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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Metal Mythos Part 3: Brave New World

     Metal, like the Opera, has evolved from lurid melodrama to a profound narrative delivered by music and theatrics. By no means am I implying that Power Metal is not without it's allure. It exemplefies the Dionysian indulgence which defines the very genre, with a raw edge of which the polished artists of today are incapable. However, guilty pleasures such as Manowar lack something profound which can be found elsewhere, such as (for example) Amon Amarth. Early metal incorporated mythology in a campy manner, but now mythology is more than a mere gimmick. Now the myths are at the forefront, and theatrics take a supporting role (heh.)

      Immortal prophecies, existential tragedies, and metaphorical fables flavor the contemporary manifestation of Metal. Viking Metal in particular is characterized by dark personal tragedies, almost nihilistic in nature. Symphonic Metal is essentiallly a modernization of ancient Operatic themes, ranging from betrayal to mercy killings to perpetual vendettas. Artist such as Nightwish have incorporated elements of fantasy into their orchestral compositions, as an onslaught of Pathos can be hard to bear without a unicorn or two to lighten the deal.

     Even when the storylines themselves are not true to their origins, the themes of Metal still borrow from the mysticism of elders and ancestors. The phemomenon of Folk Metal is a testament to this fact. This musical movement features native acoustic instruments, otherwise known as "Grandpaz Guitarz", and utilizes them in conjunction with thrashy electric guitars and pounding kick-beats. Eluveitie are masters of this art, using bagpipes to accentuate the harsh melody. Such is the brave new world of metal and mythology.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Metal Mythos Part 2: Power Metal

(333 pageviews. Half the number of the beast. Could it be a sign...?)

     Power Metal took mythology and music to the next level with  screaming vocals, melodic guitar riffs, and lurid lyrics. Early Queensryche exemplified this musical movement, otherwise known as Dungeon Metal. What we now consider guilty pleasures, back then were unadulterated badassery. Even established artists such as Iron Maiden had elements of Power Metal in their music. Whereas Zeppelin and others had used pre-existing storylines to inspire thier songs, Power Metal was more generalized fantasy. It was not specific characters and plots which drove this kind of music, but rather the universal motifs that these stories exemplified. Eternal struggle between righteous and wicked, vengeance and tragedy, hatred and victory... Even the more shallow aspects, such as bodacious babes rescued from grotesque beasts, had a certain degree of otherworldly significance.

     However, Power Metal was unapologetically corny. In this way, it was able to reveal the Dionysian nature of Metal that a more refined subgenre may conceal. This veered off in two directions: On one hand, some artists realized how corny they appeared to the public eye, and steered their Metal in a more crowd-pleasing path. On the other hand, some artists saw an opportunity for profitable parody. Just as the modern Dethklok is simultaneously a mockery, a glorification, and an accurate portrayal, so were bands such as Savatage and Manowar. The songs were riddled with enough power screams and guitar shreds to appease the average Metalhead, while the lyrics and music videos were a blatant satire on the genre. Again, it was basically Dethklok for the 80's.

(Sorry for the abrupt ending, but I had 30 minutes to type this up in the public library. Coming soon: Metal Mythos Part 3!)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Metal Mythos

      From the fantasy of early power metal to the darkness of modern Viking Metal, the genre as a whole is intertwined with mythology. Although this is a specific relationship, its implications are so vast that it is difficult to organize a coherent analysis. Therefore, I will take the copycat aproach and tackle the beast chronologically, as has proved effective for the likes of Sam Dunn. Rewind to the early years...

     Although they refuse to be labeled as Metal, Led Zeppelin were some of the earliest rockers to incorporate mythology into their lyrics. It is common knowledge that they integrated established storylines of Tolkien, dropped it down to an eerie D, and amplified the results to high heaven. In turn, bands such as Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper took a decidedly Christian standpoint, contrary to the ravings of critics and dumb-asses. Just because the lyrics weren't about Jesus, doesn't mean these artists did not let their spiritual beliefs bleed into their art. Gothic crosses and rosaries are still a staple in the Metalhead wardrobe to this day. And of course, it is impossible to describe religious symbolism in Metal without mentioning Dio.

     The so called "devil horns" remain a universal symbol of Metal, despite bastardization throughout the decades. From an early age, Ronnie James Dio was taught to clench his fist with the pinky and index fingers erect, as a deeply spiritual sign to ward off the evil eye. After he used the gesture in concert, the audience had equated the hand signal to his powerhouse vocals, then to the Rock n' Roll lifestyle, and now it is practically a cartoonish caricature of its spiritual origins. However, despite being overused to the point of cliche, the "devil horns" are a testament to spirituality and music.

     Meanwhile, myths of a different variety had to be dispelled. These fell not under the category of "spiritual story" but of "urban legend". Bitings heads off of bats, killing animals onstage, and all manner of blashpemous debauchery were invented (at least partially) and sensationalized out of proportion. Again, the artists who caught the most flak were some of the most devout Christians this side of the Bible-Belt. At any rate, these accusations were little more than tabloid hyperbole. After all, you don't have to be Satanic to like busty babes and dragonslayers.

(Stay tuned for Part 2: Power Metal! )

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

In Memory of Chaos

On this day, a decade has passed since the departure of Death frontman Chuck Schuldiner. The band Death was a profound innovation, not only in Metal but in music as an entirety. Their impact on the Death Metal industry was so intense that it's almost as if the genre owes their namesake to them. Chuck Shuldiner in particular played a significant role, serving the band not only as guitarist but also as lead vocalist. His status as a pioneer in indisputable. Heavy music has never been the same since this talented man hit the stage, and we have yet to be blessed with a musician of his caliber thereafter. Sure, the face of Metal has evolved between '83 and today, but Shuldiner has still set a bar to which many of us still aspire. This is no small feat, especially considering the fact that he was trapped in a generation in which Metal was portrayed as long-haired blonde boys in neon spandex and blue lipstick. To reinvent music in such an aesthetic no-mans-land in nothing short of extaordinary. So let us propose a toast, and quite possibly drink, to this badass mother-fucker, the likes of which I doubt we'll see again. Rest in pieces, and bring the party to heaven. \m/

Still can't get enough Chuck? Check out the kickass articles in Revolver, Terrorizer,and Decibel Magazines. They are indeed eulogies worthy of such an artist.