The Burning Blade

Fireaxe Newsletter - edition 1.5

June 30, 1998

"Purge, purge, purge, purge the dreams from my mind.
Burn, burn, burn, cauterize my wounds.
Kill, kill, kill, kill the illusions of god.
Set me free from the nightmare of dreams."
- Fireaxe "Unholy Rapture"

It is done.

The premier CD from Fireaxe is ready to ship. It's horrifying, it's beautiful, it rocks. I'm more than proud of this effort. It met my expectations and then some. There's no way to prepare you all for what is about to come your way, but this newsletter will attempt to do so regardless. Sit back and let me tell you all about this amazing new disk.

What does "A Dream of Death" sound like?

A good description is "73 minutes of pain". No, not the pathetic moaning self pity made popular by the "alternative" music movement, but gripping pain in many forms. You'll hear rapturous lamentations, heartfelt escapism, melancholy surrender, defiant rebellion, and bloodcurdling cries of revenge. Pain drives this work, pushing it to the limits of all human emotions instead of dragging it into despair. I deal with pain in many ways, my favorite is with one fist in the air, one hand on a flaming axe, and screaming some ungodly battle cry, like...

"Damn the false prophets and the true believers, full speed ahead!"

The music is built on a solid core of metal but with a great deal of variety like the previous two Fireaxe tapes. The CD is packed with guitar solos, driving rhythms ranging from heavy to funky to thrashy, melodic ballads, pounding drums, and a significant amount of experimentation. Each song has its own character and opens another door into the amorphous Fireaxe sound. I needed to capture a wide range of emotions for this work and that required a lot of different approaches to song writing. The neat part about having such a variety on the CD is that whatever mood I'm in when I listen to it, there's always at least one song which hits on exactly what I'm feeling. Sometimes they all do, and when that happens I'm pretty much blown away.

How's the sound quality on the CD?

Seriously good and damn close to what can be attained at a good studio. Between the two Fireaxe tapes and this new CD I have improved every facet of the sound quality. Here is a rundown on all that has been done to get this disk sounding awesome:

Buying an 8-track cassette based recording deck. A big improvement over the old 4-track unit. This gave me the ability to record two guitars on every song (one left and one right) as well as separate the drum track from the bass track. I could also easily add backing vocals, extra guitar sounds, stereo effects, and multiple voice guitar solos. A big plus was the dbx noise reduction. For the first time I could use it and have the recorded sound quality actually improve instead of get messed up. This helped the sound quality out immensely, it is very clean.

A real bass guitar. No longer am I running a lead guitar through an octave pedal. Now I have a rich bass sound in the mix. The bass is even featured in the intro to "Unholy Rapture" where I run it through stereo reverb and it sounds nice and huge. The only problem was that for some reason I kept mixing the bass heavy when I was doing the mixdown. For the final try I lowered it lower than I thought I wanted it and ended up over compensating, so the bass is kind of quiet overall. Still, the bass is much improved.

Refined guitar tone. On the tapes the guitars ended up sounding rather fuzzy and muddy. Part of this was the tape deck and part of this was the EQ. This time around I really boosted the high and low end and scooped the mids of the EQ. The result is a much clearer and meatier sound. The high end really spits and snarls while the low end is very powerful. The guitars definitely grab your attention and don't let go.

Dual tracked solos. While doing the solo for the first track I got to the point where I knew it was almost perfect, but didn't know whether I could do better. I noticed I had another track available and so I recorded another try at the solo onto it. At one point I played them back sending one left and one right just for fun. The sound was magnificent, instead of just sitting in the middle, the solo now came at you from both sides. It produced an unreal stereo chorus effect. I decided that every solo was going to sound like that. That made life kind of hard since I had to get every solo right twice, but it was worth it. The solos really scream on "A Dream of Death".

Improved vocals. I worked really hard for a year improving my singing ability. Almost every day I would push my voice to get more power, clarity, accuracy, range, and sustain. It really paid off. I have a nasty habit of writing songs which are at or beyond my ability to easily sing or play. The result is that I have to improve to meet my goals. In the case of this CD I met some pretty lofty goals I set for myself. I won't claim to have a voice like Rob Halford or Eric Adams, but I'm definitely holding my own on this CD.

