Friday, February 24, 2017

HIM - For You

I always thought it was bold of HIM to have their debut album titled “Greatest Love Songs Volume 666.” Unless they were implying that, there were six hundred and sixty five other albums before theirs that qualified as the other collection of the greatest love songs ever, then they must have been declaring themselves the pioneers of this feat. Of course, the number choice is obvious, it relates to the beast of many names, the devil.

I talk about Satan a lot on this blog, it is not intentionally but I do.

The devil is not exactly a major influence on Finland’s HIM, rather death and darkness are, and with that it is only natural to include the presence of demonic and hellish themes and references. HIM’s big thing is love and death, most of their songs are about both, but all of them are about at least one of those two things. An intense love song by HIM requires some elements of death and darkness and invoking the number of the beast is a fine way of going about doing that.

Like most debut albums “Greatest Love Songs Volume 666” is raw. A lot of emotion and a lot of fresh imagination is poured into HIM first album and with it the invention of love metal. There is a charm to albums like this and the songs there within. Oftentimes the message will lack symbolism or poetic depth in such albums but the blunt forwardness of these new imagination and new sounds of expression will be such a thoroughly enjoyable new experience that they endear themselves to us more so than later works which prove to be more refined in structure but less powerful in delivery. The emotions and overall content of a song like “For You” does not get much more direct or raw.

Of all the songs on “Greatest Love Songs Volume 666” the two songs that always captured the theme of love metal the best are “When Love and Death Embrace” which is very perfectly about love and death, and “For You,” a demanding love song that either willing or unwilling with be until death to us part.

There are a lot of love songs, and thanks to HIM there are a lot of dark love songs, but there are very few, even in HIM’s repertoire, that are as grim as “For You.” “For You” is not, the utterance of those to words meant as a request for love or even a simple declaration of devotion, in HIM’s song it is a statement of equal parts joy and misery. The very first line says just that:

“In the grace of your love I writhe, writhe in pain.
In six hundred and sixty-six ways I love you and I hope you feel the same.”

Only HIM could make love seem so wonderful and agonizing at the same time. It is in this opening piece that we hear the nice mention of the three digits of the beast. There are not a lot of lyrics in “For You,” the only verse is also only two sentences:

“I'm killing myself for your love and again all is lost.
In seven hundred and seventy-seven ways I love you 'til my death do us apart.”

The rest of singer Ville Valo’s contribution is to repeat, “I’m for you,” and “I’m dying for you love.”

I believe “For You” falls comfortably into the scenario of unrequited love, a topic I happen to know a lot about. The thing about requited love is the higher than usual sense of selflessness exhibited by the unloved, and in the example of “For You” Valo has gone so far to literally offer up his life and any ounce of happiness he might have enjoyed between now and than, the end.

Furthermore, there is something aggressive in the voice of Valo in this song that removes any choice in the matter. Valo loves this woman, whoever she is, no matter what, and she will be loved by him, no matter how she feels about it. It a foreboding and intimidating love, something perhaps darker than simply an unwanted attraction, rather an endless source of admiration and misery both embodied and projecting from his gothic man, for nothing can change the reality that he is for her.

It is difficult, nigh impossible, to think of, or even conceive a love song quiet like or similar to “For You.” Even in HIM now long discography no one song runs totally parallel to the deep dark dimensions of this song. While not my favorite HIM song “For You” is one that I find myself going back to listen to all the time. It is captivating for all the reasons explained above, and a gripping song that has let go of me, or anyone else who volunteered to listen.

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

- King of Braves

Monday, February 6, 2017

Dance of the Vampires - For Sarah

Jim Steinman is quiet possibly the most underrated song writer of all time.

Steinman is best known for his work with Meat Loaf, as he wrote literally every song Meat Loaf recorded until the half and half mix of “Bat Out of Hell 3.” However, he was very busy during the eighties and nineties writing a lot of music for female pop stars, namely Ellen Foley, Bonnie Tyler, and Pandora’s Box. He also wrote the music for the cult classic, street gang fight, musical, “Streets of Fire.” Lastly, his biggest success outside of his collaboration with Meat Loaf must be his creation of songs like “It’s all Coming Back to Me Now,” which was made famous by Canada’s Celine Dion, so yeah, we have Jim to blame for that, but still, an impressive resume. However, his greatest accomplishment outside of Meat Loaf, must be his 1997 musical creation “Tanz der Vampire” or “Dance of the Vampire.”

