Metal Chick of the Month – Tina Guo

A true metal cello Wonder Woman!

She might not be a pure Heavy Metal woman, but her superior skills and her passion for music truly make her unique. Armed with her flammable cello or with her whimsical erhu (the same two-stringed bowed musical instrument used by Taiwanese metallers Chthonic), she has been embellishing stages, movies, television and video game scores with her refined technique and stunning looks since around 1994, when her unparalleled career kicked off. Born on October 28, 1985 in Shanghai, China’s biggest city, a global financial centre and transport hub and one of the most populous cities in the world with a population of more than 24 million as of 2017, but currently residing in Los Angeles, California, United States, here comes the internationally acclaimed and Grammy-nominated Chinese-American cellist, erhuist, recording artist and composer Tina Guo (or 郭婷娜 in Chinese), a woman with a multi-faceted career and mastery in a wide range of genres, showcasing a deep and strong passion for musical exploration, artistic expression and technology. And of course, among all that, there’s still time for her to demonstrate her appreciation for our good old heavy music.

Tina Guo was born in Shanghai to father Lu-Yan Guo, a concert cellist, and mother Fei-Fei Soong, a concert violinist, both artistic directors of the California International Music and Art Festival, an annual event held in San Diego, California. She began playing piano at the age of 3 in China, but once she moved to America at the age of 5 with her family, she began violin lessons with her mother. At the age of 7, she began studying the cello under the instruction of her father, with both her parents forcing her to practice 6 to 8 hours a day. She then continued her professional cello studies with Slovenian cellist Eleonore Schoenfeld (1925–2007), one of the most influential cellists of the 20th century (who also taught Guo’s father), at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music on full scholarship.

During her freshman year, Guo started dating a guitar player of an 80’s-style classic Heavy Metal band, and after attending one of their shows one night at The Whiskey in Hollywood, she started to think about how she could incorporate the cello into the metal style, experimenting with pedals and different techniques while trying to figure out how to play the cello and sound like a guitar player. While the fingering for both instruments were virtually the same, it took her three years and many YouTube videos to figure out what she was doing. She eventually left USC in her junior year, despite having a full scholarship to attend, after she found it increasingly difficult to balance performing and going to classes. Her parents were very angry and didn’t understand her decision at the time, getting used to the idea after a while. As a matter of fact, she claims to hold a Bachelors in Metaphysical Theology with a focus on Eastern Philosphy from the International College of Metaphysical Theology, but this is an unaccredited distance learning degree mill.

Her career has reached such a complex and diverse level I’m pretty sure you’ve listened to the cello by our Asian virtuoso at least once in your lifetime in a movie score, in a video game, or in a multitude of other media platforms. Known for her distinct videos showcasing her talent against theatrical backdrops and elaborate costumes, she has already appeared in her career as a soloist with the San Diego Symphony, the National Symphony Orchestra in Mexico, the Thessaloniki State Symphony in Greece, the Petrobras Symphony in Brazil, and the Vancouver Island Symphony in British Columbia, not to mention her participation in the Civic Youth Orchestra at the age of 10, her performance with violinist Midori Goto in Dvorak’s American String Quartet at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, and her four national tours of Mexico and Italy performing the Shostakovich, Dvorak, Haydn, and Saint-Saëns Cello Concertos. Tina endorses Larsen Strings, Yamaha, Line 6, Sennheiser, Focusrite, ENGL Amps, Voodoo Lab Pedals, Coffin Case, Samson, Reunion Blues, Analysis Plus Cables and Apogee Electronics.

Among her countless other projects and appearances as a special guest musician, some of the most interesting ones are her performance with the Tenerife Symphony and Choir in the Canary Islands performing Batman: The Dark Knight; her 2017 Australian tour with an all-girl crossover band named Metaphor; her 2008 Grammy Awards performance with the Foo Fighters; her 2011-2013 tour as the featured electric cellist with Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour; her performance for the League of Legends World Championship to a sold out arena at Staples Center in Los Angeles and an audience of 33 million streaming online; playing the electric cello in a super-band with The Crystal Method, Wes Borland (Limp Bizkit), Danny Lohner (NIN), Joe Letz (Combichrist) and the Hollywood Scoring Orchestra; playing with Brazilian guitarist Victor Biglione in a Jimi Hendrix Tribute Concert at the Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro; performing as soloist on music from Vikings, Dexter, Game of Thrones, and Chicago Fire with the Krakow Symphony and Polish Radio Choir at the Krakow Film Music Festival; and completing an acoustic tour and two sold-out performances at Carnegie Hall in 2016 with Blues Legend Joe Bonamassa, as you can see in the song Black Lung Heartache.

