One Band – One Destiny?

You might have already noticed that a huge number of bands crop up every few posts. This is no coincidence, but simply happens because they belong to several subgenres. Many bands have started in the realms of one metallic subgenre, only to be swept along by the next Metal style that came into fashion. Other musicians have developed further and further away from their starting point in the shape of hardly observable details. In some cases, bands have fully switched their style. Others create music belonging to neither one nor the other category, but combining elements of various substyles.

Defy any categorisation: Heaven Shall Burn, shirtsleeved. (photo taken by Stefan Krause)

Defy any categorisation: Heaven Shall Burn, shirtsleeved. (photo taken by Stefan Krause)

Slayer, for instance, have initiated their career as a Black Metal band, yet nowadays are counted among the Big Four of American Thrash Metal. Machine Head represent both Nu Metal and Neo-Thrash, whereas Pantera are pegged as Groove Metal, Power Metal, Neo-Thrash and various other genres. Metallica combine Thrash Metal and Power Metal. The Metalcore of Heaven Shall Burn belongs to the category of Melodic Death Metal as well. The list of examples is infinite. No one can ever state for sure exactly what music a band produces. Labels are attached and names are generously distributed, but eventually no categorisation holds for ever or for sure. Any listener can have a different opinion on a band’s supposed style. If we deliberate this, we might conclude that we could actually cope without it. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t like to dispose of all the genres and style definitions, because they constitute the matter of my interest, research and, ultimately, this blog.

Afterthoughts: Christian Melodeath

When contemplating my last post I recognised that one very important Melodic Death Metal band was actually missing! This might have happened because they are only partly classified as Melodeath, being sometimes referred to as a blend of Technical Death Metal – a term I’m not usually using – Progressive Death Metal and Metalcore. The one that must (at least in a blog of mine) be mentioned is American White Metal band Becoming the Archetype. White Metal is a subgenre of Heavy Metal which is characterised by its representatives’ dedication to Christianity and religious lyrics. Between 2004 and 2011, Becoming the Archetype have spread the message of Jesus Christ via four incredibly entertaining and highly virtuosic albums.

I came across their first record “Terminate Damnation” (2004) when I was around 16 and my Metalhead career was already going at full speed. The band caught me with their strange habit of surprising the unsuspecting listener with harmonic, playful, even soft but always complex passages in the middle of a real blast. They are capable of indulging in a five-minute piano solo, only to double-bass your ears off at the next opportunity. While doing so, Becoming the Archetype uphold a striking level of proficiency bordering on perfection. Their songs often resemble classical music structures (sonata form and the like), but do not lack heaviness either.

Becoming the Archetype's mascot: Clifton the Beardskull

Becoming the Archetype’s mascot: Clifton the Beardskull

After having released a bomb of creativity with their 2011 album “Celestial Completion“ (which is quite heavenly, actually), a very unfortunate event occurred: as seems too fashionable among current Metal bands, Becoming the Archetype parted ways with their vocalist Jason Wisdom. They also replaced two other musicians, leaving the band with only two more or less original members. Of course I bought their latest record “I Am” (2012) – and I was thoroughly disappointed. The bands amazing core – variety, skills and some kind of magic – had disappeared, rendering Becoming the Archetype just another of these flat half-Core-half-Metal bands.

Some comfort to me is the immortality of the band’s previous records, which I can but recommend to you wholeheartedly. They are immensely diversified, the tantalising sound always perfectly embracing Wisdom’s rather straightforward albeit far from dreary Core/ Death voice.

Six out of nine tracks on their first album “Terminate Damnation” are at least five minutes, the climax being the 11:16 “Elegy”, including the aforementionted piano solo. I’d love to show it to you. Actually, I’d like to show you a handful of Metal jewels of this band’s creation, but the GEMA wag their finger at me. I cannot get access to any album at the moment and all the live recordings are awful in quality… Perhaps I can make up for this lack of material later, once these GEMA guys have finally reached a decision.

