#975: Happy birthday to this guitarist who co-founded a rather Queen in 1970

Q #1,972: Happy birthday to this guitarist who co-founded Queen in 1970.

A.

Guitarist Brian May co-founded Queen alongside vocalist Freddie Mercury, and drummer Roger Taylor. May has almost exclusively played one guitar for most of his career, and that is not to say exclusively used guitars made by one manufacturer. He and his father constructed his ‘Red Special’ in the early 1960’s, to May’s specific design requests. After seeing Jeff Beck create multiple types of feed back live with his guitar, he wanted to have an even greater command over the instrument.

What’s more; May and his father did all of this with what could basically be described as household items. The wood used for the guitar’s neck, came from another resident’s fireplace mantle that was to be discarded. The bridge of the guitar is a hardened steel knife edge, and the springs used for string tension came from a motorbike. He even experimented with incorporating an internal Vox-based distortion unit, to which he would eventual remove to settle on the use of the cranked amplifier. It’s no wonder that May has gone on to earn a PhD in Astrophysics, amidst a musical career that has kept him more than busy to begin with.

In 2005, Brian May was appointed a CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for his, “services to the music industry and charity work.” Eligibility for such an appointment is based on significant achievements made for the United Kingdom, although different titles can and have been awarded to those from other countries as well. The Sovereign of the United Kingdom grants these appointments, and the Sovereign is none other than Queen Elizabeth II. The next highest order of appointments would be a knighthood. What would be the appropriate way to address such a prolific member of society? Sir Dr. Brian May? Perhaps a more Shatner’d version of a James Bond introduction; “May. Brian May. CBE. PhD. Killer Queen.”

Brian May has been included and voted onto multiple “Greatest Guitarists of All Time”-type lists, while also being responsible for a great many Queen hits, himself. Some of May’s Queen compositions include ‘We Will Rock You,’ ‘Tie Your Mother Down,’ and ‘Fat Bottomed Girls.’ Consider the spine tingling ‘The Show Must Go On,’ the final track on the album “Innnuendo,” which basically chronicled Mercury’s illness and impending death. Around that time, it was only media speculation that Freddie Mercury was ill, but he and the band knew he was on ‘borrowed time.’ Unsure of whether he could handle the final vocal parts, May essentially had a heart to heart with Mercury expressing that he knew it might not be an easy performance to capture, to which Mercury reportedly responded with “I’ll fucking do it, darling.” Mercury took a measure of vodka, and went in to deliver the performance that appear on the final recording. Mercury passed away on November 24th, 1991.

As if that was not enough of a goose bump inducing, hair raising “final” performance, all of the material that appears on their final album ‘Made in Heaven’ was assembled from a multitude of sessions that Mercury performed up until his death. Brian May describes the sessions, saying that Mercury said, “Get me to sing anything, write me anything and I will sing it and I will leave you as much as I possibly can.” Mercury wanted to leave the band with as much material as he could. May says that he feels ‘Made in Heaven’ is “possibly the greatest Queen album we ever made. It has so much beauty in it. It was a long, long process, painstakingly put together. A real labour of love.” The show must go on, indeed.

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#957: Half of the “Big Four” have released albums with what German record label in recent years?

Q #1,954: Half of the “Big Four” have released albums with what German record label in recent years?

A.

Slayer’s ‘Repentless’ was released on September 11th, 2015 through Nuclear Blast Records. The band’s first album with their new label came six years after their previous effort, ‘World Painted Blood.’ Slayer had previously released every album from 1986 to 2009 on American Recordings. Perhaps a new label helps to drive new life into the band, as their first American Recordings release was the legendary ‘Reign in Blood,’ and their Nuclear Blast debut ‘Repentless’ made it all the way to #4 on the Billboard Charts, the band’s highest charting release to date.

Anthrax’s Nuclear Blast debut, ‘For All Kings’ is a partnered release with their original and long time label, Megaforce Records. Anthrax has been through a much more turbulent and inconsistent run with record labels as opposed to their Slayer counterparts, seeing Megaforce and Island Records release all of the Joey Belladonna era albums, 1985’s ‘Spreading the Disease’ through 1990’s ‘Persistence of Time.’ Elektra Records released the inaugural John Bush fronted album ‘Sound of White Noise’ in 1993, which remains the highest charting Anthrax record coming in at #7 on the Billboard charts in the US. Perhaps another instance of “new label heroics,” ‘For All Kings’ became the second highest charting Anthrax release, hitting #9 on the charts.

