keskiviikko 28. tammikuuta 2015

The Question of Origin

The most important question in the history of heavy metal - to some, at least - is the question of origin: what was the first heavy metal band, album or song? I'm gonna take my personal shot at answering this very complex issue, so, for what it's worth, this is my attempt at an explanation. But before we dive into the question, I want to take a small amount of space in the infinity of Internet to point out, yet again, that this is just one, very subjective opinion and there are others, most as equally valid as mine.

The thing with the first "heavy metal band" is that most of the proto metal bands aren't exclusively... how'd ya call it... metal. Yea, sure, Led Zeppelin did write some very metallic anthems, full of groove, loaded with killer riffs etc., but they also made a lot of stuff that is completely removed from the sphere of heavy metal, and same goes to Deep Purple and even the highest authority in anything metal, Black Sabbath. To me, the answer to the question of origin must be a band and record that is both timeless and unique, but not too much, since it/they would have had spawned a whole genre of music, legions of imitators that sound themselves and also the object of their imitation.

I personally find the quest for the first metal song to be fruitless and totally pointless search of a needle in a haystack. Some will go on a record saying that all metal begun with Steppenwolf's Born to Be Wild, since the song mentions "heavy metal thunder"; some will argue about the superiority of The Beatles' Helter Skelter; some are willing to go back to the classical roots, in the masters like Bach and Beethoven. Heaviness is an element in all of these, no doubt, but a whole genre of music cannot, in my opinion, come into being from just one song or one composition, no matter how "heavy" or "metallic" it may be - and there is no point in saying that The Beatles did make a lot more than Helter Skelter, Steppenwolf barely anything else than Born to Be Wild and Bach/Beethoven are from a completely different cultural sphere and time than the music we now call heavy metal. The beginning of heavy metal cannot be found in neither of these glimpses from the misty haze of prehistory of the mind-shattering distortion.

There are three big bands from the UK that usually get the honor of being the first heavy metal band and/or having made the first heavy metal record, depending who's giving the statement: Black Sabbath (most notably Black Sabbath and Paranoid are on the two top steps of the podium when contesting for the first heavy metal record), Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. I'm going to take a rather different stand and say that the first truly metal band is none of the above, although the title of first record is a bit more difficult to determine. What I'm going to do next is a sort of a dissection of the myth that these three bands created heavy metal as a music genre, but you have to remember, that all the bands listed above were prime innovators in proto metal and had a huge impact on metal.

Most common answer to the question of origin seems to be Black Sabbath, and for a very good reason: the riffs of Tony Iommi, the drumming of Bill Ward, the occultistic lyrics of Geezer Butler and, of course, the vocals John Michael "Ozzy" Osborne captured the minds and ears of the hard rocking audience in early '70's, and even today, nearly 50 years after Black Sabbath came into being, what these four blokes from Birmingham created, holds a sanctified position in the minds of metalhearts around the world. I'm not going to lie: I personally rallied years for giving Black Sabbath the honor of being the first heavy metal band, but recently my point of view has shifted away. The main point why I no longer consider Black Sabbath the first heavy metal band is that they were too unique. This might sound very weird and dumb, but the point being that if a new band imitates Black Sabbath, they don't sound unquestionably "heavy metal" but instead "Black Sabbath ripoff", and therefore a whole genre of music cannot have been spawned from Black Sabbath. If a band X wants to go to roots of heavy metal, the first thing they pick up is some early Black Sabbath records, but usually drift away from this, since they can never truly sound solely heavy metal, but instead Black Sabbath ripoff, and when they realize this, they usually move to another band, which will be mentioned later on.

Did you get my point? Don't worry, it's just the whole skeleton of my text. I'm gonna refer back to this - half-assed? fumbling? dumb beyond belief? - argument from time to time and hopefully it will be clearer by the end.

Deep Purple is the easiest to rule out, since they were always musically moving around: In Rock was very straight-forward hard rocking record, Fireball lazily put together mess, Machine Head brilliant evidence in showmanship, Burn and Stormbringer had much more funky sound etc. They flashed on the metaldetector from time to time - most notably Fireball, Speed King and Burn - but they never made unquestionable "heavy metal" record and every one of 'em branched out to other genres. To me, this rules Deep Purple out from the competition - even though, as I said, they (Richie Blackmore inspired generations of guitarist, for one) influenced the birth of metal.

