I want to introduce you to something German today. Herbert Grönemeyer is one of Germany’s most famous musicians. After his wife and brother died in the same year, the singer needed a longer break, but returned in 2002 with his successful album “Mensch”. In 2011 he recorded “Schiffsverkehr”. Listen to its title track:
It is hard to believe that Grunge of all Rock music styles should conquer Metal for a paralyzing amount of time, as both are entirely different from each other. Perhaps it were just these simple tones, easy rhythms and melancholic lyrics some people were craving for after a long period of complex guitar solos. Rock music in general experienced an upswing at the end of the eighties, culminating in the nineties’ Grunge successes headed by Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. Grunge put its stamp on the entire Alternative scene and threatened Metal with its popularity until in 1994 Curt Kobain chose to end his life – and thereby killed the Grunge hype as well.
The beginning of the nineties also brought an exciting renaissance: yet unknown American Metal musicians created a rough, catchy Metal style with reference to the thrashy past but not at all to mainstream radio music. By returning to the roots of Heavy and Thrash Metal and simultaneously including new elements such as rap voices or hoarse ranting, Neo-Thrash Metal was made. A special case is American Metal Band Pantera.
Due to their musical development, the band is hard to place into one area of Metal. Their first attempts might be called Power Metal or Neo Thrash, but soon their style developed into something frontman Phil Anselmo titled “Groove Metal”. And indeed, Pantera has created many mid-tempo songs with amazingly heavy grooves. Pantera achieved special fame through their guitarist’s intriguing style. Dimebag Abbott (also Dimebag Darrell, Diamond Darrell) has brought incredible riffs and undying solos into the Heavy Metal world. After Pantera’s breakup in 2004, the Abbott brothers founded a new band: Damageplan. The band’s progress was radically brought to an end with Dimebag Abbott’s tragic demise: The musician was shot on stage by a demented fan during a gig in Ohio in December 2004. Perhaps it is especially this finality that has made Pantera immortal in the hearts and ears of their fans.
I particularly love their 1990 album “Cowboys from Hell” (with Anselmo screeching and singing high-pitched and the band rocking with all the coolness cowboys can muster), and “Vulgar Display of Power” (1992, including the famous track “Fucking Hostile”) as well as the 1996 “The Great Southern Trendkill” (Anselmo now ranting and everyone launching into low-pitched, ice-cool grooves). In his live performances, Anselmo is pure energy.
You can have a taste: Watch “The Art of Shredding” (from the 1990s “Cowboys from Hell”).
The San Francisco Bay Area proved once again to be a treasure chamber and let loose Machine Head. Founded in 1991, the Thrashers exploded so successfully that their first album “Burn my Eyes” instantly became Roadrunner Records’ best-selling debut yet. Especially the opener “Davidian” developed into an all-time blast that shakes the stages up to today. Curious? Open up your ears:
Machine Head’s fame could but grow during the next years, yet excessive touring as well as lineup difficulties wore out the band. After the critical reception of their fourth record “Supercharger” (2001, a great, and in my humble opinion, undervalued record), the musicians nearly gave up, only to resurrect two years later with a new guitarist and their famous album “Through the Ashes of Empires”, that has been made Album of the Month by German Metalhammer magazine. Today, Machine Head still create music under the banner of Neo-Thrash (though their technique is strongly refined), but Robert Flynn remains the only original band member. Machine Head – who by the way are not named according to the Deep Purple album of 1972 – were the first Metal band I ever came across. I was fifteen, and I fell in love immediately. To me “Supercharger” will always stay something special, no matter what uproar the album has caused among other fans, because it is the first Machine Head record I ever listened to, and it contains nearly more energy than anyone can bear.
Metal had ascended the throne again! Exodus, Destruction and Kreator returned after pausing and experimenting. In 1996 the first Ozzfest took place in Phoenix/ Arizona, and 1997 witnessed the reunion of Black Sabbath’s original lineup in Birmingham. Obstacles had been overcome, Metal was played and heads were banged around the world. Parental Advisory labels marred countless covers, marking these albums highly interesting for youngsters of every nation and age. How did this come about? Find out next week.
On approaching Conne Island club in Leipzig’s district Connewitz in the evening, heavy basses, laughter and excited shouts will reach your ears, making the old building tremble. The culture centre in the south of the town is a platform for the young and wild since the nineties, offering more than music and dancing.
