Sunday, December 22, 2013

Led Zeppelin - Achilles Last Stand

I discovered Led Zeppelin when I was very young, even then it was much later in life than it needed to be. I grew up liking Meat Loaf, The Doors and The Beatles, but for some reason no one bothered to introduce me to the rest of classic rock until I was about twelve years old, which is far too long to go without. Once my father learned that my big brother and I were into Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd he stepped in and made sure we had CDs by both bands. In some ways my dad was awesome. I spent almost every night falling asleep listening to Led Zeppelin between ages twelve and sixteen.

I hated reading when I was a kid. The subject matter of all the books I was told I could read in school I found demeaning to my intelligence. This is not to say I was some super genius child, for my reading comprehension level was only ever slightly above average, but the subject matter of the books made available to me were just so immature. Adventures of a boy with his dog, or teenage detectives, or some other such uneventful books made me cringe. It was not until I discovered “The Lord of The Rings” in fifth grade that I started to enjoy reading, and it was not until after I somehow finished “The Lord of The Rings” at that age that my mother finally decided to step in and introduce me to books that were actually about things. I remember my mom reading me books about the adventures of Hercules and Perseus when I was just a child, we also used to watch “Hercules The Adventures Continue” and “Xena Warrior Princess” together, so she thought I might enjoy Homer’s epics, which led her to purchase “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” for me. In some ways my mom was awesome.

I spent a lot of time reading and listening to Led Zeppelin after that. You can imagine my excitement, while reading the first few pages of “The Iliad” and discovering Achilles for the first time and listening to “Achilles’ Last Stand” at the same time.

At the time I did not even know. I did not make the connection right away. I did not know Achilles was the famous Greek warrior or that Led Zeppelin’s “Achilles’ Last Stand” might be about him. I would later come to notice all the Tolkien references in various Zeppelin songs, so this was the first time, for me, when music I loved and a book I loved overlapped, and I was pumped.

Led Zeppelin was never a blunt band when it came to lyrically content. Robert Plant always offered up some sense of mysterious poetry to everything he wrote. This in turn made their songs more universal and easier for a variety of people to relate to because the room for interpretation was so very open. Look no further to “Stairway to Heaven” Led Zeppelin’s most famous song to find a huge variety of wildly different interpretations. I mentioned as much when I talked about Stairway back in May of 2011:

This same holds true for “Achilles Last Stand.” Unlike rock operas like Manowar’s “Achilles Agony and Ecstasy” or Symphony X’s “The Odyssey” which more or less directly retell the passing of events that take place in “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” respectively, Led Zeppelin’s “Achilles Last Stand” is far more cryptic. In fact there is good reason to think there are no verses in “Achilles Last Stand” that are explicitly about Achilles, or his death.

Statue of Achilles by Ernst Herter on the Greek Island of Corfu.
We could easily interpret the opening lyrics as belonging to those of a Greek warriors preparing for the voyage to Troy, ready and eager for war.

“It was an April morning,
When they told us we should go.
As I turned to you,
You smiled at me.
How could we say no?

With all the fun to have,
To live the dreams we always had.
Woa the songs to sing,
When we at last return again.”

And there are verses that could be interpreted as belonging to Odysseus during his long journey home:

“To seek the man whose pointing hand,
The giant step unfolds,
With guidance from the curving path,
That churns up into stone.

If one bell should ring,
In celebration for a king,
So fast the heart should beat,
As proud the head with heavy feet, yeah!”

And I always thought this verse was probably about Persephone and her mother Demeter:

“Days went by when you and I,
Made an eternal summers glow.
As far away and distant,
Our mutual time to grow,
Oh, the sweet refrain,
Soothes the soul and calms the pain.
Oh, Albion remains, sleeping now to rise again.”

The ancient Greeks explained the passing of seasons by Persephone’s unusual relationship with her mother Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, and her husband Hades, god of the earth (and also the dead). Persephone would spend half the year with her mother nurturing the fields and gardens of the world, and the other half of the year she would spend with her husband Hades in the underworld and when this happens Demeter would allow a cold spell to fall upon the earth to spite of her son in law.

Interesting side note Albion is a reference to Britain. The old Celtic names for the British Isles included Avalon where King Arthur is suppose to be resting until Britain needs him again and Albion which refers to the primary island. Additional interesting side note, Robin Hood’s sword was called “Albion,” get it, because Robin Hood fought with/for Britain. What does Albion have to do with Greek mythology or Achilles last stand? I have no idea.

Perhaps most easily identifiable is this mention of Atlas the titan who holds up the word:

“Wondering and wondering,
What place to rest the search.
The mighty arms of Atlas,
Hold the heavens from the earth.”

Though I once again think of Odysseus with the bridge:

“I know the way, know the way, know the way, know the way.”

There are many possible inspirations from Greek Mythology in “Achilles Last Stand” but none of them seem to have anything to do with Achilles. There is a healthy hodgepodge of mythological reference throughout but nothing ever fixed to one specific event. Nonetheless these are great lyrics.

Jimmy Page and
Jon Paul Jones were
among the first notable
musicians to use
multi-necked guitars.
More important than the lyrical content of “Achilles Last Stand” is the guitar work. I remember it being rumoured that there was twenty six different guitars Jimmy Page used for the studio recording of “Achilles Last Stand” and while I was able to confirm the rumour of multiple guitars, the number of guitars that were used remains uncertain, I heard twelve being the lowest number ever mentioned while twenty six remaining the highest. Given the variety of sounds within I have always been tempted to believe it was true that Page used multiple guitars tuned differently to create “Achilles Last Stand.” I have seen John Paul Jones plays an eight string bass guitar and Jimmy Page on a triple neck guitar performing this song live, which would fit with the theory of complexity, however most performances by Led Zeppelin have Paul Jones playing a four string bass and Page on a regular six string Les Paul, and they manage just fine:

Achilles Last Stand Live Knebworth 1979

The speed at which Page plays guitar is among one of the single most impressive things ever in all music history. The way this man’s fingers moved is nothing shy of super human. Out of the impressive repertoire songs and guitar solos produced by Led Zeppelin I believe “Achilles Last Stand” to be Page’s single greatest performance. The guitar work is so intricate and fast that theories about multiple guitars being needed have always seemed warranted, and performing this song live is something of legend in just how difficult it must be. The adventures and heroes of ancient Greece deserve as much if you ask me, the greatest stories ever being expressed to us by the greatest guitarist ever in a supersonic display of fantastic music. Easily one of Led Zeppelin’s best songs and one that never seems to receive the praise it deserves.

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

- King of Braves

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Symphony X - The Odyssey

It is difficult for me to think of a progressive metal band that existed before Symphony X. The American – New Jersey group debuted in 1994, and prior to that time I do not believe anyone thought to combine the two terms “progressive” and “metal” together. Logically eventually someone would come around to putting those two things together but guitarist Michael Romeo and keyboard player Michael Pinnella just might have been the first to do so.

