The evolution of metal guitar has seen players turn up and tune down to give their riffs more weight, but it doesn’t always work on record, and the Austrian guitarist and composer Bernd Brodträger, aka Bernth, explains why in a new song titled Still Shreds.
This, he stresses, is satire. Let’s not take things too seriously. But does he get at a deeper truth here – that, yes, tuning down ad infinitum is an aesthetic choice that does not come free. There are downsides. Still Shreds is a cautionary tale of what happens when you take an extended range guitar and take it all the way down.
We might even recognise some of ourselves in there, in that urge – even when using 7-string guitars, or eight or nine – to keep tuning down until the bass guitar is crowded out the mix and there’s a demarcation dispute with the musician’s union.
Bernth knows this all too well. Starting off, he tries an all-black Ibanez RGD Prestige 7-string, equipped with a set of Fishman Fluence humbuckers because they have fast become industry-standard across the djent set. Not low enough. He reaches for another from Ibanez’s extended range electric guitar catalogue, the 8-string RG5328-LDK Prestige, with its black open-pore finish and DiMarzio Fusion Edge 8 humbucker pairing. Hmm… Not quite there.
Time to consult the laptop, open up Pitchproof – a free guitar plugin from Aegean, with a helpful blend control – the computer to knock it down a bit. Now we’re talking. Having found “the lowest eight-string tuning possible” Bernth gets to work on some chunky boiler plate metal rhythm guitar – the sort that bears trace elements of nu-metal. Eww...
The punchline comes with some conventional prog metal shred on a six-string, arpeggios set to burn, and also drawing our attention to the dichotomy between the Cro-Magnon silverback rhythm and the technical ecstasies of contemporary metal lead playing.
Has today’s generation got it all back to front? Perhaps this is simply a PSA that, ultimately, there is a thin line between extreme and parody, that there is a herd mentality in modern metal – a certain way of doing things – and it’s stifling creativity.
Well, Bernth spells out his complaints in his lyrics. It’s just a bit of fun. And you would expect nothing less from a guitar player who drilled holes in his acoustic guitar to see what happens, and filled one full of water, restrung it with rubber bands, and submerged his Boss Katana in a tank of water to see what happens – it sounded “UNREAL”. Tuning down is the least of his worries.
You can check out all of these shenanigans – and more serious content, too – at Bernth's YouTube channel.