Freebie Throwndown #1

Every so often when I’m attending a festival, some dude sees my media pass and presses a free CD into my hands. Since these people obviously want a review, (and since I usually have a long drive home) they’re gonna get what they asked for. No bullshit, no sugarcoating, no punches pulled.

Round One:
At Times of Madness
S/T
Self-Released
Canada
2009

Spazzy songwriting. Whiney ex-boyfriend clean singing/talking. Fred Durst apologetics. We listened to this CD on the way home from Armstrong Metalfest and my buddy Mike looked at the tracklist and asked incredulously but I’ll say diplomatically, “they made eleven of these?” This album is pretty edgy; I’m glad the band had the presence of mind to slap a Parental Advisory logo on the cover. Vocalist Josh Pym sounds like he’s got serious issues on his mind. Either that, or his V-neck is too tight. The band thanks “God” but I’m pretty sure that if there was a god, he would have smote these kids with a hail of Manowar records before they ever hit the studio. Real talk: Everything about this release is fucking atrocious. The only mitigating factor would be the inclusion of titties on the inside cover, so at least I had something to jerk off to while I was listening to this garbage.

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When should you book your band’s CD release party?

I’ve heard so many horror stories about this and I simply can’t keep quiet about it any more.

Envision a situation: Your band has been hard at work for the past 10 months in your buddy’s basement studio, chipping away at a full length record in your spare time between work, family, commitments and of course other band related stuff like gigging and touring. Now, the fruits of your labour are ready to be unveiled. You book your CD release party at a popular club two months from today. Great! All you have to do now is get the mixing, mastering, artwork, layout, pressing, artwork for line up merchandise to match and print T-shirts, stickers, patches, hoodies and posters and of course all the press and promotion lined up. Oh yeah, you should sneak a photo shoot in there while you’re at it.

HOLD IT.

Something’s wrong. Let’s break this down a bit here.

Recording (almost a year) > Booking release show (2 months from now) > Mixing > Mastering > Artwork > Photos > Layout > Pressing > Merchandising > Press release > Other promotion > Success!

If you don’t see the severe error of this situation, you are fucked.

Truly, hopelessly fucked.

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Your fuckedness is written in the stars, bro.

If your band has fucked around spending the better part of A YEAR recording your album, what makes you think you’re in any shape to slap a sudden 2 month deadline on the remaining EIGHT STEPS (if not more) and get away scott-free? And why do we want to get away “Scott-free” anyways? Scott’s fucking awesome. But I digress.

BOOK YOUR CD RELEASE PARTY WHEN THE DISKS ARE IN YOUR HANDS.

Think about all the things that could go wrong in this process:
– Mixing guy’s studio burns down
– Artwork gets lost in the mail
– Layout designer goes on vacation right when you need crucial changes made
– Pressing companies booked SOLID
– CDs shipped to the wrong address
– Shirts printed with missing colours
– People in the press/media can’t get their interview schedules to match with yours
– Drummer too lazy to write thank-you list
– Mastering engineer has a mental breakdown and is impossible to reach for 3 weeks
– Photographer’s camera is seized for evidence in drug bust
– ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE
– Pet orangutang eats your hard drive before you can e-mail files to the pressing plant (why the fuck did you buy an orangutang anyway?)

These are just a handful of examples. You thought organizing a 5-piece band was tough? You ain’t seen nothing yet. Most albums and physical releases go through the hands of like TEN other people before they see the light of day.

When you’re dealing with this many people, shit goes awry. Life happens.

I’ve talked to at least three different bands in my city about pressing woes this year. Something happens down the pipeline (usually in the artwork/layout phase) and now they’ve got two weeks to get the CD in their hands, or they’re playing a CD release gig without the goddamned CDs. This means you’ll have to pay OUT THE ASS to get your disks ready on a rush schedule.

All this shit results in more stress, lower quality output (rushed artwork, etc), and more money spent.

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Get serious, people. Plan properly. FINISH. YOUR. SHIT.

I realize that this sounds harsh, but it’s the truth. If your band takes that long to record an album, then you’re not ready to put the timer on like that. You’re not serious enough yet. I get it, you’re a serious musician. But you’ve got kids to feed, a wife/husband to please, a car to get fixed, beers to drink and a World Cup to watch… life’s tough, right?

I hate to break it to you, but being in a proper, professional band means making sacrifices, difficult choices and looking at your priorities. If you want to record your album, then fucking record your album. Save up money. Fundraise. Book a decent studio and use some vacation time (if you’re fortunate enough to be in a situation where you GET vacation time) to lay down your parts. Oh yeah, let’s not forget REHEARSING so you can go in, track your shit in a timely fashion and get out.

