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: