Monthly archives: October, 2015

LA Metal Media Posts Coverage of Hellion’s Jam Night Appearance


max-bjorn-luckystrikeLA Metal Media has posted a gallery of photos by Roc Boyum featuring HELLION performing at the Lucky Strike Ultimate Jam Night, Wednesday October 14th, 2015.

Click Here for full gallery.


HELLION performs at Lucky Strike Ultimate Jam Night


Wednesday, October 15th 2015, HELLION performed a cover of “The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)” and their classic hit “Stormrider”, at the Lucky Strike Jam Night in Hollywood. Ann Boleyn on vocals, Scott Warren on keyboards, Maxxxwell Carlisle and Ira Black on guitars, Bjorn Englen on bass and Simon Wright on drums. A HELLION live album is slated for release later this year.


The Musician’s Fear of Finishing


through-the-eyes3-sizedMusicians have no shortage of big plans. From 2 hour concept albums to mind blowing stage productions that would put Cirque du Soleil to shame, we often have an unrivaled ability to dream up things we’d like to accomplish…someday…as soon as we finish that press kit and play that Monday night show at the Viper Room. We’re going to blow the mind of each and every one of those 25 people who we begged to come out. But we need to be ready, so it’s cool that we’ve been rehearsing for 8 months to perfect our 30 minute set. Of course we’re on our 3rd bass player now… those first 2 guys just had a bad attitude, you know, wanting to be paid and everything. Anyway, we’ll be ready in a couple more months, probably. Although we might need a new in-ear monitor rig, but once we get that dealt with, for sure we’ll be ready… Does this sound familiar?

I’m sure you know or have known people who just can’t finish things. Let’s look at a more specific example. I won’t mention names, but I’ve got a particular lead singer in my mind. Who it is doesn’t really matter, you just have to know that he is real and he was once the lead vocalist of one of the top veteran metal bands. The band was and still is a household name in the world of metal. This singer was part of the band’s humble beginnings appearing on their debut album. His contributions were considerable but for various reasons that are not important now, he parted ways with the group very early on. That was 30 years ago, and after exiting that band, his artistic output quickly sank to nothing. Despite this, his former band’s subsequent accomplishments and rise to fame was enough to keep his name coming up in conversation, generally with speculations of “what if” he hadn’t left so early. Fast forward to today and we find that for the past 8 years (at least), he has been working steadily on his current band’s debut album. Debut album. This band has been around for at least 10 years. Let that sink in. There is plenty of material for a full length album, modest interest from labels and promoters, interest from fans, and yet the album is never quiet done. It always needs one more mixing session or re-do, one more mastering engineer, or one more new song to really finish it off. Over the years, there have been countless news headlines about how the album is almost done and coming out soon. These headlines repeat themselves every 6 to 12 months, with the album’s name changing every couple years. When pressed on the album’s lack of…a deadline or perhaps existence, our mystery lead singer will say things like, “we’ll we’re taking our time to make sure it’s done right”, or “I don’t want to cut corners and cheat the fans”. “Doing it for the fans” always makes a good fallback position. The bottom line here is that the album has been 6 months away from being finished since it was started. I’m not singling out one person here (or lead singers in general), but that story makes a great example. We have all known people like this. They have songs, but they’re never quite ready to record. Or they have songs recorded but the mix is never finished. Maybe they’re students, and they got to the last class but got to their final exam and then backed out. So close, but never finished. Why does this happen?

Simply put, this kind of “anti-finishing” behavior comes from the paralyzing fear of final judgment and rejection. If we never finish, we can always think that success and achievement is just around the corner. For artistic types like musicians, the fear of our work being deemed unworthy runs deep. We are defined by what we create. When our work is judged to be poor or underwhelming we take it as a direct reflection of who we are. What if those haters were right? What if those moments of self-doubt were more justified than we had hoped? For many, the possibility of facing that judgment is simply too much. Too much of a risk. Better to live in a world with the possibility of success than one with the certainty of failure. That is of course, a very short sighted view. These fears lead to crippling self-sabotage, mental paralysis and (let’s cut to the chase here) the pissing away of opportunity and sometimes even entire lives. In the case of this unnamed singer, his lack of creative output over the decades has made his current situation even worse. He’s comparing his new work to the work he did as a young man 30 years ago. He is no doubt a very different person with very different abilities now than he was and had then. In a genre that puts so much emphasis on technical skill and physical appearance, this situation doubles down on the pressure that he’ll put on himself. It’s no excuse though. The only way out of this situation is to finish what you start.

