The Leads Are Weak

The Leads Are Weak: Building Unorthodox Riffs

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The Leads Are Weak with Job For A Cowboy's Tony Sannicandro

Hey everyone, I hope you’re having a splendid day doing your thang, snapping necks, stuffing your faces, working, hanging with your kids, what the fuck ever. It’s June, fuckers!

This time around I want to talk to youse guys about some of the riffing styles that both Al and I use for writing and building chords with unorthodox fingerings and note choices. These riffs came about from our desire to step outside of the traditional death metal context of just straight power chords and simple minor shapes. A lot of our favorite bands use the more “standard” shapes, but I think a period of expanding our palette with some Gorguts, Martyr, Alarum and Cynic gave birth to a whole new stash of interesting and unusual chord shapes.

Most of the theory nut-huggers out there will probably dissect these chords based on the notes and determine that they aren’t really that out there at all. HOWEVER, I do think that some of these shapes, particularly the diminished shapes, are quite RUN DMC tricky to play fast and clean through a distorted amp. This was a fun way for us to creep out some riffs and make some simple ideas really pop out against a death metal grind-your-fucking-face-off backdrop.

I call these UNORTHODOX riffs because to me, and to the music I like, they are foreign and unusual. In other styles of music they go together like lamb and tuna fish, but to the metal player random open notes and smashed together fingerings are a bit more difficult to play and incorporate, especially at faster tempos.

Let’s get to it: these examples are from “Tongueless and Bound.” There are many more examples both in this song and some others on the album Demonocracy, but these two stood out to me.

16 Unorthodox Riffs-1
(Figure 1 – click to enlarge)

Figure 1 – This is from a section of the song that first appears after the first “verse,” if you will, and utilizes a weird kind of shape. The top section of the chord is essentially a D minor power chord shape with the high E ringing. I play the base note of B with my middle finger and occasionally with my thumb. The second shape is a kind of suspended chord sound and the additional ringing of the high E gives it a kind of noisy jangle that sounds neat against the tremolo picking of Al’s part of the riff. The final tail of the riff is an example of a fast position change using some diminished chords much more common in jazz than death metal. The picking for these three changes is down, down, UP with the up being on the actual “chord.”

(Figure 2 - Click to enlarge)
(Figure 2 – Click to enlarge)

Figure 2 – The second example here is from the middle section of the song where the guitars build up using more of these types of chords before swirling back into the riff. The riff is straightforward but the chords are once again a little tricky to catch fast, and it’s especially tricky and a pain in the ass to keep all the notes ringing together at an even dynamic. The riff is very aggressive, and the mix of dissonant notes with ringing strings makes for a creepy vibe and a cool way to interject some sort of “hidden” melodicisms into an otherwise straight-forward metal riff.

Listen to “Tongueless and Bound” as you jam:

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