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Deftones—White Pony

The year is 2000. A new millennium dawns upon the world, and brings with it a cultural upheaval. In the world of metal music, the last decade has seen one revolution after another. Grunge may have breathed its last shortly after the demise of Kurt Cobain, but it has set a precedent for metal musicians to constantly reinvent themselves.

In the second half of the ’90s, a growing appetite for experimentation within this community brought forth an exciting twist. A new generation of musicians was rising to the fore. The kind that was raised not to have a one-track mind when it came to what they listened to. These were the children you could find jamming along on their guitar to the latest Metallica record, with a poster of Dr. Dre on the wall behind them.

They could appreciate the beauty of what both genres brought to the table, and this inspired them. There was no denying the brilliance on display in rap musicthe wordplay, changes in flow, the technical prowess it took to narrate a story over the rhythm of a beat.

Yet, their natural instincts took over and they knew something was amiss. It lacked the aggression of metal. A burst of raw energy only down-tuned guitars and harsh vocals could provide, had become an adrenaline fix that was impossible to live without.

While Nirvana and Soundgarden ruled the early ’90s, bands like Deftones, Slipknot, and Limp Bizkit had taken the forefront by the decade’s end. (Image credits: Reddit)

Deftones were among the first to usher in this hybrid of two genres, that would go on to be dubbed ‘nu-metal’. They had set the tone with their 1995 debut album, ‘Adrenaline’, which came packed with impeccable work in the rhythm section as Chino Moreno began digging into his roots in the vocal section.

In this new style of music, of which they were the genesis, guitar solos became a thing of the past. Instead, they were used as a foundation for the song. Vocals became the dominating component, and the instrumental section was tasked with crafting an unassailable rhythm over which the entire song was constructed.

However, their time to shine really came around in 1997’s ‘Around the Fur’.  This was when the world came to see this band for who they really were. Forty minutes of screaming into a microphone, backed by a wall of distortion, was not what they stood for.

Here, we had a group of musicians who did not shy away from sharing their more pensive, mellow side with the world. While this part of their identity began to take shape on ‘Around the Fur’, they realised their true form with the release of their third album, ‘White Pony’. In this article, we leap back twenty years in time to unravel this landmark album not only in the discography of Deftones, but the history of nu-metal as a whole.

Celebrating 20 years of Deftones' masterpiece 'White Pony'

Deftones circa 2000. L to R: Abe Cunningham (drums), Chino Moreno (vocals), Frank Delgado (keyboard/turntables), Stephen Carpenter (lead guitar) Midair: Chi Cheng (bass) (Credits: nme)

From the get-go, we are met with the polarising track, ‘Back To School (Mini Maggit)’. Here was Deftones, under duress from their record label, satirising the very style of music that they had helped inspire. To prove a point, this song was released as the lead single after trimming it down to half its original length and interchanging the sombre vocals with a burst of scathing rap.

The popularity of this track on the charts sent their message across with abundant clarity. To rise to prominence in the music scene at the time, the recipe for success laid simply in sprinkling some hip-hop over a rock album. In doing so, however, they had unwittingly created a masterpiece.

Anyone listening to this track without any idea of how it came to be, would get whisked away into memories of elementary school. The cheerful guitar intro mimics the tolling of a school bell, and the class is dismissed for a recess break. Just as you set off to play with your friends and revel in childhood innocence, everything around you comes crumbling down.

A rip-roaring scream and foreboding chords set the background score. What seemed like the start of a pleasant dream, suddenly dons a nightmarish hue. You find yourself back in the same era that caused you to turn to music as an escape in the first place. The difference this time, however, is that you are blessed with the gift of foresight.

A scene from the ‘Back To School (Mini Maggit)’ music video.

The lyrics tell a story of someone who sees past the obsession with vanity and finding a place to fit in. Someone who knows that the pursuit of something so fruitless is not worth the sacrifice of personal identity.

The lines, “And now I’m on the next page, it’s time to close the book up”, speak of someone who passed through this system themselves, took their fair share of bruises, and moved on to thrive in the real world. A world that lies outside the four walls of high school. Now, he has the chance to relive that time in his life. He sees the same people who were never able to move past those trivial social politics. He has the chance to tell them that living a lie will only get them so far. Unless they want to confine the best years of their life to high school, they should give up the act and recognise that there are far more important things to pursue than popularity.

As the album goes on, a pattern becomes apparent in how the tracks were mixed. ‘Feiticeira’ takes no prisoners in picking up momentum from where its predecessor left off. Our levels of anxiety and adrenaline both find themselves heightened as the guitars set our hearts racing, changing pace only to go faster every time.

A bygone era of record stores. (Credits: Last.fm)

A complete reversal of the story in Eminem’s ‘Kim’, this tale is from the perspective of a man who gets kidnapped by his girlfriend.  Bound and confined to the trunk of her car, he pleads to be let go. All the while, she assures him that everything will be over soon. The song fades away in this cycle of dialogue between hostage and captor, without ever telling us what became of his fate.

Following this grim episode, we have ‘Digital Bath’, the first ballad of the album. It becomes apparent by now that Moreno’s lyrics have the gift of expressing a lot, without saying much. The drums usher in a refreshing breeze, and an aura of romance lingers in the air with each piano chord. Chino, ever the quintessential metal vocalist, is a natural fit for crooning in short breaths and trailing off. 

This is where the album’s mixing reaches a stroke of genius. Deftones knew that while their listeners did enjoy their softer, melodious side, their patience for such moments only ran so thin.  It’s almost as if this song was deliberately extended to wear the listener out so that they would be unprepared for what came next.

‘Elite’ erupts from the silence, blasting you out of your ballad-induced stupor. As you struggle to find your balance, this beast of a song froths at the mouth, only getting more ferocious with each passing moment. The magnitude of the riff sends cracks through the earth around you. Chino’s raucous shrieks pierce through the fabric of your soul.

What passion looks like. (Credits: Revolver)

Continuing the lyrical themes of ‘Back To School’, the lyrics warn of the perils that come with indulging in excessive attention-seeking. The words, “When you’re ripe, you’re beyond control, you’re beyond control”, form the chorus of the song.

Note the added sinisterness that comes with repeating something a second time. It’s not the first “You’re beyond control” that strikes fear in your heart. His mustering of all his energy to emphasise it a second time is what truly sets you hairs on end.

The latter half of this album is where we truly find a celebration of nu-metal at its finest. With a penchant for giving their work vague yet artful titles, this track is simply called ‘Korea’. An ominous calm in the initial moments triggers a sense of alarm. It is the kind of quiet that does not herald glad tidings ahead, but triggers your instincts of fight or flight.

Before you’ve had time to react, lead guitarist Stephen Carpenter launches the riff like bombs from a fighter jet. In the eye of your mind, you can see the band playing this on stage with everyone grooving to their instruments.

You take to your feet and jump along with the rhythm, both band and audience united in their revelry amid chaos. That’s the beauty of metal. More often than not, songs don’t tackle life and its issues head-on. It provides you with an outlet to unburden yourself of all the stress without even thinking about it.

deftones gifs Page 5 | WiffleGif

From the ‘Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)’ music video (1998).

No discussion of this album can be complete without bringing up ‘Passenger’. Tool was taking the world by storm around that time, and the trained ear can catch Maynard’s presence from the first note to escape his throat. This ballad brings out the best in Moreno and Maynard’s trademark styles of singing.

In no mood to rush things, Chino lets you feel the pain in every word. Maynard’s vocal melody dances around every line, wrapping itself around his sense of how the rhythm should flow. Contradicting the illusory sense of tranquillity through all this is a riff that’s rearing to be let loose.

At last, the aggression unfolds and Maynard screams into the night. He paints a picture of taking a drive through deserted city streets, headlights fighting to penetrate the fog. This night is one of those spent with a friend that might seem like nothing while it takes place, but will be recalled years later with pure bliss, capturing a feeling you long to experience once more.

Two decades on, ‘White Pony’ remains a fan favourite among Deftones’ wide body of work, and with due reason.  This album serves as a source of inspiration for bands to follow their heart rather than dwell on how listeners might perceive their experimentation. A real artist must always strive to stay true to themselves first, and remember that self-expression is why they took to music to begin with.




Misunderstood Masterpieces—Metallica’s Metallica

Consistency is a word that has never quite been part of Metallica’s vocabulary. Their self-titled album was released in 1991, marking a decade since their inception. Each of the five albums in their discography at the time stood as a shining example of their ability to reinvent themselves.

In this span of timethey overhauled the very tenets of thrash metal with debut Kill ‘Em Allshowing their peers that approaching one’s instrument with blinding speed was not key to expressing rage and aggression. By incorporating melody and slowing down the tempo to bring out the intricacies in your music, this gruesome emotion could be transformed into a thing of beauty.

Their second album, Ride The Lightning, brought them infamy with Fade To Black. A ballad, laden with lyrics of self-introspection and acoustic guitarswas played before an audience by then acclimated to songs about Satanism and rebellion against the establishment.

The sacred first four Metallica albums

It comes as no surprise, then, that Metallica or The Black Album as it came to be known, had very big shoes to fill. Only five years had passed since the untimely demise of beloved bassist Cliff Burton in a tour bus accident where he was the sole casualty. Rather than taking time out to grieve and process their feelings, the band instead elected to find a replacement and dive head-first into the studio.

This resulted in …And Justice For All, their most technically complex record till date, boasting unpredictable time signature changes and tracks nearly doubled in length. The purpose of doing so was abundantly clear. As Cliff’s songwriting presence began to predominate on the previous two albums, Metallica started to have increasingly progressive inclinations in their music. Far from being brought up on a diet of metal, he harboured a passion for classical music as well, and this showed in his keen instinct for harmony.

He passed on his learnings in this skill to his fellow band mates during his tenure in Metallica. Thus, ‘…And Justice For All’ became a way for them to provemore to themselves than anyone elsethat they were still capable of making intelligently composed music, even without Cliff.

Metallica with Cliff Burton. L to R: Kirk Hammett, Lars Ulrich, James Hetfield, and Cliff

Though nobody knew what to expect from The Black Album, it would be safe to say that Metallica held monopoly over the world of metal at the time of its release. It is important to know the nature of the environment that this album was born into. Metal music was the predominating genre of the late ‘80s, and Metallica had shot over all their contemporaries to become a household name.

Their contemporaries were enjoying moderate amounts of success, but they were on a different level altogether. Scrapping their tour bus in favour of a private jet, they were constantly traversing the Atlantic Oceanheadlining concerts for stadiums full of people on either side. While the grunge scene was very much steadily on the rise, Metallica knew they had a fan base of thrashing sharks more than people. They needed a fixto violently flounder their heads and writhe their bodies tobut they hadn’t been fed in the last three years, and were chomping at the bit.

Stylistic changes were definitely on the agenda for this much-awaited album. It goes without saying, however, that they could not stray too far from their metal roots without shaking the very foundations of their following.

