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Progtronic “Mortis Metallum” Review – by Matti Frost, Published on 04-08-2013

Necessity is not the only mother of invention. Sometimes, curiosity is. The desire to do something different can also serve as that muse. After all, how many times have bands or individual artists worked within the same strict framework and tried with varying degrees of success or failure to push boundaries? So along comes an individual who truly thought outside of the box. Rick Richards, a.k.a. Simltar, has taken progressive/avant garde metal in a new direction using only sampled and sequenced instruments. What sounds like guitars are, well, guitars, but merely samples that have been recorded and programmed rather than played traditionally by hand.

The songs on Mortis Metallum are inhuman, in the sense that no drummer or guitarist save for the most elite, could hope to actually replicate what Richards has done with drum machine and keyboard.

As a one-man project he occasionally performs live, which makes him a performer that is closer to Deadmau5 and Skrillex than it does to mathy djent bands like Animals as Leaders or Periphery.

Devoid of vocals, the songs here lend themselves to the feel of some odd side-scrolling video game soundtrack. There is mild industrial feel to this simply by the mechanical nature of the music. It’s cold and flat, emotionless and complex, and the trance elements come through in many of the sounds that are sampled.

Yet, as innovative and intriguing as this is, the novelty of it wears off a few songs in and the music melds into the background. There’s simply no human element to carry it along. One song turns into another and the listener won’t know the difference. It’s a shame in a way, because the brilliance of this gets lost on all but the most determined listener.

Still, I have to say that Progtronic is one of the most inventive projects I’ve heard in a very long time. Give it a shot if you like a lot of modern prog metal or djent, but otherwise, I wouldn’t recommend this for casual ears. Even I struggled to pay attention after five songs and I dork out over mathy stuff like this. There are occasional hooks and breaks that are a little more simple than others but they’re few and far between.

Keyboard Magazine

Sim Itar “Subliminal Self” Review – by Jim Aikin, Published in October 1989

Tightly arranged, crisply recorded instrumentals in a style that somehow blends heavy metal with easy listening fusion.

Sim (whose real name is Rick Richards) used various keyboards and drum machine-seemingly to sequence backups for his fuzz guitar statements, but it turns out that the “guitar” is sequenced too.

He leans more toward busy power riffs than fluid solos. Lots of action, though.

Keyboard Magazine

Sim Itar “Dark Groove” Reader Soundpage Contest Honorable Mention – Published in February 1990

…Sim Itar’s powerful “Dark Groove”, a one-man MIDI recording full of urgent chord stabs over a pulsing bass.

History: “Dark Groove” was later renamed “Nightshade” and included on the Sim Itar; Requiem 2000 album release, along with the 1992 winning Soundpage contest entry, “Aliens Among Us”. -Rick

Keyboard Magazine

Keyboard Reader Soundpage Contest Winner – by Greg Rule, Published in May 1992

It wasn’t easy, but somehow we managed to whittle hundreds of entries down to one winner, five finalists, and twelve honorable mentions. Keyboard would like to acknowledge…

…Which leads us to our 1992 winner, Rick Richards (a.k.a. Sim Itar). This competition marks Rick’s third attempt to capture the coveted vinyl disc; he was a finalist in the 1990 contest. This year, though, his rock-and-roll burner, “Aliens Among Us”, went straight to the top. The tune kicks off with a hard rock punch, slides into a rap beat, and then breaks into a Satriani-esque guitar motif. Two blistering solos and several mood swings later, Rick screeches to a conclusion. The tune riveted our interest by offering a mixture of themes and dynamics. What ultimately sent us over the edge, though,was his convincing simulation of the electric guitar.

“Guitar players really hate me,” laughs the 25-year old keyboardist about his faux axe-wielding. “It’s taken me about seven years of trial and error to refine it.”

It all started when his brother brought home a Scholz Rockman one day. “I noticed an input on the Rockman labeled ‘keyboard’ and immediately the light went on in my head. There just happened to be this factory setting for a heavy metallic crunch sound. So I plugged in the Korg Poly 800 Mk II, hit a note, and my brother and I just looked at each other. We couldn’t believe it. The initial hit of the note sounded exactly like the chunk of a guitar.” From there, Rick started to experiment with synth patches specifically designed for driving the Rockman. He found that one oscillator could be used to simulate the string tone, and another could be used for feedback.

“It really took off when I got my Ensoniq EPS sampler,” he explains. “That’s when I started sampling the real thing, most recently a Paul Reed Smith. I’ll multisample clean plucks and muted notes from the guitar and then I’ll sample a harmonic feedback sound from the Korg M1.” He then sets up velocity switching between the sounds. “Soft hits give me mutes and feedback, harder hits give me plucks with feedback, and the hardest hits give me plucks and chirps.” He then routes it through a Rockman X-100, an Alesis MicroGate and QuadraVerb and, well, you can hear the results on the soundpage.

Just for the record, Rick started playing piano 11 years ago.

With the exception of a few pointers from friends, he is completely self-taught. “I think a formal music education is a good thing for some people,” he quietly confides. “But not for me. I’ve always gone for natural feel – straight from the heart.”

When we asked about the writing and recording of “Aliens,” we got a surprise. “I wrote and recorded the whole thing in two days. I came up with the intro first, sequenced everything into the Roland MC-50, and then started working my way through the tune, writing it as I went along.” In addition to the EPS for guitar sounds, Rick used a Roland S-550 sampler for drums and effects, and a Korg M1 for a variety of sounds (including bass guitar). “Basically, the whole song was quantized to some degree, except for the solos. I must confess, I had to slow the tempo down to get that one spastic, half-step triplet run that’s in the guitar solo. But everything else in the solos was played in live.”

Although Rick describes himself as a “one-handed bandit – I play everything with my right hand,” his style is bound to translate well on stage with his newly acquired Lync remote MIDI controller. He plays occasional gigs around the San Francisco Bay Area, but mostly spends time in his home studio. Rick has one solo record to his credit, Subliminal Self [Inertia Records], which was reviewed in the October ’89 issue of Keyboard. Rick warns readers, “My style has changed a bit since the record was released. Compared to my new stuff, it’s pretty harsh. I plan to release another solo album on Inertia sometime in the future, but I don’t want to discourage the possibility of recording for another label as well.”…

© 2017 - Progtronic