The Burning Blade

Fireaxe Newsletter - edition 6.6.6

Nov 21, 2003

"We are enslaved to a world in flames.
We tremble in fear and kill in their names.
We bow to their will as they promise us glory.
We go to our graves lifting them up to the sky.
We are food for the gods."
- Fireaxe, "Food for the Gods"

It is done. In spite of a few cases of divine intervention to prevent this day from ever coming "Food for the Gods" is now officially released. Yes, some annoying, malevolent, and vengeful deity (sound familiar to anyone?) tried to kill me first by giving me renal cancer and then by trying to burn down all of San Diego in an attempt to destroy my studio. Both attempts failed due to the work of skilled mortals, doctors and firemen to be precise, whose powers made the gods seem impotent. Gods are wusses.

A big ĎHelloí to anyone receiving the Burning Blade for the first time. This is the Fireaxe newsletter and we are food for the gods.

A release like no other

Trilogies and multi-part movies may be all the rage these days, but works that span multiple albums or CDs are very rare. It's uncommon to see concept CDs to begin with, let alone concepts that spill over onto a second disk, but with "Food for the Gods" I've torn down this barrier with a work of art that lasts for nearly four hours and consumes three CDs. Add to that a forty page booklet filled with lyrics and full color art and you have a release that no recording company executive would ever allow any of their acts to even attempt. Yet, today, in this world of out of control capitalism, such a release, which promises nothing in the way of a profit margin or guaranteed hit songs, has come into being.

"Food for the Gods" is fourteen epic tragedies set to music that take the listener on a journey from the ancient past, through the present, into the future, and beyond the grave. Many themes run in and out of these epic works, tying them all together into a cohesive whole. In it I examine the evolution of religion, love and hate, divine abandonment, ideological purification, psychological enslavement, dreams of glorious triumph, the need for justice and revenge, and how our gods are taking us down the path of self annihilation. When I refer to gods I am not invoking the conventional definition of supreme beings who have omnipotent qualities and cannot rationally exist. Instead I see gods as being emergent systems, manifestations of our collective needs, desires, and neuroses, that create and exploit our weaknesses and make us act in ways that spread their influence. I see gods and ideologies as being interchangeable concepts and see no distinctions between gods as supreme beings such as Assur, Ishtar, and Jehovah, and gods as ideals such as, Freedom, Equality, and "the workers revolution". All these "gods" are the basis of laws, dictators of proper behavior, and entities which we sacrifice our lives in the name of. Darwinism rules in the realm of our gods and thus we are constantly at war against those with different ideologies. We fight for our beliefs in all arenas to ensure the survival of the system with which we identify ourselves. I see our conflicts as continuously escalating, and which will not be pacified by the specter of total annihilation since humans believe that their gods exist beyond the bounds of reality as they know it and will reward them for their servitude in the afterlife. Thus, our wars will continue, and build in magnitude, until there is no one left.

This concept is huge so I handle it in small chunks. Each epic song in "Food for the Gods" is intended to show one piece of the puzzle which are gradually assembled into a terrifying whole. In many of the epics I tell the tale in the first person so that you feel what the characters are going through and see the world from their eyes. The music breathes life into stories that are generally found only in history books and will pull at your heartstrings as you see reflections of ancient kings and warriors in yourselves. Although many of the characters lived and died thousands of years ago, you will see how relevant their struggles are to those of today for things have not changed as much as we would like to believe. That is why over two hours of "Food for the Gods" is spent telling stories from long ago. When you hear the words of our ancestors and substitute the ideals we fight for: Freedom, Liberty, and Equality; for the ones they fought for: Assur, Aten, and Jesus; the echoes of the past ring loud indeed. To understand the present you must understand the past.

More than one theme runs through the work and the themes appear in several songs, tying them all together. Songs later in the work shine light on those earlier and vice-versa, giving you a better understanding with each listen. I've even found myself discovering new connections between the songs as I listened to the work over and over during the mixing stage. The project has become more powerful with time for me. I think that it will have a similar effect on you. If it does, then I have succeeded as an artist. The works that I have the most respect for are those that caused me to question my beliefs and that changed me deeply as a result. My purpose is not to destroy your belief system, as much as it may seem that way at first listen, but to make you think harder that you've ever thought before. I know that doesn't sound like what you'd expect from a metal album, but metal is supposed to be all about artistry and rebellion, and "Food for the Gods" rebels against all modern notions with power and elegance. It is like nothing that you've ever heard before.

