At a loss for something to say? Or: I’m against.

I wondered recently how I could have developed that certain weariness which has kept me from blogging for quite some time now. Plenty of work and health issues seemed an inappropriate excuse for my receding into a week-long intellectual standstill. Finally I realised that the obstacle is such: I am not convinced any more of the relevance of what I’ve got to say, and insecure as to which audience I intend to reach.

Blogs on the versatile topic of music exhibit an undeniable tendency to focus on their creators’ particular likes and dislikes. Their preferences form the basis of texts that reveal but the opinion of a writer on a certain band, concert or happening. Since all of us are characterised by a huge amount of preferences and antipathies, stating these is not exactly relevant and can – in the most extreme of all cases – equal the publishing of a book on eating roast potatoes.

This line of thought brought me to the concluding questions whether or not what I post into the eternal orbit of the world wide web is of interest or relevance to anyone, and how I can make it so. Reflecting on the articles I have posted for the last two years I realised that those writings read most often and appreciated by the highest number of readers incorporate political issues or a certain socio-critical background. In fact, the top five articles attracting the most readers in 2014 included “Classical Bolts and Metal Thunder” (on the intriguing correspondence of Heavy Metal and classical music), “Metal and Politics” (introducing the German club Conne Island, which strives for political youth culture) as well as “The Rise of American Censorship” (handling Dee Snider’s unique vindication of Heavy Metal lyrics).

Why on earth do we feel the need to raise the topic of Heavy Metal onto a near-conservative, intellectual level? Why do we think we need to make Metal comprehensible and attractive for those who feel repulsed by it? Why, in short, do we strive to convince the critical?

When Black Sabbath wore make-up and crosses and evoked witchery in 1970, the general public reacted with rejection, while the young generation with enthusiasm absorbed the appeal of the forbidden and new. In 1985, Dee Snider drafted an entire speech for the purpose of steamrollering a committee of worried parents devised by the Washington Wives. In 2016, there is no need to fight for Heavy Metal. Hard music is not anymore blamed spectacularly for massacres and other personal tragedies. Parents do not appear to feel any inclination to raid their kids’ rooms for satanic records or pictures of pentagrams, goats’ heads and topless beauties. The Parental Advisory label has become a mere shadow of the once so dire warnings, a sign we notice only marginally, if at all. The shock of four decades ago has passed. The 21st century human is so used to gore, splatter, sex and strong language that a little more of any of them makes no difference to his tough mind. In consequence, there has been no noticeable public struggle for the acceptance of Heavy Metal simply as a type of music that does not necessarily breed evil since Dimebag Abbott’s tragic demise in 2008, the following publication of William Grim’s spiteful obituary and the respective replies from the Metal world.

What, then, do we have to prove? Who do we need to convince that Heavy Metal is not a dangerous debaucher created by the ape-like, uneducated and filthy scum of society?

I argue that this struggle, if indeed we choose to argue our case at all, is a personal instead of a public fight. It is not the politicians, the schools or the priests we strive to convert – it is, first and foremost, those whom we love and about whose opinion we care.

Why, I wondered, do I publish posts in favour of Heavy Metal, arguing my case throughout the web? I do because I feel the urge to share. I want to give free reign to my thoughts and emotions, spread my knowledge, entertain, educate and amuse. I want to establish a certain contact to a circle of those who love the music I adore to help me question our beliefs, interests, prejudice, the flatness of contemporary desires, and re-establish a small amount of passion for music. The too-much-of-everything shaping the modern world – easy access to information and goods, liberal freedom, and relative tolerance for many preferences – renders music ever more something we simply like instead of needing it like the air we breathe. The contemporary consumer is superficial in a very passionless way, and the accumulated crap of roughly a decade of free online publishing has rendered the majority of readers and listeners unpretentious followers. It is astounding how many of those I asked for the music they preferred indeed replied: “Oh, I actually listen to everything…”, and how many still celebrate any new pop song that sounds very much like the previous hit.

