Archive for the ‘Heavy Metal’ Category

So you think Your Kids Don’t Listen to Opera?!

August 27, 2009

You don’t even need to be a golden oldie to lament the cultural abyss that has opened up before the youth of today. As sad and frighteningly horrid as it may seem, there are even genteel supremacists in their 30s (and perhaps younger) scoffing at the lack of musical sophistication in the bulk of their peers. And while these people are generally the Nazi-like bad guys in your typical American Poor vs Rich movie, they do have a valid point.

It is a well-documented fact that only about 3.3% of humans have a brain worth the space it takes up in their skulls, which accounts for the travesty which is referred to as the Top 40. I often wake screaming from nightmares of aliens finally coming down to communicate with us, to exchange culture and knowledge, only to fly away laughing once they’ve heard what the bulk of humanity calls music!

While it’s a bit of a hard ask to expect most people these days to get into classical music, let alone opera, there are people – even teenagers – who actually listen to a great deal of both! Just don’t expect any of the 96.7% who listen to mainstream radio to be among the new cultural elite! As incredible as it may seem, they actually think of themselves as too refined and cultured!

Symphony X - Symphonic Power Metal at its Epic best!You see, it is actually in the world (make that universe!) of Heavy Metal that classical and opera are actually making a huge comeback! There are parents out there who listen to music nowhere near as sophisticated as their long-haired teenage kids, as easy listening music by definition means unexciting and uncomplicated. Yet, their kids are listening to a complex, anthemic blend of classical and opera with various genres of Metal. While the rest of the world listens to mindless dance music, boy bands and black American female singers pumping out the same old songs with different titles, and other rubbish pop, there is now an underground movement of youth who listen to today’s musical virtuosos!

So, for the benefit of those who want to know more, especially for older people who would actually like to check out some of the more inspiring music of today, I’ll give a brief outline of the genres and bands to look out for. The influence of classical and/or opera can vary from quite slight to rather intense, and the Metal at its base can range from melodic to extreme. So I’ll start with the melodic genres, and finish off with the more extreme. It’s not much different from comparing, say, the more serene movements from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with Wagner or “Mars” from Holst’s Planets.

Nightwish - Divinely Operatic Symphonic Power Metal

Symphonic Metal, Opera Metal, or Symphonic Goth

Tristania - Symphonic Gothic Metal with superbly Operatic VocalsNow, while many bands fall pretty much neatly into genres like Symphonic Power Metal and Symphonic Black Metal, a great deal fall loosely into, well, whatever you want to call the genre! Now, Symphonic Metal is a good general term for Heavy Metal inspired by Classical Music, while Opera Metal or Operatic Metal would describe those, obviously, with vocals similar to that of opera. The term “Goth” is such a broad one, meaning anything from agonisingly-slow melancholy music through to really bad electro-dance stuff (which is still, somehow, Goth?!), but often is added to describe bands that have elements which are attractive to “Goths” (like a sense of melancholy, or a blending of traditional folk music elements). The reason I include this here and not separately is because this is not a term the bands usually employ, and they are often surprised to hear they are referred to as a “Goth” band.

Apocalyptica - 4 Metalheads on Cellos!

Symphonic Metal bands can vary quite a bit, from heavy bands who do very “symphonic” music, through to guys on cellos playing Heavy Metal songs! Within Temptation - Symphonic Metal with Gothic sensibilitiesBroadly speaking, many bands either lack a vocalist, or have a woman with incredible vocal ability at the helm. If the singer is female (which is almost a signature of this genre), she will either sing like a diva, an opera singer, or perhaps even like an Irish folk singer. Bands that appeal to Goths might also have a male backing vocalist who sings “gruff” as a contrast to the female lead-singer’s “clean” vocals. Some bands won’t be too far off Symphonic Power Metal in tempo, while others prefer a more reserved pace. Some have a single singer, while others sound more like a choir. And more often than not, a lot of the bands will do a bit of all of the above!

So I’ll try to split them up a little, and offer some bands you should check out, as well as an album of each to listen to. Since the term “Goth” is subjective and more like a tick of approval from Goths than an actual genre, I won’t list that separately, but note which bands have “Goth appeal“.Epica - Symphonic Metal with Classical Instruments & Operatic Vocals And I won’t even split them up based on which are operatic, since many of the vocalists can actually alternate between diva-like vocals and the more opera-style; and some bands might occasionally add operatic vocals and shouldn’t necessarily be labelled as such. I’ll just split them up according to which are more your average modern electric band with symphonic elements (usually with keyboards), and those that actually have classical musicians in them.