What you can see without having listened to any song is: Heavy Metal wears many faces – and one of these is deeply Christian. Despite the conservatives’ persistent mistrust in and rejection of Heavy Metal as dangerous, anti-religious and destructive, White Metal embodies that kind of serious faith any regular churchgoer might strive for. There are countless Metal musicians who are capable of uniting various metallic subgenres with their personal religious attitudes. Heavy Metal, at its best, means tolerance.

Metal Melodrama

At the roots of Melodeath: In Flames (Sonisphere Festival, 2011)

At the Roots of Melodeath: In Flames (Sonisphere Festival, 2011)

Among the great many eccentric and exciting metallic developments of the nineties was the rise of another subgenre: Melodic Death Metal. I consider this style some kind of a more subtle and diversified sister to Death Metal. Melodic Death Metal’s place of birth is the Swedish town Gothenburg (Göteborg), which is why this type of Metal is alternatively called Gothenburg Style (Göteborger Schule). The Swedish city has made Melodic Death Metal popular on the entire globe. Three most famous founding bands originate from this place, namely At the Gates – whose album “Slaughter of the Souls” introduced Melodeath in 1995 – Dark Tranquillity and In Flames. The Brits of Carcass equally helped develop the genre after turning their backs on the Grindcore of their early days.

Melodeath draws on its successor Death Metal’s harsh thrashing and low-pitched growling vocal techniques, yet adds harmonies and grooves which undeniably origin from classical Heavy Metal as well as Thrash Metal. Melodic patterns, incredibly fast riffing, extensive solos and the occasional intrusion of acoustic guitars are accompanied by synthetic sounds, since later on in the course of the 1990s musicians discovered the pleasures of keyboards. Double-bass is an indispensable feature of Melodeath, as is a combination of harsh growling and clean vocals up to falsett tones. Fans’ ears are attacked with blast beats, a drum technique that may simply be described as sudden and violent musical explosions within a drummer’s performance.

When it comes to experimenting with elements of other musical genres, Melodic Death Metal is far more open than many heavy subgenres. Especially fusions with other metallic styles have gained popularity over the past years. Finland’s Children of Bodom are frequently associated with Power Metal, whereas the Swiss Eluveitie incorporate Folk Metal, thereby creating an explosive and highly intriguing mixture. DevilDriver, a band grouped around the charismatic frontman Dez Fafara (who, by the way, does not sport a beard on his chin, but a tribal tattoo instead!) successfully interweave Groove Metal and Melodeath. Fusions with Metalcore are popular, too, as Heaven Shall Burn from Germany and the Canadians Threat Signal loudly demonstrate.

DevilDriver's Dez Fafara (The Netherlands, 2009)

DevilDriver’s Dez Fafara (The Netherlands, 2009)

 

Further famous names paving Melodeath’s impressive way into the headbangers’ hearts are All That Remains, As I Lay Dying, Amon Amarth, Ensiferum, Kataklysm, Soilwork, Sonic Syndicate, Scar Symmetry and countless others. You might have already noticed that lists of Melodeath bands tend to read like a dramatis personae. There is indeed a strong drive for theatrical exuberance in band names and lyrics, album titles and compositional style. Soft melodies are often abruptly cut off by extreme shredding, and harsh gnarls or excessive screeches take it in turns with high-pitched dramatic vocals. There is a distinct eccentricity to many Melodeath bands.

To me, one of the most eccentric and wonderful outbursts of Melodic Death Metal is created by the Swedes of Scar Symmetry. The band was founded in 2004 around the amazing voice of Christian Älvestam and the mystical lyrics of drummer Henrik Ohlsson. With a pitch ranging from extremely high and clear nearing falsett to enormously low with Death Metal growls, Älvestam has for years been the band’s recognition feature. Again and again, I listen to older Scar Symmetry records with rapt attention and hold my breath, fascinated. The musicians somehow manage to combine tonal violence, harsh breakdowns and barking growls with revelations of clean singing that make the hair in the back of my neck stand.