Nuclear Blast has been making a great amount of waves in the metal world, with many other legendary bands signing to the label in recent years. It was recently announced that Swedish prog metal giants Opeth were signing with Nuclear Blast, as well as Gotherburg legends In Flames. The newest Carcass album was their Nuclear debut with ‘Surgical Steel,’ another legendary act’s return to form. Fear Factory’s newest release, ‘Genexus,’ is another first on the label, and was helmed by renowned A&R legend, Monte Conner.

Conner was the Senior Vice President of A&R at Roadrunner Records, having started working at the label back in 1987. Overseeing some of metal’s most legendary artists via the label, Monte Conner was responsible for bringing many European bands over to the US as well. He left the label in August of 2012, and announced a partnership with Nuclear Blast in the same month. If you look closely you can see a great deal of Monte-era Roadrunner bands making their way over to Nuclear Blast.

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#950: Happy 60th Birthday to this iconic Mercyful Fate vocalist!

Q #1,946: Happy 60th Birthday to this iconic Mercyful Fate vocalist!

A.

King Diamond is one of the most iconic and recognizable voices in the metal world, and his first endeavor as a singer in a band was purely circumstantial. Initially a guitarist looking to join a band, he saw an ad for a band (Black Rose) looking for a vocalist and thought he would show up as a singer/guitarist in an attempt to infiltrate the band in order to play guitar. Asked to perform Deep Purple covers, King had never sung a note before in his life. After a few hour long rehearsal and blowing out his voice, he began to learn to control his breathing on his own. Never taking a vocal lesson, everything began to unlock vocally as he moved forward with his performances. His iconic falsetto vocals slowly made an appearance the material in Black Rose. Approached by a fan after a show, King said he was told how great his falsetto parts sounded, and that he should do them more often. He most certainly has.

Releasing seven studio albums with Mercyful Fate, and twelve studio albums with King Diamond, he has served as an influence for generations of musicians. The shock rocker pioneered the heavy metal horror concept album, with ‘Abigail’ in 1987 and has never once looked back. By the time King was doing press tours for Abigail, he had already casually sold over 100,000 albums.

Multiple variants of the King Diamond makeup have been created over the years, but King has never seen a KISS “Unmasked” era. When appearing as an unlockable character on the Guitar Hero video game franchise, the game’s creators did not allow him to don his usual makeup as it contained inverted crosses. King agreed to alter his makeup for the game as long as he was able to design the alternate version. A year ago in July he performed without makeup at a show in Milwaukee per doctor’s orders, but this sort of instance is few and far between.

Speaking of doctor’s orders, after King went under the knife for triple bypass heart surgery in 2010, he was the only patient in the hospital’s history to walk on his own from the intensive care unit to regular care. Perhaps he had a little help from ‘Them.’

King’s persona has been the stuff horror legends are made of for nearly forty years. He has said that while some of the rumors originated from actual events, a great deal of the stories that have gotten back to him simply aren’t true. That being said, he has done his best to keep certain details ambiguous over the course of his career so that it may be left up to the fans’ imaginations. The goal of the over the top stage shows is to assist with the musical experience, not to counteract it. King’s theatrics are to accompany the music in such a way that the listener will have no choice but to conjure the imagery that they have seen accompany the material live.

While the stage show includes some non-threatening props like the use of real human bones as a microphone handle, it can also lead to some potentially hazardous working conditions, as King nearly lost his life during one particular performance. The crew member who would normally handle this casket-based stunt handed off the task to another, who had never handled the materials before. His misfire due to botched timing left King inhaling nothing but fumes, with the added potential of creating a small explosion due to exposure to flames. King said “I kicked for my life,” and finally leapt out yelling “Are you trying to kill me?!” I’m fairly certain that King could’ve performed a live human sacrifice on that particular evening, and nobody would’ve known the difference amidst the show’s normal theatrics.

King Diamond are reportedly working on a new album for a 2017 release, the first ‘comeback’ record since his back and heart surgeries, and the first album since the Grammy Nominated “Give Me Your Soul…Please” back in 2007.

