Rock and heavy metal music isn’t necessarily characterised by bass-lines or the bass guitar in general. Nevertheless, certain bass players know exactly how to integrate the bass into the band’s musical context to add a great amount of value to the songs and create a phenomenal album.
The following 5 rock and heavy metal albums are definitely characterised by astute bass lines. They might not stick out because of their complexity, but because of the bass player’s understanding of how to embellish the listener’s listening experience with the right notes and stops.
Slaves To The Grind (1992) by Skid Row. Yes, Skid Row was a force in the rock and heavy metal scene of the late 80s and early 90s, and I assume most people are aware that Slaves To The Grind was a strong album that received good reviews and attracted plenty of attention. Nevertheless, having grown up with this record playing over and over again in my disc-man throughout the 90s, I have always been surprised by how under-valued the band, this record, and the individual musicians were, especially bass player and founding member Rachel Bolan.
I found the song book with all bass tabs of Slaves To The Grind in a small music shop in Switzerland when I was a teenager starting out playing bass and soon realised the excellence of the bass-lines of Rachel Bolan. Of course, the music is characterised by the guitar riffs. However, when Rachel does not accompany the guitar riff in unisono, he embellishes the atmosphere with colourful walking lines, as clearly to be heard on the title track of the album. In addition, he is not afraid to lay down the bass by himself as on Psycho Love. And, when needed, his melodic playing brings a whole new dimension to rock ballads. Hands down, the work of Rachel Bolan on Slaves To The Grind taught me how to create astute bass-lines for rock songs without overloading them with too many crazy notes or fills. I consider this record a reference work for all rock and heavy metal bass players. Songs to check out: Slaves To The Grind, Psycho Love, In A Darkened Room
Shoka Zooloo (2002) by T.M. Stevens. I’m not sure if T.M. Stevens really needs an introduction, given his legendary bass performances with greats such as Miles Davis, Joe Cocker, Tina Turner, James Brown, Steve Vai, and many, many more. T.M. Stevens helped coin the term and music style called Metal Funk, and Shoka Zooloo might offer one of the most exact definitions.
T.M.’s energy radiates on every single song of Shocka Zooloo and animates to nod along all the way. As a bass player, I can assure any of you out there, that just by listening to T.M.’s lines and embracing their musical idea, it makes you a better bass player – and if you actually pick up your bass to learn these lines, a quantum leap forward as a musician will be a given. T.M. is a virtuoso bass player, and the songs seem to have been created around their respective bass-lines. Nevertheless, his bass-lines don’t disrupt the idea of the song with too many notes. Listeners can actually sing the lines, which is proof for listener-friendly music. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t expect T.M. to show off his out-of-this-world bass technique on plenty of right occasions. Songs to check out: No Good W/Out The Bad, Go My Way, Thumb
Ozzmosis (1995) by Ozzy Osbourne. Ozzy doesn’t need an introduction. However, this album does. For some obscure reasons, Ozzmosis didn’t receive the same acclaim that its predecessor No More Tears (1991) and its follower Down to Earth (2001) did. What needs to pointed out here is the phenomenal bass work of Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler. Besides his stint for Ozzy’s 1991 live-EP Just Say Ozzy, Ozzmosis is Geezer’s only appearance on an Ozzy album.
Black Sabbath fans recognise Geezer Butler bass-lines from other bass-lines. Even though I am not necessarily a Sabbath fan, it became instantly obvious to me, before reading the credits, that the bass player on this record was ‘a special one’. The bass-lines on every single song have that geniality that is often missing in heavy metal or music in general. Geezer is relatively virtuoso on here, but the listener never feels as if it’s too many notes without a concept. Therefore, the songs don’t feel overloaded. If there is one Ozzy album a bass player should study in its entirety, it’s Ozzmosis. Songs to check out: Perry Mason, Ghost Behind My Eyes, Denial
35xxxv (2015) by ONE OK ROCK. One Ok Rock is an award-winning Japanese rock band that has been around since 2005 and is gaining more and more international attention due to their energetic live performances. 35xxxv is their 7th full-length album.
Bass player and founding member Ryota Kohama isn’t a virtuoso on bass. He mostly holds the base with the main note of the chord and emphasises the groove with the bass-drum. Simplicity characterises his bass playing. Nonetheless, he knows exactly when to play a chord on his Warwick bass, show off a slap-fill, or add a melodic line to introduce a chorus and interlude. Ryota is the prefect bassist for a rock band that does not stand out on the album as a virtuoso. However, if his smart bass-lines and sound weren’t there, it would make the hell of a difference in the music of One Ok Rock. Songs to check out: Cry Out, Mighty Long Fall, One by One
Going to Hell (2014) by The Pretty Reckless. The Pretty Reckless is an American rock band from New York City fronted by Taylor Momsen. Going to Hell is the band’s second full-length album. The bass playing-style of bassist Mark Damon can be considered a synthesis of the creative style of Geezer Butler, the coolness of Duff McKagen, and the crunchy punch of Limp Bizkit’s Sam Rivers.
Similar to One Ok Rock’s Ryota Kohama, Matt adds exactly what the amount of bass needed for the song, not too much or too little. However, he takes his freedom to be creative with the lines and add more melody to the bass than other rock bass players do. That adds spice to the arrangement and mood of the album. Songs to check out: Going to Hell, Heaven Knows, Sweet Things