Sunday, June 21, 2015

The National - Terrible Love

Matt Berninger - This is called “Terrible Love.” It is a good thing. Terrible love is a positive.

Aaron Dessner - He’s trying to prove to you he’s not depressed. Terrible love is good.

Matt Berninger - It’s the only kind of love.

Well... he is not wrong. At least I am in no position to argue.

This dialogue is all met with laughter from both the crowd and the band, which lets us know that “Terrible Love” at least the concept is probably not a positive, however there is a entire field of creative art that focuses on twisting dark things into positive things, and the joyful way The National and their fans alike can jest about a song as theatrically as depressing as “Terrible Love” is in of itself an example of this. The National, including lead singer Matt Berninger, is happy to perform a song about dire bitter heartbreak, and the crowd is uplifted rather than being saddened. It is a beautiful phenomenon watching such a successful expression in action. So is “Terrible Love” a good thing? The song is absolutely, but what about the idea?

Yeah, not so much.

Matt and Aaron share the above quoted exchange at the beginning of this video that is an alternate version of “Terrible Love” in case you want to hear/see it yourself:

"Terrible Love" Live:

I have heard a very similar, or perhaps completely identical, exchange between Matt and Aaron in another live performance video where The National performed “Sorrow” another song that is completely overwhelming in how depressing it is. Also both tracks are from the 2010 album “High Violet” which is an album I keep returning too and enjoying more and more every time I listen to it.

For whatever reasons, there are probably several, I have been very addicted to the song “Terrible Love” as of late. It is not like this is a new song to me; I have heard it several times while visiting and revisiting “High Violet,” but something has clicked recently. Very much like the song “Sorrow” did a few years ago, which I totally love because it perfectly clicks with more or less my experiences with, well, sorrow, “Terrible Love” is clicking with me perhaps because I am getting burned out with all the terrible love I keep getting exposed to, and not just mine, it is exhausting watching my friends get beat up by terrible love too.

The good old Sorrow review:

Perhaps my interest in “Terrible Love” has been re-peeked because I have been listening a little closer to the lyrics than ever before. Evidently I have been singing alone to “Terrible Love” for a few years now getting multiple lines wrong.

For example, what I thought the chorus was:

“It's a terrible love,
That’s walking beside me.
It's a terrible love that I'm walking with.”

But in reality it turns out to be:

“It's a terrible love,
That I'm walking with spiders.
It's a terrible love that I'm walking with.”

Spiders huh? I would not have, and did not, guess that. My version was a little more direct to the idea of spending time with someone who is representative of “terrible love” while the real version is presumably a lot more symbolic. Why spiders? I have not figured that out yet. Regardless this seems to be the line artistic people have taken to the most, as evident by the amount or artwork one can find focusing on this line.

By Sean Kelly
By Todd Slater
By Oora
Also I could have sworn that Matt was singing “shivered bones” instead of “ship of hopes” and later “ship of woes.” Now in this example of me getting the lyrics wrong, I might be the one being more symbolic, because it is not even exactly clear to me what “shivered bones” means. In my mind’s imagination it was symbolic to the idea of having a terrible chill overcome your body down to the bones. I think I made up a pretty good line. Maybe I should write my own song, no wait... I have no musical talent; you got me corned again world.

It really is the second verse that has arrested my attention as of late more than anything:

“But I won't follow you,
Into the rabbit hole.
I said I would,
But then I saw,
The ship of woes.
They didn't want me to.”

There is a clear conflict of emotion in these lines. I wanted to, but you did not want me to. I wanted to but then I saw the sadness awaiting me. The experience is being unwanted while also seeing the raw deal that is the relationship in question. The terrible love ends up being a combination of rejection as while as escape.

Correctly hearing for the first time the lines “ship of hopes” and “ship of woes” does help support the most repeated line in the song “it takes an ocean not to break.” I can now see an aquatic theme in “Terrible Love” though I am at a loss as to what that exactly means. I really like the line “it takes an ocean not to break” even though when I pause to dissect the line it never fits quite as well as I would like. It takes an ocean’s worth of strength to stay strong while keeping terrible love as company? That works, but I am not sure that is the exact intended meaning. Also none of this explains the “spiders” reference.

This is the charm of cryptic lyrics. The general message of “Terrible Love” is fairly obvious, that restrained, non-mutual, or destructive relationships are horribly painful and sad; obviously. But the symbolism lets our imagination run wild and there is a million and one possible subtle variant ways of approaching the song, I myself could not help but project my own “terrible love(s)” onto the song’s lyrics, how could I not, when I do so the song seems to perfectly describe them, and I imagine the same is true for everyone else.

