Entries in metal (23)


Loud Rock at KGLT - playlist analysis and demographics

Ever since I began doing my radio show at KGLT, I've been collecting playlist data and coalescing it into a spreadsheet. I've been interested in analyzing that data to answer some questions about my listening and playing habits. Early on, I just didn't have enough data to evaluate, then life got busy and I didn't have time. Now that my steady show at KGLT is no longer, I wanted to analyze the data (over a year's worth) and see what it tells me.

I've often made the claim that a "lot" of the bands I listen to are from Finland and Sweden, however, I've never quantified that. That's one area I wanted to investigate using my KGLT playlist data. I also wanted to look at my data in the context of some of the "metal demographics" maps that are out on the web. They typically show Scandinavia, especially Finland and Sweden as contributing a disproportionate amount of metal to the world per capita (see Demographics of Metal). Of course, my analysis will only be one view of the problem, specific to the music I play at KGLT, but I still think it's interesting to analyze it in the context of the bigger picture.

My data is arranged to show every band I've ever played at KGLT and how many times I've played them. The simplest version of the spreadsheet sorts that data from most often played (#1 Nightwish, #2 Amaranthe) down to all the bands I've only played once. Right off the bat, I see hints of what I already suspected: in the top 10 most played bands, 3 are from Finland and 3 are from the United States. However, Sweden only has one band in the top 10. Looking at the top 20, Finland and Sweden each show up 4 times but the US is there 5 times. So, at the simplest level, yes, I do play a lot of Finnish and Swedish bands, but not at any obvious cost to the US.

However, the US starts showing up in heavy numbers in slots 21 and below, quickly establishing a higher play count overall than even Sweden and Finland combined. In fact, the US swamps everyone else with 462 plays, with Finland the next closest at 86 and Sweden following at 77. That, however, feels a bit distorted to me. I'd spent many months reviewing the entire KGLT Loud Rock CD collection and had played any band that got my attention. That collection is fairly weak in imports, so the pool I had to pull from was a bit skewed against Finland and Sweden. Many of the bands during that library review period I only played once. With that in mind, I decided to trim down the data set and regenerate my charts. I ended up with charts just like the original except restricted to 3 or more plays, 6 or more plays and 8 or more plays. Only the most restrictive (8 or more plays) chart levels the tables, showing Finland in the #1 spot followed by the US and then Sweden, but all in comparable numbers. Clearly, when push comes to shove, the music I like to play the most is, in fact, biased towards Finland and Sweden.

I also have claimed that I lean toward new music, playing lots of recent releases and bands from the 1990s and 2000s. To test those claims, I rearranged the data to look at number of plays per year the band was formed. I was pleased to see the 669 of the songs I played were from bands formed in 1990 or later. Only 223 of the plays are from bands formed prior to 1990. Being disappointed by the prevalence of "Classic Rock" stations and the dearth of new music on the radio, I was happy to see that I've been doing my part to reveal all the recently released heavy music out there in the world.

Having confirmed my suspicions at a very high level, I started to wonder how that relates to the population size that's generating these bands. I was highly suspicious that the main reason the US dominates the overall list is based on population size. I've seen the "metal demographics" maps and know how small the Swedish and Finnish populations are compared to the US. In addition, given my own knowledge of variation in metal style between states here in the US, and relative populations, I was curious about how things would change if I treated states as comparable to countries elsewhere in the world.

The first chart I generated considering states as countries showed something that won't shock anyone. The entity that generates the most plays on KGLT is California, immediately followed by Finland, Sweden and then the state of New York. Also, as no surprise to anyone, England and Germany land in the 5 and 6 slots. The next 10 are mostly states, including a number that I would have guessed (MassachusettsFloridaGeorgia and Texas). I don't know that I'd have guessed New Jersey and Illinois would be this high in the list, but Washington makes sense considering Seattle's contributions to music. Those of you outside the US will be pleased to see Canada at #8, the Netherlands at #12 and Australia at #16, immediately followed by NorwayItaly and Greece.

I was still a little surprised to see California dominating the list but once again remembered all those single-play bands from my library review efforts. We know that California, especially the southern part of the state, churns out a ton of bands, so it might still be simply the result of excess availability relative to imports. With that in mind, I decided to try looking at bands with higher numbers of plays. Even at 3 plays, the playing field levels quite a bit, with California leading at 88 but Finland in the same ballpark (73) and Sweden at 56. Being even more restrictive and looking at 5 plays or more pulls Finland into the lead at 63, with California at 61 and Sweden at 44.


