Saturday, November 26, 2016

Boston - More Than a Feeling

When choosing songs to review I often like to discuss songs that no one I know in my social life are talking about. I often talk about songs that have little to no presence on terrestrial radio. I like to shine a spotlight on songs that are underappreciated or unjustly unknown. This however is not my only criteria and hardly my sole motivation.

Younger readers of this blog may struggle to relate to this, but when I was young discovering new music was hard. The only realistic means was to listen to the radio, and in my part of the world we only had a handful of radio stations, in fact I could probably count them out if I was serious and I believe there would have been no more than six, and that would be including talk radio. Naturally the only station I liked at that time was CJay 92, the classic rock station. As we all know there are some songs that get played routinely on classic rock stations and in turn are understandably titled the dreaded status of “overplayed.”

A song being overplayed in theory weakens its appeal, and I am not immune from this phenomenon, there are doubtless many songs out there that I now underappreciate because of their constant presence in my life. In turn it is the songs that defy this rule that have always stood out to me. Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” has never gotten old to me and I must have listened to that song well over a thousand times in my life by now. Guns N Roses “November Rain” still resonates as strongly to me as it did the first time I heard it. Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” still sparks within me a joy and comfort every single time I hear it.

I have discussed “Stairway to Heaven” and “November Rain” before, so it is now time to discuss “More Than a Feeling.”

Tom Scholz
“More Than a Feeling” was a true passion project for writer Tom Scholz, as he spent five years creating it. Even before Boston was a band Scholz was working on “More Than a Feeling” and the final product does ooze with deep emotion and a very fine refinement in structure and sound. It is a great success story because “More Than a Feeling” is now a stable of classic rock, and the debut album of Boston was a huge commercial success and was loved by critics.

The lyrics suggest a longing for a lost love Marianne, and how an old familiar song reminds the narrator of Marianne. The chorus is very clear in this regard:

“It's more than a feeling (more than a feeling),
When I hear that old song they used to play (more than a feeling),
And I begin dreaming (more than a feeling),
Till I see Marianne walk away.
I see my Marianne walkin' away.”

It is easy to get wrapped up in Marianne when analyzing this song, so many songs are about lost loves and longing thereof for a return to togetherness, however the true focus for Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” rests within the “familiar song.” This song is primarily about the feelings old familiar music invoke in us. Call it nostalgia if you must, but there is something very powerful about the slipstream of memories and emotions we can experience through song. I talked about this before in several reviews about how something tangential or completely unrelated to the song’s actual meaning is called up in my mind because of where that song was most heard by me or how it was introduced to me. That old song, Scholz refers to the chorus, just so happens to remind him of Marianne walking away. Marianne is just one wonderful example of old feelings of potentially countless being brought up by music.

There is apparently a real Marianne, but she was not some lost love of Scholz, rather she was one of his cousins. When Scholz very young he thought his cousin, Marianne, was the prettiest girl he had ever met and thought he was in love with her. Evidently this is a very innocent love, one of extremely youth filled with simple wonderment. Nothing more than, “my cousin is pretty” but that too is an old memory and rather a kind hearted one at that.

There is something potentially unintentionally meta about “More Than a Feeling,” a song about music bringing out emotion in us all, ultimately has the exact affect itself while describing the experience itself. How befitting “More Than a Feeling” is now an old familiar song that invokes in countless people a wide range of tangential and unrelated feelings and memories from those in Scholz’s heart. How appropriate that “More Than a Feeling” be titled what it is, it is not just a fun little line to emphasize the intensity and power of the feeling in question, but has become much more than a singular feeling. Within the context of the song is meant to be something more significant than just an emotion, a surge of memories and music combining to be something more. The cultural significance is now a nearly infinite number of all those things with every person who loves this song, and has become to represent so much more than a feeling.

In finality “More Than a Feeling” is a perfect song. Thank you, Boston, you rock.

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

- King of Braves

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Sabaton - Shiroyama

“Encircled by a vulture,
The end of ancient culture,
The dawn of destiny draws near.”

Speaking of new albums in 2016, Sabaton released their eighth studio album titled “The Last Stand.”

I have discussed Sabaton twice before and they are likely to become a mainstay on this blog since they are one of the most exciting active bands I have discovered in recent years. Sabaton’s whole thing is that they are a metal band and all their songs are about European military history. Seriously I learned a lot about the rise and fall of the Swedish empire and many major battles in world war two just by listening to these guys. It is like I am getting an education while rocking out, which is pretty ideal.

Sabaton’s latest work is, more or less, the same sort of thing we have seen before, more badass metal songs about military history, the only notable slight difference is that there appears to be a theme of finality, the end of something, many of the battles presented in music form on “The Last Stand” are exactly just that, a last stand, a final conclusion to things.

The song “Sparta” is about the battle of Thermopylae, the hot gates, where famously three hundred Spartan warriors held off a Persian invasion that outnumber them absurdly for an absurdly long time, resulting in the death of every Spartan hoplite. While this was far from the end of the Sparta city state or their military presence in Peloponnesian peninsula, it was certainly one of the most epic ends to a military campaign and the lives of those who fought in history of all warfare.

