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Posts Tagged ‘Gorgoroth’

So, by now many of you have probably seen (or at least seen reference to) this video of Adam Lambert (he of some or other season of American Idol) performing a cover of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.”  I’m sure with a second’s research I could figure out precisely where and for what purpose this was performed, but I frankly don’t give a shit, and it’s beside the point either way.

The reaction to this video from the heavy metal community, at least as far as I’ve seen, has been, as you might imagine, principally one of outrage, or perhaps even disgust.  How dare this man, this purest expression of everything about ‘pop’ culture that heavy metal purports to despise, attempt to infiltrate and appropriate our beloved canon?  Alert the village elders (Lemmy, Iommi, Steve Harris), man the ramparts, et cetera, et cetera.  All very predictable, and not necessarily wrong.

The offender

Still, I’d like to make a slightly different argument, if you’ll be so kind as to humor me.  Instead of being shocked, or horrified, or just simply saddened by Mr. Lambert’s very glam take on Metallica, I think that the metal community should, if not embrace it, then at least recognize this performance for what I think it is: A more artistically compelling and frankly dangerous statement than the original song.

First, here is the official music video for Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” from 1991’s self-titled album:

If you’ve made it through the video without collapsing into a fit of seizures, then bravo.  That video is truly a terror to behold (and not in a good way).  I’m not quite sure what compelled the director to think, “Oh, instead of filming the same exact action in real-time, let’s make the whole video a stop-motion thing, that’ll be spoooooooky as shit,” but there you are.

Metallica’s song is, of course, widely acknowledged as a “classic,” if for no other reason than it’s been around for a long time, and most everyone knows it.  Still, the thing is, it seems to have attained that kind of place in our culture where one is more likely to hear it played over the PA at a giant sports stadium, or at a high school assembly, or maybe even while waiting at the checkout counter of your neighborhood Walmart.  It’s safe.

Which is not to say, I should point out, that it was ever really dangerous.  By the time the ‘Black Album’ was released in 1991, Metallica was no more danger to anyone than Neil Diamond or soft pillows.  If anything, Metallica circa 1991 were the safest sort of rock idols, at least in comparison to the intentionally sloppy, calculatingly scruffy attitude inculcated by the ongoing and/or impending grunge revolution.  As opposed to the mopey, “caring-about-anything-is-a-waste-of-time” insouciance of Nirvana or (early) Smashing Pumpkins, the Metallica that toured the ‘Black Album’ was the undiluted expression of the megastar American dreams of every teenager hoping to pull herself up by the (guitar)strap.  “Eat your veggies and work hard, kids, and you, too, can be the biggest hard rock band in the world.  We’ll even let you grow whatever dodgy facial hair you like!”

The offending facial hair

The song itself, “Enter Sandman,” flirts with a menacing veneer, but its serpentine half-thrash comes off more like the boogie vibe they would embrace more explicitly in the much- (and probably rightly-) maligned Load/Re-Load albums.  In the interest of full disclosure, I ought to say that it’s only with age and wisdom that I’ve come to dislike this song (though my mild disdain for “Enter Sandman” cannot even come close to matching my pure fucking spite for the abomination that is “Sad But True.”  Truly, a song that ought to be excised from the annals of rock history, and for which sin its writers deserve far worse penance than making an embarrassingly “let’s-hug-it-out” documentary.)  Nevertheless, I do not think it is a particularly good song, trapped, as is most of the ‘Black Album’, in that wretched netherworld in which thrash is kicking to draw its last few ignominious breaths, but has already made halting, sopping nods toward the meatier ‘grooves’ that would come to typify the execrable folly of so much “metal” throughout the 90s.

Here, then, is Lambert’s live performance of “Enter Sandman.”  The backing track is a reasonable approximation of the original, though it highlights the plodding, infuriatingly middle-of-the-road riffing slightly more than one would wish.  The instrumentation isn’t particularly consequential, though, as the focus is obviously intended to be Lambert’s vocals and physical carriage throughout the song.  Thus:

Clearly, the audience here is loving every minute of this (although I suspect they would love each and every minute our [anti]hero spends out on the stage); they’re completely lapping it up, and there’s something oddly charming about the amateur video quality.  Lambert sings much of the song relatively straight (har, har), indulging in increasingly melismatic flourishes as the verses and choruses pile on in that inescapable logic of pop songcraft.  Lambert is clearly an objectively “better” singer than James Hetfield, although I suppose ardent fans of either man would tell you that that’s not really the point.

