The Next Generation of Headline Acts Part 2

At a glance it’s clear to see the lack of variety shown by the organisers of the two biggest post-millennial UK metal festivals, Download and Sonisphere. What I deemed the ‘Festival Big 4’ (Metallica, Iron Maiden, Linkin Park and Slipknot) in last week’s blog, were almost ever-presents as headliners in the lineups, as organisers had worked themselves into a corner, unable to introduce newer acts in fear of losing attendees and profits, especially in recent years where the two festivals were in direct competition.

However today I want to answer the question more directly: who are the next generation of headline acts? How many bands are there that have the ability to step up into the headline roles when the old greats such as Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Kiss etc. retire, that haven’t yet been given the chance? I discuss three potential options below.

Alter Bridge

Alter Bridge are yet to produce a classic album; the closest thing so far has been their second effort, Blackbird, which flung them from a peripheral Creed 2 into one of the leading hard rock bands of today. The follow ups, AB3 and Fortress, have been successful too, although they did relatively little to further Alter Bridge’s path to global fame. However all is not lost, as Miles Kennedy has surely grabbed the rock world’s attention with his high-profile collaborations with Slash, providing an ideal springboard to promote his day job. Guitarist Mark Tremonti is also doing his bit with his solo material, which makes me believe Alter Bridge are just one killer album away from a future of headline slots. Just lose the cliche Cry A River songs and add a sprinkle of mainstream rock appeal and they’re there.

Deftones

Deftones have been a constant throughout the metal world over the last two decades; a hit with the fans and adored by the press, the dreamlike qualities of Deftones’ music has assured them main stage appearances everywhere they go. They are one of the few bands that seem to appeal to every metal head, as their music encapsulates all parts of the metal spectrum. They have straight forward heavy riffage, but can also be delicate and intricate, weaving elements of shoegaze and ambient into an often catchy format that defies classification. They may have little to no following outside of the metal community, but their popularity within it and their latest rebirth that produced Diamond Eyes and Koi No Yokan, surely means they deserve a go at headlining Download. After all, nobody can argue against the success of the band’s third album, White Pony.

Royal Blood

It’s hard to extrapolate a band’s career after just one album, but the success of Royal Blood’s self-titled debut was extraordinary and almost unheard of in today’s harsh music environment. The only problem the duo from Brighton face is how to keep evolving as a band; one record of just bass and drums is alright, but is it enough to form a distinguished career from? I’m not so sure. For Royal Blood to become the global megastars that they are tipped to be, they will have to embrace variety into their music. They can’t adopt guitars or they’ll lose their USP and keys wouldn’t really fit in, which leaves electronics – the instrument of today. My prediction is that Royal Blood will naturally incorporate the electronic elements, as a lot of bands are, which, as long as they keep writing tracks like Little Monster and Figure It Out, will be enough to elevate them to headline material. No pressure then boys.

If festival organisers prep these ‘second tier’ bands with support and second stage headline slots, then I think we will be safe when, in ten years’ time, the rock and metal giants retire. And who knows, maybe the next Metallica are just around the corner? Regardless of what happens in the future, I’m remaining optimistic for now.

Join the RockAtlantic mailing list by clicking on follow and, as always, press like if you enjoyed this blog and let me know your thoughts in the comment section below. Who are your tips for future headliners?

James

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The Next Generation of Headline Acts Part 1

Over the last few years there have been many discussions about who the next generation of music festival headliners will be – a conversation that has been reignited due to the cancellation of the UK Sonisphere festival, after organisers failed to secure an acceptable line up.

Looking back through the post-millennial history of the UK’s two biggest metal festivals (Download and Sonisphere) reveals that there really are only a handful of bands that organisers rotate through every year. Since Download started in 2003 and Sonisphere in 2009 (including cancellations), Metallica top the list with six headline appearances, followed by Linkin Park and Iron Maiden with five each and then Slipknot with four. In addition there have been repeat appearances from Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Def Leppard, Faith No More, Kiss, The Prodigy, Rammstein and System of a Down.