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#942 Destruction has ‘(BLANK) of Confusion’

Q #1,938: Genesis had ‘Land of Confusion,’ but Destruction has ‘_____ of Confusion’

A.

That’d be ‘Days of Confusion’ from their 2001 album, ‘The Antichrist.’

Formed originally under the name Knight of Demon in 1982, German thrashers Destruction are considered to be a part of “The Big Four” of German thrash along with Kreator, Sodom, and Tankard. The early material of three of the four bands (sans Tankard) is even loosely credited with helping to spawn what would eventually become black metal.

It would seem that as Destruction and company refined their sounds into a thrash sound that countless bands would attempt to replicate, what they left behind launched another genre. Not a bad mark to leave on the collective metal scene. Also worth noting is that Destruction and Sodom are both three piece acts; not one US-based “Big Four” band was a trio, nor were many of the other thrash notables like Overkill, Exodus, or Death Angel.

As with most bands, Destruction has endured more than a few lineup changes since the band’s inception. Guitarist Mike Sifringer is the only member of Destruction to remain constant throughout the band’s career. Original bassist and vocalist Marcel Schirmer would appear on the band’s first three albums, which were all released by the label Steamhammer/SPV. Upon his departure from the band, Destruction released their fourth album “Cracked Brain” via Noise Records in 1990, with Poltergeist vocalist Andre Greider handling vocals. This would be his one appearance with Destruction.

The following period in the band’s history is referred to as the “Neo-Destruction” era. Guitarist Mike Sifringer self-financed releases for the Brain Butcher label, and these releases typically strayed from the thrash stylings that fans had come to expect from the band. Two EP’s and one album were released during the Neo era, from 1994 through 1998.

With the return of bassist and vocalist Marcel Shirmer in 1999, the band returned to form and signed to Nuclear Blast. The album ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’ was released in 2000, with a quick follow up in 2001 with ‘The Antichrist.’ Both of these releases were produced by Hypocrisy mainman Peter Tagtgren, who seemingly helped get the band back on track. Destruction’s 2003 release ‘Metal Discharge’ would be the band’s last with Nuclear Blast, though Tagtgren would return to assist with the recording of the 2005 release ‘Inventor of Evil,’ released on the AFM label. This album featured a multitude of guest vocalists on the track ‘The Alliance of Hellhoundz,’ including Saxon’s Biff Byford, Doro Pesch, Dimmu Borgir’s Shagrath, former Iron Maiden vocalist Paul Di’Anno, and Soilwork’s Bjorn “Speed” Strid.

Destruction returned to Nuclear Blast records in 2011 with their twelfth studio album, ‘Day of Reckoning.’ The band recently released their fourteenth album ‘Under Attack’ in May of 2016, which featured a very similar album cover to their 2001 release ‘The Antichrist.’

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#936: Happy birthday to this guitarist who played for King Diamond, Megadeth, and Testament

Q #1,932: Happy birthday to this guitarist who played for King Diamond, Megadeth and Testament

A.

Canadian guitarist Glen Drover turns 47 today – Happy Birthday, Glen!
Glen Drover (@glendrover555 on Twitter) is most known for his lead guitar work with King Diamond, Megadeth and Testament, despite releasing a large body of work with his original band Eidolon. Glen and his brother Shawn (Act of Defiance, ex-Megadeth) released three Eidolon records prior to Drover landing the King Diamond gig in 1998. Glen would only appear on the studio album ‘House of God’ and would leave the band by 2000. Three more Eidolon albums later and Glen would then become the new lead guitarist in the reincarnated Megadeth in 2004.

Initially this new Megadeth lineup was an entirely different touring lineup from the lineup alongside Dave Mustaine on ‘The System Has Failed,’ and the touring lineup briefly included longtime drummer and fan favorite, Nick Menza who recently passed away last Saturday night at the age of 51. When Menza was deemed an improper fit for the next Megadeth line-up, Drover’s brother Shawn was brought into the fold. Almost fifteen years prior, Mustaine had turned away Pantera’s Dimebag Darrell before the release of ‘Rust in Peace,’ as ‘Dime insisted that his brother Vinnie join the band, too.

