Thursday, December 31, 2015

Nightwish - Wishmaster

So Nightwish, you probably heard of them. Of all the many central European metal bands I love Nightwish is probably the most successful and easily the most famous in my native Canada. Perhaps Nightwish needs no introduction, but as a quick summary Nightwish is perhaps the first, or at the very least the first famous, metal band to use a beautiful female trained in opera as their lead singer, and that kind of became a big thing.

Naturally I was on board with the idea of opera singer meets metal band, and in many ways Nightwish was a launching point for me to discover the wonderful world of central European metal which is absolutely my favorite genre music currently. However there is something else about Nightwish that makes them special, and that is fantasy, it would be difficult to argue Nightwish as being anything other than a power metal band and impossible to deny their fantasy inspirations and themes.

As someone who is attempting to write his own fantasy epic and as someone who writes his own music blog as a hobby you can imagine I have been involved in countless conversations where the two topics overlap. Once many, moons ago, a friend asked me what sort of music inspires me the most when I write epic battle scenes, as that is the best thing to be interested about in this world. This gentleman in question was rather into really heavy badass warriors and combat as well as metal and who isn’t really? So I thought for a moment and came up with a couple of Nightwish songs, the two that always stood out to me the most for this specific sort of criteria are “Planet Hell” and “Wishmaster.”

“Planet Hell” is a great song and has always been one of my favorite Nightwish songs however this is not the time to talk about “Planet Hell” just yet. Today we are discussing “Wishmaster.”

“Wishmaster” is the title track of Nightwish’s third studio album which was released in the year 2000. It was around this time that Nightwish started to establish themselves in the international market of metal due to the success of their second album “Oceanborn.” While “Oceanborn” is a great album it is the hit songs off of “Wishmaster” that really started building Nightwish’s momentum. Songs like “She is My Sin,” “Deep Silent Complete” and as of this moment, most notably, the self title track “Wishmaster” that really set the stage for who Nightwish were, what they were about, and where they were going.

With a band name like Nightwish, it does not take tremendous powers of observation to notice how a album and song titled “Wishmaster” might has some level of personal connection or involvement in its artistic meaning. What I am trying to say is “Wishmaster” in many ways is Nightwish’s primary flagship song. It is not just the name but also the content of the song; naturally it is a hard hitting metal song with beautiful lead vocals from Tarja. It is a Nightwish song where Tarja really gets to show off but also has a great guitar solo where Emppu gets to show off, a little bit of everything and great pacing by the rhythm section to boot. There is also a mysterious reference to seven individuals;

7th Seeker,
In me the Wishmaster.”

I have read a lot of fantasy novels but I have no idea who these seven individuals being referred too are. Oh but it gets better.

"Varda" by Gustav oMalek

I know these two, they are from the Silmarillion. Elbereth is the alternate name for Varda the eldest of the female gods, known as the Valier; she is the lady of the stars and dwells with Manwe the eldest of the Valar, the male gods. Lorien is the second youngest of the Valar (not including Morgoth), and is the master of visions and dreams, and Esre is his spose who is the Valier of healing wounds and weariness.

So that’s some pretty intense and obscure fantasy reference but you are not going to out Tolkien me Nightwish.

Then they drop these two names:
Silvara from the cover
of one of the Dragonlance
books.  I couldn't figure
out which one.


Okay... I’ve never heard of them. But a quick Google search should clear that up. These characters are from the Dragon Lance novel series apparently.

Silvara is the name the silver dragon though she was often sen in her polymorph elf form, so that is pretty interesting. Meanwhile Alhana Starbreeze is the leader of the Silvanesti Elves.

The moral of the story, I should probably read the Dragon Lance series when I get a chance. The more important moral of the story, Nightwish are like super awesome metal fantasy fans, and that is probably nowhere made more obvious than a song with a similar namesake that refers to characters from both Tolkien and Dungeons and Dragons mythologies.

One mystery still remains, who are the master, the apprentice, heartborne, the 7th seeker, the warrior, the disciple, and the wishmaster? Maybe I will never know. Maybe it will turn out to be a list of fantastic characters from a fantasy world of Nightwish’s own imagination, not unlike Freddie Mercury’s Rhye. If anyone knows I hope they let me know, because I listen to the album and song “Wishmaster” a great many times and often allowed my mind to wonder who these persons might be. It was a fun exercise in dreaming, and that is only made possible by the guitar strings and the drum beats and the baseline and of course Tarja’s voice bringing together a song that perfectly captures the spirit of their band and power metal in general. Also if you do a Google search some better read fantasy fans than I have some very good theories who these individuals are, but there seems to be at least some level of uncertainty still, so for me at least the mystery lingers.

There is a good conversation about it here:

If you have somehow managed to avoid discovering the greatness of Nightwish up until now, then “Wishmaster” is perhaps the finest introduction one could hope to have, and for us who don’t live under a rock we can probably all agree that “Wishmaster” is among Nightwish’s finest work.

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

- King of Braves

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

ReVamp - Wild Card

On May 10th of 2014 I went to metal show that include; Iced Earth, more on them later, Sabaton, whom I have talked about before with the tracks “White Death” and “Poltova,” and the first act of the night was a Dutch band called ReVamp.

It is the most natural thing in the world when going to concerts, there will be an opening act that you have never heard of before and suddenly you are going in blind (or deaf since we are talking about music) into a whole new experience. Sometimes you have to sit through a challenge of your patience, other times you get to discover something new and exciting. I have seen a lot of concerts, and as a consequence I have had to sit through a lot of disappointing first impressions, but I have also had the privilege of being introduced to a variety of great bands, but I feel my chance meeting with ReVamp was a highly positive one.

Standing in the front of the crowd, I saw a very tall woman with long black hair in a shinny dress and she led that metal band in an impressive way. The Dutch are statistically the tallest people in the world, and this woman, Floor Jansen, standing at 6’1 was an impressive sight. Being a tall, decent looking woman, and possessing a powerful operatic singing voice she kind of out shined the rest of her band ReVamp, even though I had to note the lead guitarist was very good and the rest of the band was solid in every notable way. Still there was no way of getting around it, Floor was the attention piece of the band she was much more interesting than anyone else on stage.

If you watch ReVamp’s North American Tour videos I am in part 6 when they are in Calgary, you can see me at the two minute twenty-six second mark. So that’s kind of neat:

Part way through this opening act Floor announced that she was the newest lead singer for Nightwish, which really seemed like the sort of thing I should have already known, so I was learning all sorts of things that night. I was impressed enough that I bought ReVamp’s two albums at the show and chatted with the Floor and the guitarist Arjan Rijnen for a couple of minutes, and that was also kind of neat. All in all I considered the night a win.

There are many examples of metal bands fronted by a powerful operatic female lead singer and ReVamp in many ways is yet another example of this trend. There is of course the added flair that Floor is also part of the most successful female fronted metal band ever in Nightwish, but that is another conversation for another time (January). In my humble opinion there can never be too many metal bands fronted with trained opera and soprano singers so I welcome the inclusion of ReVamp into the wild world of metal music.

There have been two ReVamp albums to date, their self titled debut album and “Wildcard.” Rumours regarding a third album are ongoing but regardless the album of interest here and now is “Wildcard” and the song to discuss further is the self titled track of the same name.