Led Zeppelin was always a sort of a watershed. I've never been a big fan - yeah, sure Stairway to Heaven is a classic and Rock And Roll rocks and rolls my freaking brains out - and I've felt kinda awkward when people start arguing for the favor of Jimmy Page and buddies. A question that pops in my mind when I hear people say this is: "Have you actually heard IV? It's not metal, it's hippy-bullshit!" Again, I've never been a fan, so rule this statement out of your mind, if that's what you want, but consider this while you do it: Misty Mountain Hop, Battle of Evermore, Going to California, When the Leeve Breaks - are these a staple of a heavy metal record? One or two of these on a "pure" heavy metal record might be acceptable, but half the album? Really, honestly? Sure, keep your bubble, mate, but please don't get mad for me pricking it with a needle.

So, if none these massively influential bands weren't the "original heavy metal band", what was/is? What is the record that has been imitated from there on - a LP-long piece of music, which is undoubtedly metal and only metal, not hippy-bullshit, not funk, not blues with bigger riffs? And keep in mind it has to be a big band, not a minor group that made one single in the early '60's.

I'm sure you know the band and album I have in mind, so I'm not gonna drag this on any longer: Judas Priest and Sad Wings of Destiny. Yeah, obviously. Like the "big three", from the industrial cities of UK, Judas Priest's second record (Rocka Rolla just isn't good enough, honestly) is hard rocking record with exceptional depth. Even today it sounds fresh, grooving and angry - yeah, you can hear it's age here and there, but I think it has survived much better than IV, for example, which to me always sounded too much like hippies' drumcircle-jamming. The Ripper is a classic anthem, Victim of Changes still a staple of Judas Priest's liveshows and not to forget very pissed off Tyrant. K.K. Downing's and Glenn Tipton's riffing and dual guitar solos are heard all across the board in metal - from thrash giants (like Slayer, Metallica and the rest), through power metal (Gamma Ray, most notably) to the rest of the genre, in one form or the other. Who heavy metal vocalist haven't, at least once, tried to be Rob Halford, soaring miles higher than guitars, screeching like a banshee getting kicked in the groin? This is heavy metal, this is the root of everything metal - from Victims of Changes to Isle of Domination and not to forget that amazing cover art. No Judas Priest, no NWOBHM - no NWBHM, no speed/thrash metal etc. This is the point of origin.

There we are, the question of origin has yet another answer. I know Sam Dunn made the same point - that Judas Priest is the first real heavy metal band - but his argument was that of bands rhetoric of being labeled heavy metal band, which is something Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin always shunned. For what it's worth, this is my argument: Judas Priest is the first heavy metal band, since they were the first to make a unique but not too unique (hard) rock masterpiece, that became the groundwork for the whole genre of music which nowadays has adapted the name of heavy metal.

P.S. I'm awfully sorry this has taken a long time to write. I have only excuses.

sunnuntai 26. lokakuuta 2014

Periodic Table of Metals

Today, while I was walking back to home, I realized that I had missed writing a text to this blog - this text I'm currently writing, right here - that should have been the first text after the introduction. Because I'm me and the terms I'm using are based on my opinions and views, which are of course different to each one of us, I should clear some abstract rubbish from this blog and set in stone what I mean with each term I'm using from time to time. There is no way I can avoid ambiguity with these and therefore be advised that these are highly based on what I think about the sub-genres of metal. And, thus, you have my permission to disagree and be wrong. (Kidding, come on... You should know that by now.)

First of all, as en example, let's consider something seemingly straight-forward: thrash metal. I doubt that anyone reading this text isn't familiar with this term, yet - and this amazes me every single time - there's as many different views on what exactly is thrash metal and what isn't as there are listeners. Without a shadow of a doubt I can say, 100% confident about myself, that thrash metal is a HUGE part of history and development of heavy metal, and its importance cannot - or at least it's nearly impossible - be overstated. Thus, there are thousands of bands, all more or less different (this is arguable, as we've all seen, no doubt) from each other, but somehow they're all filed under moniker of thrash metal - whether that is some sub-sub-genre ("technical thrash metal" etc.) or a fusion ("death-thrash" etc.) or just good old thrash metal. The variety is impressive, to say the least: think of bands as different as Sepultura (around the time of Beneath the Remains and Arise, their "golden age", as many fans consider it), Slayer, Metallica and Megadeth while they still gave a shit, Annihilator (I'm thinking of Alice in Hell -era), Stone (less-well-know early Finnish thrash metal band)... I'm trying not to dwell on this - since I'm planning a whole text about this subject, later in this blog - but to my mind all the above represent thrash metal in the late '80's and early '90's, yet the difference between Alice in Hell and Beneath the Remains (Why these two in particular? They were released the same year, 1989.) is on a scale which can only be called mindfuck.