To be perfectly honest I currently have a limited working knowledge of Symphony X. I started getting into Symphony X when friends, most notably Driver Nick, encouraged me to listen to them, but also because singer Russell Allen. Allen joined Symphony X in 1995, one year and one album after the bands introduction; however I was at least somewhat familiar with Allen before I even knew Symphony X was a thing. Allen was guest singer for my beloved Avantasia and also he has a joint project with Norwegian metal Viking singer god Jorn Lande (who is amazing) simply titled, Allen/Lande. Clearly it is not hard in this day and age for great metal singers to find work.

Symphony X does have a progressive sound, the use of keyboard that is now so common in many modern metal bands, brings a new range of operatic sounds and ambience, and they have used trumpets and violins among other classical instruments to build their sounds at times. To this end Symphony X has an atmosphere that lends itself well to emotions of fantastic voyages and other far out ideas, and like so many bands before them Symphony X was inspired by great literature and thus inspired to compose music of a similar epic scale. As you may recall Manowar wrote a twenty-eight minute power metal epic about the Iliad, well not to be outdone Symphony X wrote a twenty-four minute power metal epic about “The Odyssey.”

Homer’s “The Odyssey” is the sequel to “The Iliad” and follows Odysseus, King of Ithaca, in his ten year journey trying to get home after the end of the Trojan War. Most people who have never read “The Iliad” or “The Odyssey” typically do not realize the great jump in time in between the two. “The Iliad” ends with Hector’s death, and “The Odyssey” begins with Odysseus nearing the end of his ten year voyage and recanting his experiences to the people who live on the island kingdom he washed up on. Nowhere in Homer’s work is Achilles' death or the fall of Troy described to us. It is told to us that Achilles died the death that was predicted of him and that Odysseus thought up the idea of the infamous Trojan Horse and how that was the final maneuver towards the destruction of Troy, but we, the reader, never get to live these moments. This skipping of events does serve to set up a surprise when we discover the true identity of the half starved, half crazed, wanderer as Odysseus. The warrior king whose skills were only eclipsed by Achilles and Diomedes (he’s a whole other story) was now a worn down, weary wanderer.

There are many conflicts for Odysseus in “The Odyssey.” There is the conflict of man versus nature. The Greek heroes angered Poseidon when they failed to give him credit for destroying Troy (the god of the ocean helped just believe me) so he plagued the heroes when they tried to sail home. Odysseus and his crew have to fight against the treacherous Mediterranean and the monsters and magic they encounter on each island. There is a conflict of man versus man as Odysseus has been away from home for so long he knows there will be suitors trying to steal away his kingdom. And last there is the conflict of a man against time. The Trojan War took ten years to reach its bloody end, and Odysseus has been lost at sea for an additional ten years, his wife Penelope cannot hold out forever, the people of Ithaca will demand she remarry and in doing so anoint a new king. There is so much to take in throughout “The Odyssey” in narrative, theme, and symbolism that it is in many ways the perfect story to be transposed into other mediums. Enter Symphony X’s “The Odyssey.”

So much happens in “The Odyssey;” which gives Symphony X plenty of material to fill in a seven part musical adventure, and I will do my best to briefly explain each part.

Part 1 – Odysseus Theme / Overture

It is a good idea for any musical to open and close with an overture, we call that continuity. Symphony X evidently prescribes to this logic as well.

Part 2 – Journey to Ithaca

The primary objective or our protagonist is to return home to his wife and child. The opening lyrics to Symphony X’s “The Odyssey” covers this aptly;

“To the one that I love, my journey has begun.
When our eyes meet once more there will be peace.
The taste of your lips the warmth of your touch,
Again, forever, two souls as one.

Seems like forever that my eyes have been denied.
Home - I'm dreaming of the home.
I've been twenty years away from all I ever knew,
To return would make my dream come true.”

The next several parts depict the many horrors Odysseus and his crew face.

Part 3 – The Eye

Landing on an island Odysseus and his men must escape a Cyclops who just so happens to be the son of Poseidon, whom as you recall is unhappy with the Greek heroes.

“A mountainous black - engulfed in a shadow,
A bone-chilling growl and an Eye of Hate,
A ghastly fate - held prisoner by the Eye.”

Part 4 – Circe

Circe is a goddess and a witch who uses polymorph magic to transform many of Odysseus crew into animals.

“Stay - like those before,
I condemn you all - from walk to crawl,

Part 5 – Sirens

Odysseus and the sirens.
Sirens are rather famous mythological monsters that are half bird half human female, who would plague sailors with their sweet song and lure them into the waters where they would drown. Odysseus’ crew needed someone to watch and guide them through the storm while being bombarded by the sirens. Their solution was to tie Odysseus to the mast and have their king do his best to guide them, while being tormented by the sirens, while the rest of the men row. Symphony X’s cover art for the album depicts this moment.

“Tied steadfast to the mast,
Tragedy awaits me.
I'm falling victim,
Betrayed by the sea.”

Part 6 - Scylla and Charybdis

Scylla is a multi-headed sea monster that dwells in the rocky ridges of a pass and Charybdis is another sea monster typically rationalised as a whirlpool. The term “Between Scylla and Charybdis” is an idiom that basically means caught between two dangers or imply an impossible choice between two terrible options. Odysseus is forced to sail between the two; this spells the end for the remainder of Odysseus’ crew as he is the sole survivor of this nightmare. Wisely, I think, Symphony X depicts this moment from “The Odyssey” as an intense instrumental. What is there to say really?
"Between Scylla and Charybdis" is like being caught between a rock and a hard place, only way worse!
"Scylla and Charybdis" by Steve Somers
Part 7 – The Fate of the Suitors / Champion of Ithaca

Twenty years is a long time to be away from home and in his absence Penelope, queen of Ithaca, is broached by many suitors. After twenty years they demand she choose one of them so she devises a test. She will marry the man who can string a bow and shoot an arrow through the rings of twelve axe heads all of which are planted on the ground in a singular line; but when the suitor’s attempt the test they all fail, none among them can string the bow let alone shoot an arrow from it. Then a withered and ruined homeless man comes forward and asks for the chance to prove himself in this test.

“A contest of valor,
To pierce the twelve rings,
In a single arrow's flight,
Yet, not a one can string the bow.”

There is a technique to stringing a bow. The string cannot be stretched very far but the wood of the bow can bend. The trick is to use your leg as a brace and bend the bow around your leg so the string can reach the second end of the weapon. This withered and ruined homeless man uses this technique and strings the bow with ease. He then proceeds to shot an arrow through the twelve axe heads. Then the illusion fades and all in the hall know Odysseus has returned.

“My veil of silence lifted,
All is revealed,
Revenge burns in my heart,
Thrashing and slashing down all my claim the throne.”