Hetfield surveys his kingdom. Day on the Green, 1985.

On this forefront, The Black Album stormed onto the scene, with a determination to deliver. Record stores were packed the night before its release, the curiosity of fans only stoked further by its plain black cover. The band had mentioned in a statement that they opted out of any cover art this time, as they wanted nothing to draw the listener’s attention away from the music.

So when long-haired teenagers would put the cassette in their carsadrenaline coursing through their veins as they scowled through gritted teeththey were not going to be disappointed. Sad But True paves the way for the path ahead with just a single down-tuned power chord. The distinctive tone of the guitarmuddy with a domineering presenceleaves no doubt in mind with every second that he holds down this rearing beast. This could only be the work of James Hetfield.

Not one to be left behind, Lars locks in on the drums, with a perfectly-timed slam of his snare to meet every strike of James’ guitar. As his sticks dexterously roll across the kit in a frenzied fillrocks crumble into cracks on the earththe devastation left in their wake after this assault on our senses.

The main riff picks up from where this quake left off, hauling this behemoth along in one seemingly never-ending breakdown. James dredges up feelings most of us prefer to keep vaulted deep within, unless unwillingly exposed by a vulnerable moment. He narrates a conversation with the side of our conscience that knows no boundariescares not that our actions may have consequencesand only seeks instant gratification.

“…you know it’s Sad But True”

By this point, two things have become abundantly clear. Producer Bob Rock, most well-known for his work with glam rock bands like Motley Crue, had taught James Hetfield how to sing. When word spread that Metallica would be working with him for the first time on this albumsuspicions ran high that this would be a commercial album, full of radio singles. Metal puristswho swore by Metallica’s as yet flawless track recordlost sleep over thoughts of the founding fathers of thrash metal transforming into a hair band overnight.

When asked about this in interviews, James had one simple reply. If working with Bob meant that he would turn them into Motley Crue, would Flemming Rasmussen (Metallica’s longest-standing producer till then) be able to make the Crue sound like Metallica? For reasons not quite known, Hetfield’s voice had been changing with every album. This could be attributed to his alcoholism and screaming at the top of his lungs at every show for the last 10 years.

In any case, this change worked in his favour, for his voice now sounded deeper and more mature. It was only in the natural progression of things, then, to teach him how to sing in key. This lent his voice the capability of increasing the blend of emotions it can contribute to the music, allowing more room for melody.

Producer Bob Rock shares a lighter moment with James and Lars in the studio.

Secondly, this album was responsible for the guitarist community’s present-day association of lead guitarist Kirk Hammett with the distortion pedal. Kept under wraps for the most part, he’d only revealed his penchant for using the “wah” effect in certain moments of brilliance.

In his solo on Battery in Master of Puppets, the thick distortion as he ran up and down a scale, ascending incrementally in pitch each time, played the strings of our hearts like streaks of sunlight after a storm.On The Black Album, he insists that his excessive usage of distortion was not to mask any insecurities.

It was because, in his opinion, the wah brings out the emotion he is trying to convey, in a much stronger vein. To prove his point, Holier Than Thou announces its entry with a twin guitar attack. James works that picking hand with everything he’s got, palm-muting this riff that trudges authoritatively along in powerful, intermittent bursts.

Rather than join him, Kirk lumbers out from beneath the abyss. Tides churn, waves ripple on the surface, a gnarled, seaweed-covered hand pokes out from the void, and feels solid ground for the first time. The groaning of Kirk’s distortion alerts all present of his awakening. If you found James fearsome by himself, now in the company of his shadow as it rises up from behind himdwarfing everything aroundhe has become truly invincible.

Hetfield and Hammett in action

This song was a ballistic missile of contempt aimed straight for their detractors. Making no attempts at hiding under the guise of metaphors, James pulls no punches when he tells them to worry about themselves instead. A blasé “YEAH, who the hell are you?” forays into his own brief rhythm guitar solo that once again brings guitar interplay into the picture as it opens directly into another one by Kirk.

The increased presence of James shouting his trademark “Yeah!”s on this album is yet another way Bob Rock added his production flair to this album. Initially, the band was wary of his presence in the studio, refusing to take in any input. He had been reduced to a bystander, and this was causing tension to mount.

When he finally managed to get through, he pointed out that the rawness of their stage presence cannot be felt on their studio albums. A Metallica show in the ‘80s and early ‘90s was unlike anything experienced ever before or since. The camaraderie between the band members showed that they truly lived off the energy of their own music.

Jason’s lashing his hair about in a windmill as his hands worked the bass without him even looking at it was no act of display. He was lost in the moment, and needed to let loose. It was no secret that Lars lived to be under the spotlightand had been practicing drums religiously since Metallica’s rise to prominence to give the audience the show they wanted.

Nothing could compare, however, to those “YEAH”s James roared into the mic. His frame towers over the stand as he leans back to play his monstrous riffs, hands sliding across the fretboard. A sly grin spreads across his face, while his eyesblue as the oceanreveal a furnace of rage crackling within. Bob wanted to capture this insanity on record, so he encouraged the band to play on record as they would on stage. It was a tactic that proved to be a masterstroke.

Metallica’s line-up from 1987-2001, featuring Jason Newsted

Up next we have The Unforgiven, the track that made this album what it was. A track without which Metallica might not have entered the lives of many. The first of a three-part series, it brought tears to the eyes of lonely souls on nights that felt merciless, even when the sun was still out.

Not to be mistaken for a cry borne out of misery or self-pity, the sobs this evokes are the kind that make your heart feel lighter when they’re done. The kind thatfor however fleeting a momentallow your mind to wander away from what’s burdening it down and hope for a better tomorrow.

The beauty of this song is that it isn’t sad throughout. You don’t empathise with it because the singer is droning on about some tragedy that befell him. It preys, instead, on your anger. James is portraying an old man lying on his deathbed, reflecting on a life spent living for others.

“He tries to please them all, this bitter man he is”

Thus, if you’re an older person listening to this song, it opens up scars you had hoped would fade away with time. If you discovered this in your adolescence, it forces you to confront your reality head-on. You know there’s no escape, you need to make a change. You need to find your own happinessbefore this relentless rat race of pleasing your elders imposed on you since birthfinally swallows you whole.

They say they know what’s best, that they have experience you lack. Life holds no certainties, and it’s always safer to tread the beaten path. But without taking risks, dealing with failure, learning from it, and enjoying the occasional victory, are we living at all?

A crowning moment in the instrumental section of this song has to be Kirk’s solo, and the guitar work beneath it. Starting off in a moment of self-reflectionthe subdued lamenting makes everything else fade into the backgroundas the spotlight shines only on him.

Gradually, it builds momentum, like someone who’s done feeling sorry for themselves and wants to get back up on their feet. That’s when he switches from clean to distorted guitar and lets those strings have itmaking them wail with every bendsending shockwaves your way with every power chord. Beneath all this, James harmonises with an uplifting melody, like falling into your mother’s arms and being told everything is going to be all right. For some inexplicable reason, the conviction in her words makes you want to believe it’s true.

Hetfield, in his true capacity as a Norse god

Those who have made it to the second half of this journey are rewarded with yet another timeless Metallica track, The God That Failed. It’s no secret that bassists are seldom given their due in metal. This is precisely why Cliff Burton is held in such high regard. Such was the fortitude of his skill that he not only held his own, but stood out from the rest of his band, despite being a bassist.

Jason Newsted paid the price for no mistake of his own on ‘…And Justice For All’, when the bass volume was turned down to barely audible levels. Some speculated that this was simply because the man playing it was not Cliff. Others defended James and Lars in this decision, saying that the guitars had a natural bass effect which warranted the move to minimise interference.

This song was the first time his bass really got the chance to breathe. It was well-known that Jason came from a pedigree in thrash metal. Where Cliff would lay some heavy distortion on his bass to make it sound like a very deep electric guitar and use it to tell a story, Jason would much rather hammer out some banging riffs, and get the crowd to go wild.

In other words, he was the antithesis to Cliff. The Whiplash to Cliff’s Anesthesia. We get a glimpse of this when he opens the song with a steady trot of his pick along the strings. A deep rumbling that briefly increases in pitch before going back down again gives the hair-raising sensation of danger lurking nearby.

Jason Newsted, the man who put the “metal” in Metallica

As if to confirm these fears, James and Kirk recreate the bass riff together, in a higher harmony. This is made more devastating by holding the last note, as if confronted by a predator on their haunches, but not yet willing to pounce and get the deed over with.

The rest of the song is carried by one powerful riff throughout, another component in how this album exemplified creating simplistic yet beautiful metal music. Oftentimes, progressive albums the likes of ‘…And Justice For All’ may feature tracks with five groundbreaking riffs all crammed into one. However, this robs the listener of the experience of appreciating them all, because there are simply too many to process at a time.

Coming back to the song, it has a deeply personal significance to James. As a child, he was subjected to watching his mother waste away from cancer, and being helpless to do anything about it because his parents were Scientific Christians. Meaning, they didn’t believe in medical treatment, they were of the belief that God would heal all their illnesses.

When that failed to happen, and she eventually succumbed to this disease, he felt betrayed. Where was this God his parents placed so much faith in? What did he do to deserve losing his own mother? This deception from someone he placed on such a high pedestal made him resentful.

Accepting the Grammy for Best Heavy Metal Performance in 1992. 

He began to ridicule others who were blinded by their devotion to God. There comes a time when we must accept that the events in our lives are consequences of our own doings. This applies to both positive and negative outcomes. It is pointless to look to someone else for an explanation of why things are the way they are.

This is a moment of realization that cannot be adequately expressed in words, which is why Kirk chooses to do so with his guitar instead. Every bent note, brought up gently so you can feel the pain, is a question. Why? Why me? Why did you do this to me?

Then, he skips rapidly between the higher-pitched “e” and lower “B” strings to give birth to this beautiful progression of notes. We all like to believe ourselves to be strong, independent individuals. However, there is no denying the soothing effect a simple pat on the shoulder can have during times of duress. That is what this harmony feels like, the validating touch of someone who understands.

The backlash this album received from metal elitists certainly took nothing away from the fact that it is a quality piece of music, regardless of genre. If the members of Metallica were asked how they feel about this album, one can be certain they would look at it with nothing but the utmost fondness. After all, they toured the world twice in a span of four years solely for its promotion. If anything can be learned from this, it’s that we ought to give music a chance for ourselves before dismissing it based on other’s opinions.

 

 

 

 

 




Two to Tango—Sitting Down with Bryden and Parth

Bryden and Parth are no strangers to rubbing shoulders with the likes of Indian music industry behemoths Aditya Chopra and Raghu Dixit during the course of a regular work day. Despite this, their humility keeps them rooted firmly to the ground, with abundant wisdom to go around. The Post had the opportunity to converse with them about learning the ropes of composing music in Bollywood, rising to YouTube stardom in this day and age, and much more.