Despite the majority’s alleged liking for everything, I have quite often experienced conversations that ran thus: “I listen to Heavy Metal.” – “You’re kidding! You like that stuff?” The reply blends awe with disbelief and, not seldom, disapproval. Strangely enough, most people manage to have a very distinct and utterly firm attitude towards Heavy Metal, even if they have never so much as listened to a single record. Like Jazz in the 1920s, Heavy Metal was condemned by the conservative elite not long after its supposed birth. It appears to be the last bastion of taboo music, and I want to know exactly why.

This is where YOU come into focus. For the task ahead, the challenge I have set to myself, I need your help. If I want to discover more about the secret fear of Heavy Metal and devise a clearer picture exceeding the limited scope of my personal experience, I need to find out how others respond to music. Who of you loves Heavy Metal? And who has, like me, suffered more or less from the refusal of others? Whose parents, friends or acquaintances have sniggered about a favourite song of yours? Do your experiences favour my hypothesis that Metal is rejected by most people for fear and worry?

If I want to keep this blog alive on a meaningful level, I depend on you sharing your thoughts with me. What is your opinion? What do your friends, partners, parents make of Heavy Metal? I’d also appreciate really much if those who utterly dislike Heavy Metal could do me the favour of explaining why exactly this is. I’d love to read your comments!

The last thought I want to add to this way too long and perhaps rather tiring cascade refers to a promise I made at the end of my previous post. I hinted I might write about females on- and offstage, yet after thoroughly skimming the web for opinions and struggling to make up my own I was forced to conclude that the topic in question is hopelessly outdated. Neither do I feel discriminated against as a woman in the Heavy Metal world, nor do I claim there should be more women onstage. The balance of male and female musicians and fans is simply irrelevant for the joy I gain from listening to what these bands produce. I therefore apologise for skirting a potentially relevant but mainly boring topic.

Let me know what you make of it. Cheers!

Headbanging, Hugs and Hyperfemininity

Living near Berlin entails the obvious benefit of always being just one step away from the next heavy event. Life made an offer and I took it: Scar Symmetry came to the capital! My tickets were bought faster than you can say ‘Metalhead’, even though the Swedish act was merely the guest band accompanying Epica from the Netherlands and the Swiss Folk Metal band Eluveitie on their European Enigma tour.

I had the pleasure to experience a band I adore, no matter how short their show. Scar Symmetry played an agreeable set in a very enthusiastic manner – sadly enough in front of what could hardly be called a crowd. I and my-boyfriend-the-Metalhead enjoyed every second of their concert, heads banging, singing along at the top of our battered voices. The band’s performance was like weekends: great, long awaited, and way too short. For a band of their renown, skill and experience, Scar Symmetry’s touring as support band seemed far too tiny, too modest a role. They, however, appeared to have preserved a down-to-earth attitude. Their set done, the band mingled with the crowd. I took my chance and asked Lars Palmqvist for a photo. He gave me a hug and we squeezed on a photo with my boyfriend and Roberth Karlsson. The result is simply cool and I got it printed to adorn my living room, reminding my every day of how good it feels to have some Metal in my life.

SS+PM

 

Eluveitie played an energetic concert including songs sung in Swiss German (To tell you the truth, I expected this to sound hilarious, then was impressed.) and sing-along parts. I would not call myself a fan of Eluveitie, but they are inventive songwriters who play with obvious zest, rendering their show worth a visit. Epica, the concert’s main act, then made a dramatic entrance, followed by a show built around the figure of their singer Simone Simons. It was neither Eluveitie’s Swiss singing nor Epica’s keyboard-style grandeur which intrigued me most, though, but the composition of and atmosphere among the audience.

Firstly, the audience appeared tame to me who is experienced in Machine Head and Skindred concerts with hairy hardliners turning their dreadlocks into whips and beer cans into missiles. With the folk calm and peaceful, moshing and jumping were no option and headbanging was rare. It was easy to simply stand among the crowd doing nothing and not even be touched by anyone. Secondly, the concert stood out by the powerful presence of women of every age and making. My comparably meagre concert experience had made me expect an underrepresentation of my sex, but perhaps the fact that both Eluveitie and Epica include female members attracted an exceptional audience.