This is why I must do this, even though it's against the principle of this blog - so, there we are, critics and cynics rejoice: third text in and I'm already selling-out. What follows is a boring-ass list of what I consider to be the essentials of each main sub-genre. I'm going to differentiate first wave black metal from "trve" black metal of the '90's and there after. Also, after the list there is some kind of timeline, but a very crude one at that, not graphical at all. I must also mention that being filed in this my Periodic Table of Metals does not exclude mentions in other contexts - for example, Sepultura will be in both thrash and death -section. If some of my choices seem weird or questionable, it most likely means A) there's going to be a text about it some time in the far future of this blog or B) you're wrong and ignorant and, to quote undying parody of Yngwie Malmsteen's guitar porno, I'm your new God. Again, this might seem unnecessary to some readers, but I just want to be all too clear about the terms - I study arts, history to be more accurate, and all this hermeneutic-bullshit is hard-wired to my brain.

Black Sabbath
Led Zeppelin
Deep Purple
Alice Cooper
tons of hippieshit and prognonsense with influence on the birth and evolution of metal, like Iron Butterfly, Cream, King Crimson and even The Beatles (Helter Skelter, anyone?)

Black Sabbath (occasionally)
Led Zeppelin (occasionally)
Deep Purple (occasionally)
Judas Priest

Iron Maiden
Judas Priest (I know, I know, but think of the difference between Sad Wings of Destiny and British Steel or - god-forbid - Point of Entry)
bunch of other bands that have been forgotten or who sold-out (I'm looking at you, Def Leppard).

Iron Maiden
Twisted Sister
Quiet Riot
Judas Priest (again)
King Diamond

Mötley Crüe
Hanoi Rocks
Quiet Riot

Metallica (Kill 'em All -era)
Helloween (while Kai Hansen was singing)
Rage (early records)
Blind Guardian (the first three records)
King Diamond

Metallica (at the hight of their quality, not popularity)
Machine Head

Mercyful Fate

Rainbow (with Dio on vocals)
Helloween (Keeper's -era and with Deris)
Gamma Ray
Primal Fear
Iced Earth
Rage (later records)
Blind Guardian
Dragonforce (in all of their video game -glory)

Cannibal Corpse
Six Feet Under
Kreator (early records)
In Flames (at the early stages, and even then they were the most melodic death metal around; also all the main Gothenburg-bands)

Dream Theater
Fates Warning
Edge of Sanity (think about: there's few things more prog than a song clocking 40 minutes)

Dimmu Borgir (whether you like it or not)
Anaal Nathrakh

Napalm Death
Brutal Death
(other ways of dying, as well, haha)

Sepultura (around Roots)
Machine Head (it happened, even if you'd like to forget it)
Limp Bizkit
Linkin Park

Lamb Of God
Meshuggah (in a very particular way)
and a million copycats who play binary metal

Turmion Kätilöt (yeah, not the biggest, but this is my list)

After Forever
Within Temptation
Turisas and other not-as-well-known male-fronted bands

Bathory (the good stuff)

As I Lay Dying
Killswitch Engage
all those worthless wannabe's who make music for those posers, who want to seem hardcore and metal, but don't actually want to listen to metal (Attack Attack is on my mind in this comment)

'70's: The Founding Fathers
'80's: The Antiquity
'90's: Dispersion/"The Dark Ages".
'00's: The Renaissance
'10's: Period Still Under Construction, Please Wait

I hope this clears something out of the way. If it doesn't, fine, defeat accepted. The periods there are all (with the exception of '10's) going to be subjects of their own texts, so don't read too much into that, not yet. If you want to ask about some these choices I put up there, there's a comment option in this blog and I'd be glad to answer your hatemail, bullshit, valuable opinions. (It's a joke, so wipe that frown off yer face! I love - in a extremely platonic and often distant manner - you, all of you. Except you-know-who-you-are, if you're reading this; to you, fuck off.