Could you tell us how you guys started out as a band?

It’s a long story. So both of us used to play for the Raghu Dixit project, and that’s where we met. We played with that project for five years. We were jamming together for 5 years, and it was the casual jams that happened after the shows that turned into putting out content on YouTube. I mean we obviously discovered at the end of 5 years that there was chemistry when the both of us played, and everyone around us enjoyed the music. So we decided to put out a video on YouTube and that’s pretty much where it started. Something very casual turned into something very serious.  We didn’t have any intention to do this, it was just fun jamming.

Parth and Bryden in a still from a music video, circa 2014.

What was it like working with Raghu Dixit?

Raghu has been in the scene for a while now, and we were very young when we were invited to play with him. It was slightly intimidating, since he was pretty much a pioneer in the indie music scene, and because of the kind of venues he’s played at both in India and internationally as well.  So working with him was a huge learning experience, especially for me, because I come from a Western music background. That said, there were still no compromises in my style of playing. I learned so much along the way, just in terms of how to be a touring artist, and the whole Indian side of music and everything. So it was a huge experience, and for anyone of that age you can just imagine what it would be like.

Seeing as you guys have differing influences, how do you bring them together while making music?

The combination of our styles is very straightforward.  There are no compromises in our style, we don’t try and do what the other person is doing, because we have Parth who is very strong with his Indian music, and he covers that style and sounds with flute even with saxophone and the harmonica. He plays most of the wind instruments. I emulate those sounds through the exotic instruments that I play, like the ukulele, the bouzouki, I really like trying different string instruments.  But the influences are strong you can hear it in the arrangement; I think that’s the strongest area of ours. The arrangement is always Western for the most part. If you come to our live shows—of course YouTube videos tell a very different story—but the live shows are always how we like it and how we want it. It’s a very strong influence of Western music and Indian music.

Seen playing with The Raghu Dixit Project

Tell us about your experience working as music composers in Bollywood.

Commercial work is always restricted because it’s commercial, it’s a pre-planned audience with a pre-planned everything. But at the same time, we had a great time putting out music, because if there’s a script for one song, you’re basically testing five songs around it. So again, we were very young, and we were working with Yash Raj, Aditya Chopra was basically the guy telling us whether the songs were working or not, so it was huge. Raghu was the music director for the film, and we were associate composers.

How much of an influence has your shared love for Hindustani music been in this project?

It’s not an influence as such. Both of us have, in our separate lives, watched every single Bollywood film with our parents, so it comes naturally. We wouldn’t call it an influence, but it was such a huge part of our lives that it comes innately to us, and a lot of people in Bangalore are surprised to see that. Whenever they assume we are giving in to Bollywood, it’s the other way around, it’s part of our blood. That’s why it happens so naturally. Even the covers that we do, we put out the songs that both of us really like, and then we look into how we should arrange them.

These days, most artists can use mediums like SoundCloud to spread their music, but you guys got more famous on YouTube. So why did you choose YouTube? How did you branch out into it?

Because I think both of us figured out that the visual appeal is as strong as the audio. Putting out video content is very important in today’s time especially because the platform is evolving to bring more visual, and of course audio is always there, but YouTube and platforms like Instagram are all very visual. So much so, that you can even mute a video and you’ll have subtitles to it. So you’re basically still consuming content without listening to the audio, but of course, even though the music is always the focus, we also wanted to be visually out there. It’s not the most appealing thing to see the two of us on screen, but it’s nice to be seen on those kinds of platforms especially.

Pictured with the crew of the Bryden and Parth band. Credits: New Indian Express

We see that you have done a lot of cover songs. Do you like doing cover songs or writing original pieces?

Both of those come from an independent background but writing our own music is the most satisfying. While we are buying time by putting out a lot covers and doing a lot of live shows, we’re also writing our album at the same time. That’s going to be an independent album with independent original music, so hopefully by next year, we should have a lot of the original music coming out.

Do you guys give emphasis to writing lyrics, or do you prefer that the instruments do the talking?

Always the melody first. The only way I think, is through a melody. I don’t think writing lyrics is our strongest point, but Bryden comes from a background where he’s focused a lot on arrangement, and he’s also the lead guitarist. Composing the music first comes very naturally to us. I think our vocabulary has to reach a certain maturity to draw inspiration for lyrics, because both of us don’t read much, so the lyrical angle is always secondary. But you never know, while the album is progressing, we may work the other way around as well.

You’ve been voted Best Metal Guitarist by Rolling Stone. So can you tell us what, to you, makes a good guitarist?

Someone who practises, someone who makes space for his part in a song, because I feel a lot of people lose out because they overplay or underplay. Your musicianship needs to mature in a way that you can portray yourself. So for me, it’s not like fast playing or extremely peaceful, I feel it’s doing something at the right moment. And it shows, you know, as a musician grows, you can hear it when they play. But I’m not the type who says less is more, I feel like if you can play fast then you may as well do it right, but you’ve got to do it right, there should be a lot of musicality involved in it.

So I don’t think as a guitarist at all, I only think as a producer. Back then I didn’t know but clearly I was more inclined towards producing, like I looked at the overall song. And if I have to break it down to a solo, I like putting a song within a song. It’s because of the way I grew up with musicians around me, even simple songs by bands like Iron Maiden, you can sing their solos, and I’m a very melodic player. I mean those are my influences – bands like Europe, Earthquake, Maiden, I’m not the Metallica type.

Featured image credits: Deccan Chronicle

 

 

 




Lost in Translation—Sitting Down with Deepa Ganesh

Deepa Ganesh works as Deputy Editor at The Hindu, Bangalore. She primarily expresses her love for the English language through translation work. Her book on the doyen of Hindustani music, Gangubai Hangal, ‘A Life in Three Octaves’, has been published by Three Essays. She has served as editor of the Sahitya Academy journal, Aniketana, since 2014. She has translated nearly 25 books for Tulika, a children’s publication.

Tell us about your journey towards getting into translating languages.

I don’t know what made me start, but I’ve always been a student of literature, in the sense that I read Kannada and English as a passion and interest. So at some point I just started translating on my own, it’s not like now when you translate and it gets published, there was no such thing 20 years ago. I used to translate just out of my own interest and then at some point, some of my friends knew I was interested in translation so I started getting small assignments and that’s how it started.

How hard is it to do justice to the nuances of a language while translating literary works? How much gets lost in translation while switching to another language?

Actually, I don’t even think that you can transfer from one language to the other as one understands translation. You’re always trying to recreate it in another language. A lot gets lost in translation because when you say something from Kannada to English, there is really no equivalence because you’re also translating between two cultures. It’s not just a lexical transfer, you’re not looking for an equivalent word but you’re transferring an idea or a thought. The least inaccurate expression I think is what you can hope for in a translation.

Credits: MILAP 2018

You’ve written a book, ‘A Life in Three Octaves’, about Gangubai Hangal, one of the most revered figures in Hindustani music. What made you choose her?

It was very serendipitous. I didn’t choose her, I worked for The Hindu and on the occasion of her 94th birthday, her grandson wrote a letter to the newspaper and said “See, here is the doyen of Hindustani music who has won the highest awards of the country, and don’t you think a national paper like the Hindu and our magazine, Frontline, should write about her?” So my editor called me and put me on the job. I went to Hubli to meet her on her 94th birthday to write for Frontline, and when the article was published, these publishers from Delhi, Three Essays, they wrote to me and said they’d like to write a book on her. And then our editor also said I should do it, so that’s how it came together.

What was it like getting into the headspace to write about a time before you were born while working on her biography?

It wasn’t easy. First of all, in the sense that in my mind, she was a diva. I had always seen her on stage, with her androgynous voice and power and her music was larger than life. But when I went to meet her at 94, she was diminished in size and the glory of her golden years had faded. It was very difficult for me to come to terms with the Gangubai i had seen and imagined onstage and the Gangubai I was meeting. That was the first struggle that I had to face.

The second thing is, as you said, I was born into a world of modernity and I had my own baggage of feminism, women’s rights, freedom and at that time there was a woman who came from the devdasi community, and very quietly and doggedly, great sense of conviction and determination had closed the doors of her past for her future generations. It was a very humbling and a re-learning experience. I think she changed my perception about life and everything moving forward.

The cover of ‘A Life in Three Octaves’

In the description of your book, you also said that Gangubai’s life and music are inseparable from each other, so do you feel like it’s always essential to know about the life of a musician before listening to their work?

No, not really. In my case, it was imperative because I set out to write about her and so knowing about her life was very important to me. And also because I simply didn’t want to make it a biography, I wanted to set her in the context and how in hundred years Karnataka had become the centre of Hindustani music. Before that it was predominantly carnatic, but in a hundred years, Hindustani had come into Karnataka in a very big way and we produced the five national legends of Hindustani music from here, so it was very important for me to understand her life, her times, the context from which she came and in the course of that journey I realised that her life, her music were not two separate things for her. She lived both with equal sincerity, equal humility and equal commitment.

She emphasises that we shouldn’t stray too far from our roots and stick to tradition. Do you agree with this, since there are some things in our tradition that we had to abandon to become progressive?

I find her the most progressive human being I’ve ever met. Not just in her own personal life, but even politically, she was an MP in the Rajya Sabha, and the kind of debates that she held and things that she said proved how she was always working towards the betterment of society.  She was quite a revolutionary in that sense, she closed the devadasi practice. She was the last in her family and the future generations led normal lives like us, and she made sure that her children and grandchildren did not have to face the devadasi practice.

Did you get to pursue your interest in translatory work equally as an editor for The Hindu, versus in Aniketana?

Not really, journalism is very demanding. So it takes a lot of time and energy, and work doesn’t end with your workspace. You always take work home, and especially since being with the features I head the culture supplement, so I was always trying to think how the cause of Kannada can be furthered in English newspaper where there’s very little space for anything that’s regional and local. But Aniketana is a different kind of space, where you imagine that there is a niche audience who’s very keen on reading Kannada literature in English. But there are a lot of similarities too, even here you know I’m always trying to reach out to an English audience or second generation Kannadigas who can’t read English, so I’m trying to take Kannada to the next level. They are very similar, but in The Hindu, I don’t do much translation. Aniketana was a journal that is meant for translation, so that was more concentrated work.

 

 




Uplifting Melodies on Demand—Sitting Down with Shorthand

New to the scene yet making waves in the university circuit already, the only trends Shorthand wants to ride are the ones they set. Wise enough not to define themselves by any genre that could come back to haunt them later in their career, the quartet recently enthralled students at the MIT Quadrangle. Flying down all the way from the national capital, they played as part of Impressions ’18, a music festival organised by Chords and Co. Euphoric concert-goers were treated to a rip-roaring set that threw pending assignment woes and the sceptres of sessional scores to the wind. We got the chance to have a chat with them about their music, plans for the future, and more.

 Can you give us some background on how you started off as a band?

We all met at university. Initially, we just wanted to play music together. We didn’t all have a vision of taking it professionally, so we started off simply playing covers and writing originals at a slow pace. Then we took our material to multiple Battle of the Bands competitions, where we realised that we had the potential for something more. Finally, in May 2017, we got our first gig at Depot48, a great venue in Delhi. After an overwhelming response from the venue owner and the crowd, we decided to look for more gigs, and eventually, after our first tour, to stick together after graduating from college.

A still from the music video for their original song, ‘No Surprises’. Clockwise from top-left: Sreya Muthukumar (vocals), Govind Narayan (bass), Prithvi Iyer (drums), and Abhinav Srikant (guitar)

What’s the story behind your choosing the name ‘Shorthand’?

We’ve been asked this question so many times, and every time we wish that we had a better and more interesting answer! The truth is that while we were picking a name for the band, we couldn’t decide upon one single name that each member of the band liked. Every name felt like it was boxing us in/typecasting us and our kind of music. So I (Sreya) began just throwing names around at random, and we all agreed upon the name ‘Shorthand’. In retrospect, I think we chose the name Shorthand because we didn’t have any other associations to the word. It was a blank canvas that we could use to paint overwith the hope that in the days to come, people would begin to associate our music to the word ‘shorthand’, and not have the word dictate what people would see in us.

 You’ve cited quite a broad palette of artists as your influences, from Linkin Park and Alter Bridge, to Steven Wilson and Plini. How do you feel these influences reflect in your music?

The music we write doesn’t by itself reflect these influences, not very evidently at least. When you admire certain artists, you, as an artist, begin to emulate them. You start looking for things you can learn from their style. This emulation informs your technique, and your technique animates your music. For example, our guitarist Abhinav writes solos that may not sound like Plini’s, but Plini plays an important role in how Abhinav approaches the instrument with which he writes music. This way, even if our influences don’t directly show up in our music, they inform our choices as musicians.

In the midst of lighting up the stage at the Quadrangle.

Do you think it’s a double-edged sword to be genre free, because not only do listeners not know what to expect, but you also lose out on those who stick to one particular genre?

It is definitely a double-edged sword, but thankfully we’ve only been cut by the good side of the sword so far, for the most part. We’ve had various responses from people who listen to very different kinds of music, and we’ve been able to give them what they like to hear, while also giving them a little bit of what they may not like very much. But it has happened in the past that we’ve been rejected by venues for not sticking to one genre. For example, a venue was once looking for a blues band.

Now, blues as a genre definitely inspires our music as our bass player Govind likes to think of himself as a blues guitarist as well, but our music cannot be exhaustively categorised as blues. We were told by this venue that we weren’t “bluesy enough”, and that our “jazz-inspired progressive soul” wasn’t what they were looking for. So yes, there are definitely two sides to it. But it helps when each person in the audience can find something different in your music to connect to; the possibility of appealing to people with a variety of musical sensibilities is very exciting.

To you, is making music more a way for emotional release, or do you also try to send a message to your listeners?

This is a complicated question to answer succinctly, because there is no single answer. Most of our songs evolve fairly organically. With the music we’ve written so far, I think the musical ideas that eventually make the song all come from different places/sources of inspiration. We all add our parts and slowly, the song takes shape and grows into a cohesive (sometimes not-so cohesive) whole. So I would say that the music is definitely more feel-driven than message-driven. Two of our songs, You’re Not Alone and Midnight Traffic began with clear concepts, so those songs were written to convey a message, but we mostly connect with the crowd through the feel of the song, rather than through any particular message. Since messages come mostly from the lyrics, I (Sreya) feel like I can answer that my lyrics are inspired by the moods of the instrumentation, and I try to do justice to what I think the music is saying.

 How challenging has it been, as an Indian band who writes songs in English, to break into the mainstream here? Do you feel opportunities for budding musicians are far too limited here as compared to the West?

It is a common misconception that the market for music written in English is very small here! There are many venues, festivals, and more importantly, listeners looking for music written in English. The language is less of a concern than the genre itself. Gone are the days when bands were the “thing”. With the rise of genres such as electronic music and hip hop, the market for bands is shrinking, and within this diminishing market, there are obviously more opportunities for bands that play more commercial forms of music such as Bollywood or fusion. But thankfully India is blessed with venues such as The Piano Man Jazz Club and Depot48 in Delhi, and many others in other cities, who are really sticking their necks out to promote independent music. Compared to the west, there is definitely a barrier both in terms of language and genre. But bands do get many opportunities to surpass these barriers and take their music to larger audiences.

How does it feel to go from touring in local places around Delhi, to have now begun playing for huge universities across the country?

It feels tremendously exciting! This is the dream for most independent bands in the country, and it is slowly taking shape for us. Watching the trajectory of our band gives us the faith that we are doing the right thing by putting so much of our time and effort into this venture. There are times when all the effort feels like it is coming to nothing, and at times like that, it is important for us to look back at the opportunities we have been given, and the people who have given us a chance to perform at their venues and universities. Things are picking up quite fast, and new doors are opening with every step we take. Sometimes, we feel like we are running to catch up with it all! So it’s definitely both overwhelming and exciting at the same time.

 Any plans to come out with an album soon?

Right now, we have another single planned for release, and we are working towards releasing an EP soon after. These days, it seems to be the trend to release smaller bytes of music in the initial days of a band. As more and more people listen to our music, we hope to eventually record and release a full-length album on streaming services. For now, we would like to release a four-song EP, and then see how it goes.

Images courtesy of The Photography Club, Manipal

 




When the Levee Breaks—Manipal Does its Part for Kerala

The late Atal Bihari Vajpayee once said, “I would like that no citizen of the state feels alone and helpless. The entire nation is with them“.

Despite the lack of coverage by mainstream media towards the distress in Kerala and Kodagu due to heavy flooding, the people of Manipal have come together to lend a hand in this time of crisis.

Among the many donation drives organised all over the town, students from various institutes of Manipal Academy of Higher Education came together on 17th August and started a collection centre at KMC Food Court. A group based in Mysore was contacted, that will later be transporting the collected goods via tempos and distributing them in relief centres all over Kerala. Besides this, booths had also been set up at all MAHE institutions, as well as at the local masjid. Collection points were also set up at the School of Communication, St. Joseph’s Church, and the MIT Student Plaza—among other places—on Saturday, the 18th of August, between 9-10:30 a.m.

Efforts in full swing to ship off supplies at KMC, Manipal.

Justin Varghese, a student of SOAHS, emphasised on focussing more on helping in kind, by sending essential materials rather than collecting funds. They succeeded in obtaining a multitude of non-perishable items and hope to play their tiny role in helping our neighbours.  Within two hours of setting up the collection centres, the organisers had to start declining donations, due to having more supplies than they had the means to transport.

If you wish to contribute and help the cause, there are ongoing efforts in Manipal that can enable you to do so. Another collection drive will also be held on the 20th of August. The following are contact numbers regarding the drives in Manipal: 9207173045 and 8296374434

Besides this, one can also send monetary assistance online by using Tez, BHIM, or other UPI apps through the Kerala Chief Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund. For more information, please visit http://keralarescue.in.




A Stroll Through Linkin Park—Part I (2000-2007)

With the release of their very first album, Linkin Park carved themselves a place in history right alongside the likes of Pink Floyd and Metallica. As has been proven time and again, however, album sales alone cannot guarantee the long-standing success of a band. Simply riding a popular trend is not the way into people’s hearts. There must be something unique about your music, for it to be remembered long since you’ve been gone.

For Linkin Park, that is undoubtedly the emotional quotient they bring to the table. They have no dearth of soul-splitting riffs that inspired generations of rhythm guitarists in their wake. In their later years, turntablist Mr. Hahn would go on to school the world on making electronic beats collude perfectly into a hard rock atmosphere. But the quintessential mental image nearly every fan gets when they think of Linkin Park–is of the darkest moments of their lives spent lying despondently in bed–wondering what the point even is of carrying on anymore.

A young Linkin Park.

It is during this moment, that Chester’s voice flutters into their hollow soul, and mends their wounded heart, as he reassures them that things will turn out all right. The fire-and-ice rapport on vocal duties between him and Mike Shinoda offers the listener a much more in-your-face rap that hits so hard, it gives you the strength to stand upright again. Many bands have songs that bring out the thorns in this deceitful bed of roses called life.

What elevates Linkin Park to another level above them all, is their willingness to constantly open up about the most gruesome details of their lives through music. Things others would normally hesitate to do, from fear of taunting their image, and having to relive parts of their lives they’d rather forget. It is precisely this willingness to bare their souls that have made them heroes to so many.

In this article, we will examine the band’s journey right from their very first album, till 2017’s One More Light. This section explores the 2000s section of their discography, and the stylistic changes this era brought along with it.

Hybrid Theory (2000)

Having caught the tail-end of the nu metal era, it was Linkin Park’s contribution to this scene that immortalised the genre. It seemed all the heavyweights of this brand of music had one area in which they lacked. Limp Bizkit weren’t strong enough in the vocal department, Korn didn’t have a DJ, Slipknot’s sound was too raw for untrained ears. In came Linkin Park to perfect all their weaknesses, and add their own spin to a firebrand genre of music that brought with it so much potential still waiting to be tapped.

Nu metal dared to bring together the two heavily contrasting styles of hip-hop and heavy metal, while fusing the best elements of both. This could result in combinations of fierce screaming mixed with riffs clearly influenced by a hip-hop groove–or rapping over a curious mix of palm-muted, downtuned, earth-shatteringly heavy guitars and psychedelic disc scratches.

Some of the most iconic bands this era churned out. This picture includes: Slipknot, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, Korn, System of a Down, Papa Roach, Kid Rock, and Crazy Town, to name a few.

The addition of DJs to bands was like a subliminal signal to the founding fathers of rock and roll that there has been a change of guard. Times were changing, technology was booming, and these were reflecting in the popular music as well. No one cared any longer for finger acrobatics in guitar solos, nor was listening to AC/DC the benchmark for being hardcore any longer. The key to writing a great nu metal song was one thing: find the one face-melting riff that gets the crowd jumping, and use it to the maximum of its potential.

Linkin Park introduced themselves to the world with Papercut. Sampling work recreates the deft kicking of drum pedals, erecting the foundation for the beat around which the rest of the song is formed. Guitar effects slither in like a ticking time bomb, before exploding into a breakdown of the real instruments.

As Shinoda prepares to unleash his rap repertoire, the instrumental section fades into a haunting backbeat. Brad Delson picks frantically away at a riff that gives the sensation of darting from corner to corner, afraid of being spotted by an unidentified danger that lurks in the distance. His voice hushed to an ominous lull, Mike describes what it truly means to constantly live in a world filled with hallucinations. Each line bringing him closer to when he breaks loose and flaunts his wordplay, rhyming with the word “face” four times in split-second intervals.