I also wanted to look at the cities spawning most of these bands. Now, at this point my data is a little less robust, since the Wikipedia, where I gathered band information, is a bit spotty on how it describes where bands are from. Places like New York City and Los Angeles often are credited for bands that were formed in a borough or nearby city. Even so, I think the table is interesting, keeping in mind that Los Angeles and New York City probably have higher numbers than reality. It's definitely interesting to see Gothenburg as contributing the second largest number of plays and Helsinki in the #4 spot (note I'm skipping the true #1 in the list which is "undetermined").

With all those questions answered, I still had a nagging curiosity. How much do the large populations of California, Germany and England help them generate large numbers of playable bands (for my show). So, I made one more table, scaling the number of plays by the population of the state or country.It's impressive that California has so many plays that it still lands in the #4 spot despite its large population. Sure enough, Finland and Sweden, with their smaller populations and large number of plays land in the #2 and #3 spots, but what about #1? I had to laugh when I saw it. I love Tyr and a played them a number of times, but they had never generated an entry anywhere near the top of my tables before this. Thanks to the tiny population of the Faroe Islands, however, it lands in the #1 slot. Basically, I can conclude that the Faroe Islands, per capita, are the most effective country for generating music I like to play on the radio. Go Faroes and Go Tyr!!

In the end, the data simply reinforces what I already know. I love Finnish and Swedish metal. Those two countries are highly efficient at creating new bands that I like, and at the same time generate a wide variety of sub-styles within the metal umbrella. The United States and California, where I was born and raised, clearly generate a ton of listenable heavy music, and I should not overlook many parts of the US for their contributions to the overall metal pool. Sadly, Montana does not even appear in the data. Perhaps I can take small solace in knowing that Oregon does not appear in the data either, and Portland is currently a lively music center. So there's always a chance I just didn't get around to playing that one metal gem from Montana.


Louder + Faster != Better

What ever happened to space? As I review music for my loud rock radio show at KGLT, I don't get much breathing room. Modern day heavy music is fast and its consistently loud. Musicians in heavier styles today can play excruciatingly fast, to the point you almost can't believe that humans are capable of this. Similarly, modern music has squeezed itself into the upper registers of dynamic range (see Loudness war). In essence, us fans of heavy music barely have a clue what silence is.

It's interesting to think about this from the perspective of musical notation. There are two equally valid sets of notation symbols, one for notes and one for rests. If you learn to read sheet music, you need to know how to read them equally well. You don't get to focus primarily on notes and simply downplay rests. Modern heavy music, however, seems to tremble in fear over the slightest thought of a rest, at least any significant period of silence or reduced dynamics.

I think that's unfortunate. Once I've listened to an entire album of high tempo, nonstop pedal-to-the-floor metal, I'm drained. I'm also left less impressed with the speed and intensity because all I have to compare it to is speed and intensity. Speed and loud dynamics are powerful when they are compared to something. When a band can play slower pieces, with more open space and -then- shift gears and play a barn-burner, that'll get my attention. If a band can lull me to sleep with a nice quiet passage, -then- they can truly shock me by hitting the red on the meters.

Modern technology makes it easy to create more of things. Most processing gear and algorithms is meant to take something and make it sound different. Silence is like zero. It's the lack of something, and we have a tendency to want to fill it with something. I don't think that's a good thing. I think we should recognize the value of silence and its partner, quiet, when it comes to generating truly memorable music. The intricate interplay between sound and silence is what leads to real beauty. Imagine building a beautiful custom home and forgetting leave any living space. That's the way much of speed and loudness wars leave me feeling. I ache for moments of open space, of calm and of varying texture, without letting go of the Heavy.


Korpiklaani in Billings. Really?

Sean Lynch at Manny's in Billings, Montana deserves serious metal cred at this point. He's managed to pull in Sepultura and Skeleton Witch to Billings despite its relatvely small population base. Last night continued the trend with a monster lineup of Korpiklaani, Moonsorrow, Týr and Metsatöll. The tour stopped in Billings right between its dates in Denver and Salt Lake City, further accentuating how impressive it is that Sean managed to bring the bands into Billings on a Wednesday night.

Thanks to Sean's promotional efforts, the fans from Billings and Bozeman experienced a great and widely varied show. I had done my research into each of the bands in advance, including some focused time digging through YouTube videos. Generally speaking, I was well-prepared but Estonian band, Metsatöll, quickly proved themselves quite different from my YouTube impression. Their videos tend to focus on Markus "Rabapagan" Teeäär, who sings most of the lead vocals, and downplay the rest of the band. Seeing them live, I realized how much Lauri "Varulven" Õunapuu contributes to the band's sound and personality. With perhaps the deepest voice I've ever heard live, a rich booming delivery and somewhat foreboding personality, it's impossible to walk away from Metsatöll's performance without thinking of Lauri. He also won the the prize last night (and as far back as I can remember) for greatest variety of instruments played in a single set. You might think of him as a Geddy Lee of traditional instruments, many of them you've never heard of before.