The lessons and knowledge we learn from our failures is priceless. As the late IBM CEO Thomas Watson Sr. put it, “the fastest way to succeed is to double your rate of failure”. Rising up from the ashes of previous failures is how we build quality and precision into our future work. There is a clarity of vision and perspective that can only be achieved through hindsight. Get that song recorded. Get that album out. Send the press-kit to the promoter. Do your best, but then let it go and let it be judged. Your audience will tell you what works and what doesn’t. From that reaction and from your own feelings 6 months down the road, you will learn and grow. As artists our work evolves, gaining quality and precision as we move forward. The process can only work if we can finish things and then move on to the next.

There is of course a fine line between never having the confidence to finish something and rolling something out before you’ve done your fair share of work. Personally, I tend to err on the side of overconfidence. In retrospect, my first solo album (no longer available), was not a quality product. The production was dubious at best, the songwriting was self-indulgent (did “Victory Foretold” really need five verses?) and even the cover was phoned in. However, I could only fully realize the seriousness of those issues after I released it and saw and heard the reaction of the audience. I learned from the experience, and it pushed me to work much harder on my 2nd album, which I’m still happy with to this day.

just-get-it-doneAlthough I’ve used one particular person as an example, I hope I’ve made it clear that this problem is one that affects a huge number of people, musicians and artists of various types in particular. Some of us never start, but so many more start but never finish. Imagine looking back on your life after having spent decades making excuses as to why something wasn’t finished, only to wonder where the time went and how it was possible for you to accomplish so little. Somewhere along the line you got stuck and couldn’t finish what you started. Let’s not fall into this trap. Just get it done.

– Max Carlisle

String Dampeners: Crutch, or Weapon of Choice?


Atmax-dampener what point does an aid become a crutch, and how do we make that distinction? In the world of music production, the line between helpful tool and straight up studio magic is hard to draw. Auto-tune would be an obvious example. At first it was a subtle polishing effect to perfect an already strong vocal line. As time went on, we relied on the effect more and more until a “oh don’t worry about it, we’ll fix it with auto-tune” attitude developed. With today’s mentality towards music production, we’ve ended up with some singers who have never been heard without some kind of auto-tune or other pitch correcting effect. This isn’t just limited to pop stars and hip-hop artists, it has even leeched into our scene through the polarizing Metalcore genre. And yes, now we can auto-tune guitar too. There are those who will say that in the studio, anything goes. Do whatever you need to get the sound you want. But what about live? How true to the recording does the live performance have to be? We can’t all be Manowar and bring the Czech Phil-harmonic on the road with us. So samples are ok? What about drum samples? Vocals? Guitar harmonies? And what about guitar effects? Should the player be running everything, creating his own sounds, or is it OK that the guitar tech is operating the Wah pedal from off stage? Let’s not even get into Quantization. Do these devices and methods illustrate a continuing trend towards musical laziness or simply the gradual symbiotic evolution of musicianship and the industry that it supports? These debates go on and on, but today I’d like to look at one device in particular that comes up again and again in the world of shred guitar, the String Dampener.


String dampeners are simply devices which mute open strings. They drastically cut down on unwanted string noise and feedback, ebass-mutespecially in high gain environments. There are essentially 4 major designs. The first design includes variations on a simple mechanical system built into the guitar itself, typically by the bridge. These are commonly used in genres such as Bluegrass or slap-bass technique where a muted sound is preferred most of the time. These designs use felt or rubber to press against the strings near the bridge and in some cases can be turned off and on, but often are permanently active.

The second design would be an electronic pickup system like the one found in the Moog Guitar which uses strong electromagnetic fields to limit movement of the strings. It’s the same idea as sustainer pickups, but in reverse. One rather nit-picky complaint of high-output pickups is that the larger magnets typically employed can kill sustain. Amped-up electromagnets take that to the next level, effectively muting the strings. This has a mixed bag of pros and cons. You have the convenient ability to activate or deactivate the muting with the push of a button, and since the entire system is built into the guitar’s electronics, it won’t change the aesthetics of the instrument (we’re picky about that aren’t we?). On the down side, the muting system effects every note, not just open strings. If you’re shredding non-stop, all day, every day, that’s fine but any slower playing is out of the question. And lets not forget that all this takes some very specialized electronics. Not easy or cheap to add to your existing rig.

Next up we havegreghowe-carvin sleeves and inserts. These are basic wraps or inserts which go around the neck or between the fretboard and the strings to limit string movement. These are of course the simplest and cheapest and are made by a variety of companies. Dirty socks tied around your neck fall into this category. Typically the player will move these around the neck as they play, to fine tune the amount of muting, or simply get them out of the way of their fretting hand. A few examples of players who use this style of dampener would be Guthrie Govan, funk master Victor Wooten, Andy James and neoclassical and fusion virtuoso Greg Howe . Greg is an especially noteworthy example thanks to him always color coordinating his dampener to his guitar. Props Greg. We notice things like that.

