“No samples, keyboards or synthesisers used in the making of this recording”: so proudly read the liner notes of Rage Against The Machine‘s first album. In those days synthesisers were the instruments of the devil. They had become a symbol of all things mainstream, the calling card of the pop band. In other words, if it had keyboards on it, it just wasn’t rock, or metal. The thought of Iron Maiden employing a keyboard player for Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son was enough to induce fits, and stern letters of complaint to the wizened authority of the Kerrang letters page.
But now times have changed, and bands regularly use samples and keyboards to augment their sound. Bands such as Warp’s new signing Battles and Mike Patton’s Fantomas use these instruments to build soundscapes of disorienting noise and chaos, and in doing so create new avenues for adventurous music. Titus Gein, meanwhile, answer the question: what would happen if you gave a classic metal band a keyboard and promised that no one would call them all sissies if they used it?
Advanced Techniques For Hands And Feet finds Titus Gein exploring instrumental landscapes awash in duelling guitars, powder keg drums and songwriting that owes a considerable debt to classical composers. Try to imagine Maiden or Thin Lizzy smashing out that galloping guitar rhythm (you know the one) to an auditorium full of hands in the air all making that pointy Satan head shape (you know the one). Then from out of the depths of almost impenetrable smoke a gigantic organ rises. Perched behind the gigantic organ (rock is full of phallic symbols) is a Beethoven look-alike, plumes of white wig drifting off of his scalp like clouds, and then…they break into a six minute keys and guitar solo.
This is in essence exactly what Titus Gein do on every single song on this record. It’s hugely similar in style to Tim Green’s The Fucking Champs, and Trans Am (and indeed The Fucking AM – the group formed from elements of the aforementioned bands). Nowhere is this more obvious than on the guitar/keyboard trade offs of Mechanical Viper Grinds Slowly North.
Advanced Techniques For Hands And Feet is packed with musicianship that most people can only aspire to, and, for the most part, it is a fun record to listen to. The instrumental direction of the band can be a little too much to bear, though: it may be clever, but at times it sounds like the soundtrack to an air guitar competition.
That said, there are enough fine moments on this album to make it worth a look. A fine case in point is the opening salvo of Insurrection Of The Electric Ghosts, whose vocoder vocals and chugging guitar riffs make it the glaring highlight of this collection of unusual, yet strangely classic sounding record. Keyboards, it would seem, do have their place in the world of metal after all.