Symphonic Metal:

  • Within Temptation (“Mother Earth” – beautiful folky vocals of Sharon den Adel make them a major Danish export; major Goth appeal)
  • Nightwish (“Once” – sublime operatic vocals with faster-paced music often approaching Symphonic Power Metal)
  • Tristania (“World Of Glass” – classy operatic vocals, folk elements, and gruff male vocals make them a Goth favourite)
  • After Forever (“Decipher” – Arabic and Oriental influences, operatic vocals, and orchestrated elements; Goth-approved)
  • Edenbridge (“My Earth Dream” – bombastic music of all tempos with graceful female vocals)

Therion - Dark Symphonic Metal big on Orchestrated sound and Multiple Vocals

Symphonic Metal (with Classical Instrument players):

  • Therion (“Vovin” – female sopranos, choirs, classical musicians and heavy music make for an aural feast! Goth appeal)
  • Apocalyptica (“Plays Metallica by Four Cellos” – that says it all! Now they have added a drummer and write their own acoustic Metal!)
  • Epica (“The Classical Conspiracy” – this very much modern classical music with electric instruments added for dynamics! Mostly instrumental with operatic vocals. Great Vivaldi covers!)

Within Temptation - Sharon den Adel's voice is the pride of Denmark

Symphonic Power Metal is just Power Metalsmooth but fast-paced Metal characterised by good musicianship and impressive clean vocals (usually male) – with a noticeable Symphonic element. Lost Horizon - Inspirational Epic Power Metal with Symphonic elementsThis is usually achieved through adding classical aspects to the dynamics of the songs, a liberal use of orchestra-like keyboards, and soaring vocals. The songs can often sound like anthems, and the lyrics often sing of outdated concepts such as honour, the joy of peace, the glory of battle, the horror of war, the mystery of God and the universe, and pretty much anything that probably inspired all the great classical music and operas of the last few centuries!

This form of Metal can, depending on the bands, be quite bombastic, which is why those into more extreme forms laugh at it and call it corny. But not all teenagers into Metal are into the extreme stuff, and there are plenty who absolutely love the symphonic and highly-technical elements of this genre. The singers can out-sing any of the world’s most commercially-successful vocalists, and guitarists you’ve never even heard of make the guitar “virtuosos” you listen to sound like beginners! So here are a few bands (and recommended albums) you can check out if this sounds interesting:

Rhapsody - Italy's Epic Symphonic Power Metal legends (now Rhapsody Of Fire)

  • Symphony X (“The Odyssey” – concept album telling the story of Odysseus/Ulysses)
  • Rhapsody (“Rain Of A Thousand Flames” – the title song is a good example of Hollywood Metal, as it has been referred to)
  • Kamelot (“The Black Halo” – ranging from slow, haunting songs to sophisticated faster ones)
  • Dark Moor (“The Gates of Oblivion” – epic & majestic, with female diva vocals [they now have a male vocalist])
  • Sonata Arctica (“Ecliptica” – fast, anthemic songs with passioned singing and wild keyboard solos)
  • Lost Horizon (“A Flame to the Ground Beneath” – songs like “Pure” rely more on guitar than keyboards to give it a majestic feel)

Kamelot - Polished Symphonic Power Metal with commercial feel & "crooner" style vocals

Symphonic Black Metal is, put simply, the greatest horror music the world has ever heard. Lordly, spooky, divine and menacing, it truly is one of the most unique musical genres ever devised by man. Dimmu Borgir - Norway's legendary Black Metal bandIt is a combination of Norwegian Black Metal of the 1990s (now often referred to as “Old School” Black Metal, or just Black Metal) and, of course, symphonic elements. Black Metal started in Norway as a mix of various Metal (and even Punk) influences, and became noted for its brutally unique sound and corpse-paint whitened faces. You may even remember that it also became infamous for a plague of church burnings throughout Norway, as well as a couple of murders!