A scene from the Papercut music video.

 

All the while, Chester looms about him predatorily, awaiting his turn. In live shows, he often repeats the last word of every verse that Mike whispers, with a ravenous growl. When the chorus arrives at long-last, he sings his heart out, fitting in with the melody rather than trying to lead with his voice, ending with his trademark raspy voice. Even in these ten seconds he gets under the spotlight, we quickly become aware that this band has a completely different talent in the vocal department they have yet to give us a full taste of.

One Step Closer is Bennington’s time to shine, through and through. Delson uses the sweet spot of a guitar’s natural harmonics to summon his bandmates in a call-to-arms, before switching to the soul-splitting power chords that get the entire band jumping in sync with the groove. Bourdon furiously works his drum set, pounding the snares and crashing the cymbals as he jams in rhythm with Brad.

Chester bides his time, allowing himself to slowly descend into the pit of insanity. As the rest of the band drowns into a dull roar, he sings with a voice that is as angelic as it belies a madness hidden beneath. Unable to mask his true persona any longer–the warnings of being lost within himself are carried by a bridge riff. Just as the barrel of a machine gun heats up seconds before launching a hail of bullets, Chester finally lashes out at everyone who was pushing him to the brink.

Grooving together in the One Step Closer music video. Shinoda swears these moves weren’t choreographed.

This is the go-to song for anyone who feels like their emotions and burdens are getting the better of them and they just can’t deal with it anymore. What’s more, the chorus scream isn’t even close to why they hired this beast. Just when all the music stops playing, and Mr. Hahn sets up a calm environment for transition to what could’ve been a nice, melodic section, Chester shakes up the entire scene with a “SHUT UP WHEN I’M TALKING TO YOU”.

As if not knowing what to do, his bandmates follow his lead and launch into the heaviest, slam-to-the-ground breakdown they can, as he repeatedly bellows, “SHUT UP” in increasingly louder intervals until finally reaching as high and piercing a tone as his lungs and vocal chords will allow him when he yells, “SHUT UP! I’M ABOUT TO BREAK”. Thus, Delson races to pick up the momentum where Chester left off and carries the song with a riff that takes the band galloping to the finish. With blistering intensity, Mike and Chester face each other, screaming, “I’M ABOUT TO BREAK” in unison, as Bourdon blasts the double bass in one final breakdown at break-neck speed, and just like that, the song ends as quickly as it started.

With You shows us how it’s done when you have two elements as alien to each other as a turntable and a 7-string guitar. Rather than immediately breaking out the heaviest instrument at their disposal, they used Mr. Hahn’s dexterous touch on the discs to scratch along to a beat that steadily builds in its animosity. With a final, high-pitched shriek, the 7-string drops a riff bearing all the crushing magnitude of an atom bomb. When played live, this is when Chester skips onto the stage before taking his place in front of the drums, hunching over, wrists gripped tightly around the microphone as his neck vein nearly bursts while he shouts, “COME ON!!!!”, in one heaving breath.

Cover art, designed by Shinoda himself. The soldier represents the heavier side of their music, while his dragonfly wings denote the lighter elements.

Aggressively struck power chords gently bring this song back from the clouds this volcanic introduction shot it into. This is Linkin Park’s take on a love song. Mike lets loose verses that tell a story, of a man waking up one morning, just like any other day. Only now, like that unwelcome burst of cold air when you open the door on a winter morning, the reality of what he’d been trying so desperately to avoid finally dawns upon him.

He’d given everything he could to his relationship, but there was nothing he could do to save it now. Not wanting to come to acceptance with the fact leads him into a state of denial. After Mike’s verse, the entire band stops, as Chester and Mike turn to face Mr. Hahn. With a deadpan expression on his face, without even looking down to see what he’s doing, he scratches out a web of complex rhythms before Chester spins on his heels and launches into his chorus of denial.

How could it be, that all this time spent together, was now about to crumble into nothing? How could they both have been running from the fact that, as much as they’d dreamt of seeing their last tomorrows together, they now had to face that there were going to be no more tomorrows for them to face together?

Coming to the most turbulent part of this entire rollercoaster, Crawling comes straight from the most troubled place in Chester’s mind. Simply put, it is the heart-rending tale of what childhood sexual abuse has done to him. Following a dementing slurping sound like the rumbling throat of an alligator, Mr. Hahn depicts a scenario of lightly-tapped keys, much like a child might tap on a xylophone. A disc scratch later, this sound starts to get more distorted, as a string orchestra joins the foray now, making an attack all the more imminent.

Delson is the first to break through this glass barrier of sound, paving the way for Chester to scream at his raspiest, most belligerent best. The most daunting line in this entire song isn’t when he sings about him succumbing to his own fears. Nor is it when he says he feels like he’s being controlled by something residing within him. Something that makes him feel like he’ll never know his true identity again, what he was like before this started happening; and how the realization of this is so stifling and overwhelming that he feels closed in on from all sides.

Scene from the Crawling music video. How this lost out to Limp Bizkit’s Rollin’ in the MTV VMAs is an unsolved mystery.

Indeed, the most unnerving moment in this song is every time he says, “These wounds, they will not heal.” That is the line which sends shivers down everyone’s spine, makes their hair stand on end, gives them goosebumps. It’s something we can all relate to, if not now, then definitely at some point. It’s the most spine-chilling thought that you’ve done all you can, but it wasn’t enough. This is as good as you’ll ever feel. This is as numb as the pain will ever be. When Chester makes you confront that thought with him, sometimes, it can feel like it’s all too much.

Finally, we touch upon the one song Linkin Park became infamous for, much to the chagrin of their detractors for going “pop”. In The End could never have been written by any other band. It has so many unique elements all crammed into a three-minute journey. Starting off with a somber piece on the piano, we are made to think Chester is going to lead us into a ballad as he solemnly sings, “It starts with one…” Just then, Mike starts rapping off the last word with a wisdom in his voice as if he has attained enlightenment after years spent meditating in the cosmos. Lamenting about how time slips through our fingers as grains of sand trickle through an hourglass, he observes that each tick of a clock denotes another portion of our life gone by.

All the while, Brad plays light harmonics to simulate a background of tranquility. A highlight of this section is when Bourdon’s bass drums lock in with the rhythm of Mike saying, “It doesn’t even matter how hard you try”, each kick of the pedal making contact with the drums in time with every word.

From the music video for In The End

As the song goes on, it becomes apparent that the lyrics are about investing so much of oneself into a relationship that had now grown toxic. When it ends, it ends regardless of how hard you tried to keep things afloat. And you can count on Chester to express how agonising it feels to watch all that trust, the memories, the love, crumble away to nothingness.

With that same feather-like tenderness, he sings about how much faith he’d put into everything, how he’d stretched himself to the end of his wits for this to survive. And how, for all this, there’s only one thing they needed to know about how this made him feel. Instead of telling them, however, he repeats the same lines, this time taking a deep breath to summon the need for vengeance from his belly.

Distorted power chords strike like bolts of lightning behind him. Bourdon goes from slowly jamming in the background to leading the assault on the drums, as Chester screams at the top of his lungs that he gave everything he could, but in the end, it didn’t matter how far they got, because now everything is over.  After it all grinds to a halt, Bourdon slams one final cymbal to signify the battle had now come to an end, and the same piano piece from before brings this tale to a close.

Hybrid Theory went on to outsell even Metallica’s Black Album, at 16 million copies. Linkin Park had suddenly become a household name, touring the world alongside the very artists they had once idolised. However, this band was no one-hit wonder. They still had a lot more to prove to the world, a lot more music in their hearts still to let out. Next, we move on to Meteora.

Meteora (2003)

Coming in hot after touring the world in support of their record-breaking debut, Linkin Park refused to allow the double-edged sword of a successful debut to overcome them. They didn’t let the fame get to their heads, making them believe anything they touched would turn to gold, nor did they perish to the pressure of having to outdo Hybrid Theory. Instead, they approached their second album knowing full well that it would be next to impossible to outsell their debut album, and maintained the focus on staying true to themselves while writing music that made them happy.

Linkin Park, circa 2003

Just as the glass smashes when Foreword blends into the grooving drum beat that catapults Don’t Stay into the air like a diving board, Meteora makes it known from its very arrival that this time, they weren’t the new kids on the block anymore. They meant business. With the buzzsaw-sounding, rawer tone of his guitar used on the album, Brad lays down a track for Mr. Hahn to masterfully slide his hands and scratch all over.

Hitting the ground running, Hahn blazes through his disc-scratching solo with the finesse of a snowboarder racing down a mountain. Chester takes on the reins now. Hard-hitting with his lyrics as always, he first calmly tells the person he’s singing about, that sometimes it’s all he can do to just remember that he needs to breathe. Then, as if from nowhere, he shrieks, “Sometimes, I…just need you to STAY AWAY FROM ME”

It’s a classic song that everyone can relate to. During times of sadness, we often crave companionship as much as we also want to be alone when someone does try reaching out to us. It’s a conflicting emotion that cannot be explained, and sours relationships between you and the person.

They want to be there for you, you care for them, but you lack the emotional wherewithal to reciprocate the kindness they’re showing. So what’s the only thing your insides feel like doing when faced with such a situation? Scream your lungs out. That’s exactly what Chester does here.

Cover of Meteora. Pictured is their producer working on the graffiti art that was supposed to be the cover, but appears in the booklet instead.

Two recurring themes throughout this album are firstly, that the band seems much more volatile on this record. Suddenly, it seemed like Mike’s bashful way of addressing the high emotional intensity of their music in interviews had come true. It felt more like a therapy session than twenty-somethings jamming it out on a record. Secondly, the lyrics here repeatedly mention not wanting to be ignored.

The climax of this song is when Chester sings, “I don’t need you, anymore. I don’t want to be ignored! I don’t need one, more day, of you wasting me away!” over a breakdown of disjoint riffing locking horns with a pummeling of drums. The guitars, in fact, sound hollow, like being trapped in a cave that’s quickly closing in as stalactites crumble from above you.

All that aside, the chorus, and the energy with which Chester sings it, is truly empowering. One can be sure it, at least in that moment, gave many people the strength to stop accepting anything less than the treatment they deserved.

We then come to the iconic prelude to Somewhere I Belong. As Shinoda so passionately explains it, the intro was created from a riff Bennington came up with. They then reversed the riff, looped it, and basically added their magic touch so this beauty could exist. Followed by a guitar lick that emulates the keys of a piano, the sound of amplifier feedback pounces on us. Like Chester in the music video, we are dragged down into a world unknown as the band jams around us.

Chester falling into a world of his dreams.

We are engulfed by a whirlpool of guitars being strummed, getting lost in this vortex of soundscapes, as cymbals crash around us to only further throw our senses off-balance. Everything comes screeching to a halt with the peaceful, light scratching in the background making one feel like they’ve landed in a fairy tale rain forest of some sort. The kind we dreamed of escaping off to as children.

“When this began…” sings Chester, now coming to his senses, seemingly at peace because this is where he wanted to be. Mike’s rapping ensues, flaunting his ability to let his words flow, even with the only beat being that of a guitar resembling a piano. If you take the lyrics by their surface meaning, they could come off as melancholic in nature.

It’s impossible to miss how much Mike looked like the lead singer of Hoobastank in this music video.

However, what Mike’s really saying, is that he was initially unconfident about sharing the way he feels with the outside world. When he went through with it, he realised that it was a good thing, because he came to find that many people also felt the same way. Enter Chester, with the chorus it took him more than fifty tries to nail, and yet, it was all worth it, because we wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I want to heal, I want to feel, what I thought was never real. I want to let go of the pain I’ve felt so long.” If these aren’t the most uplifting words you could ever sing when your spirit feels crushed and unamendable, nothing is. They say, if you keep telling yourself something long enough, you’ll eventually believe it’s true. If that’s the case, repeating these words along with Chester could really give one the strength to get out of bed and fight through another day. This song is one of those moments that made Linkin Park truly one of the greats. You don’t just listen to them when you’re feeling nostalgic, or intoxicated. You listen to them to nourish your soul.

Next up, we have the song that universally won the hearts of many metalheads, Faint. It has many defining moments; a string arrangement one would normally expect to hear in a woebegone song. A solo played by Bourdon at breakneck speed. All this happens just within the first thirty seconds. Although it’s very easy to lose track of the lyrics in such an adrenaline-pumping song, it’s important to pay close attention to what Chester is saying in the chorus.

“I can’t feel, the way I did before…” It’s a startling thought, when you’re depressed, when it hits you that you can’t even remember who you used to be before life happened, and sucked the soul right out of you. Going through memories past, you see a radiant smile looking back at you, and wish with all your heart to feel that way again. But you’ve grown so used to feeling so low all the time, you don’t think there is even a way to find that happiness again.

Chester emerging from the crowd after just having growled his lungs out while performing ‘Faint’.

So, that venom, that bitterness, builds up inside him. Then, after the second instance of repeating that line, he decides he can’t take it anymore and just bursts out in the deepest, longest, most ferocious growl in Linkin Park’s entire discography up until that moment. “NOW!” he bellows, at the top of his lungs, his voice screeching as high as he can take it, “HEAR ME OUT NOW. YOU’RE GOING TO LISTEN TO ME, LIKE IT OR NOT, RIGHT NOW”. He repeats this after starting off from the final “now”, and so cathartically lets out all that toxicity pent up inside him.

Indeed, the releasing of anger has never before looked and felt so beautiful. Reiterating what was said in Crawling, one of his lines in this song is, “Time won’t heal, this damage anymore!” Another bitter truth he forces us to confront. How often have you gone to someone for consolation, only to be told, “Time heals all wounds”? There is some truth to that statement, yes. With the passage of time, the pain does stop being as severe. That is not to say, however, that it completely goes away. Time isn’t the medicine that stops you from bleeding. It’s merely a band-aid you slap on to soak some of it up.

Breaking The Habit is unparalleled in being the most soul-stirring piece of music in Linkin Park’s discography. Written by Shinoda after watching a friend’s downward spiral into the clutches of addiction, it is when Chester graces the lyrics with his voice that the song takes on a new dimension altogether. Piano keys play a delicate melody, careful to tiptoe as if not to break the fragile glass of one’s heart before the lyrics come in. Brad plays a riff entirely on one string, which serves to heighten up the pace and stir up some anxiety.

One thing which bothered Chester was that he was unable to finish his vocal takes for this album in time. When you hear him deliver the most powerful vocal performance of his entire life in the first line of this song, however, you realise that sometimes the best of things really don’t come when you want them to. As if taking you floating on a cloud, his voice gently cradles you and carries you away from this troubled world to the boundless blue skies above.

“I’ll paint it on the walls! ‘Cause I’m the one at fault!”

His words may not sound as soothing. Then again, real comfort comes from empathising with someone else, not deluding oneself with false thoughts of happiness. “Memories consume, like opening the wound, I’m picking me apart again.” The worst time to allow oneself to drift into memories doesn’t even have to be when recalling a painful time from the past. It’s when that painful time is your present, and you’re haunted by memories of how happy you used to be. If you close your eyes and let yourself drift in them long enough, it almost feels like you’re living that memory. Then you come back to your senses, and that’s when it stings the most, which is why this opening line is not so much jarring as it is uplifting. Because, it gives you the comfort of knowing you aren’t the only one suffering through this.

As the song goes on, the chorus changes from, “I don’t know how I got this way, I know it’s not all right” to “…I’ll never be all right!” In this, too, there is beauty. For it makes one see that people don’t always set their minds to changing something about themselves and succeed. There are times when you will stumble, or even fall altogether. Healing, as is so often said, does not mean you will always have days of wanting to take on the world by its horns. Sometimes, you will just want to sulk, and that is okay.

Last but certainly not least, Meteora gave us Numb. This is a song that even the teens and young adults of today who’ve never heard another rock song in their life will probably know all the lyrics to. Kicking off with a mellow piano intro, the power chords break in all guns blazing, before the iconic scene of a baby-faced, spiky-haired Chester taking that mic in the church.

His voice sounding hollow, like he’s given all he could, he sings the unforgettable words, “I’m tired of being what you want me to be.” That’s something every teenager can relate to. There isn’t really a definition of what’s normal in that phase. Everyone’s exploring themselves, trying to learn more about themselves and figuring out who they really are. Meanwhile, in school and at home, everyone seems constantly dissatisfied with them, like something or the other needs to be improved.

A scene from the Numb music video. A defining moment of our adolescence, for many.

Then you hear the words, “And I know, I may end up failing, too. But I know, you were just like me, with someone disappointed in you!” You imagine yourself screaming it at everyone responsible for making your life a living hell, and in that moment, Chester and you have bonded for life. A really tender moment is listening to the instrumental version of this song, and hearing the piano delicately tugging at the strings of your heart. In the liner notes of the Meteora CD, it’s mentioned that this song was the quickest to record. Little did they know it would be the one song the world knew them by.

Thus, Meteora became the second and last album to have the nu-metal sound Linkin Park had built their entire fan base around in the early 2000s. They would then go on to do a mash-up in 2004 with Jay Z of their first two albums and his hits, creating a collaboration album called Collision Course. Then came a period of sparse activity for Linkin Park as a whole for the next two years until they released a metalcore song titled “QWERTY” in 2006. This was in a similar vein to their last two releases, and set fan expectations for what their next record would sound like. No one foresaw the complete overhaul of their style that was to come next.

Minutes To Midnight (2007)

Nothing can be more detrimental to an artist’s career than boxing themselves into one category. Just as we are no longer the same people now as we were a few years before, musicians also evolve in their own personal journeys through life, and this reflects in their work. Linkin Park knew that if they set out to write another nu metal album, it is what would be expected from them in every release thereafter. So they decided to take their chances and record an album unlike any of their previous releases.

Linkin Park, circa 2007.

Their first time beginning with an instrumental track, Wake opens up with a futuristic soundscape that feels like falling from space and drifting along the sea into an unchartered island. The soft rock guitar chords jamming along with Bourdon’s light splashes on the cymbals give off an aura so calm, the listener is totally unprepared for the tidal wave that’s about to hit.

Given Up, from the moment the keys stop jingling and Brad hits those muted chords with breakneck viciousness, makes you feel like you could take on the world. “Wake in a sweat again. Another day’s been laid to waste. In my DISGRACE!” Chester sounds like he’s had enough, and isn’t going to let life run him down any longer.

No more will he let every worry, every niggling fear, feel like it’s the end of the world. When he uses that high-pitched scream for everything it’s got, and roars, “I’ve given UP”, stretching the last note till his throat can’t take it anymore, he isn’t saying he’s going to fall to the floor and quit. He’s saying that he’s given up on letting himself be affected by anything anymore. He won’t let anything anyone says hurt him any longer.

Chester mid-scream during Given Up

It all comes to an absolute head when Brad takes it to the bridge with a riff that feels like opening a door in a haunted mansion, only to see a demon baring its unsightly maw at you. This is a song you truly enjoy only when you’re completely at your wit’s end with everything as well. Only then will you actually feel the anguish in his voice when he screams, “GOD!” during that breakdown. This is followed by repeated, tortured wails, pleading to be put out of his misery with the shrillest of growls. All this culminates into the almighty, “PUT ME OUT OF MY MI-SE-RY”, a cry that let out every demon residing within him, through a scream that lasted all of seventeen seconds, without him so much as taking a breath.

What’s more unbelievable is that, after this scream, when playing this song live, he only launches straight into another chant of, “I’ve given UP”. The fact that he did this night after night without blowing his voice is proof that Chester Charles Bennington is one of the greatest vocalists that ever lived.

Leave Out All The Rest is antithetic to the tone that Given Up had set in every way. However, so awe-inspiring is this song in its beauty, that even the most brutal of metalheads would be wont to relish its grace. It starts out with an atmosphere that might not even allow one’s eyes to picture something that could match up to its allure. When the words, “I dreamed I was missing…” leave Chester’s lips, it simply warms the soul, nourishing and filling one’s heart.

This is a song that was quoted all over when he passed, and rightfully so. He’d worded it like a farewell, imploring everyone to remember him only for the good he’d done. Dramatic people on the internet were quick to say things like Linkin Park’s entire discography was his suicide note, mentioning this song. There is no truth to that statement. This was written ten years before his demise, which is a long time to stay alive if you have been suicidal for that long. Let us not allow one action of his to define his entire career.

From the music video for Leave Out All The Rest. Chester can rock even a mustache.

The liner notes of Minutes To Midnight mention that the band intended to have as much fun as possible whilst recording Bleed It Out, and it shows. Mike raps the fastest he’s ever gone in his entire career. When you try it out yourself, you realise how talented he truly is, that he can not only nail every single line, but also because he’s the one who wrote this masterpiece. Chester’s voice is at its raspy best for the first time since In The End in the chorus, as he says, “I’ve opened up these scars!” and then screams, “I’LL MAKE YOU FACE THIS”. In fact, so many facets of his voice were at their peak on this album. It’s safe to say Minutes To Midnight was when Chester was at the zenith of his vocal ability.

Shadow Of The Day starts with the simplest of drum beats, almost mimicking that of a heart. A peculiar sound arrangement stirs up images of sitting on a hilltop, only vivid greenery all around, as birds merrily chirp and flutter in the distance. One falls short of praise for how pure, clear as the day is long, and heartfelt Chester’s voice sounds as he lends his voice to this track.

It may very well be that the lyrics of this song talk about someone isolating themselves from the outside world. Having said that, when he says, “Sometimes solutions aren’t so simple, sometimes goodbye’s the only way”, and emphasises that with a soft moan, there’s something empowering about it. Goodbye doesn’t necessarily have to mean a farewell to the world, a farewell to life itself.

The best line from Shadow Of The Day

It could also mean that sometimes you should stop trying to fix a relationship or friendship that’s broken beyond repair, and just learn to let go. When he says, “The sun will set for you”, that could mean this dark day in your life will finally end, and you can wake up tomorrow to a happy new beginning.

What I’ve Done, another staple of Linkin Park setlists for years to come, picks off from the gliding stop that Shadow brought the album to, and helps this bird take to the skies again with a piano intro like an eagle about to soar straight for the sun. A muted chug of guitar strings brings in the main riff, as the band jams along while Chester walks up to the mic. These lyrics appear to be a nod to his struggles with alcoholism in the past.

Once Linkin Park rose to stardom, he started going on drinking binges that were affecting his personality and his relationships with those close to him. The words of this song appear to be his way of asking those that endured this phase with him, not to allow his past actions to taint what their hearts feel for him, that he intends to make amends with those he has wronged.

Though the rest of the album takes you on a whirlwind of an emotional journey, it is the closing track that most direly deserves to not be left without mention. The Little Things Give You Away is really best listened to when one has had their heart broken. Only then will you be able to truly take in everything this song has to offer.

Singing ‘The Little Things Give You Away’ with all his heart.

That’s when you feel why Chester’s voice sounds so distant, like it’s all he can do just to open his mouth and bring the words out. The previous track, In Pieces, makes it much easier to get into the mood for this song. It’s about not being ready to be the one to end a relationship that has run its course.

When the acoustic guitar matches the melody of Chester’s voice as he sings, “Don’t want to reach for me, do you? I mean nothing to you, the little things give you away”, it feels as if the music is crying along with him. Someone can tell you they love you with all their heart, but isn’t it the little details in their actions that show how much they really mean what they proclaim?

It’s only when you’re heartbroken that you feel the grief he’s trying to let out when he wails after Brad’s solo. A solo, that feels as if Delson plugged the amplifier straight into his heart, and expressed what a human’s voice and words were simply unable to do. When it all comes to a close, as Chester’s wails soften to a little above a hum now, while Phoenix the bassist and Mike repeat their gentle intonations of “Little things give you away,” one feels lighter, as if the entire band has joined in to give them a hug.

In this way, while MTM might not have had the crushing aggression of nu-metal on offer, it allowed us to experience many more facets of what Linkin Park were capable of. Brad was allowed to let loose with three solos. We got to see the full extent of what Chester’s clean vocals were capable of, and as usual, they delivered yet another album to lighten the burden in every listener’s heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




Melinda

Whenever I find myself here
It’s always because I’ve been aimlessly wandering
Searching for what can only be found
Inside of me

But I couldn’t stay in my room
Not with that gaping void staring back at me
The spot you once filled

It wasn’t destiny that brought us together
I needed you in my life
Everything I worked for, was to make that happen

We didn’t fit together like missing pieces of a puzzle
Nothing of the magical sort
I winced at each new scar on my fingertips

Still my eyes glinted with visions of what we could become
In desperation, I soldiered on

Never will I forget that moment
My fingers pressed against your strings
Arm timidly embracing your body

A note drifted through the air
We had come together in glorious harmony

You had become all I could think about
And I loved every minute of it

My worries plagued me no longer
All my heart longed for was to know you better
Headlong and unafraid, I had fallen in love

My insides lurched with a sickening intensity
Vicious blades of a cyclone churn as they unravel
Lashing out unscrupulously at all in their path

Suffocated by my despair
I would channel it through you

Pain of blistered fingers
A small price to pay
For the chance to make an escape

It has grown on me
Turning to you when the world feels so empty

Fate keeps snatching you away
This sadistic pleasure it takes
Now I am left wondering
If ever I will see you come back

 

Featured image by Aditya Sriram

 




Godfathers of Grunge—The Story of Soundgarden

The ‘90s saw a shift of tides in a music industry where rock still ruled the world, with the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind in 1991. What made this such a landmark record was its blatant disregard for any of the tried-and-tested formulas that spurned so many platinum-selling and now long-forgotten bands in the decade past. This led to gripes from embittered heavyweights at the time, who knew they had to be quick on their feet, or be forever lost at sea.

Repetitive combinations of the same power chords simply would not do the trick anymore. The angst-ridden teens of the 80s—who banged their heads with apoplectic fury to meaningless narcotic-driven diatribes on Satan and war—now found themselves craving emotional release in their music. This gave birth to the infamous “grunge” movement, the forerunners of which were bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Pearl Jam.

To a score of punk rock-influenced riffs that sounded infinitely more sinister on down-tuned guitars—vocalists shrieked and howled their way into fans’ hearts. This budding generation of musical heroes had effectively challenged their predecessors to either catch up or die trying.

In this article, we reflect on the illustrious career of Soundgarden, the band who took the throne of grunge royalty right alongside Nirvana, and carried on the baton following Kurt’s demise. With a vast discography spanning six albums, each bringing something unique to the table, it was arguably their ‘90s releases that produced the most unforgettable classics.

Soundgarden, circa 1989.
L to R: Jason Everman (bass), Chris Cornell (vocals/rhythm guitar), Matt Cameron (drums), and Kim Thayil (lead guitar)

Badmotorfinger (1992)

Their breakthrough into commercial success, Badmotorfinger lassoes the listener with its infectious energy, taking them on a journey through Hell like it’s the thrill of a lifetime. Thayil’s guitar work is raw, muddy, unabashed to get down and dirty. Chris Cornell’s vocals seethe with every grunt, growl, and wail. Matt Cameron is left helpless to do anything but play catch-up with his bandmates on the percussion.

Opening with a rather upbeat-sounding guitar lick on Rusty Cage, one cannot help but get instantly swept up by ‘90s nostalgia—that sweet delusion of life being so much happier in the past. Soon, the rest of the band breaks into a jam that implicitly beckons you to throw your worries to the wind and jive along. Chris sings of breaking away and setting off on a new path to freedom, heightening the adrenaline rush of this tune that wants to flee as fast as it possibly can.

Cornell singing ‘Rusty Cage’. It takes one album to go from playing in bars to football stadiums.

It is here that we are first introduced to Soundgarden’s penchant for breakdowns. These are like a test that rewards those attentive enough to spot that one delicious riff hidden deeper inside, instead of impatiently skipping on to the next song. Next up is Outshined, a song that slows down to bring out the vicious intensity residing in every rumbling bass line, stomping of the kick drums, and resounding crash of the cymbals. Now is when the power in Cornell’s voice, as well as his ability to express his innermost thoughts through the most subtle of lyrics, is truly put on display.

Far from the first song to be written about feeling helpless and lost in a pit of despair, it does, however, offer a different take on the emotion. Soundgarden opted to infuse it with blood-curdling riffs that bide their time before pouncing on our senses. The drums mimic every stomp of this beast’s feet, as it knows we are trapped by its allure that entices as much as it screams danger. Cornell’s voice masterfully fluctuates from peaking at astonishing highs, before swooping down to a more sombre low.

In a way, it reflects the unrelenting rollercoaster ride that is dealing with depression. One moment feels like the skies are clearing out and things will be all right, and the next, the void engulfs everything in sight again. This is aptly touched upon in the infamous line, “I’m lookin’ in the mirror, and things aren’t lookin’ so good/I’m lookin’ California, and feelin’ Minnesota,” as he so brilliantly describes having to put a brave face on before the world while crumbling apart on the inside.

From the music video for ‘Outshined’.

It is in the trembling of his vocal chords as he sustains these notes that flaunt not only his wide range but also the control he has over his vibrato. Finally, we have Jesus Christ Pose, a song as intimidating as its title suggests. The pounding of drums sets the tone for a tribal atmosphere, the wailing of guitar strings being bent like ferocious hyenas on the prowl. When the distortion kicks in, with every strike of the open ‘A’ string, a resounding grumble echoes through the air, as thunder rolls through the skies.

A sense of urgency kicks in as the finger moves a string lower, but the pitch gets elevated by an octave. Plectrum gripped firmly between his index finger and thumb, Thayil alternate-picks at blinding speeds. His hand now a blur of up-and-down movements, the string vibrates at rapid intensity to produce the effect of something being slid across the surface. This time, Chris refuses to back down from doing anything but take his vocal chords to the height of their ability. Howling into the air as loud and as long as his lungs will let him—he firmly plants his feet in the desert soil and shrieks the verses for the world to hear.

It’s interesting to observe the different colours of the sky in the Jesus Christ Pose music video.

The song gallops to a close with a breakdown like a clash between the rhythm and melodic elements. The drums and bass team up and chase the guitars. Cameron makes full use of every percussive instrument in his repertoire to trip them up. Every snare hit whizzing past Thayil’s lightning-fast riffing like a bullet, every slam of the pedal against the kick drums. Every wallop of the bass drum interspersed with cymbal crashes screams through the air like a missile going off. Thayil turns around and strikes one power chord that blasts them back with its white-hot fury. All the while, Chris suveys the pandemonium going on around him, like a Satanic overlord watching his plan unfold, summoning a growl from the pits of his throat in testament to his evil.

Thus, it was due to the presence of masterpieces like these on the album that catapulted Soundgarden into mainstream infamy. Soon, the world couldn’t have enough of them. It seems like this would be the perfect time to finish their story with a happy ending. However, they were far from done with wreaking havoc on the music industry.

The cover of Badmotorfinger.

Superunknown (1994)

It was with the release of Superuknown that Soundgarden moved towards the brand of music for which they are most widely known and adulated. This was a transition phase in many ways, most notably, the shedding of their metal influences for a more hard rock sound. Chris also started to take up rhythm guitar duties in addition to vocals. These poster boys for rebellion even churned out one of the most timeless ballads ever released.

In the music video for the poetically-christened Fell On Black Days, the camera closes in on Chris’s eyes. If one stares earnestly enough, they can peer through them, into the fragments of his soul that shattered from this outpouring of emotion. A slam on the snare permeates the deafening silence. Rhythm starts to flow, muted strings click to the tapping of cymbals, as a power chord is bent downwards to make the guitar groan.

Chris carries the song skywards with his voice, gentle as a feather drifting with the wind. Feeble as it may be in tone, yet the undertones of misery scream to be heard in every verse. This is a ballad about the pieces of this puzzle we call life, scrambling themselves apart, just when everything seemed to be coming together. In his own words, “Just when every day seemed to greet me with a smile, sunspots have faded and now I’m doing time.”

From the Fell On Black Days music video.

A Middle Eastern-sounding bridge led by the guitar lifts the spirits, stirring visions of merry-making in the mind’s eye as Chris hums his heart out in the backdrop. This hurricane in the waters of the soul erupts into a furious storm one last time, as he screams, “How would I know? That this could be my, fate,” the intensity only building up with every chant until everything suddenly comes screeching to a halt.

