In Svbterranean’s Album Dissections, artists break down the construction and/or lyrical themes of their records track by track.
Back in October, multi-instrumentalist and heavy metal veteran Tommy Concrete released his ambitious fifth full-length album, Unrelaxed. The sprawling record weaves together elements of NWOBHM, thrash, progressive metal, and many other styles into a unique mix that will pique the interest of fans of Devin Townsend and the like. We reached out to Concrete who agreed to take part in our Album Dissections series to gain a better insight into the creation of the record. Check out what he had to say below.
Simulating your own demise
Musically this one is pretty much old school heavy metal. You should listen to this track sat in a vast oaken throne, beholding a feast. It was the most difficult song to record the vocals for. This was because I had come to the studio with the whole thing rehearsed and figured out, and Ramage suggested I try singing the entire thing, exactly the same, but a beat early. He was right, it sounded way better, but it was a nightmare to record as I was so used to it the other way and it took aeons to get the whole song done.
I was totally going for a Mercyful Fate / King Diamond vibe on this one. This one started off as a mad piano epic, with cascading arpeggios all over the shop. I built up the guitars, drums and bass around it, so the piano was the dominant cornerstone to the entire track. When we came to do the vocals the piano ended up getting completely scrapped as there was just no room for the vocals. Anyway it ended up sounding very different and gave way for me to put some vocals down that I am enormously happy with.
Witness to samsara
My third solo album, The Necromancer was the first album I played bass on where my perfomance was good as opposed to fluctuating between shit and functional. The penny had dropped and I finally realised the difference between the bass and a guitar as the roles they place in bringing a riff to fruition. Usually I had played guitar on the bass, a problem most guitarists have when they first play a bass. At first when I started playing bass my favourite players where Cliff Burton, Lemmy & Joey De Maio… I understand things way better now and on both Unrelaxed and The Nexromancer I have been going for a Bob Daisley, Rudy Sarzo vibe. Those guys could deliver a no shit heavy platform for Randy Rhodes to get intense on top of. Yeah, so ‘What would Bob Daisley do?’ was a standard benchmark when I was getting the basslines together. Witness to samsara was a tough one, but massively satisfying to get right and play. It’s a different releationship between player and song as a bassist then it is to a guitarist, bass brodges the gap between melody and rhythm. There is a lot going on in this, not so much in terms of technicality, but there are subtle but essential interplay between both guitars and bass in this, great fun to record. This was also the first song written for the album and still has a taste of The Necromancer about it.
Guarded by my familiars
Ramage came up with the term Cubist Metal to describe Unrelaxed, at first it was a bit of a joke, but the more I thought about it the more it is actually kind of descriptive. To me the comparable similarities to cubism exist within the arrangements, including album structure, overall genre palette and soundscape. This was a pretty tough song to get finished and has been ‘completely re-done’ a few times. It was difficult to get the whole juxtaposition between catchy and not catchy all at once to work. I like the way that the basic song of it is perhaps some of the more accessible music on the album, whereas the instrumental sections are among the more hectic and unusual.
It will have become clear, over the first four songs that perhaps Unrelaxed isn’t going to be a regular album musically or lyrically. Liger Master is the first totally left of field song, utilising all the previously introduced musical elements, turning them up and squishing them down to a couple of minutes. It was originally called Tiger Bastard and is about one of my cats, Luci and her aggressive persistance in waking me up in the night. I changed the title as it was too similar to Wolf Master by a psychedelic proto-metal band I played in called Doomlord. So after trying out Lion Master, Cheetah Master, Panther Master and Leopard Master I settled on Liger Master. For those of you that don’t know, a liger is a lion / tiger cross, which I think deserves a song in itself.
Flesh controlled by will
The title for this comes from a conversation I had with guitar supremo Jed Potts, back when he was a fledgling legend as guitar tech for Man of the Hour. It was at some aftershow in a weird mid week rock night in either Wolverhampton or Birmingham. All I can remember about the exchange is that it climaxed with me saying ‘All we are is flesh controlled by will’ and Jed replying ‘I suppose we are’. How we got to that, I have no idea, so the revelation is lost. Sounded good enough to be made into a song anyway. The first lead guitar solo on this song was recorded the day I heard the news that Motorhead legend Fast Eddie Clarke had passed away. The lead guitars had already been done for the album, but I knew I had to sneak a tribute solo in somewhere. So I figured that I would ditch the keyboard solo, and replace it instead with a solo tribute to Fast Eddie.
Neuro typical energy field
The first time Ramage heard the dual bass and guitar solo in this he said ‘This is what I imagine it would be like to go into the Mos Isley cantina on Tattooine, except it is a metal bar and you are on acid, this is definitely the music that would be playing in there’ Definitely unrelaxed, definitely cubist.
This one is in ¾ and apart from the solo has no guitars on it, I opted for three basses instead. The first one I sang on the album because I felt the mood invoked by the music in this one was closest in achieving the overall effect. This song is for me, the deepest heart of the album, the furthest from reality you will experience in the album journey of Unrelaxed.
Following on from the ¾ measure of the previous track, the musical journey takes another step away from the regular into 11/4. When I was creating the album, in the very early stages I knew that I wanted to use unusual time signatures, mainly to push myself more than anything else. So I spent a day or so messing in Cubase, picking up mad measures and tries to jam along with them to see if I could get a vibe. Most of them, to me, just sounded like I was trying to be ‘clever on purpose’ except for 11/4 which I just clicked with immediately. The song was all done and dusted pretty quickly after that.
Leith punk flat
This one has ended up as being one of the most important tracks on the album and not by design. A lot of folk only know me as ‘someone who used to be in the Exploited’, so it’s inevitable that those guys are going to have their attention turning straight to this track, and so they should as it’s an invite from me. Musically, this one is pretty much what I did with Shitball who were a punk/metal band I was in with Gareth and Matt Dennett now of UK sludge titans Battalions. It’s funny, because when we started Shitball, a few folk said it was shit because it sounded like the Exploited, well lo and behold that certainly turned out true. Funny, because now people say this song is good because it does sound like The Exploited, and I’m like no it doesn’t it sounds like Shitball. Anyway, I was thinking about music has evolved, because most people haver regarded the latter half of this song, with the string sections, prog keyboard and guitar solos as a juxtaposition to the earlier punk half. Now for me, this is my take on prog punk, like The Damned Black Album or The Strangler The Raven, both albums that are very proggy and experimental in places, often psychedelic yet still have the nasty simplistic drive on their respective punk roots. I was thinking that, even though this ground had been broken decades ago, that it could appear new to some people once I copy it. Is that because they just don’t did The Damned Black Album? Why not? It’s great!
Benefit of stasis
This one is about my technique for battling insomnia. Basically I try not to fret and just stay still, don’t be pissed off at being awake and don’t fidget. Being still is the next best thing to being asleep, so at least be pleased with that. Also don’t think about work, banish thoughts of toil as the lyrics go. Seems like a daft thing to write about, but I think about the benefit of stasis every night, so it is what my mind is.
Not ready for society
I have done a fair amount of work in secure and semi secure residential settings for children who are survivors of trauma. It was my job for the majority of the time it took to put this album together. So it’s no surprise that some of my experiences are expressed lyrically as well as musically. When doing that job, you come across on a daily basis, information that makes the world seem a worse place than it was previously. One kid reminded me of Newt from Aliens, except their monsters were indeed real. This individual didn’t want to be released, they wanted further incarceration, more security, increased observations so they could feel safe and protected by society and its monsters. At first I tried to write the song from their perspective but quickly realised that I was asking myself why I was there? Do I work there because I prefer to be away from society? Anyone that does a job like that has an unusual reason for being there, and they all once in a while have a bizzarre empathy experience in unique and unusal setting.