Aug 182011

It’s a well-established fact that metalheads love guitar gods. It seems like no matter how good or bad a song may be, if you stick a flaming guitar solo in it somewhere, metalheads will start slobbering and playing air guitar with their grimy fingers. I certainly like me some guitar shred, though I’ve reached the point where even a technically flashy solo doesn’t do much for me if it’s not an organic part of the song and if it doesn’t have authentic soul behind it.

BUT, I do love the sound of a well-played bass almost as much as an expertly played guitar. The lowly bass leads a lonely, often overlooked life in metaldom. It’s an absolutely essential ingredient in most metal, but its contribution is often hard to isolate and notice when you’re listening. More often than not, it gets buried in the mix or overwhelmed by the other instruments. Sometimes that’s necessary, given the kind of sound a band is trying to achieve. Sometimes it’s a blessing, when the bass player isn’t doing anything especially interesting. Sometimes, it’s just a shame.

If you’re like me, you sit up and take notice when a song includes an audible bass line that shows some flash and creativity, and when you hear an actual bass solo, well that’s just a very sweet gift. I get a charge out of heavy-assed bass licks that are solidly competent, rather than flashy, but when a really good bass player lets it all hang out, I get the same slobber-response as most people do when they hear a burst of guitar shred.

When you hear that kind of talent creating rhythms on a fretless bass, it REALLY stands out. It’s a unique sound, which some of us were trying to describe in the comments to a post two days ago about a free four-song comp that’s being offered to build interest in the CD release party for a Toronto band called Nephelium. One of the songs on that comp (“Omnipresent Perception”) is by a Montreal band that we really love around here — Beyond Creation. And Beyond Creation features an accomplished fretless bass-player named Dominic “Forest” Lapointe. Thanks to a comment from an NCS reader who goes by the name egordon, we’ve now discovered a new video of Lapointe doing a play-through of the bass parts in the song, with the recorded song in the background. And holy shit. Is it fun to watch!  (more after the jump . . .)

There are some other really good fretless bass-players out there. Jeroen Paul Thesseling (Obscura, Pestilence) is the one who usually jumps into my head when I think about fretless bass. But Lapointe is a name to remember, too. He used to play for Augury and also records with Quo Vadis, and he’s been involved with many other bands, too. But the work he does on Beyond Creation’s album is his best.

I’m not a musician, so what I know about the fretless bass comes solely from what I hear and what I’ve read. Here’s one thing I read in The Font of All Human Knowledge:

“[A fretless instrument] operates in the same manner as most other stringed instruments . . . but does not have any frets to act as the lower end point (node) of the vibrating string. On a fretless [instrument], the vibrating string length runs from the bridge, where the strings are attached, all the way up to the point where the fingertip presses the string down on the fingerboard. . . . [P]laying a fretless instrument usually requires much more training of the fretting hand for exact positioning and shifts, and more ear training to discern the minute differences in intonation that fretless instruments permit.

Fretless basses have a distinct sound, because the absence of frets means that the string must be pressed down directly onto the wood of the fingerboard as with the double bass. The string buzzes against the wood and is somewhat muted because the sounding portion of the string is in direct contact with the flesh of the player’s finger. The fretless bass allows players to use the expressive devices of glissando, vibrato and microtonal intonations such as quarter tones and just intonation.”

So much for the technical details. Now, let’s watch Lapointe strut his stuff on “Omnipresent Creation”. Pardon me while I begin to slobber.

  6 Responses to “BASS SHRED”

  1. Excellent clip! I still have to follow up on this suggestion (yep, I got it too). Reminds me, though perhaps you’ve already seen it, The HAARP Machine have a cool collection of vids of all of the musicians playing through their first released song, The Escapist Notion. The bass vid is particularly awesome!

    I’ve got all of them lined up here:

    Moreover, I fully agree on your view on bass. I get the exact same effect when I hear some shit fuck awesome bass playing. In fact, I even went to the music store the other day to see what a proper bass and amp and gear would cost me. Looking at at least €700 euros and that’s with a simple amp (not that my neighbors would wish for anything more).

    • The HAARP Machine clips are very cool. That band is growing on me. They’re part of a stunning US tour this fall that also includes Decapitated, Decrepit Birth, Fleshgod Apocalypse, and Rings of Saturn, and I’m looking forward to seeing them then.

      I hope you follow through with the bass playing (easy for me to say since it ain’t my money).

      • It’s priorities I’m facing here you know, as I want to buy a new car first. Cheap beemer, but still.
        At some point I probably will buy a bass, a nice 5-string straight away then, so it’ll be even more expensive. 😛

  2. Adding another name to the list……Joe Lester from Intronaut.

  3. I figured out what it was about this bass sound that made me say “noodly”: no distortion.

  4. Another name for the list would be Steve DiGiorgio. Dude’s played in Death, Autopsy, Testament, Iced Earth, Obituary, Sadus, Quo Vadus and is currently playing in Futures End.

    As a bassist – or former bassist, if you will – I always like to hear a bassist that has some breathing room in a song. For me, as bassist doesn’t need to be flashy or the most technically sound. The ability to work with the drums and keep the song moving as the pulse (to the drums being the hearbeat itself) is more important. If you don’t have a decent bassist, it’s going to come through unless you absolutely bury their contribution. Sadly, good/great bassists get buried quite a bit in the mix anyway, forcing the guitars to pick up some of the slack and rely a bit more on drums than should be necessary.

    I’ve never been particularly impressed by adding bass solos to a song, and usually less impressed by bass only stuff. Yes, it’s nice to let the bass come up front from time to time, but how many bassists can pull off a convincing solo? Can Laponte do it? Hard to tell, based on one song, but the answer’s probably at least a “maybe”. I don’t know if having him come to the front more frequently works or not, but then again, there aren’t many bassists that sound like does either (again, basing this on the one song I’ve heard). When the bass comes forward to take the lead, that means it’s not in its usual role and not all bands make an effort to fill the gap. IMO, if you have a bassist that can take the lead, you need a band that can take the back seat.

    Good luck with the bass if you go for it. It can be a bit more costly up front, especially if you go fretless; most fretless basses cost more, plus as you’ve already seen, going beyond 4 strings tends to also add to the cost. However, unlike some guitarists, one bass (or maybe two) can serve all your needs, unless you’re playing stuff that goes from one extreme to another. Just get a decent amp/cab (I recommend Peavey if you can’t afford something from Hartke or Gallien-Kruger) and find what strings you feel comfortable with. Bass strings aren’t cheap either, but you can extend their life better than you can with guitar strings.

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