This is part 3 of an ongoing multi-part series that recounts the life and times of the late tech-metal webzine, The Apparatus. If you missed them, take a moment to catch up with part 1: Introduction and part 2: What it was.
I first encountered Mathcore when I was surfing the web for music with Paul. His friend Sean M. gave us 2 recommendations: one Ion Dissonance – Breathing is Irrelevant and two Psyopus – Ideas of Reference. We heard Norma Jean’s first album Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child, which we loved, but at the same time we craved the musicianship exemplified with European metal bands like Opeth, Arch Enemy and Children of Bodom. This sounded like the best of both worlds – on bath salts. We quickly found a spew of Mathcore bands that had been waiting to be discovered. Bands like Crowpath, Ed Gein, The Number Twelve Looks Like You, Daughters and The End settled easy in our repertoire. A lot of times we were skeptical on whether these bands could actually play what they had recorded. They were obscure and their small tours a lot of times didn’t stop in town. Instead of waiting for bands to come to us it was time we stepped our game up and went to them.
Trending metal tour packages typically put a mathcore act on their bill at the time. It’s always a good idea to have diversity in your line ups. Always, the mathcore act was playing stuck first or second which meant a 4 or 5 song set. Road trips became a means of seeing those 4-5 songs. Treks 3 hours long were nothing to see a 20 minute set. We made it worth the band’s while by picking their brains (perhaps to the point of annoying them) but we’d also leave fully stocked with as much merch as we could afford. It started to culture a habit of taking the tour posters off the walls. As my obsession for mathcore bands grew, it had an opposite effect for the associated cousin styles. We were elated yet frustrated to get what we could get. My displeasure with metalcore, hardcore, and extreme metal started when bands started to come out with the same album musically over and over. If even worse song after song within the album (cough Unearth). When cable speed internet is a new standard in everyone’s home, and there’s no limitations on free, multi-format music education with bands halting at open-E breakdowns: we moved on quickly.
Always the mathcore act stuck first or second which meant a 4 or 5 song set. Road trips became a means of seeing those 4-5 songs. Treks 3 hours long were nothing to see a 20 minute set.
We could download whole albums as quickly as each breath escaping. We chewed up and spit out music as if our lives depended on it. If we could figure out where the song was going in the first minute, it regularly proved boring to me. Virtuosic music challenged us to pay attention with calm even in the eye of a hurricane. It always challenged me to get the anger off my chest and harness it into discovery and keep an open mind. I was familiar with Napster in its infancy but I didn’t own my own computer until 2000. Before then I had always saved up my lunch money to buy a big of pack of CD-Rs. I’d make payment with 2 CD-Rs; one for my requested music and one to keep. It worked out very well for the some of the more expensive and obscure releases. It also gave me a lot to do. I was really picky about my music collection. I’d spend hours printing out text and artwork, cutting out and tapping burned album jewel cases to match seamlessly in my collection. On the contrary to cheapening professionally packaged albums, it gave me a better appreciation for album artwork and layouts. The conscious act of thievery never occurred to me at the time.
I was really picky about my music collection. I’d spend hours printing out text and artwork, cutting out and tapping burned album jewel cases to match seamlessly in my collection.
By the time I started getting into pirating music I had purchased a couple hundred albums. By the time I started my first job, I was easily dropping $100 in CDs on every trip to the record store. I was capping out at around 600 albums before chains like FYE started to accept trade-ins. By the time The Apparatus was in full swing, cable modems and CD-R burners were the mandatory items for any new digital music listener. Thinking back, I would have stayed broke many times over, but the point was to filter everything. If I’d download 20 albums, I’d skim them all and keep 10. If I listened to one of those multiple times, all the way through, and was still interested in listening to it – it was worthy of spending money on. From my perspective, it wasn’t me who was ripping off the record labels, it was the record labels failing to keep up. If you can’t reach your album out to a 15-year-old kid, your business model is skewed. And when a 15-year-old metal head sees a dropped dollar on the ground (e.g. The Internet), he’s going to pick it up and keep it.
Eventually I switched over to an all digital format to obtain music. Physical copies were still in the picture though. The Apparatus had been obtaining dozens of free promotional copy albums every week. After awhile, retail raised so high I threw in the towel. When FYE is charging $19.99 for a 10 minute, 2 song EP from The Locust (Safety Second, Body Last) with a cheap, broken jewel case – something was very skewed. I’m not sure if the early pirating scene caused record labels to raise their prices to compensate losses or record labels caused the piracy scene to humble record labels because they were charging too much for their product. In the end, there was no other choice than to download music illegally. You would think the multi-million dollar music industry had enough money to invest in the Internet as a new format for releasing and advertising their product. They dropped the ball. It’s also in the interest of the record company to hurt their —œcompetition.— Projected record sale losses or their business art formula is trite and slipping? Either way they were biting the hands (fans) that feed them.
