Friday, April 13, 2018

We Are All Astronauts - Doves

I listen to a lot of music at work, and I let myself go down a lot of rabbit holes, and among the most interesting is elaborate guitar music and other heavily ambient music. Furthermore, I listen to a lot of God is An Astronaut, that Irish guitar band I talked about back in August of 2013:

God is an Astronaut – All is Violent, All is Bright:

So, it makes sense that youtube, which I am pretty much addicted to now, would sooner or later recommend music by We Are All Astronauts, given the similar band name and further similarities in mood and atmosphere. The song “Ether” comes up on the auto-play, and the name of the band intrigues me, I think it must be an offshoot of God is An Astronaut, so I let it ride and I listen. Whilst listening, I have the reaction of “what is this?” It is a good song, seven and a half minutes in length, and very absorbing and relaxing. Good stuff. I add to a playlist, so I remember it.

The next day a few more songs come up in the auto-play, they are fine, nothing stands out until “Doves” comes up. Early on in the song a voice speaks:

“In all our searching, the only thing we found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other.”

So naturally, my response is “what is this?”

“Doves” is a beautiful ambient song rich with layered sound and calming noise. Maybe I am a stickler for words, because almost all of my charism comes from my command of the English language, maybe as a moderate singer it is the only thing I can replicate from my favorite songs with any sort of success, but I like words, I often gravitate towards rich lyrics. The point is, a reason I got hung up on “Doves” more so than other We Are All Astronaut’s songs is the passing presence of the afore mentioned line and then later this fuller follow up:
“You're an interesting species. An interesting mix. You're capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone. In all our searching, the only thing we've found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other.”

I had my suspicions this was from a movie, and I quickly confirmed that I was correct, this is from “Contact.”

“Contact” was written by the great Carl Sagan, and I have read a few of his books, but I never read “Contact” which I believe is his only work of fiction, nor have I ever seen the movie starting Jodi Foster, hence why I failed to identify it right away.

Long time readers of this blog may remember I fondness of yet another guitar band, this time out of England, called Maybeshewill, and one of my most popular posts ever was me explaining all the movie references (quotes) from their music, back in March of 2013:

I found it very charming how Maybeshewill incorporated movie quotes into their music in the place of lyrics, and We Are All Astronauts has accomplished the same sort of appeal in their song “Doves.”

An important discovery for learning more about We Are All Astronauts is their soundcloud page:

They have a lot of music on soundcloud, a lot that is absent from youtube, I think. I have been going through the playlists and I have only begun to scratch the surface, I am kind of stuck on the “Blue Dot Series” which are over an hour long each. Given the earlier connection to Carl Sagan I was quick to identify the “Blue Dot Series” as a tribute to Mr. Sagan and his book “The Pale Blue Dot,” which I have read and thoroughly enjoyed.

I noticed a lot of music from artist I enjoyed mixed in the “Blue Dot Series,” like M83, Gotye and Bon Iver and I also discovered some new stuff I like, but mostly I enjoyed the inclusion of quotes by Neil deGrasse Tyson, Sam Harris and of course, Carl Sagan.

The logical next move was to look up this band called We Are All Astronauts. No Wikipedia page, that’s unfortunate, because that is usually a good source of general information like, who are these people and where are they from, Wikipedia may not be perfect, but it is very reliable for that. They are very active on their facebook page, but all the about section says is: “We Are All Astronauts are an ambient, chillwave and progressive duo. Music makes the world go round.” So, there is two of them, I have no idea who they are, but I like what they are doing.

One thing I was unable to confirm was whether of not We Are All Astronauts have any connection to God is an Astronaut. I suspect the answer is no, and the similar names are just a coincidence, but it was a coincidence that doubtlessly helped me discover them, and so far that is working out pretty good.

“Doves” is the commanding favorite track of mine in their playlist so far, so I would recommend starting there, and check out the “Blue Dot Series” if you want six hours of chill background music to listen to.

- King of Braves

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Clash - London Calling

Deserted island. Ten albums. What do you do?

When asked this old question, which is becoming rapidly outdated, the two albums I always fall back on are, Led Zeppelin’s “Physical Gaffiti,” and Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” That way I covered my two favorite bands, and my two favorite albums. But also, being pragmatic, the double albums always felt the best way to maximize the amount of music to enjoy on that deserted island that I have been thinking about for years.

An obvious third choice for the island, The Clash “London Calling.” It is a great album, and it is a double album, it only makes sense to include it on the island.

