Tuesday Ten: 038: Musical Heroes

This week's Tuesday Ten has been "in the works" for a few weeks, as after I had first conceived the idea it took me some time to complete the list. So what is it? It is the idea of my musical heroes. Obviously this is likely to be a contentious list: and those in it aren't always there just for their musical ability, or the fact that I like all their work (in many cases, I don't).

Frontman of Emperor and solo work as Ihsahn, also past member of Thou Shalt Suffer, Peccatum, Hardingrock.

Ihsahn is probably my ultimate musical icon. An artist with a rich body of work in a number of projects, a stellar reputation and an intelligent artist (and interviewee) that has made a point over the years of staying well out of the various controversies afflicting the Black Metal scene.

After all, there is something of a bodycount in Black Metal: in the early-90s heyday, there were three deaths, numerous church burnings, a fair few prison sentences (at least five)…and more than a few unhinged people trying to out-evil each other. Ihsahn, amongst others, always appeared to be one that stood above that, and instead concentrated on making astonishing music.

Black Metal has been afflicted also over the years by a ridiculous sense of keeping it "trve" and "kvlt", where if you are in a band that reaches beyond the garage and primitive recordings, you are no longer extreme enough. Somehow Ihsahn and Emperor reached way beyond that, pretty much from the start, creating astonishingly dense and complex – not to mention extreme – Black Metal that even now (some of the material is over fifteen years old) still stands as the pinnacle of the genre.

Emperor disbanded in 2000, following the release of the album Prometheus: The Discipline of Fire and Demise (which remains among the greatest albums I have ever heaed), and what we were missing was even more keenly felt when they reformed for a few gigs in 2006 and 2007. Impressively, Ihsahn was forthright in that he didn't want to sully the Emperor legacy by creating new material – the gigs were strictly throwbacks. Not that I saw anyone complaining – and it remains a great regret of mine that I never got the chance to see them (I had to miss the London gig due to Whitby commitments).

And since Emperor ceased to provide new material, he has kept himself busy with numerous other projects, which has taken his musical visions in other directions, never once repeating himself and continuing to intrigue if not always impress. A truly singular talent.

Justin K Broadrick
Frontman of Godflesh, Jesu, also past member of also member of Napalm Death and Head of David

Talking of extremes, Justin Broadrick's work has taken him across a number of genres, indeed helping to spawn a number of new genres in the process. Originally part of Napalm Death when they effectively invented Grindcore, it is his later work with his Godflesh project that he remains best known for. His drive and apparent restlessness continued to evolve the band's sound into an entirely different beast, and indeed he stands as an extremely important influence for many, many bands that have flirted with the idea of adding or integrating electronics to their metallic sound.

Even stranger is that his direction now – with his Jesu project – has taken him back into the past, moving into what might be called "Shoegaze"!. Something of an incredible volte-face, it took everyone by surprise when the project first surfaced and still sounds a shock now. Of course, the fact that he has pulled it off with such style is perhaps down to his talent and ability…

Michael Gira
Frontman of Swans, Angels of Light, as well as a solo artist…

An artist who took a similar trajectory – albeit some years before Broadrick – is Michael Gira. Swans were revered (feared?) for years, particularly in the 80s, as being a punishingly intense band that seemed to thrive on pushing their audience to the limits of their endurance, and probably themselves too. As the desire to push the extremes waned, Gira explored other, more melodic areas of music while still concentrating on the darker corners of human existence for his lyrical content, somehow creating music that has a particular "soul", even if a particularly dark one.

When Swans were disbanded ten years or so ago, Angels of Light seemed to simply pick up where they left off. All of Gira's music is unique, again having countless influence, but with a humanity that seemingly always there in the greatest music.

Scott Sturgis
Artist behind Converter, and also Painstation

It might seem strange featuring an artist who creates totally instrumental music in the form of harsh industrial soundscapes. But to me, like Ihsahn, he stands near the peak of his chosen genre in that his musical creations are peerless, and both brutally harsh and beautiful at the same time, and only releasing music when he sees fit. It appears that the Converter project is sadly all but over – barring a handful of remixes and collorations, the last new material was album Exit Ritual back in 2003.

