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

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