No one would come up with the idea that this club is actually build on a political fundament. During their weekly meetings the club’s plenum has defined Conne Island as a “centre made by and for leftists, youth-, pop-, and subcultures.”
Since 1991 the youth and cultural centre has allowed access to a stage and technical equipment, a rehearsal room for bands, an outdoor skatepark, team sport facilities, and runs a café. By now, the centre enjoys the sponsorship of the association “Projekt Verein e.V.”, which supports Conne Island in bureaucratic and administrative issues.
Conne Island acts upon the principle of participation: adolescents and adults alike do social work and in turn may contribute, discuss and decide during Monday’s plenum sessions.
The club is run mostly by honorary workers whose aim is to keep Conne Island a platform for political and cultural discourse, giving a voice to adolescents with a political interest. Conne Island aims to include politics in culture and succeeds in doing so by directing attention towards the use of Nazi symbols by bands and bashing it, by discussing sexist and homophobic tendencies in lyrics, and choosing bands for club concerts carefully.
Celebrating the club’s 20th anniversary in 2011, Conne Island members published a book titled “20 YRS – noch lange nicht Geschichte”. It reflects upon Conne Island’s development since its foundation, calling the club “a political centre where you may criticise society, discuss left-wing orientation and argue about the possibilities of political culture.” Simultaneously, the club is a place to chat, hang out and dance. There are “no boundaries for musical genres: Hardcore, Punk and Metal concerts are equally important as Hip-Hop, Techno and Dubstep.”
Perfectly fulfilling the aim of Conne Island to attract as many different individuals and subcultures as possible is British Reggae-Metal band Skindred. In February 2014 they shook the club’s hall, enthusing a coloured crowd of fans. Skindred are known for their critical approach to society, condemning violence and street fights, gangs and police abuse, but also for their optimistic, lively view of unity and their emphasis on mutual love and respect as the solution of most problems.
The crowd roared their approval without exception: the tattoed girl, the man dressed entirely in black, the plainly clothed middle aged woman and the colourful youngster clapped in unison. Conne Island had once more succeeded in uniting and entertaining a broad spectrum of people.
Visit Conne Island’s website for the latest news and don’t miss the next concert: http://www.conne-island.de/
Last weekend I have once again been to Dresden’s legendary Dixieland festival. I like Jazz and Dixie, because they are lively, funky and can create ear-splitting noise. I love The Top Dog Brass Band. The quality could be better, but here you can see why they are called “the funky marchin’ band from Eastern Germany”.
During the 1980s the Heavy Metal scene grew incessantly. 1980 saw the first Heavy Metal festival in Castle Donington, starring Judas Priest, Saxon, The Scorpions, Rainbow and countless others. The Leicestershire village hosted the “Monsters of Rock” festival until the nineties and is currently home of the annual Download festival.
In the 1980s bands and fans longed for more energy, more speed, more noise. The emergence of new genres was inevitable. The first to rise was Power Metal. The Metalheads on stage aimed to give Heavy Metal even more vigour and decided to perform twice as fast, twice as loud and adorned with the double amount of rivets as well as guitars. They played according to the old rules, but under the flag of a new fashion. The pioneers of Power Metal were also the precursors of Thrash Metal: Anthrax, Accept, Manowar, Merciful Fate, and the early Metallica. Many of them took part in the later development of Metal into the subgenre Thrash.
The verb “thrash” embodies some of the music’s most significant traits: energy, speed and techniques were adopted from the NWoBHM and Hardcore Punk added its preference for noise and sound volume. Thrash Metal is characterised by fast and precise riffing and emphasis on texts rather than extravagant shows. People usually argue about whether Exciter’s “Heavy Metal Maniac” or Metallica’s “Kill ‘em All” was the first Thrash Metal album ever. The only objective truth to find is that Thrash was born in 1983. The San Francisco Bay Area produced legendary bands such as the brute Exodus, Slayer and Testament and the melodious and adventurous Megadeth, Death Angel and Metallica. By the way: among the suggestions for Metallica’s band name was also ‘Thunderfuck’. From New York and New Yersey bands with a strong Hardcore Punk influence thrashed their way into the fans’ hearts: Overkill, Anthrax and Nuclear Assault attacked the ears and quickened the pulse. In Germany the so-called ‘Dreigestirn’ (triumvirate) of Thrash ruled: Sodom, Kreator and Destruction.
