It’s list season, the only season that matters. That said, let’s talk about a list from nine years ago. Specifically, SPIN’s 100 Greatest Guitarists list, which highlighted a lot of names that don’t usually get brought up, including Arto Lindsay and Sonny Sharrock. It also didn’t take half-measures going left-field, like putting Jam Master Jay in the top 10. It was as notable for who it didn’t include: the whole point was that the usual suspects like Eddie Van Halen and Yngwie Malmsteen weren’t on there. In fact, playing fast in the traditional metal sense was a guarantee for exclusion. That’s not to say shred wasn’t represented, but it was more unorthodox speed demons like Ben Weinman, Trey Azagthoth and Mick Barr that made the cut.
The list was bold, to say the least, and it was a much-needed refreshment. To be honest, more often than not, I still want The Shred. Give me endless scale runs that only serve to show how fast someone can play. Give me endless tapping barrages and Floyd Rose divebombs. Give me George Lynch shredding on top of a volcano and Michael Angelo Baito pulling insane runs on four-necked guitars. I want all the overly technical thrills.
Andrew Lee, a prolific San Jose musician best known for his death metal project Ripped to Shreds, is also an unabashed worshiper of The Shred, as evidenced on his latest release, Andrew Lee’s Heavy Metal Shrapnel, out now through Nameless Grave. The name is an homage to Shrapnel Records, leading purveyors in light-speed acrobatics, and “Faster than a Laser Bullet” and “Deliverator” come through for pure speed. Lee’s exuberance simply cannot be contained; his excitement is what unites the record. “Spandex Rebel” melds thrash and glam sleaze, and “Maybe” is an unabashed ode to Van Halen’s keyboard-driven “I’ll Wait” – both demand a car with a tape deck and lead foot to be fully appreciated. Even the gothic organ that kicks off closer “A Better Tomorrow” can’t throw a dark shade on the luminous guitar theatrics – he’s simply having too much fun.
Read our conversation with Lee below.
SPIN: What made you want to make an entire record of shred stuff?
Andrew Lee: In general, I just really wanted to challenge myself to do an instrumental album that was interesting. I love all the classic shred albums, but a lot of them are also very noodly, they run up and down scales for five minutes and call it a song. It’s fun, but it’s not what I imagine myself doing. I started sometime last year, I tried writing one really catchy instrumental song just to see if I could do it. That’s the first song on the album, “Blasting the Ozone Layer.”
What drew you to this stuff in the first place?
It started when I was learning guitar, I was listening to a lot of the popular [metal] bands in the mid-2000s like Children of Bodom, Necrophagist, Dragonforce, Dream Theater, all these bands have super shreddy leads. When you start off playing guitar you just think that’s so cool and you wanna play fast yourself.
I remember listening to a lot of Dream Theater when I was a teenager too. What do you think it about these bands where young metalheads gravitate towards them?
It’s just really exciting. I didn’t start appreciating, like, the really slow stuff, like death-doom or traditional doom, until much, much later. Maybe if you were like a stoner in high school you would like the slow stuff. I think there’s a youthful energy to [shred] that speaks to teenagers in general.
Shred is a lot more diverse than people give it credit for, and I think this record really reflects that. Was that a conscious objective?
I didn’t just want to make nine super same-y sounding songs. So it was an objective to make each one as unique as possible so that if you drop the needle – there’s no vinyl version, but you know what I mean – anywhere on the record, you instantly know which song you’re listening to. Another thing is, I wasn’t only trying to rip off of Yngwie and Tony MacAlpine, I was also taking some stuff from more power metal like Jag Panzer, or glam like Dokken or even Van Halen. I was trying to cover a pretty big ground stylistically.
People think that shred is immature, or it’s something just for teenagers and you move on to something else. Is this project an attempt to transcend juvenilia?
Part of it, the stuff that doesn’t really keep your attention, like some of Michael Angelo Batio’s songs aren’t like very strong songs. There’s there that theatrical aspect where you see the four-necked guitar coming down from the ceiling and he’s shredding away, and that’s really fun and cool to watch, but the rest of the song isn’t a really good song, then you’re not wanna go back to it. When I think of the stuff I still listen to today compared to when I was a teenager, like Racer X or Tony MacAlpine, they wrote really good songs. That’s what I try to accomplish, that’s what set aside the cheesy, throwaway shred stuff versus the stuff that will stick around for a really long time.
What Michael Angelo Batio does, there’s the theatricality, but also a lack of humility, which I think is a big part of shred, but part of what turns people off of it.
I think theatricality is a big part, but how you perform it is really important. If you look at someone like Paul Gilbert – I mean he doesn’t really do it anymore, he’s more in total blues dad mode now, but when he was more theatrical with having people come on stage with his doubleneck guitar and having two people play the same guitar, or [he] pulls out an electric drill, or when he’s playing with Mr. Big and him and Billy Sheehan play on each other’s necks, I think there’s an element of self-awareness in his showmanship. Whereas some like Batio, it feels like he’s really serious, but it’s just hard to take something as ridiculous as what he does seriously. It feels like Paul has a little more fun with it.
What songs or albums do you think exemplify shred, that you would recommend to someone?
Racer X, I think Street Lethal is their absolute best album, first albums almost always are. “Into the Night,” it’s got a really good hook, and of course is Paul is shredding his ass off. I think “Superheroes” from their reunion album [Superheroes] is also really good. Those two have really solid riffs, really solid songwriting but also super sick shredding. Tony MacAlpine, you could pull any random Tony song and it’d be a great one. The obvious answer is “Hundreds and Thousands,” he’s got the super melodic arpeggios going everywhere, there’s a lot of great melodic content. I think the way that he plays on that song is really different from the Yngwie or Vinnie Moore kind of stuff that was popular in the ‘80s, he’s got these big, wide intervalic arpeggios, but it’s still really melodic and it’s still really metal. If you look at some of the other shredders back then, I feel like not a lot of them succeeded in being super shreddy and metal at the same time. The good ones end up doing a bit of country, like Michael Lee Firkins, or Greg Howe, which is jazz-rock. Metal shredders tended to be hit or miss, but Tony MacAlpine’s [the] fucking king.
Here are three more releases to cool off after shredding around the universe…
Malignant Altar – Realms of Exquisite Morbidity (Dark Descent)
Malignant Altar reunites guitarist Beau Beasley and drummer Dobber Beverly of Houston grindcore legends Insect Warfare, and their debut full-length is thick, swampy, putrid death metal. Beasley saved some of his chunkiest riffs for this record, and Beverly’s prowess not only distinguishes Morbidity from a lot of Incantation-style murk, but also gives nods to another classic Houston death metal group he was in, Infernal Dominion.
Ustalost – Before the Glinting Spell Unvests (Gilead)
Usually around this time of year, after my last year-end blurbs get sent into the digital fray, I go on a deep binge into electronic, ambient, and increasingly, new age. The less distortion, the less percussion, the less vocals, the better. Weirdly enough, the second album from New York’s Ustalost, the solo project of Yellow Eyes’ Will Skarstad, is scratching my itch to both drift off into astral planes and to remain on my metal Earth. Skarstad’s knack for propulsive melodies is still evident, with a lighter touch, floating black metal if you will.
Genocide Pact – Genocide Pact (Relapse)
Do I dig Genocide Pact’s third album because it’s more of their Bolt Thrower-in-a-punk-house charge, or do I love it because drummer Connor Donegan looks a lot like me? The answer: yes.