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.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Unisonic - No One Ever Sees Me

Michael Kiske is a powerhouse metal singer hailing from the great nation of Deutschland (Germany). At age seventeen Kiske was part of a band called Ill Prophecy, but he became famous when he joined the epic band Helloween. He would remain as lead singer of Helloween between 1986 through 1993. After leaving Helloween Kiske had a successful solo career and also appeared as a guest singer for many bands including, Gamma Ray, Stratovarius, Aina’s metal opera “Days of Rising Doom,” Thalion, Edguy, Indigio Dying, Revolution Resistance, Trick or Treat, Tomorrow’s Outlook, and Timo Tolkki’s metal opera “Avalon.” In 2009 Kiske released a duet album with Amanda Somerville under the name Kiske/Somerville. Between 2005 through 2013 Kiske was the lead singer of Place Vendome. Also Kiske is a primary voice in the greatest super group ever Avantasia. Kiske is now the lead singer of Unisonic.

Kai Hansen is a powerhouse guitarist hailing from the great nation of Deutschland (again Germany) nad is one of the founder members of Helloween; after four albums as one of the leaders of Helloween Hansen would leave the band in 1989. Between 1990 through 2012 Kiske was the lead guitarist of Gamma Ray, he would also function as lead guitarist for the band Iron Savior on three of their albums. Hansen has appeared as a guest guitarist for many bands including, Rampage, Blind Guardian, Angra, Primal Fear, HammerFall, Heavenly, Stormwarrior, Headhunter, Heavenwood, and the greatest super group ever Avantasia. Hansen is now the lead guitarist of Unisonic.

Basically Kiske and Hansen have been in ever band ever.

As stated at the end of both introductory paragraphs, after journeying throughout the global metal scene both men have come together to form Unisonic, a modern German metal band. Kiske and Hansen met when they were both part of Helloween so Unisonic in many ways is a reunion for the two biggest stars of that band. Also in not so many ways Unisonic is Helloween version 2.0.

Unisonic had their debut album and world tour in 2012 much to the acclaim of European and South American critics and metal fans, all the while being largely ignored by the North American market. I mean I bought a copy of “Unisonic” but as near I as I know I am the only Canadian who did, and as a consequence this debut album becomes yet another hidden treasure from the popular knowledge of people, which is a real shame since “Unisonic” I think is the best work either Kiske or Hansen has done since the Keeper’s albums while in Helloween.

Unisonic the music video by Unisonic from the album Unisonic

The doubly self titled track “Unisonic” was the only single of the album and the only song to receive music video treatment. I suppose “Unisonic” off of the album “Unisonic” by Unisonic does seem the obvious choice for a first single especially considering the lyrical content is mostly Kiske introducing Unisonic to the world. The song “Unisonic” is a really good song but it far from the only good track on the album. I also really enjoyed “King For A Day” and “Never Too Late,” but if I had to pick a favourite track it would have to be “No One Ever Sees Me.”

Maybe I am just a sucker for a power ballad, or maybe it is because I am not so secretly a miserable person, or maybe it is because I think Kiske sings like a rock god on this song, but I really like “No One Ever Sees Me.”

The casual interpretation of a chorus like:

“No one ever sees me.
No one ever hears me.
No one knows me.
No one feels my pain.
I fade away.”

Could be a great many things. I instantly identified with the whole, no one knows me and no one feels my pain attitude. Like so many unusual prototypes before me I have felt far too many times misunderstood, outcast, and alone. But as I read over the lyrics, that I have been singing along too for just over a year now, it finally occurs to me that “No One Ever Sees Me” appears to be about an arranged marriage.

The opening two verses told from the girl’s point of view as her father pressures her, and guilt her into this arrangement.

“Anna hurts herself to cover up,
The deeper pain inside.
And if you ask she's alright,
But in the night she cries.

Her father says: You better get your head right.
Cause if you don't, you'll lose the fight of life.
You'll find a man that will give you guidance,
Who you can tell what you never shared with us,
Do you ever think about us?”

The second two verses appear to come from the point of the view of the man in this arrange marriage and the dark expectations and intentions he feels entitled too in this unjust situation.

“Sati's dad is honoring,
What always was tradition.
He will choose who'll marry her,
There must be no confusion.

And if she starts to babble about love,
I will forget what I am made of,
I will end her life with my own hands,
Do what it takes and what honor still demands,
It ends right here.”

All of a sudden this song is a great white ribbon song. Who in the world pays much or any attention to the suffering of women trapped within arranged marriages? Did you even notice Iran lowering the legal age of marriage for girls to nine, they did this because Saudi Arabia’s legal age of raping young girls (they call it marriage for some reason) to ten, you know because that’s what the Quran said. When you stop for even a shortest of moments you realize arranged marriages is a very real modern problem for far too many woemn, and it is something fantastic that someone actually bothered to write a song about it. The more I think about it “No One Ever Sees” me is kind of perfect in its delivery of this message, because Kiske is right, we turn a very blind eye to suffering of women across the globe, especially the silent suffering of women forced and conditioned to function as brood mares for their family or faith.

I really liked “No One Ever Sees” me but after some casual analysis I love the song even more. Also I really liked Unisonic’s debut album, and I strongly encourage metal fans to pick up a copy. The birth of Unisonic is a historical moment for metal Kiska and Hansen are together again and they are awesome together.

Keep on rocking in the free world.

- Colin Kelly, King of Braves