[Michael's guitar is tuned down to Drop-C for all examples in this Masterclass: C G C F A D]
The Ancient Covenant (0:01 – 0:07)
Michael’s first example is the opening riff to ‘The Ancient Covenant’ from The Faceless album Planetary Duality. It is very characteristic of his dark riffing style with its rapid chromatic shifts and dissonant intervals. The example starts out with two descending minor triads, which are followed by a speed-picked chromatic pattern on the low C string. This same pattern is then shifted up the neck across the top four strings and topped off with a series of chromatically descending arpeggios. The first arpeggio outlines a major 7 shape starting on the 3rd degree. The following arpeggio follows the same shape a fret lower, though instead of tapping the root at the top, Michael instead chooses to tap a flatted 7th, thereby creating some serious dissonance!
An integral part of Michael’s signature sound and writing style is his approach to chord voicings. His process often consists of taking standard major and minor triads and coloring them with various extensions. A favorite of his consists of a minor triad with the major 7 added on top [min(maj7)]. “You get this spy chord kinda sound.” A great example of this chord comes from ‘Coldly Calculated Design.’
Coldly Calculated Design (0:00 – 0:09)
“In drop tuning you can get these extensions that would be really hard to grab any other way. That’s actually one of the reasons why we play in drop tuning and we’ve stuck with it – you can grab all these big extensions with lots of color.” The outro/solo section in ‘Sons Of Belial’ serves as another great example of this approach by infusing these rich chord voicings amidst riffs and speed picking passages.
Sons of Belial (4:04 – 4:45)
Scale Patterns & Tapping
An approach often heard throughout Michael’s lead playing consists of taking common patterns, which would typically be alternate picked, and instead playing them with legato articulations and tapping. In this example, he plays a familiar 12-note pattern through an F Harmonic Minor scale starting on the fifth string. By hammering-on and pulling-off notes throughout the passage and tapping the fourth note of each pattern, he is able to execute the lick smoother and faster than if he employed a traditional alternate picking approach.
[Special thanks to Chris Robinson for his excellent camera work, Alon Mei-Tal for his spot-on transcriptions, and Chris Thomas for helping us out with camera gear on short notice!]