This is my favorite moment in the book “The Odyssey.” In the beginning of the novel, worn out Odysseus is thought to be some meek man and when his hosts tease him he speaks up and proves he is no mere beggar by throwing a discus a great distance and with that everyone is convinced that he must be the stuff of kings, for only a great man could throw a discus so well. In the end of the story Odysseus performs the feat of stringing a bow and firing it perfectly. In ancient Greek culture a good man was much more than good natured, a good man needed to be capable. A great man, if he were great, would learn all that he could and as such was expected to be able to fight with sword and spear, wrestle, box, till a garden, tend a field, read and write, ride a horse, drive a chariot, forge weapons, build a house, throw a javelin and shot-put. A great man is expected to be able to throw a discus. A great man is expected to be able to string a bow. Among the suitors none could even string the bow, thus disqualifying them as good men.

This concept was revived in the renaissance, you might recall the term “a renaissance man” as someone who was cultured and capable in all things. The idea is a good man would not leave things alone, he would learn all that there was to know. I like the idea of constantly learning and improving, and while we live in an age of information so huge in volume that knowing all things by all people is impossible, I still believe the endeavour to try is truly noble, and I think, perhaps, you disqualify yourself as a great man the minute you stop learning. That is the symbolism behind “none can string the bow.”

“Triumphant - Champion of Ithaca.”

After everything Odysseus has been through it is such a satisfying ending for him to return home to his faithful wife, his son, and his kingdom, and Symphony X invokes the feelings I have always held for this story’s heroic and happy end in a very powerful way. These progressive metal champions have created a fanfare worthy of Odysseus, the Champion of Ithaca, and a song worthy of the epic.

- King of Braves

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Manowar - Achilles, Agony and Ecstasy

Cover art for Manowar's 1992 "The Triumph of Steel" by Ken Kelly

There is some controversy over which band is the loudest in history. The Who were believed to be the loudest band of all time after they gave everyone, including themselves, hearing damage at 126 decibels at 1976’s The Valley concert, but a lot of time has passed since then and many bands have competed for the title of “loudest.” In 1984 Manowar successful reached 129.5 decibels and proudly pronounced themselves the loudest bad ever. Other bands managed to eclipsed the 129.5dB such as Motorhead (130dB), Gallows (132.5dB), and KISS (136dB), which forced Manowar to perform at the Magic Circle Fest in 2008 at 139dB, thus reclaiming the title. As of now Manowar is still on record for “loudest” band ever and they will probably hold on to the title for a long time, since it is dangerous to have concerts at such high volumes and also because it is hard to have a concert that loud that doesn’t end up breaking some kind of law or bylaw.

Because wearing a shirt is stupid.
Being the loudest band ever might be enough for Manowar to claim victory and call it a career, but fortunately for us Manowar is so much more than just loud. Manowar is one of the original American power metal bands and arguably the greatest of that specific subgenre. Power metal is typically filled with lyrics and themes of fantasy, and while Manowar’s stage presence and look is not what one might think of when discovering songs about dragons and wizards they do in fact sing a lot about magic and heroes. To be fair, Manowar with their muscles and war cry, do sing about more masculine sorts of fantasy adventure, songs about shamans conquering wind magic, mastering the use of magical swords to kill thy enemies, and other such narratives that could come right out of Conan the Barbarian. And it helps that since Monawar’s 1987 album “Fighting the World” artist Ken Kelly has done the cover art of every Manowar album, a man known for drawing warrior fantasy art, including Conan the Barbarian.

I am big fan of Ken Kelly’s and I recommend visiting his site:

"Fighting the World" the first of many
Manowar album covers by Ken Kelly
Many casual Manowar fans might fail to notice all the fantasy references in their music as they may be distracted by the equally reoccurring theme of warriors and war. In the noble effort of creating badass metal about magical warfare the logical conclusion is to write a song about the most epic war ever in all mythology, I am of course referring to the Trojan War. The feud between Achilles, the Mycenae champion and Hector Prince of Troy, is perhaps the best known grudge match between warriors in the history of all war, both real and fictional, which is interesting because Achilles and Hector are theoretically fictionally, but are tangibly real. Troy was a real city and it was sacked. Also historians are at least partially convinced that Agamemnon, King of Mycenae, the ruler of the Greek empire at the time of the sacking of Troy, may also be real, we even think we might have found his face captured in a gold disc. So it is not inconceivable to consider the possibility of a tough general named Hector defending the city of Troy or him being killed by a very tall really, really tanned Greek warrior named Achilles.

Agamemnon's face... maybe.
My favorite book is Homer's “The Iliad” and I loved the conflict between the two clashing heroes. Never before or after has anything in literature built up a clash between two opposing heroes as powerfully epic as the battle between Achilles and Hector. Hector is a perfect warrior but Achilles is a force of nature. Achilles is a literal demigod, his mother Thetis is the goddess of water, so this guy is literally half god. When Achilles enters the battleground he rips through the ranks of Trojans like a hurricane slaughtering everyone. In a book that is little more than a thorough depiction of endless fighting; every amazing feat by every hero, and there are many of them, are all put into the shadow of Achilles impossible power. He ends more lives in one chapter than every other named character combined. So who better to write a bloody and heroic metal epic about than Achilles? Enter Manowar’s “Achilles, Agony and Ecstasy.”

I suppose Manowar was not content being the loudest band ever, they also wanted to write the longest song ever, and I believe that is why they wrote “Achilles, Agony and Ecstasy.” At twenty-eight minutes and thirty-five seconds “Achilles, Agony and Ecstasy” is a long song, but it has to be it tells the entire story of “The Iliad.”

“Achilles, Agony and Ecstasy” is in eight parts:

1. Hector Storms the Wall
2. The Death of Patroclus
3. Funeral March
4. Armor of the Gods
5. Hector’s Final Hour
6. Death Hector’s Reward
7. The Desecration of Hector’s Body
8. The Glory of Achilles

I will attempt to give you a quick explanation of the story being told here and the dramatic significance of each of the eight parts.

The city of Troy was very well protected by its high walls, so conquering the city was going to be difficult. Upon arriving on the sandy beaches of Troy, the Greeks conquered the surrounding towns and farms and secured a foothold on the territory so they could supply themselves during what was estimated to be a long siege. When it came time to divide up the spoils of war, including the women, Achilles took Briseis as his sex slave but Agamemnon took her from him once he was forced to give up his own sex slave Chryseis. I remind you, this story takes place over three thousand years ago, and we are talking about barbarians here. As a result of this archaic offensive Achilles withdraws from battle.

Manowar begins their epic by introducing Hector and the opening line of this saga is:

“See my chariot run to your ships I'll drive you back to the sea.”

In case you didn’t know, Hector was most feared in combat when he rode his chariot, early during the war Hector terrorized the Greeks with it. Knowing Hector is a Trojan and a badass is all you really need to take away from part 1 – Hector Storms the Wall.

Achilles does not contribute to the war until the death of his cousin Patroclus, slain by the hands of Hector, which Manowar presents in part 2 – The Death of Patroclus. Patroclus entered the battle wearing Achilles armour so when Hector killed him he took the armour and wore it himself to mock Achilles.

He shouldn’t have done that.