Female Heavy Metal musicians are rare. I wonder, why. And are female fans of Heavy Music equally rare? I’d like to delve deeper into this intriguing issue in my next post, before hopefully returning to the promising topic of heavy lyrics.

Long Time No See

I won’t say that I’m back, but I’m definitely here again for a couple of lines. The previous months were filled with my graduation, a move and my first full time job, which is why I generally spent my spare time sleeping instead of blogging. I miss writing, though, and an event last weekend provoked my urge to return to the keypad: the short, dark days have come, and with them the concert season!

Our goal is to attend one Heavy Metal concert per month this winter, since we are no festival lovers and need to lay our hands on as much heavy music as we can get before the festival season starts again. I’d like to invite you to some musical journeys as often as I can. Follow me and enjoy.

 

GAME OVER – Try again?

I recently stumbled over the realization that I know several songs titled “Game Over”. In itself this is neither unusual nor in any way exciting, but then I came to think about those two words’ versatility. “Game Over” can mean that something, in most cases a relationship (thanks to Pop music…), is over; that the game of life is – or will soon be – over for someone (which makes the title particularly popular among rappers and would-be gangsters); that one is victorious while the other has failed. I grew curious and went on a journey through the world wide web. This is what I found…

 

Machine Head – The song “Game Over” features the Thrash Metal band’s latest record “Bloodstone & Diamonds” (2015). Its lyrics appear to hint at the band’s breakup with and the end of a friendship to their longtime bass player Adam Duce, but also object rather generally to the notion that life is a game:

And you say that life is just a game and

Everyone who plays is just a pawn

And shame on me it went so long

How could I’ve been so wrong?

I’ve forever gone colder

If life is just a game then Game over

Skindred – The energetic song “Game Over” by the British Ragga Metal heroes is part of their album “Union Black” (2011) and comprised of a wild, stomping beat, clear singing (Benji Webbe at his best) and weirdly cool electronic elements. In 2011, the song was part of a Metal Hammer compilation, which is where I first made contact with Skindred and fell irreversibly in love. Another game, another fight:

You play the game the aim to win, to whip the smile right off ya face

For he who fights and runs away, will live to fight another day!

Game over! Pass the control

Game over! Pass the control

You’re done dead already and you got to move over

Game over! Pass the control!

 

A Life Divided – The German Synth Rock band has been touring with Industrial Rockers Oomph!, Eisbrecher and supported Apocalyptica. “Game Over” is part of their 2013 record “The Great Escape”.

 

Insolence – A very freaky intro to their version of “Game Over” gives credit to the various influences the band incorporate into their Nu Metal.

 

Nuclear Assault – Dan Lilker founded the band after leaving Anthrax in 1984. Even though for him the game thus was far from over, the single “Game Over” features the album of the same title that appeared in 1986. No singing, this time…

 

You want to get less metallic? Try these:

Solid Pop/ rock from Last Amanda.

Veeeery strange: Hadouken!

Rap-HipHop-Dubstep, fast, faster, fastest: McFee.

Sweet, really: VV Brown. There’s also a version without the megaphone…

Game over in it’s original sense, plus weird and funny: Dj Mad Dog.

 

GAME OVER – Wanna try again?

Love, Hate, Sex, Pain

My last two posts gave the misleading impression that all Heavy Metal lyrically cares and complains about was the dirty business of war, politics, and racist exclusion. However, the beautiful side of life, that of love and sex, ranks high among the most famous topics as well. What binds both realms is the emotionality with which they are approached. Of course, Metallic lyrics find darkness even within the positive, turning towards love’s counterpart hate, and emotional excess, which is obsession. This post’s headline is actually the title of a Godsmack song from their 2010 album “The Oracle”, and the line “Love, hate, sex, pain, it’s complicating me sometimes” describes four of the most intriguing elements of human emotional life.