One time, I was sitting down trying to write a review for the album “London Calling,” and as I do, I am trying to pinpoint the conversation to a single song. So, I puzzled over this difficult question “what is my favorite song from The Clash’s ‘London Calling.’” That was five years ago.

I have been thinking about this for a long time.

There is a very good reason why “London Calling” is considered one of the greatest albums of all time, actually there are several reasons, but a primary key to this, is the consistent quality through out the album. There are nineteen songs in total:
  • London Calling 
  • Brand New Cadillac 
  • Jimmy Jazz 
  • Hateful 
  • Rudie Can’t Fail 
  • Spanish Bombs 
  • The Right Profile 
  • Lost in the Supermarket 
  • Clampdown 
  • The Guns of Brixton 
  • Wrong ‘Em Boyo 
  • Death or Glory 
  • Kola Kola 
  • The Card Cheat 
  • Lover’s Rock 
  • Four Horsemen 
  • I’m Not Down 
  • Revolution Rock 
  • Train in Vain 
Every single song on the album is an eight or nine out of ten. I am probably being too hard by not awarding a single ten out of ten, but that is just how I feel. Regardless, every single song, nineteen of them, all lean on the great side of the spectrum of quality. What a total success of song writing.

Early work on the album was leading it towards a concept album about crime in London, with characters like the card cheat, and Jimmy Jazz is a crime boss, “Clampdown” tying in nicely to that theme as well. As I understand it, the plan was to focus on songs about London, and as they explored ideas they ended up covering a lot of topics, just as London is a large metropolis with a lot going on, “London Calling” rapidly became an album about a great many things.

One thing leads to another, and one song about the thing or event affecting London can lead to tangents about something else, and “London Calling,” the album, has a number of songs which are not connected to the city but are connected to The Clash and the sort of things they were thinking about. I felt the need to add this paragraph, just in case someone points out a song like “Spanish Bombs,” which is clearly about the Spanish Civil War and nothing to do with London, like I am not an idiot, I know that, but it is connected tangentially as it is a politically charged song that is probably linked to another song of similar theme on the album like “London Calling,” well kind of anyway.

The point is, a lot is tackled in “London Calling” and the ideas there in expand beyond the largest city in the United Kingdom.

The titular song “London Calling” is a perfect blend of the various themes within the album’s whole. Obviously, this song is about London, the city, but it plays to multiple purposes. I have often read that “London Calling” is an Armageddon song, about not only about a disaster ending the metropolis of London but also the world. I never really believed that, or the theories suggesting that it was about a natural disaster whipping out London. I knew there was something else there, something political, something personal.

One way to look at “London Calling,” the song, is to assess it as a war devastating London, however it is highly doubtful that a literal war is what Joe Strummer is singing about, more likely it is a symbolic one, like a clash between the rich and poor. 1979 was a very different time and a common attitude from the youth of that era, was that there was no future and the world, at least England, was on a slippery slope edging nearer and nearer to disaster. Furthermore, the punks of that time had no faith in the previous generation whatsoever to fix these problems, and even less confidence in the government, whom they saw as a major source of their distress. There were literally no jobs, and debt was out of control. The near disasters like the Three Mile Island was a nuclear scar that strongly resonated with Joe Strummer, and this calls in the earlier mentioned fan theory about a calamity destroying a city.

There is this idea that punk music is shallow, and I think a lot of it is. A lot of punk music is raw emotions from confused youths trying to express their dissatisfaction with a world they clearly do not understand. I should not think this way, because I know better, but I sometimes find myself thinking like that, and I remind myself of The Clash. I always tell others that The Clash are the greatest example of deep complexion punk rock, and it would be foolish of me to forget them when discussing the genre.

Looking at the album and song “London Calling” and there is a lot of highly intellectual talking points being addressed all at once. Economic tribulations, political turmoil, fear of technological devastation, poverty, crime, and culture all wrapped up at once. It is a complete masterpiece of music and art, and as far as I am concerned the brightest gem in the whole of punk rock. The greatest example of unbridled rebellion being beautiful and brutal.

Lastly, after five years of thinking about it, my favorite song from “London Calling” is “Lost in a Supermarket.” Maybe I’ll do a review on that song in another five years.