Floor Jansen
The song “Wild Card” does not really start kicking ass until the chorus. There is a moment where all the sounds drop and a completely different reintroduction of the instruments comes forward and Floor’s voice takes us through the chorus and she really sings and it is really great. Upon additional listens I came to realize this song is built completely around Floor’s voice and it is really a rather light metal song. I guess this is yet another example of the value of the strong front person with strong vocals.

ReVamp has been on a hiatus since sometime this year, which, if I had to guess has something to do with Floor touring with Nightwish. The future is unclear for the Dutch metal band and it may prove too much for Floor to work with and tour with two separate bands. If this is the end of ReVamp we can take comfort in knowing we got two decent albums and in my opinion a very enjoyable track in “Wild Card.”

- King of Braves

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Jam Project - The Gate of The Hell

It is interesting that there is an entire genre of music in Japan dedicated to the production of soundtracks for animated features, but perhaps even more fascinating is the sub genre of super robots. Yes, there is an entire genre of music in Japan written about giant super robots and there are musicians whose careers are partially dedicated to writing songs about the deep mythology of Japanese robots.

Jam Projects is an interesting combination of creative inspirations, you see Jam Project is a super group of rock stars who had worked frequently on music about super giant robots among other related televised shows. So they are sort of like the Trans Siberian Orchestra only Japanese and with a healthy focus on robots instead of Christmas. The message I am attempting to convey is that Jam Project is awesome.

Introducing Jam Project.
Why so does Japan love giant super robots so much? As if they needed a reason.

The easiest way to understand the appreciation and love of giant super robots in Japan for westerns like me is to compare them to super heroes. In Japan their super heroes did not wear costumes and capes they commanded giant super robots, and instead of super powers they had giant super robots, and there is a wide range of television series, movies, manga/comic books, and cross over events worthy of comparison to the complicated mythos of Marvel or DC. Now imagine how awesome it would be if we had musicians who dedicated their careers to singing about the Justice League or the Avengers? That would be amazing, but in Japan they have already done that for themselves, there already have plenty of songs created about Tetsujin 28, the Geter Robo and Mazinger Z.

Mazinger Z in particular is very famous and popular, internationally so, just not in English speaking countries because a dub was never made in the seventies for us to enjoy, and after missing the party it proved too difficult time and again for the marketing of Mazinger Z to breach the US and British commonwealth markets. Too bad though because from what I understand Mazinger is an insane manga and anime with several retellings that promise to be equally insane and amazing.

Mazinger Z was created by Go Nagi, who for all intents and purposes is a maniac. Osamu Tezuka (the creator of Astro Boy) is often referred to as the god father of anime and manga, if that’s true then Go Nagi is the perverted uncle no one talks about. When Go Nagi was not telling stories about an ultra-violent demonic super hero (Devil Man) or a super sexy android fighting super sexy space amazons (Cutie Honey), he was telling stories about the first ever giant robot that was being piloted by a man, and that robot was Mazinger Z. The series lasted a very long time but ended with Mazinger Z being destroyed in a final battle against Doctor Hell, because fuck subtly. But due to popular demand Go Nagi was forced to create a sequel with a new pilot and new Mazinger robot, called Great Mazinger. Great Mazinger also lasted a long time but he survived his final battle against Archduke Gorgon, who was a green skinned Greek warrior whose lower torso was a tiger, yes you read that right. This led to a third series where the original pilot, Koji Kabuto, returned to pilot the new UFO Robot Grendizer. What an adventure.

There have been many different version of Mazinger.

Alas the seventies were a long time ago and newer generations didn’t really know much about Mazinger Z so it was time for a rebranding, a newer more powerful version of the original super robot was what was needed and thus Mazinkaiser was born. Naturally Jam Project was hired to write the soundtrack.

The main theme for the short anime series Mazinkaiser would be called “The Gate of the Hell,” somehow the terrible English makes it even more fantastic. Speaking of broken English the opening is in English:

“Shall find the end of this world,
There was a gate to the dark side,
And in there guardian is here,
He will come, here as Kaizer.”

Good try boys. I think we all know what you mean.

Most Jam Project songs have a strong theatrical touch, which is to be expected since most of their songs are written for or about television shows and movies, but what I mean is there is a very full sound in all their songs, a very over the top and classical pose. “The Gate of the Hell” is a little different; it is definitely a metal song, as it should be, as it is about the powerful version of the most famous super robot in history.

As I understand most animated incarnation of the Mazinger are toned down, as in they are less violent and crazy then Go Nagi’s original manga incarnation. This was a reoccurring problem Nagi ran into, everything he made was super over the top violent and sexual but his ideas strongly appealed to kids. So basically a super powerful, grim looking, badass metal super robot that has to fight and violently kill robotic monsters controlled by the evil Dr. Hell, does warrant a metal song, and Jam Project provides.

Jam Project founding member Yoshiki Fukuyama is one of the lead vocals on this track and you may remember him from my last review as he was the talented man who sang “Angel Voice” from the Macross 7 soundtrack. So that is a nice tie in.

“The Gate of the Hell” would be a great metal song without the Mazinger connection, but of course that is the icing on this otherwise already delicious cake. There is both intensity and a level of appropriate aggressive anger in “The Gate of the Hell” that suggests an endless and epic combat, the perfect theme for both a metal song and a giant super robot. Sometimes everything works together to make a perfect song for the intended purpose.

- King of Braves

Monday, November 23, 2015

Fire Bomber - Angel Voice

This is going to be a weird one.

The first challenge I ran into when composing this review was who to credit as the artist. The song “Angel Voice” was written and composed by Yoko Kanno, the singer performing the song is Yoshiki Fukuyama, but no official name for the band is credit for the song. The character who sings the song is named Nekki Basara and his fictional rock band is called Fire Bomber. Really I could have chosen any of the listed options.

Yoko Kanno, writer/composure or
"Angel Voice."
Alright where to begin; music saves the world, at least it did in the anime mega hit of the 1980’s Macross Super Dimensional Fortress. Macross was a science fiction adventure that pitted humanities battle mecs, called valkyries, which were capable of transforming into jet fighters as well as a halfway in between robot and jet mode, against giant armored aliens called Zentradi. The Zentradi were emotionless warriors who had segregated their men and women completely from one another so they really, really had no idea about strong intimate emotions and as a consequence music really messed them up. Humanity learned that by projecting a giant broadcast of beloved pop singer Minmay out into the battlefield this would cause the enemy to lose focus and effectively become stunned in place. So effectively music saves humanity in a very literal sense in the original Macross series. It is charming.

Yoshiki Fukuyama, singer of
"Angel Voice."
Macross 7 is a sequel to the original series, and it is weird. Self absorbed orphan rock star Nekki Basara and his band Fire Bomber end up working with the military abroad the city sized battle station the Macross 7, because their music is assisting them in a great many ways. They even build Basara valkyrie that can be controlled by his guitar, which is stupid. Macross 7 is a stupid anime, that is not to say that is it necessarily bad, but it is stupid.

However Macross 7 had one thing going for it that the original did not, it had a rock band. The music from the original Macross Super Dimensional Fortress has a charm in its own right, but for a rock and roll guy like me, the pop music that consisted of Minmay’s play list never did much for me. While Macross 7 is a bizarre and at times bafflingly silly story about unlikeable characters mostly doing unbelievable things, the music is pretty damn good.