The title track “The Last Stand” is about the Pope Clement the seventh’s Swiss guard defending his escape from the Hasburg Spain attack. The Swiss Guard was thoroughly annihilated and ceased to exist for a long time until the Hasburg occupation ceased, so this was literally the last stand of the Holy See’s military guard.

Lastly, we have “Shiroyama” which is understandably about the battle Shiroyama, the final battle in the Satsuma Rebellion. As Sabaton points out, this is the last stand of the samurai, and in many ways, I feel this song better captures the spirit of the album “The Last Stand” than even the title track of the same name. Spartans would bounce back from the loss of three hundred men and arguably win the war against their Athenian rivals. The Swiss Guard exist today, so while temporarily removed from activity the Swiss Guard did recover. Samurais however are no more, and Shiroyama was the last time the way of the samurai would have any meaningful military or political significance. Of the three songs I have pointed too only once depicts the literal final end of a military body and way of life, “Shiroyama” is a song that literally is about the last stand of samurais in all human history.

“Shiroyama” is my favorite song from the new album. It helps that I love Samurais. I made it an issue to see as many castles as I could when I visited Japan. Also I made a day trip to Kitakyushu and Ganryujima where the famous duel between Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro took place. It also helps that “Shiroyama” has one of the catchiest guitar rifts in all Sabaton’s playlist. “Shiroyama” stands out as one of Sabaton’s best songs to date and that is saying a lot given how strongly I feel about their previous albums “Charlos Rex,” “Coat of Arms,” and “The Art of War.”

One cannot do a review of a Sabaton song without a history lesson so here it is.

The Satsuma Rebellion was fought between the newly established Empire of Japan and the Satsuma Domain.

The Empire of Japan came from the Meiji Restoration/Renovation/Revolution/Reform/Renewal, or whatever we decide to call it, where Emperor Meiji was restored as the emperor of Japan but more importantly, at least for this conversation, the Empire of Japan ushered in the technological advancement in both industry and military. The Empire of Japan would lead Japan to becoming a world power and transformed itself in 1947 into the modern Japanese federal government that we know today.

The Satsuma Domain was one of the most powerful feudal domains in the Tokugawa Japan and among the wealthiest throughout the Edo period. Unsurprisingly they remained a classical samurai culture and were hugely disenfranchised by the rapid changes in the politics and culture of Japan’s primary ruling forces. The rebellion spawned from a resistance to these changes as well as a shift in power dynamics. It is difficult, or impossible, for the old ways to survive in the face of change, especially when that change represents technological and military advancement; or how Sabaton puts it:

“It's the nature of time,
That the old ways must give in.
It's the nature of time,
that the new ways come in sin.

When the new meets the old.
It always ends the ancient ways,
And as history told,
The old ways go out in a blaze.”

It was not just military supremacy of the Empire of Japan that resulted in their unavoidable eventual victory over Satsuma Samurais, but also the power of numbers. The old ways were dying out, and there grew to be less and less people living in Japan who held on to the traditions of the Samurai by the time the Satsuma Rebellion transpired. They were impossibly outnumbered as well as brutally out armed.

“Imperial force defied,
Facing 500 samurai.
Surrounded and outnumbered,
60 to 1 the sword face the gun.
Bushido dignified,
It's the last stand of the samurai,
surrounded and outnumbered.”

Saigo Takamori.  Leader of the
Satsuma Rebellion.
Argubably the last samurai.

Given the basic common knowledge we all possess of Samurais it should come as no surprise that the Satsuma soldiers elected to fight to the death instead of surrendering. Their leader Saigo Takamori suffered a bullet wound and escape to either die from the injury or was killed by his own men who then buried his head elsewhere so the enemy would not find it; all of this done to preserve their leader’s honour. Then the forty remaining samurai drew their sword and refusing to surrender die in battle.

"An offer of surrender,
Saigo ignore contender,
The dawn of destiny is here."

The wind of change is an unstoppable juggernaut and will not be denied. It is easy to point to the guns and cannons as the deciding factor in the demise of the samurai, and the failed Satsuma Rebellion, for how could they possibly combat such a superior fighting force? However the Satsuma samurais were also in use of some canons and guns, the change of face of combat and war had already affected all serious fighting forces on the islands of Japan, and indeed everywhere. It was always just a matter of time before the sword was replaced with the gun.

War will forever be a dark yet glorious subject, however in the conversation of the battle of Shiroyama there is an added level of tragedy. The bravery and extreme devotion to their warrior’s code of honour is inspiring and everything about that way of life was wiped out in this fateful battle in Kagoshima. It is very tragic, but then again, all war is.

- King of Braves

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Avantasia - Draconian Love

If there is one takeaway from this blog it is this: Avantasia is the greatest music act in the world today.