Download 2013 had two of the festival big four; Slipknot and Iron Maiden. Source: www.rushonrock.com

Download 2013 had two of the festival ‘big four’: Slipknot and Iron Maiden. Source: http://www.rushonrock.com

On top of this, the single headline appearances across these two festivals have generally not thrown up any surprises, as they have included the likes of AC/DC, Audioslave, Guns N’ Roses, Muse, Queen (with Adam Lambert), Rage Against the Machine, the Big Four of thrash (excluding Metallica) and emo bands My Chemical Romance and Lostprophets, appearing during the height of the genre’s popularity. In fact the only real surprises over the two festival’s combined eighteen year history have been Avenged Sevenfold, Biffy Clyro, Feeder, The Offspring and Tool.

The same problem plagues the festival bills further down too, with many acts having repeat appearances as second stage headliners, or supporting headliners, with bands like Judas Priest, Korn, Marilyn Manson, Velvet Revolver and Josh Homme in different guises, dominating the supporting festival cast.

The first taste of Download 2015 threw up no big suprises. Source: www.whtimes.co.uk

The first taste of Download 2015 produced no big surprises. Source: http://www.whtimes.co.uk

The result of this problem is that UK festivals have lost their variety. For example, if I attended the second ever Download festival in 2004 and then decided to try Sonisphere when it debuted in 2009, I would have seen the exact same headliners: Linkin Park on the Saturday and Metallica on the Sunday. The subsequent year at Sonisphere then shared two out of the three headliners that would later appear at Download 2013, a trait that is also shared with Download 2012 and Sonisphere 2014.

In fact going to metal festivals in the UK has turned into a fruit machine that guarantees you will see either Iron Maiden, Linkin Park, Metallica or Slipknot, since only four out of the two festivals’ combined eighteen years have not featured one of the four aforementioned bands –  a shocking statistic, especially when you consider that one of the four years was the cancelled 2012 Sonisphere festival!

The reason the same bands get recycled, is that organisers are afraid to say no to previous headliners and the bands are unwilling to move down the bill. Both of these factors are understandable; the festival is a business, so why alter a successful, tried and tested formula and a band like Metallica are never going to sign to play beneath a less experienced group, because they have too much pride and too bigger paychecks. Just look at how Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) reacted to finding out he was playing beneath Biffy Clyro at the 2013 Reading and Leeds festivals.

Nine Inch Nails (NIN) were not happy at being placed beneath Biffy Clyro during the 2013 Reading and Leeds festivals. Source: www.rocksins.com

Nine Inch Nails (NIN) were not happy at being placed beneath Biffy Clyro during the 2013 Reading and Leeds festivals. Source: http://www.rocksins.com

In Download’s thirteen year history only two headline bands have ever appeared lower down the running order in later years – The Offspring in 2014 and Faith No More in 2015, although both bands took a primary supporting role – either second stage or support main stage headliner. This means as the festivals have continued, the flow of new headliners has stagnated, because experienced bands have no where else to go – they are stuck at the top.

There is only really one solution to getting a wider variety of headline acts: for the organisers to stop booking up the same select few acts, and be brave enough to try out the bands that have been stuck at third down the bill, like Download did when booking Avenged Sevenfold in 2014. This doesn’t mean to stop securing the big names all together – by all means have one day when a Metallica or Kiss headline, but stop over-saturating the top of the bill with the same merry-go-round of road-worn rock stars and let some new blood try their luck. In addition to this, the second stage shouldn’t be used like the MLS (Major League Soccer) is for aging football greats, but instead for preparing a new generation of headliners for the main stage slot in few years time.

In Part 2 I will give examples of bands that I feel are ready to headline and make my predictions for the future of rock and metal music festivals.