Musically, Black Metal is definitely an extreme form of Metal, and I suppose the way you would describe it is how I would explain the difference between it and Death Metal (which is, of course, one of the most extreme forms of Metal). Cradle Of Filth - Britain's Symphonic Black Metal maestrosWith Black Metal, not only would be drums be going overtime and guitars being savaged at a frantic rate, like with Death Metal, but you would note (if you actually listened) that each song has an underlying riff (or melody) that is akin to some of the more spookier or melancholy pieces of classical music. Also, generally speaking, the lyrics would be more screeched than growled like with Death Metal. And speaking of lyrics, Death Metal is called that because more often than not, the lyrics deal with death. With Black Metal, it usually deals with the battle between Good and Evil (which is why, along with the anti-Christian church burnings, Black Metal also became known as Satanic Metal).

When some bands in the late ’90s started adding keyboards and creating a more atmospheric orchestrated sound, it opened up Black Metal to a whole new audience. Old Man's Child - Epic Norwegian Black MetalBoth the music and stage presence of Symphonic Black Metal bands these days is quite theatrical, and despite the extreme elements, can be just as bombastic as the other genres. And as I said, it has evolved to what I can only (and truthfully) say is the best horror music ever. Not every song is fast and brutal, and often albums will feature a purely orchestrated song (actually, many albums will have a piece of classical music as the first song leading into the album!). The music, while heavy and modern, blends wonderfully with the spooky classical feel (Baroque is often a big influence), and topped off by eerily-screeched lyrics befitting the term Horror. Some of the main acts you can check out are:

Dimmu Borgir - Bombastic Horror Music at its best!

  • Cradle Of Filth (“Midian” – listen to the haunting “Her Ghost In The Fog” and read any lyrics of this British band and be amazed!Features female operatic backing vocals)
  • Dimmu Borgir (“Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia” – one of Norway’s biggest exports, their music is true art!)
  • Emperor (“IX Equilibrium” – Technically-complex and unique Progressive Black Metal with symphonic elements)
  • Old Man’s Child (“Vermin” – divinely moody and menacing music from this Norwegian band)
  • Limbonic Art (“A Legacy of Evil” – from the operatic “Lycanthropic Tales” to more extreme offerings)
  • Hollenthon (“With Vilest of Worms to Dwell” – maybe more Progressive Death Metal, there are many symphonic elements, and you’ve never heard anything like “Y Draig Goch“!)

Cradle Of Filth - Eerie & Extreme Symphonic Metal to chill the soul!

So there you have it – hopefully a short but informing introduction to those who like classical and/or opera, but had no idea just how big the Heavy Metal universe is, and that their cultured tastes could find new musical delicacies to savour there.


Putting the Fun back into Metal with Steel Panther

July 15, 2009

Only heathens don’t like at least one of the 753 different genres of Metal. Only sad-sack religious zombies and evil politician types don’t like to have fun. And Communists. And only those too in denial to admit man’s folly, and too weak to stomach the horrors of history we created, could deny that back in the ’80s, “Hair Metal” ruled the charts supreme.

If it horrifies you to think that we possibly face a comeback of “Hair Metal”, rest assured that bands like Steel Panther will keep you laughing through the tears. While actually playing some pretty decent music (as far as that genre goes), they are an absolute crackup to listen to. If you like comedy music like The Lonely Island’s “Jizz In My Pants”, you’ll love these guys, even if that ’80s style of melodic metal makes you retch. Complete with pouts and spandex, these guys are all about tradition, ie: Sex, Drugs and Rock’n’Roll.

While songs like “Asian Hooker” are pretty much in your face, other songs from this Californian “Hair Metal” parody band have a much more subtle approach. Check out this snippet of their awesome love power-ballad “Community Property” and you’ll see what I mean. It seems to be the a classic soppy Metal love song worthy of the top of the charts back in the day, until you get to the last line (which explains the strange title). Here are the opening lines of that song, to give you a sample of their whacky lyrics:

I would give you the stars in the sky
But they´re too far away
If you were a hooker you´d know
I´d be happy to pay
If suddenly you were a guy
I´d be suddenly gay

Anyway, check out the clip – it’s just one chorus – and if you want to have a good laugh, listen to their 2009 album “Feel The Steel“. But any scaredy little pussies reading this – you know, those annoying easily-offended holier-than-thou cretins the rest of us want to strangle – please don’t listen to them if you’re likely to give yourself an aneurysm hearing “offensive” (that word is so subjective) material mostly related to the acquiring of female genitalia. It would break my little heart if something were to happen to your punk bitch ass. (Die! Die!! DIE!!!)

Steel Panther

Raise the Metal fist! OzzyFrank