Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Metalheads and Fantasy Geeks are Siblings. No really

[There is a fantasy geek point toward the end of this post. Just takes me a while to get there.]

I'm a geek and I love fantasy thank you very much, but I just can't help but be very passionate about metal music. Heavy metal, hard rock, thrash metal, death metal, black metal, doom metal and all the gazillion subgenres give me an endless supply of creativity, emotion and passion like no music can. I became a metalhead around 1986, a very good year for metal altogether, and have never looked back. People sometimes say I'm narrow-minded, and I usually answer that I am happy being narrow-minded. But really, the metal genres encompass such a staggering amount of different music ("noise" to most people I guess) that within there is more than enough variety to sustain a somewhat varied diet anyway (that being said, I do like classical and movie soundtracks, but these genres are pretty close to metal anyway, aside from the instruments used). 
As an example, I bought four albums last week (yes, I still buy discs) which all fall under the metal-umbrella yet are wildly different. 

Moonspell's latest work was at first listen a bit of a detour from their usually heavily gothic style. This is a band that toys with vampires and gothic romance and doom, perfectly illustrated through their music. "Alpha Noir" is an album a bit less theatrical, but after a few spins it is growing on me, and there is a lot of hidden candy on this piece. For most people I guess this would qualify as noise mainly due to the vocals being of the growling kind, but I love growls and on this album they fit the atmosphere perfectly: the band is Portuguese which gives the deep vocals that accent that adds an extra dimension. Take a song like 'Lickanthrope', where  a classic trope of gothic horror - wolves - is used to chilling effect when the vocalist roars, "AAoooo" accompanied by wolves' howls. Curious? Watch the admittedly-on-the-silly-side-of-things video here. Probably not safe for work (scantily clad ladies, vocalist turning into werewolf, suicide et al). This is music that makes Slynt tick!

Still within the metal genre, but a wholly different thing altogether is the Swedish band Falconer, who have made art out of turning Swedish folk music into soaring and epic heavy metal. "Armod" (poverty) contains more than enough material that any person could nod to and say it's good but it's the trio of powerful very metallic first songs that I love the most on this disc. But still, we're still talking metal, but we've replaced gothic and dark death metal with uplifting, powerful heavy metal with Swedish vocals and a decidedly folkish tone.

Then we have another non-English singing band, Alcest from France. Their music, while still within the metal genre, is so beautiful and soothing you would hardly think it metal aside from select parts within the compositions. I believe they call this 'shoegaze black metal', esoteric music. It's the kind of metal I definitely don't listen to while I drive long distances because I need something that kicks my ass with groove and melody to keep my eyes open.

Which is why I love Kreator's latest masterpiece "Phantom Antichrist". Perfectly blending melodies of ingenuity and beauty with razor-sharp riffs and heavy beats, peppered with sharp lyrics about the state of the world, we're in thrash metal territory, with a dash of classic heavy metal á la Iron Maiden thrown in for good measure. Driving around with the windows open (wishing I had a convertible) and listening to Kreator is the best. Oh man. 

In metal, you find all other music. Classical music? Try Septicflesh whose heavy death metal is accompanied by a big orchestra and a choir. Norse folk music? Try any black metal band from Norway. Progressive Rock? Try Ayreon, or Opeth, or Dream Theater, or Rush, etc. Jazz? Try Cynic, or Counter-World Experience? Blues? Lots of blues influences in classic early bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Symphonic music? How about Rhapsody or Dimmu Borgir? All instruments are present and correct somewhere within metal, violins, saxophones, keyboards, trombones, you name it. Despite it's somewhat tarnished reputation, it's such an incredibly life-affirming genre. It soars. Metal will never die. 

Every month several hundred new albums are released. It is very hard to keep up, of course. Impossible, in fact. The strange thing is just how much goodness is still being pushed into the world, thirty - forty years after its inception. 

Okay, had to get that out of my system. A little lovin' for my preferred music style. Sorry. 
There is a little connection however to the main subject of this blog, fantasy.

Because I feel the same way about fantasy. I don't read much outside of the genre (this is also partially because of time) because other stuff isn't compelling enough for whatever reasons. But within fantasy there is also a wide range of styles, themes and so forth. From Tolkien's scenic works to Martin's gory glory, fantasy is so big, epic and life-affirming that I don't really feel the need to read much else (aside from non-fiction). There's philosophizing in Erikson; there's comedy in Abercrombie; there are allusions and allegories, yet all packed in a much more entertaining and appealing genre.

So there you have it. Metal music and fantasy are distant relatives, and that is why I believe many fantasy fans also like metal, and many metalheads are into fantasy. 

I guess I don't need to say I love metal bands with fantasy lyrics. I get the best from both worlds, so to speak. Have you heard, for example, Blind Guardian's epic "Nightfall in Middle-earth" album? An entire album about the Silmarils, going through heavy metal and progressive rock with lyrics about Tolkien's world. That is just wonderful. This German band also wrote two songs about A Song of Ice and Fire, both appearing on their 2010 album "At the Edge of Time": 'War of the Thrones', and 'A Voice in the Dark', about Bran Stark, which also was the first single from that album. You can see the music video for the song right here, but don't ask me what those images have to do with the lyrics. The same album also has songs based on the works of Robert Jordan and Michael Moorcock. So that's definitely a band with awesome priorities in the lyrical department.

They are not the only ones dabbling in the realms of fantasy, though. You have the almighty Bal-Sagoth, of course, which is an acquired taste even for a metalhead, which I completely and utterly adore for their genius songwriting. Strip away the guitars and vocals and you have a Basil Pouledouris soundtrack. Perhaps even better. 

Geez, this post is getting long isn't it. I'm gonna put on some epic metal and play a quick round of Diablo III before going to bed and finish Brett's The Painted Man. Or Erikson's Crack'd Pot Trail. Those are the two volumes of lore I'm currently racing to finish. Terribly sorry about all this, as C-3P0 might have said, there will be a re-read post soon.

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