An Oud to Cookie Monster

Last night I went to an incredible oud performance by Mavrothi T. Kontanis at the Shiraz restaurant here in Kansas City. Mr. Kontanis lives in NYC and was in town recording an album with a friend of mine, Beau Bledsoe. The oud is an ancient instrument from the Middle East, a very cool looking gourd-shaped relative of the guitar. It has a very short neck and eleven strings.

I’ve never heard a professional oud performance before, and I was blown away by Mr. Kontanis. He played some folk songs as well as some classical pieces (I wouldn’t know the difference, but Mr. Kontanis was kind enough to point them out). To my ear, the oud had a remarkably rich sound, particularly the low notes. Kontanis had some very nimble fingers, and played songs that alternated between quick and complex and slow and sublime. I was also impressed with his vocals, which I’d describe as haunting.

Naturally, I couldn’t help hearing the influences of this ancient music in contemporary metal. Some of the passages played by Mavrothi Kontanis reminded me of Slayer and Mercyful Fate riffs. I don’t plan on investigating metal’s roots THAT far back in time, but it’s always nice to be reminded of music’s global interconnected-ness.

Later in the evening I was driving home with my girlfriend, Sarah, when Lamb of God came on the radio. Sarah listens to a lot of vocal-centric music (artists such as Patty Griffin, Spoon, a lot of Austin bands) and doesn’t care for Randy Blythe’s vocals. I think Blythe’s vocals are quite good, but I mentioned to Sarah that I think a lot of metal bands consider vocals pretty low on the list of musical priorities. Especially in Death Metal, where a mere growl will suffice. As a listener, that’s fine with me. I’m more interested in the speed, the powerful guitars and sick solos. I just don’t want the vocals to get in the way.

That led me to the question: when did that evolution in metal take place? Early metal placed a premium on vocals with the likes of Ozzy Osborne, Dio, Rob Halford, and Bruce Dickinson leading the charge. Who were the first bands to let vocals take a backseat? And when was the first time we heard the “cookie monster” growl? This could be an interesting sideline project associated with T.H.O.M.

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~ by mikehill25 on April 29, 2007.

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