So what does it sound like? If you're expecting to be blown away from the first minute by some bad ass sound you are better off getting the latest release by your favorite band instead. "Food for the Gods" starts slow, but that is because I am in no hurry to bury you. Sit down, relax, and prepare for a genuine listening experience. In fourteen tragic tales I will show you the fate of the human race in all its splendor. At times it is dark, at others resplendent. You'll thrill to the sound of a chariot on the attack and agonize over the fate of an idealistic pharaoh. You'll hear both the dreams and venom of idealists and hear their fates unfold in graphic verses. You'll cheer, you'll cry, you'll feel, and you'll think, but most of all you'll rock, for this is metal to the core and it announces its presence with thunderous guitars. I feel that I've outdone myself musically in these CDs. You can get your money back if you don't agree. And if you find yourself regarding commercial CDs as being groups of unrelated songs with little deep meaning and poor presentation after listening to "Food for the Gods" I apologize and sympathize.

Victory or Death

As I neared the end of the recording cycle I realized that I'll probably once again have a number of reviewers requesting free sample copies of "Food for the Gods" in exchange for a review in a magazine or on the internet. I know that many of these reviewers give each CD a few listens, review it, and then put it on a monstrous stack of promotional disks, never to be listened to again. That's not the fate I desire for any copy of "Food for the Gods", especially since a three CD set with a forty page booklet is a little pricy to give away. So I decided to produce a single CD which contains a number of the hotter cuts from "Food for the Gods" for distribution to people who do reviews or who just want a taste of the new Fireaxe. "Victory or Death" was born.

"Victory or Death" is more like a commercial release. It starts fast, contains many short songs cut from the longer epics like I did with the rough cuts, and does a good job of capturing the essence of Fireaxe. It's not a "best of" CD as several of the essential songs are not present on it. Also, there's nothing on "Victory or Death" that isn't included in "Food for the Gods" including the art. There are no hidden tracks or extra songs or remixes or anything that a Fireaxe lover would absolutely have to have if they already have "Food for the Gods". My intent isn't to relocate your hard earned cash into my pocket with a minimum of effort. You've probably experienced enough of that as it is. But if you're a diehard and you have to have it anyway, I can send you a copy below cost along with "Food for the Gods". It's a good CD to hand to people who you are trying to convince that Fireaxe rules. All three CDs in "Food for the Gods" start slow, so those with short attention spans will be turned off by it almost immediately. In contrast, "Victory or Death" starts off with "Failures of the Fathers", which is a blast of powerthrash that follows the verse-chorus format and gets done in about four minutes. The kinder, gentler, and longer Fireaxe comes later, and thus the CD follows the general rock-n-roll release formula. Sometimes it's better not to fight against people's conditioning.

Two years in the making

At times I wondered if this day would ever come. I took a year off after "Lovecraftian Nightmares" was released back in 1999 after which I put together my digital studio and cranked out "The Dreamhound" and "Forgotten Son" to test it out. All the while I was putting together ideas and riffs for "Food for the Gods". In August of 2001, I had all the songs and ideas laid out and I began recording. My idea was to trace the evolution of god concepts and the desire for ideological purification beginning with ancient Assyria, Egypt, and Israel, touring through the Middle Ages and modern era, speculating on the future (and "A Dream of Death" is a more detailed glimpse of the future I envision) and concluding with a more realistic take on the mythological Christian afterlife. At that time the idea of religious wars and ideological conflict wasn't very topical, but within a month of when I started recording, a handful of religious lunatics threw a lit match into the tinderbox that is our modern world and provoked an eruption of violence and rhetoric all in the name of (fill in the blank). This helped me in two ways. One, it made "Food for the Gods" very topical. A lot of attention began to be paid to ideological conflicts and the "clash of civilizations" although most of what is being said is partisan nonsense. And two, it gave me a wealth of material on which to draw to make "Food for the Gods" all the more relevant. Bush's infamous "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." quote found its way into "Evil is Everywhere" and fits in nicely with quotes from Mussolini, McCarthy, and of course, Hitler. Onward Christian soldiers.

