Speed Metal Sympathy

When was the greatest guitar playing of all time actually recorded? Ah hell, since I have to pick a date — it was most likely in 1987; the perpetrators in question being Marty Friedman and (17-year old) Jason Becker with their band, Cacophony. Racer X did come pretty close as far as writing scorching, gorgeous guitar parts (and they actually wrote better songs), but Cacophony managed to captivate me with 9+ minute instrumentals (not to mention the lyrical brilliance of “Desert Island”). Yeah, I was such a nerdy teenager I would spend hours a day perfecting “Concerto” — to this day still the only song I have ever learned to cover in full. (Am I bragging? I don’t even know)

What a lot of people don’t notice about composition, especially with regards to electric guitar playing, is the importance of good melodic phrasing. This is why Jimi Hendrix was above his contemporaries. It wasn’t merely an issue of melodicisms or technical skill; Hendrix simply had a superior compositional ear for phrasing. This is what contrasts Cacophony against other bands that (do now, or once did) “shred”.

And of course Cacophony was on the legendary guitar label, Shrapnel Records, home to such modern neo-fusion, “neo-classical” luminaries as Vinnie Moore, Tony Macalpine, Paul Gilbert, Ron Thal, Greg Howe, and so on. In comparison to classic ’80s “Shrapnel shred”, certain modern day guitar heroes like Dragonforce sound kind of… lacking. I mean, Dragonforce is fast and all, but the guitarists can’t phrase for squat. Their solos are primarily based on speed, rhythmic or pedal tricks and cool percussive moves. Though certainly they’re good as all hell technically, no question.

But I think technicality is important only after a good sense of phrasing. ‘Coz a good sense of phrasing indicates a musician’s awareness of the ideally minimalist and most effective path of compositional dynamics and resolution in a piece. Does that make any sense? A technical musician with a tasteful ear is prone to captivate an audience from many angles at once, creating a sense of immersion that usurps mere showmanship.

Surely this is where others chime in with, “Hey Chaos, that’s so right! That’s why my favorite guitar player is (insert guitarist)”. But, dear reader, I should point out, in light of this seemingly selfless post, the hideous transcendental horror that: (1) although good music is perhaps only determined by a matter of individual opinion, this is only so because sometimes even the weakest, most pitiful music evokes the same universal transcendental/emotional feelings in people with inferior poetic perceptions. And then (2) there is the fact that I absolutely 100% do not listen to anyone else’s opinions on great guitarists or even music in general. Ahahahaha!

Where was I? Oh yes… So, Speed Metal Symphony (and even its follow-up, Go Off!) is perhaps the pinnacle of all shred albums — at least insofar as the formula of (tasteful dynamic melody) x (extreme technicality) = ultimate shred potential. It is one of the blueprints upon which every modern shredder has built their arsenal: Arsis, Angra, Necrophagist, Capharnaum, Darkest Hour, Dragonforce, Children of Bodom, Rhapsody (of Fire) and so on. People/magazines/children may argue that Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Rising Force is the quintessential one in the genre. Though it may be one of the most pop-accessible, the truly unparalleled masters of shred are Cacophony.

But, uh… never mind the vocals.


~ by chaosrexmachinae on September 1, 2008.

5 Responses to “Speed Metal Sympathy”

  1. — never mind the vocals—
    yeah, indeed never mind the vocals
    Whenever I listen to Cacophony
    I just enjoy the wonderful Guitars…
    I perticularly like the album
    “Perpetual Burn” by Jason Becker
    “Dragon’s Kiss” by Marty Fridman
    they are greatest guitarist in my mind~ :-)

  2. Hee hee, yeah. Although there are some cool moments, like on “Desert Island” or “Floating World” from the second album!

  3. […] Nanase Aikawa in recent years? Why, Marty Friedman of course! Which is significant here, because Marty played with Jason Becker back in the day. And then sure enough, Jason’s second full-length album, Perspective, has a song on it called […]

  4. […] period. Besides, after the first few albums, he couldn’t hold a candle to some of the better Shrapnel […]

  5. Marty has gone completely Japanese, he even jams with Enka singers

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