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

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Battle Beast - Unholy Savior

In January of 2015 I did a review for Battle Beast’s song “Madness.” I chose to talk about “Madness” because it was the fresh new single that had just been released by Battle Beast at the time, and it was also my first exposure to the band. I had a lot of raw feelings of excitement to express, which typically leads itself to some meaningful commentary.

At the time I wrote my mediocre impression, but highly enjoyable experience, listening to the band; I wrote: “The guitar solo is not going to win any awards but is serviceable. The rhythm sections is solid and heavy but nothing world breaking.” I had not listened to their second album (self titled) yet, I had not listened to the newly released “Unholy Savior” yet, so I did not know.

I did not know, how freaking badass everything about Battle Beast was. “Madness” is a very fun song, but it possesses a touch silliness with the questionable English, and the obvious attempt at being demon warrior hardcore metal. It is a good song, a very good metal song, but, it is not Battle Beast’s best, in fact it pales in comparison to the title track from “Unholy Savior.”

I did not know.

The self titled album blew me away after I finally got my hands on it and listened to it in full. “Let if Roar,” “Out of Control,” “Into the Heart of Danger,” and “Machine Revolution” are all amazing metal songs, each one of them make me want to go on an epic journey to fight demons and robots, and despite however much I love the “Battle Beast” album, I am only so confident in saying that it is slightly superior to their third album “Unholy Savior.” The only reason I am so torn, is the strength of the title track “Unholy Savior.”

Had I known just how perfect “Unholy Savior” is as a song, I would have skipped over “Madness” and gotten right to the point; “Unholy Savior” very good album, but the title track is a mind blowing awesome song.

I have often written about the ebbs and flows of music intensity. Low valleys make for more dramatic heights. Soft moments in the metal song make the furious moments all the more meaningful. Balance is the key, and “Unholy Savior” is a perfect example of rising action, climax, rest and second climax. Exactly the story structure I most enjoy.

The intro; the hum of the keyboards, the sound of a toiling bell, a quiet scream, a muffled roar, and then drums and guitar blast together. The machine gun drums burst out in well paced bits, jumping out every time they are needed and silent when they are not. Another valley, the first verse, where we take in all the dark words by singer Noora Louhimo.

The volume of everything increases on the first chorus, but things slow a little for the second verse. This second verse is noticeably more aggressive than the previous, not eclipsing the rage of the chorus, but the drama has heightened.

The chorus hits a second time, no louder than the first time, but it stays with us longer, and leads us to the guitar solo.

Then everything drops off and we get this sad little poem:

“I'm a shadow in the corner,
Begging to be found.
Suffering in silence,
As the world spins round and round.”

Than one last time, the chorus hits, only with greater fury than before. Like an explosion of unbridled wraith is let loose when Noora sings and the bands erupts in violence metal music.

“Unholy savior awakens within.
Salvation in disguise,
The undreaming darkness,
A graven image, a hero to some,
Destroyer, cold as death,
The slayer of hearts.

Unholy savior, forever to be.
Salvation in disguise.
The undreaming darkness.

Salvation in disguise.”

It might be easy to handwave away “Unholy Savior” as a song about the devil, which would fit in nicely with my musical tastes, however I think this song is more universal than that. Battle Beast is a metal band in love with fantasy, it comes up in many of their songs, and they have an obvious fondness and the darker elementals of that genre. It is possible the “Unholy Savior” refers to a specific anti-hero in a fantasy story I cannot at this time pinpoint, or as I suspect, it is probably generic, to all dark heroes from all possible tales of fantasy adventure.

I love everything about “Unholy Savior.” It was possibly my favorite song of 2015.

- King of Braves

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Darkest of the Hillside Thickets - Nyarlathotep

The Crawling Chaos.
The Faceless God.
The messenger of the outer gods.

The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets is a perfect band for what I like to write about. Hailing from Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada, this lovable band of rock nerds have created something truly wonderful; a cheeky punk rock band whose majority of songs are half comedy half grim homages to H.P. Lovecraft.