For two years I labored, filling up a total of 34.7 Gigabytes of disk space with sound files. I ended up doing everything myself, from the recording to the mixing to the mastering to the art save for the lyrics on the powerful track "The Soul Doctors". In retrospect I had to do far too much work and I doubt that I will ever undertake such an ambitious project again. The last weeks were extremely stressful. I kept thinking that sometime during the mixing I would see smoke coming out of the hard drive and I would lose everything. It's an uncomfortable feeling knowing that so much of your life is resting in a fragile piece of equipment that could go haywire at any time. I did have most of the sound files backed up for safety, but a hard drive crash would have set me back months anyway. Fortunately I splurged when I purchased the drive. I bought a 45Gb VST fire wire external hard drive. It was the most expensive drive I could find and I didn't mind paying extra for the quality. I knew that I was going to beat on that poor thing relentlessly for years and it had to be rock solid and lightning fast. I was not disappointed. When you record and mix on a computer, the sound files in your songs are far too big to store in memory, so they are left on the hard drive. When you hit the play or record buttons the computer has to go to disk, grab the part of each track that is being played, mix them according to your settings, and play them through your sound card all in real time. If you're recording too it also has to write what you're playing to the hard drive at the same time it's pulling the other files off. So when you have 12 instruments recorded and you're adding another one, the hard drive is busy grabbing chunks from 12 files and writing to a thirteenth. You can hear the needle clicking back and forth like crazy trying to keep up. And when I had too many tracks going at once the computer would occasionally give up and play sporadically, as if I were listening to the radio while driving under bridges. The VST drive had to put up with hours of extreme disk access every day and not mess up a single bit. My hat is off to those who made that drive work so well.

Aside from the discomfort of trusting a computer with my most valuable possession, recording went wonderfully. The digital studio helped out immensely in many areas: more than triple the number of tracks compared to what I had before; the ability to cut, paste, and splice in segments where I had recorded everything perfectly with the exception of one unforgivable mistake; tweaking the pitch of my vocals in places to make me sound better than I really am; and fine tuning mixing levels and EQ settings to my heart's content. Well, the last part is not entirely true. Mixing is a task that is never truly done. Each time you think that you have it how you want it, you listen to it again and want to make changes. It will drive you crazy if you let it and I don't have that far to go. I think a good rule of thumb here is to keep mixing until you can't stand to hear your songs anymore and then you know it's time to quit. Mixing is the most stressful part of the process. You know that what you end up with is what everyone is going to hear and that there is no chance to do it over again when you've sent the CDs off to be duplicated. So you try and try again to get it perfect. It's the same feeling that you get when you are recording the instruments, but there's more finality when you're mixing. In any event, the CDs are now at the factory being duplicated. What's done is done.

The best part about the digital studio was having enough tracks to put everything that I envisioned into the music. Three-voice choruses are hard to do when you have to ping-pong them on an eight track machine, and five voices or more are a major pain. But on the Mac it was easy. I had enough tracks to lay down whatever I wanted without having to put them together before the mixing stage. I took full advantage and it shows. The production is smooth, smoother than some of the music coming out of professional studios. When I listen to what I've created and compare it to CDs that I've bought I am now convinced that the marketing hype of a self-contained, affordable, digital home studio has finally been delivered upon. Now you can finally create music at home that sounds comparable to what you can get in the studio, provided you work hard at it. You need to learn a lot to get the most out of the tools you buy, so it's still something for people who love to play with techno-toys for hours on end, or at least people who can make them do what they need them to do. I'm in the latter category. It was a tool not a toy.

For me the end product is the important part. My intent has always been to do whatever I felt I needed to do to create the songs that I desired. Doing so much by myself was never a requirement and I have no problems working with others. After all, I've worked with Octavio Ramos (who absolutely nailed "The Soul Doctors"), Steve Lines (who wrote the lyrics for "The Dreamhound"), and H.P. Lovecraft (posthumously of course), but if you've ever tried to put together a band to play the music that you wanted to play you know that it can be an almost impossible task. If you can find enough musicians who have the skills you need, sort out the musical differences between them, convince them that your music is worth playing, keep them together for long enough to record your music, and lay down enough cash to cover all your expenses, you've accomplished a lot. Now try to do that for a musical project that has no hope of being picked up by a label and keep the band members working day and night for two years to record three CDs. No way. They'll have better things to do. In this you can see how the strangle hold of the music industry over what gets produced affects even amateur musicians. You can hold a band together if they believe that they may get signed one day, but you can't get them to stick around and work hard to fulfill your personal dream. Plus, the more talented they are, the more likely they will find a better opportunity and leave. I realized years ago that my best option was to try my hardest to be a one man band. After years of working at it, I'm not too bad. I feel that I can finally sit back and listen to what I created and not think "it's good for one guy doing it all by himself in his apartment". At last I've done what I've wanted to do since I started listening to music, create the music that I always wanted to hear.

