Saturday, February 10, 2018

Beyond the Black - Songs of Love and Death

I have never been to the Wacken Open Air metal festival, but it is a dream of mine that one day I will go, probably to see Avantasia. I watch a lot of live performances of Wacken Open Air, as you do, and I discover bands I have never heard before, and among them my recent discoveries is Beyond the Black.

Beyond the Black is a fresh new German metal band fronted by Jennifer Haben and produced by Sascha Paeth. Sascha Paeth was a key figure in the creation and development of Avantasia, he is a basically a rock and roll demi-god, so it follows that Beyond the Black under his tutelage would be good, and yeah, they are. 

Jennifer Haben
I watched Beyond the Black’s live performance at Wacken 2014, and the song that stood out the most to me was “Songs of Love and Death” which is the title track of their debut album. The next logical step was to listen to the album “Songs of Love and Death,” and that was solid, still the title track was the gem that shined brightest for me. I have not gotten around to listening to their second album “Lost In Forever” in full yet, but the title track is once again pretty good.

When looking at the make up of the song, “Songs of Love and Death,” it looks to me to be designed to be a little more pop then your average German metal song. The chorus repeats four times, with only two verses, and as we all know the repetition breeds continuity and the human brain craves patterns, so this is a good tactic to make a song catchy and radio friendly. There is a really great, albeit short, drum solo, that rocks the house, and after the second verse we get a rocking guitar solo, so this song is still sufficiently metal to satisfy. Nonetheless the catchy chorus was the hook that got me listening more than once, so well done.

Another reason I surely like “Songs of Love and Death” is that it taps into that good and bad, light and dark, duality that I enjoy. A song titled “Songs of Love and Death” inescapably reminds of HIM, and all their songs, literally all of them, being about both of those two subjects blended together. Beyond the Black is not as intense about embracing love and death simultaneously as HIM, and in this example, I think death is used more as a benchmark then doom. The tragedy of death is not at all dwelled on, and there are multiple references looking to the future once our lovers are united; in the first chorus, “From this day on we’ll watch our lives unfold,” and from the second “Then we will turn to more than we both could be.”

The excitement of death, from a narrative perspective, is finality. In “Songs of Love and Death” death is the end, and time we have before than is enriched and empowered by love. We become more than we are together then when are when alone, we save each other from ourselves. Death is the end of the turning of the wheel, the end of the song. “Songs of Love and Death” could easily be renamed “Songs of Life and Death,” but that is less dramatic, less poetic too.

Haben invites her narrative lover, and the audience both, to join her on this adventure of life and death, and I really like how to works on both levels:

“Come and join my voice in songs of love and death.
Come and feel me, steal me, save me from myself.
All my longing, wandering heart is yours to have.
Come and join my voice in songs of love and death.
Songs of love and death.”

It is too early to know what to make of Beyond the Black, but this is a really good start of a career for Jennifer Haben who is only twenty-two years old. Which means she was eighteen or nineteen when “Songs of Love and Death” came at, and approximately the same age when she performed at Wacken in 2014, and that is interesting.

Speaking of interesting, I could not help but notice the entire band outside of Haben quit after the second album “Lost in Forever.”

Also, interesting, the lack of formation of an official band during the recording of “Songs of Love and Death,” and the high number of musicians who helped record the album (twenty-one).

I also could not help but notice how good looking Jennifer Haben is.

Confirmed as good looking
At the avoidably risk of sounding cynical I will address the elephant in the room, was Haben handed a metal career by Sascha Paeth? Sascha seems like a nice guy, sounds like the sort of thing he might due for a nice young person. Is Haben something special, that drew the support from so many talents? What exactly is going on?

When I started writing this review, the end statement was going to be something like “I look forward to seeing what the future holds for Beyond the Black,” but now I am like “wait… we have seen musical careers handed out to young talented singers before who looked a certain way, is that happening to metal?”

Now I do not know what to think, and in many ways, that is more exciting.

There comes a point in every music fan, or critic’s, life when the soullessness nature of the pop music industry ceases to be so offensive. We just come to accept that corporate greed and manipulative marketing get in the way of all kinds of artistic endeavors, and that some people value money more than art, even though they pose as artists. No one likes it, just likes unhealthy fast food, but we come to accept that such cheap tactics have a reason to exists however disappointing that may be.

I would be disappointed to learn that Jennifer Haben is a pretty face with a manufactured music career, but that is the excitement of the future for Beyond the Black, she could easily crush that cynical concern with the next Beyond the Black album. Haben no longer has Paeth producing for her, she no longer has the twenty-one musicians helping her own, she does not even have the band that helped her kick butt at Wacken 2014. The next album will be doubtless her own creation, and since she is a good singer and seems likable in interviews I hope she is successful in banishing doubts about her place in the European metal scene.

Should the worst prove true this could prove true, this would be the first case I aware of where the ugliness of manufactured pop music has infected the European metal scene, but even then, I get it, we all got bills to pay, at least some decent songs were written in the mean time.

I am routing for you Jennifer, now go establish yourself as a talented song writer, which is a lot easier said than done.

- King of Braves

Songs of Love and Death - Live at Wacken 2014

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