Furthermore, Tina has already shared the stage in her career with The Tenors, Stevie Wonder, Peter Gabriel, Josh Groban, John Legend, LeAnn Rimes, Chris Isaak, Il Divo, Ariana Grande, Lupe Fiasco, and Michael McDonald, among others, and has been featured as a soloist on the scores of several movies such as Wonder Woman, Dunkirk, Inception, Clash of the Titans, Olympus Has Fallen, Escape Plan, Sleepy Hollow, Hancock, Battle: Los Angeles, Predators and X-Men: First Class, as well as TV shows like  The Mentalist, Family Guy, American Dad, King of the Hill, commercials for Apple, Under Armour, and countless video games. As a solo artist, Tina has already released 8 albums, those being Autumn Winds and The Journey (both in 2011), Eternity (2013), Ray of Light and A Cello Christmas (both in 2014), Inner Passion (with Peter Kater) and Cello Metal (both in 2015), and more recently Game On! (2017). Furthermore, you can enjoy some very interesting videos on YouTube where Tina shows all her skills with her erhu, such as “Tina Guo plays music from Uncharted 2 on the Erhu with the GSPO”, and “Tina Guo and Michael Barry Random Jam: Danny Boy on Erhu and Piano”, or simply enjoy some of her official videos and songs like World of Warcraft, Dragonborn, Forrest Gump: Feather Theme and Genesis Rising.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In regards to Tina’s contributions to the metal scene, she has been featured as a guest cellist in numerous distinguished bands and projects since 2009. For instance, in 2009 she played the cello in the songs The Lone Spaniard and So Far Gone, from the album Molecular Heinosity by American Progressive Metal/Rock keyboardist Derek Sherinian; in the song I Am the Nothing, from the 2014 album The Beauty of Destruction by  American Metalcore act Devil You Know (now called Light The Torch); in the 2017 album Störtebeker, by German Heavy/Power/Progressive Metal band FB1964; in the single Let Down, from the 2011 album Secret Passion by Dutch Symphonic Gothic Metal group Imperia; in the song Duet for Electric Guitar and Electric Cello in A Minor, from the 2010 album Speed Force by American shredder Maxxxwell Carlisle; and in the 2015 album The Life I Remember, by American Groove Metal act Once Human.

Among her main influences in music, we’ll find the most diverse range of bands and artist like Rammstein, Jacqueline du Pre, System of a Down, Hans Zimmer, Ennio Morricone, Lady Gaga, Apocalyptica, Metallica, Sevendust, Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails, just to give you an idea of how eclectic our stunning cellist is. Moreover, when asked about what music means for her, Tina said that playing music requires an intense emotional connection, and that she didn’t always have such level of creative freedom in her life due to her strict childhood with her parents, who lived through the Chinese Cultural Revolution and who consequently didn’t allow her to listen to any other types of music at home besides classical music. However, it was through a critically acclaimed album by one of the aforementioned influences, the classic Antichrist Superstar by the iconic American rockstar Marilyn Manson, that she got her first taste of Industrial Metal and heavy music in general, getting to know the rebellious music by bands like Daft Punk and Guns N’ Roses from then on.

The indomitable Tina Guo is not our metal chick of the month in vain, having released in 2015 a majestic album of heavy music titled CELLO METAL, with Tina obviously on the electric cello and featuring Wes Borland and John Huldt on the guitars, Marty O’Brien (We Are The Fallen) on bass, and Glen Sobel (Alice Cooper, Alcatrazz) on drums, as well as guitarists Al Di Meola, John 5 (Marilyn Manson) and Nita Strauss (The Iron Maidens). Tina and her henchmen delivered ass-kicking cello-infused cover songs for some of the biggest metal classics with this album, which by the way took around three years to be ready, those being Iron Maiden’s The Trooper, Slayer’s Raining Blood, Black Sabbath’s Iron Man, Pantera’s Cowboys From Hell, and Metallica’s Sanitarium, together with five original songs (Child of Genesis, The God Particle, Eternal Night, Forbidden City and Queen Bee). By the way, Tina spent her entire life savings (a little under US$ 6,000) on the official video for Queen Bee, a metal-inspired take on the orchestral interlude “Flight of the Bumblebee” by Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and that risk paid off as what’s probably her “most extreme” music video to date (it got an 18+ restriction on YouTube) caught the attention of Hans Zimmer, who at that time was searching for a cellist to play on the score of Sherlock Holmes. “I wasn’t trying to get into the soundtrack world. Actually, I was hoping that Rammstein would see the video and invite me to play with them”, said our skillful cellist in one of her interviews. Anyway, you can have a very detailed listen at Cello Metal on Spotify, and see why this Asian bombshell is respected and admired by the entire world of music, including the always-demanding metal scene.