In some ways Metal is “kind of an extension of the Blues”, Machine Head’s lead singer Robb Flynn suggests in a 2004 interview with Faceculture. “We’re a Metal band and, […] we write about the darker sides of life,” he elaborates. “There’s plenty of bands out there writing about love and flowers and bunny rabbits, you know, happy stuff, and that’s just Pop music.” Feeling blue has turned into feeling bluesy. The Blues is a musical genre that originates in African-American Folk and slave music and mostly tells tales of personal woes. Today, some mysterious quality in Metal music appears to make it especially attractive for the dark, the negative and the melancholic, but this tendency is not pointless: everyone needs a valve for their emotions. Why not let them into music? If musicians can lighten their hearts while writing and singing, then perhaps the lovesick, bad-mooded, pessimistic or demotivated Metalhead out there will find listening to these songs equally relieving. Psychologically, music definitely has a particular value, unrivalled by any other medium. Music therapy is versatile and effective; music has a potential for easing, healing, relaxing.

From the vast amount of lyrics revolving around painful topics such as unrequited love, excessive hate, burning obsession or the maelstrom of addiction we can easily infer that Metal is frequently employed as a form of therapy. Robb Flynn has made Metal his personal Blues by reflecting on his adoption. Lawrence Matthew Cardine was abandoned by his parents when he was an infant, then adopted by a couple who gave him the name Robert Conrad Flynn, and love. The musical result of Flynn’s struggle, “Left Unfinished” (from the album “Through the Ashes of Empires”, 2003) is hard to misinterpret and painful to hear. Flynn describes his struggle to understand why he was born at all and then abandonded. He reaches this powerful conclusion:

You never could love me
I’m glad that you never did
My parents that raised me
Had plenty of that to give
And for that
I’ll love them forever with all my heart
But to you
Don’t let there be no mistake about it
Fuck you, you cocksucker
Fuck you, you whore
I’ll live my life the opposite of what you are
Love will be my rock
The rock that I stand on

He resolves that he will “give to this world what you [his real parents] couldn’t give, love the unwanted, every child born discarded.” Flynn somehow comes to terms with his adoption, and the song develops from the bleak view of a scornful and misunderstood boy to the resolution of a man to be the opposite of his parents and build his life on love.

A relationship which is ended not by the ceasing of affection but by death is at the heart of another very profound Heavy Metal love song (if I may indeed coin a term such as Heavy Metal love song without reaping nothing but contempt…): “Cemetery Gates” is part of Pantera’s famous record “Cowboys from Hell” (1990) and allows for much interpretation. Besides, the song is proof for Dimebag Abbott’s beautiful guitar work. After the death of his girl (my interpretation only), he who tells the story feels “lost within my plans for life, it all seems so unreal. I’m a man cut in half in this world, left in my misery.” He feels painfully incomplete, at a loss for tears, and needs to stop living in the past. “Believe the word,” he claims, “I will unlock my door and pass the cemetery gates.” Will he pass those gates and come to terms with his calamity? Or will he pass those gates as a body, finally resolving to kill himself and end his miserable half-life? Pantera leave the decision to us. They treat the issue of loss with a note of power and despair, outlining it as that sublime tragedy it really is.

Iowa’s monster Slipknot, appropriate to their habit of cultivating the extreme, pass from love to obsession and from anger to hate in about a nanosecond. In their record “Prosthetics” (from the album “Slipknot”, 1999), Corey Taylor, I interpret, tells a story of kidnap and abuse. I hate the idea of people having to suffer such agony, yet I can’t help admiring the songs because it always makes my hair stand on end.

Even if you run I will find you

I decided I want you, now I know I need

If you can’t be bought, tougher than I thought
Keep in mind, I am with you
Never left out fate, can’t concentrate, even if you run

You will be mine

He goes on to advise:

Better make yourself at home, you’re here to stay
You won’t bother me, if you let me bother you

All the doors are locked, all the windows shut
Keep in mind, I watch you
Never leave my side, never leave me, fucker even if you run

The terrifying image of madness and hopelessness is sharpened by Taylor’s ever escalating screams of remorse:

What the fuck is different man? I can’t believe I’m doin’ this
Dammit man I knew it was a mistake
You brought it outta me, mistake
Heavy Metal is a collection of motley songs and styles, lyrics and issues. Love and all its disarray is a significant element of heavy music. You want further songs on love, hate, sex and pain?

