BANDS THAT INSPIRE: A Sense Of Gravity
December 13th, 2016
Whether you’re into tech, prog or black metal, there’s going to be something you’ll love on A Sense of Gravity‘s new record ‘Atrament’. The Seattle band channel Between The Buried And Me and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum with eccentric harsh vocals from CJ Jenkins that extend into powerful singing melodies with ease. To introduce us all to A Sense Of Gravity, we got the band to each pick an album that has inspired and impacted them musically.
‘90125’ from Yes might be the one album most responsible for my love of music in general, and is one of those special few albums that has been a top favorite of mine since early childhood. My Dad used to play this album a lot on long car trips, and I used to love going over the note patterns in my head while seeing full-blown psychedelic cinema unfold behind my eyes. I could practically feel the new areas of my brain expanding as I absorbed the multifaceted awesomeness that is this record. Being exposed to Chris Squire’s rock-solid bass lines at such an early age is without doubt a huge part of the reason I ended up choosing the bass as my primary instrument.
This album was the first I remember where I just laid my stomach on the carpet, with the album jacket open, reading the lyrics as I listened to one of the most influential records to date.
The concept of the album is based on an Ayn Rand novel, and the concept is synonymous to the real life into which this album was born. The premise is that unwritten rules are broken to the displeasure of those in charge. As an impressionable 11 or 12 year old kid, I was hungry to relate to this. In ‘2112’s Utopian future, the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx, are annoyed by the ancient guitar found in the stream by our hero of whom we relate, just as Rush‘s record label was annoyed with Rush for putting out an album that is the opposite of what their label wanted.
The beginning of ‘2112′ starts off so powerful. It sets the tone for the most epic LP I can be lucky enough to listen to first, just as it set the tone for my musical tastes and direction for all my life since. There are parallels between this album and my life and I draw from this influence when it comes to my playing and writing.
‘Train of Thought’ was the album that opened my ears to progressive music. I was always drawn to intense, complex music but I had never heard quite like Dream Theater before. The super aggressive riffs mixed with complex time signatures and big, grand melodies really spoke to me. This is also the album that turned me into a serious practicing guitarist. To me this is John Petrucci at the top of his game and I developed a lot as a player by learning these songs. One overlooked element of ‘Train of Thought’ is the strength of the songwriting. Looking back on it as a more experienced musician that is what really makes this album great.
This was really a pivotal album for me. I remember discovering Muse almost by accident, buried in my Dad’s expansive CD collection. Prior to listening to this album over and over again, I had spent most of my time listening to Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, Joe Satriani, and Frank Zappa. As a classically trained pianist, I had separated my playing experiences from my listening experiences, and up until this point I hadn’t realized that they were supposed to come together. That’s what this album did for me.
After countless listens, after getting my hands on every album Muse had released, and after learning and transcribing most of Matt Bellamy‘s piano and keyboard parts, I had a much clearer sense of what music meant to me as a whole, and the involvement it was going to have in my life. I was absolutely enamored by his virtuosic piano and guitar performances, the grand harmonies, the soaring vocal melodies, and the heart-stopping guitar and bass riffs. Not to mention the fantastic arrangements and great use of ‘noise’, which is very hard to achieve.
I was (and still am) primarily attracted to the extremely technical aspects of piano and keyboard playing, as well as ways to create and deliver compelling melodies on both keyboard and guitar. Matt Bellamy’s proficiencies and expertise on both instruments inspired me to take up the guitar, and led to a lifelong obsession be the best I can be at both instruments.
If I hadn’t listened to this album, it is hard to know where I would be on my musical journey today. I will always love and treasure this album, and am grateful for its existence.
Though there have been many pivot points in my musical interests as I’ve grown up, a critical change in taste was when I started accepting metal with non-melodic vocals into my musical diet. After taking the musical gateway drugs to extreme metal that were Carcass and Arch Enemy, my transformation from a thrash-o-holic to a death metal initiate was nearing completion. I was ready to open my mind to “stupid sounding death grunts” as my close-minded late-teen self would have described them. I went to my local CD shop’s metal section and with a wall of extreme metal opportunities in front of me, I was ready to take the leap. Without much logic other than picking out a record that sounded kind of cool at the preview terminal, had some cool art and had viscious sounding song titles, I walked up to the register with Cannibal Corpse‘s ‘The Bleeding’. The moment I put it on in my car and heard ‘Staring Through The Eyes Of The Dead’, I was a complete death metal convert. The riffs were like nothing I had ever heard before and the album was amazingly easy to listen to front to back. It was the same feeling I’d experienced from any of the thrash classics, where the album just goes down so easy that it is over before you know it. I loved how it was just purely heavy all the way through – no “wimpy” filler! (I was not a fan of anything but angry sounding stuff at the time). The vocals, of course, are some of the greatest ever in death metal history – absolutely saturated with brutality. The production is wonderfully dark, tight and warm. It’s like the aural equivalent of your comfiest, wonderfully warm human flesh jacket you wear while sitting around a campfire in the winter telling stories of slaughter, enjoying blood-spiked cups of cocoa, and waiting for the cat fetus to finish roasting.
I’d listen to it daily during my commutes to and from college and after knowing the songs forward and backward, one day I said to myself, “You know…I bet I could grunt like that.” So in my infinite wisdom, I read one random comment online that said to do death growls all you have to do is release a heavy sigh and then push it a lot harder than normal. With that in mind, on one awkward Washington Day in a PT Cruiser, 16 year old Jenkins let out his first attempt at a Chris Barnes death growl…and you know what…it wasn’t half bad! This started an all new addiction–I started growling along to the album for hours a day, and I actually looked at song lyrics for the first time in my life just so I could nail the parts. I hadn’t sang since I was a child, but pairing that album with plenty of stressed out college student angst and you had a perfect combo for a renewed interest in the study of the vocal arts. If it weren’t for this record, I may very well not be a vocalist today.
‘The Gallery’ was one of the first albums that converted me from a sceptic of harsh vocals, shortly following ‘The Jester Race’ by In Flames. I loved the combination of the aggression with the melodic, guitar-driven nature of the music, and it didn’t take long for me to go from tolerating the screaming and growling to loving it. I’d previously thought that anything related to “death metal” was noisy, angry nonsense, but I was drawn in by the catchy guitar riffs and memorable melodies.
I was also amazed by the intricacy of the guitar and bass work, and by how well all three of these instrumental lines worked together at all times, despite all having such different parts. Until then, I’d really only heard metal where both guitars and the bass all play the same part, or a simple harmony. But here everything fit together like a fascinating puzzle, and my desire to understand what was going on led to my first full-fledged transcriptions as a musician. This detailed transcribing of multiple parts was a first for me at the time, but it’s turned out to be my most valuable learning tool over the years.