Crafting the sound

Everything in "Food for the Gods" is improved over "Lovecraftian Nightmares". Here is how I crafted the sound for the new project instrument by instrument. Pardon me for running off at the mouth, I could talk music for days.

Vocals:

I do not hold any illusions about my singing voice. I know that the vocals are the weakest part of the Fireaxe sound. And although I've worked hard to extend my range, improve my strength, and sharpen my control over my vibrato, I can't change the nature of the sound coming out of my mouth. We're all born with a certain vocal sound and our genes determine whether that sound is pleasant for others to hear or not. I know that I don't have the gift of a nice voice. I also know that I don't have the gift of a "rock-n-roll" voice which doesn't sound "nice" but which sounds good when backed by loud guitars. As a result I can't get away with any sloppiness and be forgiven because it sounds good anyway, and even when I do hit everything perfectly I'm not going to make too many people gasp in awe. Vocals are the hardest thing for people to get over when it comes to enjoying a band's sound. How many times do you hear people complain about a band's guitar sound, or the drums, or that the bass is buried in the mix? Not often. But singers are reviled with surprising regularity. It's not unusual to find people who don't like a certain band only because they don't like the singing. I've read enough e-mails and reviews suggesting that I get rid of Fireaxe's vocalist to know that some people can't get past my singing.

I've endured criticisms of my voice for years. It doesn't offend me as much as it disappoints me that people reject my music for such a minor reason. But I feel that I've improved to the point where if people don't like Fireaxe vocals, it's not my problem. I don't sing like anyone else. I've never tried to copy anyone else. I sing cleanly and enunciate every word. That's surprisingly rare in metal, but then how many bands have something interesting to say? I think that Fireaxe is 50% about the lyrics, so I wanted to make sure that you hear them as opposed to singing them in a way which sounds more pleasing but far less understandable. That has always been the case. Besides, I feel that my voice sounds best with a sharp, crisp delivery. It cuts like a razor and drives my points home.

In "Food for the Gods", I did more than just sing the lyrics. The project is essentially an epic rock opera and I often felt more like a stage actor than a singer. I sang in many voices and did my best to express the emotions the characters were feeling in each song. A big inspiration in that regard is King Diamond, who routinely composes thematic CDs and sings the parts for all his characters. I pushed my vocals as far as they would go and added a lot of texture to the music with the different styles. I sang high, I sang low, I sang delicate, and I sang rough. Among my favorite unusual vocal parts are the Gregorian chant in "Tribute", the half-spoken, half- whispered lines in "I Live in Silence", the growling admonishment Moses receives from his vengeful and jealous god in "The Covenant", and the venomous anti-individualism sermon in "The Soul Doctors". If you can develop an appreciation for my singing, the vocals in "Food for the Gods" are as rich and dynamic as anything I've ever heard. In my opinion it takes more balls to sing in all those different ways than the standard accepted "macho" ways, but that is only my opinion and I couldn't care less how tough anyone thinks I am.

Guitars:

Playing the guitar is what I'm best at, and in "Food for the Gods" I do not hold back at all. If you listen to modern metal and are wondering where all the guitar solos have gone, the answer is into "Food for the Gods". I will solo at the drop of a hat. I've never met a riff I didn't want to solo over. I take solo breaks early and often and have been known to carry on for well over a minute. I haven't counted them, but there are probably close to one hundred guitar solos within the three CDs. I know why solos went out of fashion. Back in the 80's they went from being a way for guitarists to showcase their musical ability to being showy displays of technical arrogance. Flashy operatic vocal styles followed suit and metal became more exhibition than art form. Then along came death, doom, and black metal which eschewed guitar solos, "sung" vocals, keyboards, ballads, and just about everything else that might remind one of the 70's. The hardcore, angry, and chaotic sound that those bands produced was like a breath of fresh air, filthy as it may have sounded, cleansing metal of all its glamour and producing music devoid of any "weaknesses". It was the musical equivalent of screaming "fuck all you posers and pussies!" at the top of your lungs. That's not to say that 90's metal was all superficial and that metal in other eras was not. A lot of talent, thought, and emotion goes into all music, but when you restrict yourself to certain styles and methods you limit the effectiveness of your art form. It's like painting using only two colors. Yes, you can make some beautiful pieces, but there is a lot that you simply cannot do.