Drover would remain in Megadeth through 2008, with his brother Shawn remaining long after his departure, recently departing in 2014. Glen played on one studio album (‘United Abominations’), and appeared on the live ‘That One Night: Live in Buenos Aires’ release. After his departure from Megadeth, Glen Drover also served as a fill in guitarist for Testament’s Alex Skolnick multiple times up until present day.

What an unbelievable group of legendary bands to be a part of in less than a 20 year span. It should go without saying that Drover’s guitar abilities are in the top tier, as he has been tasked with filling in for and replacing some of metal’s most legendary guitarists. During his Megadeth years, he’s had to fill multiple pairs of shoes, including Chris Poland and Marty Friedman. In King Diamond, he had to replace the ridiculously underrated Pete Blakk. This reads like a metal guitar player’s list of dream gigs, but it can also start to slip into nightmare territory fairly quick. Drover recently commented on being tasked with being the new guy in such a prolific band like Megadeth with such a devout following.

“… there was a lot of force of trying to be somebody else to a tee. And I don’t think that’s right, because I think that — like I said — you should try to keep certain pieces intact, certain melodies and certain key points of solos or whatever it is. But everybody’s got their own DNA, and that should be injected. You shouldn’t try to play something note for note… for me, it didn’t take too long to get to the point where it became boring.”
Glen Drover, 2015

Now for me personally, I don’t know how playing for a band like Megadeth cold be boring, when you are tasked with covering some of the intense guitarists the genre has ever seen. Recently former Forbidden guitarist Craig Locicero posted a link to all of Chris Poland’s isolated guitar solo tracks on ‘Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?’ You’ve never heard that record correctly. Never. Listening to those in isolation is a real eye-opener. Nobody has played those Poland leads “note perfect,” and it’s likely no one else will at this point. So if Marty Friedman isn’t playing Chris Poland to a tee, but everyone loves Marty anyway because of the material he was fortunate to be a part of, why are fans so unforgiving with other players? Is it because they’re really in love with the material, and want to listen to the record live instead of seeing someone try to make it a bit of their own?

Earlier I used the term “fill multiple pairs of shoes.” It never struck me until writing that in this email, that guitar players are about as likely to fit another guitarist’s personal style as they are fitting in another guitarist’s actual shoes. Sure, there are some guys out there who can seemingly recreate any number of other players, but do they then also maintain their own style? When listening to ‘House of God,’ a lesser of the King Diamond releases, and something that has remained largely off my own radar while still holding King Diamond as one of my all time favorite bands, I instantly hear Glen playing, just as I can always pick out Andy LaRocque’s playing. Whether it was on Death’s ‘Individual Thought Patterns,’ At The Gates’ ‘Cold,’ or Sylencer’s ‘Afflicted,’ you can hear everything about Andy coming through in his work. There’s something to be said for the ability to carve out your own sonic footprint, especially in the overly saturated Internet age.

Being comfortable in your own shoes and knowing your own limitations and embracing them; that’s what I would argue makes for some of the most interesting guitarists. These guitarists master playing to their own strengths and make it work within the material they either created or were given to contribute to. But I can also understand the fan’s eagerness and – let’s call it what it is – selfishness to demand the utmost respect be paid to their favorite musical soulmates. You don’t want to go see a band play a bunch of songs that become unrecognizable as the night goes on, but there needs to be some sort of room for interpretation, if not simply error. These days when I see anyone make subtle mistakes, I love and appreciate the authentic nature of what’s going on. If someone is putting their whole body into a performance, and you hear some differences, or a flub or two, you know they’re not faking it. They’re not using backing tracks. I’m sure some bands use backing tracks because they couldn’t perform in the studio either, but are some bands feeling too pressured to deliver the note-perfect album like performance that so many seem to long for?

Like anything else, I would argue that moderation is the key to finding the musical middle ground between fan expectation and a band’s musical execution. Drover’s time with King Diamond and Testament didn’t prove to be as harsh. “You know, when I played in bands like King Diamond and Testament, where it was okay to be, like ,’Okay, try to play the solos like they are, but you’re not that guy, so you inject your own personality into that.'” said Glen, “For me, even outside of that, just watching as a fan, I wanna see what the guy has to offer. I don’t wanna see somebody being a complete clone. That’s boring. I can listen to the album at home, man. That’s the way I see it. But not everybody sees it that way. And that’s cool.”

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