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Tales From The Jugular - Why We Want Guitar Solos

I've listened to metal and hard rock for 30 years and as much as I think I know, I am always learning more. Recently, I've learned about what is behind the storm and stress of metal from a slightly older book called "Running With the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music" by Robert Walser. I had never before come across, nor had I expected, such an academic look at the style I've loved so much. Most of the book is difficult to read by normal standards (we're talking college professor levels here) and would probably be useless to somebody who isn't interested in an analysis of why music does what it does.

There was a big stink raised when Metallica's "St. Anger" came out without guitar solos by the skillful Kirk Hammett with the remark that they weren't all that necessary. People wanted them, but few could say why. A guitar solo taken by itself can be deconstructed into nothing more than a series of musical notes played at different speeds, but that removes it from its role within the context of a song and the emotion it pulls from us.

The power chord within metal evokes excess but also stability, control and permanence. This static articulation of power, along with steady bass and drum patterns keeping organized, controlling time is conservative and cyclically fateful. The guitar solo, though, gives us moments of freedom within the framework where we rise above everything and 'fly' until it usually resolves itself back it the grounding of the song. There is a dialectic between the instruments where we become liberated by the guitar solo. Almost all classic metal relates to this.

Speaking simpler, you have repeating guitar riffs and repeating rhythms that get you into a mental pattern. That pattern is broken by the guitar solo.

A great example--Iron Maiden's "Flight of Icarus" which sets up a juxtaposition between mid-pace, static guitar lines within the verses and the transcendent lyrics of the choruses (Fly on your way like an eagle \ Fly as high as the sun) until the guitar solo plays and takes you even beyond the choruses and into the flight itself.

Listen to Slash's guitar solos (the more memorable ones), say within 'November Rain' and at the end of 'Paradise City' and tell me at those moments that you don't feel *free*. They are escapist (much like the moans and wails of vocalist, Axl) and they really add to his lasting appeal. If he didn't have that ability and was just a 'cool guy in a top hat' his status would probably be much lesser than what it is today. I also think it's part of the reason Velvet Revolver was panned by many. The songs didn't always let us get what we expect from him--brief moments of freedom.

I am still amazed by the sounds of what's being produced across the world. Instead of metal atrophying over the years, there are bands playing old styles, new styles, and combinations of both. The guitar solo when done right still remains the moment of psychological freedom within the song and I happily rise with a thousand solos.

--Frank Hill

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