I’ve been an avid fan of various forms of music since I could retain memory. Notice, that I do not state I am a fan of “all” music. That phrase is completely misleading, as people never truly mean what the saying implies. To do so, would mean a ridiculously broad spectrum of musical genres to embrace; so many in fact, that it would encompass the acceptance of some of the strangest, and even most disgusting melodies ever crafted to date. When someone utters the phrase “Oh, I listen to everything”, what they actually mean is:
“I listen to country, blues, virtually every indie rock group ever, many of the classics predating 1995, most soft rock, quite a bit of Electronica, jazz, practically all of pop, some hip-hop, classical, all acoustic folk music, maybe a bit of gospel, and numerous songs from mainstream tolerable gangster rap, and Nü-metal with lyrics that are completely coherent”.
What they won’t listen to, is a significantly larger list. What “everything” leaves out oddly enough, is most music not domestically based, including Afro-cuban, Nordic, Latin America Cueca, Gregorian Chants, Maori music, most uncelebrated reggae, Inuit throat-singing, American-Indian Opera, Cowpunk, Psychobilly, Blackened-Death metal, Cuddle-core, Naturalistic, Yacht Rock, Trucker tunes, Neo-psychedelic, Folktronica, Polka, Pornogrind, Gypsy-punk, dream pop, Crunk, Vegetarian progressive grind-core, and yes…Anal Distortion. Evidently, none of these made it onto the list of a word that somehow means “to include all”, but I’m merely quoting what people have told me in the past.
That’s why it confuses me when my Heavy Metal gets tossed out with the trash, especially when the lyrics tend to be eons beyond most genres on the market, and the musical integrity is mind-baffling to say the least. Don’t misunderstand, this does indeed sound like the speech of a musical snob preparing their target audience for indoctrination. I am also aware that this music is not for everyone. Some people just like music they can dance to, which is completely respectable. Others, simply listen to music for the ambiance it provides. I, however, listen to my music for its intellectually pleasing philosophy, and the artistic involvement required to produce such feats of melodious excellence. The difference being is that in said conversation you’re left to take it on faith from the prophet of said genre how amazing it is, when I’ve come to offer the alternative; a strict, objective comparison to the subject I speak of itself. You see, my favorite genre of music, “Heavy Metal”, is plagued by a swarm of pathetically short-lived stick-men bands who like to sing about their feelings and scream incoherently about how they are different because they are non-conformists. Their songs are without resolve, nor do they add anything to the genre in which their “All-father” of metal, Dark Tranquillity resides.
True Heavy Metal does not lack a story to be told, nor does it seemingly turn into a corrosive blight on the surface of the musical masterpiece in which its predecessors originated. Sometimes based on Folklore, other times on the questioning of one’s own morality; these titans of Iron have brought what few bands today can ever claim. Their legendary album, entitled “The Gallery” made people around the world stand still as the brilliant lyricism of Mikael Stanne met the bone-chilling guitar work of Martin Henriksson. What followed were some of the most intensely polished, perfectly articulated neo-classical riffs of all time, caressed by the clean, intelligible growls of Stanne’s intellectual anecdotes. Acoustic met electric, and soon a storm became this band’s legacy. A testament to what makes classic happen, Dark Tranquillity stood out as not just proof of the influence of Heavy Metal, but evidence of the powerful ties between the greatest composers of the past and the modern metal group. Holding true to melodic quality before monetary gain, they confirmed that greatness could be crafted through inspiration and dedication, rather than just popularity and reputation.