Join the RockAtlantic mailing list by clicking on follow and, as always, press like if you enjoyed this blog and let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

James

The Curse of Back-to-Basics Albums

Last week I reviewed Muse’s latest album, Drones, which has been described as a back-to-basics album, as it ditched the electronic elements of its predecessor, The 2nd Law, favouring a guitar-heavy sound instead. The album definitely showed many traits of previous records, including some blatant rip-off moments, in addition to reigning in some of the Muse bombast, but despite the attempts to rekindle the old formula, the record still fell flat.

The concept of back-to-basics albums is nothing new and neither is the flop of such albums. I can think of many more unsuccessful attempts to return to a band’s heyday than successful ones, but why is that?

The main reason is the inherent concept of such an album. An album’s musical style is more than just a particular genre or way of writing – it’s a creative process that stems from the band’s mindset at the time. Take Linkin Park’s most recent record as an example. The Hunting Party was a return to the guitar-driven sound of their earlier records, after a detour through electronica (similar to Muse in that respect), which missed the mark entirely. Linkin Park’s debut record, Hybrid Theory, was built on angst, which coincided with the height of nu metal’s reign – a circumstance that no amount of writing could reproduce. The band are no longer twenty and the rap-rock style no longer excites the bands members, so the album naturally felt uninspired and forced.

A slightly more successful attempt came from nu metal pioneers Korn, who released Korn III: Remember Who You Are in 2010 to combat the distinctly average Untitled. Korn III returned to the band’s roots by removing the polished and layered sound of previous records, hiring their original producer Ross Robinson and returning to simpler and heavier song structures. However, with the exception of a few tracks, the record didn’t seem to have the same spark that their other albums have shown, as forcing a particular sound rarely results in a convincing record, even if all the correct ingredients seem to be in place.

Compare this to the follow-up, The Path of Totality, which completely removed itself from the trademark Korn sound, replacing it with dubstep and electronica. Whilst the album’s bold direction naturally split fans, it is clear to hear that the band are inspired and focused on this record, regardless of your personal taste. This is all because The Path of Totality was a record that the band wanted to record, instead of one they made to satisfy the fans, which is how most back-to-basics albums are conceived.

That is not to say that back-to-basics albums can’t be successful. Perhaps my favourite example is another band that was produced in the nu metal era, Deftones. Their fifth studio album, Saturday Night Wrist, although being a firm favourite of mine, split the fan base with its more experimental and atmospheric approach. Its follow-up wasn’t only a return to the simpler guitar music of their past, but a complete rebirth of band that at one stage looked set to fold, after their bassist, Chi Cheng, fell into a coma (and subsequently passed away in 2013). The album, entitled Diamond Eyes, surpassed all expectations by rejuvenating the old formula with new inspiration and a truly brilliant vocal performance from singer Chino Moreno.

If a band feels it needs to write a back-to-basics album then perhaps it should follow Deftones’ blueprint. A back-to-basics album shouldn’t be an album of recycled ideas or a direct imitation of a musical style, but a rejuvenised and re-inspired version of the band’s earlier records.

Join the RockAtlantic mailing list by clicking on follow and, as always, press like if you enjoyed this blog and let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

James

Review: Muse – Drones

As is immediately obvious from the horrendous cover art, Muse’s seventh record, Drones, is a concept album covering the overdone dystopian themes of humans losing their individuality and World War 3. After Muse’s fourth album, Black Holes and Revelations, it seemed the English trio were set for world domination, but after the release of the over-indulgent The Resistance and the under-whelming The 2nd Law, with this release Muse have found themselves under more scrutiny than ever before.

MuseDronesCover

Unfortunately, the first three tracks to be released from the record were a mixed bag. First single, Dead Inside, showed promising signs with a Queen-esque introduction that reminds of Radio Ga Ga and features a humming bassline and electronic buzzes. The whole track is stripped down, allowing Matt Bellamy’s falsetto vocals to truly stand out, which culminates in an epic finale that is typical Muse.