I really like the instrumental parts three and four. The “Funeral March” is a great bridge towards the drum solo that is “Armor of the Gods.” Hephaestus the Greek god of fire makes Achilles a new suite of armor, this is represented in “Achilles, Agony and Ecstasy” with an eight minute drum solo, which has to be the best possible way to convey this moment, especially when you are Manowar.

My personal favoriate moment in the entire epic is part 5 “Hector’s Final Hour;”

“Here inside the walls of Troy, the gods weigh my fate,
From this bay do I abstain, to a memory of hate,
To pay for all the blood that spilled the many thousands I did kill,
No walls can contain the gods' almighty will.
I hear the silent voices I cannot hide.
The gods leave no choices so we all must die.
Oh Achilles let thy arrows fly, into the wind, where eagles cross the sky.
Today my mortal blood will mix with sand it was foretold,
I will die by thy hand into Hades my soul descend.”

I love this little bit of poetry of Hector lamenting his forthcoming doom. A reoccurring theme in Greek literature is the oracles and god prophesising what was to come, word always reaches the heroes and they often know how their adventures will end before they begin; just as Hector knew “this day was promised to me” he also knew his death by Achilles’ hands was coming. Achilles is sent into a great rage when Hector kills Patroclus and Manowar was the right band to capture this fury and this is the part of the song that is the most intense. There is good balance over the course of this twenty-eight and a half minute song, many peaks and valleys throughout in volume and intensity, though perhaps that is unavoidable for a song of this length. The soft moments like Hector’s lamentation bring a real strong humanity to the song which in turn makes the dramatic and violent moments of the same man’s death all the more exciting. I am unsure if this is intentional but the clash of peace and war like moments does well to reflect the same moments in “The Iliad.” There is a calm, albeit tense, moment Hector shares with his wife Andromache where the plume of his helm is frightening their child as it waves in the wind so Hector removes his helmet and kisses his son goodbye, by taking off his helm Hector shows he is more than a warrior, he is also a husband and father. Hector is a man. Then Achilles kills his ass!

A very reoccurring image in Greek pottery is Hector removing his helm before his wife and child.  
Hector and Andromache facing each other contrasted by Paris and Helen looking away from each other
is another reoccurring image in Greek art.  The good noble couple is contrasted by the bad trouble making couple.
Hector’s death is my favourite moment in “The Iliad;”

“Dying, Hector of the flashing helmet said:

‘How well I know you and see you for what you are! Your heart is hard as iron. I have been wasting my breath. But reflect now before you act, in case angry gods remember how you treated me, on the day Paris and Phoebus Apollo bring you down in all your greatness at the Scaean gate.’

As he spoke, the end that is death enveloped him. Life left his limbs and took wing for the house of Hades, bewailing its lot and the youth and the manhood it had left behind. But godlike Achilles spoke to him again, though he was gone:

‘Die! As for my death, I welcome it when Zeus and the other immortal gods wish it to be

I like to imagine there is a pause between Achilles yelling “die!’ and his brave acceptance of his eventually death. The idea of angry Achilles standing over fallen, dead, Hector and yelling at him to die as if it were one last hate filled command to his most despised enemy, just feels so right. Considering the great fury of Achilles I believe Manowar does a great job of capturing this rage in the parts 6 and 7, for Achilles is not content to kill Hector but deems it necessary to desecrate his body as well, in the hope it will damn him in the afterlife. 

"Fury of Achilles" by Charles-Antoine Coypel
Much like Blind Guardian writing an album about Middle Earth, or Metallica’s “Call of Ktulu,” I freaking love it when literature I love is combined with great music and Manowar kind of takes the cake. How better to honor the epic of the Trojan War then with an over the top metal epic? Oh Manowar you truly are the kings of power metal.

- King of Braves

Monday, November 18, 2013

Masterplan - Spirit Never Dies

“And the spirit never died, the world belongs to me.
This is where I've been given time to live and see.”

Masterplan is a German power metal band that formed in 2001. The founding members and leaders of Masterplan are guitarist Roland Grapow and drummer Uli Kusch, both of whom are former members of Helloween, with Grapow being the second lead guitarist and Kusch being the second drummer of the band. The two men intended Masterplan as a side project but were fired from their Helloween jig at the beginning of the project. While Grapow and Kusch are obviously very important to the creation and ongoing existence of Masterplan, also they both have a part in the history in the German metal scene; Masterplan is much more famous for Norwegian front man and super singer Jorn Lande.

Jorn is amazing.

Jorn Lande is some kind
of metal singing Viking god.
Jorn Lande is a powerful singer and has a voice wholly unique, a mad howling, echoing, Viking voice that shakes our souls with melodies most metal. He might actually be the greatest metal singer in the world. Before joining Masterplan, Jorn was the lead singer in Vagabond, The Snakes, Ark, Millenium, and Beyond Twilight. After joining Masterplan, Jorn formed a project with Russell Allen of Symphony X simply called Allen-Lande. Jorn also appeared as a guest singer for Embee Normann, Nikolo Kotzev, Diesel Dahl & Friends, Thunderlords, Ken Hensley, Genius – A Rock Opera, Ayreon, Pushking, and my personal favorite Avantasia. On top of all that, since 2000 Jorn has also had a successful solo career.

Basically Jorn has been in every band ever.

Like so many great European metal artist Jorn Lande is someone I have primarily grown to admire do to his work in Avantasia, and as such I am working backwards discovering all his amazing contributions to metal. But even before I discovered Avantasia I was familiar with Jorn Lande, because I was familiar with Masterplan.

Masterplan is basically, almost completely, unknown in North America, and I am not entirely sure how famous they are in Europe either. The highest any of their albums has ever debuted was their second album “Aeronautics” which was fourteenth in Sweden and the best they have ever done in their home country of Germany was thirty-ninth with the same album. However Masterplan seems to have some following because the Internet is rather fond of the song “Spirit Never Dies.”

I first heard “Spirit Never Dies” in an AMV (anime music video) this one:

Which has nearly two million views at this point in time, and there are apparently dozens of others AMVs which use the song. So at the very least anime fans love the song “Spirit Never Dies” and by extension so does the Internet, or maybe it is the other way around, I do not know. Whether the average Internet jockey or anime fan knows anything about Masterplan beyond the song “Spirit Never Dies” I cannot say, but there is effectively no mention of Masterplan, pretty much anywhere, beyond this song.

One of the reasons I find "Spirit Never Dies" so enduring is the theme.  "Never give up, never give in," and "there is no limit to what can be done," there is such a powerful positive message in this song that is just so uplifting, and hearing Jorn sing it, the way he does, there is just so much conviction and certainty that we, all of us, can do amazing thing. 