To cut right to the heart of my argument, though, make sure you watch Lambert’s vocal histrionics and masturbatory pantomime as the song goes into the solo break about halfway through.  Lambert mimics guitar soloing with his voice for a few phrases, but then – hark! – begins gyrating and loving his microphone in that most intimate of ways.  A 21st century Elvis, high on self-love instead of fried chicken.  Coming out of the solo break, Lambert plants some kisses on one of the musicians before continuing to sing out the rest of the song.

Now, to suggest that many in the heavy metal community will have been turned off by the whole spectacle is not necessarily to imply a pervasive homophobia (though there are likely elements of that for some people).  Instead, I assume that some combination of the pageantry, the preening male sexuality, and the theatrical vocal take on a well-established entry in the pantheon of American heavy metal will result in a generalized disdain.  I also assume that Adam Lambert doesn’t give a damn about heavy metal, or about the heavy metal community, and that perhaps few of his fans do, either.  The issue, then, is all one of context.  See, there’s nothing particularly controversial in Lambert’s performing that song to that audience, because they are clearly primed to enjoy every flourish, every note, every gesture of whatever song he decides to sing.

The reason, then, that I want to suggest that Lambert’s take on Metallica is more artistically vibrant is that it takes the warmed-over half-thrash violence of Metallica’s original, and the blandly predatory intent of Hetfield’s snarling recitation of children’s prayers, and turns what has become meek and safe into something dangerous to heavy metal itself.  Lambert’s writhing performance takes the implicit leering of Hammett’s wah-soaked (duh) solo and makes it explicit.  It’s in your face, as he strokes his microphone like the great digital phallus is always is in every other singer’s hands already.  In grafting a gay, glammy sensibility onto this half-heartedly aggressive music, I suspect that Lambert has transgressed the standards held (however subconsciously) by many in the metal community.

(This is not really the time or place for getting into the role of homosexuality in heavy metal – though it is a fascinating, important topic – but perhaps it will suffice to suggest that none of the more prominent gay men in heavy metal – Rob Halford, of course, but perhaps also more recently Gaahl (ex-) of Gorgoroth – have brought this type of sex performance into their public personae.)

Perhaps before closing I should add that I don’t particularly enjoy listening to Lambert’s version of “Enter Sandman.”  Despite the criticisms I’ve leveled at Metallica’s original version, I think I’d still prefer it to this half-theatrical, half-tepid version.  Nevertheless, it’s at times like this, when popular culture intersects – however briefly, however tangentially – with heavy metal, that both venues stand to learn from the other, or at least for whichever community one prefers to put itself up to a sharp self-assessment.  When something like Adam Lambert’s performance, however dull or insipid the actual musical performance may be, can appear so threatening to heavy metal, a genre and community ostensibly drawn to power, danger, and all the rest, heavy metal ought to take a look at itself, and at the transgressive potential it once thrilled to realize.

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I haven’t yet figured out if there’s a good way to avoid this, but I’m quite certain that I’m far from the only one out there who follows a whole mess of music rather closely, and begins to feel more than a little overwhelmed.  Of course I can’t really speak for the faceless masses of internet blips and pixels, but I imagine that many of you have your own little accounting systems, or organizational schemes for dealing with new music.

Maybe you anticipate upcoming releases by keeping little lists of noteworthy titles on the horizon; or by following a blog or a dozen that tend to report news from the genres you follow; or maybe you download hundreds of gigabytes of music from all the errant spaces of the world and then feel slowly gnawed away by guilt, not because of any qualms over copyright infringement or any such square nonsense, but because there’s just so much of it, and you’ll never ever listen to it all, and so eventually it shuttles its way between a download folder and that much-used twin, the recycle bin; or, better yet, maybe you’re not completely neurotic like I am, and you just listen to some music that you like and have already stopped reading this shiftless bourgeois tripe.  Good for you.