If you can’t reach your album out to a 15-year-old kid, your business model is skewed. And when a 15-year-old metal head sees a dropped dollar on the ground (e.g. The Internet), he’s going to pick it up and keep it.
In between music coming to us, we still found time to research and seek out more mathcore. We knew that the scene was small and infant enough that we could get on top of everything out there. At some point, we managed to discover and then follow every mathcore band that were searchable online. The bands found quickest were in Rochester New York: a frozen sauna of Technical Metal. Bands like Kalibas, Lethargy, Sulaco and later Psyopus authored a small mecca of angry unforgettable metal in their town. Take it back a decade and come to find out a different breed of Technical Metal perhaps was the catalyst for all of this. Cynic, Atheist, Death, Pestilence, Voivod, and Gorguts, had been blending Jazz Fusion and Metal long before anyone else at the time. On the side of rock music, alternative rock acts Mr. Bungle, Primus, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Buckethead had been colorfully adding in all sorts of technical elements in their music. We began to see how far being more musical really stretched. Mathcore to me was about breaking boundaries in it’s own scene, but it had really opened the flood gates for me.
The rabbit hole went a lot further than the previous decade’s pioneers. I quickly discovered the holy trinity of Jazz Fusion bands; Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return to Forever. They had the dense and mind-blowing technique not uncommon in a Dillinger Escape Plan song. We ended up having some really popular forums and great camaraderie between bands, fans and all together. Some of the really awesome musicians over the years included Dim Mak, Hybrid, Crowpath, SWWAATS, Maruta, Psyopus, Tera Melos, Journal, Bedlam of Cacophony, The Crinn, Hunab Ku, Lye By Mistake, Iwrestledabearonce, Tony Danza and even members of Genghis Tron. Colin Martson, and Mick Barr, stopped in on a few occasions. Creating online friendships made it a little less risky for bands to crash at fan’s home when the occasion arose. We knew the tax it can take traveling all the time to see bands. We could only imagine going on a national tour. We had no problem letting bands stay at our house on many occasions. The comfort of washing clothes, a hot shower, or some chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast can really boost a band’s morale.
Kids were producing high quality music out of their bedrooms and didn’t need to pay for record studio time. Without the investment of money into studio or even shows there wasn’t anything to lose so why not put it online for free. The model created instant feedback and consequent conversation; a to z in couple clicks.
By the start of 2010, bands really started dissolve in the genre. Groups were reaching 5-10 year runs and it started taking a noteworthy toll. Bands like The End, Ed Gein, Ion Dissonance and Daughters were dramatically changing their approach. For better or worse it was a shift away from abundant technical playing. Meanwhile bands like The Number 12 Looks Like You, Lye By Mistake, and Sikth were calling it quits all together. Even small independent operations like Debello Recordings, Hydra Head Records, 187 Records, Abacus Records (a subsidy of Century Media) were ending their content output. I don’t know if people got tired of all the hardcore dancing on one side or the heavy music (not tonality, mentally weightful) on the other, but the scene took a big side step. Computer technology and pirating made music software readily available. Kids were producing high quality music out of their bedrooms and didn’t need to pay for record studio time. Without the investment of money into studio or even shows there wasn’t anything to lose so why not put it online for free. The model created instant feedback and consequent conversation; A to Z in a couple of clicks. Thousands and thousands of dollars for professional software like Reason, Guitar Pro, Pro tools, Drum kit from Hell, Guitar Rig were —˜shared’ with an ambition to learn and make quality sounding music lead to an interesting twist in Technical Metal.
It was very fresh at the time, but with everyone eager to become a bedroom success, the pool quickly depleted quality leaving the value watered down with the quantity of releases. With a new Soundcloud account, your Misha Mansor, Ben Sharp, Hayato Imanshi type idols become your rivals.
This has been part 3 of an ongoing multi-part series that recounts the life and times of the late tech-metal webzine, The Apparatus. If you missed them, take a moment to catch up with part 1: Introduction and part 2: What it was.
Do you remember The Apparatus? Were you around during the tech-metal rush? Let us know your story in the comments below.