- King of Braves

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Cranberries - Forever Yellow Skies

I try to think a few reviews ahead, helps me keep a schedule, but also it gets me thinking about what I should write. I had the early part of this year mapped out. Talk about my favorite album of last year, talk about a couple female fronted European metal bands, finally talk about Of Monsters and Men, and then March; St. Patrick’s Day is in March, might as well embrace my Irish heritage and talk about an Irish band, The Cranberries are super Irish and I like a lot of their songs, I should do that. Furthermore, no one ever talks about my favorite Cranberries song “Forever Yellow Skies” I should do a review on that.

That was my plan.

Then on January 15th of this year, Dolores Mary Eileen O'Riordan died.

My plan has not changed, but this review has likely just become a lot more topical.

In the early nineties, The Cranberries found great success from their first three albums, “Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?” (1993), “No Need to Argue” (1994) and “To the Faithful Departed” (1996). It is these three albums that I best remember The Cranberries for, in fact I have very little memory of their three follow up albums, I might have to revisit those sometime soon. All the songs I remember come from those first three albums, songs like “Dreams,” “Linger,” “Zombie,” “Ode to My Family,” “Ridiculous Thoughts,” No Need to Argue,” “Hollywood,” “Salvation,” “Free to Decide” and not as famous “Forever Yellow Skies.”

They had a lot of hits song, I kind of forgot how good they were.

One thing I do remember was The Cranberries temporarily breaking up in 2003. I was always under the impression the reason for breakup had to do with Dolores choosing to spend more time raising her children but looking at it now, I have learned that her solo career began not long thereafter. Nonetheless, The Cranberries did reform in 2009, but I would not hear about it until 2012 with the release of their album “Roses.” I bought that album when it came out, I was really curious to find out what The Cranberries had been up to up to that point. It was a nice album, but I did not love it, none the songs stuck with me, at least not yet; sometimes a few more listens changes things.

Now I just learned The Cranberries released a new album last year titled “Something Else,” now I have even more homework. As I look over The Cranberries career I see there is a lot I do not remember, and a lot I am sure I have never heard. I am going to have to rediscover the Cranberries sometime very soon. Fequently I benefit a lot by writing these as it forces me to sit down and look things and I learn a lot, I discover many things I have missed.

The third album, 1996’s “To the Faithful Departed” was one of the four albums I owned, and it possibly The Cranberries’ most popular album. “Hollywood,” “Salvation: and “Free to Decide” were all huge hits when the album was new, and all of them are well remembered by fans, however my favorite has always been “Forever Yellow Skies.” I am a rock and roll guy, that should be obvious by now, and I like songs with some force behind them. I like my ballads too, and I really like songs like “No Need to Argue,” but I tend to like a quick drum beat and some exciting energy coming from the vocals, and to the best of my knowledge no song in The Cranberries arsenal fits that description better than “Forever Yellow Skies.”

The intro to “Forever Yellow Skies” is immortal in my memory, it pops out instantly with those drums, but more so with that bassline, when that hits the high times begin and away we fly into yellow skies. Classic of The Cranberries, Dolores wails away with her Irish accent somehow pushing through and giving it all that radiant charm we all love. It is a fast passed and fun song, and I have never grown tired of listening to it over the thousand plus times I must have listened to it by now.

I would love to simply give Dolores and the crew full credit for such an upbeat song, but I would be remiss if I did not mention the lawsuit.

Another Irish rock band active in the nineties, Blink, sued The Cranberries because “Forever Yellow Skies” was, they believed, a rip-off of their song “It’s Not My Fault.” Blink won the lawsuit after it was determined that the two songs were too similar for it to be a coincidence, and I hate to agree because I love The Cranberries and “Forever Yellow Skies,” but I must. The iconic intro of “Forever Yellow Skies” is identical to “It’s Not My Fault,” most notably, and most importantly, the bassline is the same, and that bassline kind of carries the whole song. It is the same bassline during the bridge as well. That part of the song is clearly lifted from Blink’s largely forgotten song.

The howling in “It’s Not My Fault” is wildly different both in content and final sound of “Forever Yellow Skies” but the style of strong belligerent passion being loudly shouted is similar in emotion. Ultimately, I can understand why Blink sued, and also, why they won. 

Blink - It's Not My Fault

Not to be an apologist for The Cranberries, and I cannot claim to have any unique knowledge into the creation of “Forever Yellow Skies,” but, it is entirely possible that someone from The Cranberries, perhaps the bassist, heard something, and then recreated it without thinking.

