whales can be thrown off course at the ulstra low frequencies.

Lyrically they are not afraid to tackle themes familar to those of us with one juaundiced eye on the news, the vile Westboro baptists - the church that threatened to protest at Dio's funeral - merit themselves the Flayed Disciple treatment on 'The Westboro Massacre'.

As the album builds the guitars of Thurston Howe and Jon Whitfield grow into a mixture of tight groove and at times searing, soaring heights. To be fair, it is probably the second or third listen before you can 'get' the complexities of this pairing. The clever, but not overdone, use of a few samples - vocal mainly - serves to accentuate their work.

By the time you get to 'Interceptor' you can fully appreciate the rhythm work - it is no mean task for any rhythm section to hold down the precarious balance between thrash and the more modern death interpretations of timings. Paul Williams (bass) and Phil Tolfree (drums) seem to freely interchange who exactly is taking the lead to ensure that tracks such as 'Exodus' and 'Bleaching in the Sun' maintain a dyamism.

The album stands out - to these ears anyway - largely with closing trio, which have titles not for sensitive Bon Jovi fans. 'Torsofucked', 'Ejaculate While Killing' and 'Pig' are blistering. All three are noteworthy with different takes on the Flayed Disciple template, but it is album closer 'Pig' that lays down eight plus minutes of sheer, unadulterated dark joy: how the hell anyone is meant to stay in the pit for that long is another question in and of itself, given the pace and dexterity of this aggression.

Death Hammer is the first time we at the metal mansion have come across Flayed Disciple - and hears to the next time. Once again Grindscene have caught the right band at the right time, with the right extreme edge in the metal spectrum.