Thursday, June 19, 2014

Hammerfall - Take The Black

Game of Thrones session four episode nine was one hundred percent about the wildling attack on the wall and their battle with the men of the Night’s Watch. It was a great episode. Jon Snow got to stand up and take command of the battle and there were some great parts with Sam as well. Also important characters died. I really like the third book “A Storm of Swords” for a lot of reasons but one of the reasons was Jon’s character arc. In the first two books “A Game of Thrones” and “A Clash of Kings” Jon was not a particularly interesting character, he was involved in some really neat world building moments, mostly exploring and explaining the north, but Ned Stark’s bastard himself was not as engaging as many of the other characters. Characters like Ned, Rob, Stannis, Jamie and Tyrion had complex situations to deal with, and were forced to make really challenging moral choices where as Jon Snow only ever had one option, do the right thing. In “A Storm of Swords” things got complicated for Jon and his chapters were fantastic as a result. He had divided loyalties between the Night’s Watch and his wildling love interest Ygritte. We got to see the wildlings as people, likeable people with empathic objectives and we had to compare that to the noble duty of the men at the wall. I liked the choices Jon makes and I like his plight, he’s a great character, maybe even the main character?

Great battles and dark magic in the icy north are perfect settings for metal music. In fact the entire “Song of Ice and Fire” series is so loved by metal musicians that there are dozens of songs about the Game of Thrones, notably Blind Guardian and “War of the Thrones” which you may remember from here:

The most common storyline from “A Song of Ice and Fire” metal musicians tend to write songs for is Jon Snow’s. Most of the songs are about Jon, the wall, the north, the others, or the men of the Night’s Watch, or all the above, and again why not? Everything about the north wall of Westeros is pretty metal when you think about it, warriors dressed in black battling ice zombies is very metal.

Sweden’s Hammerfall being on the forefront of modern metal were among the best who contributed to the growing catalogue of metal songs inspired by the imagination of George R. R. Martin. Off of their fifth album “Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken” the song “Take the Black” is an obvious “Game of Thrones” inspired track. The title “Take the Black” is a common expression in Westeros describing when a man chooses to join the men of the Night’s Watch, of course you already know that assuming you have not been living under a goddamn rock. There are many characters that have challenging moments and interesting circumstances that force them to pause and consider making the hard but noble choice to dedicate their lives to protecting the realm from the horrors beyond the wall. Taking the black can be seen as a desperate escape for criminals and the unwanted, but it also can be an expression of empowerment.

Lord Eddard Stark’s bastard Jon Snow did not have to take the black, he chooses to do so because it was a noble and heroic thing to do. Jon was at least partially inspired by his uncle Benjen who also took the black to serve the realm, as did Jeor Mormont who was Lord of Bear Island before taking the black. So when Hammerfall’s lead singer Joacim Cans roars the title “take the black” it feels like a call to arms, or a beckoning to glory and not some submission to banishment.

In fact the chorus of “Take the Black” is the charming hook and most badass moment of the entire song;

“Ain't no reason for the rhyme,
Take the Black - Ready to attack,
Take the Black.
Face to face you bide your time,
Take the Black - Ready to attack.”

Not only is the chorus very fast and powerful but it is also the only coherent connection to George R.R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” series in the entire song. The verses of “Take the Black” are rather generic for a metal song and open for just about any interpretation, but this hardly matters. The connection to “Game of Thrones” is established with the title and chorus and if that is where the inspiration ends we are no poorer for it. “Take the Black” while perhaps only slightly about Jon Snow or the men of the Night’s Watch, is still a very good metal song.

The trick to a good metal song, in my opinion anyway, is pacing; or rhythm if you prefer the proper terminology. So the secret of any high energy metal song is fast drums and cooperative bass and rhythm guitar. Too many metal songs are a hurried mess of competing sounds, when a more methodic, or intelligent, approach is needed. “Take the Black” is a powerful, fast paced, heavy metal song, but it is also well paced, which in my opinion makes it a great metal song. The flow and rising action of the melody take us on an adventure and gets our hearts pumping, and fuck yeah.

I really like the ending to this song, they play the amazing chorus one last time and let a single guitar note linger a lengthy while into near silence before exploding back into the chorus once more. One last big fuck yeah before the track is truly over. It leaves you wanting more, which in turn makes you listen to the song again, and again, and again; and I bet you will.

I guess the moral of the story is “Game of Thrones” is awesome; Swedish metal is awesome; so it follows that Hammerfalls “Take the Black” is awesome. That is some math you can share with your friends about at parties.

Keep on rocking in the free world.

