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Touring and Live Shows 

Playing live is the ultimate drug for a lot of musicians, and it's the ultimate experience for so many fans out there.  It's also a huge part of the metal scene in particular, and is the foundation of a lot of bands' existence.  It's what many of us live for.

But for some of us, it's just not really possible, or we're not really all that thrilled about it...or both.

I don't tour or play live, and I probably never will with Agony By Default.  There are a few reasons for this:

1) It's not feasible for me from a financial or scheduling perspective.

I am a father, a local small business owner, a busy man, and I'm not exactly rich to boot.  Touring takes a huge amount of time and resources that I simply cannot dedicate at this point in my life.  Agony By Default is a very important part of who I am...but it alone does not define me, and I have other interests...and more importantly, responsibilities...that I take very seriously.  I just can't dedicate the time or money to touring, especially when touring doesn't make a whole lot of money (and often loses money) and pulls me away from my family.

2)  I don't want to.

I'm simply not as big of a fan of playing live or touring in general as some musicians are.  It's a royal pain in the ass with often a lot of logistics involved, it takes time and money away from shit I'd rather be doing, and frankly, it requires dealing with people..which I'm not a huge fan of, either (and, to be entirely honest, am not always good at).

3) I don't need to.

I don't feel like my music has to be played live to be validated.  It exists, as is, for my enjoyment and the fans' enjoyment, and I would hope that it speaks for itself.  It's enjoyable for me to make music, and I'm content with that.  I have a "normal", steady income from other sources (that I'm not willing to sacrifice for a shittier- or non-paying live gig or tour), and I have plenty of other hobbies and interests to fill my time.  There's a reason I now do solo/studio projects.  It's simply what I prefer, and I don't need to play live to find enjoyment in my music or to promote/spread it.

4) One-man studio projects are a difficult live gig.

It's very difficult to pull off a one-man show successfully in metal, which is traditionally a "band" type of deal.  There are some who can pull it off (Putrid Pile, Everdying) and many more who can't.  For me, it's just weird and I'd rather just not.

Of course, the way around this is to just use a band for hire, but that costs money (and takes time, effort, patience, and a whole lot of other things that simply aren't worth it to me, for reasons 1 through 3).

In the end, there's just not enough reasons or motivating factors for me to play live at all, let alone go on a full tour....and there's a whole lot of reasons why I can't, and why I don't want to.

Having said that, I want to stress that I have nothing but incredible amounts of respect for those who do put themselves out there, night after night, and put up with all the bullshit, take all the risks, and put forth the physical, mental, and financial effort to get out there and a) do what they love, and b) give the fans what they want.  It's just not for me, and isn't possible for Agony By Default.

Guitar Tunings 

I get asked a lot about what tunings I use for Agony By Default material, so I figured I'd throw this out there really quickly since it's not really a simple answer.  Although I don't get as crazy with ABD as I have with some other projects, there's definitely been changes over the years, and early tunings have a bit of a back story.

The End of Hope [EP/Demo, 2014]

Prior to Agony By Default, I had spent the better part of ten years playing on 6 strings in CGCFAD.  For a while just before I created this project, I was in a band with my best friend, who decided to get a 7-string.  He went ahead and matched me with GCGCFAD on that.

He kept his gear at my house, so I naturally played his 7 string a lot, and that's actually what I wrote the first few AbD songs on.  However, he moved away, I never bothered to get another 7 string, and I ended up rewriting the songs slightly to record them on a 6 string in CGCFAD, which is what almost all of the songs on that release are in.  However, there are two notable exceptions:

"Amity Road" was a bit of an experiment, it was in AEADGB (drop A on a 7 string, but with the high E left off to make it work on a 6).  Also, I'm not incredibly sure anymore, but I believe "Away" was in a weird open C# variant (C#G#C#G#C#C#) that I was using in another project at the time.  I honestly can't remember if I ended up recording it that way, or if I rewrote it in CGCFAD.

"Regrets" [Single, 2016], Genocide For Survival [Album, 2017], The Timekeeper [EP, 2017], Catastrophes of the Mind [Album, 2017], and Chaos and Cataclysm [Split, 2018]

As mentioned in earlier blogs, there was a gap in time from 2014-2016 where I wasn't playing music at all.  By the time I came back to AbD in late 2016, everything had changed.  I had finally jumped on the 8 string bandwagon and went in a completely different direction with my style, both genre-wise and also just how I wrote riffs and songs in general.  All of these albums are on 8 string in standard (F#BEADGBE).

Having said that, obviously Catastrophes and Chaos both went in a much more "blackened" direction, and I only utilized the F# on a small handful of riffs on those releases.

Upcoming Material

So here we are in mid-2018, and I'm getting close to being finished with the upcoming album (title TBA very soon).  As mentioned before, with this album, AbD has taken another turn musically (back towards a heavier, death metal sound), and both a cause and effect from that is a new tuning and new keys.  While a couple of the songs on this album are still in 8 string standard (F#), the majority are actually in drop A with a unison A (AAEADGBE).  I once again also find myself not using the 8th string very much anymore, and will probably just downgrade to a 7 string for future releases.

Bass Guitars:

TEoH was written and recorded on a 5 string in GCGCF.  Everything thereafter has been on a modified 4 string in matching tunings (BEAD or AEAD), either due to financial constraints or a "fuck it, why not" mentality.  Admittedly, as a guitarist primarily, the logistics of bass have always kind of taken a backseat for me. (Apologies to any dedicated bassists out there.) I've always used it really as just an accent instrument to help with the guitar tone and a general undertone for the songs...and have never put a lot of time or effort into bass (neither playing, nor in the production process).  This is especially true for more "blackened" styles of metal that I've done.  Having said that, It's something I'm trying to concentrate on a little bit more on these days, as it can actually be a very valuable part of a song/recording (and it's something that has sorely lacked on previous releases, in retrospect).  I think the upcoming album reflects my mentality shift on bass guitar in general, and I'm pretty stoked with how it's turning out.

Cheers!

On Black Metal, gatekeeping, and a possible future project... 

I'm a huge fan of black metal.  I played in numerous black metal projects early in my career.  Most of them absolutely terrible, some of them alright, none of them incredibly serious.  It was a lot of fun (I know, that's a dirty word in kvlt circles) and I learned a lot about myself as a person and a musician.  Eventually I moved on, out of a desire to play different styles of metal that I felt allowed for a bit more musical (and lyrical) diversity.  But I also moved on because of the toxicity of the community and the fact that the "scene", if there even was one, was disjointed and bizarre.

On one hand, there's the elitists that are stuck in 1993, and believe that incorporating black metal elements into any other subgenre (or vice versa) is heresy...as is listening to, or being a fan, of any other style of music.  They take it faaaar too seriously, and they stifle the genre's growth, creativity, and style.

On the other hand, there's the people that consider it a joke and treat it as such, doing a terrible disservice to the people that actually put their hearts and souls into the music they make and take it seriously.

And lastly, there's the people that don't even know what black metal really is, where it came from, or what it was really about.  And the truth is, that has drastically changed over the years...some of it for the better, some of it for the worst.

I've been guilty of being a bit of all of the above, especially in my early years.  Now that I'm older and a bit more advanced in my musical career, I can reflect with a bit more objectivity and common sense.  The first question that should be asked at this point, though, is "What is black metal to you?"

Ask ten different black metal fans (or random metal fans) this question, and you'll get a million different answers. The beauty of music (and art in general) is that it's open to interpretation, and it affects different people (both fans and musicians) differently.  But what's really interesting is the varied answers you'll get to that and related questions from the heavyweights who really made the scene...Varge, Hellhammer, Fenriz, etc.  It's quite interesting to watch/listen to the interviews from all of these guys 25+ years after they made themselves icons in the scene.

A lot can be said about what black metal was, how it came about, what the original intent and goal was, what it's become, etc.  And it's certainly changed from that, much to the chagrin of some people (cough Varg cough).  But that's not all bad.

Look, I'll be straightforward.  To me, these days, black metal is simply a particular expression of musicality.  It's a fucking style of metal, and an attitude.  Nothing more.  It doesn't have to be attached to a certain ideology;  I think we get so caught up sometimes in attaching a catch-all identity to a scene or a style of music that we forget that it's fucking music....sounds coming out of your fucking speaker that manifest themselves in a certain way.  People like Varg will sit and lament until the cows come home about how it (and it's reputation) changed ideologically; it went from anti-Christianity and rebellion to over-the-top "Satanism" (not even remotely the same thing), to kids just regurgitating the same shit without even understanding the history and the basis for the movement in general.  And you know what?  That's all true.  It did largely become a parody of itself and a fucking joke, ideologically, for a long time...and I can totally understand the resentment some people...especially those who were in the scene, made it what it was, etc...have about that.

But you know what?  At the end of the day, it's still just fucking music.  And the purpose of it, and ideas behind it, are going to change over time...no matter how specific its ideological and political origins were.

To me, there's nothing more satisfying sometimes than just laying down an obnoxious blast beat, trem picking some evil sounding shit, and shrieking uncontrollably about whatever ideological shit pisses me off that day.  Who the fuck is somebody to tell me that because I'm an American, because I'm not of 100% Scandinavian blood, because I wasn't a part of the scene in the early 90s, because I also play death metal, because it's 2018, or anything else, that I can't play black metal (or a variant thereof)...or that it's not "trve" black metal?  Fuck outta here with that gatekeeping bullshit.

What really pisses me off, though, is the assholes that throw a hissyfit when you incorporate BM elements into other styles of metal.  I love blackened death; it allows me to utilize some of the elements of the BM style while still having the heaviness, melody, and versatility of various death metal styles. (You can hear that a lot on the more recent Agony By Default material;  Catastrophes of the Mind and the AbD side of the Chaos and Cataclysm split both had a lot of BM influence but still had so much versatility.  I had gone quite some time without utilizing some of the blackened elements that I enjoy, and it was a blast to get back to my roots a bit and incorporate that into Agony By Default.)  The desire for versatility is what has kept me away from making strictly black metal, though.  Honestly, that's a sentiment I expressed in my last post about deathcore...I hate being pigeonholed, but I also don't want to be guilty of trying to change something that's pretty good in its original form.  So I don't commit to any particular original style or subgenre anymore.

Anyway, I've made this point a lot, but it's absolutely astounding to me that a scene, a genre, that thrived so much on not giving a shit, having no fucking rules, etc. actually ended up being the most egregious motherfuckers when it came to rules and what's "trve" or "kvlt".  These motherfuckers are half the reason the scene became a joke.

Fingers get pointed and blame gets thrown around all the time.  Varg will blame Euronymous for having a particular vision of how he wanted the scene to be, and will claim that it really all started there...but Varg was one of the most guilty gatekeepers around after his [Euronymous's] death. And bands and fans will argue all day long about what BM should be, what it was, how and why it changed, who should be allowed to play it, etc....but I can't even begin to express how monumentally fucking stupid this entire thing is.

[Note: I was, and still am, a huge Burzum fan, and I have a great deal of respect for much of what Varg has said and done, and he has possibly more authority to speak on the matter of the black metal of 20,30 years ago than anyone.  However, I also disagree with much of what he has said or does say, and want to point out that I don't necessarily endorse all of his views.  As with any two human beings, we agree on some things and disagree on others.  It is also important to note that Varg himself has stated numerous times that he has no association with black metal or metalheads anymore, is completely detached from the scene, and is no authority on modern BM and doesn't give two shits about it.  Which is fine by me, and I honestly have a supreme level of respect for that.]

Moving on though...as with anything, it's dangerous to take something too seriously, but it's also an injustice to treat it like a complete joke too.  I'm guilty of getting pissy about the newest or latest black metal parody or joke band.  While on one hand, people should do whatever the fuck they want; on the other hand...as I mentioned before...I think it's a disservice to the people who actually enjoy the music or put some time and effort into their craft...musically or lyrically.  And I think it's sad that black metal has just become a big running fucking joke in metal in modern times.

And then, there's the odd breed of black metal musician who takes it so seriously that they come across as if they actually think it's a joke, and there's always that motherfucker (as is the case of a drummer I once knew) that's almost a goddamned parody of themselves.  At some point, a real-life version of Poe's Law takes effect.  As Varg once said, there's a difference between corpse paint and clown paint.  I'll take that further by saying there's a difference between being serious and being over-the-top pretentious...which extends to lyrics, image, etc.  In my younger days, I hadn't quite figured that out yet...and to be honest, I deserve every bit of ridicule I can be dished over it.  Even I cringe when looking at super old photos, or listening to some of my old BM demos, haha.

