Diary of a Madman #9: The Lost Art of Shred Guitar
“Guitar gods are the only gods who exist, in this world or in the next,” says Dr. Hex
Anyone who knows me knows that a substantial part of the reason I call myself a musician is because of King Diamond. The Danish vocalist and his multinational ensemble have terrified me on many a night, with their tales of horror. So much so, that I’ve longed to emulate the same feeling of thrill and excitement in every musical endeavor of mine, with both my current projects–Albatross and Primitiv. King Diamond is one of the most legendary voices in metal, but any intelligent metalhead will admit that his outfit, while primarily led by him, is also very ably supported by his talented band in various incarnations. And whether it was in King Diamond or his original project, Mercyful Fate, there’s always been a twin lead guitar section that has invariably melted faces. The fire, the fury and the aggression in their playing has left me awestruck, through the years.
And now that you know that shred guitar is one of my favorite things in music, imagine my surprise when I see a lot of music lovers and fans refer to the art of shredding as ‘wankery’. While making sweeping statements such as: ‘Anyone can play fast but playing one note that touches your soul is real music’. No, you idiots, not everyone can play fast! And like it or not, shredding is a legitimate form of art. So take that one note, turn it sideways and well, you know…
There are so many beautiful passages in metal lead guitar playing that have resonated with me, both in context and in delivery. “Symphony of Destruction” by Megadeth is a great example of the mood and subject of the song being translated into a fluid and unsettling guitar solo. One of my favorite moments in music is from a song called “Spirits” on the Abigail II album by King Diamond, in which, after King Diamond screeches “Abigail is on fire,” there follows a barrage of notes from axeman extraordinaire Mike Wead, which accentuates this feeling of nightmarish horror. Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson’s solo effort Tyranny of Souls contains a masterpiece entitled “Navigate the Seas of the Sun,” which begins with a soulful, mournful lead line that captures the dreamy and poetic essence of the song, before segueing into a flurry of notes played on an acoustic guitar. Hey, it may not work for everyone, but it works for me.
One of my favorite moments from my own personal musical output is a section from the Albatross song “Kissing Flies.” There’s a passage where Biprorshee (vocalist, Albatross) exclaims – “And the drone of the flies, obscene and sharp/sounded like the playing of an angel’s harp.” To illustrate the duality of the demonic “Kissing Flies,” our guitarist Vignesh begins with a discordant section on guitar, which moves into a melodic segment, which eventually becomes a blazing almost melodic but not quite lead guitar solo from our other guitarist, Nishith. Buy the album. Or suffer my wrath. In fact, many Albatross songs have multiple guitar solos because I’ve been told that songs need not have guitar solos. Or at the most, one guitar solo is enough. This is my rebellion. I am a rebel with a cause. To safeguard the legacy of something I hold dear.
Shred guitar is exciting to watch live. Guitar gods are the only gods who exist, in this world or in the next. When used in the right musical context, guitar solos can denote everything from fury, to aggression, to anger, to even ecstasy with the right choice of notes. And it’s great to have shred guitar as part of one’s lead guitar playing vocabulary. Just like having a good vocabulary can help you communicate your thoughts and ideas in the best possible manner, not knowing how to shred is just a self-imposed barrier for a guitarist. And playing clean at supreme pace is definitely not easy. In fact, I’ve seen people struggle with the mechanical aspect of playing music more than the creative one at times.
So don’t discourage a guitarist who’s learning how to shred by calling it easy or lame or any other insult that your uneducated mind can concoct. I earnestly hope that coming generations develop a taste and aptitude for shredding, and guitar playing becomes exciting again. One can hope. If not, thank the stars for the many years of recorded music.
You say that not every song needs a solo. I say you’re right. Every song needs at least two.
Hear King Diamond’s “Spirits” below: