Flametal – Heavy Mellow
Flamenco versions of metal songs - cheesy, right? In Benjamin Woods' hands, however, the idea turns out fine. When his roommate stole his electric gear, the shredder made do with an acoustic guitar. He ended up taking up flamenco as a vocation. But his roots remained in metal - hence, Flametal, a fusion of flamenco and metal.
Flametal is normally a full band, with drum kit, electric bass and guitar, and Woods' nylon-string axe. As the band's videos show, this is an uneasy mix. The electric instruments - and general metal content - tend to overpower the acoustic guitar. Indeed, the one misstep on Heavy Mellow (Self-released, 2010) is "Cursed", an original song featuring Steve Stevens (!) on wailing electric guitar. The oil-and-water feeling reminds me of Hacride's "Zambra", a rhythmically exciting but disharmonious shotgun marriage of flamenco and metal.
Otherwise, Heavy Mellow is all-acoustic and all-Woods, but for bass assistance on two songs. Woods is responsible for guitars, palmas (hand clapping), and cajón (hand percussion on a box). So this is not one guy sounding like three at once, but a studio production with overdubs.
That doesn't make it any less virtuosic. Woods shreds, and his arrangements are brilliant. They benefit from smart choice of material. Some songs are logical; they have arpeggiated intros (Slayer's "Spill the Blood", Megadeth's "In My Darkest Hour") or Phrygian (i.e., Spanish-sounding) tonalities (Rainbow's "Gates of Babylon", Scorpions' "Sails of Charon"; Woods even does a reasonable approximation of Uli Jon Roth's solo in the latter).
But many songs aren't logical choices, and thus showcase Woods' arranging skills. The turgid bombast of Yngwie Malmsteen's "I Am a Viking" and repulsive cock rock of KISS' "Tears Are Falling" become stately and elegant. King Diamond's "Welcome Home" transforms from serrated metal into a bubbling handclap-fest; Iron Maiden's "Aces High" transforms into a thing of wonder. I think I like Woods' version better than the original.
Iron Maiden - "Aces High"
Flametal - "Aces High"
The latter two highlight what flamenco is: dance music. I am no expert in flamenco; this album inspired me to do some research, and I was quickly in over my head. It is hard enough to gain a comprehensive knowledge of metal, a 40 year-old music, much less flamenco, which is hundreds of years old. Like any serious artform, it has lifers, schisms, controversies, and heretics. But I did learn this much: flamenco is not fluffy. The guitarists shred, and the dancers are athletes. (See this male one and this female one.) Like metal, it requires strength and dexterity. Or should I say, like flamenco, metal requires strength and dexterity.
So I do not know if Woods accomplishes "proper flamenco" here. Perhaps to flamenco purists, he is what Kenny G is to jazz. But I do know that these songs make me want to move.
They also satisfy the two basic tests for cover songs: (1) Do they shed insight into the original songs? (2) Do they have a life of their own? Woods' arrangements go deep into their source material, deftly integrating guitar riffs and vocal lines. One can tell how strong these songs are (most of them, anyway) by how well they stand up to re-arrangement. Furthermore, these arrangements have their own character. The Slayer and Iron Maiden covers I like as much as, if not more than, the originals. Yes, that's heretical. But perhaps that's the point of this exercise: to show some respect, ruffle a few feathers - and maybe shake a few tail ones, too.
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1. Spill the Blood (Slayer)
2. In My Darkest Hour (Megadeth)
3. Aces High (Iron Maiden)
4. Gates of Babylon (Rainbow)
5. I Am a Viking (Yngwie Malmsteen)
6. Sails of Charon (Scorpions)
7. Tears Are Falling (KISS)
8. Eyes of a Stranger (Queensrÿche)
9. Welcome Home (King Diamond)
10. Bark at the Moon (Ozzy Osbourne)
11. Cursed (feat. Steve Stevens)
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Buy Heavy Mellow
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