It is something the Japanese musicians seem really proud of is writing music for their animated television shows. There is a whole genre dedicated to it. Here in the west bands may volunteer to write original material for a motion picture, but we rarely see established musicians spending their time on televisions shows, let alone, cartoons. There is an endearing nature to enthusiastic musicians like Yoshiki Fukuyama who put into their work for what might be considered childish nonsense.

Basara Nekki, main character of
"Macross 7."
If I am being perfectly honest I never finished watching Macross 7, but it was not the series or it’s soundtrack that warrants the attention I write about today. There is a four episode sequel titled Macross Dynamite 7 which involves a whole new dilemma involving mystically space whales; I’d say you can’t make this up, but evidently somebody did. The climax for this sequel is our protagonist Basara in his valkyrie, that is controlled by his guitar, performing a song to the space whales and thus forming a bridge of communication as the space whales sing along with him. It is a strange moment, in a strange series, about a strange man. However in many ways this feels like the natural conclusion to the series, more so than the series I never actually finished, so maybe I’m wrong, but it feels like the natural conclusion to the story arc that Basara was experiencing.

Every connection Macross 7’s plot attempted to make between the rock band Fire Bomber and the boring main story felt forced. It was like there was two completely independent and mutually exclusive plot lines going on that had nothing to do with one another and nothing about them indicated that they should ever cross paths, that is, until this ending to this sequel. Space whales, sure, very weird plot device, but all of a sudden warring factions have to stop and behold while a rock star makes the breakthrough that neither of them could. Basara does not use music to save the world, but he stops a galactic brawl from taking place and forms a bound with a truly alien life form with music, and that is impressive nonetheless, and more important than that perhaps it feels like the sort of heroic thing a not very heroic, and frankly self absorbed, artist like the character Basara would seek. This is the naturally conclusion for that character, this is want he looking for all this time.

Then again maybe I am wrong I never could muster the patient to watch all of Macross 7.

So why talk about this at all? Because the song Nekki Basara plays at the end of the series is freaking beautiful. That song is “Angel Voice.”

The lyrics are in Japanese but a simple translation reveals the song, more or less, about searching for something beautiful, and if we listen carefully we should be able to hear it, an angel’s voice. For the most part I feel “Angel Voice” is a guitar song, sure there is a bass and drums like any traditional rock song, but the focus is very much on the guitar and Yoshiki’s voice, and the intro and outro is made up exclusives by this lead guitar. Speaking of Yoshiki’s voice we have to address the most iconic and obviously best part of the song, the wailing “whoa whoa whoa,” that compromises entire last third of the song.

At roughly the four and a half minute mark there are no more words to be said and Yoshiki breaks into a repeating of “whoa whoa whoa,” which in plain text may not sound overly exciting but believe me it is, and you don’t have to believe me, you can go listen to the song and hear it for yourself, which is, after all the whole point of me writing any of this.

There is a lot of emotion in this ending display, and it is very powerful and catchy. Either intentionally or unintentionally Kanno has touched on one of the oldest and most effective tricks in pop music’s book, create a sing along part that literally everyone can learn instantly, the best way to do that is to not use words but a sound like “whoa.” A truly irrelevant side effect is anyone speaking any dialect can sing along with Yoshiki, but I must stress this is an irrelevant effect, because there is something very special in the way he wails and the heart he puts into his voice that transcends language anyway, and the soul of his voice strikes in the heart of humanity itself.

Also, because the fountain head of inspiration for this song is a truly bizarre one, you can hear the space whales singing along at the end of the song, and the song fades with them. This perhaps would normally be lame but it somehow works. It adds a little extra charm and it ties itself back into its bizarre anime connection.

I guess the moral of the story is great music can come from the wildest of places and it is always worthwhile to keep an open ear for what you might find.

- King of Braves

Saturday, November 7, 2015

X Japan - Forever Love

Most people would probably agree that the most commercially successful Japanese rock band of all time is X Japan. If not domestically in their native Japan, X Japan is probably the most popular Japanese rock band outside of the land of the rising sun.

The first important reason X Japan is so successful is simply because they are good. This reason often escapes music critics when discussing the more complicated nuances of musician’s popularity and relevance, but the reality is the overwhelming majority of bands who find popularity only do so because they first earned recognition for their ability, and X Japan is no exception.

Song titles like “I’ll Kill You,” “Sadistic Desire” and “Give Me Pleasure,” all from their first album gives you some indication what X Japan liked to sing about, sex and death were on the forefront, and that alone in rock and roll is not so strange, but there is a certain level of intensity that was rare in the eighties and nineties and even rarer in Japan, a very reserved country. Combine these subject matters with the eccentric line up and we really have something special. But it was not just sex and death that made X Japan a curious commodity, I always found their intensely depressing songs the most possessive of my attention, most notably “Forever Love,” but we will get back to that in a moment.

Hideto Matsumoto, aka hide,
aka The Pink Spider
The drummer and piano player Yoshiki is credited as the band leader and his almost solely independent involvement in the song writing process clearly contribute to the feel and style that makes X Japan so great. The lead singer Toshi is a solid singer but also his solo career speaks for itself, the man is a celebrity in his own right, even without X Japan. Rhythm guitarists Pata and bass player Heath are both good at their jobs and certainly contributed but I have little to say about them unfortunately. Lastly we have hide, and yes he spelled his name with no capital letter.

Lead guitarist hide was, in my opinion, the most interesting person in X Japan. Dressed all in pink leather and owning the nickname “The Pink Spider,” hide was impossible to ignore. A talented guitarist and a respectable song writer to boot, it is no wonder hide was able to become a fan favorite. Surely there is no denying the most popular member of X Japan contributed enormously to their global success.

As stated earlier X Japan had a knack for writing ridiculously dark songs about depression and heartbreak, almost like it was their goal to keep the suicide rate in Japan number one. In the endless effort of making people feel deeply depressed X Japan did their part by creating “Forever Love,” which I am unsure whether or not is my favorite X Japan song.

“Forever Love” means a lot to a lot of people. I can no longer find the video, but I can vividly remember watching a live performance of “Forever Live” where the camera panned over the crowd and there were literally hundreds of girls openly weeping, which is the sort of sight that stays with you, and it was only possible because “Forever Love” is the sort of song that beats up your feelings, and stays with you, forever.

X Japan has a lot of sad songs, but “Forever Love” is ridiculous. The wailing chorus is savagely sang to us by Toshi and with a few words in English, to give westerns like me a sense of what the rest of the song is about; “forever lover, forever dream.” Once we look at the translation of the rest of the lyrics however we experience the full depth of despair at hand. Check out the open verse:

“Mou hitori de arukenai (I can’t walk alone anymore)
Toki no kaze ga tsuyosugite (The winds of time are too strong)
AH... kizu tsuku koto nante (Ah... this thing they call being hurt)
Nareta hazu dakedo ima wa (I should be used to it, but now....)”

Sadly it is important to dwell as the sadness of a song like “Forever Love” because sadness is the primary narrative theme for X Japan, and most notably guitarist hide.