Professional mixing in the studio. After getting all the tracks laid down on the multi-track recorder I took the unit into a professional studio for mixing and digital conversion. There were a lot of benefits in doing this that I didn't get when I did the mixing myself on the tapes. First was added effects like stereo reverb and compression on the vocals and bass. Second was a much more versatile mixdown EQ system. Third was that the mix went straight to digital without having to be recorded onto another medium. All of this improved the sound quality, especially that of the drum machine which sounds pretty realistic. The mix we got in the studio is the same sound you'll be getting on the CDs since we could go directly to digital, no losses at all. It sounds awesome.

The result is a CD which, while falling short of professional standards ($$$$$$), sounds very impressive on all platforms. You simply will not believe that this disk was recorded in someone's apartment with just a few thousand dollars worth of equipment. That was my real goal in improving the sound quality. On the tapes the usual comment was that it "sounded really good for something recorded on a 4 track". I wanted to put an end to that response. I wanted people to have a CD that they could put in their players, crank all the way up, and not even think about what went into producing the sound. In my opinion I have succeeded.

What is the meaning behind "A Dream of Death"?

I'm no big fan of modern society as you might have guessed from previous newsletters and songs like "Godslayer" and "DeathMachine". But as long as those songs were, and they were pretty long, I felt I really hadn't said it all about why I don't like where our civilization is headed. There's a lot to talk about, why we believe in dreams, why we are cruel to each other, why we live in denial, and why we fight so hard to find utopia but always end up with a world which is worse than when we started. For this story I needed an entire CD. The focus is on the role that dreams play in the manipulation of the individual toward the goals of society. Here is my description of what the CD is all about. It can be found on the Fireaxe site on the About page.

"A Dream of Death" begins with the harsh reality of our awakening into consciousness. Although many believe that consciousness is some kind of divine gift or metaphysical property of the soul, it is merely a necessary state of hyper awareness that is demanded by a hostile environment. Childhood is pain. The child must be broken from it's animal instincts and taught it's proper place in our fast paced industrial society. The child must be taught to absorb the pain and stress of living and is given only a modicum of pleasure and release. This teaching is done on what I call "The Rack". All children, one way or another, are broken on the rack.

To cope with the pain, a person will dream. A dream is an image of a future reward which makes all the pain and suffering worthwhile. While believing the dream, a person feels less pain and will sacrifice more to achieve it. To make people work very hard, you need a powerful dream for them to work toward. Eternal salvation in heaven is a perfect dream as are other Utopian dreams because the prize never has to be awarded. The dream is sold and the people will work hard to bring it to fruition. If they realize the dream will not come true, they often run for the cover of another dream. The pain of living all but demands that people have a dream to make them feel good.

The protagonist in "A Dream of Death" discovers that all dreams are just facades for covering up pain and decides he must kill all of his dreams. It is pain and pleasure at the same time as he destroys his most precious dream in order to save himself. This powerful mix of emotions is what I have dubbed "Unholy Rapture" since it is intense conflicting emotion - exaltation and damnation.

After annihilating his hopes and dreams, he realizes that destroying dreams is what he does the best. He has seen through the lies of the dreams and is now immune to their charms. He proclaims himself to be "The Destroyer of Dreams" and declares war on the world. He shows all the dreams of civilization to be lies but is eventually struck down by a society in denial. The dreams may be lies, but they are strong enough to destroy him. Judgment is passed and he is sentenced to death.

In his prison cell the protagonist laments his fate. He sees his pitiful situation, what a waste his life has been, and how he has been denied the simple pleasures of living. In the darkness he meets the "brain of the social machine", a thinking computer created to run the world. He is told by the machine that he was all part of a grand plan to make the world run more efficiently. History shows that progress cannot take place in a static environment. When the computer ran things, society was efficient, but had no conflict, and thus the people were never discontent enough to strive for more. So the machine decided to create a man (the protagonist) who was discontented by heaping upon him more pain than the dreams of society could pacify. The man would rebel, find all the flaws in the dream, and destroy it. The destruction of the dream would pave the way for the creation of a new, more powerful dream that would make people work even harder. The computer would remain in control by being the champion of that new dream.