All of this, really, is just by way of prelude to saying that, sometimes it’s liberating to just sit down in front of the ol’ music collection (or ol’ computer, really) and listen to whatever seems to be calling out to you; no real agenda, no obligation, just, y’know, whatever feels right.  Weird, isn’t it, that as a listening culture we (or at least some of ‘we’) have found ourselves in such a predicament?  I guess, actually, it’s probably not that different from finding yourself at the grocery store, trying to pick out a box of cereal but oh, what’s that, decision-making-part-of-my-brain?, I can’t quite hear you over the sound of 17,000 brands of dried crunchy things with sugar.

The petty tyranny of choice meets an over-saturated consumer culture.

Playing the role of desktop Napoleon today, then, here is what I’ve been putting in my ear holes…ere I saw Elba:

Ghost, Snuffbox Immanence

This Japanese folk/rock/psych group can kick out some pretty hot jams, but unlike their countrymen in the Acid Mothers Temple & Melting Whatever Freak-Outs, I actually prefer it when they stick to the mellower side of the rock and roll continuum.  Which they do, on this release, with consummate ease.  Check out Hypnotic Underworld and In Stormy Nights for even better distillations of this magic, which seems more easily wrought over a longer running-time.

Keep of Kalessin, Reptilian

Finally gave this record the first listen today.  Although, to be fair, I only bought my copy last week, meaning I’ve been experiencing far less of the aforementioned gnawing guilt as with, say, the new Nightbringer which I’ve yet to play, or the new Watain, which I’ve only run through once (though, in my defense, goddamn is that thing loooong).  Anyway, something about their last one, Kolossus, never quite sat entirely right with me.  Armada was a massive beast of a record, and Kolossus‘ main fault, I think, is that it sounded more or less like Armada Redux; so, while it was a reasonably satisfying blast of ultra-classy, shined-up melodic black(-ish) metal, it didn’t have any real standout tracks like “The Black Uncharted” or “Crown of the Kings” from Armada.  First listen to this dragon-obsessed follow-up, then, is an improvement on that front, inasmuch as there is definitely a marked change from both Armada and Kolossus; yet to be determined, however, is whether this is a good or bad change.  In my only casual perusals of the metallic corners of the internet, I have seen nothing but scorn heaped upon early single (and Eurovision entry!) “The Dragontower,” and while that track’s first impression was definitely much more that of a pop song grafted onto a web of heavy metal signifiers, honestly folks, it wasn’t that bad, and it’s not as though Keep Of Kalessin have been, until now, your uncompromising bulwark of everything that is true and kvlt in metal.  In other words, ‘Norsk Arisk Black Metal’ they ain’t.

Pink Floyd, Meddle

Truth be told, I think I’ll always prefer Wish You Were Here, even though I know for many Meddle is the connoisseur’s Floyd album.  Granted, the second side of Meddle, taken up entirely by “Echoes,” completely owns early 1970s progressive rock, and the album’s first track has that great spooky, driving momentum that I could listen to all day.  “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” still edges out “Echoes” by a hair, though, for long-winded, multi-part prog odyssies, and the rest of the more straight-ahead rock songs on Wish You Were Here are a bit more memorable (hello, “Welcome to the Machine”) than those on Meddle (although the jaunty “San Tropez” is fun).

I think the reason I had it in my head to listen to Meddle today was because I had been listening to the new Nachtmystium album, which, I know, I know, is probably coming one album too late for getting in on the psych/freak-y Nachtmystium; seems like for this second volume (which is excellent, in case my snark is confusing the issue), they ought to have called it Black Unknown Pleasures or some such thing, but I digress.

Clutch, Blast Tyrant

Most anything Clutch does is worth your time, but their latter-day records are where I spend most of my time.  Sure, the self-titled album and Pure Rock Fury are pretty much all class, but Blast Tyrant, Robot Hive/Exodus, Beale St, and Strange Cousins are the friggin’ shit.  This album, especially, is just a wonderful combination of seriously muscular blues, some of Neil Fallon’s most bad-ass stream-of-consciousness lyrics, and a bunch of completely fucking righteous RIFFS.

