Bend Them Any Way You Want Them
Touting a mile-long list of artist endorsers, Factory Metal Percussion has arrived on the scene in full rev with a line of metallic instruments ripe for the striking. A real whack-job, you could say. If you’ve seen them, you already know they look cool. Well, I actually played them. Jealous? You should be.
The line offers five basic items: Celtic Bells, Cross Benderz, Gothic Radius, Hi-Hat Jingler, and Vertical China. Four of the five come in various sizes, but the important, fun variations are done by you. The Gothic Radius, Cross Benderz, and Vertical Chinas can be bent by hand to change tone and attack. First, let’s look at the two nonflexible FMP items.
The Hi-Hat Jingler is an all-metal, minitambourine that slips onto your hi-hat rod. It works instantly via a rubber grommet (just drop it on the rod) and has a slightly smaller sonic footprint than many other hi-hat jinglers. It comes only in the 4" size. I definitely recommend the little jiggler, but don’t play it with a stick, because you’ll knock it off the grommet in only a few strokes. In fact, I knocked it off just using Blastix! That is its most obvious drawback, but the Jingler’s responsiveness to foot action was quite good, creating a short jingle with sweet attack.
Celtic Bells come in 6", 8", 10", 12", and 15" sizes. Celtic Bell? Maltese Cross? I get ancient artifacts mixed up, but I do know it is a shape that conjures the bad-ass-biker vibe. The bells’ tones range from “distant sounds of hammer on anvil” for the 6" through 8" to “various sizes of church bells” for the 10" to 15". Additionally, they come with sizzlers (nuts and bolts, actually) and tambourine jingles that you can attach or remove at your pleasure, adding cool texture to the tone while shortening or lengthening sustain.
And now let’s get to the part where you take a brand new instrument and bend the heck out of it!
The 20", 22", 23", and 26" Gothic Radius instruments seem like plain discs of sheet metal. Well, I learned a lot here. FMP gives instructions on how to bend the metal (always using gloves and a firm setting) to achieve variations in sound. It was a miniclass in cymbal shapes as I tweaked and retweaked the discs, producing stunning differences in attack and dominant notes. Note: Factory Metal Percussion warns that bending is most recommended on the bigger discs, but I bent them all anyway. Then, learning the lesson late, I bent the 20" and 23" back toward where they started. The 20" and 23" sound best “close to original shape.” The base sound is somewhere between trash can lid and broken China cymbal. You are not going to get a beauteous, expensive cymbal sound here, but you will get something cool, trashy, and funky. With only two very small tweaks, the 20" made a great, dark, low-volume ride cymbal (mine also had one Sizzler bolted through it). The 26", which FMP touts as sounding like glass-meets-old-K, actually does, but the volume is quite low and the roar of sheet metal is dominant. Bend the edges up or down, like shaping a hat, and the attack and sustain change. Make some bold edge creases— for an excellent, sharp metal attack. I learned more about my own (regular) cymbal arsenal in half an hour of bending these discs than I’d learned in years of hitting. Carrying a 26" disc to a gig is likely to be a problem, though. I’ll stick to the smaller ones, especially the 20" that goes right into the ol’ cymbal bag.
The Cross Benderz are thinner and larger versions of the Celtic Bells. With four arms per cross, you can achieve numerous different voices by making different folds on each arm. Bend one arm up, one arm at an angle, one a lot, one a little ... You get the idea. But be advised that the differences are subtle, much in the way that striking a regular cymbal in different places is subtle. The base sound of the 18" and 20" Cross Benderz is short and hard, like a really thick China pinched between fat fingers. But the big 23" is loud and sounds like your inside a tuned trashcan while someone plays the lid.
A civilian (i.e., nondrummer) onlooker saw these in the drum room and said, “Those are very Marilyn Manson.” Yes, they look quite industrial and artsy. Again, these are made to be bent, and I had a ball putting in long slow curves, creases, undulations. Each bend creates a new plane to hit and with it a new variation in the sound. And you can bend the whole thing while playing it, much like a giant flexi-tone. That was real fun on the 44" Vertical China. FMP also recommends stacking them for a china-stack effect, which I did with the one in the middle of the stack all bent up. The effect was like a short China sound with a flexi-tone tail. An added bonus: The 44" of stacked metal looks really cool. Ask the Blue Man Group.
Factory Metal Percussion has some groovy stuff here. The sounds are pleasing, though they all might get filed under the heading of “cool but odd noisemaker, fun to watch.” Since most drummers themselves get called the same, maybe the folks at FMP are on the right track.