Monday, January 11, 2016

Iced Earth - Watching Over Me

I might as well finish up my experiences and thoughts regarding that fantastic metal show I saw on March 10th. This is the third time I am bring this up, but I had a really good time at Iced Earth, Sabaton, and ReVamp, and I have already expressed my joy with the two opening acts, it would probably only be fair if I gave the main attraction some credit.

I do not know very much about Iced Earth; might as well be honest about that.

I knew of the existence of Iced Earth before my fateful evening with them, and I know I had heard a handful of their songs in the past, but I did not own any of their albums and was never overly impressed. I still hold an opinion of casual interest towards the band now, but to be fair they put on a good show, the crowd was really into them, and they appeared to be more than competent at their craft, but I do struggle to find the motivation to investigate further in any truly meaningful way to familiarize myself with their work. Still their performance, the longevity of the band, and my generally high respect for the band warrants them some attention and a review, it also helps that one song of theirs really stood out to me as fantastic, “Watching Over Me.”

Perhaps a primary reason I am not madly in love with a decent metal band like Iced Earth is that they fall into the camp of shrieking metal, death metal I believe is the subgenre, and that style has never really spoke to me, I like singing, I like melody, and I like lyrics, and that is probably why a ballad like “Watching Over Me” stood out.

Jon Schaffer
Tragically personal tragedy is an excellent source of creativity, and a lot of the best music ever created was written in inspiration of, or for, a lost loved one, and Iced Earth’s “Watching Over Me” falls perfectly into that description. I am having a difficult time verifying the specific details online, but this song was introduced live as being about Iced Earth’s leader Jon Schaffer deceased friend. From what I can discern the deceased friend was a childhood one, and apparently this friend was somehow involved in the creation of the band name “Iced Earth.” This is the sort of awful thing that happens to artist that can inspire their best work, and while I still have a lot to learn about Iced Earth and Jon Schaffer, the song “Watching Over Me” may be the best work from this creator.

The lyrics are very straight forward laying out exactly what we already know, this song is about a friend who one day tragically died, naturally this is very powerful but it is not necessarily special either. What separates “Watching Over Me” from other sorrowful songs about losing a close friend is the uplifting message of the chorus:

“I feel it once again,
It's overwhelming me.
His spirit's like the wind,
The angel guarding me.
Oh, I know, oh, I know,
He's watching over me.
Oh, I know, oh, I know,
He's watching over me.”

This is very, very, positive turn on what would traditionally be a very depressing song. Although his friend is lost his presence is always there lingering on indefinitely as part of Jon’s music, and if rumor is true that this lost friend, whoever he was, was somehow involved with the creation of Iced Earth as a band, there persist a literal truth to this expressed sentiment. Angels and the afterlife do not actually exist but a unique sort of immortality does exist for us mere humans in the form of remembrance, the beauty of our culture, crafts, arts and of course music, will live forever and the craftsmen and artist who do such fine work will live forever through their said work, and to a lesser degree those who influence such sweet sweeping sounds, they too get to live forever in a unique beautiful sort of way.

Maybe I am a sap and this softer sweeter Iced Earth song spoke to me because of all the feelings and what not, but even if that is so, I think it would be hard to deny that Jon Schaffer has created nothing shy of something stupendous for his friend, and also he has given the best possible message to any of us who have lost a loved one could hope for, part of the person is with you always in memory and will forever strengthen you indefinitely.

Until next month keep on rocking in the free world.

- King of Braves

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Nightwish - Shudder Before The Beautiful

A lot has happened to Nightwish in the past few years. Most significantly Tarja Turunen, trained opera singer and front woman of the band, has left to pursue her solo career. Like many Nightwish fans I was devastated, what was Nightwish without Tarja? This is and always was an unfair damnation of the rest of the band, it is not like Nightwish is a bunch of talentless boobs, they are with or without Tarja a collection of fine musicians, but it was impossible to deny that Tarja the main attraction, she was the center piece of their sound and what made they stand out as unique. What were we going to do? What was Nightwish going to do?

What they did was recruit Anette Olzon. From what I can tell Anette is not a trained opera singer, but her real sin was not being Tarja. Fan reaction to the change was very mixed, some were sympathetic to Nightwish and welcomed the new singer, while others could not imagine Nightwish without Tarja and stopped caring about Nightwish altogether. I found myself in the middle of the debate, I too struggled to imagine how Nightwish could ever be great again without Tarja, at the same time it seemed incredibly judgemental to just assume Anette was no good and give up on a band we were all otherwise loyal to up to that time.

I suppose Anette was not completely disliked and Nightwish was not completely abandoned by fans their hit “Bye Bye Beautiful” was a huge hit; still Tarja’s memory lingers since that song is obviously about her.

Anette stuck around for about four years and produced two studio albums with Nightwish, “Dark Passion Play” (2007) and “Imaginaerum” (2011). For reasons that are not exactly clear Nightwish fired Anette from the band in late 2012, she claims it was because she got pregnant, while the band claims it was an issue of personalities. Now enters Nightwish’s third lead singer Floor Jansen.