And Tina is not only an accomplished cellist, but she’s also a writer, a philanthropist and a very successful businesswoman. As a writer, her first published work was called “Event Horizons of Yin and Yang”, a collection of philosophical prose and poetry. As a philanthropist, Guo is a passionate supporter of the Academy of Music for the Blind, Partners in Health, Animal Welfare Institute, Homes for our Troops and Child Find of America. For instance, in 2015, she released a Charity album with 13 composer friends called Tina Guo & Composers for Charity, with 100% of the proceeds from the album going directly to Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation in support of music education. And last but not least, as a businesswoman, she runs a Los Angeles-based venture named Tina Guo Contracting, which provides exclusive musicians and entertainment for live performances, recording and corporate events; she has a sample library that composers and producers can purchase and use; and above all that, she started her own music instrument line, named Tina Guo Strings, selling custom acoustic cellos, carbon fiber cases, and colourful “unicorn hair” bows for the violin, viola, and cello, with her first products available being the Tina Guo Model 300 cello, the Tina Guo Elite Master Art Model 600 cello, and a full line of custom Tina Guo bows. As a matter of fact, she has been self-managing her career since the beginning, having only signed an exclusive recording contact with Sony Music in 2016, as she thinks it’s very important to understand the business aspect and see everything that’s going on, especially because managers are always going to have other clients they’re dealing with.

However, despite being a successful musician and entrepreneur, she hasn’t been immune to sexism yet, noting that image sells in the performing world, and as a young Asian-American woman she’s more than familiar with the challenges that come with working in these two very white male-dominated spheres. “As a performing artist, we don’t only listen with our ears”, she said in one of her interviews. “If I look different or wasn’t as young, I might have a very different experience.” You can get a sense of all the awesomeness surrounding Tina as a musician and as a woman by watching several videos on YouTube where she’s either playing her cello or talking about her career and skills, such as “Tina Guo and her troublesome cello”, an interview with Tina Guo on classical and electric cello, or a mini-tutorial on playing fast, proving she’s more-than-ready to conquer the entire world of music and arts no matter how sexist that world might be.

Equipment
Gand & Bernardel Cello (Paris, France, 1878)
Custom Tina Guo Model Yamaha SVC-210
Erhu (Shangai, China)

Tina Guo’s Official Facebook page
Tina Guo’s Official Twitter
Tina Guo’s Official Instagram
Tina Guo’s Official YouTube channel

“When I make music, I am completely pure, naked, and open. I long for the moments when my outer shell no longer matters. I hunger for every genuine tear of sorrow, joy, or understanding shared. When you can hear me for who I am, and see me in a way that doesn’t involve looking at me, but rather looking through me, only then can I be satisfied.” – Tina Guo

Advertisements

Album Review – Fear Factory / Genexus (2015)

Once again, it’s time to enter the machine and surrender to the mechanized reign ruled by the undisputed masters of Industrial Metal.

Rating4

fear factory_genexusI honestly don’t understand why the music by American Industrial Metal masters Fear Factory has never been part of any of the Terminator movies. I mean, ANY of their songs are powerful, metallic and atmospheric enough to provide the perfect background for all the destruction and chaos caused by the one and only Mr. Arnold Schwarzenegger, which is also the case with the music found in their brand new automaton entitled Genexus, the ninth studio album in their exceptional career and the first to feature drummer Mike Heller (Malignancy, System Divide).

However, it’s not only the density and strength of the music by this Los Angeles-based nonstop machine that amazes me every single time they release a new album, but also the whole futuristic concept surrounding their work. For instance, the new artwork, designed by American artist Anthony Clarkson, reminds me a lot of three iconic movie characters that have everything to do with what the music proposes: the unstoppable killing machine known as the Terminator; the brainy and rebel hero Iron Man; and the mesmerizing but extremely dangerous Ava (from the cult flick Ex Machina). Put differently, Fear Factory marvelously know how to give life and emotion to cold metal.