It is a perfect idea for a rock band, and something I dearly needed in my life.

This light-hearted approach to Lovecraft is something of akin to the horror comedy genre of movies like “Evil Dead” or “Reanimator,” where humour is found amongst the deadly and horrible. Such things have always touched upon my sensibilities and dark sense of humour and after many years of gradually listening to more and more music by Darkest of the Hillside Thickets I have come to love the band and all that they do.

Despite the fact no one I know has ever heard of them, Darkest of the Hillside Thickets have been around since 1993. That is almost twenty-five years of being virtual unknowns, and once again I have the internet to thank for introducing them to me. A cult band if there ever was one, the Darkest of the Hillside Thickets have done a handful of small shows every few years in the British Columbia area, sometimes branching out into Washington state, maybe elsewhere, I do not know.

Way back in the day I hosted a radio show, and one night I was digging deep trying to find songs to play in a Lovecraft theme episode, and that was when I discovered Darkest of the Hillside Thickets. At the time I had only been listening to songs like “The Innsmouth Look” and “Yog-Sothoth.” It would take a long time to discover some of their best that came out later like “Shhh,” “Frogstar” and “The Math Song,” none of which have any notable connection to Lovecraft, but “You Fool Warren is Dead!” is absolutely about “The Statement of Randolph Carter,” and it is fantastic. However, my favorite, is one of the first I ever heard “Nyarlathotep.”

I am a man who deeply enjoys deep lyrics, but today will not be one of those days where I post some quote from the song in the blog and blab about how clever it is, because in “Nyarlathotep” the words are not in English. If the comment section on is to be believed, Darkest of the Hillside Thickets are singing in ancient Egyptian. Upon further research I have since learned that the band reached out to their fans to help write “Nyarlathotep” finding a fan who actually spoke, or at least knew, middle Egyptian. That sort of artist fan relationship is very endearing.

Also judging from the comment section, the Japanese really like “Nyarlathotep.”

From what sounds like a tambourine, a death rattle is created, and it is the first sound in “Nyarlathotep,” the first sting that brings out the deathly ambient sound. Next the war drums hit and a rolling thunder carries us forward to the lead guitar and Egyptian vocal melody.

by Erkanerturk
I have talked in the past about the sound of implied terror and horror, and “Nyarlathotep” has something of that, but also something else, it has that joyful levity. Like all the Darkest of the Hillside Thickets songs there is an ironic mirth added to the songs of dread; and dread is an appropriate description of the subject matter.

Everything Lovecraft wrote, and everything he created, was horrifying but also nihilistic, and the being Nyarlathotep is no exception. The space monsters in Lovecraft’s works are also ultra dimensional gods, and are often very difficult to describe because they are so alien. As I explained in the last review, Cthulhu physically is the most human, somehow, and as such he has proven to be the easiest for fans to rationalize in their minds and illustrate, and this probably goes a long way to explain Cthulhu’s popularity. The most human cosmic god Lovecraft created in personality is probably Nyarlathotep. None of the Lovecraft gods have any relatable human motivations or emotions, they are completely unrelatable, except for Nyarlathotep.

Using his shape shifting powers Nyarlathotep has through out history appeared as a human, most notably as an obsidian dark skinned Egyptian, who shows devices and objects of wonderful and terrible affects. His powers are many and he could cause massive harm at any time to all human civilization, but he relents, for Nyarlathotep enjoys toying with humans, we are his play things, his greatest source of amusement. Nyarlathotep’s playfulness and cruelty are inherently human traits, his dark sense of humour and manipulative manner is the behavior of a trickster, and humans can relate to that.

This video from the Exploring Series explains Nyarlathotep better than I can:

The Exploring Series - Nyarlathotep:

I really like the Exploring Series, he talks about all my favorite things, Middle Earth, Elder Scrolls, and Lovecraft. We should probably hang out.