The show started really early, and it was not even dark for Metsatöll's set. However, Týr had the cover of darkness and took full advantage, kicking the evening into high gear. Týr won the prize last night for most focused and cohesive set. Combining layered vocals with interwoven guitar lines, Týr's set was a guitar player's dream. Sporting what may be the world's only Ibanez 3-octave 7-string, the minute the band hit the stage it was obvious their songs revolve around intricate guitar work. Those of us in front of the stage were rewarded throughout the set with a bird's eye view of the finger work. Their mastery of the English language also helped Týr communicate effectively with the audience, and made it easier for yours truly to follow their progress through the set. Still, it was their musical attention to detail, and their straight ahead, get-it-done delivery that impressed me the most. I would love to see these guys headlining and would travel for the opportunity. I don't know if they ever play in their original homeland, the Faroe Islands, but if they do, I'd love to make that trek. Somehow, traveling out into the middle of the ocean to experience their Nordic and mythologically-influenced set would capture the whole picture. Who knows...?

The next band of the evening, Moonsorrow, took a very different approach to their performance, something that was immediately obvious as they went through sound check with hoodies only partially disguising their facial and torso corpse paint. Moonsorrow's set meandered stylistically quite a bit, including everything from black metal and blast beats to pulsing landscapes and audience sing-alongs. Punctuated by their death and futility theme and a sort of semi-contempt for and semi-comraderie with the audience, they instigated the moshing, which continued through into Korpiklaani's set. One of my Bozeman metalhead brethren screamed out, "this is the best mosh pit ever" and I have no reason to argue with him. It was a full-force mosh with no animosity, truly the best combination when people are pounding each other with that force and velocity.

After Moonsorrow wrapped up their set, I really wasn't sure what to expect. Could the crowd keep it going? Korpiklaani is very different from Moonsorrow and perhaps there'd be an energy let down. Nope, thanks to Jonne Järvelä, Korpiklaani's vocalist and frontman, things got even crazier during their set. Continuing the madcap turmoil that had begun onstage with Moonsorrow, Jonne and guitarist, Kalle "Cane" Savijärvi twirled, danced and grinned their way through the best party set I've ever seen. They showed no disappointment at the small size of the venue or the fact that it's split into "drinking" and "all ages" areas, with half the audience huddle far back from the stage in the dark, nursing their drinks. No, they just amped up the energy and convinced half the sitters to get up and come down to the dance floor. From now on, my motto is , "Who needs Top-40 cover bands? The world already has Korpiklaani!" and they get an audience going better than any cover band I've ever seen. With songs like "Tequila", "Beer Beer", "Happy Little Boozer" and "Vodka", perhaps it's not a complete surprise after all. In fact, "Vodka" provided one of the real highlights of the evening, when Jonne decided to work on the last remaining audience members in the far off drinking area. Hopping down off the stage, carrying his wireless microphone, he proceeded over to the bar, gathering crowd with him. Then he sang "Vodka" while standing on top of the bar and being served a shot in a plastic beer cup. Korpiklaani's stage antics and energy showed everyone the reason they are headlining this tour. The 10 or so folks that made the 4-hour round trip from Bozeman got their (ticket and gas) money's worth, no question.

There are still tons of great dates left on this tour, including tonight's show in Salt Lake City, then to the west coast of the US and Canada, back east in the US and then through Europe. Get off your rear, buy a ticket and go see the show nearest you. And be ready to let loose. This is a party!


You Know You're Not In Bozeman When... (Finnish Edition)

In my last post, I covered signs you are not in Bozeman, from the perspective of instead being in Sweden. This time, I'm going to cover signs that you are in Finland, instead of Bozeman, based on the week we spent in Helsinki. If you experience a few of the following, odds are you're in Finland:

- You're looking over transit maps, trying to plan a day trip and you encouner more umlauts than a double bill of Motörhead and Mötley Crüe.

- You can visit a local recording studio (Sonic Pump) and meet both Nino Laurenne (ThunderstoneHevisaurus) and Teemu Mäntysaari (Wintersun). Better yet, you can hear them playing on soon-to-be-released masters.

- You can visit a different recording studio (Finnvox) where almost all of your favorite metal albums were recorded (including releases from SentencedCharonNightwishHIMLullacryEdguy and Stratovarius). Literally, stand in the the room where the drums were tracked...

- You can visit a local music store (Musamaailma) and find a room filled with Bogner, Blackstar, VHT, Krank and Orange amps. No disrespect to our great local music store, Music Villa, but sometimes a metalhead needs to be surrounded by Heavy gear.