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

- King of Braves

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Sabaton - Poltava

The first song by Sabaton I ever heard was “Poltava” and it remains my favourite. In fact the entire album “Carolus Rex” is one of the albums I have enjoyed the most in recent memory.

War is an exciting topic; I needlessly elaborated this fact on my review of Sabaton’s “White Death.”

It is should be unnecessary for me to explain how and why war is so exciting. It is the ultimate eclipse of death and violence, and thus the ultimate horror to civilization and tragically the greatest test of heroism any warrior could embark on. With this combination of emotions that go with war there is a vast open avenue for artistic expression. Contradicting emotions can easily be invoked when depicting war in art; fear and courage, glory and shame, hate and admiration. For the Swedes the battle of Poltava was a disaster, and Sabaton has created a song that aggressively describes this nightmare, that is both energetic and sorrowful, both courageous and terrifying.

The battle of Poltava was fought between the Swedish empire led by Carolus Rex and the Russian empire lead by Peter the Great. Poltava is modern day Ukraine, and this final battle was the end of expansion of the Swedish empire and defeat was so brutal that it marked the end of Sweden being a major power in Europe and the beginning of Russia’s presence as a one.

The song “Poltava” is epic in its delivery. Everything about it is perfect for a metal song. It has a fantastic heavy rhythm section. The guitar work is fast and skillful. The structure feels forceful and deadly, like war. Though the strongest feeling provoked is the intensity of combat and somehow there is also room for the bitterness and sadness for the Swedes, making “Poltava” both a badass song to rock out to and a heart full ballad about the soldiers who bleed the ground red and the eventual downfall of the mighty expanded Swedish empire of Carolus Rex. Basically it is a perfect song for what it is trying to be, but more than that, “Carolus Rex” the album, is basically a perfect album for what it is trying to be.

"The Lion of the North"
Gustavus Adolphus
The album “Carolus Rex” is a metal musical detailing the rise and fall of the Swedish empire. It starts with songs like “The Lion From The North” introducing Gustavus Adolphus who is credited for turning Sweden into a great power by leading Sweden to victory through the Thirty Years War, and is often considered one of the greatest military commanders of all time. Before his death in 1632 Gustavus he managed to make Sweden the third largest empire in Europe, after only Russia and Spain.

“Gott Mit Uns” (god with us) is about the Battle of Breitenfeld which was the first major victory the Protestants had against the Catholics in the Thirty Year War, and also solidified Sweden’s involvement in the war for the coming years. Evidently the Protestant Swedes and Prussians believed god to be on their side.

My second favorite song on the album has to be “A Lifetime Of War” describing the misery caused by the Thirty Years’ War. I really like the line,

“When all of Europe is burning what can be done?
They've been to war a decade two more to come.”

Carolus Rex (King Charles)
Then Carolus Rex is introduced with the title track. Born 1682, Carolus came to power at age fifteen and immediately war was thrust upon him when the king of Denmark-Norway declared war. Carolus was able to defeat his enemies in Norway and Zealand and force a peace between them. The same day peace with Denmark-Norway was made Russia declared war on Sweden and a grim series of battles began like the battle of Fraustadt depicted in the in "Killing Ground" and ultimately the song of the hour "Poltava."

The album ends with two sorrowful songs "Long Live The King" a song describing the funeral march for Carolus Rex which understandably is very sad for the Swedes, presumably including the ones in the band Sabaton. Carolus was wounded in the battle of Poltava or as Joakim Broden put it:

"Russian armies blocked their way,
Twenty thousand lost that day,
They bled the ground,
Peace they found.
There's no sign of victory.
King Carolus had to flee.
And leave the land,
Leave Command."

As the ruined remains of the escaped Swedish forces fled back to Sweden Carolus died from his injuries.

"Bringing Home the Body of Charles XII" by Gustaf Cederstrom
Lastly we have "Ruina Imperii" the fall of the empire, which is the final salute on the album "Carolus Rex."

Needless to say I learned a lot about the Swedish empire and the thirty years war from listening to "Carolus Rex." We do not cover the various empires that rose and fell in Europe after Rome in Canada's education system and it was very interesting to put a lot of important events and rulers to these moments in history. What better way to learn about history then through badass metal? I have literally received an educational lecture by listening to Sabaton as if I needed any additional reasons to like them. This is one of the great charms that Sabaton possesses, if Blind Guardian’s discography is like a metal library of fantasy and fiction then Sabaton is a metal history encyclopedia on the most exciting topic of all, war.

- King of Braves