Monday, December 17, 2007

An Ode to Interludes

I was recently listening to the debut from reformed sludgies Baroness, the brilliant Red Album, and was floored by the instrumental acoustic piece "Cockroach en Fleur." Having interviewed John Baizley extensively about the album, I know that there was a reason why they put this interlude where they did in the album. They wanted to break up the heaviness on either side as so many bands have done before. Guitar solos, whether acoustic or electric, used to play such an important part in metal and hard rock that contemporary bands like Tool and Isis that don't play guitar solos have unwittingly begun lengthening their songs or including weird ambient tracks, acting as phantom limbs. The Grammy Awards have actually added a Best Rock Instrumental Performance award in the '80s, but it's mostly been awarded to primarily instrumental artists and, well, Paul McCartney. Frank Zappa got it once, though, which is kind of surprising. Anyway, in an effort for some historic fairness, I've made a Top 10 of my favorite metal interludes, airs and solos. They're not all guitar solos, but they contribute to the album's overall heavy sound. My criteria is that it has to serve its own independent purpose within the album and must mostly be performed on one or two instruments (hence, Judas Priest's "The Hellion" and Metallica's "Orion" don't count). Feel free to correct me on any omissions.

Top 10 Metal Interludes and Solos

  1. "Dee," performed by Randy Rhoads.

    Named after deceased guitarist Randy Rhoads's mother, Delores, "Dee" is a crisp, neoclassical acoustic tangent that comes in as track four on Ozzy Osbourne's solo debut, Blizzard of Ozz. It's beautiful and provides some insight into what a Rhoads solo album might have sounded like. In 1987, Ozzy included over four minutes of outtakes from the "Dee" sessions on his Tribute album. Not Surprising, one of Rhoads's replacements, Zakk Wylde, has attempted many acoustic guitar solos on his disappointing Black Label Society albums—save one, which is below. This is the ultimate in odes.

  2. "Black Mountain Side," performed by Jimmy Page and tabla player Viram Jasani

    Sandwiched between the poppy "You're Time Is Gonna Come" (the most Yardsbirds-y song on Led Zeppelin) and the blistering "Communication Breakdown," this hippy-dippy piece reflects the album's 1969 release year more than anything else on the album. This set the standard for metal interludes to come.

  3. "Eruption," performed by Eddie and Alex Van Halen

    Right after they hooked you in with "Runnin' With the Devil," the Van Halen brothers fired the finger-tapping shot heard round the world. In under two minutes, Eddie changed guitar playing forever.

  4. "(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth," performed by Cliff Burton and Lars Ulrich

    The best interludes are often the most off-the-cuff—the ones that people are doing just for a laugh. Burton never sounded serious on this ultra-distorted solo, and Ulrich's rushed drums only make it the more fun.

  5. "Spanish Fly," performed by Eddie Van Halen

    A year after he rewrote the rules for electric guitar on Van Halen with "Eruption," Eddie returned on II with this plucky acoustic number on side two between "Light Up the Sky" and "D.O.A." Although he uses his tapping techniques, it seems more derivative of influential jazz and flamenco like Al Di Meola and Paco de Lucia. According to Wikipedia, this is Steve Vai's favorite Van Halen song, and therefore it's probably crap and should have been omitted.

  6. "Laguna Sunrise," performed by Tony Iommi

    Programmatic music never suited metal well, but this ode to a beach in Orange County, California fit perfectly in the madness of Black Sabbath's 1972 album, Vol. 4. On their most straightforward "metal" album, "Laguna Sunrise" serves as a musical yin to side one's druggy "FX" yang. Plus, the major-key intro riff on "St. Vitus Dance" wouldn't make any sense without "Sunrise." Other notable Sabbath interludes include the harpsichord-driven "Fluff," their long-running concert opener "Supertzar" and "Children of the Grave"'s lead-in, "Orchid."

  7. "T.A.Z.," performed by Zakk Wylde

    I've included this as a reminder that moderation is best in small doses. Standing for "The Alcoholic Zakk," methinks Mr. Jeffrey Phillip Wiedlandt of Bayonne, New Jersey has bought too much into his southern biker rocker mystique. When He recorded this, it was pretty awe inspiring and the rest of this debut Black Label Society release seemed a refreshing change from the nu-metal that was still popular in 1999. Unfortunately, every album this group has released since has sounded exactly the same, and not in a cool AC/DC kind of way.

  8. "Bourée," performed by Ian Anderson

    Jethro Tull once won a heavy metal Grammy Award to the chagrin of Metallica fans everywhere, myself included, but since I've always rather liked Tull and this is my list, and hardly any metal bands have written a riff as thunderous as "Aqualung" in recent years, this flute arrangement of a J.S. Bach ditty in E minor makes the cut.

  9. "And the Address," performed by Richie Blackmore and Jon Lord

    From Deep Purple's debut, Shades of Deep Purple, guitarist Blackmore and organist Lord create a swirling psychedelic cauldron of heavy proto-prog and blues that predates Zep's "Black Mountain Side" by a year as an instrumental, but lacks the surrounding heaviness. Deep Purple was a different band then, still singing "Hush" and the Beatles' "Help," but not long after they would become one of heavy rock's greatest riff bands.

  10. "Odens Ride Over Nordland," performed by Quorthon

    This Bathory intro is one of the turning points of when solos and interludes started becoming soundscapes. Sure, there's a pretty creepy organ instrumental on this song that fits perfectly with the rest of Blood Fire Death's thrashy '80s black metal, but it's ruined by "mist" sounds and horses bleating. This album also contains an "Outro," but as a standalone piece "Odens Ride" sets more of a mood. After this, extreme metal started to become more modern and less bombastic. In my opinion, the bands could stand to take a break and pace themselves.

1 comment:

Sam said...

This post is just about perfect. And your comment about BLS and Zakk Wylde is pretty much spot on. T.A.Z. is really cool because you can hear Zakk breathing heavy about half way through. And as good a guitarist as he is, he needs to focus on quality, not quantity, when writing and releasing albums.