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It should come as little surprise that, when asked to name his five favorite heavy guitarists, John LaMacchia would put together an impressively diverse list of players. He has cultivated a varied career between playing in NYC metal/hardcore crew Candiria, his experimental solo project Spylacopa, his melodic post-rock outfit LaMacchia, and his work playing with artists like Julie Christmas and Quicksand.
Even so, looking over LaMacchia's eclectic choices of fellow axe-slingers may incite some raised eyebrows from even his most ardent fans — in a good way. From post-hardcore figureheads to prog-rock maestros, see all of his picks below.
Failure are one of those bands that you either love or hate. If you love them like I do then it's a lifelong obsession; a rabbit hole with many tunnels that link you to other great artists, bands and side projects such as Lusk, the Replicants, and Blinker the Star.
I can always tell when a band is influenced by Failure. They got that whole high-note dissonant thing going on and it's a dead giveaway. I don't blame them, though. Failure writes infectious rhythm guitar parts, and if you've ever seen the band live you know as well as I do that they don't disappoint. I've never heard a band reproduce the sounds on a record so precisely. And the performances are downright unforgettable.
I was extremely fortunate to connect with [Failure drummer] Kellii Scott during the pandemic and have him track drums for my solo album, Thunderheads. He is one of my all time favorite drummers and it turns out the guy is a total sweetheart, which is always a huge plus. If you're unfamiliar with the band check out "Let It Drip" on the album Magnified for starters. The dissonance is sublime and the band are super tight. While you're at it, just keep the album rolling from there. I promise, you won't regret it.
There are very few guitar players that have created a sound or style that's truly their own. In most cases, somewhere along the way their sound can be traced back to another player. That is not the case with Robert Fripp. Dating back to King Crimson's first iconic release, In The Court Of The Crimson King, Fripp's frenetic and dissonant playing style put him in a class all by himself.
In 1973, the band released Larks' Tongues in Aspic. The opening track, "Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part 1," is a 13-minute odyssey which unfolds like a dream and slowly turns into a nightmare. To this day, this track remains one of my favorite pieces of music ever written. If you've never heard it I highly suggest you give it a listen. There's really no other piece of music like it and Robert Fripp's playing on it is incredible.
The next iteration of King Crimson would see the band moving in a more modern direction. Releasing three albums from '81 to '84. Discipline, Beat and my favorite, Three Of A Perfect Pair. Pulling inspiration from the New York Minimalism Scene with nods to bands like Talking Heads and Talk Talk, and melodies with a much more pop sensibility to them. Robert Fripp's guitar playing, however, only gets more insanely complex. Dense, oddly-timed, frenetic, rhythmic guitar phrases juxtaposed against the deeply complex rhythms from Bill Bruford's drumming and Tony Levin's Chapman Stick.
To me, the true mark of a great rhythm guitar player is not only their ability to play tight and have a great guitar sound, but to also be able to sing so well it's as if they weren't playing guitar at all. There is no better example of this than Polly Jean Harvey.
I'll never forget the first time I saw the "Man-Size" video on MTV. I never heard PJ Harvey before, but that's all it took. I was an instant fan and ran out and picked up her second album, Rid of Me, which is to this day one of my all time favorite albums ever made. She is such a talented musician and the band on that record were also monster players. The verses in "Man-Size" are in 11/8. Later in the song, the time signature changes to a loop of one bar of nie and one bar of seven. Eventually it goes back to 11/8. You try singing with passion and style while you and the band are playing in 11/8. I dare you. PJ Harvey made it look easy.
No conversation about great rhythm guitar players in heavy music should go without mentioning Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath. His sound and style inspired generations of musicians and bands. Melvins, Soundgarden, Sleep, Earth and Clutch are just a few in a mile-high list of bands who owe a great deal to Iommi and the band's sound. Particularly Iommi's iconic tone and playing style.
I, too, owe a great debt to the man. When I was a very young kid just learning how to play I bought a guitar tablature book called Black Sabbath - Anthology. I learned every riff, lick and solo I could, played along to the songs I loved most and that's really how I learned to play well enough to start playing in real bands.
This year, Quicksands' debut full-length album, Slip, turns 30. I remember seeing the band on MTV for the very first time. It was a video for the song "Fazer." I was completely blown away by how tight the band were and how different the guitar style was compared to what was happening at the time in heavy music. The attitude and the energy that the band created on Slip was simply on another level.
Walter Schreifels' guitar playing and Quicksand's songwriting have been a constant inspiration throughout my years as a writer and a guitar player. As a guitarist, it was a sound and rhythmic style that I've tried to emulate throughout the years in the many bands that I've played in. So when I got the call last year to play guitar for the band and do a few weeks of a tour, I of course jumped at the opportunity.
It was such a great experience, the shows were amazing, the vibe among the bands on the tour and all of the crew just felt like one big extended family. I also got to share the stage with Clutch again. Candiria toured with Clutch more than any other band back in our time and it was just great to see all of those guys again and watch them crush it every single night. I also have to mention the post-show dance parties on the Quicksand bandwagon. They are truly unforgettable memories that I will always cherish.
Another great thing about the experience was getting to take a peek under the hood so to speak and gain a much greater understanding of what makes Quicksand so special and learn about all of the nuances and details I was missing all those years I was playing the songs off of one of my all-time favorite albums. Slip was ahead of its time when it came out in 1993. It still fully stands up and I highly recommend you check it out.