In our forth and final category we have mechanical add-on devices that mount on the guitar’s headstock. These typically employ a hinged mechanism to press a material, such as felt, onto the the strings usually between the nut and the 1st fret. The muting material can be lifted up out of the way should you need to play open chords or otherwise not want the muting effect. These offer the advantage of being able to be added to almost any guitar and can be “turned off and on” quickly and completely, something you can’t really do with wraps. Price wise they come in slightly more expensive than wraps or inserts but still much less than a bridge mounted device or electronic system. Classic examples of this would be the Michael Angelo Batio or Jennifer Batten dampeners. The main difference between the Batio and Batten designs are in how they attach, clamped or screwed on, respectively.



For average licks and standard-issue blues based guitar techniques, dampeners don’t make much difference one way or the other. Between palm muting and the unused fingers of your fretting hand, you’ve got your strings covered, literally. There are however, a number of techniques and musical situations that don’t lend themselves to traditional styles of muting. Let’s look at a few of them:

  1. Hammer-ons From Nowhere: This technique, popularized by neoclassical and fusion virtuoso Greg Howe, requires tapping or hammering-on a note with your fretting hand, as the first note of a line. Typically it will combine tapped notes from both hands, often alternating. The increased strength and speed that you need on your fretting hand generally requires that you increase the “striking distance” of your finger, coming in at the string from a higher “altitude”. This increased distance from the strings makes it much more difficult and sometimes impossible to do any substantial muting with your fretting hand. When both hands are tapping, you encounter the same issue, at the same time, with your picking hand. In a case like this a string dampener makes a world of difference, essentially providing a 3rd hand to take care of muting.
  2. Over-the-Neck Playing: A flashy and perhaps under-utilized technique developed by players like Akira Takasaki, David Shankle, Michael Angel Batio and Mike Orlando, this technique has both of your hands coming over the neck instead of your picking hand over and your fretting hand under. This creates an unfortunate circumstance when trying to mute the higher (musically higher) strings. Both takasakihands are pointing the same direction and if you’re playing, let’s say on the D string, there’s nothing to cover the G, B and E strings. Mr. Takasaki is unique in this situation in that he has developed a way of using his little finger as a sort of “bar dampener” to mute the strings in some arpeggiated runs. For most scalar lines though, the problem remains. This technique is another that benefits greatly from the application of a string dampener.
  3. Tap/Slap Only and Djent Style Playing: For some musical styles you simply don’t want a lot of notes ringing out together. Tapped double-stops common to fusion bass lines and Djent style guitar need a very fast note release with an equally fast decay. These styles require a percussive kind of sound and again, the string dampener helps substantially in this regard.
  4. Playing more than one instrument simultaneously: OK, let’s be honest, not many people do this, but if you’re playing guitar and your picking hand is busy doing something else (playing a 2nd guitar in Michael Angelo Batio’s case, or yo-yoing in Jason Becker’s), then you’re left with not much other choice than to use a string dampener to control muting.



The aforementioned situations are cases in which there is a fully legitimate need for additional muting, which the string dampener provides. But as I’m sure most of you know, the most common use of string dampeners is to simply ‘clean up’ regular solos on studio recordings. This is more of a gray area and where we get into the ‘ethics’ of string dampeners. Often they’ll be used in the studio but they won’t be used live for the rather petty reason that guitarists can expect a certain level of shit-talking from other guitarists, usually with their arms crossed over their Fates Warning t-shirts (like Dream Theater but before being like Dream Theater was cool). The typical argument is that we’re simply trying to replace a well practiced proper muting technique, and that by relying on a string dampener, it becomes a crutch and lets us take the easy way out. It’s fair to say that in a real-world live show, no one is going to notice a 10% change in the cleanliness of your playing. Between the live energy, the booze, the questionable house mix and the bassist spilling his beer on the kick-drum mic, there’s simply too much going on for differences of that amount to stand out. It’s a safe and easy choice to leave the string dampener that you used in the studio, at home. But is that the right choice? And are we making it for the right reasons?