In summary, some nerds in British Columbia decided to make punk band where they combine horror and comedy to sing about a variety things, but namely Lovecraft’s mythos, and I like them because their fun.

- King of Braves

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Metallica - All Nightmare Long

For the longest time I have had mixed feelings about Metallica. I love Metallica, they are the premier American metal band, and more so than any other band they brought metal music to the mainstream. I love Metallica’s first five albums, and there are good number of really goods songs on their sixth and seventh album. However, Metallica did sell out.

Selling out is a controversial and complicated thing, as the nature of it is largely subjective. Some die hard fans think the slightest change in a band’s lineup or musical stylings is an automatic sign of selling out, some defend a musical group they love even when they blatantly start doing indigent things solely for money. I do not feel that Metallica sold out when they made their first music video for the song “One,” that was just them finally having the resources to do something artistic like they never could before, and the “One” music video is freaking epic. I do not feel that James Hetfield wanting to sing a country song was him selling out, that was just some strange different thing he wanted to do. I do not feel that having he Black album produced by a different production company was selling out, that was just that next logical move for the distribution of their music.

I think the movement Metallica sold out was when they promised to perform a live concert of their new album, the Black album, and they just played the CD for everyone instead. I mean, what the fuck was that about? Maybe they were not totally corporate whores at that point, and the Black album is amazing, but that moment, that was the beginning of the end.

Then Napster happened. I respect that Ulrich did not want his music stolen, but talk about fighting against technology, and talk about unappreciation for the real goal, which is sharing your art with the world. The point is, Metallica made it clear they cared more about money than making music and while Load and Reload had some great songs, there was a big dip in overall inspiration and quality. Then “St. Anger” came out in 2003, and I thought I was just about finished with Metallica forever.

If all you want is money, then I am specifically not going to buy your music. Your head is in the wrong place. Go home Metallica, you’re drunk.

So… I sort of have mixed feelings about Metallica. On one hand I love them, and their earlier music is some of the most important metal music ever. On the other hand, they behaved like such sad prostitutes for such a long time and the music they made was really bad probably because of it.

In 2008 “Death Magnetic” came out, and despite everyone telling me it was pretty good, I put off listening to it for six or seven years. When I finally did listen to it, I was forced to admit that it was pretty good. It was not a return to providence like “Master of Puppets” but it was a huge step back in the right direction. To recover from the cringe that was “St. Anger” Metallica had to go back, to go forward.

I have made it pretty clear what early day Metallica charms me the most, their obsession with death, and deeper than that, their interest in horror of the Lovecraft variety. What better way to return to form than to have Metallica write a new song about cosmic horror.

The single song I took the greatest liking to from “Death Magnetic” was easily “All Nightmare Long.” Long before I began to dissect the lyrics, as is my want, I could feel a Lovecraft vibe. Metallica had worked such magic in “The Call of Ctulu” and while being fundamentally a very different song “All Nightmare Long” had that same dangerous ambience. I could tell it was a Lovecraft inspired song, even before I dove into the lyrics.

As it turns out “All Nightmare Long” is about the Hounds of Tindalos. I have read every story by Lovecraft… and I had no idea what the Hounds of Tindalos were.

"Hound of Tindalos"
by Mike Franchina
As it turns out the Hounds of Tindalos are not from a Lovecraft story, but are from a story by Frank Belknap Long and later these creatures were folded into the Lovecraft mythos by August Derleth, and I had to look all that up. Apparently, Lovecraft did mention the extra dimensional beings in “The Whisper in Darkness” but I do not remember that.

The Hounds of Tindalos exists outside of space and time and they hunger for something in human life that makes them hunt out humans once they can make a connection to them. If I am understanding what I have read online correctly they are creatures of sharp angles and can therefore pass through any angle less than a hundred and twenty degrees, whatever the hell that means exactly. I suppose rational do not apply to abominations from other dimensions.