Älvestam left Scar Symmetry in 2008 and is currently member of around 10 bands and projects – a successful workaholic. In context with his latest solo project “Self 2.0”, Älvestam was reported to have explained: “It’s not exactly a secret that I have a weak spot for more pop-oriented stuff – especially in the vein of the sound of the ’80s. In fact, I have always been listening to softer music, alongside the heavier stuff, which is probably why my own music so often, unintentionally, tends to end up being a mixture of the two.” His urge to pursue softer music might have been a significant force in his breakup with Scar Symmetry. However, the band did not remain devoid of a voice for long: in 2008, Roberth Karlsson and Lars Palmqvist joined the team. The former produces growls and backing clean vocals, whereas Palmqvist sings clean and growls in the background. Fans’ opinions are diverse when it comes to whether or not Älvestam’s leave has changed too much about Scar Symmetry. I consider the two new singers very able musicians. The bands style and song quality has not changed a mite and their combined voices are powerful enough to support the dramatic sound.

I could provide you with more brilliant Scar Symmetry songs than my blog could hold, but I’m afraid I have to decide…

This record from Scar Symmetry’s “Holographic Universe” (2008), sung by Christian Älvestam, always amazes me:

 

Karlsson and Palmqvist convince with vocal power as well. I love this one, taken from the band’s 2011 album “The Unseen Empire”:

 

Isn’t that dead melodic…?

 

German’s Loudest Export: Neue Deutsche Härte

The world-famous German band Rammstein has already been mentioned several times during this blog. You might wonder why, since it seems questionable, whether Rammstein fit any ‘metallic’ criteria. I argue: they do.

Rammstein - The more fire, the better

Rammstein – The more fire, the better

Rammstein’s music is generally classified as Neue Deutsche Härte (sometimes translated into ‘New German Hardness’ and usually abbreviated NDH). Actually, the term was coined after and because of the release of their debut album “Herzeleid” in 1995. The genre NDH owes Industrial Metal much of its traits. Being a stylistic mixture, the nineties’ Industrial Metal draws from dance music, Thrash Metal and Hardcore Punk. Metallic guitar riffs are used as frequently as synthetic keyboard sounds. The seeds of this genre were planted by the American musicians of Ministry, the British Godflesh and the German band KMFDM who were founded as a performance art project.

While Industrial Metal constitutes a direct subgenre of Metal (as of course the name indicates), Neue Deutsche Härte belongs to rock music. However, it is alternatively called Dance Metal, because it combines elements of several Metal subgenres and dance music. This crossover style links rock with Electronica, Techno and the German New Wave (‘Neue Deutsche Welle’) as well as Groove Metal sounds influenced by the great Pantera and Sepultura. The metallic sound is supported in particular by the use of immensely low-pitched male voices, who generally sing clean and sometimes growl. Actually, strong masculine images are popular among NDH bands. Next to Rammstein, German bands Oomph! and Letzte Instanz have become famous (and at times notorious) for their inimitable vocals, brute sound, martial attire and spectacular stage shows dripping with excessive masculinity.

Oomph! became especially famous when upon releasing their single “Augen auf!” in 2004. See the English version (its sound is just better than that of the German…):

 

Rammstein are one of German’s best exports. According to German website ard.de, the band has performed more than 450 concerts in 35 countries such as Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Russia and Iceland. Why exactly fans from all over the globe are fascinated by their pyrotechnics, martial rhythms, trilled ‘r’ and grand gestures, is hard to grasp. You already know enough about my enthusiasm when it comes to these Industrial rockers, but I will repeat it all the same: Rammstein’s brutality and simultaneous lyrical finesse are yet unchallenged. It seems strange, that such a harsh voice should tell such wonderful tales of love and hate.