Consider this: Are we taking the easy way out when we play a guitar with a thinner neck profile and better fret access? What about light gauge strings? They are easier to bend after all. What about bigger frets? Picks that are easier to hold? Or how about a guitar that just weighs less? Again, is that the easy way out? Or just preference? Different players will give different answers to those questions, and you will have to come up with your own, but somehow I doubt that you’re going to say that playing a comfortable guitar is cheating. We pick and choose our equipment so that we can consistently create and perform at our best. How about we look at it from a more artist perspective… Let’s say we use the dampener in the studio but then choose to not use it live. In that situation, an argument could be made that we’re giving a less authentic and deliberately less accurate performance. Like using a clean electric guitar to play an acoustic part. If that’s the case, wouldn’t it be better to use it consistently as a regular part of your setup? It certainly seems more honest than having it kept as a “secret” studio tool. And as for the dampener haters, how are they different from the guys who say that you only use a tuner because you’re too lazy to tune by ear. Few players would take that statement seriously.

I agree with those who say that it’s sometimes a good idea to make things a little hard on yourself when you’re practicing. Rehearsing songs while standing up and walking around as apposed to sitting down with a perfectly positioned footrest for instance, or practicing in the dark or at least in dim, stage-like lighting. This kind of worst case scenario preparation can go a long way when you’re starting a tour or debuting a new song. At some point though the practicing stops and the performance begins. That’s the time when we should give ourselves every advantage, be it live or in the studio. When you go into battle, you don’t take your knife and leave the canons at home. You take every available weapon and march forth with hopes of conquering your enemies and hearing the lamentation of their women. As guitar design and the technology around it continues to evolve, who are we to pass over the sharpest weapons of our time?

– Max Carlisle

New Merch Super-Paks available now…


3CD-super-pack+picksSeveral new merch bundles have been added to the Webstore.

CDs, an 8×10 photo, stickers and guitar picks for one low price! Ships worldwide!


“Ramming Speed” lyric video released for Visions of Speed and Thunder album.


rammingspeed-vidFrom the “Visions of Speed and Thunder” album comes this completely re-recorded version of “Ramming Speed”, originally released on the debut Maxxxwell Carlisle solo album of the same name. Featuring Frank Casciato on lead vocals, the lyric video features the photography work of Les Dishman, Michele Beck and Al Valdez.

“Visions of Speed and Thunder” is released on Killer Metal Records and is available worldwide as of February 21st, 2015. The full length album features selected tracks from each of Carlisle’s previous releases, remixed and remastered, as well as brand new tracks, both vocal and instrumental. The album features performances by Michael Angelo Batio, Fang VonWrathenstein, Tina Guo, Nita Strauss and more!


“Visions of Speed and Thunder” is available HERE from Mp3.

The album is also available on iTunes and in physical CD form from the Webstore.

European customers can order direct from Killer Metal Records in Germany.

Hellion releases “Karma’s a Bitch” lyric video…


From the new Hellion EP, “Karma’s a Bitch”, comes this new lyric video for the title track!

Featuring vocalist Ann Boleyn, drummer Simon Wright (formerly of AC/DC, DIO and UFO), keyboardist Scott Warren (formerly with DIO and HEAVEN & HELL), bassist Bjorn Englen (formerly with YNGWIE MALMSTEEN), and up-an-coming shred guitarist Maxxxwell Carlisle, HELLION‘s new tracks were produced by Wright and Boleyn alongside legendary British studio figure Ken Scott, who has produced such iconic albums as David Bowie‘s “Hunky Dory”, “The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars”, “Aladdin Sane” and “Pinups”. A top producer at Abbey Road Studios, Scott is also acknowledged as one of the five principal engineers for THE BEATLES.

The cover artwork for the CD was designed by British artist Wolven Claws of The Crystallomantic Art.

“Karma’s a Bitch” is available on New Renaissance Records (USA) and HNE/Cherry Red Records (Europe).

Maxxxwell Carlisle releases LOUDNESS cover…


LikeHell-cover2-sizedHellion lead guitarist and solo artist Maxxxwell Carlisle has released a cover of “Like Hell”, originally recorded by Japanese metal legends LOUDNESS on their 1985 “Thunder in the East” album. Featuring Fang VonWrathenstein (Lords of the Trident) on vocals, the cover track is one of several singles to be released for Carlisle’s upcoming full length solo album which will feature covers and new original material.

The track is available now, from

Or from iTunes.

The album, entitled “When The Clock Strikes Metal”, will be Maxxxwell’s 6th solo album and features a host of guest vocalists and guitarists. In addition to his upcoming solo album, Maxxxwell continues to work with Hellion on a new live album, new studio tracks and touring.

“I’ve long been a huge fan of LOUDNESS and in particular, Akira Takasaki’s guitar playing. My upcoming solo album features covers as well as originals so it was a perfect opportunity to pay tribute to some of my favorite players and bands.”

Full album details and release dates TBA.