The Calm Before No Storm

For those of you who visit my blog once in a while nothing new has been presented for quite some time. I am very sorry about my long-time absence from the keypad due to an ill health and loads of work, and I miss the writing. However, I will not stop posting altogether, not yet, and not while there is still something to say.

1980s Metalhead...

1980s Metalhead…

I would also like to encourage you, the readers of this special interest blog, to comment! While I am happy about any Likes that my posts are awarded, I am also interested in your opinions beyond the simple thumbs-up: What do you think about the bands, songs and lyrics mentioned? Are you fascinated by a band or a style that my blog is still lacking? Would you like me to research certain musicians or genres? Should I introduce a newcomer you are fond of? Is there anything you like or dislike about my posts?

I am interested in the views of the metalheads behind those computer screens all around the globe. Your heads are full to bursting with thoughts. Why not share some?

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As the War Machine keeps turning…

There are two societal fields in which most of us remain almost muzzled and our hands are tied: economy and politics. We might be allowed to vote, to buy and sell as we see fit, and to line up for rallies against everything we dislike – but in essence we are powerless when greater forces decide the fates of our nations. The generation of Black Sabbath were heirs to their forefathers’ swoon. Having grown up in the post-war depression marked by lack and loss as much as by restart and stoical strength, Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward soon turned a critical eye on the subject of war and political cowardice. Their second album “Paranoid” (1970) features songs such as “War Pigs”, “Iron Man” and “Electric Funeral”, haunting reminders of the havoc humans are capable of wreaking.

Make love, not war: Iommi and Osbourne making peace in 1973

Make love, not war: Iommi and Osbourne making peace in 1973

Faceless Generals are compared to witches and deathly sorcerers in “War Pigs”. They are accused of having poisoned the masses’ minds, whereas politicians, blinded by power, “[make] war just for fun” and “[treat] people just like pawns in chess”. Wars are fought by and on the backs of common people, yet not by those who pull the greater political strings – nothing about this perception has changed since Ozzy claimed that “Politicians hide themselves away, they only started the war. Why should they go out to fight? They leave that all to the poor.” Finally, characteristic Black Sabbath manner of course demands the introduction of the threat of Judgement Day, with “Satan [who] laughing spreads his wings” as every political wrongdoer’s eternal host.

Less unambiguous but equally gloomy a message is contained in the lyrics of “Iron Man”. When dealing with lyrics, behind every corner lurks the danger of interpretation. However, this step sometimes must be taken for the sake of understanding the words in a song as more than random expressions. What if Iron Man, who “was turned to steel” and plans vengeance because “nobody wants him” is understood to be a soldier after war? “Has he lost his mind? Can he see or is he blind? Can he walk at all, or if he moves will he fall? Is he alive or dead? Has he thoughts within his head? We’ll just pass him there, why should we even care?”, Ozzy sings. Similarly, Iron Man could be a greater metaphor for war itself, leaden, unwanted, vindictive, and randomly chasing any group of victims. I am Iron Man.

In “Electric Funeral”, Black Sabbath finally turn towards the hysteric threat of atomic war, again deploying religious metaphors linked to occultism. The burning globe resembles “electric funeral pyre”, and during its expiration it’s the “supernatural king” of atomic power who takes mother earth under his wing, accompanied by Hell’s angels.

At a time when war had ceased to be part of people’s daily worries, politics, economy and society opened up various new vistas of critique for the eager musician.The Metallic nineties brought recollections of revolution, hints at global pollution, and a general sense of being lost in a world too big and too fast for us. An outright pessimistic view of our world was put into lyrics by Machine Head on their record “Supercharger” in 2001. The “Blank Generation”, this is us, confronted with the ills of progress, regress, excess.

Machine Head in the Nineties: the Supercharger cover

Machine Head in the Nineties: the Supercharger cover

Robb Flynn sings that “they say we been going down and going down, been traveling on the road to nowhere.” He describes how when growing up he slowly realised that the world was worse than she seemed, and her way could only lead downwards. (Note: I am aware that the narrator in these lyrics is not necessarily Robert Flynn, but I point-blank refuse to employ artificial academic terms such as lyrical persona in this blog!) Corruption, greed, hate and pain, which “we learned to see” and, perhaps, to accept as normal, put an end to mankind’s innocence. Machine Head’s toast to this lost innocence is a toast to the generation of the blank, and it reads thus:

So here’s to our collagen lips and saline tits
To our growth hormones and antibiotics
To the Hollywood world we made out of Barbie doll hearts
After we melted them down so we could make our new start
Here’s to a generation scared and always wondering why
Instead of playing doctor, we play shoot each other and die
Instead of ring around the Rosie, we play hide from Mommy
‘Cause Mommy’s been drinking again and we don’t want to get beat
Even with all our tattoos and all our cheap thrills
There’s still a hole inside of us that may not ever get filled
So we give back a little bit of what the world’s given us
Giving back a bit of never giving a fuck
Here’s to the justice never dealt, to innocent, proven guilty
Here’s to bad cops turning cheeks when real cops are on the street
Here’s to the rat-tat-n-tat of gun shots, and your life is shattered
Here’s to “Gimme me your cash or your brains is gettin’ splattered”
Here’s to mad cow disease and all that yummy MSG
Here’s to Mickey d’s serving all those mutant chick-a-dees
This is a toast to celebrate the end of our innocence
This is a toast to celebrate how
We’ve become desensitized
If life is to grow
Some life must die