Butcher Till Lindemann cooks keyboarder Flake Lorenz

Butcher Till Lindemann cooks keyboarder Flake Lorenz

Just take their beautiful song “Morgenstern” from the album “Reise, Reise” (2004): Till Lindemann spits the words “Hässlich, du bist hässlich!” (“Ugly, you are ugly!”) at his fans, but this does not prevent the careful listener from realising, that a story of honest love and superficial judgement is sung. The lyrics tell of an ugly girl who is loved all the same, because the guy who loves her can see her with his heart instead of his eyes only: “Mit dem Herzen seh’n, Sie ist wunderschön!” (“See with your heart that she is beautiful”) Isn’t that poetry?

You want it live?

Heavy Metal – Covers from Outer Space

Heavy Metal has not only adopted many other styles, but it has been adopted as well. A particularly large influence on many alternative musicians appears to be German Industrial monster Rammstein. The latest (and slightly questionable because strange) attempt was made by an aged German pop star called Heino. Unfortunately, his Rammstein cover made people rather laugh wildly than nod appreciatively. It just did not suit the white-haired fellow. Nevertheless, take a look at Heino’s idea of “Sonne” (from “Mutter”, 2001):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Go9MOdL93Cg

 

Much more, however, do Rammstein fit Carpe Noctem. The charismatic string quartet from Eastern Germany has covered “Hilf mir” and “Stirb nicht vor mir” on their first album,“op. 1: Obscuritas” (2010) next to a cover version of System of a Down’s “Toxicity”. I won’t go into detail here, because I have recently interviewed Carpe Noctem and the result of our chat will soon adorn this blog.

There is another band successfully meddling with Rammstein: some week’s prior I suddenly noticed that the English lyrics of “My Country”, a song by Country rockers The Boss Hoss from their abum “Liberty of Action” (2011), strangely resembled Rammstein’s German text of “Mein Land”. And indeed I found out that The Boss Hoss had not only covered and strongly estranged, but even translated the original song.

I have also discovered Heavy Metal in Techno music. German trance producers Matthias “Double M” Menck and Dennis “Bonebreaker” Bohn (during this project called Brooklyn Bounce) released a hit single named “Bass, Beats and Melody” in 2000. If I am not completely mistaken, one version of the song’s intro might be inspired by a well-known Machine Head sample, the first drum pattern of their legendary opener “Davidian” (from “Burn my Eyes”, 1994) as well as the intro sound of “Silver” (from “The Burning Red”, 1999). Could I be possibly right?

versus

and

 

My fascination for such musical fusions is huge. As soon as possible, I will provide you with another example of Heavy Metal going abroad musically. Have you ever thought about what Richard Wagner and Rammstein have in common…?

 

 

Heavy Metal – Coveted and Covered

The act of covering other bands’ music has permeated Heavy Metal history since its first days. I personally consider this an advantage for us fans. If a song is great in its original version, why not create another brilliant variant of it for the benefit of the listener community? It obviously does not matter whether the music covered originates from the same stylistic roots or an entirely different scene. Heavy Metal has mated with Heavy Metal, but also with Rap, Hip Hop, Pop, Reggae, Techno, classical music and Country. Sometimes these cooperations resulted in a new subgenre of Heavy Metal (just think of Rap influence on what is nowadays called Nu Metal…), at times they simply gave birth to wonderful, hilarious or surprising cover versions.

Heavy Metal has influenced musicians from other genres as well. Metallic samplers found their way into Techno songs, classical bands intonated Metal compositions, even Country bands and German pop stars felt inspired by the heavy material.

In the realm of Heavy Metal bands covering each other, the most extraordinary act is definitely Six Feet Under. In 2000, the American Death Metal band released “Graveyard Classics”, a record comprised entirely of cover versions. They pressed their stamp on numerous classics, such as Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf”, the legendary “TNT” of AC/DC and Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water”. I perceive this work to be somewhere between gruesome, hilarious and absolutely great! Chris Barnes rasps and growls along with his bandmates’ clear play. Whatever press and fan reactions, Six Feet Under did it again: in 2004 “Graveyard Classics II” was released, this time focusing entirely on AC/DC’s “Back in Black”; 2010 brought “Graveyard Classics III” to the light of day. Watch Barnes and band perform the classic, it’s amazing!