“Forever Love” may be X Japan’s saddest song but it is far from their only sad song, and it is heart break, loneliness, and suicidal thoughts were not exclusive to the X Japan discography but hide’s solo career was riddled with songs about contemplating suicide. Most notably hide’s flagship song “Pink Spider” is about a spider wanting to kill himself, given hide’s nick name is “Pink Spider” obviously a lot can be taken from that track. X Japan broke up in 1997, hide continued his solo career for about a year and then sadly... and predictably... he killed himself.

It would be comical if it were not so unbelievably sad. The Pink Spider, a very solemn, beloved rock star, who was clearly battling with depression (or something), talked about how horrible it was to be him and how to he wanted to kill himself, and he lived out that eventually.

Hide clearly idolized David Bowie and his Ziggy Stardust character a little bit. The get up hide had created for himself instantly strikes the eye with thoughts of Ziggy Stardust, only in Pink, and Japanese. The creation of Ziggy Stardust was a strange androgynous alien rock star whose narcissism and self importance was personified with his death corresponding to the end of the world. While David Bowie never lost sight of the fact that he was not really Ziggy Stardust he did find himself very deeply involved with portraying, and being, and becoming the character, so sadly, after much deliberation, David Bowie “killed” Ziggy Stardust and broke up the band, he felt obligated to do it, because that is what Ziggy would have done.

I sometimes wonder if hide felt obligated to kill himself; hide had created this strange androgynous pink rock star whose character was possessed with the idea of dying in a fit of depression and rock and roll glory, immortalizing himself and forever establishing his self importance through death. The problem was Hideto Matsumoto, the man, was hide, or was entirely too much the same person. So if hide had to commit suicide to conclude the rock and roll hero narrative, maybe Hideto thought that meant he had to go too. It is a fascinating thought, but not necessarily accurate.

The details surrounding hide’s death are difficult to pin down, he did kill himself but I am constantly finding conflicting stories regarding his mental and emotional health. Close friends and loved ones do not agree on whether suicide is something hide was likely to do, and even the member of X Japan who worked with hide on creating music that was sometimes about killing yourself are torn whether or not a song like “Pink Spider” was in any way a warning. So when I talk about the possible scenario that hide might have killed himself out of some overly devout artistic expression, it should be noted that I, and no one at all really, knows what was going through hide’s mind when he committed suicide, because we will probably never really know why hide did it.

"Forever Love" at hide's funeral:

To tie things back to the song of the hour, at hide’s funeral the surviving members of X Japan performed “Forever Love” in tribute, and it is in this moment that I feel X Japan is best personified. Heath and Pata look absolutely devastated, and Toshi is clearly beside himself while he sings. To his credit Yoshiki never misses a note on the piano during the ordeal. But this moment pretty much sums up X Japan in a nutshell, everyone, including the band, are horribly depressed and someone has killed themselves, yet we have a great song and everything is weirdly beautiful. I think hide would have liked it; in fact I am very confident he would have.

- King of Braves

Sunday, October 11, 2015

White Lies - Death

White Lies are an indie rock band from London, United Kingdom. They are a three piece band that has to recruit two other guys when they perform live. If I were White Lies I would probably just include the extra two guys as part of the band, but what do I know?

White Lies gets compared to Joy Division, Interpol, The Editors, and The Killers a lot, and most critics assume this was where White Lies draw their inspiration, however those critics are completely incorrect, the members of White Lies drew their inspiration from somewhere else entirely, somewhere I have yet to find out, and they rather dislike being compared to the indie bands mentioned above. Whether White Lies appreciate it or not, being compared to those four mentioned bands is a big compliment, I listen to all four of those bands all the time.

Evidently, I listen to a lot of indie rock.

In 2009 White Lies released their first studio album “To Lose My Life” and the first track on this album is “Death.” The entire album “To Lose My Life” is a great first effort by White Lies and their follow up albums are equally impressive but it is the song “Death” that has struck the deepest cord with me.

“Death” opens with a nice long rift, and then the rhythm section takes over and we are treated to a great beat. After the first few sections the drums erupt with much heavier impact and the lead guitar joins the rhythm guitar. Then we mellow for a bit while the chorus sings. Every instrument introduces itself with sudden impact and then joins the others seamlessly thereafter. By the third verse “Death” almost sounds like a completely different song and every instrument with perhaps the exception of the bass has, and is, increasing in intensity. When the chorus returns it is no longer relaxed but instead full of energy and the tempo is set for the rest of song until the sound of everything explodes into an amazing climatic conclusion and after lead singer Harry McVeigh declares “everything’s gotta be love or death,” and finally the chorus repeats, “Yes, this fear’s got a hold on me.”

The lyrics are an interesting mix of romantic and dark, nothing new to me, I own every HIM album, and I love stuff like this, I mean come on, “everything’s gotta be love or death,” that is about as intense as a love song can get. I know one of the reasons the member of White Lies do not like being compared to Joy Division or the other mentioned indie bands is that they do not like the idea of their content being considered as gloomy as them, but let’s keep it real, the first song, on their first album, is a song about love and death, titled “Death,” White Lies has practically written a goth rock song here.

Speaking of goth rock, let us talk about vampires.

If you have seen Iranian vampire movie “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night,” then you have already heard White Lies “Death.” Yes there is an Iranian vampire movie, this exists; we do indeed live in a beautiful world. “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” is about a young vampire woman who preys on men who abuse women. It is a very artistic movie. It is shot in black and white and has many long shots. The film is very nearly a collection of music videos the way in which is uses it’s score to carry entire scenes and those scenes last the entire background song’s length. This makes for a film that feels very long but if you are into that sort of thing you will really enjoy “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night.” Most of the songs in the soundtrack are Iranian rock songs, many of which were recorded throughout the seventies and eighties, and now I am aware an entire new genre of rock and roll to investigate, but the one outstanding exception is Great Britain’s White Lies “Death.”

The scene where “Death” is played is easily the best scene from the entire movie “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night.” Our main character Arash is talked into taking drugs at a costume party where he is dressed as Dracula. Whilst attempting to walk home he ends up lost and confused when he meets the vampire. She takes him back to her place and this happens:

I like this scene a lot, and not just because it introduced me to White Lies and the song “Death.” I like the subtle tension that is taking place. The vampire preys upon men who abuse women, so when Arash, a young man who has worked as a criminal drug dealer, slowly approaches the girl it is uncertain what he is going to do. Will he attempt to take her? Then he doesn’t, he stands there dazed and confused. Then the tension reverses entirely, the vampire, who preys on men, will she kill him? She lifts his head up and looks upon his neck and then she does not slay him, instead they embrace gently. Two would be predators do not act hostile towards one another and they instead share an affectionate moment, and all this character growth and symbolism is presented without a single word being spoken.

White Lies may like to fancy themselves less dark and gloomy then their indie rock compatriots, and it is certainly true that even their more forwardly dark songs, like the direly titled “Death,” do have a strong silver lining, and a turnaround of joy and hope, they are clearly embracing and dancing the razor’s edge of sorrow. In the song “Death” there is a lot more positive affirmation made when describing the inferred relationship than anything negative, but nonetheless “this fear’s got a hold on me.” The most powerful emotion, is multiple emotions at once, and I believe a song like “Death” strikes with fear, love and sadness all at once, it is a potent potion to sooth our hearts.

Until next month keep on rocking in the free world.

- King of Braves

Image provided by:

Friday, October 2, 2015

Demon - Into The Nightmare

If you were a hard rock band singing about demons in the early eighties and your band was not named Judas Priest or Iron Maiden odds are nearly no one paid you any attention. If you were lucky you might have been able to create a small cult following that might have grown in time. There were a lot of bands in the that time frame experimenting with heavy guitar and hard rhythm sections that would eventually lead to the existence of bands like Metallica and Megadeth and in turn popular metal, and unfortunately most of those bands are only remembered on the fringes of the history books. Demon is such a band.

The simply named band Demon was created by vocalist Dave Hill and guitarist Mal Spooner, and in 1981 they released their first album “Night of The Demon” which is a superb hard rock album that tragically is largely forgotten. Demon did manage to gain some momentum after “Night of The Demon” and their second album “The Unexpected Guest,” also really good, actually managed to make in onto the UK charts... it rose to forty-seven, but still. Demon quickly began being forgotten soon then after and it probably did not help that Mal died in 1984. Demon marched on to 1992 before the band broke up.

Dave Hill, seems like a cool guy.
However in 2001 Dave Hill decided to reform the band Demon with a whole new line up, and why not? Demon has had twenty-seven different band members as of the current date; they might as well call themselves Dave Hill and the Demons, or Dave Hill’s Demon, which are also goods band names if you ask me.

Full disclosure, I have only recently discovered Demon and as of this date as I write I am only familiar with Demon’s first two albums. I have been warned they changed their style after “The Unexpected Guest” a little, and I do not know if that change is a good or bad thing, or if it contributed to Demon’s gradually fizzling out of existence. I also do not know how successful or good Demon’s 2001 recreation has been; perhaps more on all that later, right now we will start at the beginning, the album “The Night of the Demon” and song “Into The Nightmare.”

As stated a moment ago Demon’s first album was titled “The Night of the Demon,” and the first three tracks are, in order, “Full Moon,” “The Night of The Demon,” and “Into The Nightmare.” “Full Moon” is a short minute and a half instrumental that introduces/segues into the title track, “The Night of Demon.” The song “The Night of The Demon” is really good, it rocks out, and it serves as a perfect flagship song for the band and it would probably be the best song off of the album if not for “Into The Nightmare.”

Full Moon - Night of The Demon

“Into The Nightmare” is one of those wonderful songs that is about dark themes but is presented with incredible positivity. The energetic bass line and drumbeat help carry the song and the lead guitar is sharp the way it dances in and out, but also Hill’s voice conveys no fear or rage when he sings:

“You're into the nightmare.
This nightmare may take your life tonight.”

It is a really fun song.

I am particularly fond of songs with negative messages but positive sounds. You may recall my ramblings about Almah’s “Meaningless World” and Prism’s “Armageddon,” and how those are among the most enjoyable songs ever and both are about ruined worlds yet the singer sings happily and the tempo and sound is enthralling upbeat. In this regard Demon’s “Into The Nightmare” is very similar. The song “Into The Nightmare” describes a creeping horror inching towards an unnamed third party as they fall asleep and they are warned not to close their eyes or the spirits/demons will take them. It sounds exactly like the sort of scene you would expect to see in a horror movie, a rather interesting one by the sounds of things, yet, everything about the sound and expression is joyful. It’s great, I always get a kick out of it, and it strikes with a strange combination of things, it is fearful and joyful at the same time.

It really is a shame that Demon has struggled to get proper recognition, but that is unfortunately the tale of most decent rock bands. Do yourself a favor and listen to the album “The Night of The Demon,” and specifically “Into The Nightmare,” they are classics that should not be forgotten.

- King of Braves

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Followed By Ghosts - All Is Lost

Followed By Ghosts is a guitar based rock band that I heard on that I really enjoyed. The band was recommended to me by while I was listening to a long series of songs by Maybeshewill and God is an Astronaut. I believe the band to be in the same vein as those other two mentioned bands, since they are an instrumental band whose focus seems to revolve around the lead and rhythm guitar.

Style and guitars is not the only thing Followed By Ghosts has in common with Maybeshewill and God is an Astronaut, they also have awesome names for their albums and songs. Thus far they have released three albums, each with an awesome name:

- The Entire City Was Silent – 2007
- Dear Monsters, Be Patient – 2008
- Still, Here – 2011

Also with song titles, “Hymn of Twilight,” “A Mirthful Experience,” and my favorite “All is Lost,” give the band an epic feel even before you heard their hypnotic rhythm guitar and bass. Their last activity appears to be a 2014 single named after the band itself “Followed By Ghosts.” I suspect it is easier to give your band, album, and songs super fantastic names when no lyrics or other words get in the way, so instrumentals natural end up having the greatest names of all.

You can listen to every, or almost every, song by Followed By Ghosts at this site: which is good because their primary site does not work.

It is very difficult to find a whole lot of information regarding the band Followed By Ghosts online. When consulting the “all human knowledge in one place device” better known as, other than the bandcamp site mentioned above all I could find was Followed By Ghosts facebook and twitter profiles.



Twitter was the most informative; it has the band synopsis as “We are a band from Iowa,” okay that helps. Also we get this charming tweet from May 2nd of this year:

There was a long gap of time between that humorous tweet and the one prior to it, which I suppose means the boys from Iowa are having a hard time successfully living the rock and roll dream, but still, great respect for staying at it despite whatever is going on.

The first two albums were pretty close together chronologically and their third album “Still, Here” came out three years later, and considering the obscurity of this band, the inactivity on their social networking, and their current lack of output, I suspect the third album title is in reference to Followed By Ghosts continued existence more than anything. Nonetheless I am glad Followed By Ghosts exists, and I hope they continue to exist because I really like their music. Clearly they are an underappreciated band.

The song that has thus far stood out to me the most by Followed By Ghosts is “All is Lost.” The electric guitar speaks to my soul and this is a song that is focused on just that and I just love hearing the way those gentle note become a distorted wave as the song progresses. All of Followed By Ghosts songs are perfect white noise, there is a reason why I listen to so much music of this nature at work and when I am studying as it is the perfect combination of atmospheric and subtly emotional music. There are no words, literally, so the mind has the freedom to wander and invent any sort of connection with the moody sounds. “All Is Lost” seems like a sad song, but it is also an adventure of sorts, an exploration of some unknown wonderment, at least it is for me, that is where my mind goes.

It is hard to say much more, since there is so little to respond to or comment on, and maybe that is all the more reason people should be paying some small amount of attention to Followed By Ghosts. Of all the bands I have ever reviewed Followed By Ghosts may be the most obscure, the most in need of some fan support, and I hope they get it. For a “band from Iowa” and nothing more, they have made some fantastic instrumental songs.

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

- King of Braves

Friday, September 11, 2015

Chaos Chaos - Do You Feel It?

In the year 2000 Smoosh, the Seattle based indie rock band, was created. In 2012 they changed the name of the band to Chaos Chaos. Effectively the Saavedra sisters, Chloe and Asya, have been creating music together for fifteen years, that alone may be impressive, but when you realize they are twenty-three and twenty-one years old, it sort of means a little something extra. Chloe and Asya formed their band and were performing live at the age of twelve and ten respectively; impressive, most impressive.