Metal has always had serious issues with snobbery. Although rock-n-roll is supposed to be all about rebellion, you can run into a whole lot of people who will tell you the proper ways to rebel. They'll tell you what style to play and what style not to play, what equipment to use and what is crap. They'll tell you how to tune your instruments, how to sing, what to sing about, and describe a large number of things as things you should never do because it will make you a pussy. And while they can offer you some good advice, these people are, simply put, snobs. They want to impose their narrow view of metal upon you, and just because they may have long hair and like metal it doesn't mean that they know what they're talking about. I've encountered my share of snobs who've found plenty of things wrong with Fireaxe and received a whole lot of advice on how to fix it. There are snobs who hate drum machines, who hate bassists who use picks, who hate direct-in recorded guitars, who hate sung vocals, who hate digitally produced music, who hate political lyrics, etc., etc., etc. For everything that I've done producing "Food for the Gods" I can probably find a snob out there who has a problem with it. So fuck them. But there is a danger in reacting to your critics by doing the opposite of what they say. The danger is the same one that can befall you if you mindlessly obey them, and that is that you will be pulled away from your personal artistic vision. You need to stay focused on what you are trying to create. That doesn't mean rejecting all criticism, but you have to learn when advice is helpful in getting you where you want to be and when it is not. I think that too much music suffers from either bowing to the will of snobs or reacting away from snobs. Entire movements seem to stem from snobbery or anti-snobbery, and this problem manifests in more areas than just music.

This is why I favor the process of deciding what it is you want to express first and letting that determine the form of the music. Music is about communicating something that you feel strongly about to your audience. If that message is something that can't be expressed within the genre you play then you need to go outside the genre to capture it. In "Food for the Gods", I went well outside the bounds of traditional metal in pursuit of expressing a complex and lengthy message. I wrote the words first and then developed the music in such a way that it accentuated the feelings of the lyrics. I had to leave the ABACAB song format in the dust as it was far too limiting. I wanted to tell stories and so I needed longer tracks with several movements within each one. The average song in "Food for the Gods" is over 17 minutes long and is full of changes in mood and style. I go through riff after riff as the plot unfolds, erupting into ferocious powerthrash, plunging into sorrowful melodies, pounding out thundering marches, coloring love and devotion with sweet harmonies, and lacing the riffs with solos, drumming, keyboards, and bass parts to make you feel the essence of each song. There is no showboating, except in the two guitar solo "duels" where one-upmanship contributes to the storyline. Best of all is how smooth the different parts all fit together. The music flows in an out of each section as if it were the most natural thing in the world. You may not even notice the changes as they happen, yet like a cross country road trip, when you reach your destination you know that you've seen a lot.

The big change in the guitars from "Lovecraftian Nightmares" to "Food for the Gods" is the addition of an amp simulator. I used to record directly into the mixing board without going through an amplifier and microphone. Going direct-in gives you a thin sound, so I used a lot of EQ to try to fatten up the guitars, but it never really sounded full and rich. My only other option was to go to a studio to record the guitar parts, but we'd be talking about hundred of hours of studio time and that is too expensive and inconvenient. So I tried a few amp simulators and really liked Yamaha's DG-Stomp box. Although it doesn't get me the awesome sound that I desire, the sound that I get out of it is rich and strong. It took a lot of the pressure off of mixing the tracks since the sound fit together better with the other instruments. The new guitar sound is a lot gentler on the ears than in previous releases and it is going to fool some people into thinking that it was recorded in a studio.