Trent Reznor
Artist behind Nine Inch Nails, also part of Pigface project at times, and sometime producer/remixer

Hardly an unknown name, it isn't just the body of music that Reznor has created over the past nineteen years that he is in this list for – although with NIN he has done a lot to help popularize industrial music, for better or for worse. More than that, my respect for him has been strengthened over the past few years for his engagement with his fans and the internet – and being one of the few high profile artists to really make an effort to try every possible way of distributing music. Like using Torrents to ensure that everyone could get hold of free music released on his website, releasing a steady stream of music directly to his fans, and providing options on file formats than very few other artists – or labels, or online retail outlets – appear to have even begun to explore.

Will it be, in future, that Reznor will be seen more as a trailblazer in the distribution of music than for the music he has created himself?

Steve Albini
Frontman of Big Black, Rapeman, Shellac, as well as a producer/engineer for countless bands.

The only one in this list that is best known as a studio producer, rather than being first and foremost a musician, Steve Albini is probably one of the best producers around. He has worked with seemingly everyone and no doubt many more bands would have liked to have worked with him over time, often the recordings he gets out of bands sound raw and primal – and often bring out the best in bands (just listen to Pixies or The Jesus Lizard's Goat). He did his reputation no harm with a fantastic Q+A on a Poker Forum last year that was refreshing in it's honesty and his revealing answers!

Al Jourgensen
Frontman of Ministry and also Revolting Cocks

The frontman of one of the longest-lived industrial-metal bands, another band of countless influence to bands that have followed them, and in the last few years and across the last few albums Al Jourgensen has become something of a strident political activist, railing against the US Government with almost every lyric he writes. Talk about focus – something that at times he has been sorely lacking (distracted by drugs, in the main). Hardly the perfect human being, but as a musician he is still vital, and when Ministry disband at the end of this tour it will leave a big hole.

PJ Harvey
Solo artist

One of only two female artists in my list, PJ Harvey remains utterly, utterly unique. No two albums of hers sound even remotely alike, and a few years ago she finally seemed to have achieved mainstream success with the album Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea, before turning her back on the success she gained with albums since: in particular last year's White Chalk, which sounded like the soundtrack to a Victorian Ghost Story. She remains a highly respected artist, and her single-mindedness in sticking to whatever sound she feels is "right" is one thing that has always set her apart.

Tori Amos
Solo artist

The other female artist in this list is, like PJ Harvey, rather unique. A piano prodigy from an early age, she has been an cult figure of sorts (with a scarily devoted fanbase) for years. Again, like PJ Harvey, she is not afraid of taking risks with her music – probably shown to best effect by her album of covers, where she took twelve songs originally written from a male perspective and performed them from a female perspective. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it didn't all work, although you should hear her cover of Slayer's Raining Blood at least once! Otherwise, her support for women's causes (particularly the victims of rape support network whose acronym escapes me at the moment) is also admirable – few artists I can think of are as devoted to charity work as her, at least in the public eye.

Blixa Bargeld
Einstürzende Neubauten, also ex-member of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

So, one last artist. Blixa has been part of industrial pioneers Einstürzende Neubauten for what seems like forever, and quite how he also found time to be Nick Cave's foil in the Bad Seeds for some years is beyond me. Again, he is part of another unique band – really, who sounds anything like Neubauten? – but again it is more than just the music that justifies his place in this list. Another band to have experimented with diffent ways of reaching their fans, the creation of latest album Alles Wieder Offen was funded entirely by subscribing fans, who paid a yearly fee and were rewarded with exclusive access to the recording process by way of downloads, and numerous other involvements (and I'm sure at least one such subscriber is on my FL – there may be more!). As a way of funding the band, it's an interesting approach, but as with many experiments like this it is perhaps debatable if it would work for all!

So the question now, I guess: who are your musical heroes?

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