The late Ben Woods is known as the creator of Flametal, a music style that combines Flamenco and Metal. The story of how he came to invent a genre is a tale of innovation and inspiration born out of adversity. Born in January 1974, Woods started playing the guitar as a boy. As a teenager, he was drawn to death metal. In the early 1990s, he was in a metal band and sharing a rented house with friends. One of the housemates became a junky and ended up stealing Woods’ electric music equipment.
Woods was left with his acoustic classical guitar. Playing fast on nylon strings while keeping up with his practicing, made Woods think of Flamenco-style guitar. This led him to take a deep dive into Flamenco techniques and traditions. To Woods, it sounded like acoustic speed metal – “aggressive, fast, and virtuosic—exactly everything I needed.” Woods found Flamenco instructors Marcos and Rubina Carmona and studied hard. In the video, Woods plays Malagueña by Ernesto Lecuona:
As Woods explains in the notes to his 2018 upload (12M views), Malagueña is one of the most iconic Flamenco Guitar melodies known to the public. In the video, Woods is playing one of his signature guitars made by the Spanish company Ortega Guitars. In all, he collaborated with Ortega on four different guitars. In the video, he uses the nail of his index finger as a pick. “I’ve always played these runs with Picado, but now I find using alternail creates less stress for my hands and mind,” he wrote.
In 2010, Woods began reintroducing electric guitar to his music. He bought a cheap electric and liked the sound. He says that playing Flamenco on electric guitar is a “totally different beast.” He says that he has to back up his attack by roughly 80 percent, the string spacing feels weird, and the pick work causes the right-hand fingers to catch onto the strings a little, leading him to ditch the pick and use his fingernails. In the next video, Woods’ Nylocaster electric features from 2m23s.
Cruising the Void was uploaded on 11 May 2023. In his comments, Eric Gendell gets to the essence of Woods’ Flametal guitar playing, which introduced metal shreds and electric guitar into Flamenco: “Ben plays beautiful melodic lines, has impeccable technique, his fingerpicking is glorious and his shreds are accents, rather than overwhelming juvenile displays of technical alpha dog dominance. Ben is a fine musician.”
In 2015, Ben Woods told Classical Guitar Magazine that after studying Flamenco guitar with Marcos Carmona “in the traditional Spanish way, mano a mano”, Marcos’s wife, Rubina, a flamenco singer and dancer, told Woods that if he wanted to be an accomplished Flamenco player he needed to learn to accompany Spanish singing and dancing. He started accompanying Flamenco classes several days a week for five or six years. Woods explained that Flamenco is one of the few types of music where the musicians take their lead from the dancers, not the other way around.
Woods said that the guitarist can give cues, like it’s time to move on, but mostly it’s the dancer that “sets the tempo. She can bring it up and down. She makes it intense or solemn. She can make us all stop on a dime. She gives unspoken dance cues that the musician can follow.”
Woods later performed in the duo Flamenco LA with his partner Arleen Hurtado.
Ben Woods died of colon cancer on 28 September 2022. He was 48 years old. Here is a short video of Ben and Arleen improvising a Seville-style Flamenco on a California desert highway. RIP Ben Woods. Thank you for the music.