However the other two songs, Psycho and Mercy were less successful. The former, although boasting a great riff, is a very repetitive track that is tarnished by a horrible break down and comical lyrics; a trait that is also shared with the latter. In addition, both tracks seem to have been spawned from blueprints of previous singles; Psycho‘s verses are evolutions of the military marching of Uprising, whilst Mercy is an unapologetic copy of Starlight.

Sadly the record continues in this unsure approach. Just as you think Muse have found their form with the supreme track Reapers, which mixes disco elements, guitar stabs, tapping arpeggios and a variety of lyrical styles into an excellent hard rock format, they go on a three track-long mid-album slump. The Handler comes to life halfway through, but it’s too late to salvage the turgid beginning and the ‘life’ is only provided by recycled Absolution-era riffery. Both Defector and Revolt rely too heavily on Muse stereotypes, but at least the former feels inspired, unlike the middle-of-the-road Revolt, that is too bland to label.

However, some solace can come from the album’s final moments. Aftermath begins with gorgeous blues guitar accompanied by orchestral swells and grows into a sincere love song, that shows Muse can pull-off more than Queen-inspired hard rock tracks. The Globalist begins similarly, but unlike Aftermath, it transforms into a monstrously heavy section, before fading away, showcasing more emotional depth than the rest of the album put together. Drones finally concludes with the eponymously-titled track which sees the band performing a cappella, which although is interesting to hear, doesn’t really accomplish anything.

It seems the most successful moments of Drones comes from when the band are experimenting, such as during The Globalist and Reapers, but all too often Muse settle for the same stereotypical musical traits that once helped them breakthrough, but now just serve as self-parody. Whilst the odd layered falsetto vocal and bizarre Manson touchpad solo is no bad thing, it does need to have purpose. I’m afraid that as Muse try to keep breaking musical ground, they are actually cornering themselves to one quite tiresome formula. In another review I read that Drones is Muse on autopilot, but I believe they never actually took off with this effort.

Overall: 4/10

Join the RockAtlantic mailing list by clicking on follow and, as always, press like if you enjoyed this blog and let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

– James

Image: “MuseDronesCover” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:MuseDronesCover.jpg#/media/File:MuseDronesCover.jpg

Album Preview: Lindemann

Rammstein’s vocalist, Till Lindemann, has never been one for subtlety, with his profane lyrics, bizarre onstage antics and larger than life appearance, so his first solo outing was never going to be a quiet release. His solo project, simply titled Lindemann, sees the German pair up with they very like-minded multi-instrumentalist Peter Tagtgren (of Hypocrisy and PAIN) and their first effort, entitled Skills in Pills, is due to be released in late June.

Last week the first glimpse of the band’s debut effort was released, in the form of single Praise Abort. The song has an accompanying music video, which straight from the off shows that the band means business and aren’t afraid to be as weird and profane as they possibly can be.

Musically the track is based around an industrial keyboard riff accompanied by a mechanical drum beat, which is a direct marriage of the both Lindemann’s and Tagtgren’s usual styles. Whilst the band’s sound isn’t particularly surprising, it is unusual to hear Lindemann singing exclusively in English. However, this is where the problems begin.

Although the subject matter is as weird as many of Rammstein’s tracks are, when Lindemann pens these songs in German his poetry is usually much cleverer and any oddities are disguised to foreign listeners, however, when he writes in English his wit seems to become diminished, a trend that began with the Rammstein tracks Amerika and Pussy.

That being said, it isn’t all bad news, there is still some humour within Praise Abort and the industrial foundation of the track is a promising sign. The chorus, although a little overdone, is also a positive and stays in your head well after the pig-filled video stops.

Whether or not the rest of the album follows this blueprint is, as of yet, unknown. If the music is this good throughout and his lyrics don’t become too pointlessly crude (which might be a big ask with announced track titles such as Ladyboy and Golden Shower) then Lindemann could be something special. However if the pair are just resorting to cliche shock tactics then Skills In Pills may be better off forgotten. Here’s hoping for the former.

Impression: 6/10

Join the RockAtlantic mailing list by clicking on follow and, as always, press like if you enjoyed this blog and let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

– James