The opening track, Autonomous Combat System, is Industrial Metal at its finest from the very first second, a violent and harmonious tune just like we always expect from this amazing band, and when the sick riffs by the unparalleled Dino Cazares and the band’s famous industrial drums begin the energy level goes through the roof. And their futuristic awesomeness goes on in Anodized, another masterful lesson in shredding (who doesn’t love riffs like these?) supporting its meaningful lyrics from a not-so-impossible future for all of us (“A transhuman state / Will liberate man’s evolution / A singularity / Maintains the peace / Machined solution / Lacerate, eviscerate / My body to redefine / My design”). The performance by Mr. Burton C. Bell with both his harsh screams and clean vocals is superb, and if you’re a fan of Alternative Metal or Nu Metal let me tell you this is an awesome example of how everything started. In Dielectric, you can feel the electricity flowing nonstop, especially through its drums that sound like a machine gun, with its background effects being so important I cannot imagine this amazing tune without them.

Then it’s time to bang your fuckin’ head to the low-tuned bass lines by Tony Campos and the vicious riffs by Mr. Cazares in Soul Hacker, where its great chorus will stick inside your mind for sure, followed by the dynamic and thrilling rhythm of ProtoMech, enhanced by its excellent lyrics (“Take everything away from me / Replace my skin with circuitry / All that I have bleeding from me / To feed the machine”) and an amazing feeling provided by its mechanized atmosphere. In my humble opinion, this is the best song of the whole album, proving once again how skillfully Fear Factory are capable of feeding the Heavy Metal machine we all love so much.

fear factoryThe superb title-track, Genexus, is like a journey to a desolated world ruled by machines, exactly like what the future shows in the Terminator franchise, showcasing all the elements that took Fear Factory to stardom, with Burton sounding enraged and ready to confront the machine for his freedom. Church of Execution also provides that mechanic and industrialized sounding and an eerie ambience with lots of groove, despite not being as kick-ass as the others due to the lack of a more violent chorus; while Regenerate, with its weird robotic effects in the background, is perhaps one of the best examples of traditional Thrash Metal modernized by Industrial and Groove Metal. Moreover, I love the energy of its chorus, and how can we not bang our heads to it?

Battle for Utopia is intended to represent the march of the machines with its furious and imposing sonority, including lots of special effects to create the atmosphere desired by the band, before Expiration Date closes the album in a very traditional way, which in the case of Fear Factory means in the form of a melancholic music voyage. Pay good attention to the beauty of its lyrics, gently declaimed by Burton (“Under the surface we’re not machines / Under the surface we’re living dreams / Death lives just one breath away / Somewhere my heart beats in silence / I made my way through the violence / Nobody lives forever”), close your eyes and let yourself be absorbed by the music and its message, the final result is outstanding.

And finally, on a side note, the bonus tracks that come with the limited edition of Genexus keep up with the rest of the album in terms of complexity, violence and electricity, with highlights to the ominous atmosphere in the smooth Enhanced Reality. In summary, if you’re ready to enter the machine engendered  by Fear Factory for the first time, or if you already surrendered to their mechanized reign a long time ago, Genexus is definitely a must-have album to your collection of extreme and melodic music.

Best moments of the album: Autonomous Combat System, ProtoMech and Genexus.

Worst moments of the album: Church of Execution and Battle for Utopia.

Released in 2015 Nuclear Blast

Track listing
1. Autonomous Combat System 5:28
2. Anodized 4:47
3. Dielectric 4:19
4. Soul Hacker 3:12
5. ProtoMech 4:56
6. Genexus 4:48
7. Church of Execution 3:21
8. Regenerate 4:02
9. Battle for Utopia 4:14
10. Expiration Date 8:48

Limited Digipak bonus tracks
11. Mandatory Sacrifice (Genexus Remix) 5:43
12. Enhanced Reality 5:36

Band members
Burton C. Bell – vocals
Dino Cazares – guitar
Tony Campos – bass guitar
Mike Heller – drums

Guest musicians
Deen Castronovo – drums on “Soul Hacker”
Laurent Tardy – piano on “Autonomous Combat System” and “Protomech”
Mister Sam – spoken words on “Autonomous Combat System” and “Expiration Date”
Damien Rainuad – programming, keyboards
Giuseppe Bassi – samples, keyboards