“Everything Ends” from Slipknot’s “Iowa” (2001) could be a helpless tirade of pain after a breakup (“You are wrong, fucked and overrated, I think I’m gonna be sick and it’s your fault. This is the end of everything, you are the end of everything…”)

The song “Skeptic” by the same band (from “.5: The Gray Chapter”, 2014) might be a song about Jesus (a startling idea my boyfriend recently uttered and which would fit in many respects) as well as a loving remembrance of their bass player Paul Gray who died in 2010. (“And our hero, martyr, missionary. God – he was the best of us. The world will never see another crazy motherfucker like you, the world will never know another man as amazing as you…”)

“Hollow” by Pantera (from “Vulgar Display of Power”, 1992) once again centres on loss, and in an interview with Metalhammer in 2012 Phil Anselmo mused that at the time he wrote the song he was actually much too young to understand the truth of these words. (“He as hollow as I alone. A shell of my friend, just flesh and bone. There’s no soul, he sees no love. I shake my fists at skies above, mad at God…”)

German Industrial Rockers Rammstein must have written at least several dozen of songs revolving around love and sex. Just try “Heirate mich” (a simultaneously tragic and amusing song about a necrophiliac, from their debut “Herzeleid”, 1996) , “Amour” (a poetic tale of the wild beast love, from “Reise, Reise”, 2004) and “Liebe ist für alle da” (the story of a greedy hunter and a chased beauty, from the 2006 album of the same name).

Dvořák: Songs my Mother taught me

Fascinated with the music of his homeland former Bohemia (today Czech Republic) and its inhabitants, the composer Antonín Dvořák in 1880 created a cycle of songs, the so-called “Gypsy Songs”. Particularly famous among these is the melody of “Když mne stará matka zpívat učívala“ (“Songs my Mother taught me”). Although the original version was written for voice and piano only, many orchestral versions circulate. I especially like this record with the German-born Slovak soloist Patricia Janečková, who by the way was only 15 years old when this video was shot:

 

For the piano version starring Edita Gruberova open your ears right now:

 

Weil die Masse Rassen hasst

Quite contrary to that paralyzing idleness most of us are afflicted by in the fields of politics and economy, humankind appears wide awake when talk turns towards issues of race. Unable to accept that the only label we all need to give ourselves reads ‘human being’, a sadly large number of the globe’s inhabitants obviously perceives differences and gaps too broad to overcome between themselves and ‘the Other’. Upon hearing the term racism most of us tend to think immediately of the centuries-old struggle of white-against-black, but these conflicts are only the famous iceberg’s tip. Even in the world of the 21st century minorities are persecuted, racist humour enjoys a generous if secret popularity, in comparably wealthy countries refugees are shamefully deserted, and the Turkish government refuses to grant the Armenians the favour of naming the 1915 mass killings of their ancestors genocide. Metal music, topical heavyweight since the 1970s, has been less afraid of calling a spade a spade than many a political party. Social injustice, abuse and racism, far from being hushed up or dressed in euphemistic metaphors, have inspired various Metallic lyrics since the 1980s.

In 1992, the American Groove Metal band Pantera – well-known for their blunt outspokenness and metaphorical listener confusion – artfully criticised the handling of racial issues in the United States of America. “No Good (Attack the Radical)” (from “Vulgar Display of Power”, 1992) carries a greater message than hinted at in the title. The musicians break the States’ racial problem down to these lines:

Race, pride, prejudice
Black man, white man
No stand
Live in the past
We make it last
A hated mass
No solution
Mind pollution
For revolution
Drawing ever on past experiences and shutting their eyes to an internationalised world, Pantera’s home country turns into “this land of fools”. Considering the state our world is currently in finding proof that Anselmo had a point already back in the nineties is not hard; we are still miles away from having adapted to and accepted the need to live with this far from new, globalised situation.

Colour of skin colour and eye shape are not the only ignition spark for racial quarrel, though. While in many parts of the world communities have already started to overcome skin colour prejudice, a seemingly insurmountable mistrust between religious and cultural (sub-) groups persists. Take as an example the Sinti or Romani, a dispersed people of Northern Indian origin, scattered over the whole of Europe and various other countries. The term traditionally attached to them is ‘Gypsies’, politically correct or not, and similar to the Jews countless Romani died during the Nazi regime’s genocide of the Second World War. Today, the Romani are characterised a diaspora, forever foreign in whichever country they choose to live.