If you go through two birthdays to record your album, then you aren’t all that serious. Sure, you take your music seriously and your art seriously, but you don’t take the vehicle off being in a band seriously. It’s just a hobby.

There’s nothing wrong with that.

But just accept it, and stop fucking yourself over with stupid decisions, okay?

Let me leave you with some tips on how to avoid these nightmare situations. They should be fucking obvious, but clearly they’re not.

– Book your CD release show WHEN THE CDs ARE IN YOUR HANDS. You waited a year (or longer) to finish recording, what’s another one or two months for the gig? More time to rehearse!

– Take care of artwork, layout, merchandising and as much of that other shit as you can while the recording is taking place. Streamline. Most of this other is simply a matter of sending e-mails and brainstorming ideas. It’s not hard.

– Delegate tasks. If one member is a good talker, get him/her to deal with press and PR. Find your band’s strengths aside from music. Works best when your members are no unreliable dildos.

– Have (reliable) band members who can do shit for the band. IE, your bassist has a degree in fine art. Maybe she can direct the art for your release while everyone else is recording their parts. Your singer is a photoshop whiz, let him put together the layout. Your drummer works for a screen printing shop. Whatever.

– Make a plan! Spreadsheets, schedules, calendars!

– Stick to your god damned plan

Good luck.

Live Coverage – Farmageddon 2014

My coverage of Farmageddon festival from June 2014.

Vandala Magazine

Page-24-25-July-2014-Vandala-Magazine-Farmageddon-Open-Air-2014If I say “Ryley, Alberta,” you probably don’t think “Open-Air Heavy Metal Festival” so let’s cut to the chase: Almost 40
 bands (most of whom you’ve never heard of) and paintball in
 the flatlands of central Alberta. Round two for Farmageddon, hosted by Excalibur Productions out of Edmonton/Devon area.
 Work commitments allowed me to attend the Thursday pre-party in Edmonton, then the main festival event on Saturday/Sunday.

Review By Jeff Black
Photos By Dana Zuk PhotographyMORE PHOTOS HERE
From Julys 2014 Vandala Magazine

THURSDAY
The pre-party was a speed metal smackdown at Filthy McNasty’s on Whyte Ave featuring Riot City, Hazzerd, Powerslave and Vicious. No cover charge; the gig had a pretty healthy run of attendees throughout the night. Powerslave kicked off the proceedings with a tribute to Iron Maiden, with an eye on tunes from the self-titled album all the way through to Fear of the Dark. Decent background…

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Fresh Lord of Winterfell

Now this is a story all about how
The Lannisters pushed me to the ground
It’s a pretty long tale so listen well
I’ll tell you how I became Lord of Winterfell

In northern Westeros, born and raised
The Wolfswood is where I spent most of my days
Chillin’ out with my father, executin’ runaway crows
Shooting arrows with my half-brother Jon Snow

Continue reading

Editorial – Stagecraft 101: Why Performance Matters

A little article I wrote on why your rock/metal band puts on crappy shows and some advice for fixing the problem.

Vandala Magazine

Amon-AmarthPhoto Credit Lana Nimmons

Article By Jeff Black
From Junes Vandala Magazine – READ MORE REVIEWS HERE

If your idea of playing a show involves tying back your hair, slipping into your favorite Cannibal Corpse tee and staring at your toes and fretboard for forty-five minutes, you’re doing it wrong. Said it, I meant it, now I’m here to represent it.

Every time I go to a local show, I find myself confronted by these types of bands. Lazy, uninspired non-performers who look like they’d rather be at home munching on Doritos and watching reruns of Friends than onstage, and it shows in their crowd attendance and overall response. If your show has me reaching into my pocket for my iPhone (or for a gun to put in my mouth) then we got a problem. No wonder turnouts for local gigs are at an all-time low and bands can’t make…

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How weird news teaches us great storytelling

Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.

The Red Pen of Doom

Every day, there are real stories in the morning newspaper that make you snort coffee out your nose or choke on a blueberry muffin. Note: This is why journalists call such pieces “muffin chokers.”

Yet the daily weirdness is more than funny. If you dissect these stories, you can learn deep storytelling lessons from the shallow end of the journalism pool.

Here’s a real story that just happened in my state: Man steals RV from Wal-Mart parking lot, leads police on wild chase. Swerves into sleepy little town where he knocks cars into front yards and such, then blasts through a house and crashes. Runs out, strips down to his underwear and invades a home to steal girl clothes. Cops catch him and haul him off.