I love a lot of bands but few have I reviewed five times, in fact I believe Avantasia takes the lead now with this new review. I have been devotedly following Tobias Sammet’s career ever since I discovered the Lost in Space LPs, the teaser before the launch of “The Scarecrow” album, and as such I have reviewed every album as they came out since then. This year, 2016, Tobias released the seventh studio Avantasia album “Ghostlights,” naturally I feel like I should talk about it.

There is one downside to falling in love, everything else seems less special. I fell in love with “The Scarecrow” and “The Wicked Symphony,” I still regularly listen to those albums and I cannot honestly say that about the other four albums predating “Ghostlights.” It is important that we understand that, “Angel of Babylon,” “The Mystery of Time,” and the original “Metal Opera” albums are all really good, it is just that everything, and I mean basically everything, in all of creation, pales in comparison to “The Scarecrow” and “The Wicked Symphony.” So really… no matter how good “Ghostlights” turned out to be I would always compare it to those two titan albums and be at least partially unimpressed.

Tobias Sammet, still earth's greatest
song writer.
“So how is ‘Ghostlights?’” You might ask me. It is really good.

The wonderful adventure of Avantasia has been such a joyous journey (to Arcadia) that there is really only so much more Tobias can do to allow it to feel original. The continue addition of new guest singers is a perpetual development that helps keep things fresh but surely Tobais is slowly, but surely, running out of heroes to invite to his super group.

Similar to “The Mystery of Time,” “Ghostlights” appears to have a fantasy/science fiction theme involving once again time as focal point, and once again, most wisely, Tobias has left the story open enough for individualized interpretation. The similarities to “Mystery of Time” are in fact so great that it turns out this new album is meant to be the conclusion of that story.

I really like the first two tracks on the album “Mystery of a Blood Red Rose” and “Let the Storm Descend Upon You” and for exact opposite reasons.

I really like “Mystery of a Blood Red Rose” because there is no guest singer and it is one of the very few tracks in the Avantasia library where Tobias sings alone. It gives the creator of the whole thing a chance to truly shine and it is a really good song. 

Mystery Of a Blood Red Rose

I really like “Let the Storm Descend Upon You” because it has the most guest singers of any song on the album, including Jorn Lande, Ronnie Atkins, and Robert Mason. A twelve-minute epic that does in fact descend us into a storm of music that is the album itself. 

Let the Storm Descend Upon You

I have thought long and hard about which song to focus on and after four hundred and ninty-three words of introduction I think I have settled on “Draconian Love.”

“Draconian Love” opens with a nice piano that segues into the rhythm section, and is joined mostly by the haunting tone of Herbie Langhans’ voice repeating what will become the chorus:

“You shed draconian love.”

It is an effective chorus and tells us basically all we need to know about the metaphor for this song. Draconian, meaning dragon like, shedding its love, not dissimilar to not a snake molting, shedding its skin. Dragon love, sure that works, and evidently it is fleeting, or peeling if you will.

“Draconian Love” is a song of peaks and valleys as far as volume and intensity fluctuate. The verses are somber and gentle in tempo, meanwhile whenever the chorus hits everything picks up with the drums rising before every instrument strikes all at once and Tobias and Herbie sing with spite and anger. We get the full gambit of emotion with a sense of rising tension as we near the song’s climax. Before the last repetition of the chorus we are met with our greatest contrast; every instrument goes silent except for the keyboard and Herbie both being their quietest during this song, then when the last chorus opens it crashes into us with the greatest of intensity.

This contrast in sound is also a contrast of emotion, the verses are sad and lonely grieving over lost love. The chorus is a fury demanding to know “where are you now?”

Herbie Langhans.
One last thing to note is just how good Herbie is on “Draconian Love.” Which raises the question that you might ask me, “who is Herbie Langhans?” Honestly? I have no idea. This is actually why “Draconian Love” won out in the end for my song of focus, because it brings forth this paragraph of discussion. Apparently, Herbie is part of Sinbreed, Symphonity, Beyond the Bridge and Whispers in Crimson, four bands I have never heard of before, though he appears to be most famous for his work with Seventh Avenue, another band I have never heard of before.

This is one of the greatest things about Avantasia however. I had never heard of Bob Catley or Magnum before “The Story Ain’t Over.” I had never heard of Ronnie Atkins or Pretty Maids before “Invoke the Machine.” Amazingly I had never heard of Michael Kiske or Helloween before “Another Angel Down.” I had heard of Jorn Lande and Masterplan, before I heard “Promised Land” but still, you see my point. How I have Herbie Langhans and Seventh Avenue, and apparently, a bunch of other bands, to go and discover now, and if they are even half as good as the bands and artist mentioned above then my life is about to be immeasurably enriched once more.

The moral of the story is “Ghostlights” along with it’s predecessor “The Mystery of Time” cannot compete with “The Scarecrow” and “The Wicked Symphony” but they are fantastic nonetheless. The awesome adventure that is Avantasia continues and they are still the greatest musical act in the world, and I will never, ever, understand why it is so difficult for me to get more people to listen to them.

- King of Braves