1967's "The Fearless
Vampire Killers."
“Dance of the Vampires” is a rock opera based off of Roman Polanski’s 1967 comedy horror film “The Fearless Vampire Killers.” The basic plot of both is Professor Abronsius and his assistant Alfred are attempting to prove that vampires exist when they meet the genuine article, Graf von Krolock. At the same time, they meet Sarah, the innkeeper’s daughter, and Alfred immediately falls in love with her, but unfortunately Krolock has also taken notice of the beautiful young girl and decides to make her his.

A wonderful thing about writing hundreds of songs for other people is you get to keep the rights to those songs and use them however you see fit, which is exactly what happens with “Dance of the Vampires.” Steinman rehashes some of his past songs and reworks them for this vampire adventure. The most prominent example being Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of The Heart” now reworked as “Vampires in Love:”

"Total Eclipse of The Heart" now with vampires... finally:

Other notably examples of Steinman doing this include; “Original Sin” which was originally performed by Pandora’s Box; “Is Nothing Sacred” was originally recorded by Meat Loaf on the “Very Best of” album; “Confession of a Vampire” is a rework of “Objects in the Rear-View Mirror may Appear Closer Than They Are,” from “Bat Out of Hell 2;” and the closing title track “Dance of the Vampires” is a rework of the main theme from the movie “Streets of Fire” called “Tonight is What it Means to be Young.” These are all interesting songs to explore and discuss, but some of the original material from “Dance of the Vampires” really stand out as some of the best songs in the play. I am extremely fond of “Carpe Noctem” but I prefer to focus on the key love song from the play “For Sarah.”

Marjan Shaki as Sarah
As mentioned before Sarah is the innkeeper’s beautiful daughter and Alfred falls madly in love with her at first sight. Our vampire lord Krolock spirits Sarah away and Alfred exclaims his resolve to find and save her in this epic ballad “For Sarah.”

On paper “For Sarah” is a rather simple song, just piano and a singer, but it follows the more complicated center piece of the musical’s “Carpe Noctem” so it is meant to be a softer song, a quiet and sweet moment for Alfred to express the strength of his love and conviction to save the damsel in distress. What makes this song special is the singer himself. I have seen several different individuals perform this song live online and while some are more impressive than others I have enjoyed them all. It is a truly nice love song surrounded by fantastic factors, I mean vampires and all, and that makes the level of declared potential sacrifice a little more serious since actual death lays around the corner for our heroes.

Now, most people reading this have probably never heard of “Dance of the Vampires” and that has a lot to do with the utter failing to bring the musical in the United States. The original “Tanz Der Vampire” was a huge hit in Austria and Germany, and from everything I seen, heard and read about it, the German language version is superior to the English one in every conceivable way; but why is that? The songs were all written by an American, why did the US version fail so catastrophically. Well according to Steinman, the cast and crew in the US version did not take it seriously, and I can kind of understand why. The movie that inspired the story for “Dance of the Vampires” was a comedy, and the subject matter is silly and also rather trite in our current cultural zeitgeist regarding vampires. I mean “Vampires in Love” how cliché has that idea become?

Nonetheless Steinman is correct. Too many jokes were inserted into the English version. The great charm of “Tanz Der Vampires,” and the song “For Sarah,” was the passion put into it by it’s performers. The Germans and Austrians took this musical very seriously and they put together a highly emotional and exciting, albeit perhaps a little silly, musical experience. The wishy washy approach the Americans took undermined the story, the music and all the emotion that was required for making this piece of art work.

Because the music at it’s core is so damned good, the English versions of the songs are still thoroughly enjoyable. “For Sarah” is a song that needs, and in fact demands, the highest calibre of singing performance. For this reason, I believe the English version holds up very well, but I must say it is worthwhile to investigate the multiple German language version you can find online. I used to listen to one version on youtube a lot, but as these things go I can no longer find it, so here is a slightly not as great version:

Live German Version:

I feel for Steinman. He is likely to go down as one of the most overlooked song writers of his generation, and what might have been his magnum opus after the original “Bat Out of Hell,” this epic vampire musical, will likely be forgotten mostly by the English speaking music listening audience. This is the sort of review I think is highly important, I suspect a lot more people should be enjoying this over the top vampire rock opera than there are currently; and I am just doing my small part to help that along.

- King of Braves