Nightwish's lead singers from left to right: Tarja Turunen, Anette Olzon and Floor Jansen
I already explained my enjoyable introduction to Floor in the Revemp “Wild Card” review:

Because Floor made such a positive impression on me I decided it was worthwhile to give Nightwish’s new lineup a fair chance and pickup their newest album “Endless Forms Most Beautiful.” Wait “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” where have I heard that before? 

Charles Darwin
 “Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” – Charles Darwin (The Origin of Species)

I have read “The Origin of Species” so I was quick to identify the reference. Then I noticed the title of the last track “The Greatest Show On Earth,” and that too seemed familiar as it is also the name of one of Richard Dawkins books. Then I began listening to the new album and the first thing I hear is Richard Dawkin’s voice speak these words:

“The deepest solace lies in understanding,
This ancient unseen stream,
A shudder before the beautiful.”

So seconds within listening to this new album I am looking up an explanation for all this and confirm my suspicions that “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” is in fact an ode to the beauty of biological evolution. This is a new sort of concept album, I have never previously heard of a band creating an entire musical effort celebrating the scientific understanding of life, or any other science for that matter. I instantly fell in love with “Endless Forms Most Beautiful.”

As stated a moment ago I have read “The Origin of Species,” which is not exactly the first book my fellow well read ballers across the globe tackle, but I have also read four books by Richard Dawkins, “The Selfish Gene,” “The Blind Watchmaker,” “The God Delusion,” and the “Greatest Show On Earth,” so I have done my homework before listening to “Endless Forms Most Beautiful,” but also I personally feel connected with Nightwish after this. If you recall my last review for Nightwish - “Wishmaster” focused on the band celebrating the fantasy works of Tolkien and the Dragonlance universe, that combined with this celebration of Charles Darwin with collaborating efforts by Richard Dawkins means that Nightwish and I are reading all the same books; we should hang out sometime; that would be cool.

I am particular fond of the first track “Shudder Before The Beautiful,” it is great hearing Mr. Dawkins speak some beautiful words of wisdom, but also this song starts off the album right, it is hard and fast and exciting and Floor does her part wonderfully. It seems Floor has been well received by Nightwish fans, including me, unlike Anette she was trained in opera, but also she is not Anette which I guess is a big relief to some.

What a delightful expression “shudder before the beautiful,” describing a pause to behold the awe of existence in its glorious splendor. For it is life itself that is the beautiful being so wildly admired by Nightwish in this song and indeed on this album, as Dawkins argued so poetically, life and with it the unique constant change it makes for itself via evolution, is the greatest show on earth.

I could not help but notice in the opening lyrics an interesting connection being made between the subject matter of life and the band Nightwish itself:

“Awake, oceanborn,
Behold this force,
Bring the outside in,
Explode the self to epiphany.”

I cannot have been the only Nightwish fan to have noticed the dropping of their second album title “Oceanborn.” Literally as mammals our ancestry does tie back to the waters of this pale blue dot, but also Nightwish may correctly identify that album as their birth in some aspects. Interesting thought anyway.

The chorus, which makes up the bulk of the song comes off like the sort of poem Dawkin’s himself might have wrote:

“The music of this awe,
Deep silence between the notes,
Deafens me with endless love.
This vagrant island Earth,
A pilgrim shining bright.
We are shuddering before the beautiful,
Before the plentiful,
We, the voyagers.”

Again we see something of a connection being drawn between the subject matter of the ever changing and evolving life of the planet and music that now comprises the beauty of this understanding. This reminds me a little of Rush’s “2112 Overture” when Getty Lee describes the discovery of technology through the wonderment of playing guitar. Basically every word is perfect in this chorus, deep silence between the notes, vagrant island Earth, and shuddering before the beautiful, this is amazing deep heavy stuff, and Floor sings it so perfectly.

It is a weird thing to admit, even to myself, but “Shudder Before The Beautiful” might be my favorite Nightwish song. This development seems almost inappropriate, how could anyone’s favorite Nightwish song be sung by someone other than Tarja? How is it even possible for us to consider the possibility that Nightwish might have produced their best album in 2015, and without Tarja? I do not expect everyone to agree with me, in fact I suspect most Nightwish fans to refuse to even pause and consider the possibility as they cling to the past glories of the band, but I have to concede, at least to myself, that “Endless Form Most Beautiful” has become my favorite Nightwish album, and “Shudder Before The Beautiful” may have become my favorite song of theirs.

Richard Dawkins approved.
Now maybe I am biased. I am a huge fan of Charles Darwin and Richard Dawkins, and maybe the outlandish fact that Mr. Dawkins has now collaborated on a metal album is just such an insanely awesome thing to have happened that I will always be partial to this event in metal music history.

The version of “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” that I purchased included a bonus CD that was the instrumental version of the same album, and that too is fantastic, but also it says something about Nightwish quality that even without a lead singer at all they can obviously produce fantastic music.

Shudder Before The Beautiful - Instrumental Version:

“Endless Forms Most Beautiful,” Richard Dawkins approves and so do I.

- King of Braves