Are we the “Blank Generation”? Convince yourself.
There is truth in these words. Enough truth to suggest that, lyrically, Heavy Metal is far from dumb and evil…

Outsider Section: Adamo

The topic of my last post inspired me to introduce to you an alternative musician who has not only written love songs and amusing chansons, but also created lyrics conveying deep thought wrapped in amazing metaphors. The all-rounder Salvatore Adamo was born in 1943 to Italian parents in Belgium. Inspired perhapy by his mixed cultural upbringing, Adamo did not only compose and sing in French, but also in English, German, Italian, Spanish and Turkish, writing and translating all of his lyrics himself.

Up to 2014 the singer has published 33 studio albums. His song “Diese Welt ist ein Jahrmarkt“ (1971, translated: “This world is a funfair“) sounds lighter than it actually is: Adamo compares our lives to a funfair during which we all need to struggle through the funambulation of our youth, let us be lead by others like marionettes and suffer manipulation. Enjoy his thoughtful words and a wonderful chanson:

Sex and Drugs and Occultism? Heavy Lyrics Scrutinised

The crowd undulates, wet hair is flying all around, fists are brandished in the air, raucous choruses are chanted – then a collective intake of breath, and hundreds of hoarse Metalheads bellow at the top of their voices: “Let freedom ring with a shotgun blast!” We do not think but let us get carried away by the breathtaking impact of bass and rhythm and the adored hymns of our favourites onstage. Lyrics don’t exactly matter when you are banging your head off. However, sparing a thought for those words sung into your ears forever and ever can be quite illuminating.

Heavy Metal enthusiasm... (picture: blowthescene.com)

Heavy Metal enthusiasm… (picture: blowthescene.com)

Worldly music is judged by its lyrics at least as much as by its sound. Although mainstream chart pop (no offence!) generally appears not to pay too close attention to its singers’ textual outbursts – the increasing frequency of “He He”s and “La La”s in modern lyrics is sad proof for this thesis – it is especially the controversial genres that tend to be judged and condemned for their textual style. It was back in the wild days of Twisted Sister and Mötley Crüe that Heavy Metal lyricists had to publicly justify their writing for the first time. Since 1985 considerable change has affected the social acceptance, or sufferance, of Heavy music, but the post-disaster scapegoating and youth-guarding censorship of modern America and Europe have not yet ceased, nor will they, in my humble opinion, ever do so. It is in our hands, therefore, to listen to Heavy Metal lyrics, assess their quality and find out whether they are indeed as evil as portrayed by worried journalists and frustrated parents…

Despite Dee Snider’s legendary vindication of free creation and interpretation in the music business, stereotypical misgivings escort the entry of Metal records into adolescents’ rooms even today. Sex, drugs, depression and suicide are only a small choice of topics dreaded by parents and those institutions decorating albums with the note ‘Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics’. Do not misunderstand me: I appreciate the committees’ endeavours to protect children from content they are too young to digest. However, music remains art – and art needs a certain freedom of expression.

Far from revolving around intercourse and premature death, Heavy Metal lyrics are versatile. Subjects range from religious beliefs, political criticism, economic exploitation and the horrors of war to matters of justice, racism, violence, death and murder to love, regret, obsession and fun. They can be pessimistic, hilarious, angry or downright inscrutable. Lyrics will be the focus of this blog’s next posts. I want to introduce you to the Biblical scenes of Becoming the Archetype, to Black Sabbath’s coming to terms with the remains of World War Two, to Skindred deploring gang violence, Ektomorf struggling with their Roma existence, and Tenacious D making fun of virtually everyone and everything. Together we might delve into Scar Symmetry’s neverending Universe, inhale Ozzy Osbourne’s “Sweet Leaf” and solve the mystery of Marlon Brando’s eyes.

 

 

In the beginning was the word…

Heavy Halleluja

As previously claimed in this blog, a distinct heaviness is indisputably inherent in a wide variety of  classical music. Have a choir of 50 onstage, percussions, several basses, a heavy set of cellos, and tubas – the atmosphere will make your hair stand on end!