A per usual I recorded the rhythm guitars and guitar solos on two tracks each and sent one track right and one track left. This gave me a large and powerful sound and allowed me to play different riffs through each guitar to create the signature Fireaxe sound. Since I had the tracks available I also recorded the bass guitar on two tracks although I rarely played different parts on the two tracks. At times the sound that I got out of this arrangement was huge, filling up the left and right speakers as well as hitting frequencies all across the spectrum. Even if you don't like the fact that I didn't use amplifiers, you may enjoy the sound that I've crafted anyway. Of course, I'd rather have you focus more on the music than how it was recorded, but for those of you who want to create better sound in your own home studios I'm sharing all my secrets.

My favorite riffs have to be the ones in "Chariot", "My Name is Joshua", and "The Sum of All Fears". I enjoy powerthrash most of all, and crowning those riffs with a solo or three is like pure bliss. Just when you think your heart couldn't beat any faster, I take it up one more notch. "The Sum of All Fears" is the most ferocious rock-out track in the history of Fireaxe. It is a relentless assault and features a number of screaming mad riffs, blistering solos, and stinging vocals. If it doesn't blow you away, nothing on "Food for the Gods" will. Even after hearing it over and over again it doesn't fail to get me moving like a Norwegian air-guitar champion. The name "Fireaxe" is a reference to aggressive guitar playing and if that is what you like you will not be disappointed.

Drums:

Once again I cranked up the Roland R-8mkII for the drum samples, which is the same drum machine I used for "Lovecraftian Nightmares", but this time I could control it with the computer through the midi interface instead of programming it manually. That made things infinitely easier and allowed me to make more complicated patterns as well as edit the drum tracks after I had everything else recorded. I got more creative with the drums and you can hear the difference. Beyond that I took advantage of the additional recording tracks I had available. I used to record all the drums onto a stereo track, which meant that I had to adjust the levels and EQ for the drums and cymbals all combined. During mix down for "Lovecraftian Nightmares" there wasn't much we could do to bring out the individual drum sounds. For "Food for the Gods" I decided to divide the drum set into seven groups: kicks, snares, toms, hats, crashes, rides, and bells. I put each group onto a stereo track which allowed me to fine tune the levels and EQ for each part of the drum set. That made the drums sound much more real.

I didn't stop there. I decided to take advantage of the stereo field and surround myself with drums and cymbals. I used two slightly different kick sounds, one set just to the left and one set just to the right. When I do double bassing, this makes a world of difference. If you use the same bass sound in the same place for double bassing it feels like it's boring a hole into your head when it gets fast, but having two sounds just off center gives a nice textured feel. I did a similar thing with the cymbals except that I used seven different sounds for each crash, ride, and bell, and placed them throughout the stereo field. I tuned each cymbal to have a different tone so that when they are played from left to right the pitch rises with each hit. If you listen to the drums with headphones it sounds like they are all around you, like you are standing right in front of them, and like I spent a wad of cash on a really fancy drum set. Though digital drums can't replace a skilled professional, they can certainly pull their weight.

Programming the drums was a pleasure. No longer did I have to deal with the claustrophobic screen on the unit itself. I was freer to do fancier stuff and make each bar unique if I wanted. I think the one thing that makes Fireaxe sound so different from almost all other metal is that I don't use standard rhythms. Maybe it's because I never learned how to play the drums for real and never had to lay down hour after hour of regular beats to keep my band members in line. I know that I have a natural rhythm, as a musician that is - I can't dance worth crap, and that my natural rhythm is not conventional, so sometimes when I program the drum machine it takes a while to figure out where the hits should go because I'm trying new things. The result are rhythms that often defy categorization and which break up the monotony that can often arise when you pound out the same thing for an hour. In any event I'm still learning, but there are times when the drums take over and I can't help but play air-drummer for a bar or two.

My favorite drum parts are in "Praise to Ishtar", "Where Eagles Fly", and "The Last Man". In "The Last Man" the drumming makes the track work perfectly. The song is very dark and the drums pound out a rhythm that sounds like it is drawing all humanity into the forest to be sacrificed to the god of death. My cancer was at it's worst when I wrote that song, so maybe that had something to do with the feeling of doom that I created.

Keyboards:

I bought a Yamaha GX-76 before I began recording the second CD and it is a great sounding instrument for the money. There were two sounds that I needed to have, a grand piano, and a church organ, and the samples on the Yamaha were very true to life. You'd never know that a twenty pound chunk of plastic was producing such a big sound. Those two samples do not sound at all synthetic. I also used the keyboard for the "ah" and "oh" vocal choruses and for the trumpets in "Where Eagles Fly", but those samples aren't quite as realistic. Nonetheless they add much to the feel of the music.