If one thing stands out however about the song “Spirit Never Dies” it is Jorn’s voice, and as a consequence I suspect people recognize him, elsewhere in the many collaborations and bands he has appeared in. When I first heard “Promised Land” by Avantasia, one of the first songs by Avantasia I ever heard, I instantly recognized the voice as belonging to one that so powerfully sang “Spirit Never Dies.” Of all the singers who were a part of Avantasia I don’t think anyone blew me away quite as much as Jorn Lande. Having multiple reasons to admire this Norwegian metal singer I felt obligated to pick up some of his work and where else to begin than picking up the first Masterplan album, the one with “Spirit Never Dies.”

The self titled debut album of Masterplan is good, really good, but the only song that really stands out is “Spirit Never Dies.” Sometimes it is difficult to pick a favorite track from an album, other times there is a clear front runner, and sometimes we all agree on which song it is. This is one of those times.

Masterplan is good but their only song that is truly great, as near as I know, (I still have to buy four more their albums), is “Spirit Never Dies.” It is one of those songs that takes off on its own and becomes famous, or at least kind of famous, for its own individual reasons. This is made all the more impressive since there is history surrounding the band and the lead singer that should theoretically eclipse the song’s popularity. The advantage to all this is that “Spirit Never Dies” is a great launching point for people to learn about other great music, namely the insane number of projects Jorn has been a part of, but also Grapow and Kusch’s involvement in Helloween and the rest of Masterplan repertoire. Also “Spirit Never Dies” is a great song, which I believe is pretty obvious since it has somehow outshined all the awesome things surrounding and related to it.

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

- King of Braves

Did I mention that Jorn is amazing?  Because he is.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Guns N' Roses - November Rain

There are three forces that comprise the entity of Guns N’ Roses, Slash, Duff and Axel Rose, though an honorable mention should go to Izzy. Never was there anything worth talking about regarding Guns N’ Roses when even one of the mentioned three was missing, yet soon enough, I shall be. Despite being one of the most famous American rock bands of all time and often considered the very best rock band to come out of the eighties, Guns N’ Roses have a very limited body of work.

"Appetite for Destruction" is by far
Guns N' Roses' most popular album
In 1987 Guns N’ Roses released their debut album “Appetite for Destruction.” It was a huge hit. The California rock album was such a huge hit that at the time it rivalled the success of The Beatles debut album and to this day is one of the most successful/best selling debut albums of all time. So Guns N’ Roses were off to a really good start.

In 1988 Guns N’ Roses released their second album “G N R Lies” which paled in comparison to “Appetite for Destruction” both in sales and overall critical review. Still “Patience” is a great song.

"Use Your Illusion 2"
The last thing to note by Guns N’ Roses was the “Use Your Illusion” double album released separately in 1991. And with “Use Your Illusion” part 1 and 2 we have covered the only four albums of any importance by Guns N’ Roses.

Oh sure, in 1993 Guns N’ Roses released “The Spaghetti Incident?” a cover album best known for their rendition of The Rolling Stones “Sympathy For The Devil” which appeared on the soundtrack for the movie “Interview with a Vampire,” but “The Spaghetti Incident” is a cover album, and the absence of original material makes it not really a Guns N’ Roses album, per say. Also in 2008 there was “Chinese Democracy” and therein lies a problem.

Most everyone knows that Slash and Duff left Guns N’ Roses after “The Spaghetti Incident,” or more accurately Guns N’ Roses broke up, and as soon as this happened nothing any of them did afterward felt like Guns N’ Roses, not even “Guns N’ Roses.” Axel Rose came up with the band name and as such he felt entitled to use it after the band broke up, but Axel was a fool to think anyone would fail to see past the misplaced label. After fifteen years of inactivity in the music industry “Chinese Democracy” was released, which is not a Guns N’ Roses album, it is an Axel Rose album. The truly sad thing is this is effectively, creatively, what Axel wanted.

There is a linear trend when looking at the history of Guns N’ Roses. They started out a really heavy rock band with nearly every song on “Appetite for Destruction” being a hard rock song with serious drums and bass guitar. “G N R Lies” was a softer album, and the “Use Your Illusion” albums had piano solos and ballads throughout and all of a sudden things did not feel right. Guns N’ Roses broke up was because Axel had assumed too much creative control, also he’s an asshole and nobody in the band could put up with him anymore, but it should not be ignored that Axel’s not so hard approach to rock and roll is what really changed Guns N’ Roses and ultimately cost him Slash and Duff, as well as Izzy. Just looking at the sales of the Guns N’ Roses discography and it is clear that fans agreed with the sentiments of Slash, Duff and Izzy, “Appetite for Destruction” has out sold the rest of the discography by a large margin. Axel, being a dick, assumed control of the band and took a primary creative control of the “Use Your Illusion” albums and this was probably one of the first of many major offensives made towards his band mates, and when you put yourselves in the shoes of Guns N’ Roses, the real band members thereof, it would be offensive to give up part of your hard rock intensity so your egotistical front man can express his sensitive side, and consequently it is no wonder Guns N’ Roses broke up, again the real one.

So basically Axel Rose is a dick, and not a heavy rock and roller, and it took him fifteen years of preparation to embarrass himself with “Chinese Democracy.”

And embarrass himself he did:


There is little denying that Axel is in fact, or at least at one point was, a creative musical genius, and we have to look no further than “Use Your Illusion” parts one and two as proof of this. I love “Appetite For Destruction” everyone does, it is rock and roll through and through, however there is something to be said about the softer touch and the greater variety of style on the “Use Your Illusion” albums,” and while rocking out may be the greatest thing ever (ever!), experimenting with new ideas and self expression is basically art summed up, and by this standard “Use Your Illusion” is a very artistic set of albums by comparison. Furthermore, I think it is safe to say the artistic turn by Guns N’ Roses in the earlier nineties is primarily the result of Axel’s influence. Even though “Appetite for Destruction” is the most popular Guns N’ Roses album I do feel “Use Your Illusion” double album showcases creative growth and musical technical development, also the “Use Your Illusion” albums contain some of the best Guns N’ Roses songs, most notably “November Rain.”

“November Rain” is not a hard rock and roll song in the narrowest, most closed minded, sense of judgemental genre classification. What kind of bad asses have piano solos? And other such stupidities may disqualify “November Rain” as a candidate for Guns N’ Roses best song in the minds of some, but I nominate “November Rain” not only as Guns N’ Roses best song, but also Axel Rose’s magnum opus. The nine minute rock ballad does everything an epic sort of song needs to do to feel grand and deep. There is a soothing introduction, clever little locks of poetry throughout, and an appropriate narrative that intensifies in both theme and volume as time goes on. Around the seven minute mark the drums pick up and a new and faster rhythm begins and almost a completely different song comes forward, a hard song, a rock song. Like a well deserved climax after a mellow moment of relaxation, or like dessert after dinner if you really want a metaphor, “November Rain” suddenly becomes the sort of song that befits Guns N’ Roses in that it is now has moments of both hard and soft, it is both ballad and rock song. It is a great song, and so perfectly captures both moods but it also shows the two sides of Guns N’ Roses. I said earlier there are three (arguably four) forces behind Guns N’ Roses but creatively there is really only two, the united voice of the rock band and Axel the misunderstood poet, and we get to see a little bit of both in “November Rain.” Axel gets a chance to sing poetry and express that rock ballad side of himself and then we get a fast paced rocking conclusion. There never was, and never again, a Guns N’ Roses song that so perfectly captured the spirit of the band, in its whole, than “November Rain” and never did Axel create such a beautiful song ever again. Despite his faults, and they appear to be many, Axel showed he had the talent to be a great song writer, and at one point he had the kind of band with the high caliber of talent that is very rare to back him up and the result was Guns N’ Roses and his finest moment is “November Rain.”

