A love letter to.. Supergroups

Supergroups, the ego fuelled outpourings of musical megalomaniacs. Is there a finer display of utter gluttony in musical form? Unless you count a Malmsteen album, no. A chorus isn’t a chorus until you’ve heard it with at least six singers, a verse isn’t a verse unless the previous verse was performed by a different singer, a song isn’t a song unless it’s at least seven minutes long with a dramatic string section before that final build up to the last chorus.

As much as the above reeks of sarcasm, I stand by it. Supergroups are the business and I implore more musicians to jump on the boat. We have the grand power metal “operas” of Tobias Sammet’s Avantasia and Timo Tolkki’s Avalon along with the prog/a thousand other sub-genres operas like Ayreon (or Arjen Lucassen’s Ayreon as I feel it should be). Yet other genres flying under the metal banner are sorely underrepresented.

Don’t be mistaken, there are bands who are comprised of the big hitters of a specific genre. Look at Blotted Science, a tech death metal group featuring the likes of Ron Jarzombek, Alex Webster, Hannes Grossman and formerly Chris Adler. There was Voodoocult who boasted a hilariously strong lineup with the likes of Dave Lombardo, Mille Petrozza and Chuck Schuldiner involved, but there’s no Avantasia scale group. Maybe the market isn’t there, despite the size and stature of bands like Cannibal Corpse, perhaps no one is crying out for George ‘Corspegrinder’ Fisher’s Slaughtertasia featuring a surprise appearance from Chris Barnes along with Glen Benton, John Tardy and more.

What I would give for a prog metal group. Mikael Akerfeldt’s Opetasia would be a dream come true. Granted we had him with Bloodbath, and lets not forget Storm Corrosion with Steven Wilson, but once again, there’s no overblown spectacle of all the big names in the genre joining forces. Though I shudder to think of the song lengths if that happened, these songs are already the length of an average song multiplied threefold as it is. Add more performers into the mix and we’re looking at a set full of 2112’s. Something I would be entirely fine with now that I say it, and the thought of Geddy Lee’s highs mixed with Akerfeldts lows is now something I need in my life.

 

We do have Ayreon though and that’s a wonderful thing, and it’s also the closest we’re getting to the above and at times it comes very, very close. If you haven’t heard of them, spend a moment and look at the musicians who have collaborated with him, it’s almost comical. And yes, Akerfeldt does make an appearance.

There’s also G3 to look at. This is a slight technicality as it’s a tour rather than a group, but I would be remiss not to mention the fact that at some point or another, groups of three of the greatest guitar players to walk the earth these days have buggered off on tour together on a mission to melt every face in the room. I now long for the day when Billy Sheehan, Stu Hamm and Steve Harris go for a jaunt.

Lets take a moment to look at why these groups are so good instead of just talking about wishes. Like I said before, it’s musical gluttony, why listen to one band when you can essentially listen to seven at once. Lets take Avantasia’s The Seven Angels as an example. We could listen to Edguy and have our fill of Tobias Sammet. Or we could listen to all fourteen minutes of The Seven Angels from Metal Opera II (it’s not a supergroup album if it’s not an opera). We have Michael Kiske, now finally acknowledging his own existence again after being called Ernie on the first album, we have Oliver Hartmann, Kai Hansen, David DeFeis, Rob Rock and Andre Matos. Now we have Edguy, Helloween, Angra, Virgin Steele and more in one song. Plus there’s the experimentation, the Meatloaf style section midsong is a far cry away from what Sammet could do in Edguy.

The key element for me though is the drama. Gone is the concept of intro, verse, chorus, verse chorus, solo, chorus, end. Now there are stories woven through the tracks, you can read along at home, you can have the picture in your head. The interplay between musicians is the key in setting the dramatic mood. While usually it’s just one singer telling all sides of a story in a song, now someone with a nice clean voice can play an innocent character before a gravelly voiced beast kicks in with a dark section. The word epic is painfully overused, but I’ll be fucked if the section from 7:37 or so in The Scarecrow isn’t epic.

see?

Another good reason for the supergroup, it allows a performer to break away from the confines of his or her main band. It allows for sheer wankery as well as acting as a release valve. It also feels like the label letting them off the lead. You don’t get the impression that they’re looking for singles to sell albums, they know they can sell albums via the names alone, so the writers can experiment and generally pen all the radio unfriendly songs they see fit.

Before ending this ramble that has no real purpose or reason for existence other than the fact that I’m watching Avantasia videos on youtube, I want to talk about single band supergroups. The Voodoocult’s and Blotted Science’s and so on. Now they’re almost too numerous to list, we have hundreds of them, we have Unisonic with Kiske and Kai Hansen back together (a moment that saw the staining of numerous old school Helloween fans underwear) and we have Mr. Big which is just musical overload. Yet where does the line between band and supergroup get drawn. Is Dream Evil a supergroup, they were plucked from various bands but the term super implies a large amount of pre-existing fame for the members (no offense to the members of Dream Evil obviously, who come from a strong pedigree of bands). Are bands just consisting of famous musicians from a variety of bands automatically considered “supergroup?” I labelled Unisonic a supergroup just now, but are they just a band?

It’s hard to say, and much like all things in music, there’s no defining rule. However, if there’s one thing we can be thankful of. At least there’s been no ridiculous charity single in the style of Bob fucking Geldof and.. wait..

Ah fuck it, it’s pretty good.

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