Enough adoration, though. I could gush forever over the finer intricacies of a band who has done everything on the planet, and influenced so many others on their paths to worldwide renown. The point I’m arriving at, is that however much of a loyal following that DT has obtained throughout their enduring, and notable career, they are swiftly dismissed by people who begin to mesh them in with what popular culture has labeled “Screamo”, a sub-genre of metal that has appeared steadily over the past ten years, created by groups of effeminate males who have given rise to the notion that Metal is strictly designed as a way to incoherently screech gutteral sounds in an attempt to be rebellious and original. In no way does this relate to the true nature of Heavy Metal, that attributes quality to musical complexity, inventive lyricism, and individual vocality. These standards have produced so many artists with actual talent, that one would presume their notable accomplishments would outshine any effort by lesser groups to shroud the genre. This is untrue, as society’s common musical perspective has demonstrated. From ignorance, have spawned a generation and a half of deliberately misguided people, all oblivious to the genuine face of Rock and Roll’s offspring.
With just a simple comparison and alteration to one of Dark Tranquillity’s anthems, I aim to prove that anyone can become a fan of metal. The following song, is DT’s first track off their 1994 album “The Gallery”. It’s entitled “Punish My Heaven”, and is the biblical tale of Lucifer’s exile from Heaven, as told in John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”. Even if you’re not a fan of the vocals, take a minute to appreciate the lyrics, and see how well-crafted the words fit into the spaces between each riff and chord. Understand how the singer’s voice transitions from growl, to comforting tone as he takes on the voice of the fallen angel Lucifer halfway through the song, and how one can begin to almost empathize with this being’s plight.
For we’re the outstretched fingers
That seize and hold the wind…
The strangeness of awakening
In an oh so silent world
For the first proud beams of light
As the hours grow longer
And the shadows never fall
My sky has forsaken me
My desperation grows
Bring me the light
In the fires that never end
The dawn will never come
Punish my heaven
We have arrived
At the outermost crossroads
The charge of cosmos
At our atmospheric skies
Will cause our fall
If I had wings, would I be forgiving?
If I had horns
Would there be flames to shy my smile?
(Unless I’m worthy…)
Hymns of loss are heard
From the masses in the streets
Praising the last of days
Bring me the night
In the fires that never end
The dawn will never come
Punish my heaven
The charge of cosmos
Charging at us from unearthly distance
I challenge the universe
It’s the choice between heaven and hell
My soul bears all the weight of mountains
As mankind weaves its silent end
Can there be no forgiveness?
I curse the heaven above me
As the light sinks through
My outstretched fingers
Fading in my open arms
Make each tear in my bare hands
A lifetime in hell
On this last day of light
When our autumn leaves fell
And as heaven itself commands me
Out of its lair
I fear not
My face lined for darkness
Now that you’ve heard the original song, and can grasp the basis for what this paragon of neo-classical substance sounds like, you can fully appreciate what a marvel of metal it is. Even though you may not embrace the harshness of the vocals, or even the machine gun precision of the double bass drum pedals, you may still feel that something more awe-inspiring rests in the song itself. It’s an empowering tune, that no matter how many times I hear never loses its resonance.
Now, in order to relate this song to any other person who is not a fan of metal, there has to be a common ground established. Certain bands will cover a song, simply because it’s in their genre and they feel comfortable with the transition of guitars, vocals, and drums to their already pre-existing catalog of music. Nothing major changes, but the key might sway a bit, or the rate at which the song is played may speed up or slow down. What seldom happens though, is the dramatic genre change from something unnoticeable into something profoundly entertaining. That’s where “Slaughter of the Bluegrass” comes in. SoTB is a Swedish folk band, that produces covers of fairly well-known death metal songs, in the form of traditional bluegrass harmony. Not only are their covers a smooth transition; they’re executed with the utmost perfection. Bridging the gap between the chaotic and the serene, this group has mastered the ability to create fans out of non-believers. For those of you who weren’t convinced by DT’s work the first time around, you’ll now hear it through the refined calming tones of a banjo, an acoustic guitar, and a violin. This is SoTB’s cover of “Punish My Heaven”, by DT.
Through this beautiful showcase of string and voice, a group known for their traditional instruments has brought a sort of peace to a song about supernatural violence. I can only hope that through my comparison here today, that people will begin to embrace true metal for the engaging melodies that these bands create, as well as how one can come to see from the other side of the glass how something so loud and untamed can be negated by such passion and fluidity.