Whatever.  I guess the point of all this incoherent rambling is that it's fucking sad how much ridiculousness there is surrounding black metal.  Again...and this cannot be repeated enough....it's fucking music.  Do whatever the fuck you want, but at least try to be genuine about it...and be honest with yourself about why you're doing certain things.  And don't half-ass it, or do it just to spite others...and don't pigeonhole yourself into doing something a certain way just because you think that's the way it's supposed to be done or you want brownie points from elitists. 

I will likely do a black metal album (or entire project) again in the future...because fuck you, I do what I want and I love me some BM.  Some people will like it, most will probably hate it, and it'll likely overall be irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.  Then again, isn't that what we're all doing?  Random shit that we love, because we love it and fuck everyone else?

Thoughts on the early days of AbD, Deathcore, and more... 

Five years may not seem like much, but sometimes, looking back, it seems like an eternity.  Part of it is the pace at which I write material; it accelerates the evolution of a band or project I think, and makes a release from just a few years ago seem like ancient history.  The other part of it, I suppose, is that I live a pretty active lifestyle and have had so much going on in my personal life.  At times it's all a blur.  But here we are, working on the third full-length AbD album (on top of two EPs, a single, and a split), almost exactly 5 years after I began the project.  And holy fuck, AbD has come a long way.

Agony By Default is predominantly known as a melodic death metal project that kinda bounces around with elements of black metal and symphonic metal at times, and of course random other shit thrown in once in a while just because that's what I do and I don't give a fuck. I write what I feel like writing. But once upon a time in a faraway galaxy, Agony By Default started out as a deathcore band.  The first release, the 2014 demo/EP The End of Hope, was pretty much straight up raw melodic deathcore with some elements of slam and groove metal mixed in.

Deathcore has sort of become like, this weird elephant in the room with a lot of metal fans.  Even some of the best original deathcore bands have distanced themselves from the label and aren't even really deathcore anymore; admittedly I followed suit as well.  I think it's sad, because there's some awesome deathcore out there, but honestly it's not without reason.

My roots are in traditional/melodic death metal, black metal, grindcore, etc.  But when deathcore first emerged, I'm not going to lie....I fucking loved it.  The early first/second wave deathcore bands brought an attitude, a brutality, a combination of concepts that blended so perfectly.  It had been a long time since metal had seen something that new and fresh...and fucking catchy (but without being fucking weak).  It was awesome.  I was still playing black metal and some melodic death at the time, and was still really developing my own writing style, but I was pretty hooked and started incorporating it (deathcore) into various side projects and demos (all of which sounded fucking terrible, but whatever.  I still had a pretty black metal attitude towards everything at that time, including production...plus I didn't exactly have great gear as a poor college kid).

As with anything though, once it got popular, it became a trend, it became a scene.  It became the dominant force at mainstream places like fucking Hot Topic; it attracted all the emo and punk and metalcore kids, and it eventually lost its edge.  New bands started bringing clean singing, whiny yelling, and catchy pop choruses into it.  Bands started regurgitating the same fucking riffs over and over again.  They stopped playing solos. They also saw the effectiveness of "the breakdown" and took it overboard...playing entire fucking songs that were one giant, 3-minute-long breakdown all to themselves.  Retarded drama, scene infighting, etc. took over.  As quickly as deathcore arrived, it fucking imploded upon itself.  It lost all its brutality, all its edge, and all of its talent.

(I feel like it's important to note that I was guilty of some of this.  None of us had the foresight to realize where the shit was headed.)

I was a bit late to the party.  I didn't really get my shit together enough to be able to record a "decent" sounding demo until 2014...well after the scene collapsed (in my mind, anyway).  That demo, EP, whatever you wanna call it, was The End Of Hope, which I had started writing in 2013.  I was still pretty proud of it, even though it was still raw as fuck and borderline irrelevant at that point.  But that was technically the beginning of Agony By Default.