Like a lot of creatures of otherworldly terror, the Hounds of Tindalos are very mysterious, even in the stories specifically about them. The appearance of the Hounds is unknown as no one who has ever seen them has survived but apparently their appearance is somewhat bat like, and the name comes more from their nature than their form. But how does Metallica describe this?

“Hunt you down without mercy,
Hunt you down all nightmare long.”

This is an amazing chorus whether you know about the terrible Hounds of Tindalos or not. Some determined killer unrelenting hunting down their prey, possibly during sleep, possibly during a waking nightmare; either way this is intense and exciting, and it makes for a great metal song.

“All Nightmare Long” is pretty great for a few reasons but it represents hope. How does a nightmare song about being mercilessly hunted down by otherworldly monsters represent hope? The content is not hopeful, the existence of the song itself is hopeful, just as “Death Magnetic” is an album of hope. Metallica needed to go backward to go forward. By returning to form, even just a little there is the new hope that future Metallica songs will be good, and maybe they can add to their already impressive catalogue.

Now all I have to do is listen to “Hardwire… to Self-Destruct,” maybe I’ll get around to it in six or seven years.

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

- King of Braves

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Metallica - The Thing That Should Not Be

I find Metallica a difficult band to talk about. A band of Metallica’s success, quality and legacy, has lots to talk about, and I know a lot about them, however the gulf between what I know and what hardcore Metallica fans know is sizeable. It is like talking about the Beatles, there are some people out there that know so much about them, it feels almost pointless to try to contribute anything new to the conversation.

You know what I also know a lot about, H.P. Lovecraft.

I wrote what I would consider to be my best Music In Review to date in 2013, and it was focused around Metallica’s “Call of Ktulu.” I combined my knowledge of heavy metal music and horror literature to create what I think is a nice commentary on both subjects. So, I feel like I should continue to play to my strengths.

I think it is safe to say that Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” is one of the greatest metal albums of all time, and I believe it is the most beloved album by Metallica fans. Basically no one needs me to elaborate further on that point.

Within the album “Master of Puppets” the two most popular songs are “Sanitarium” and the title track “Master of Puppets.” Obviously both songs are fantastic. “Sanitarium” is about being in an insane asylum, and poses the interesting situation that a sane person could be unjustly placed with the asylum and the life they live there within would drive them insane, thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. “Master of Puppets” meanwhile is about drug addiction, and the drug is the master and user is the puppet, a very metal piece of poetry. Again though, no one needs me to point out how awesome these two songs are or what they are about, they are both infamous and everyone knows how fantastic they are.

Does everyone know “The Thing That Should Not Be?” I mean does everyone know what the thing that should not be is? Because I can help with that.

“The Call of Ktulu” may have been the first Lovecraft inspired song by Metallic but not the last. Traces of Lovecraft are in many of Metallica’s songs, and mostly with similar themes like insanity, like the afore mentioned “Sanitarium.” The song “The Thing That Should Not Be” is rare insofar that is explicitly mention beings and other things in it’s lyrics from Lovecraft’s works. Every line in fact appears to reference something from the Cthulhu mythos.

“Messenger of fear in sight,
Dark deception kills the light.”

This opening line is a touch vague, as there is a lot of dark deception in a lot of literature, horror and otherwise, Lovecraft or not. However, I suspect this is a reference to Nyarlathotep. Nyarlathotep is the message of the father god Azathoth. Nyarlathotep is a shape shifting, mind reading, trickster sort of like a much crueler and much more monstrous version of Loki from Norse mythology.

"Deep One" by Kingovrat
“Hybrid children watch the sea,
Pray for father, roaming free.”

This is a reference to the deep ones. In the book “Shadow over Innsmouth” it is discovered that the people of Innsmouth, a fictional new England town, obtain their wealth several generations ago when a sea captain made a deal with the deep ones, these andromorphic frogs with fish faces who dwell at the bottom of the ocean. In exchange for wealth, the deep ones wanted Innsmouth’s women, and thus the descendants of Innsmouth, the current generation, were mixed raced slimy hybrid frog people. The praying for father, roaming free, is possibly a reference to Cthulhu, the god the deep ones worship, however I suspect it is a reference to Dagon, the original frog/fish monster man Lovecraft created in the book of the same name. Also, Dagon is mentioned briefly in “Shadow over Innsmouth” where he is referred to as Father Dagon.

“Fearless wretch,
He watches,
Lurking beneath the sea,
Great old one,
Forbidden site,
He searches,
Hunter of the shadows is rising,
In madness you dwell.”

It is possible the chorus could be taken to be either Dagon or Cthulhu, but I suspect the mention of things like “immortal” and “great old one” is more likely to be in reference to the elder god Cthulhu, with the “forbidden site” being the lost city of R’lyeh, the very place Cthulhu rests.

"The Crawling Chaos"
by Ramsimation
“Crawling chaos, underground,
Cult has summoned, twisted sound.”

The Crawling Chaos is the title and description used to describe the afore mentioned Nyarlathotep. While being a shapeshifter his true form is a tripodal worm like monster with no discernable neck or eyes, with a writhing mess of tentacles and indeterminate number of arms sprouting from his body. When taken a more human form he leads the cult of Azathoth.

“Out from ruins once possessed,
Fallen city, living death.”

This is most likely a reference to Cthulhu and the lost city of R’lyeh. I suppose it is possible that it could be reference to “The Nameless” city, another dead city and title of another Lovecraft book.

“Not dead which eternal lie,
Stranger eons death may die.”

This verse is a modification of:

“That is not dead can eternal lie,
And with strange eons even death may die.”

This passage is from the Necronomicon and appears to a few Lovecraft stories, most notably “The Call of Cthulhu,” and also “The Nameless City.” The passage is about the old gods, and how they cannot die and are merely resting, in the case of Cthulhu, which is doubtlessly the elder god Metallica is singing about, the great monster sleeps beneath the sea, undying and when enough time has passed he will awaken and horrors unimaginable will be wrecked upon the world. Even death may die? Maybe this is to suggest a fate far worse than death? Perhaps there is an end even to the elder gods if enough time and strange events were to pass?

And lastly:

Cthulhu by unknown
“Drain you of your sanity,
Face the thing that should not be.”

Given the strong presence of Cthulhu in this song, and his overall popularity and obvious influence on Metallica, the thing that should not be, could conceivably be Cthulhu.

However, the crawling chaos, Nyarlathotep was also mentioned, and it is sort of strange to say this, but Cthulhu is physically the most human looking of all of Lovecraft’s elder gods, the easiest to visual make sense of. So perhaps the thing that should not be is the cult leader, Nyarlathotep, in this true form as an incomprehensible mass of nonsense.

There is still another possibility, Azathoth. Azathoth true form is even harder to describe or make sense of than Nyarlathotep’s, and it is effectively his cult that has been mentioned whenever Nyarlathotep is referenced as the leader thereof in this song. Azathoth is the most powerful elder god, with it being believed that all of reality is simply his dream and should he ever awaken all of reality would cease to exist. That is certainly a thing that should not be.

We could also invoke Yog-Sothoth, whose appearance is an insanity inducing storm of tentacles, eyes and teeth, but he is not mentioned anywhere in the song, even tangentially, so it is highly doubtful Metallica is referring to him.

It is not entirely clear what the thing that should not be is, because there are so many things in Lovecraft’s works that should not exists even within the crazy continuity he had created. However, the best guess is probably Cthulhu.

So, let’s recap; the obvious, Metallica, great band, “Master of Puppets” is an amazing album and the title track and “Sanitarium” are great, probably the best songs off the album. The less obvious is “The Thing That Should Not Be” is possibly the third best song on the album “Master of Poppets,” and the very thing that should not be is most likely Cthulhu.

I hope I helped.

- King of Braves