Next, we have Black Hole Sun, Soundgarden’s own Smells Like Teen Spirit, the song they became most widely known for. Unlike Nirvana, however, Soundgarden were proud of their work. Until his demise twenty five years later, Chris never missed a single note when it came to this song. An arpeggio gets picked out, distortion giving every note a muffled echo.

The tone of Chris’s voice blends with the guitars, as one escalates and lulls in its pitch in sync with the other. This sun he sings of, seems to symbolise a burst of light that can extinguish the darkness residing within. Thayil solos maniacally over a breakdown in the middle, foot planted firmly on the “wah” pedal, morphing the notes in a move reminiscent of Metallica’s Kirk Hammett.

Chris and Thayil in the music video for Black Hole Sun

The Day I Tried To Live, makes one think of a time spent consciously following the world’s advice. He took in a breath of the morning air, listened to birds chirp and watched butterflies flutter, then set off to seek out these hidden joys of life. The song begins with a guitar moaning, like a child whining about having to wake up for school. It is soon accompanied by another guitar recreating that same melody, but in a more placid tone, assuring it that everything will turn out all right.

The bass line appears skeptical of this, adding a hint of tension in the air, joined by the drums in agreement. Chris uses the most peculiar of metaphors, such as stealing change from beggars to give to the rich, to express how everything unravelled before him. His voice shifts moods, from a dull calm as he waits to see how this will pan out, to impassioned screams as he repeats the first line, “I woke the same, as any other day…” but now shouts at the top of his lungs, “But I should have stayed in bed!”

A brilliant line from ‘The Day I Tried To Live’.

The muddy, heavy tone of the guitars in 4th of July recreate a burst of lightning, as the hairs on your neck stand on end from the crackling energy they emanate. As if about to tell a tragic tale, Chris begins to sing in a foreboding, hushed voice. Thayil’s guitar effects in the background, combined with the intermittent splashing of cymbals sound like the bells of war being rung. Now slipping into the character of witnesses giving their accounts of the carnage that took place, he sings the chorus in a state of shock, disbelief, and agony inflicted by intense trauma.

“I heard it in the wind, I saw it in the sky, and I thought it was the end. I thought it was the 4th of July”, they say, describing what seems to be the explosion of an atomic bomb.  This was, perhaps, Soundgarden’s way of stirring some empathy into the souls of those who preach for war as the appropriate course of action to solve their nation’s problems. Sadly, if songs really could change the way people thought, this world would have been a much better place.

Cover of Superunknown

Down on the Upside (1996)

Having reached their peak following the release of Superunknown, Soundgarden now found themselves headlining festivals alongside behemoths like Metallica. Nirvana had effectively ended with Kurt’s suicide, and they now had the spotlight completely to themselves. Reporters from MTV were scrambling for their attention, despite the band not wanting anything to do with them. Such a meteoric rise to fame can take its toll on the young mind, which was precisely what happened when Soundgarden went into the studio for their next, and final venture for another two decades.

Opening the album with a slide guitar intro on Pretty Noose that could have fit perfectly on a country album was certainly a shot in the dark. They must have been all too aware that an impatient fan roped in by their metal era would only be too quick to dismiss something of the sort. That, however, wasn’t their target audience anymore. With a more accessible, softer rock sound, they were clearly aiming for a more mainstream appeal.

Chris singing ‘Pretty Noose’.

Chris first fades in with natural harmonics on his guitar that lure the listener into believing this song is going in a mellower direction. Just then, the overdrive kicks in and the entire band closes in for the kill. As they belt out a slow but commanding jam session, Chris tries out an intriguing bit of screaming in increasingly lower pitches, his voice echoing at the end of every verse to make sure we hear him loud and clear. One cannot help but notice the similarity between Chris’s raspy screams here, and that of future godfather to his children, Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington.

With a title like Blow Up The Outside World, one listens to this song with baited breath, waiting for the explosive burst of music that would blow them away. What we are met with, instead, is Chris’s scarcely distinguishable voice through the telephone, sounding absolutely defeated and devoid of willpower. Unlike previous ballads, the tempo never picks up.

Throughout nearly the entire length of the song, the reverberating twang of a guitar fills the emptiness of the air around Chris’s hollow voice. Reverb is normally used in reggae music, to conjure images of relaxing by a beachside shack. Sometimes, it is used in clubs to induce an aura of tranquility. Here, it feels like standing lifelessly with your feet firmly planted into the ground, as you sink into quicksand.

From the music video for ‘Blow Up The Outside World’.

In the music video, Chris sits on a chair as a helmet feeds all the information he needs to know about life as an average American. What’s supposed to make him happy, what upsets him, who his enemies and friends are. It appears to be a way of saying that sometimes, the world makes us feel like we are robots, merely trained to do someone else’s bidding.

Burden In My Hand gives off distinct Led Zeppelin influences, so much so that had the vocalist been absent, it would have fit right into Led Zeppelin III. A vibrant sensation permeates the air, as Chris strums merrily away at his acoustic guitar while singing at the top of his lungs. It is an under-appreciated art to be able to not only coordinate complex strumming patterns and chord changes—but also sing the vocal melodies in precisely the right key.

Towards the chorus, any resemblances to classic rock are thrown to the wind. Cameron slams his cymbals with every ounce of strength in his being like waves crashing against the shoreline. Thayil retorts with a potent power chord attack of his own, as a ship sways eerily on its sides while being rocked by the brute force of Soundgarden’s music.

Cover of Down On The Upside. Notice how everyone is going their own separate ways.

There is a distinctive sentiment of emptiness that goes through one’s heart while watching videos of the band from this era. It was ultimately their egos that did them in, go on a hiatus as they did due to irreconcilable differences. A decade and a half later, they did make a return to blow up the outside world once again. However, that all came to a tragic end when, on 18th May, 2017, Chris Cornell committed suicide.

It’s safe to say that his voice was the essence of everything that was so compelling about Soundgarden’s music, and the band will never be the same without him. He was a kind soul who touched the lives of millions through his music. He knows better than anyone else just how many times his voice picked us up when we fell on black days. This article is a tribute to his memory, and we can only hope that he is in a better place.

 

 

 




Roads Untravelled—Sitting Down with Priyanka Kochhar

The rumble of bike engines echoed around KMC Greens on the evening of 26th March, 2018—as motorcycle enthusiasts gathered to witness one of their icons. Sporting a leather jacket, a warm grin on her face, the esteemed motorcycle blogger and model, Priyanka Kochhar, appeared genuinely pleased about spending an intimate evening with like-minded people.

She began the conversation by quizzing each member of the audience around her on the safety equipment they wear, repeatedly emphasising that safety is not to be taken lightly. This was followed by intense discussions on the kind of motorcycle that everyone rides—inspiring those who were still in two minds about learning to ride—to take the first leap. After a photo-op and gift-giving session with her fans at Fortune Inn, Ms. Kochhar was kind enough to oblige us with an interview. Here’s what she had to say:

How did you venture into biking? Also, tell us more about “BikeWithGirl”.

It was just a bad phase, or rather, a bad breakup. I was left with no friends. Sometimes, we’re pushed to a point in our lives when we have no one around, and this forces us to think about ourselves. It literally was just a wave that hit me and I just happened to start biking.

Bikewithgirl is not a blog. It was supposed to be an album for me. When I started posting about it though, people really took to it. They wanted to know more and see different places through my eyes. Bikewithgirl was never about Priyanka Kochhar. It was about bikes and traveling. The girl is just an accessory with the bike.

Credit: The Times of India

Tell us more about the societal pressures. How difficult was it for you to choose bikes?

Being a girl in India comes with its own set of rules and regulations. I’ve seen women abroad who have so much more liberty and so many more opportunities. We are the same people, except that our cultures are different. So, yes, convincing your parents is tough. The pressure is high. Everyone is constantly waiting for you to slip up that one time, so that they can mock you for being a woman. If I put up one thing wrong- people will not leave that chance to take me down. So, yes, these are the pressures I face. However, I cannot let anyone’s poison enter my system.

With people in India largely following sports like cricket and football, what’s your take on the scope for motorcycle racing in this country?

I am addicted to motorcycle racing. My first season as a racer was last year. I literally wait for Moto GP to start and keep going to the track again and again. There are a lot of people like me who notice every minute detail about this sport. Even though cricket is a big thing in India, honestly, motorsports are a huge part, too. We have such talented racers in our country. I really hope that international brands start recognising them and supporting them financially.

How have your experiences helped you grow?

My accidents and crashes have taught me a lot. When I first fell down a valley in Ladakh, I felt I would never be able to ride a bike again, but it made me want to do so much more. Some people get hit by such incidents harshly and it takes them years to recover. I am very lucky to be surrounded by positive people, who are motorcyclists and crash all the time. Crashing is an inevitable part of motorcycling. At the end of the day, you will fall off your bike. I’m going out there prepared, head to toe, in the right gear. I accept this fact, and I believe motorcycling should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Credits: Street Style Spotlight

How did you enter into modelling? Was it always your plan?

Modelling was never my plan. I was scouted by an agency when they saw a photo of mine in a magazine. Apparently, according to this modelling agency, I had facial features that work very well for fashion. So, when I got discovered by them, I wanted to try modelling out. It was a new challenge for me. My parents were dead against this, but I did it anyway. Modelling life is not a bad life. However, it is sad that we are racist to our own people. This is something that outrages me.

You are an inspiration for thousands of women across the country. What is your message for all those women who aspire to do something different, and live life according to their will?

It’s amazing that every time I go to a village, I see women doing the exact same thing they’ve been doing for the past innumerable decades. They take care of the house constantly, and the kids, and make food and take water out of the well. Are you telling me a woman isn’t physically strong after all these things she does? If you say a woman can juggle all these things but still can’t have a job, then that simply isn’t true.

Credits: Picbon

What are your plans for the future? Where is your next ride going to be?

I never have plans, because I keep making them and nothing ever ends up happening. I’m going to be riding this bike that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time, called the Triumph Street Triple RS. It’s supposed to be a sweet ride, and very good on the race track. Then, I’ll be going to Croatia with Harley Davidson, which is something I’m really excited about. Other things just happen spontaneously, so I have no idea what else may transpire.

Can you tell us about the most difficult ride you’ve ever had?

My biggest problem with motorcycles is when they’re too heavy and I can’t even stand on my tiptoes. I need to be able to feel my foot so I can come to a stop if something comes in my way and I have to jam my brakes. If I can’t feel my feet, that still intimidates me. So a tall and heavy motorcycle has always been something that bothers me, but that’s never been an excuse for me to not ride it. It does intimidate me, but I ride it anyway so I can overcome my fear. Height is never something that prevents you from riding. It will take longer, but it is still possible for you to pull it off.