Chloe and Asya Saavedra,
I don't know which one is which.
Under the Smoosh banner the Saavedra sisters released four studio albums and one EP, but it is their lone 2014 Chaos Chaos album “Committed to the Crime” that thus far impresses me the most, also the Chaos Chaos EP “S” is really winning me over. It often takes a musical group a few albums to refine their skills before they produce a truly great album and I think that is what has happened here with “Committed to the Crime.” This makes extra sense, as I would expect preteens to improve their musical abilities as they enter their twenties.

During live performances Smoosh/Chaos Chaos have covered songs by artists they ended up touring with. Tegan and Sara, the Eels, and the Bloc Party, all of which I own CDs of and have seen live, so it is rather surprising I have not discovered them sooner. Also this reveals something about myself, to myself, as evidently I am deeply entrenched in the indie rock scene.

The last song on this live set at KEXP studio is Tegan and Sara’s “Closer” where they elaborate this point:

Chaos Chaos Live on KEXP:

The sound of Chaos Chaos is described as indie rock, and as far as pinning a sub genre label on them that is likely the best identifier, however their use of the keyboard and synthesizer sounds nearly make them an electronic band, bordering on pop rock. As usual this genre specific definition hardly matters, the final product is a variety of exciting and emotional waves of sounds all of which are surprisingly soothing even when heart wrenching.

Which brings me to the song “Do You Feel It?”

The song “Do You Feel It?” has become my most recent favorite, most played song. It is a song that has great energy but is so powerfully haunting and painful that it grips you like a vice and enslaves you to its sounds.

The story being told to us by the lyrics seem to indicate a collapsing relationship with the narrator slipping further and further away from the intimacy they so desperately need with this unnamed person they love. At first there is this frightful realization their lover may be afraid of them;

“I-I want it real,
Are you afraid of me now?”

A great ending to a great opening verse to capture our attention I think. By the end of the second verse there is a pleading to run away together;

“I-I want it real,
Run away with me now.”

At the end the song they repeat this desperate line;

“Don’t leave me...
Never leave me out....”

Heavy; really heavy stuff.

It is hard to imagine what sort of deep meaningful real life relationship experiences could possibly inspire such lyrics from individuals so young, but heart break and creativity are hardly a monopoly of the old and haggard. Nonetheless, hard hearted, haggard me, deeply appreciates the way in which Chaos Chaos has so perfectly captured the nightmarish sort of emotional and psychological torture someone can feel as the things they love slip away from them, and I particularly love how they incorporate a mix of strength and vulnerability in this verse;

“Some Days I'm built of metal, I can't be broken,
But not when I'm with you.
You love me real, we have it all,
Can't leave me now.”

Strong yet vulnerable, like all humans, just some lean one way more than the other, and it is something both troubling and beautiful to witness the truly strong slip into the state of exposure and vulnerable.

On one last note is the rather unusual moment of discovery of Chaos Chaos for myself, as it did not come from one of the other indie rock bands Chaos Chaos has become friends with, or through indie rock stations and outlets I frequent but something far more unexpected, comedy cartoon “Rick and Morty.” The third episode in the second session of “Rick and Morty” titled “Auto Erotic Assimilation” ends with Rick being dumped by the body snatching multi-bodied entity known as Unity and while the old scientist attempts to hide his pain from his family he secretly contemplates suicide in the garage and collapses into a heap upon the table unable to move or function for a full rotation of the planet, and the credits roll playing the “Do You Feel It?”

Ricky and Morty - "Auto Erotic Assimilation" Ending:

Whoa! Powerful stuff from a cartoon and I doubt it would have been anywhere near as effective if a lesser song had been selected for this turn around moment. I do not appear to be the only individual who was touched by this moment, nor was I the only person who sought out “Do You Feel It?” immediately thereafter, and given the hyper effectiveness of all of this, I am forced to wonder if Chaos Chaos have in fact, just maybe, have written the most emotionally powerful song about breaking up with someone ever.

Anyway, clearly I am impressed, but what do you think?

- King of Braves

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Almah - Meaningless World

Almah is a Brazilian metal band created by Edu Falaschi. Edu is the former lead singer of Angra, another Brazilian metal band. Almah was initially a side project for the lead singer, where he could work with guitar player Marcelo Barbosa of Khallice, but after 2010 Edu decided to leave Angra and focus on Almah full time. The take away from all this, I do not know anywhere near enough about Brazilian metal, because I have heard at most a few tracks by Angra, and nothing by Khallice. However I am very fond of Almah’s second album “Fragile Equality” (2008) and the song “Meaningless World.”

Edu Falaschi
I heard “Meaningless World” on “Black Diamond Radio” out of the Czech Republic, the only radio station I listen to nowadays, other than Impact 89FM out of Michigan USA, because the “Hours of Power” speaks to me. Anyway, all plugs aside, I really, really enjoyed “Meaningless World” so I immediately sought out the rest of the album, listened to it on youtube a couple of times and... well I really, really like “Meaningless World.”

The rest of the album “Fragile Equality” is quite good, I enjoyed it, but to me there was a clear distinction in quality between “Meaningless World” and the other nine tracks. Sometimes that is all it takes, I ordered “Fragile Equality” online more or less just for the one song. The album is a good listen, as I said the entire album is solid, but it ends perfectly, and I always say you should save the best for last, and whilst listening to “Fragile Equality” I wait with eager anticipation for the final track to arrive and rock my world.... my meaningless world.... that was bad.... I am sorry.

“Meaningless World” comes off very much like a power metal song. There is a slew of fantastic reference and images throughout. I cannot help but suspect a line like;

“Cross the fire, raise the still,
Where the freedom is dying again.”

May be about raising an army of the dead.

This “sacred land of meaningless world” may in fact be some sort of fantasy realm created by Edu, not unlike Freddy Mercury’s Rhye, or Freedom Call’s Cyrstal Empire, and Dio’s... well he probably had a like a hundred fantasy stories in his head. Despite this, I cannot shake the feeling that “Meaningless World” is a song about the end of the world. I love me some fantasy adventures, but a fantasy adventure about the literal end of the entire world is super exciting. I keep thinking the world is meaningless because the end is nigh, and it does not help that this song, strangely, strongly, reminds me of Prism’s “Armageddon.”

But you ask, “Colin, I’ve never heard Prism’s ‘Armageddon,’” to which I reply, “are we even friends?”

Music In Review – Prism – Armegeddon:

Now that we’ve cleared that up, I admit that it may seem strange to compare a quasi goofy Canadian classic rock song to a modern day Brazilian metal song, but bear with me, this is going somewhere good. Both songs open and end with highly synthesized keyboard made to sound like violins, and for both songs this is easily the best and most epic part of the song. Both songs depict highly tragic scenarios in a highly upbeat way; Edu is practically celebrating the fact the world being meaningless while Prism is literally, happily, ushering in the end of the world. Those two things, I feel, are more than enough to draw a connection. I am not saying Edu Falaschi was inspired by Prism or “Armageddon” I am just saying there is a really, really, fun parallel we can draw here, and I think we should, and now I have.

The moral of the story, because music review should have morals, is that I need to learn more about Brazilian metal, “Meaningless World” is a fantastic song, and we should all listen to it and maybe compare it to Prism “Armageddon.”

Enough talk, I’m going to Japan.

Until next month keep on rocking in the free world.

