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