I remember Ozzy Osbourn talking about this once. He stated that he did not listen to other hard rock and metal bands, because if he heard it, he would start to think about it and then would write something like it, unconsciously. Given Ozzy’s age and consumption of mind altering substances over his life, he might be forgiven at this point for having an untrustworthy memory, and it is probably very wise of him to guard himself from this sort of unintentionally intellectual theft, but the reality is, human memory is generally horrible, and it is very easy to absorb something and recall it later without realizing it. In the end however, wittingly or unwittingly, “Forever Yellow Skies” is a modified version of Blink’s “It’s Not My Fault.”

Despite this disheartening fact, I do not believe that it takes very much away from the enjoyment of “Forever Yellow Skies.” In the end, we the fans, now have two songs to enjoy, one very good and the other excellent.

We have experienced many celebrity musician deaths recently, and I try not to jump on these things when they happen because I do not feel I have anything unique to add to the sadness of the departed, nor do I wish to clumsily garner attention to my whimsical writings for the wrong reasons. But, since I am talking about The Cranberries anyway, I might as well have a short section about Dolores death.

The cause of Dolores’ death have not been released yet, and I am curious to learn what it was, because she has left us at the age of forty-six, which is far too young. I have not felt the sting of most celebrity deaths because many of them lived long full lives, but I find this one more upsetting because Dolores was comparatively young compared to most. So, basically, that sucks, and I do not have anything more meaningful to offer. I did not know Dolores personally, she was a cool person, who made songs I liked, what could I possibly say to ease the pain of her loved ones?

The only solace I can give is this, a legacy has been left behind. There are accomplish that. There are few who get to be remembered as great artist and Dolores does get to have that. People are going to be listening to Cranberries songs forever. In that strange sense, she gets to live forever.

- King of Braves

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Of Monsters and Men - Love Love Love

Of Monsters and Men’s album “My Head is an Animal” was one of my favorite albums of 2012; so why am I talking about it now. Primarily because I am finally getting around to it.

I remember discovering a lot of good music in 2012, but mainstream popular music was rapidly exiting my playlist as that was a year I began to drift very far away from terrestrial radio. Since that time, I have stayed on top of various recording studios, specific artists, and hyper specific genres, but I have become proudly out of touch with the top forty. I discovered Of Monsters and Men from terrestrial radio, and since I was leaving that behind, they did not work their way into my playlist for several years.

It was not until 2015 or so, when I finally listened to “My Head is an Animal” in full, by that time Of Monsters and Men had released their second album “Beneath the Skin” which I was able to enjoy in full on youtube where they had released lyric videos for every single song. “Beneath the Skin” was really good, but I liked their first album more, and it was still fresh to me because of my avoidance of popular music.

One of the great evils of terrestrial radio is the over playing of popular songs robbing them of their specialness by transforming them into tiresome background music. We have all experienced it, songs we love at first are played over and over again, we hear it upwards of a half-dozen times everyday for several months and we no longer want to hear it ever again. Well I have successfully dodged that for years, so songs like “Little Talks” are still highly enjoyable to me.

I could talk about every single song on “My Head is an Animal” it is that good of an album, but as is my usually habit, I pick a single song to focus on, and I choose “Love Love Love,” simply because it is my favorite.

“Love Love Love” is a bittersweet love song, it is bitter because the message is one of longing and going without, it is also sweet because it sounds so very nice.

I do not believe “Love Love Love” is an unrequited love song, the singing narrative characters expresses a reciprocation to her would be lover, but must relinquish any return of affection, and it is never dwelt on why, but it is made clear that this is a love that must not be realized.

The opening verse gives us a strong sense of regret for allowing any sort of love to grow between the two in the first place. An element of self-loathing is presented by singer Nanna Bryndis, for it was cruel to make this man fall in love with her.

“Well, maybe I'm a crook for stealing your heart away,
Yeah, maybe I'm a crook for not caring for it,
Yeah, maybe I'm a bad, bad, bad, bad person,
Well, baby, I know.”

The second verse gives us the lamentations of this impossible connection.

“And these fingertips,
Will never run through your skin,
And those bright blue eyes,
Can only meet mine across the room filled with people that are less important than you.”

I particularly like the last line, a room full of less important people, that paints a very interesting picture of emotional connection and priority.

The lyrics are nice and poetic, there is a lot to enjoy there, but the deep atmosphere is what gives this song it’s chilling sting.

