Terminal Degree – The Middle Of Nowhen

“What if…?” is a qTerminal Degreeuestion that is asked often in progressive rock and metal, sometimes to original and interesting results.  Terminal Degree asked “What if we made a metal album using violins instead of guitars?

Bet you didn’t see that coming.

What if Paganini played lead for a progressive-metal band? What if Heifetz played Carnegie Hall with metal drums and bass? What if we dual-tracked the violin and let it shred over pummeling bass and drums?

What if.

Wonder no more. “The Middle Of Nowhen” is an instrumental album of intense, heavy songs written and performed by a power trio of drums, bass, and violin.


Stanley Chepaitis – acoustic and 5-string electric violins
Nathan Santos – 6-string bass
Mike Barnett – drums

Where guitars usually rule, the violin seriously rocks. This album featured a virtuoso performance from Stanley Chepaitis and a granite-solid back-line of Nathan Santos’ bass and Mike Barnett’s drums. Want to hear where classical music meets metal? This is it. The production is clean and clear, the drums punchy and driving, the bass heavy and steady and the violin playing technical, mixed-genre melody and solos.

Here’s a quick rundown of most of the tracks on the album:

Resisting A Rest
Ha ha! (I’m a sucker for paronomasic song titles). And indeed they do. Virtuoso violin parts, both rhythm and lead, propel this song. Tense lines, too – with a foot on the gas, but not at all frenetic. This is a great first track for the album. We know what we’re in for, here. And, like it says on the wrapper, no rests to be found.

Deep Phreeze.
More melodic than the first track, but easily as loud, powerful, and articulated. Is there some 1970s melodic prog sensibility here, perhaps? It’s hard to resist the comparisons to Kansas, but this is much more energetic, intense, and heavy than that.

The songs are composed to lead from one statement to the next fairly quickly – no lingering on a repeated phrase or progression. The songs get to the point, and develop the themes and ideas before returning to the original statement, or mood. Very classical compositional forms are at work here – and the songs stay interesting throughout.

Fool To A King
Hey, medieval! Parallel fifths and pagentry. But if you’re looking for ren-faire background dross, keep looking. This is the road-trip continuing to bring the heavy – if Ye Minstral In The Gallery could shred, this is what he’d sound like before rocking out through the middle of the song. I’m hearing a shreddy Jethro Tull, ELO kind of thing going on here.

Onward and Inward.
The first musically contemplative section so far on the album. The violin brings the sound into classical territory immediately, but the group brings it back to a complex ballad within the first minute. By the first third of the song, the mood picks up, and things return to the intensity found on the previous tracks. We’re on a journey now. The violin never loses it’s virtuoso thread, and keeps ahead of the back-line that’s relentlessly steaming forward. There is plenty of melody here, and it’s well balanced with some classi-metal four-string-and-a-bow shredding.

Ah, now here’s where Paganini would be proud of his metal descendants. The piece starts mid-flight, and doesn’t relent. This is a showpiece for Stanley Chepaitis. There are hints of Balkan or Hungarian modal elements in the solos.

I heard somewhere that all of the whimsicles sold out at Comicon this year, and people had to fall back to cold water and crushed ice. Regardless, the trio here continues the heavy violin-driven sound in one of the more complex, interesting compositions of the album. Complicated rhythms, key changes, and dissonant riffing before speeding into a middle double-time, rock-out \m/ exposition.

⅞ time at last! And some strange chord changes! (To be fair, if there have been any odd-time-signatures so far, I didn’t call them out or notice overtly, having been into and enjoying the music overall).

A fine ending to the album, the last piece starts with a distant, lone violin before the pounding bass and drums kick in. The group returns to a complex arrangement and progression mid-song, and keeps iterating over different sections through to the end. Like a caravan through disparate and distant lands, this last piece is an interesting and surprising road-trip.

Heavy metal violin? Can’t say that’s a common occurrence these days. In a sea of 7-string copycats and hyper-compressed blast-beats, this album stands very far from the maddening crowd. The trio’s classical training and multi-genre sensibilities come through on the album, from the mid-nineteenth century Romantics to the Twentieth-Century Moderns and of course progressive rock and metal: there’s contemporary classical in here, in a mix with several sub-genres of metal. The result is a metal-classical fusion very much in sync with the spirit of the classical music Romantics of two centuries ago who fused foreign (to them) music with staid, classical motifs and traditions, and whose virtuoso performances thrilled their audiences – and also in sync with modern rock musicians and audiences interested in continued explorations of heavy, intense rock not limited to That Which Has Gone Before™.