In the last scene, the protagonist is being executed for his crimes. It is the practice of that society to give the condemned one last dream before death by giving him an injection of a powerful narcotic. The drug takes effect and the protagonist experiences all his most wonderful dreams flooding back into his mind. Even his most precious dream which he thought that he had destroyed returns to comfort him in his final moments. But as his earthbound goddess approaches, all he can see is the image of the machine pulling his strings. He recognizes the dream as yet another lie to cover up the pain. The dream dissolves and all the pain in his life descends upon him. His agony is spectacular and all the executioner can do is put a quick end to his horrible death. In his final moments he utters his last words, "There is no pleasure, only release from pain. There are no happy endings."

The epic saga ends with the final destruction of the dream. The people's faith in their beliefs is shattered when they see that it no longer delivers as promised. In his final act, the protagonist triggers the social revolution which the machine had created him to cause. The rack upon which all of society is placed is cranked another notch.

Another cycle is completed, and humans are worked harder than ever.

It's a grim tale and actually rather Lovecraftian in nature. It tells of one man's struggle to find the truth only to discover the unthinkable horror of reality. Perhaps it's a little too realistic to be truly Lovecraftian, but I think that just makes the story better. With Lovecraft you just close the book and think "well that's not real" as you deal with how scared it made you. With "A Dream of Death" it isn't so easy to dismiss.

How do you, Fireaxe, feel about the CD?

It blows me away. I really poured out all my inner feelings and emotional energy into recording this disk. Some of the stuff I put on the CD comes from emotions I felt when I was a teenager and pretty much kept covered up for years. Some of the stuff comes from powerful emotions I've felt over the recent few years but couldn't express in any other way. There's a whole lot of 'me' on this disk, things that I felt in the past, things I've done, things I used to believe in but can't anymore. It's kind of a life story, only exaggerated in areas and, of course, extrapolated out to a nightmarish end.

This disk focuses on the most painful and intense points in my life. When I really start to remember the things that drove me to write these songs it's hard to hold back the emotions. Even when I was recording them there were times when I'd get too choked up to sing. I'd have to try again the next day and distance myself from the words I was singing. At that point I knew that I had something really special. Eventually I got through it all fine.

The sound turned out better than I thought it would. My next target is to try to meet professional standards at home. I probably won't be able to get that super clean studio sound, but there's still stuff I can improve upon. Overall I think it's an awesome CD. I'm really proud of what I've accomplished.

How was it recorded (in detail)?

I used the Yamaha MT8XII cassette tape based 8 track recorder to do all the recording. The industry is currently all going digital, but at the time I felt the analog machine delivered better quality overall. Eventually the digital units are going to be the way to go but I don't think that they are quite there yet.

The first step when I record is the writing the song. I get a basic idea of how the parts should sound and then figure out the body of the song on paper. I figure out what I want to say in the song and come up with the verses and choruses that express what I want. Then I make adjustments to how the music goes through all the parts. Lastly, I write all the lyrics, play while singing them, and make final adjustments. The song is now written.

The next step is to program the drum machine. I use an old Roland TR-505. The sound quality is pretty decent after it's been run through the EQ on the mixing board but I'm going to get something better soon. The Roland lets me program rhythms, fills, and segues without having to hit the buttons in real time. I try to make the drum track as complex and interesting as I can but I just don't have the available memory on the machine to do really spectacular work. Nonetheless I try to make the most out of what I have and fill up as much of the memory I can with each song. Once programmed, I play the guitar parts while listening to the drums, make any final corrections, and record the drums onto track #8. I go directly into the board from the drum machine passing through an EQ unit to add beef to the bass drum and sting to the cymbals.