Iceland produces a lot of interesting music. A common trend amongst Icelandic music is a strong ambience, and Of Monsters and Men are no exception. The music Of Monsters and Men is very rich and full, there are so many unique sounds from so many different instruments including the glockenspiel and a melodica, and I do not even know what that is. I can spend hours just getting lost in the crazy variety of noises produced by this band and the strange mystical adventures they have created.

I mentioned a moment ago the lyric videos, to the best of my knowledge every single Of Monsters and Men has an official lyric video on the tubes. The first album “My Head is an Animal” made it’s lyric music video with simply repetitive monochrome animation that assisted in visualising the already wonderland of Iceland like imagery that was already in my mind when listening to Of Monsters and Men. For the song “Love Love Love” the barely animated short is a Minotaur sitting in a row boat gazing sadly at the water, half way through the song the camera pans out to reveal a sea dragon floating beneath the water. What does this mean if anything? Are we to suspect the long wishing love song is about two mythical creatures? I was not going to guess that initially, but this fun visual does encourage our imaginations to wander.

Like so many other songs I have discussed in the past, the greatest charm of “Love Love Love” and all the songs by Of Monsters and Men, if the power to stir the imagination. Getting lost in all those sounds and experiencing the wonderful feeling of letting the mind wander is one of the greatest joys of music.

Until next month, keep on rocking in the free world.

- King of Braves

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Beyond the Black - Songs of Love and Death

I have never been to the Wacken Open Air metal festival, but it is a dream of mine that one day I will go, probably to see Avantasia. I watch a lot of live performances of Wacken Open Air, as you do, and I discover bands I have never heard before, and among them my recent discoveries is Beyond the Black.

Beyond the Black is a fresh new German metal band fronted by Jennifer Haben and produced by Sascha Paeth. Sascha Paeth was a key figure in the creation and development of Avantasia, he is a basically a rock and roll demi-god, so it follows that Beyond the Black under his tutelage would be good, and yeah, they are. 

Jennifer Haben
I watched Beyond the Black’s live performance at Wacken 2014, and the song that stood out the most to me was “Songs of Love and Death” which is the title track of their debut album. The next logical step was to listen to the album “Songs of Love and Death,” and that was solid, still the title track was the gem that shined brightest for me. I have not gotten around to listening to their second album “Lost In Forever” in full yet, but the title track is once again pretty good.

When looking at the make up of the song, “Songs of Love and Death,” it looks to me to be designed to be a little more pop then your average German metal song. The chorus repeats four times, with only two verses, and as we all know the repetition breeds continuity and the human brain craves patterns, so this is a good tactic to make a song catchy and radio friendly. There is a really great, albeit short, drum solo, that rocks the house, and after the second verse we get a rocking guitar solo, so this song is still sufficiently metal to satisfy. Nonetheless the catchy chorus was the hook that got me listening more than once, so well done.

Another reason I surely like “Songs of Love and Death” is that it taps into that good and bad, light and dark, duality that I enjoy. A song titled “Songs of Love and Death” inescapably reminds of HIM, and all their songs, literally all of them, being about both of those two subjects blended together. Beyond the Black is not as intense about embracing love and death simultaneously as HIM, and in this example, I think death is used more as a benchmark then doom. The tragedy of death is not at all dwelled on, and there are multiple references looking to the future once our lovers are united; in the first chorus, “From this day on we’ll watch our lives unfold,” and from the second “Then we will turn to more than we both could be.”

The excitement of death, from a narrative perspective, is finality. In “Songs of Love and Death” death is the end, and time we have before than is enriched and empowered by love. We become more than we are together then when are when alone, we save each other from ourselves. Death is the end of the turning of the wheel, the end of the song. “Songs of Love and Death” could easily be renamed “Songs of Life and Death,” but that is less dramatic, less poetic too.

Haben invites her narrative lover, and the audience both, to join her on this adventure of life and death, and I really like how to works on both levels:

“Come and join my voice in songs of love and death.
Come and feel me, steal me, save me from myself.
All my longing, wandering heart is yours to have.
Come and join my voice in songs of love and death.
Songs of love and death.”

It is too early to know what to make of Beyond the Black, but this is a really good start of a career for Jennifer Haben who is only twenty-two years old. Which means she was eighteen or nineteen when “Songs of Love and Death” came at, and approximately the same age when she performed at Wacken in 2014, and that is interesting.

Speaking of interesting, I could not help but notice the entire band outside of Haben quit after the second album “Lost in Forever.”

Also, interesting, the lack of formation of an official band during the recording of “Songs of Love and Death,” and the high number of musicians who helped record the album (twenty-one).