The piano was the first instrument I learned how to play and I have to admit that I was never very good. I tried using the midi interface but it made it piano playing sound too mechanical, so I worked hard and mastered the parts I needed for "Food for the Gods". The Yamaha had a touch sensitive keyboard, but not weighted keys, and I couldn't get my clumsy fingers to hit the keys with the right force some of the time. It didn't help that the Yamaha was very sensitive, so some of the piano parts sound more like they were played Beethoven's gardener than the master himself. Nuts.

But when I sing or play guitar along with the piano, you don't notice the unevenness at all and the piano parts are some of my favorites in all that I've recorded. My favorite part is the soliloquy in "The Insatiable Dream" where the warrior is lamenting his tragic fate. If I'd played that part with a guitar it would not have sounded nearly as good. The piano made all the difference. But the Yamaha truly earned its keep in "The Soul Doctors". The church organ is fantastic. To make it sound even better I put all the high notes on one track and sent it to the right and put all the low notes on another track and sent it to the left. That made the church organ sound monstrous, like a massive pipe organ in a huge cathedral. It even made the guitars sound a little bit small.

The Mix:

Mixing is a pain. I would have given anything for a magic button that said "mix everything at the right levels" on it. Alas there is no such thing. You have to put in the hours. One thing that makes mixing so hard is that your mix is very dependent on the speakers that are using. Different speakers emphasize different parts of the mix so on one set you might hear loud vocals and on another the vocals might sound thin. Also, the volume makes a difference as well. To try to minimize these problems I used three sets of very different speakers along with a good set of headphones and switched between them often, but sometimes the switching speakers and changing the volume just confuses you as to what you're hearing. Worse still, the longer you listen to music, the more your ears will adjust to what you're hearing, so you can sometimes end up adjusting something far from where it should be as your ears get sensitized to a particular sound. The next day you will play it back and wonder what the heck you were doing when you set the levels the day before.

So you work and work and work, you crank out a test copy that you feel sounds great, and you take it to a friend's place to show it off. Then you find out that on his system you can barely hear the vocals or some other problem and you have to go back and mix it again. It will drive you crazy if you let it. And all the while you are listening to your songs over and over and growing more and more tired of them with each day. When you mix you can't listen for pleasure, you can't sing along, and you can't play air guitar. You have to sit there focused on the music, tweaking levels, and wondering if you actually have it right this time. For one CD it takes long enough, for three CDs it's an ordeal. It takes four hours to listen all the way through "Food for the Gods" so I ended up planning my day around it. In the final days I had to give all four CDs, "Food for the Gods" plus "Victory or Death", a full listen so that I knew what I gave the duplication factory was perfect. That took nearly five and a half hours to do and when I found mistakes in the mix it felt as if I'd been punched in the gut.

But after all the pain I have produced the best Fireaxe mix ever and one that measures up well against commercial music. I compared my mix to some of my favorite CDs and discovered that I liked my sound better than some of those. It also made me wonder what some labels are doing with their sound, the vocals especially. Fireaxe vocals sound like a person singing into a mike. In comparison, commercial CD vocals sound massively doctored, like someone lost control with the EQ settings or added a few abrasive digital effects. And some CDs had the very high frequencies cranked so high that every cymbal hit jumped out of the mix. That is not fun to listen to through a pair of three-way speakers, but then who has those? Most kids listen through cheap earphones or boom boxes these days, so in the studio you can crank the bass and the highs and compensate for the average listener's speakers. All that aside, in the end you have to compromise on your mix. You can't make something sound great everywhere. So for "Food for the Gods" I decided upon a well rounded mix. It might be a little strong in the hi-mids, but that is what I like personally, and it sounds good everywhere I have played it so far.