Georg Frideric Handel as painted by Balthasar Denner in 1726 to 1728

Georg Frideric Handel as painted by Balthasar Denner in 1726 to 1728

A master of dramatic shows and powerful melodies was German Baroque composer Georg Friedrich Händel, who was born in 1685 and settled permanently in London in 1712, adopting the name George Frideric Handel. Aged 56, Handel created his world-famous oratorio “Messiah”, which was completed with biblical lyrics. An extensive musical concert piece employing choir and soloists next to an orchestra is called ‘oratorio’. Although the soloists often impersonate particular (musical) characters, they are neither costumed nor do they act in any way but by song. Handel’s “Messiah” premiered in Dublin on the 13th of April 1742 and today is one of the most popular choral works of Western origin. It mostly reflects on Jesus Christ’s role as Messiah and is therefore preferably played around Christmas time. The most influential and famous melody of Part II is its closing sequence, “Hallelujah”. Since I have been listening to it during a church concert yesterday, I have been longing to share with you this great and festive melody.

For Christmas I give you “Hallelujah” as performed by the ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien (ORF radio symphonic orchestra of Vienna), the Wiener Singakademie (singing academy of Vienna) and the Wiener Sängerknaben ( Viennese boy’s choir) in 2010.

 

I wish you all a relaxing, peaceful and happy Christmas and hope you thoroughly enjoy the New Year’s celebrations!

Outsider Section – Popcorn

Of course non-Heavy Metal musicians have produced instrumentals as well. A very famous, purely electronic instrumental is Hot Butter’s “Popcorn” (1972), a cover version of the original instrumental by Gershon Kingsley (1969). The German-American composer Kingsley pioneered in electronic music and extensively used the analog Moog synthesizer to create exceptional music. Just compare both versions of the song. The link at the bottom leads to a beautiful piano version of the song, played by 85-year-old Gershon Kingsley himself.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZWfywvuHt0

 

Voiceless Heavyness

We all know these Heavy Metal opponents, who grimace whenever they hear the screams, screeches or growls typical of heavy music. Feeling the urge to spread my favourite music all the same, to make Heavy Metal’s instrumental beauty available for the tentative, I went for the one form that connects Metal to any other musical genre in the world: I introduced my faint-hearted victims to instrumentals!

There is hardly any category of music around the world that strictly depends on vocals (no Hip-Hop, no R’n’B, definitely no Schlager without a singer, I suppose). Purely instrumental songs did not only emerge in indigenous cultures, but were popular in every musical era from baroque styles to Viennese Classicism, from Romanticism to Jazz, Swing and Folk music. It is said that one of the oldest instrumental tradition originates in India, where musicians played the nadaswaram (the world’s loudest non-brass acoustic wind instrument) and the tavil (a drum shaped like a barrel, of which one side is played with the hand and thumbcaps and the other with a thick stick). The tradition of creating music purely centred on the instruments has not ceased to be a matter of fascination.

Since wikipedia (I am aware that this is a debatable source…) states that an instrumental “might include some inarticulate vocal input”, the first heavy instrumental I want to introduce to you contains quite a number of imported audio records. Machine Head’s debut album (“Burn my Eyes”, 1994 ) features “Real Eyes. Realize. Real Lies.”, which – upon listening very closely – actually contains a critical message, albeit remaining rather simple musically. It can be called instrumental even though vocalist Robb Flynn screams once towards the end of the song, because he merely utters the title’s five words.

Helping to establish the instrumental by putting it to the test were Black Sabbath, who recorded “Rat Salad” for their second album “Paranoid” in 1970. It is a classic example of Tony Iommi’s modern, skillful guitar play and Bill Ward’s occasional epileptic drumming seizures, both of which fit together perfectly to create a hitherto unknown sound.

Stunning guitar work and a martial rhythm characterise legendary British Art Rock band Queen’s instrumental “Chinese Torture” (from “Kind of Magic”, 1989). I am not sure about the connection to the method of Chinese water torture, which means the slow dripping of water onto the victim’s forehead until he or she retreats into insanity. Indeed, Brian May’s guitar experiments might seem like torture to some listener’s ears, but they are fascinating all the same.

Since Heavy Metal veterans Metallica are undoubtedly the kings of prolonged intros and endless riffing before getting to the point, it is small wonder that they have produced a number of excellent instrumentals. In fact, they appear to get quite lost in their music now and then – with pleasant results! In their instrumental “Suicide & Redemption” (from “Death Magnetic”, 2008) they seem to create an invisible storyline, because the song guides the listener through different stages. It’s quite an artistic journey, Metallica riffing at length as usual but – for once – with the sole purpose of doing so.

James Hetfield likes his little joke (“Should I tell them the title – I mean, that’s stupid..? – Ok, you’ll know it!” – Do they?). Enjoy a high-quality live performance, and while you’re at it, pay attention to Robert Trujillo‘s awesome bass work!

It was October this year when the latest record of my Scandinavian favourites Scar Symmetry, “The Singularity (Phase 1: Neohumanity)”, was published. I fell for their guitar solo-centred instrumental “Children of the Integrated Circuit” immediately. It’s a shame that this of all tracks is not available on youtube. However, I found an amazing guitar cover by a user called Jamie Williams, which I urgently want to share with you because it is extremely close to the original, and I find it fascinating to watch his fingers work.

Having no voice to sing for it doesn’t make a song voiceless.