A lot of credit goes to the violinist here – the violin is a very demanding instrument, and in order to pull off a compelling metal performance (let alone a classical performance!) your chops must be excellent. Stanley does not disappoint – his technique and performance here are top-shelf. I’d love to hear more variety of timbre and tone from the violin: gypsy-sounding one song, and perhaps JL Ponty-like the next. Because the instrument is the lead through all songs, the band has a lot of freedom to explore different textures and tones. But this is an editorial nit-pick — an option, and not a detriment, to the work as a whole. In the end, they pull off a thorough and successful fusion of classical and metal, borrowing ideas from Sarasate, Paganini, and the incredible virtuosity of Heifetz and placing them squarely in the context of progressive metal. Listening closely, you can hear a range of ideas from a Bohemian zegeunerlied to the style of Steve Vai.





Jason Rubenstein is a musician and technologist living in San Francisco, CA. His music can be found at http://music.jasonrubenstein.com and can be reached at jason-(a)-jasonrubenstein.com


Seven Impale - City Of The Sun

Seven Impale – City Of The Sun

Take a big paper bag. Got one? Good – now toss in some 1970s King Crimson, some Frank Zappa, a bit of the 1969 ‘Crims, a healthy dose of their 80’s classic “Discipline“, a large amount of 90s-era ‘Crims, some Steely Dan, a bit of Toto, a very healthy quantity of the 1970s ECM catalog, a pinch of Edvard Grieg, a modicum of Steve Reich, a soupcon of Ulrich Schnauss’ textures, and some 50’s and 60s Blue Note Records for good measure. Got it all? Great. Now shake.

Keep shaking. Shake hard.

Right. That’s enough shaking. Now: Dump out the contents of your paper bag, and you should get the music of Seven Impale – “City Of The Sun”. Seven Impale - City Of The Sun

“WHO?” I heard someone in the back ask. 

Let’s turn to their label, Karimsa Records, for some details:

SEVEN IMPALE consists of Stian Økland on vocals and guitars, Fredrik Mekki Widerøe on drums, Benjamin Mekki Widerøe on sax, Tormod Fosso on bass, Erlend Vottvik Olsen on guitar and Håkon Vinje on keyboards, and was formed in Bergen, Norway in 2010. The album itself, which was recorded and produced at the Solslottet and Duper Studio by Iver Sandøy, who has produced bands such as Enslaved and Krakow.

The band’s second release, due out in September of this year (2014), is a fantastic Progressive Rock album. Rock? Check. Jazz? Check. Progressing the genre? Oh yeah. Moody, light, heavy, melodic, pounding, dark, making the odd-meters groove? Yup. Most certainly.

Let me tell you, when I first heard the opening track “Oh My Gravity!” from a post on reddit/r/progrockmusic, I flipped. “What the…”, I said to the paper cut-out TARDIS sitting on my crowded desk. “Who are these guys? What is this? This the some of the best progressive rock I’ve heard this year!”, I said.  The track starts out in the middle of the dynamic range, and by the final third of the song is heavy, heavy, heavy.   Slamming guitars, saxophone, key changes that add tension to an already tense situation, rhythmic pounding that slams home the point… and finally the guitar and bass and B3 get us back to a contemplative solace: “…2000 years, and counting“.

Here’s what the press release from label Karisma Records has to say:

Whilst the prevailing influence throughout “City Of The Sun” clearly lies within the Classic Progressive Rock genre, SEVEN IMPALE’s music actually transcends several genres fearlessly and with deceptive ease. The five musically complex tracks that form the album are each distinctly different, something that only a lineup of musicians from a variety of disciplines as diverse as classical orchestra and big band, metal and jazz, and rock and electronica, could hope to create.

That’s a good description, thank you record-label-person. 

The production is clear, the writing and arranging very creative, and the dynamic range between quiet, mid, and heavy is produced beautifully. These guys are not shy about getting heavy, and even less shy about melody and harmonic movement. They’ll pound their fists on the table one moment, and sing about it with their saxophones the next. 

One moment complicated, complex; the next elegant and simple; one moment it’s a nightmare of prime-number-fueled angry metal, the next a gorgeous and plaintive melody, the album is a joy-rode through eidolons, fever-dreams, textures, philosophy, contemplation, quiet rumination, and angular rage. 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sevenimpale
SoundCloud: http://soundcloud.com/sevenimpale

Jason Rubenstein is a musician and technologist living in San Francisco, CA. His music can be found at http://music.jasonrubenstein.com and can be reached at jason-(a)-jasonrubenstein.com.