This is pretty typical of a weird news story, and not simply because it started in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart — and yeah…

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Tales from the Lesson Studio: Part One

My final student of the day, a lad of eight years abruptly stopped his rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” He wrinkled his nose.
“Did you fart?” he asked.
“No,” I lied.
“I’m pretty sure you did,” he said, his expression grave, “Unless you just smell like dog crap all the time.”

Can’t get enough of these kids.

New Fantasy Anthology: Swords of Steel

A friend of mine in Chicago named Dave Ritzlin is putting together a paperback anthology series of Sword & Sorcery stories in the tradition of olde. We’re talking Howard, Smith, Wagner, Lovecraft, Leiber, Anderson, Haggard, etc etc. It’s due out early 2015.

Here’s the gimmick: These are stories written by Heavy Metal musicians.

 Here’s the lineup thus far. I believe DMR Book is still accepting submissions.

-Varg Vikernes (Burzum)

-E.C. Hellwell (Hellwell, Manilla Road)

-Howie Bentley (Cauldron Born, Briton Rites)

-Byron Roberts (Bal-Sagoth)

-Scott Waldrop (Twisted Tower Dire, Walpyrgus)

-Jean-Pierre Abboud (Funeral Circle, Borrowed Time)
-Jeff Black (Gatekeeper) (Me, woo-hoo!)
-Logon Saton (Demon Bitch)
-Jason Tarpey (Eternal Champion, Graven Rite)

None of these are household names by any stretch, though fans of the underground (specifically in the Epic Metal style) might recognize a handful of these groups. Howie Bentley has written a few articles on Sword & Sorcery for the Cimmerian, if I recall. I’m really hoping that this goes well and the idea takes off. Hopefully in subsequent volumes we will get to see some bigger bands contributing.

Check out DMR Books on Faceplant:

https://www.facebook.com/DMRBooks

And a recent interview:

http://lemurianlitan…rview.html#more

“You have HOW many cassettes?”

So today, Sunday, my only day off, I spent my time organizing my cassette collection. Yeah, tapes. With, like, music on them. I organized them alphabetically and then priced them out based on condition and rarity. ‘Cause that’s how I roll. I think I have close to 300 right now. One for every Spartan at Thermopylae, baby.

This is some of them

These are some of them

I love tapes. Just love ’em to goddamn death. I know they are flawed; I’m all too familiar with the ear-raking screams, the background hiss and purr, the terror of prying them apart to put the pads or the tape itself back into place (about as stressful as open-heart surgery). My Dio Last in Line cassette modulates in and out of key every 11 seconds due to the back-breaking strain I’ve put it through since I purchased it from some backwater record shop in Red Deer, AB.

Despite all this, I’ve found myself drawn to tapes, ever since I was a little guy. I’m now in my mid-20’s. I like looking at them. There’s something occult about them. I treat tapes the same way I’d treat the emerald tablets of Atlantean gods placed under my care. The shape of them, the size. The holes. I want to do terrible things to cassette holes. When I hunt through flea markets for new tape acquisitions, I feel like I’m Indiana Jones or El Borak, stalking through temples older than the seas in search of antediluvian artifacts. When I find a cassette from my want list, I get a chill when I slide it into my tape deck for the first time.

The other thing I love about tapes is the sheer DIY, underground quality of them. When I go see a band play live and they put their album or demo out on tape format, I buy it even if I hated their music. There’s this vibrant, raw energy that surrounds these dinky little chunks of plastic. I think this stems from the fact that recording music on tape represented a sort of paradigm shift in the music business, where all of a sudden, you didn’t have to be independently wealthy (or injured in a car accident) in order to afford to record your album. With the advent of tapes came the advent of home recording and the do-it-yourself mentality running in the veins of the punk and heavy metal movements. Vinyl records were the goal, the big leagues, the ivory towers, and tapes represented the stepping stones to get there.

I also love tapes because of the material you tend to find on them. Many bands released their full-length albums on tape format, but eldritch demos and obscure live performances are my bread and butter. I love listening to a recording and feeling as though the band is right there in front of me. The sound from the amplifiers is blowing my hair back and I’m surrounded by other crazy rockers in club where there’s sweat practically dripping from the walls. The drums sound like they were recorded in the bat cave and the singer’s mic punctuates the riffs with keens of feedback.

Ugh. It just rocks my world.

So anyways, that’s what I did with my Sunday Funday. I’m a goddamned nerd.