- You can walk a couple blocks from your hotel and visit a record store (Record Shop X) that has all those import albums that are marked as "Temporarily out of stock." on Amazon. On the window of the store, you see a concert flyer for Crucified Barbara (Swedish) headlining over Warner Drive (American).

Apocalyptica is playing in the main tent of city's big festival. You are disappointed because the tickets are already sold out.

- Wandering through town you stumble onto a part of the "200 years as capital" celebration, which includes a massive chain of oversized dominos. They're all stone, no wood involved...

- You visit a zoo, a historical fortress and an outdoor museum, all on islands and all reached easily without a car.

- In less than a week you have great Nepalese, Cuban and Malaysian dinners. You also have a great pasta dinner while watching people eat quick dinners at a table hanging from crane.

- You're at the airport at 6 in the morning, eating a killer croissant when you glance over your shoulder and notice a familiar face. Long blond hair, blond (almost white) long beard and immediately familiar from wall photos at a studio you just visited. Further iPhone digging confirms that it's Marco Hietala (bass, vocals) of Nightwish, grabbing a bite of food before catching a flight. Not long after, you realize that Tuomas Holopainen (keyboards) and Emppu Vuorinen (guitar) are with him. A little more digging confirms they are headed to Trondheim, Norway for a show that night. Yes, that night. You are impressed that they are up early in morning flying two hops to this coastal city in Norway to play a big headlining show. Makes me tired just thinking about it...

There you have it, Helsinki, you rock! Special thanks to Nino Laurenne and Risto Hemmi for taking time out of their busy days to talk to me about the concept and implementation for my next musical project. It's an absolute pleasure interacting with people that know metal, and share my love for great songs and stellar production. For those of you out there looking for a recording studio, and Finland is convenient, or at least feasible, I highly recommend both Sonic Pump and Finnvox!


You Know You're Not In Bozeman When… (Swedish Edition)

Having taken a couple weeks off from blogging to fully enjoy our vacation in Scandinavia, our return to Bozeman has helped highlight a number of distinctions between our experiences in Sweden and our daily lives in Bozeman. In today's article I will explore (in no particular order) some clear signs you are in Sweden, not Bozeman.

- You encounter water craft taller than most of the municipal skyline. In both Stockholm and Gothenburg, on any given day you are likely to see massive cruise ships that are unbelievably tall, in many cases dwarfing the city's buildings.

- You pass Amon AmarthIn Flames and Katatonia T-shirts in less than 5 minutes walking around downtown. Yes, I know folks in Bozeman that might have at least one or two of those shirts, but I've only seen a concentration of serious metal T's at local metal shows (e.g. Agalloch at the Zebra Lounge).

- You wander along a tourist-packed street in the old town, check out the first record store you find and more than 25% of the selection falls under the "Heavy/Death/Black/Thrash/Doom" section. I'm not knocking Cactus Records, but Sound Pollution in Stockholm (on Gamla Stan) is about a quarter the size and has nearly every band I'd every want to play on my radio show.

- You can ride a roller coaster and see Amaranthe within a few hundred meters of each other, on the same day. To be fair, the first half of that is sufficient, i.e. you can't even ride a real roller coaster in Bozeman, but even if you relax the comparison, in Bozeman, you can't ride any amusement park ride and see a heavy metal band at the same venue, not even at the county fair.

- You go for 7 days without noticing a single pickup truck or SUV. Nothing but Eurovans of all sizes from any number of manufacturers (e.g. Mercedes, Ford, Opel, Citroen, Fiat).

- You look through the "services offered" flyers at the local record store and see Deicide and Iced Earth's guitarist offering up lessons. Yes, you're right, Ralph is Italian-American, but point being, he's offering guitar lessons in Stockholm, not in Bozeman.

- You stumble onto multiple flyers for local metal bands you've never heard of. Or artists like TriviumNikki Sixx and Soulfly, headlining big shows in the next month. Truth is, it's rare to see flyers for -any- metal bands in Bozeman. Maybe in Billings or Missoula...

- You see a British woman playing a percussion instrument you've never heard or seen before (Hang), and she's hanging out with about 10 guys from Chile with long black hair, shades and Wacken 2012 T-shirts.

Our visit to Sweden was great. Three generations of the Hearst/Reynolds clan, three cities, two countries and two weeks. Lots of scrambling to figure out public transportation, frantic searches for WC's and many great meals. All in all, an amazing experience!

Before I sign off, I want to thank Thomas at Roaddust for his hospitality and wonderful conversation. We had a great time at Liseberg and really appreciate everything you did to help us plan and carry out this trip. In Helsinki, I was talking to Kiley (my daughter) about what she enjoyed most during the trip and she said "...especially seeing Amaranthe and meeting their road manager, who's really, really awesome."

Next time, Finland...