Andrew Lee’s “Heavy Metal Shrapnel” Unleashes the Shred Fury (Album Stream + Interview)
Shred, as in the genre of music characterized by musicians absolutely destroying their guitars with outrageous technicality, has become kind of a dirty word in the extreme metal world. Instead of championing musicians for being masters of their craft, we instead make fun of Uli Jon Roth for dressing like a pirate. It's really a shame, because some shred is truly excellent (looking at you, Tony MacAlpine).
A love letter to this woefully misunderstood style, Andrew Lee, whose talents can be heard in Relapse Records' Ripped to Shreds, anime grind band Houkago Grind Time, and neoclassical mince project Archaganini (among others), wrote upcoming record Heavy Metal Shrapnel to immortalize the "Shrapnel Records Sound" once revolutionized by such seminal acts as Racer X, Marty Friedman, and Chastain (not to mention the aforementioned Tony MacAlpine, who Lee references a handful of times in an interview which can be read below). A shred album in the classical sense, Andrew Lee's Heavy Metal Shrapnel fuses strong songwriting and catchy riffwork with memorable melodies and absolutely face-melting guitar solos. There's talent to be shared, as well, as the album features guest spots from fellow shredders in Chthe'ilist's ranks (namely Phil Tougas and Antoine Daigneault), as well as Zealotry's Alex Zalatan and Hagamoto of Bodies Lay Broken fame.
Literally recorded on hot pink guitars, Lee has no interest in modernizing this classic style, and the sleaze (sleaze is important in a musical sense, here) found in Heavy Metal Shrapnel's endlessly catchy collection of songs acts as a time machine to when leather pants and puffy shirts meant whoever was playing was an absolute guitar god. This album is no different than its predecessors, but Lee's care in recreating such a misunderstood style shows just how much this means to him, and it truly shows. On the surface, Heavy Metal Shrapnel could be seen as "just a shred album," but Andrew Lee's perfect recreation of the Shrapnel Records sound (complete with added blast beats, because why the hell not) shows a true and deep passion for this style. Also, that cover art really is something else. Listen to Andrew Lee's Heavy Metal Shrapnel and read an interview with the artist below.
What made you first want to become a shred-style guitarist? Is shred still the right word to use?
Yeah, shred is still the right word, at least as far as I know. I'm getting up to boomer age compared to the kids, they might call it something different now. I used to read Guitar World and Guitar Player religiously in high school when I was learning to play. I don't remember the exact first solo I wanted to learn, but one that stuck out for me was the "December Flower" solo on In Flames' The Jester Race. It was hella tasty with a good amount of flash still. I can play it okay now, but it was a real struggle back then. I was also super into Children of Bodom and Dragonforce, and later on Necrophagist as well, but I was only able to do the simpler Bodom solos. I think the flashy and fast stuff always sticks out to any newcomer to guitar, so I just wanted to be like my heroes. But I don't think I took "practicing" shred very seriously until I got into the REH instructional videos of Paul Gilbert or John Petrucci, because those broke down the mechanics of shred into simple exercises that were easy to repeat.
In the portions of the underground in which we reside, pure shred is sort of this alien thing you don't really hear about anymore (for instance: I heard Joe Satriani's "Surfing With the Alien" for the first time in maybe 15 years the other day). Why is that?
I think there's several reasons for it; shred has been dead for 30 years, and the "underground" guitar/shred community operates in a wholly different space than our kind of extreme metal. It was more associated with dudes like Bulb, sevenstring.org, petrucciforum, etc. about 10-15 years ago, and now it's all Instagram and YouTube. The techy dudes into death metal ended up in either tech death or [brutal death metal bands, and I think grimy death metal or grind fans just don't have much crossover there. Add in the relative unpopularity of instrumental records since forever, and I think pure shred plus underground metal was always gonna be hella rare.
I suppose it is too soon to tell, but what is it like taking this now-antiquated approach to shred guitar in the world of micro-composition and video-forward content?
I expected zero sales and zero listens because it's just so not what anyone is looking for anymore. But if I were chasing views I wouldn't be making '80s shred or anime goregrind. I don't want to say something like "Instagram is ruining music," but that micro-composition thing just doesn't interest me at all. With grindcore a microsong is a part of a larger whole, like a 7", and the music itself is so intense that no one wants to listen to an entire 40 minute album of grind in one go, so it serves the music to be very short and concise. With Instagram guitar, it feels like the length serves the algorithm and there's only so much melodic or thematic development you can do in 30-45 seconds, and once you finish watching that video, what's next? Just to scroll onto the next mini-video on your feed? Maybe the kids understand it, but I don't "get it" anymore haha.
What goes into crafting an interesting, varied, and wholly composed shred song as opposed to a small, noodling idea?
I think the same as any other song, really. There needs to be development on themes and ideas. A noodly idea is just that, a spark. I think that spark needs to go someplace and take the listener on a journey, to really develop any kind of emotional resonance. As one of my favorite youtubers says all the time, repetition legitimizes repetition legitimizes, so I like bringing back earlier ideas in different keys, or in a different context with new riffs and/or drums. Also on multiple listens of the songs you can better appreciate how themes are developed from beginning to end.
Though you were already a fan of this type of music before, how do you feel about shred now that you've made a full shred album?
I was already a big fan of Tony MacAlpine, but my respect for him is now way into the stratosphere. I had a tough time making all the songs sound distinct and unique, but still cohesive enough to be an "album." "TMac" just casually produced and played keyboards and guitar on all the early Shrapnel Records stuff and made like 20 different albums with different artists that all have their own identity.
With such an established style, what do you feel you bring to shred?
In a modern context, I'm bringing back that sleaze and that HEAVY METAL THUNDER to technical guitar that's been missing for a long, long time. In the context of the 80s shred stuff, I think these songs are all a bit more aggressive and driving than the early Shrapnel stuff tended to be. Everyone was more on a Yngwie kick when it came to soloing too, there weren't as many wide intervallic lines or fusion influenced lines. Greg Howe was of course a thing back then, but he didn't really play heavy metal at all, he played in the jazz rock idiom and just happened to be signed to Shrapnel.
Who are some shredders/technical guitarists in this style our readers might not know?
Tony MacAlpine, Vinnie Moore, and Paul Gilbert were all titans of that era, so I'll leave them be. Joey Tafolla was one of the biggest inspirations for this album, I think he's pretty underrated. He played in Jag Panzer for a few albums, sporadically toured as a hired gun, but never got the recognition any of his peers did. His style is very epic and melodic, like a charged up Tony MacAlpine on speed. His time in Jag Panzer also clearly comes through in the dirty riffing. Another guitarist that never gets props would be Terry Syrek; he put out some self released solo albums and also did time in Trans Siberian Orchestra. There was one YouTube video I saw of him back in 2008 where he was just burning over the solo section of UK's "In the Dead of Night," and his lines were just totally alien. Even though I'm a big fan of [Allan] Holdsworth and Dream Theater, that video is the reason I also lifted the same solo section pads/chords for "Spandex Rebel," not because Dream Theater used it or Holdsworth did it first.
When we're talking modern.... it's hard to say. I don't really know any modern metal shredders that really get my motor going, other than Steve [Jansson] from Crypt Sermon and Phil [Tougas]. Matt [Knox] from Horrendous has some pretty tasty lines but he's not exactly going 1000 mph all the time. I'm sure there's a bunch of good modern guitarists in the EUPM [European Power Metal] or Japanese power metal styles that I'm unaware of. I guess Marco Sfogli, Bryan Baker, and Alex Machacek are all monsters, but I can't steal any of their fusion lines because it just flies way over my head, haha.
You're presenting shred to a potentially new audience -- how do you hope they respond (aside from generally enjoying it)?
I hope people realize that shred isn't just blasturbating a billion notes. Of course, the technical "wow" factor is what separates shred from any old instrumental piece, but I guess (for whatever reason) everyone interested in writing guitar-oriented instrumentals also has a high level of technical facility. A good shred song shouldn't be jamming over a simple riff to let you show off whatever new lick you've woodshedded, but something meaningful, melody oriented (I won't get into modern music like Philip Glass because that's not what gets me going), and have complex/fast that are more than just running up and down scales and arpeggios.
Andrew Lee's Heavy Metal Shrapnel releases Friday on Nameless Grave Records.