My experience with one-man bands — the subgenre I’ve seen referred to (pretty loosely) as “bedroom djent” — is damned narrow. About a week ago, it was limited to a universe of one: Cloudkicker. I had ignored some positive references to Cloudkicker on other metal blogs because I just stupidly assumed it wouldn’t be my thing. Then my NCS co-founder IntoTheDarkness insisted I listen to Cloudkicker and I relented. Damned good thing I did, because (as I wrote here) I thought Cloudkicker’s music was excellent.
Then I got this further e-mail from IntoTheDarkness: “ok so i know how much i raved about cloudkicker but i just found someone who outdoes him. and his name is dan dankmeyer. FUCKING AMAZING. HOLY SHIT. I can’t rly describe how good he is. just check him out.” As you can see, ITD doesn’t believe in capitalization, except for emphasis.
IntoTheDarkness and I don’t always see eye to eye, but I always check out the music he recommends (and that goes for the other co-founder of this site, Alexis). So I checked out Dan Dankmeyer, denizen of Frederick, Maryland, despite having read a mixed review of his latest release by Niek on one of my favorite places for discovering new metal, Death Metal Baboon (though he did give it a 7.5 out of 10 rating).
And once again, I’m glad I listened to ITD, because I’m diggin’ the shit out of Mr. Dankmeyer’s latest album, X, despite the fact that it omits the kind of larynx-shredding vocals I usually enjoy. If I had to classify the style, it would be guitar-driven Northern European instrumental melodic death metal, with a dash of prog thrown in for good measure. Whatever you call it, it’s damned good — and it’s free. (more after the jump, including a couple songs to hear . . .)
The first time I listened to X, I had it playing on my iPod as background music while working out at a gym (I would say I was pumping iron, but these days my gym visits have become so infrequent that it feels like the iron is pumping me). I just wanted to get an overall feel for the music before listening again more carefully. But I found myself stopping and paying closer attention as the music streamed, or involuntarily starting to bang my head (the old people at the gym where I go stare at me anyway, so this just gave em another reason to stare).
There are 11 songs on X, with all but one clocking in between 4 and 6 minutes. Dankmeyer plays the guitars (and on this album, he uses an 8-string monster) and keyboards, but as far as we know, he uses software to create the other instrumental tracks. I can’t help but be amazed that this densely layered music was created by a single human being. I know it’s possible to create drum tracks and just about any other kind of musical sound using computer programs and sound samples, but I still think you have to have the mind of a drummer or a bassist or a keyboardist to create music that sounds this organic and tightly integrated, no matter how brilliant a guitarist you are.
And Dankmeyer is a brilliant, endlessly inventive guitarist, as well as a genuinely talented songwriter. What’s even more mind-blowing to me is how fast he creates the music. This is his fourth album release so far in 2010 (and his fifth overall), and the one preceding X was released in July. And, to me, the music doesn’t sound thrown together in a hurry — far from it. Moreover, although the songs certainly bear a unifying stylistic similarity to each other, X is not simply a single mass of indistinguishable music.
The album opener, “Loathing” is a Scandinavian-style romp, with pounding chords, swirling keyboards, and an epic sweep — reminding me at times of Amon Amarth. “drop e lolz” mixes the ringing guitar chords and technical solo flourishes with heavy chugging and Meshuggah-esque staccato riffs, and includes beautiful, piano-keyed melodies executed in tandem with dual-guitar leads.
“The Art Of . . .” includes more swirling keyboards and blunt-force riffing. It’s a real headbanger — but it also includes a prog-metal influenced passage, followed by an accelerating aggressiveness that ends the song with a real barn-burner of a finish. The next song, “metal idea”, features tremolo-picking and boat-loads of blast-beats, with another dual-guitar melody that spins like a fast-paced folk dance — and it even includes a brief, black-metal howl (one of the very few songs that includes any kind of vocalization at all).
“Nothing, Nowhere, No One” launches with ethereal keyboards but quickly shifts into another Gothenburg-inspired melodic romp — fast-paced grinding riffage and double-bass kicks married to multi-tracked, clean guitar anthems. “Cold” blends catchy guitar melodies with dissonant, down-tuned hammering; it’s catchy as hell, both rhythmically and melodically.
The album’s shortest track, “Instrumental”, is built around echoing, arcing guitars and a submerged electro-beat. It’s dreamy and atmospheric, the most clearly prog-influenced piece on the album.
I found it very easy to get immersed in X — like being pulled out to sea on a swift current, with Viking long-boats alongside and valkyries screaming across the sky overhead. I’ve found myself going back to particular songs repeatedly; they engage the mind as well as those autonomic processes that cause your body to move in sync with convulsive rhythms.
If I have a complaint about X, it would be with the pacing of the album — it’s almost all uniformly fast. It’s no secret that I like fast-paced music, and in Dankmeyer’s case, it allows him to showcase his guitar wizardry. But because this music is exclusively instrumental, I think greater variety in the pacing (more of what’s in evidence on the song “Nothing, Nowhere, No One”) would help further distinguish the songs from each other. But that’s a modest complaint — as it is, I though X kicked ass.
I didn’t include notes on all the songs above. I left out two, in particular, because I wanted to play them for you. They’re paired up back-to-back on the album, and they’re two of my favorites. Check ’em out for yourself:
Here is Dan Dankmeyer’s MySpace page. And if you like this music, you can stream and download X — and every other Dankmeyer release — via his Bandcamp page (at this location), which he has set up with a “name your price” option — which means no money or as much money as you see fit to contribute.