On the subject of those lyrics, see:

“Genesis and Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers /
Gideon is knocking in your hotel while you slumber”

OR, in honor of Dio’s recent passing:

“Holy diver, where you at?
There’s a woman on the hill in a wide-brimmed hat /
With a shotgun, .44 /
And a big bloodhound in the back of a jacked-up Ford”

I mean, GODDAMN if that isn’t some FUNK.

Negura Bunget, Om

As long as we’re cataloging my recent music-related shames, I ought to let it out that despite receiving my copy in the mail a far while back, I still haven’t listened to the new post-breakup Negura Bunget album (the title of which, since I am too lazy to pull up the accurate spelling, is something approximating Virstele Pamintului; or anyway, that’s my closest guess).

I’ve pretty much tried to avoid following any of the acrimony surrounding the split of the core members, with some of them (maybe only one?) continuing on with the name, and others forming a new group, whose similarly Romanian name also escapes me at the moment.  Thankfully, it doesn’t seem like this ever reached the sublimely ridiculous heights (or lows, depending on your perspective) of the Gorgoroth Affair, so when I do get around to listening to the new one, I’m hoping to do so without much contextual baggage.

Still, whenever I do listen to it, and as I’m sure everyone else and their grandmother has noted, it’s going to have some mighty big shoes to fill.  Om is an absolute monster of a record: expertly paced and sequenced, loud and brash when it needs to be, meditative and melodic whenever it wants to be.  I don’t know exactly how to explain it, but something about listening to Om seems incredibly intuitive, like it doesn’t require a long apprenticeship in the dungeons of heavy metal lore to understand this music on a visceral level.

Looking over this list, I was also struck by just how masculine-dominated most of these rock genres are.  Of course, to really do that topic justice would require several tortuous essays and much hand-wringing, so instead I just reminded myself that I was also listening to Arch Enemy’s Wages of Sin (their first record to feature current growler Angela Gossow) earlier today, and that I’ve got a recently-acquired copy of Gillian Welch’s Hell Among the Yearlings in the docket.

But ah, there’s that damnable docket again, and it’s brought its friends, Guilt and Obligation…

Still, hopefully up soon:
– Reviews of the Pyramids & Nadja collaboration and Devin Townsend’s Physicist
A rant about stoner metal, and all its spurious accusations against my listening faculties
– A brief essay on the furniture department of Macy’s

Cheers, &c.,
d

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The title of this post really ought to read, “Harry Potter Metal, or On the Use and Abuse of Irony for Music (apologies, as are so frequently due, to F.W. Nietzsche).”

Now, I’m sure that I’m a few years late to this particular party, but after a couple of Blind Guardian tracks just kicked out of my stereo, I suddenly remembered reading a while back about some Harry Potter-themed bands.  Obviously, with such a friggin’ enormous cultural phenomenon as the Harry Potter books (& movies, & video games, & tea cozies, & chewing tobacco, &, if the television’s carpet-bombing campaign of commercials is to be believed, theme parks, &c., &c.), one ought to expect its influence to spread far and wide.  A quick bit of internet research (well, if typing and clicking are admissible under the banner of ‘research’ these days, at least) jogged my memory of an indie rock-type band called Harry & The Potters, by two brothers from Massachusetts.  Pretty cutesy, I guess, and even better when I find out that the proceeds of what they’ve done are going to various literary nonprofits.  Good on ’em, although the Wizard Rock EP of the Month Club (no, I’m not fucking joking) makes me gag more than a little.

Now, however, a bit more research on trusty ol’ M-A reveals this band from Norway, the aptly-named Voldemort.  They’ve got two self-released EPs out, which feature some winningly-titled tunes as “Mayhem at the Ministry,” “The Dark Mark in the Sky,” and “Cradle of Filch” (okay, I’ll admit to getting a decent chuckle out of that last one).  The band members have also adopted Potter-themed pseudonyms, including Count Draco Horcrux (…the fuck?) and Muggleslayer.  Okay, so this is already a whole lot of strikes against these folks, but it’s not totally outside the realm of possibility that they could write some decent tunes, yeah?  Well, check out their Myspace yourself, and see if you can make it any further than 1:24 into “Mayhem at the Ministry,” because  I sure as all damn hell could not.  It’s not that I take any great pleasure (well, maybe a little) in tearing down the work of others, but seriously?  This sounds basically like a third- or fourth-rate thrash tune slowed down to 1/2 time, with what sound like (but I think are not actually) synthesized distorted guitars and drums, with an irony-laden vocal ripoff of Cronos from Venom, with occasional King Diamond shrieks thrown atop the last word in a line for “emphasis.”  Which is to say, awful, awful stuff.