I went through a lot of bullshit in my personal life and walked away from music for quite some time, not picking things up again until almost the end of 2016.  By that time, I had lost all interest in deathcore and didn't even really listen to it anymore.  What I did hear on occasion sounded like pop-deathcore or heavier metalcore to me....it just wasn't the same.  Although I do harbor a small amount of guilty pleasures in some of those bands, it certainly wasn't the "deathcore" I knew, and I certainly didn't want to play that shit.  To be honest, I was burnt out on the older deathcore too, as both a fan and a musician, and wanted to branch back out without being grouped in with all this newer shit.  And I had zero interest in being involved in the "djent" offshoot that had come about thanks to some deathcore bands trying to be Meshuggah, but that's kindof a side note I guess.

I went back to what I knew and loved...straight up death metal, black, grind, etc.  My writing style had changed and matured, I switched from 6 /7 string guitars to 8 string guitars, I started writing in different keys, and I went back to my roots.  And that's where I've stayed. 

I did write a pretty deathcore-ish song for the debut album; "Shallow Grave" was a simple, straightforward, downtempo song that was reminiscient of some of the stuff on the old EP. I wanted a straight-to-the-point banger somewhere on Genocide. But that was pretty much it.  That song, although smack in the middle of the album, might as well have existed on another planet and in another era from the rest of the release.  And I've never revisited that style of writing.

A lot of bands went the same path that I did, abandoning the "-core" sound and even shunning the scene completely.  I certainly wasn't the first; as we all know some of the heavyweights from that first wave very quickly realized that shit wasn't going to last and they wanted to do other things, and they didn't want to be categorized with some of the retardedness that started to come about.

Personally, I've never cared much for over-classification and over-subgenre-ing.  And you like what you fucking like; there's nothing wrong with that.  I have plenty of guilty pleasures that would make elitists cringe and want to kill themselves.  But overall, deathcore very quickly became something that I didn't want to be a part of as a musician, and I didn't want AbD to be known as that type of band.  Not just as a style of music, but as a part of that scene in general.

I still listen to a lot of deathcore; I don't give a fuck.  There can be a bit of a separation sometimes between what I listen to as a fan and what I want to play as a musician.  But I'm guilty of being a bit of an elitist about it myself, and most of what I listen to is old news and ancient history for the genre.

(Having said that, I will say that I've discovered a few newer deathcore bands that don't take any fucking prisoners, and they subscribe to the old-school deathcore thought process and show no weakness and no fucking mercy.  I hope they keep on keepin' on.  But overall, the scene is lost in my mind.)

So yea, that's part of why there's such a huge contrast between that early demo and the rest of AbD's stuff, and why I honestly consider Genocide for Survival to be the "real" beginnings of Agony By Default.  As a general note, I kept the name Agony By Default because I didn't want to start over yet again; brand-building and promotion is already hard enough without having to start from scratch with a new "project" every other fucking year.  And I have absolutely fuck-all no regrets about that early EP (other than maybe the production).  It was fun and that was my opportunity to do something in that style, and that's where I was at at the time.

And like I said, there's still some awesome deathcore bands out there.  It's just not my thing anymore as a musician and hasn't been for years...and as a fan, I really, really dislike some of what the scene turned into.  But the bigger point, though, is that I didn't want to be stuck in a specific style or genre....especially not one that had started to cannibalize itself, become fragmented, and wilt into a shadow of its former self.  I wanted to move forward and go back to what I truly loved doing, and I wanted to be able to evolve without any kind of stigma attached to my name.

Ultimately, for me, my heart is and always has been in more traditional forms of extreme metal.  I value atmosphere, melody, solid composition, riffing, etc., and there's so much more flexibility and ways to express oneself musically (and lyrically) when you step outside of a box like the one deathcore kindof pegged itself into.  In the end, I just want artistic freedom, and I wanna write some tunes that express how I feel, what I'm going through, etc. Deathcore in and of itself, as a style, often doesn't do that for me anyway.  And the deathcore "scene" taught me much of what I really should have already learned in my younger days from the black metal "scene" (another discussion entirely, one which will come later), to be honest...when you paint yourself into a corner and try to do something specific, and when you try to stay "true" to a particular sound or musical philosophy, you lose all artistic freedom.  You also get caught up in a lot of bullshit and drama that takes away from the music, and you get lumped in with other musicians and concepts and such that you don't wanna get lumped in with...and it becomes stigmatizing.

This isn't meant to bash deathcore, old or new...it's kindof just an explanation of why my direction changed so drastically...and also why "scenes" and trends are stupid.  Just do what you want.

 

-Matthew
 

 

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