I also could not help but notice how good looking Jennifer Haben is.

Confirmed as good looking
At the avoidably risk of sounding cynical I will address the elephant in the room, was Haben handed a metal career by Sascha Paeth? Sascha seems like a nice guy, sounds like the sort of thing he might due for a nice young person. Is Haben something special, that drew the support from so many talents? What exactly is going on?

When I started writing this review, the end statement was going to be something like “I look forward to seeing what the future holds for Beyond the Black,” but now I am like “wait… we have seen musical careers handed out to young talented singers before who looked a certain way, is that happening to metal?”

Now I do not know what to think, and in many ways, that is more exciting.

There comes a point in every music fan, or critic’s, life when the soullessness nature of the pop music industry ceases to be so offensive. We just come to accept that corporate greed and manipulative marketing get in the way of all kinds of artistic endeavors, and that some people value money more than art, even though they pose as artists. No one likes it, just likes unhealthy fast food, but we come to accept that such cheap tactics have a reason to exists however disappointing that may be.

I would be disappointed to learn that Jennifer Haben is a pretty face with a manufactured music career, but that is the excitement of the future for Beyond the Black, she could easily crush that cynical concern with the next Beyond the Black album. Haben no longer has Paeth producing for her, she no longer has the twenty-one musicians helping her own, she does not even have the band that helped her kick butt at Wacken 2014. The next album will be doubtless her own creation, and since she is a good singer and seems likable in interviews I hope she is successful in banishing doubts about her place in the European metal scene.

Should the worst prove true this could prove true, this would be the first case I aware of where the ugliness of manufactured pop music has infected the European metal scene, but even then, I get it, we all got bills to pay, at least some decent songs were written in the mean time.

I am routing for you Jennifer, now go establish yourself as a talented song writer, which is a lot easier said than done.

- King of Braves

Songs of Love and Death - Live at Wacken 2014

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Within Temptation - Mother Earth

Within Temptation; the Netherlands answer to Nightwish. Both bands formed in 1996, so I am unsure if one band influenced the other significantly or if this is an example of parallel thinking. Like most, possibly all, fans, of European metal music, I love Nightwish, and I often credit them for popularizing the combination of metal and opera as their original lead singer Tarja Turunen was a trained opera singer and their popularity was international. However, this entire time Within Temptation have been doing something very similar with their lead singer Sharon den Adel who insanely, somehow, is self taught, but could fool a layman like me into thinking she too is an soprano singer.

If we are to continue our comparison of Within Temptation to Nightwish for one more paragraph, I would suggest that Within Temptation has more of a woman’s touch. This at first may sound like an unusual suggestion since both bands are fronted by powerful female vocalist, but there is something in the lyrics and the themes of Within Temptation’s music that is impressionably more feminine. I am confident this has everything to do with Sharon den Adel’s influence, as she is the primary writer of Within Temptation’s lyrics, while the unconquerable Tuomas Holopainen has written effectively all of Nightwish’s music, words and all.

In 1997 Within Temptation released their debut album “Enter,” and they have consistently released new material every three to four years thereafter; it is impressive how workmen like and consistent they have been about this. Their last album “Hydra” came out in 2014, so we are due for a new Within Temptation album this year, also den Adel has been working on a solo project “My Indigo” so we have that to look forward to as well.

It has been a very steady and successful career Within Temptation have had, all of their albums have been well received, and I have listened to all them multiple times, a praise I should be able to, but rarely can give the bands I talk about on this blog. Naturally I have a favorite, and that is Within Temptation’s second album, released in the year 2000, “Mother Earth.” Actually, I can be more specific than that, I really like the beginning of the album “Mother Earth.” The first three songs, “Mother Earth,” “Ice Queen” and “Our Farewell,” are probably my three favorite songs by the Dutch band, and they play in the listed order at the beginning of the album, so yes, no wonder “Mother Earth” is my favorite album of theirs.

I have always found the title track “Mother Earth” to be very interesting. I have always taken the lyrics to be form the perspective of the avatar of the planet or a druid like sage explaining the motivations and whims of the world in which we live. Maybe it is my Gaelic blood, but a song the “Mother Earth” commanding our lives and demanding our respect fits in nicely with concept of Gaia and old Irish folk lore about the cyclical nature of life.