The packaging:

This time I've decided to have both the booklets and CDs duplicated elsewhere. I didn't really have a choice with the booklets as I would probably have ended up going through one printer cartridge with each copy if I did it at home, but I didn't want to crank out three CDs and labels for each copy I sold. It's a hassle. Fortunately you can get good rates for runs of 100 copies of CDs and art these days and so there is no need for me to pass higher prices along to you. I can offer the three CD set that is "Food for the Gods" complete with a 40 page booklet for $12 with only a little subsidizing. That is the price I envisioned all along for the set and I am happy that I can sell it at that price. If I need to do a run of 1000 or more I can do better than break even at that price, which should give you an idea of how badly the labels are ripping you off. "Food for the Gods" will give you three to four times the music than your regular store bought CD along with a full color booklet with all the lyrics, something you rarely get these days, for less cost. And the music is better too.

The cases that the CDs are going to come in are great. If you've bought a few computer games you might have seen a "quad- box", but for those of you who haven't it's twice as thick as a normal jewel case and can store up to four CDs. I like it. It's solid and imposing like the project itself. Plus the tabs that hold the trays in place aren't going to break off like normal jewel cases. The "woah" factor is pretty high for this thing. You should be proud to own it and show it off. It's fun just looking at it and leafing through the booklet let alone listening to it. And most CD storage racks have a spot or two for a double-wide jewel case. Now you'll have a chance to use it for that very purpose.

Now that you're all excited about the new project, you'll invariable want one, soÖ

How to order Fireaxe CDs

Ordering Fireaxe CD's is an informal process as I am selling them personally out of my apartment. Simply mail me a letter which contains the following:

  • 1. The names of the CDs that you want to buy.
  • 2. The address where you want the CDs sent.
  • 3. Cash, a check, or a money order for the total cost.

Here is a price list. The first number is the cost for U.S. based customers, the second is for outside the U.S. The prices include shipping and handling.

Food for the Gods: $12 / $14
Victory or Death: $5 / $7
Lovecraftian Nightmares: $5 / $7
A Dream of Death: $5 / $7

Send everything to:

Brian Voth
1301 Medical Center Dr. #415
Chula Vista, CA, 91911 USA

If you review CDs on a website or in a magazine, any one of the single CDs (Not "Food for the Gods") is free of charge in exchange for the review. In this case all I need is a request by e-mail. Please send me the URL of your review site or copy of your magazine with the review in it when it is done. If you want to exchange CDs, tapes, or stuff of equivalent value, make these requests via e-mail and we'll arrange a trade.

The CDs come with a booklet filled with awesome art, a letter about the project, and some information about the CD which can also be found on the Fireaxe site.

Lastly, if you want to print and distribute Fireaxe CDs I can send you an additional CD which contains tiff files for all the booklets, tray cards, and labels for each project. The tiff disk is free so just say the word.

The Future

Iíve been focusing so hard on "Food for the Gods" that Iíve had little time to think about what Iíd like to record next. Over the past few months Iíve tossed around some ideas and have come up with a working title and theme. The next Fireaxe work will dig even deeper into the dark crevices of our society and our minds, pull forth the myths that we cling to and hold dear, and expose them all for what they are. While "A Dream of Death" explored the madness of dreams, and "Food for the Gods" described the chaos wrought upon the earth by ideologies, "Eternal Devotion to the Dark Goddess" will depict the psychological enslavement of the individual in modern times. It will be the darkest Fireaxe work ever. But donít put your order in just yet. After wrapping up "Food for the Gods" Iíll need a while to rest and upgrade my studio. Iím spent.

My goal is to deliver music to whoever wants to hear it in whatever way is necessary. Whatever the market demands, I will supply, but I do want to avoid the mass marketing channel. Exposure is fine, but in the modern business, the substance of the music must be altered to match the demands of the marketplace. This would totally defeat the purpose of why I write music in the first place. I write music because it is a way to express my emotions. What I both think and feel goes into the songs. That is the power, Fireaxe is the channel, and any diversion diminishes the emotive effect. Thus I try to avoid such diversions. That is how art should be.

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 food for the gods.
  • 6. You are required to crank the song "Hounds of Tindalos" as loud as you can as often as you can. It's your only defense against THEM. Be warned, they come through angles. Note that the CD is round. Are your speaker cabinets square?
  • 7. Cthulhu, the Necronomicon, Hastur the Unspeakable, and all other mythos creatures are purely the inventions of Lovecraft and other fiction authors. None of it is real, at least that's what I'm going to say in court if you try to sue me for destruction of your property, house, city, or soul as a result of listening to the "Lovecraftian Nightmares" CD too much.
  • 8. 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.
  • 9. 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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