Article By: Curt “Dudley” Miller
Originally Published In The April 2014 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
t was 1991 and I was in metal heaven when it happened. One morning I was rudely awakened for my 8:00 am freshman chemistry class by the sound of a format change at my favorite heavy metal radio station. No, this was not the sound of what I’d call Nirvana. As it continued, I felt as though Eddie Vedder’s nauseating voice was being Pearl Jammed into my ears mercilessly. Then, as if that weren’t enough, all hell broke loose! Metallica cut off their hair and released their self-titled Black album; a real disappointment to those awaiting an annihilator followup to …And Justice for All. Nothing but de-tuned guitars, dudes from Seattle bitching about seemingly everything imaginable, and worst of all, no guitar solos. Where the hell was the shredding? Just give me my metal back!
Thankfully, it wasn’t just a bunch of us ‘80s metal-heads that sought out metal music. Another generation of shredders has been surfing through second-hand CD shops for classic metal and downloading newer stuff from their favorite online music retailers. Picking up guitars, basses, or getting behind keyboards or double-kick drum kits, this new generation of metal honed their skills learning the riffs or licks crafted by the countless metal masters of years past. Metal music has not only survived, it’s likely bigger now than ever. Well-established bands in the genre are seeing resurgence in music and ticket sales, while fresh acts are coming on the scene, taking the market by storm. Want proof? Look no further than Austin, TX’s own Immortal Guardian. Simultaneous guitar/keyboard player, Gabriel Guardian, and drummer, Cody Gilliland, formed the band in 2008. The two had grown up together listening to metal music, including: Iron Maiden, Van Halen, and Black Sabbath. Gabriel was from a family of drummers and initially played the drums, too. In response to a desire to differentiate him from the rest of a family of percussionists, Gabriel took up the guitar and eventually the keyboard. It wasn’t long before the two friends decided to form the band Immortal Guardian.
Between 2008 and 2013, the band grew from a local act, to touring the state of Texas, then nationally and internationally, having just completed its Super Metal Brazilian Tour. Immortal Guardian’s Brazilianborn vocalist, Carlos Zema, explained, “Metal made a real impact with its early British roots and the emergence of Bay Area thrash, however, it’s really grown in Europe, Brazil, and Japan dating back to maybe 1994. It’s probably been a mainstream style of music outside of the U.S. since the late ‘90s. One of the things that keeps heavy metal music so vibrant is that it has never been the “popular” music of the day. It’s not been what’s being played on every radio station. Metal fans are devoted. They seek it out, and if anything, it’s likely done nothing but grow in the last 15 years.”
While many styles of the genre have kept metal music alive and diverse, something missing from the music in the U.S. market are the shredding guitar solos heard prior to the dreaded influx of Grunge. Of late though, and especially with bands like Immortal Guardian that have two incredible guitarists — Gabriel Guardian and Jyro Alejo — true virtuosity and soloing are making a comeback. One thing that makes this band even more unique is Guardian actually accompanies himself, shredding on keyboard (right hand) and guitar (left hand) simultaneously. It was Gabriel’s guitar/keyboard rendition of Pantera’s Cemetery Gates posted by Pantera, themselves, on the birthday of late Pantera guitarist “Dimebag” Darrel that first generated the interest of this publication and many others in Immortal Guardians’ tremendous talent and has greatly contributed to its skyrocketing rate of success. Gabriel Guardian told Cycle Source, “The whole simultaneous guitar/keyboard thing started out as a joke. I was hanging out with some friends transposing music from keyboard to guitar, when they said I should try to incorporate playing both instruments at the same time into the band’s live show. After trying it out at a couple of shows and seeing the audiences’ tremendous positive response, it’s become my signature thing. I do it at every show.”
Seeing Gabriel play the two instruments simultaneously is nothing short of astonishing. It’s not as though he plays a couple of notes back and forth between guitar and keyboard. No, he literally “shreds” on both at the same time and it’s not just audiences who are taking notice. Recently, Gabriel was signed to an endorsement deal with Fender Guitars — no small feat for any musician or band. When Jackson Guitars offered an endorsement deal to Immortal Guardian’s other lead guitarist, Jyro Aleyo, it became obvious pretty fast that these cats were a talent to be taken seriously. This band is getting recognition from long-established progressive metal bands and has recently finished recording their second release with renowned producer/ sound engineer Roy Z. Having worked with metal legends Judas Priest, Bruce Dickinson, Halford, and Yngwie Malmsteen, Roy Z is no stranger to forging metal at what Gabriel Guardian likes to call a “WNL,” or “Whole ‘Notha Level!” After hearing Super Metal, Immortal Guardian’s debut EP, WNL seems like a fairly accurate assessment.
This band doesn’t just talk the talk about metal and shredding. Immortal Guardian has become notorious in Austin for its “Shred Sled.” Starting in 2012, after not being selected as an “official” act for the South by Southwest (SXSW) lineup, the band decided to build a mobile drum riser/ stage to, quite literally, steal the show. They arrived at the event, parked their riser smack in the middle of the show and proceeded to lay down a raucous metal set. Not having a permit, the band was told to shut down and remove themselves from the premises by police and security. Having received a positive response from the crowd, Immortal Guardian moved and repeated its metal onslaught at several SXSW locations.
The following year, at both the 2013 SXSW Music Festival and Austin’s Fun Fun Fun Fest 8, the band decided to mobilize its Shred Sled and perform while navigating the stage through the streets. So amazed by the metal performance as well as Gabriel Guardian’s simultaneous keyboard/guitar playing that fans and noted artists alike crowded around to watch. As per Immortal Guardian’s Shred Sled performances SPIN magazine rated them: “One of The 50 Best Things Seen at SXSW 2013” and “One of The 20 Best Things Seen at Fun Fun Fun Fest 8.” High praise, indeed! There can be little question that metal music is alive and well. With Black Sabbath having just received a Grammy for 13, its latest release after reuniting with vocalist Ozzy Osbourne, the band that started it all is still on top. In addition, bands like Immortal Guardian are showing that there’s hope for those of us who’ve been longing for the return of the blazing guitar solos.