A great added element to the song “Mother Earth” is one of foreboding danger. Within Temptation and den Adel never explicitly in any way make the song about environmentalism, though it could easily be interpreted that way, there is specific lines remarking how the earth is not ours to control, and humans are regarded as rather powerless in comparison. The earth is spinning and moving through the vastness of space led by it’s dance partner the sun, and nothing any living thing on it can alter that.

The opening verse makes it quite clear where the power lies in the relationship of man and earth:

“Birds and butterflies,
Rivers and mountains she creates.
But you'll never know,
The next move she'll make.
You can try,
But it is useless to ask why,
Cannot control her.”

More so in the chorus:

“She rules until the end of time.
She gives and she takes.
She rules until the end of time.
She goes her way.”

We are but passengers on the world’s journey.

Then we get to “Ice Queen.” This song can very easily be imagined to be about a literal “Ice Queen” a sorceress, like Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen, or just as winter itself. Much the way popular fiction and mythologies, like the Celts, saw the earth and moon as feminine, I believe Within Temptation has done the same with the winter season, and describes her as the “Ice Queen.” Like I said earlier, Within Temptation has noticeable woman’s touch in their songs.

Ice Queen

Like the first song on the album “Mother Earth,” “Ice Queen” also possess an dark element of danger. The “Ice Queen” takes life away, and once again it sounds like humanity is powerless to stop her from doing so. Another literal force of nature that human kind has no control over.

Immediately a threatening tone is taken in the opening verse:

“When leaves have fallen,
And skies turned to grey,
The night keeps on closing in on the day,
A nightingale sings his song of farewell,
You better hide for her freezing hell.”

Once again everything is said to us in the chorus:

“Whenever she is raging,
She takes a life away,
Haven't you seen?
Haven't you seen?
The ruins on our world.”

Which brings us to the final song in this trilogy “Our Farewell.”

Our Farewell

I always thought “Our Farewell” should have been the final track on the album, after all it is song saying goodbye, well not really, it is kind of the opposite. Unlike the previous two songs there is no foreboding danger, no looming threat, no sense of powerlessness in “Our Farewell,” instead there is pronounce of love and sorrow.

“In my hands like a sea of memories,
I can hear you say my name,
I can almost see your smile,
Feel the warmth of your embrace.
But there is nothing but silence now,
Around the one I loved,
Is this our farewell?”

All three songs have really good opening verses.

Interestingly there is a sense of motherly love, again that woman’s touch shinning through, which makes us think that the one that is loved is the child of the female narrator, perhaps literally, perhaps cosmically so.

“Sweet darling you worry too much, my child,
See the sadness in your eyes,
You are not alone in life,
Although you might think that you are.”

That sorrow is beautifully washed away in the final verse:

“So sorry your world is tumbling down,
I will watch you through these nights.
Rest your head and go to sleep,
Because my child, this not our farewell.
This is not our farewell.”

I have always found “Our Farewell” to be very touching, perhaps because I am alone in life, and my world is tumbling down, at least I think it is. Forget amount me, and we can see a really uplifting message of remembering and holding fast to all that is good. Friends and other loved ones who slip away, that is not necessarily farewell.

All three songs have a common theme, and that is the passage of time. As time passes “Mother Earth” will continue to go her own way, and there is a bleakness to human exists in the wake of the planet’s comparable immortality. As time passes all things die, winter comes in the form of the “Ice Queen” where she unescapably takes life away. Lastly, loved ones slip away from us, sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently, but the treasured memories are with us forever, the wounds heal and there is a joy in remember what we lost. It is easy to be thankful for the things we have, it takes a mature perspective to be thankful for things we have lost, and I think that is the final message of this trilogy of songs. Acceptance of the world, death, and loss. Acceptance of the passing of time.

I do not know if this specific analysis is what den Adel meant for the listener to take away but that is how I have always felt about these three songs. While I love all three songs individually, when I think of them as a trio, they become this voyage of grief and healing guiding the listener through life.

- King of Braves

Friday, January 12, 2018

Beast In Black - Born Again

Nuclear Blast Records is my number one go to site and youtube channel to discover new music. Probably every few weeks I discover a new song or band I like, and every few months I find a band I really like. So, I stumble onto Beast in Black “Born Again” on youtube, I have no idea who this band is or what to expect, other than metal, and I tune in.

The video of “Born Again” is just the singer of the band getting pumped and then getting way into the song while he sings. My initial thought was, ‘this could be really lame, this guy is really getting into his own song,’ but my first thought once I was finished the song was ‘holy hell, that guy can sing, I am so glad he got so pumped up.’ This singer is Yannis Papadopoulos, and even though I have just been introduced to this Greek metal singer I am confident I will be a life long fan.