Zoltán “Zoli” Farkas, frontman of the Hungarian Groove Metal band Ektomorf, was born a Romani. The band was founded in 1994, yet three records and long years of excessive touring passed by until Ektomorf signed with Nuclear Blast and went international with “I scream up to the Sky” (2002). It is claimed that the band took so long to become internationally famous simply because of racial prejudice. In any case Farkas struggles with his cultural belonging, and he probably would not do so if the world had accepted him easily. “Gypsy” (from “Destroy”, 2004) reveals his anger at those who pulled faces at him when he was a child, those people who tried to break him and who “where never honest”, even when they were supposed to be his friends. Standing on stage today with a band that tours the world, Farkas declares: “Now I am a man. I don’t deny myself. No, I don’t feel shame. It’s me, Gypsy.”

And sure enough, in the course of nine albums the singer must have somehow come to terms with his past: Romani music is beautifully woven into many of Ektomorf’s harsh metal blasts. Their most various album, according to my personal judgement, is “Outcast” (2007), including instruments exotic to the dulled ear. Try “Ambush in the Night”, “Red I”, “Who can I trust?”, or “Chamunda”.

 

There are few fine German language Metal bands. One of them, however, sports a frontman who uses four different languages within one record: Austrian Metal band Artas unites German, English, French and Spanish lyrics. Founded in 2006, the band won the Metalchamp Competition of the Viennese Metalcamp Festival, and since then delighted their newly won audience with two records of groundshaking force and astounding lyrical quality. Against their generation’s racism Artas have created the ultimate remedy: the song “Rassenhass” features their 2011 record “Riotology” and speaks frankly of the human forgetfulness regarding former disasters of racial prosecution:

(my translation in brackets, errors possible)

Die missbrauchte Wissenschaft (Abused sciences)
Diente Satansplan (served satanic plans)
Das Bewerten von Rassen ist inhuman (rating races is inhumane)
Medizin gibt kein Recht, wer ist gut und wer ist schlecht (medicine doesn’t give the right to say who is good and who is bad)
Falsche Expertisen, ja, Verbrechen wurden nachgewiesen (wrong expertises, crimes were proved)
Die Anleitung zum Massenmord (instructions for mass murder)
Viele wurden auch vertrieben (many have been exiled)
Ramadan und Chanukka (ramadan and chanukka)
Zigeuner und ein Schwulenpaar (Gypsies and a gay couple)
Tief in den Köpfen steckt Wut (deep in the heads there is fury)
Sie alle folgen blind dem Rassenwahn. (they all follow blindly the racial delusion)

 

Artas argue that any one of us carries all colours of this world inside them, yet if we ignore this truth we can but become fascist. They conclude: “Weil die Masse Rassen hasst, hasst du sie auch und weil du hasst, ist Liebe stets für dich verloren. Zum Rassenhassen auserkoren.“ (Because the masses hate the races, you hate them as well, and since you hate love for you is forever lost. Made for hating races.) There is more to the problem than race, however. The musicians include further categories of (perceived) minorities who have to endure taunt and abuse, such as homosexuals, Jews, and Gypsies.

Heavy Metal pleads for tolerance perhaps because its musicians tend to have more experience in being regarded with distrust, animosity and incomprehension than fellow musicians playing other genres. It is the immense variety of different people we find in the world that can be distressing, since it is probable that we do not understand the way ‘the Other’ behaves, is educated and socialised. Differences frighten us because we cannot comprehend their sources, but if we lived without this variety, Phil Anselmo predicts, the following would happen:

If one man
Had one home
In one world
Held live alone without variety
Full of anxiety
No one to point at, question
Or even talk to — in his private grave
No matter what color
He wouldn’t be saved from hell
He dwells
A closed mind playing the part of prison cells

(“No Good (Attack the Radical)”)

Colours don’t matter.