- King of Braves


There is a demo version:

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Modest Mussorgsky - The Great Gate of Kiev

Pyotr Tchaikovsky was not the only great composer to come out of Russia in the nineteenth century, Modest Mussorgsky was also producing his masterpieces at that time and probably so were other Russian musical geniuses I have yet to discover. I think it is safe to say the second half of the nineteenth century seemed to be the heyday for Russian classical music, it is interesting that I have such confidence in estimating this since the only pieces of Russian classical music I am overly familiar with at Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” and today’s topic of discussion Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.”

Like his fellow Russian Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky drew inspiration mostly from Russian history and folklore when creating his music, however that is not the case for “Pictures at an Exhibition,” which can be directly linked to the art work of Viktor Hartmann.

In the past I have written on numerous occasions about how art inspires art and how we see this happening across mediums of creativity. I wrote a trilogy of reviews about Greek mythology with songs by Manowar, Symphony X and Led Zeppelin; I have written a handful of reviews about how Blind Guardian have written almost exclusively about fantasy literature; and I talked at length how Lovecrat inspired Metallica who in turn who inspired a variety of metal musicians and interestingly enough some horror writers. Of course all my listed examples have something in common beyond trans-artistic inspiration, they are all music inspired by written art, literature.

I read a lot, or at least I try to, and that hobby is probably why I keep returning to the sort of reviews mentioned above. When music is inspired by something else, some other medium of art, I am not so quick to notice it, and it is for this reason that I was forced to research Viktor Hartmann and his work. I had no idea “The Great Gate of Kiev” was based on a painting, or that said painting was meant to be serve as a blueprint for an architectural design for an actual gate, which I believe was never erected. I always thought “The Great Gate of Kiev” was about an actual gate. I was wrong.

While working with Mussorgsky and others on expanding the existence of modern Russian art (at the time it was modern), Hartmann suffered a fatal aneurysm and died at age thirty-nine. This had a powerful affect on Mussorgsky and he decided to not only make an exhibition of his friends artwork at the Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, but also, as we know dedicate an entire musical piece based on his works. So “Pictures at an Exhibition” is the most literal title for a musical suite every.

The full title for Mussorgsky’s masterpiece is “Pictures at an Exhibition – A Remembrance of Viktor Hartmann.”

There are ten movements in Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition:”

No. 1 – “The Gnome”

- Could not find painting for inspiration

No. 2 – “The Old Castle”

"Castle at Chermomor" possibly the painting of a castle that inspired this part of the musical piece.

No. 3 – “Tuileries”

- Painting lost

No. 4 – “Cattle”

- Painting Lost

No. 5 – “The Ballet of Unhatched Chicks in their Shells”

"Chicks Sketch" done for the Tribly Ballet.

No. 6 – “Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle”

"Samuel Goldenber" also known as "Jew in a Fur Cap." The Rich Jew.

"Schmuyle."  The poor Jew.

No. 7 – “The Market at Limoges (The Great News)”

"Market 1"

"Market 2"

No. 8 – “Catacombs”

"Paris Catacombs."  Image depicts Hartmann and another architect in Paris catacombs with a guide holding a lamp.

No. 9 – “The Hut on Fowl’s Legs (Baba Yaga)”

"Baba Yaga."  This clock, maybe a hut, is in fact held up by chicken/fowl legs.

No. 10 – “The Great Gate of Kiev”

"The Great Gate of Kiev."

The entire piece is quiet famous and like most casual music listeners you would likely be at least somewhat familiar to the various movements through “Pictures at an Exhibition” but the final movement, “The Great Gate of Kiev” is by far the most famous, and easily one of my single favorite pieces of music.

Various Russian and Ukrainian friends have told me that radio and television stations in Russia and Ukraine when going off air would play “The Great Gate of Kiev.” Also professional wrestling fans may recognize the iconic piece as the entrance theme for Jerry “The King” Lawler. The song makes numerous appearance throughout various forms of media and rightfully so, it is regal, and it is also powerful song, full of energy and celebration.

Other interesting facts about “The Great Gate of Kiev” provided here:

Obviously numerous orchestras have performed “Pictures at an Exhibition” but perhaps the strangest incarnation of Mussorgsky’s work come in 1971 when psychedelic rock band Emerson Lake and Palmer decided to do recreate the entire set as a rock opera at the Newcastle City Hall. Emerson Lake and Palmer so confident in their production they added lyrics to “The Great Gate of Kiev” which has always seemed audacious to me. How could someone hope to improve upon a masterpiece like “Pictures at an Exhibition?” What is there to say really? Nonetheless fans of classical music, and/or progressive rock should have a listen to Emerson Lake and Palmer’s version, it is trip.

Emerson Lake and Palmer - The Great Gates of Kiev

I am not educated in classical music, nor am I as familiar with that genre as much as I am with rock and roll and metal, so I often feel like the possibility of me missing something important is high, and also there are people out there who are literally academically educated on the genre who probably are in a much better intellectual position to commentate on the topic than I. Because of this, I often hesitate to review classical music, but there are some pieces I love so much I have to get around to holding them eventually and saying “here everyone, ‘The Great Gate of Kiev,’ it freaking rocks.” “The Great Gate of Kiev” does rock, the swaying triumphant sounds of the violins inspire power and greatness, the exact sort of thing you would want from a rebel yell that we so often associate with rock and roll.

- King of Braves.

Special thanks to these sites that helped me learn about Viktor Hartmann and his work:

Monday, July 13, 2015

Rush - Xanadu

Rush is Canada’s greatest rock band. I do not think there is much debate surrounding this, they are by far the most critically acclaimed rock band my country has ever produced, they have sold by far the most records of any Canadian group, and they are wildly popular inside our borders and well respected without, and their body of work continues to grow to this day.

I have not been a very good Canadian; I have never seen Rush live. I almost saw Rush in 2013 but the flood wrecked Calgary and Rush had to reschedule the event in Red Deer and without a car I was not confident I could get up there in time. It was the only time I had purchased insurance on concert tickets, so that worked out at least. Finally on July 15th of 2015 I will live the Canadian dream and finally see our greatest musical treasure live. All I have to do now is stay alive a few more days.

One of the things I love the most about Rush is that they were a band that basically broke all the rules and yet everything worked out brilliantly for them. Their second album “Fly By Night” was a commercial success so they were pressured to do more of the same, and instead they released a series of extremely experimental progressive rock albums, and defying all conventional wisdom at the time, all of them were critical and commercial successes.

In 1977 Rush released their fifth studio album, “A Farewell to Kings,” and on that album there is a song called “Xanadu.”

"To seek the sacred river Alph
To walk the caves of ice
To break my fast on honey dew
And drink the milk of Paradise...."

I love honey dew, it is probably my favorite fruit. I also love eleven minute rock epics with elaborate guitar solos and unique synthesizers, especially when the song is about the quest for immortality, so yes, I really like the song “Xanadu.”

Xanadu is actually a real place, as the alternate name for Shangdu a city in China, and was the temporary capital of Kublai Khan’s empire when he ruled the area. It is now the modern day town Dolon Nor, but like Arcadia, it has more poetic and symbolic cultural meaning then it’s real life historical existence. Now a day’s Xanadu/Shandgu mostly lies in ruins, but according to various accounts the city was once splendorous, and thanks to a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, titled “Kubla Khan,” the city has become more of a metaphor for paradise than anything else. 

"Xanadu" by Sarel Theron
In fact the definition of the word Xanadu is now “A place of great beauty, luxury, and contentment.”