We will forever lament that we never got more than four true Guns N’ Roses albums, and it will always sting that much more knowing that the factors preventing us from getting more Guns N’ Roses were petty things like ego and a lack of creative cooperation. But at least, at the very least, we got “November Rain” before everything fell apart. We may forever look upon Axel Rose as something of a screw up and an asshole who ruined Guns N’ Roses but when our frustrations subside with calmer minds we know, we all know, that without Axel there could have been no true Guns N’ Roses and somewhere inside that man’s mind are beautiful things like “November Rain.”

- King of Braves

The Music Video:

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Metallica - The Call of Ktulu

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far...”

- H.P. Lovecraft (The Call of Cthulu)

Metallica's first two albums
Kill 'em All (1983)
Ride The lightning (1984)
Early in their career’s James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich were obsessed with death. Many of their songs were about death, so much so, their first studio album was titled “Kill ‘Em All.” A lot of people really like “Kill ‘Em All” and its raw metal power, but I always thought it was raw to the point of being somewhat goofy in construction and theme, and to be fair we expect that from a first effort of pretty much anyone. Furthermore Metallica proved to be pioneers so their first effort was an experimentation of radical new sounds which likely resulted in some unforeseen challenges regarding refinement. I believe Metallica’s second album “Ride the Lightning,” another album title about death via the electric chair, is a superior album in basically every way and also the beginning of everything that would make Metallica special till the time when they sold out, but the selling out process is a whole other story.

There is a whole variety of ways to express your creativity when obsessing about death, especially when you are Metallica. “Ride the Lightning” as stated a moment ago is about the execution of a criminal via the electric chair. “Seek and Destroy” is fairly self explanatory kind of slaughter, that we could perhaps label as militaristic. “Creeping Death” is about an Angel watching as a plague wipes out mankind. “Fade to Black” is about suicide. And to top things off “The Four Horsemen” is about the end of days where everyone dies. But like so many people fascinated with the horror of death Hetfield and Ulrich were drawn to horror literature.

The history of great American horror literature can be simplified in three parts, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King. This is a gross oversimplification because it skips over many great authors, especially modern ones, but the public at large is most familiar with or is most influenced by these three titans of the genre.

Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King
Though tales of terrifying intrigue were written before his time, Poe basically invented the idea of writing stories for the sole purpose of scaring people and in turn he basically invented horror literature. Lovecraft would completely reinvent everything about human perception and would subtly influence every horror author and movie that came after him. And Stephen King, well we all know who he is, as he is the most commercially successful writer of all time. If you want a simple explanation of how important Lovecraft is, I would offer you this statement; Stephen King spent a majority of his time trying to be Lovecraft.

Magic the Gathering's eldritch horrors
the Eldrazi are based off of Lovecraft's
old ones.  Nice artwork.
The interesting thing about Lovecraft is how he has created so many things within our modern horror zeitgeist even though a majority of people somehow do not know the man ever even existed. For example the Necronomicon (the book of the dead) which appears in almost every movie, book, or comic book about witches, demon summoning, or what have you (most notably in The Evil Dead series) was invented by Lovecraft. Akrham asylum in Batman comics was a reoccurring fictional location in Lovecraft’s books, as the majority of the characters who somehow managed to survive their horrific adventures would usually go mad and end up there. The Deep Ones a race of frog/fish humanoids who live on the bottom of the sea make common appearances in video games most notably the Murlocks in World or Warcraft, even though the name Murlock is taken from H.G. Wells “Time Machine.” John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” arguably the best horror movie ever was an adaptation of the book “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell which in turn is completely inspired by Lovecraft’s “The Mountains of Madness.” And Lovecraft’s “The Mountains of Madness” is in some ways inspired by Poe’s “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.” Tekeli-li....

The list of movies and video games inspired by Lovecraft is very long; in fact this list supplied by Wikipedia is missing seven or eight movies I can reference off the top of my head, like “Reanimator”:

Perhaps Lovecraft’s most famous book is “The Call of Cthulhu.”

Cthulhu by Obrotowy
Cthulhu, Kthulu, Ktulu, or Cthulu, the name is supposed to be unpronounceable by human tongue so which ever you prefer. Cthulhu is an ancient god who sleeps at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean; he speaks to those who worship him through telepathic visions. When Cthulhu awakens he will devastate the world and those whom he spares will be taught new forms of decadence and destruction. He is the ruinner of worlds and he has become very popular recently. I just finished reading the eighteenth book in the Vampire Hunter D series “Fortress of the Elder God” where the god in question was Clulu. In World of Warcraft, again, Cthune is the end boss in the Temple of Ahn'qiraj. An online developed game “Ktulu Save the World” is an ironically popular little RPG. Kthulu even made an appearance not too long ago on South Park. There are hundreds of other examples I could point out, but before any of these things happened in 1984 Metallica released “The Call of Ktulu” an instrumental inspired by the book of the same name.

A reoccurring theme throughout Lovecraft’s work is that mankind continues to survive solely because we are beneath the notice of the horrible eldritch abominations that could easily wipe us out, and the more someone learns about the true horrors at the fringes of the world the more those horrors become aware of you. The unknown is the greatest thing human beings fear and in Lovecraft’s works, ignorance is our own only fragile salvation. The gradual discovery of the mystery and horror of Ktulu is the perfect example of the majority of Lovecraftian narrative where the more our primary character learns what they are dealing with the more they are driven insane, and I believe Metallica has captured this perfectly and without words.

Despite being an instrumental “The Call of Ktulu” is, to me at least, obviously about Ktulu the ruinner of worlds. Perhaps it is simply by the power of persuasion and the title gives a mindset for all of us to fixate on, but the movements of Metallica’s “The Call of Ktulu” to me symbolize a decent into madness. Metallica’s “The Call Of Ktulu” like so many other great songs has fantastic rising tension, it a song built on growing escalation. The inclusion of more complicated melodies are gradually introduced and the sound grows heavier, or at least seems too as time goes on. If nothing else “The Call of Ktulu” is an intense haunting song and once the concept of Ktulu is placed over top it perfectly captures the tone and mood of the novel, you add in the fact this is a great guitar song, probably Kirk Hammet’s best work and I am left to conclude that “The Call of Ktulu” is basically a perfect song.

Here is some non-news for you, Metallica is hugely successful.