Then comes the rhythm guitar parts. I play the guitar through a distortion pedal and then through two 15 channel EQ units (actually its one stereo unit and I go through one side and then the other). I use the DOD 430seriesII for this. I boost the high and low end and scoop the middle to turn the thin and flat sound coming out of the guitar into a much fuller and richer signal. I end up boosting the bass (20-200Hz) about 14db, scooping the mids (400-800Hz) about 16 Hz, boosting the high end (2K -5K Hz) about 12Hz, and killing off the ultra high end (12K+) by 24 Hz. The sound is pretty good. I've tried several methods including going through a pre-amp and going through an amp and mike, but the best by far was direct in through the EQ units. I'd recommend this technique for anyone who can't afford to have their stuff recorded in a studio, but you really need a lot of EQ to get the sound anywhere reasonable. I lay down two tracks of rhythm guitar, one stronger in the low end, the other stronger in the high end. The low end goes left and the high end goes right. This creates a big stereo sound for the guitars instead of having a single guitar sitting somewhere in the middle. About half the time they play the same part, the rest of the time they play complimentary parts. It's a real challenge trying to come up with two complimentary rhythms, but when it clicks it creates a dynamic and powerful sound.

Next is the bass part. I also run the bass direct in but use very little EQ on it. Usually I just kill off the mid range and leave the serious equalizing to be done during mixdown.

Any vocal choruses I want to do are done at this point. I'll put one voice on each of three tracks and work on them until the harmony is right. Then I'll record all three at once to a single track making sure the levels are all very close. Some choruses I did on the same tracks as the guitar solos. I send one voice left and one voice right. That resulted in a nice effect also.

Now comes the real challenging part, putting the solos into the song. I start out just playing that part of the song and experimenting with some solo ideas until I get something that sounds pretty good. It can take anywhere from half an hour to all night to figure out how I want the solo to go. By the time I start recording it, I know exactly how it's going to sound, it's all a matter of execution. I go direct in through the same EQ as the rhythm guitars and add echo and reverb. Actually I added reverb to every instrument when recording "A Dream of Death". I didn't know that they could add all that in the studio. In the future I plan to leave off the reverb when recording and have it all added in the studio. I play the solo on one track until it sounds good, and then play it on another track until they match up. I send one track right and one track left. Since they've already got reverb and echo on them, when they are played together the sound it like some mega-reverb. It really makes you say "Wow".

The vocals are done with a mike through the hi-gain input port on the 8 track. For the CD I actually just held the mike in my hand and sung into it. It sounded fine. When I told that to the guy in the studio during mixing he couldn't believe it. It sounds better than it should have. Another thing I didn't have was a P-popper. I learned how to shape my mouth to suppress the Ps when singing. I still pop a few Ps, but like I said, it sounds a lot better than it should have. I'm going to get a P-popper and a mike stand when I record the next batch of stuff, and I recommend these to anyone recording at home. The mike I used was a Benson Audio Labs BA25 (What?! Not a Shure mike?). Well, I don't know much about mikes but this one sounds pretty damn good and that's about all that matters. Despite the lack of professional equipment, the vocals turned out very clean and realistic. Another thing which I did with the vocals is some stereo lead ins for several of the songs. For these I used a stereo reverb unit when recording and used two tracks. I used a Zoom choir 5050 which sounded awesome. You'll hear it on the first song, it really grabs you.

After all the tracks were recorded, I went to a professional studio for mixing. At the first place I went to I pretty much just watched as the engineer handled all the stuff. I gave some input but for the most part he did all the EQ and levels. It sounded pretty good in the studio, but when I got it home I discovered that it really sucked. The vocals were all way over compressed and had too much reverb, the guitar sound was thin and weak, and the mix just did not sound very nice. I don't really know how I could have missed all that while listening, but I suspect the fact that he had the speakers turned up really fucking loud in a small mixing room had something to do with it. The guy wouldn't give me a discount for re-mixing the CD so I never went back there again. That's pretty much how the industry works, so make sure that when you go in to mix that you get something that you really like. If you don't, you're just throwing money away.

The next studio was a much better set up for me. The engineer, Rob, actually let me touch his mixing board. This allowed me to get a lot closer to the sound I wanted for Fireaxe: strong guitars with everything else squeezed in where it will fit. We also talked a lot more about what I was going for with the sound and overall communication was a lot better. It took a few tries to get the mix right, but the first try there was heads and tails above the previous attempt at the other studio. Once digitized, the beginnings and endings of the songs were cleaned up, the levels were normalized, and fades were added when needed. When we were all finished, the songs were burned onto a CD which I could take home and listen to. Modern studios are pretty cool.