- King of Braves

Take the Black

Friday, June 6, 2014

Sabaton - White Death

On May 10th of this year, Sabaton came to Calgary Alberta. I was super excited to see them. I had picked up most of their CDs and I really enjoyed everything about them, especially the fact that almost all their songs are inspired by European military history. They were the second band in a show of three. The opening act before Sabaton was Revamp, a nice surprise goth metal band from the Netherlands whose lead singer, Floor Jansen, is the currently lead singer for Nightwish, which is something I probably should have known ahead of time, but I did not. The main attraction was Iced Earth, a band I am still learning about.

On an unimportant side note, on Revamp’s North American Tour Diary Part 6, if you watch closely you can see me in it. Neat.

When Sabaton hit the small stage in the Republik nightclub and bar, something special happened; we the people of Calgary went nuts. Chants of “Sabaton! Sabaton! Sabaton!” ripped through crowd, we cheered louder for Sabaton then we would for Iced Earth later that night, at least I think we did. We were so loud and riled up we managed to surprise lead singer Joakim Brodén and he said;

“Calgary. This is very unusual. We’ve never been here before. This kind of ovation is unexpected.”

Later he joked as we continued to cheer;

“Wow. I’m feeling a little bit of a love hate thing going on here. I mean you all seem really nice, but what the hell happened at the Olympics? You guys raped us in the gold medal match. Every time Canada beats Sweden in hockey we will remove one song from our playlist.”

Thankfully he was just joking and we were treated to the full set.

Sabaton's front man Joakim Broden
Joakim Brodén proved to be a very good front man, the man has great energy and personality and he fed off our energy as we fed off of his. Also I like the fake body armor, Mohawk, goatee, shades combination, he makes it work.

It was a great show and I feel very confident Sabaton will return one day. Calgary made them feel welcome, and I am very happy I got to be a part of that.

The three biggest reasons I believe Sabaton will succeed on the global stage of metal are, great sound, great look, and great theme. The sound speaks for its self, solid drums with smooth rhythm and melody make every song of theirs jump out at you; they are very energetic and exciting all the time. Their look is simple, they wear greyscale camouflage, but they are distinct, they are easy to point out and that helps casual listeners remember who they are. Last the vastness of military history offers a nearly endless supply of stories and inspiration to draw upon for creating music, and military history is extremely interesting and exciting. It is a theme everyone from every country has some cultural connection with and war is something most metal fans have at least a passing interest in. After all what is more metal than war?

When creating metal music about famous battles and heroes through Europe’s dense military history it makes sense to write at least one song about the greatest soldier in all modern military history, I of course am speaking of Simo Häyhä. I am sure some people will argue that someone other than Simo Häyhä is the greatest military solider ever, but it’s hard to imagine a better candidate than the Finnish sniper.

Simo Hayha.  Getting shot
in the face is no big deal.
The Winter War began in 1939 when the Soviet Union invaded Finland. As Russians poured across the Finnish boarder they were brutally dispatch by a lone sniper. Dressed all in white and using a white guard M/28 rifle, Simo managed to hide in snow drifts and trees and shoot down Russians as they came the border. By the end of the war Simo had managed to rack up over five hundred confirmed kills, and as if that was not impressive enough he managed to do it in minus forty degree weather and over the course of merely one hundred days. This means Simo managed to kill an average of five or more men a day for a hundred days straight with an outdated rifle. After one hundred days of being slaughtered by one man some Russian finally got lucky and managed to shoot Simo in the face with a stray shot. Just to prove how badass Simo was he survived and lived to the ripe old age of ninety-six.

For his accomplishments in slaughtering Russians in the Winter War, Simo Häyhä was dubbed The White Death. Sabaton naturally wrote a song about him of the same name.

“You are in the sniper's sight,
The first kill tonight,
Time to die!
You are in the bullet's way,
The White Death's prey,
Say goodbye!”

This chorus is perfect. It is intense, powerful and deadly. The White Death is described almost like a force of nature, dispatching people so easily as if they were just thing to discard and happened just in the way. As civilized human beings we often shy away from the embraces of war, and as a generation that has never known true war we tend to demonize any acts of violence altogether, but somewhere deep inside us, all of us, we know there is something very exciting about violence and combat. The fear of death and the glory of triumph dwell in us all. A fast paced metal song about history’s greatest sniper can really get the blood flowing, and like so many Sabaton songs “White Death” has fantastic energy.

What better way to honour the White Death, Simo Häyhä?

I am calling it now. Sabaton will be a huge international success very soon, or maybe they already are and I just don’t know it.

- King of Braves
Metal's new bad asses.