Metallica is so successful, and not just commercially, that they have been huge inspirations to the vast majority of American metal bands that have come since. There is an interesting cultural parallel that can be drawn between American horror literature and American heavy metal. The expansion and growth of art works in fluid movements, and much the way Poe inspired Lovecraft who in turn inspired King; Metallica has inspired fellow musicians and fans alike with their music, so much so I have lived several personal anecdotal stories where I introduced Metallica fans to Lovecraft through “The Call of Ktulu.” But more importantly to this vein of conversation Metallica is so well liked by their metal compatriots they have been covered a lot.

Without going into two many examples a quick Google search reveals seven tribute albums to Metallica:

- Metal Militia: A Tribute To Metallica Vol. 1 (1994)
- Metal Militia: A Tribute To Metallica Vol. 2 (1996)
- The Blackest Album: An Industrial Tribute to Metallica Vol. 1 (1998)
- The Blackest Album: An Industrial Tribute to Metallica Vol. 2 (2000)
- Metal Militia: A Tribute To Metallica Vol. 3 (2000)
- Metallica Assault: A Tribute to Metallica (2001)
- The Blackest Album: An Industrial Tribute to Metallica Vol. 3 (2002)

There are two sets of three volume works here; also worthy of note is this article listing the supposed ten best covers of “Enter Sandman” -

I think there is also a Metallica Christmas tribute album out there somewhere.

Most of these albums slipped into obscurity not long after their initial release and now are very difficult to obtain without a deliberate effort which is way you have probably never heard of any of them until now. There is one cover I am very fond of however, off of “Metal Militia: A Tribute To Metallica Vol. 3” a band called Headroom did a cover of “The Call of Ktulu.” And I know nothing about Headroom other than this cover.

Headroom - The Call of Ktulu

A majority of all cover songs are little more than a performance of the same song by someone else. There is nothing wrong with this, but as a consequence a majority of cover songs typically fail to impress or be remembered, case in point the seven tribute albums I just listed. The cover songs that typically stay with us are the ones that bring something new to the table and in the case of Headroom they introduced lyrics to “The Call of Ktulu.”

Not since Emmerson, Lake and Palmer has the inclusion of lyrics to a cover been so unnecessary (see Emmerson, Lake and Palmer’s cover of Mussorgsky’s “The Great Gate of Kiev”) an instrumental song is almost always best left as an instrumental, sometimes things are beyond words and at times it is presumptuous to attempt to apply poetry or specified meaning to someone else’s creative effort, as the possibility for misrepresentation/misinterpretation is high. However Headroom did something very smart with their cover of “The Call of Ktulu,” they returned to the source material.

“The Call of Ktulu” is a tribute to H.P. Lovecraft, so any newly added lyrics should also be a tribute to H.P. Lovecraft. When you listen to the lyrics from Headroom’s cover they sound very Lovecraftian in word choice and structure and a quick search reveals the dialogue to be a slightly modified passage from “The Necronomicon.” No not from the book of the dead by the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred which is of course fictional, but from the Necronomicon Project. There have been multiple published version of the supposed book of the dead but the sample quote from this cover song is from the Necronomicon Project – Book 1: Testimony of the Mad Arab, an online tribute to H.P. Lovecraft and a serious attempt at creating a literary version of the fictional legendary book.

These lyrics work. Read the lyrics (more or less) and the rest of the Necronomicon project here:

And the reason these lyrics work is that both the passage from The Necronomicon Project and the music from Metallica’s “The Call of Ktulu” are tributes to the same source material. Headroom wisely combined two works inspired by, and mimicking in style to, the classic American horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. In the end we get a unique and fun cover song.

The study of the anthropology of music is a fun hobby, but also it gives additional meaning and significance to everything. Metallica’s “The Call of Ktulu” is made all the richer once you know about H.P. Lovecraft’s novel “The Call of Cthulhu” and vise versa. The same goes for Headroom’s cover and their reference to The Necronomicon Project. When all four works are considered together, it creates this very satisfying sense of belonging and expansion. From here we can include any number of things that tie back together either to Metallica or Lovecraft and this very powerful connection between artists of various mediums can clearly be seen and what we are seeing is art transcending into culture, and that is awesome.

“The Call of Ktulu” by Metallica is more than a great guitar song it has become a very valuable brick in the construction of our modern zeitgeist of horror and metal and who knows what else.

Until next month keep on rocking in the free world.

- King of Braves


Other sons by Metallica inspired by H.P. Lovecraft are “The Thing that should not be” and “All Nightmare Long.”

Friday, October 11, 2013

Trans Siberian Orchestra - Mephistopheles Returns

The Trans Siberian Orchestra is best known for their rock and roll Christmas albums, but the truth of the matter is that The Trans Siberian Orchestra is primarily about the fusion of rock and roll and classical music.

Many of the best Christmas songs are deliberate reconstructions of, or heavily inspired by, classic symphonies. Obvious examples include “Christmas Canon Rock” or Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker,” less obvious examples include “What Child Is This?” which is basically a reconstruction of old “Greensleeves,” all of which are performed by The Trans Siberian Orchestra on their Christmas albums. No effort is made to hide their infinity for Mozart or Orf as their version of the “Mirage of Figaro” and “O Fortuna” are both present on “Night Castle,” also the works of Bach and others are present throughout. Combine this with the eccentric nature Savatage and Jon Oliva, the rock and roll stars who made rock and roll Christmas a real thing, and the overarching theme of rock and roll meets classical music becomes rather obvious. It should not surprise you to learn The Trans Siberian Orchestra’s third album was a concept album about Beethoven’s theoretical tenth symphony, what should surprise you is that you never heard of it until now; of if you have; good work.

The concept behind “Beethoven’s Last Night” is this; while composing his tenth symphony Ludwig Von Beethoven is visited by Mephistopheles and is tempted by him to sell his soul so that he may finish his final masterpiece. Basically “Beethoven’s Last Night” is “The Devil Came Down to Georgia” only set in Beethoven’s house. When I think about it “The Devil Came Down To Beethoven’s House” might also have worked as a title for this album, very descriptive anyway.

Beethoven creating his tenth symphony under great duress
“Beethoven’s Last Night” is in many ways an excuse for the Trans Siberian Orchestra to play rock opera versions of Beethoven’s classic symphonies, as if one needed an excuse. They use the “Moonlight Sonata” as the construction of two songs on the album, “Mephistopheles” and “What Is Eternal.” “Fur Elise” is used to construct “The Dark” and, well “Fur Elise.” Beethoven’s Ninth is of course present, especially the fan fare of the “Ode To Joy.” They even managed to slip in Mozart’s “Requiem,” “Marriage of Figaro” and “Sonata Facile” in there. Also Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebees” is present. In the live performance/story line the justification for having Mozat’s music present is that Ludwig and Wolfgang were friends in Vienna, and just as Ludwig is about to consider Mephistopheles’ offer the ghost of Wolfgang shows up to warn him of the obvious evils of the demon. In reality there is no hard evidence that Beethoven ever even met his elder Mozart, but it is entirely possible that Beethoven may have studied under Mozart for a short time during his time in Vienna, though to anyone with an ear for classical music it is pretty obvious Beethoven’s music is more inspired by Franz Joseph Haydn than anyone else. Then again any excuse to make a rock opera version of Mozart’s music is a good excuse.

All things considered my favorite song on the album is “Mephistopheles Returns” a song inspired by and structured around Beethoven’s eighth piano concerto, also known as “Sonata Pathetique.” “Mephistopheles Returns” is a bad ass song rock song/classical composition about the horror of seeing the demon once more after Ludwig has had time to contemplate his offer.

Beethoven getting right in the face of Mephistopheles
Speaking of the live performance of “Beethoven’s Last Night” the Trans Siberian Orchestra went on tour in 2012 performing the set from the album, twelve years after the albums initial release. I presume the Trans Siberian Orchestra wanted a break from playing their Christmas set and decided to dust off the old Beethoven routine, and I actually have some confidence in this explanation. In 2009 Trans Siberian Orchestra’s fifth studio album “Night Castle” was released and it was equal parts Christmas themed and classical compositions and Savatage rock and roll. I saw the Trans Siberian Orchestra on their Night Castle tour in my hometown of Calgary in November of the same year, the first half of the concert was the Christmas narrative and the second half was a rock opera of classical music and Savatage related rock and roll. So the theory that a few years later the Trans Siberian Orchestra wanted to focus on their non-Christmas music is a theory that fits the situation. I was very happy with this development at the time because I loved the Trans Siberian Orchestra version of Savatage’s “Believe,” as noted here in my December 2009 Music In Review:

For the longest time I was convinced I was the only person in Calgary who owned a copy of “Beethoven’s Last Night” and also quite possibly the only person who knew it existed, so in 2012 when the Trans Siberian Orchestra returned to Calgary to perform the Beethoven set I was pretty excited. I bought tickets I went to the show with a friend, they performed the set brilliantly, the narrator was very charismatic, everything was perfect, but I was disappointed... they didn’t play “Mephistopheles Returns.” That’s my only complaint. To me “Mephistopheles Returns” is the climax of the entire set and it was a foolish thing not to include it.

So the only question remains, what is cooler than “The Devil Came Down to Georgia” re-imagined as “The Devil Came Down To Beethoven’s House?” If anyone can think of anything I would like to know.

Until later this month keep on rocking in the free world.

- The King of Braves

There was really good artwork made for this album.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Black Sabbath - End Of The Beginning

This year Black Sabbath released “13” their nineteenth studio album, you might have thought “13” was Black Sabbath’s thirteenth studio album, what being with the album being called “13” and all, but you would be wrong. This is a big deal. It is a big deal that Tony Iommi has kept the Black Sabbath spirit alive for the past forty three years and also managing to stay active the entire time. Producing nineteen albums is a testament to the longevity of Iommi’s, and to a somewhat lesser degree Geezer Butler’s, very successful careers; but that’s not what makes “13” a big deal. What makes “13” a big deal is Ozzy has returned.

“13” is the first Black Sabbath album featuring Ozzy Osbourne since “Never Say Die!” in 1978. In the thirty five years between “Never Say Die!” and “13” Tony Iommi, usually with Geezer Butler produced ten studio albums with various band members coming and going. The men who attempted to replace Ozzy include, Ronnie James Dio, Ian Gillan, Glen Hughes, Ray Gillen, and Tony Martin. Add in multiple bass players and drummers and you have Iommi’s Black Sabbath Odyssey pretty much summed up.

“Never Say Die!” was Black Sabbath eighth studio album and for the longest time presumed to be the last time the original line up of Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Ozzy Osbourne would be together as Black Sabbath. The reunion tour of Black Sabbath’s original line up, including Bill Ward on drums, in 1999 gave all of us hope, but most people, myself included, never thought we would see Ozzy record another studio album with Black Sabbath, and now that he has I believe it is accurate to declare “13” a big deal.

Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne and Geezer Butler.
These three badasses together again is a big deal.
I assume anticipation for Ozzy’s return to the Black Sabbath label would be high, atmospheric high, and “13” debuted as number one on the charts in most countries that matter (U.S., U.K., Canada, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, New Zealand etc.). Critical reviews appear to be universally positive and fans are happy. Funny thing though, no one in my social circle is talking about “13.” Also the only online news I have heard about “13” I had to actively hunt down, so maybe there is a reason for me to write something.

The first single off “13” is “God Is Dead?” Why the question mark? Dramatic rhetoric I think. “God Is Dead?” is a good song.

Black Sabbath - God is Dead?

The entire album is quite good, but no one track really jumped out and had me falling in love with it. It is a very common thing for aged musicians to get into a routine in regards to their creativity and song writing, and forty three years is a long time. I somewhat want to accuse Tony Iommi of being guilty of reproducing effectively the same handful of songs over and over again, even before Ozzy even left Black Sabbath, but I hesitate to make such a declaration because it’s freaking Black Sabbath. However “13” feels similar throughout its eight tracks and similar to classic Black Sabbath, and I have to wonder if this is why I have been hearing so little about “13.” It feels like Ozzy and Tony haven’t missed a beat since 1978’s “Never Say Die!” they have returned to the status quo and its business as usual, and that business is metal. “13” sounds and feels just like a seventies Black Sabbath album only thirty five years removed, which is exactly what a Black Sabbath fan would want, and the niche following Iommi possesses combined with the glory of the Prince of Darkness it exactly the sort of thing that would appease critics, so basically all parties are happy, but unfortunately it leaves me with little say beyond, “yeah ‘13’ was pretty good. If you like Ozzy and Sabbath you’ll enjoy it.”

And... yeah “13” was pretty good if you like Ozzy and Sabbath you’ll enjoy it.

When I write these reviews I like to pick out an individual song so for “13” I choose the first track on the album “End Of The Beginning” which is slightly my favorite song from “13.” I suspect the first track being titled “End Of The Beginning” is not a coincidence, though what that specifically entails I am not entirely certain. This eight minute hard rock song is quite the journey from beginning to end, there are multiple bridges and transitions that keep the song fresh and interesting the whole way through, and also something about the lyrics feels right, feels like a Black Sabbath song, as it should it be.

I also like the line of “You don’t want to be a robot ghost...” which always makes me laugh, because it reminds me of this guy:

A ghost trapped in a robot.  He is Ghost Robot.
Venture Bros references aside let us conclude. “13” is likely to make Sabbath and Ozzy fans happy but lacking any profound innovation is likely to be largely ignored by the general populace as we are already seeing, neither of which says anything about the actual quality of the album which is about average for a Black Sabbath album, which in turn is well above average your average metal album. All eight songs are very good, none in particular stand out when compared to each other, “End Of The Beginning” is probably slightly the best one, so listen to it and then listen to the rest of the album. Iommi has always been awesome, Butler is one of the best bass players ever, and Ozzy still rules. Enough said.

Until next month keep on rocking in the free world.