I was instantly reminded of Battle Beast. The sound was similar, and the name of the band was very similar, so I immediately began to wonder if there was a connection, and there was, Beast in Black’s primary song writer and lead guitarist is none other than Anton Kabanen, the former lead guitarist and song writer of Battle Beast.

In many ways Beast in Black is an extension of the three previous Battle Beast albums. The driving force of Kabanen is everything behind all of these beast albums, and it raises the question, why start a new band?

I have been reading every interview I can find with Kabanen and he is remaining respectfully quiet on the matter, but he has quietly revealed that a combination of the band name Battle Beast never being trade marked and some falling out with the rest of the band has cause Kabanen to move on. What is a man to do when he is driven out of the band he created? Start a better band I guess, because that is what he did. I really liked Battle Beast. I am so impressed.

It blows me away how great Beast in Black is. The band is great, and the album “Berserker” is one of the best debut albums I have heard in a long time, likely my favorite album of 2017.

Return to the song “Born Again,” this is a great song, but what is it about? It is a very intense love song, one of my favorite dramatic lines is:

“Love is a killer that never dies,
Murdering its victim with delight.”

Powerful stuff, but is there more? I think so.

You cannot name your band Beast in Black, and name your debut album “Berserker” without giving away the concept of your concept album. “Berserker” is a “Berserk” concept album, the band name “Beast in Black” is a nickname for the protagonist Guts. This is another extension of Battle Beast’s themes, as the “Unholy Savior” album had two very Berserk songs in “The Black Swordsman” and “Kingdom.”

I love the manga “Berserk.” I would go so far as to say that “Berserk” is one of the top five greatest fantasy stories ever told, right up there with “Lord of the Rings” and “A Song of Ice and Fire.” So similar to other bands, like Blind Guardian, who win me over hard by writing songs about my favorite stories, Beast in Black has got me on board for a Berserk concept album in a very big way.

The first track, named after the band “Beast in Black” is an epic power metal song describing the vengeful fury of Guts the titular character of the manga and anime “Berserk.” It is the most epic thing, possibly ever.

Beast In Black

That is obviously Guts' silhouette in the official lyric video of "Beast In Black."

I really love the song “Beast in Black” and the other obvious Berserk songs “Zodd the Immortal” and “The Fifth Angel,” but not all the songs are about Berserk, apparently. So, I wonder, is that first love song that brought me in “Born Again” is it about Berserk?

“I lie awake at night,
And dream of your return,
Behind closed eyes I see you,
Just the way you were.”

Oh god, this song is about Guts and Casca isn’t it?


Casca and Guts
There is a good reason why “Berserk” is called “Berserk,” and the protagonist Guts has good reason to destroy, murder and retaliate. The briefest explanation I can give is this; there is very little magic in “Berserk” up to the point where Guts’ best friend Griffith betrays the Band of the Hawk. The betrayal is demons show up brutally kill everyone and then eat them, except Guts and Casca, where upon the reborn Hawk demon god version of Griffith rapes Casca in a pool of her dead friends’ blood, and desperate to save her, Guts gruesomely hacks his own arm to free himself from the jaws of a monstrous demon only to have one of his eyes gouged out. Casca, understandably completely loses her mind and has been an invalid in the series since.

So yeah… that’s what the berserking is all about.

It is very heart breaking seeing Casca cower from Guts gruesome visage terrified of her one true loyal protector in a world now overrun with demons.

"Will we ever be the same again?"
“The diamond shatters and now I know,
How much pain it causes,
When you're gone.
All I can wish now's a miracle,
Miracle to reawake our love.

Do you remember the night we met?
Will we ever be the same again?
Inside the fire with my regrets,
Wish I could be born again tonight.”

Suddenly “Born Again’s” intensity is not just suitable but necessary. There is a desperate and devastated affection between Guts and Casca that may never be repaired, and the adventure of blood and fury is underlain with this tragic love, almost obtainable, so close, yet so out of reach. “Berserk” may be a Japanese comic, but it is of the highest quality story telling, and bold Anton Kabanen has written this deep powerful rock song that captures the complexity of all that story telling and all those emotions in what is probably best song of the entire year of 2017.

What I am trying to say is, I really like Beast in Black’s debut album “Berserker.” If you like metal and/or manga, it is a must listen.

- King of Braves