Mixing is tough though. Monitor speakers are really forgiving. Stuff can sound good on a pair of monitor speakers that sounds kind of bad at home. It's good to have several different speakers to compare between while mixing, but you have to do a lot more listening to all the speakers to make sure that everything's O.K. For those of us on a budget, spending that much more time in the studio is not something you can do. I found that a good set of headphones works well when mixing. Not only does it put the music right in your ears, but it lets you hear the left/right balance a lot better than in a room with monitor speakers. I've got a lot of left/right stuff in "A Dream of Death" that the headphones helped me center. In the end I wasn't 100% satisfied with the mix, but that just goes with the territory. No artist is ever satisfied with their own work. So after putting in enough hours to get the CD sounding really cool I decided that it was ready for production. If I wanted to go for perfection, I could easily have spent a few months re-mixing and re-recording stuff. I'm pretty sure it wouldn't have been worth the time or money.

Production of CDs has become a desktop operation these days. With home CD burners available and blank CDs selling below $3 each, churning out 100 disks at home is neither difficult nor expensive. With the quality of color printers these days, full color graphics for the booklets on good quality paper is also something you can do at home. This was just the ticket for my CD since the lowest volume you can get from a CD shop is 1000 units (for about $3000). That's a good deal if you can find enough buyers, but I just don't have that kind of demand right now. The last thing I want is to have a few hundred CDs sitting around my apartment. The first print run is being done at home on PCs. My friend Dave is handling the CD burning while I'm knocking off the booklets. Dave's got software which lets him print off full color sticky labels to put on the CDs. I found card stock computer paper which is treated for better color production on both sides for the booklets. It all comes together very nicely and appears like a CD you'd buy from a store. Of course, it's less than half the price, and the music is better too.

Rights to duplicate Fireaxe materials

Currently Fireaxe is not for profit. I sell the CDs for $5 each which covers the production and mailing costs. For CDs sent out of the country, I'll have to charge $7 per disk to cover the additional mailing cost. If you write reviews or put samples on your website I'll give you a CD for free. Since I am not making any money with the current recordings, you are free to make duplicates of them to distribute as long as you obey the following guidelines:

  • 1. You can only sell the duplications for the price of the medium or less, plus any delivery cost. You are not allowed to make any profit with the music.
  • 2. You should tell me how many copies you gave out and who got them so I can keep track. Also, if they have an e-mail address I'd like that as well so I can add them to the mailing list.
  • 3. You are likewise free to adorn any webpages or duplications with the gifs and jpgs on my website as long as you include an obvious link back to my website. This includes putting Fireaxe song samples on your site as well.
  • 4. You are free to play any Fireaxe songs (in unaltered form) provided you are an unsigned band without a marketting tie-in. You are not allowed to record those songs onto anything that you will sell.
  • 5. You are required to crank the song "I Am the Destroyer of Dreams" as loud as you can at least once in your life. Singing along is optional but highly recommended.
  • 6. You are free to play "The Rack" in school or church or any other institution bent on crushing your will and turning you into a mindless zombie slave of the corporate dominated world. Try not to develop a bad attitude about it.
  • 7. Fireaxe will not be held responsible for the destruction of hopes and dreams that may come while listening to this CD. Also, any subsequent social revolution which follows from this CD is simply not my fault. It's all part of the big picture. Just listen to the disk and you'll understand what I mean.
  • 8. You are not free to commit suicide while listening to any Fireaxe song. I'm sorry, I'll have to prosecute. On a serious note, if you are thinking about doing it, please e-mail or call me if you have no one else to talk to. When I was in my teens the album "The Wall" by Pink Floyd used to really get to me. Just hearing songs like "Comfortably Numb", and "Hey You" would get me pretty depressed and mildly suicidal. I'm just trying to say that I've been there. If my music is having that effect on you, please get in touch. You aren't alone.

The gist of it is that you can do just about anything with the music as long as you don't profit from it and that I get some sort of credit for having written it. I'm open to any methods of distributing my music, such as compilation tapes or CDs, radio play, or recording label distribution. However, you will need my direct permission to do so or some kind of legal agreement.
Brian Voth - Creator of Fireaxe

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