It’s too hard to decide, since all songs on this album are well-known and celebrated. Thus I show you the way to the full album “Kill ‘em All”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=48-NYJl5PVI
Since then Metallica has changed much in style, but in my humble opinion they have always become only better. I especially enjoy their later albums “Metallica” (1991), “St. Anger” (2003) and “Death Magnetic” (2008).
In 1985 Speed Metal joined the scene. Although the term is at times used as a synonym to Thrash Metal, there are some differences between both genres: Speed Metal’s style is cleaner, more sophisticated, precise and built on classical Metal melodies. Voices are characteristically high-pitched. Especially German bands played Speed Metal, among them Helloween, Celtic Frost, Destruction, Kreator and Sodom.
While the years 1986 to 1988 saw the climax of Thrash Metal, the so-called Thrash Metal depression started in 1989. A subsiding enthusiasm for Thrash coupled with the emergence of new trends such as Grunge and Death Metal resulted in the persevering of only those bands, who attempted to develop, learn more and increase complexity. Among these were the German triumvirate as well as the American ‘Big Four’: Anthrax, Slayer, Megadeth and Metallica. This strategy worked until the early nineties. Grunge and Alternative Rock grew ever more popular. After the eighties’ exeperiments, simple Rock had a boost. Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins created a new scene and sound. The crisis hit Thrash Metal hard. Joey Belladonna left Anthrax, Exodus and Death Angel split up, Metallica and Megadeth were frowned upon for being ‘soft’.
But, to quote Tenacious D’s legendary words: You can’t kill the Metal! Why? You will find out all about this in the next post. Watch Tenacious D performing their classic (from “The Pick of Destiny”, 2006) at Rock am Ring 2012:
Wanna decipher the text? It’s all about Metal history: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yyp0ltAUF_M
This week’s outsider section proudly presents: Neil Diamond!
The American singer-songwriter began his career in the 1960s, singing and playing Rock’n’Roll, Pop and chansons. I always get into a better mood when I listen to “Two-Bit Manchild” from the 1968 album “Velvet Gloves and Spit”:
The 1970s and 1980s were – at least musically – far from stable. While Black Sabbath suffered under Ozzy’s escapades, many bands developed further and experimented wildly, and Pop music gained international attention, an amazing metallic force turned up in the late seventies. What is nowadays known as New Wave of British Heavy Metal, in short NWoBHM, meant the resuming of the first wave’s gloom and heavy minor step by bands like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Motörhead and Saxon. Heavy Metal was established as a genre of its own. The hard, dynamic and at times delicate structures of the seventies’ Hardrock mated with Punk Rock’s speedy pace in the new “old” music.
Enjoy the first title of Judas Priest’s 1990 album “Painkiller”:
Punk developed during the seventies especially in musical intersections such as New York City and London. The year 1977 brought the breakthrough for garage bands: The Sex Pistols, The Ramones and The Clash fascinated with their crudeness and unpolished sound. Punk met the ears with easy and short songs in four-four time, usually using no more than three chords. In addition, Punk music entailed an entire subculture, including revolt and the denial of middle-class values and norms. It was in Punk concerts that stagediving and pogo were born and grew famous. Sid Vicious played for the Sex Pistols for only two years. In 1979 he overdosed on heroin.
Heavy Metal divided more and more into subgenres during the eighties. Many varieties of it were only related in that they strongly opposed to commercial Pop music, and showed a heightened level of speed and aggression. The term to embrace all substyles was Heavy Metal or, more specifically, “true” Metal.
American Heavy Metal Band Manowar laid the foundation for the ideal of “true” Metal and nurtured it carefully with their slogan “Death to false Metal”. They have branded innovative newcomers “untrue” or “un-Metal”. There still exists a sadly huge number of hopelessly retrograde listeners who have learned this lesson from Manowar. I despise their behaviour. In judging those of us who prefer supposedly “untrue” Metal over its “true” brother (not counterpart!), they act as obstinately and prejudiced as the countless mothers, fathers, teachers, governements, political parties and educational institutions, who have attacked Heavy Metal and its fans since the seventies.
Accompany me into the world of Thrash, Power and Speed Metal next Monday.