A cursory glance at Rush’s lyrics for “Xanadu” and the lines from Coleridge’s poem, we see some very similar word choice for the description of the wondrous city, strongly suggesting an obvious influence.

Knowing all this helps understand the song “Xanadu” a little more, it makes sense for Geddy Lee to mention Kublai Khan since we are talking about his city and the line about the “pleasure dome” makes super sense when we recall the largest harem in history was Kublai Khan’s. Also knowing that Xanadu is a paradise as well as borderline mythical, it is a suitable location for our traveler to come to find the magical secret to immortality, presumably by drinking the milk of paradise, and eating the fruits of life, which is presumably honey dew since it is so delicious.

To be honest “Xanadu” is a rare example where I have never really paid the closest attention to the lyrics, which is unlike me. “Xanadu” has always been a song where I have just sat back and absorbed the sounds of the guitar, drums and keyboard. It hardly mattered what Geddy Lee was singing about, the sounds of the song were more than enough. It was a great song to get lost in and at eleven minutes and ten seconds there is plenty of time to wonder within.

It is a fantastic little trip, not just “Xanadu” but the whole album “A Farewell Kings.” It does not flow from song to song like one piece of music the way the two previous albums did, but there are plenty of long well crafted moments and the final product is very psychedelic, with the most psychedelic moment likely being “Xanadu.” I say likely, because the final song off of “A Farewell to Kings” is a wild ride called “Cygnus X-1 (Book 1)” which coincides with the first song off of the next album, 1978’s “Hemispheres” aptly titled “Cygnus X-1 (Book 2).” Normally this flow of one track to another does not transcend this way, but what I can say Rush is that progressive.

Well I learned a lot talking about this song and with any luck I might get to hear “Xanadu” on Wednesday.

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

- King of Braves

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Dears - Ballad of Human Kindness

The Dears are a Canadian indie rock band from Montreal. The Dears were created and are fronted by Murray Lightburn, who from what I can tell from listening to his music is a very passionate and compassionate man. The Dears is Murray’s band, this is evident not just because he writes all the songs and performs as lead singer and plays various other instruments, but also because the only other person who has been a member of the The Dears since the beginning other than Murray is keyboard player and backing vocalist Natalia Yanchak, who is now married to Murray.

Natalia Yanchak and
Murray Lightburn of
The Dears
There is a softness and a sweetness to the many of The Dears’ songs that are highly effective at drawing the listener into an emotional state. These songs have a touch of the hypnotic that is both relaxing and yet also stimulating. After twenty years of very active touring and five studio albums The Dears’ have managed to create a modest but respectable following in the United Kingdom and their native Canada, but little else outside of that. Effectively The Dears are underrated.

This year, 2015, The Dears’ newest album “Times Infinity Volume One” is set to be released, but no firm date has yet been given. However it is their third studio album, the 2006, “Gang of Losers” that I want to talk about, as this was the album that caught my attention. “Gang of Losers” is not only a pretty damn good album, but is also a delightful name for an album, the touch of self loathing humor goes way beyond establishing The Dears not only as humble but also humours.

There are very humanist and hopefully themes throughout The Dears’ body of work but perhaps their message of peace and love is personified more so on “Gang of Losers” then any other album of theirs; I think so anyway. There are great songs about love persevering, prevailing over all things and bringing all of us together like “Hate Then Love.” This is not to say they are completely optimistic, there are songs that divulge into sadness and sometimes even hopelessness, the track “Fear Made the World Go ‘Round,” is particularly somber, even then there is a silver lining at the end “we’ll be o.k.”

It is all these things that make me love the song “Ballad of Human Kindness.” The lyrics speak about people struggling with poverty and homelessness and how Murray relates too, feels for, and, more or less, tortures himself being unable to do more.

I love the lyrics and the way Murray sings them. Every verse stands out to me:

“Well I thought that,
We all cared about peace,
And I thought that,
We'd all cry about love and loss,
And I thought that,
We were somehow holding on,
But I'm just standing here.”

It is very easy to turn a blind eye to the suffering of others, especially when there is a geographical or social distance from those struggling and yourself. However we have reached a point in global cooperation and communication that makes it harder and harder to be ignorant about what other people are going through, yet still we are profoundly apathetic.
But there is another challenge Murray wisely identifies:

“Every time I think about,
What I can do,
It just slips away,
And every time I think that,
We can make things work,
Well it just slips away,
And I turn on the news,
And there's always some dude,
Who's relentlessly bringing me down,
Telling me how,
There are too many,
Dark people out there,
Who'll never be found.

It would be equally ignorant to turn a blind eye to all the efforts made by all the charities and individuals trying to make things better, but for a variety of reasons, as a species, we continue to be unable to conquer the problems of poverty and homelessness. Then there is the news, the centre of our social cultures, focusing and unrelentingly dwelling on our failures and perhaps even convincing us that things are hopeless.

Lastly, the final verse:

“And I can't believe the,
Vast amounts of people,
Living on the streets,
And I can't believe that,
I was almost one of them,
And I almost died,
And I can't believe that,
I haven't lifted a hand,
And I'm just standing here.
Well I'm gonna change,
I’m gonna change....”

I suspect everyone will relate on some level with personal experience or exposure to the social economical issues being described by Murray, and I suspect certain levels of sadness, fear, guilt, and other mixes of emotions will be invoked, but for me it reminds me of so many things. It reminds of the documentary I helped work on about the homeless. It reminds of my friends who were homeless and those who still are. It also reminds me just how close I came, multiple times, to being unable to pay rent, and while I am confident my parents or brothers would have bailed me out if a worst case scenario had arisen, I often thought about what could have happened if I was not as determined and financial careful as I was, it is not an exaggeration to say that I was almost one of them, and I often feel that I haven’t lifted a hand, and I would not know what or how to help even if I had the time and resources to make a meaningful difference, and I’m just standing here....

The chorus is this line repeated:

“No one should have to,
Live all of their life on their own.”

"Love" a good message.
Human beings are social creatures. Our natural culture is a tribal culture. There is something very dark about human beings forced to live as lost isolated individuals, and this is all the more confusing when it takes place within urban metropolises. In some weird ways the empowerment of individualism, while a fantastic thing, may have pushed certain members of our society into the fringe both economically and socially. The Dears’ “The Ballad of Human Kindness” is a fantastic socialist and humanist anthem about caring about one another, and I think it works particularly well because it avoids being politically dividing or judgemental, which is a very easy thing to slip into when discussing such matters. Murray owns it, he uses himself as the example and expresses how much he wants to help, and how he hopes to do more, somehow. This is a lot more convincing and encouraging then when say, millionaire Bono of U2 tells Canada it should donate more money to end hunger in Africa, hey asshole, you’re the millionaire, and it is incredibly easy to tell others to give away their money/livelihood, it is another thing altogether to self analyze oneself and lead by example.

What I said at the beginning of this review was that The Dears, and notably Murray Lightburn, focus on themes of humanism and hopefulness, but they do not shy away from the very real struggle surrounding everything. It is equal parts optimistic and realistic, and I think that is why the message The Dears put forth is so much more charming and effective then other equally kind hearted and good natured artists. This is the difference between decent music and great music and “The Ballad of Human Kindness” is a great song.

- King of Braves