Recently, social media lit up with a blazing cover of a thrash metal classic — the vicious “Raining Blood” from the mighty Slayer, performed on that most demonic of instruments, the …banjo? Yes! Rob Scallon had previously gifted the world with his ukulele cover of Slayer’s “War Ensemble,” but when it came time to tackle “Raining Blood” he turned to the expanded range and more vibrant midrange of the banjo. And Ryan “Fluff” Bruce - who you might know from his popular Riffs, Beards & Gear YouTube channel - was tasked with the challenge of mixing this metallic concoction. So what challenges do you meet when you’re mixing a banjo in a metal context?
“Mixing banjo is incredibly tough,” Ryan says. “I’ve never done it before. There’s no body to it — it’s all attack, obviously. Rob’s first viral Slayer cover, “War Ensemble,” was all ukuleles and that was easy. He just sent me the audio files as stems and said ‘Mix it and send it back to me when you’re done.’ When he told me he was going to do a banjo Slayer cover, I didn’t know it was going to be right after the ukulele cover. When I got the stems I was like, ‘Dude, are we doing that now? I’ve never mixed banjo before but let’s give it a shot!’ He’d double-mic’d the banjo, and it was totally out of phase so I had to move the tracks around and use heavy EQ all around. And it was using the original drum track that he got from somewhere. I don’t know where he got it but that’s the original drums from the Slayer song. It’s good stuff!” Slayer covers with non-metal instruments seem to figure prominently in Rob’s musical landscape: Ryan also mixed his cello cover of “Spill The Blood,” and various other videos, including re-amping his ’30 Songs In 1 Minute’ video.
At the time of writing, the video is past two million views. How does that feel? “What? Holy crap, I didn’t know that. I know Kerry King loved it. A friend of his wife sent it to Kerry’s wife, and him and his wife watched it and the ukulele one and said it was awesome. I don’t know if they’re going to do something at some point Rob is a huge Slayer fan, a huge death metal fan and a huge thrash metal fan but you’d never know it because he plays all these strange instruments.”
Of course, aside from the pro audio side of things, Ryan is no slouch on the guitar, with his YouTube demo videos racking up thousands of hits. He’s also been commissioned by companies like Seymour Duncan to record in-house tracks for artists to play along to while testing out pickups. “I’m a Seattle native and I started playing in 1993,” he says. “I was a grunge kid. Nirvana, Alice In Chains who were my idols, Soundgarden, Gruntruck, all those guys. And then I got super into hardcore punk rock, and then I got back into metal and bands like Down. So it’s been a weird journey!”
Ryan recently fulfilled a life-long ambition to acquire his dream guitar: “I have always wanted a Gibson RD,” he says. “Ever since I started playing and I noticed that Krist Novoselic played a bass version . I was unaware that they ever made a guitar version until I saw the Foo Fighters on the Colour And The Shape tour, and Dave Grohl had a sunburst RD. I was like ‘Oh, they made that as a guitar? I’ve gotta find one!’ I did some research and found that they only made about 2,800 of them in the late ‘70s. Fast forward about 20 years later and somebody publicly asked me what my dream guitar was and I said ‘A vintage ‘70s Gibson RD,’ and the very next day someone sent me a Craigslist posting locally in Seattle: a collector was letting go of his all-blonde, all-original ’77 Gibson RD Standard, and the wife went ‘Go get it!’ so I got it! I paid very little money for it and it’s in almost mint condition. It has a little wear where the armrest is, and on the inside of the control cavity the original owner’s contact information is still scratched into the foil. It’s perfect.”
The RD was reissued as a Guitar of The Week release in 2007, and as the RD Standard Exclusive in 2011.
For more on Ryan “Fluff” Bruce, check out his website at blackmetalbicycle.com.