 

Covering Heavy Metal from a completely different perspective are Van Canto. The German a cappella Metal band was founded in 2006 and creates all their sound with voices only, the exception being the drums. Bass lines, lead and rhythm guitars, solos – everything is sung by the six musicians. An exceptionally great cover version on Van Canto’s debut album “A Storm to Come” (2006) is the Metallica classic “Battery”. It always makes me smile because it is dead unusual, but it’s great all the same:

 

Metallica has been a constant source of inspiration for Heavy Metal bands of all calibre. Next to numerous independent single covers (such as Machine Head playing “Battery” once more on their 2007 album “The Blackening”), a great cover of Metallica’s full self-titled record was produced by German Metal magazine Metal Hammer (2011). Twelve different bands perform the legendary songs of the Black Album, each with their particular style. I personally like especially those covers which do not attempt to stay too near to the original sound. Well-known Folk Metalists Finntroll covered “The God that failed” with their typical Folk instrumentation, making the song barely recognisable, yet wonderfully light and amusing. German Metalcore band Callejon’s cover of “Wherever I may roam” preserves their Core style perfectly and the Metallica material is revived brutally, but brilliantly.

 

Further heavy covers?

Metalcore act Chimaira covers “Wild Thing” by The Jimi Hendrix Experience (on “The Age of Hell”, 2011)

(I’m sorry, but I cannot provide the video here due to GEMA problems…)

 

Austrian Metal band Artas covers “Gangsta’s Paradise” by rapper Coolio (on “The Healing”, 2008)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0tPUmTOf_I

 

UMC (Ultimate Music Cover) intones Avicii’s “Wake me up”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRd8PNJKVl8

Of Taste and Suppression – Afterthoughts

Since I posted my first outburst of private history, I have been wondering about why parents actually want to keep their children away from Heavy Metal so urgently. This is hard to answer even in my personal case. I guess my parents never wanted me to change in order to be cool or fashionable, if it wasn’t really me behind the mask. I understand that perfectly. I think my mother was afraid that I might dress in black only, turn radical and change personally. I didn’t.

However, I suppose that many a parent’s concerns are of a different nature. Drug abuse, violence, bitter thoughts, hatred for the world, depression, suicide, affinity towards weapons, self-mutilation, occult rituals, misanthropy, early sex, older friends, rape, alcoholism, leather, chains and spikes – there is hardly any controversial topic which has NOT been associated with Metal, its underground scene and respective musicians. Since there is no evidence behind most accusations, Heavy Metal carries its black reputation undeservedly. The music is not the source of trouble. It is not a catalyst for misfortune, and no cause for evil character traits in its admirers. As human beings tend to do, parents attribute too much significance to what others say – be it the media, schools or fellow carers – instead of asking their youngsters themselves. If we see danger in Heavy Metal, we have to see danger in virtually every instance of popular culture, in every kind of modern music, art, literature and film. Do we?

Personally, I am inclined to believe that other kinds of culture might be harmful. Just take all those chart song video clips revealing so much naked skin and bearing testimony to that what youngsters should naturally do is party. Has it ever occurred to the anxious parents that their girls and boys might be even more distressed by what society demands of them – which is being sexy to the point of bodily perfection, being rich, thin, long-legged, trendy, up-to-date with regard to every tiny technical gadget, and sexually acrobatic? Heavy Metal might include lyrical violence, aggressive vocals and brutal noise, but Heavy Metal never dictates, never enthrones unachievable ideals and never excludes a single person for what they are. Heavy Metal can provide a great, versatile community and be home to those who feel an outsider in the mainstream world. Heavy Metal embraces the young and the old, the fat and the slender, the grim and the tender-hearted, the show-off and the mouse. This might sound like Metal was the solution to all our problems, but this is not what I want to express. Heavy Metal, as every other kind of music, can become part of its listeners, can be a source of comfort and courage. Why then should we attempt to talk our children out of a music that belongs to them?

By the way: even if we try, we cannot succeed. A headbanger stays a headbanger, whatever may come.