Awesome

Not nearly so awesome

The real point of this post, since I should be getting on with it, is that I can’t quite figure out exactly why it is that I can take perfectly seriously many of the metal bands that have incorporated various fantasy literature into their names, themes, artwork, and very music itself, whereas this Harry Potter-themed heavy metal of Voldemort seems like utter fucking bollocks and nonsense.  I think in this case, it’s a pretty clear case of a straight-up gimmick band.  In the interest of full disclosure, I ought to point out that your humble scribe is a pretty giant Harry Potter nerd, so it’s entirely possible that my near dry-heaving upon stumbling across that Myspace page is a knee-jerk response meant to defend Ms. Rowlings’ canon; more likely, though, is that this is a knee-jerk response to the ongoing hipsterization of heavy metal, about which I am, all things considered, an even gianter (that’s right, it’s not a word, but fuck you internet, I’m using it anyway) nerd.

J.R.R. Tolkien, of course, has a long and illustrious pedigree of being used and abused in the world of heavy metal.  Thing is, I’m pretty much perfectly cool with that, and my being perfectly cool with it is kind of bugging me, now that I’m thinking about this Harry Potter music bullshit.  Of course, some of the most obvious examples of Tolkien metal are Germany’s Blind Guardian and Austria’s Summoning, but even the most casual fan of underground heavy metal has stumbled across easily a few dozen bands whose names are drawn from Tolkien.  Gorgoroth, Amon Amarth, Cirith Ungol, Isengard (featuring Fenriz of Darkthrone), Nazgul, Uruk-Hai (early version of Burzum), Cirith Gorgor, and Ephel Duath are only a few examples (not to mention probably at least a half-dozen bands each taking the name Sauron or Morgoth).

Now, in all fairness, Gorgoroth haven’t spent much time actually singing about Tolkien, in the same manner as Blind Guardian (whose landmark Nightfall in Middle-Earth takes on one of Tolkien’s more difficult works, The Silmarillion) and Summoning (whose last full-length album, Oath Bound, included a track ostensibly sung in one of Tolkien’s made-up languages, the Black Speech of Mordor), nor have most of these other bands.  But even with Blind Guardian and Summoning, I don’t find it particularly difficult to take them (more or less) seriously.  And of course Tolkien is far from being the only literary/fantasy inspiration in heavy metal; H.P. Lovecraft likely plays a close second (check out the bizarre thrash band Mekong Delta, or look for basically any band ever utilizing the word Cthulu), but there are also bands like The Gates of Slumber using Robert E. Howard for inspiration (in this case, his tales of Conan the Barbarian).  This is not to say, by the way, that Harry Potter metal is the only type of fantasy heavy metal that reeks of the ridiculous; Italy’s long-running cheese-mongers Rhapsody (lately Rhapsody Of Fire), for example, have invented their own world of dragons and wizards to sing about.  It’s almost like someone should tap them on the shoulder and remind them politely that they’re not German.  Something I haven’t looked into, but might be interesting to investigate, is whether any metal band has tried to tackle Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.  I’ve got a hunch that someone, somewhere, must have given it a go.

Something tells me this is not an issue I’ll be able to resolve, inasmuch as it probably requires delving much more deeply into heavy metal’s penchant for the theatrical, the mystical, the occult, and so forth.  Maybe the fact that Tolkien’s books have been a part of the world’s collective literary consciousness for quite some time now, whereas Harry Potter remains a currently evolving phenomenon, plays some role in my different reactions to Potter metal and Tolkien metal; that is, maybe fifty years from now, Harry Potter metal will be just as widely accepted.  Maybe it simply has to do with the fact that this Norwegian band Voldemort sounds rather like a dog retching, whereas Blind Guardian sound completely fucking bad-ass; in that case, maybe all it will take is for a band to come along and make some really neck-wrecking Harry Potter-themed metal.

Until then, I’ll have to be satisfied with my Harry Potter-brand garbage disposal and jogging shorts.

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