Again I'm failing to be funny or smart and I'm resorting to profanities. It's time to put a stop to this, for now...

lauantai 4. lokakuuta 2014

Why Master of Puppets Sucks Even Though It's the Best Record Ever Made

The music we listened when we were teenagers is the best music we'll ever come by. This is rather straightforward, really, but often people don't seem to realize that. We'll never feel the same way we felt about music when the music was the only thing that mattered, when we found ourselves fistfighting (I accidently wrote: "we found ourselves fisting". Oops?) over which was better, Metallica or Megadeth etc. As we listen to those records that meant so much to us when we were younger, we revisit that nearly sacred bond between a man (or a gal - I'm not a bigot, you know?) and a metal record and naturally that record leaves a huge emotional impact on us - for the duration of that piece of music we are fifteen again, hanging out with pals long forgotten and passing a joint (I didn't do that, mom, it's just a mental image, okey? I'm painting a picture here, so just go with it) around while listening to that Most Awesome Record Ever Made.

There's nothing wrong with nostalgia, really, but the problem surfaces its ugly face when people don't realize the root of their pleasure and they try to reason why something far from perfect is the best thing ever evethough it clearly isn't. Here comes the part about one of the most popular metal records (among metalhearts): Master of Puppets. Everyone of us - no matter where you're from, what year you were born, or what other kind of metal you listened to - have listened Master of Puppets when we were younger; most of us liked it then, and very many of us loved it back then, thus creating a unique collective emotional bond with it. Even if you didn't like it - there are people like that, too - you had an opinion on it and, like myself, went to stupidifying lengths to prove your point to that other kid, who really loved the record. (Roni, I'm thinking of you here, in a extremely platonic manner, just to be clear.)

When it comes to Master of Puppets, there is no adjective too cheesy, too over-the-top and nothings too much, that can be attached to it. Yes, it is an important record and it certainly has a lot of high quality musicanship, but it's still just a record with several flaws in it that are easy to point out if you want to or can hear the record without the emotional judgement of nostalgia. First of all, James Hetfield wasn't that great a singer. His voice has only one dimension and he does what he can do with it, but to what it all boils down to is the simple fact, that with a more qualified vocalist (for example John Bush of Armored Saint and Anthrax - the guys from Metallica wanted him onboard, but Bush was reluctant and eventually refused to join the band) Master of Puppets would be a better record. Secondly, Master of Puppets is a product of its time of creation and thus reflects this. When it was released, no-one knew the importance the record would have in just a couple of years, but from our point of view (2014, nearly 30 years after the release) the influence is easy to see - as I said, everyone of us has heard the record when we were younger.

Sure, there are lot of very good elements in Master of Puppets - as I have said - but is it really the best record ever made? No, far from it, no matter how brilliant it might seem to be. Without the emotional burden of nostalgia and listening the record just as a collection of songs, the myth about the Best Record Ever Made unravels very quickly.

I'm not trying to take the nostalgia or the enjoyment from you, but instead I'm trying to point out the purpose of this blog and what it means to be subjective. I'm trying to show that we all have different kind of view-distorting nostalgia with us - something we compare everything else to - and most of the people seem unaware of this. That is why Master of Puppets is and isn't (kinda like Schrödinger's cat) the Best Record Ever Made: it seemed like that back in the day and now we're just too old, too tangled up in nostalgia, to see the painfully obvious truth that Master of Puppets kinda sucks.

Man, that's too dark, too serious. I have to lighten the things up a little... with a joke, yes. Okay, here we go... Wait, I got it, just a second. Yes, let's go with a classic knock-knock joke from Catch Me If You Can:
"Knock knock"
"Whose there?"
"Ehm... Go fuck yourself."
Who's overly serious now, huh?

perjantai 5. syyskuuta 2014

Mandatory Autobiographical Introduction

This is my view of heavy metal as a genre of music which includes several other, sometimes contradictory, elements and sub-genres.

The main point of this blog as a whole is to give a personal, highly subjective view of metal, because that's the one thing no-one else has ever talked about. There are tons and tons of sociological, musicological, whateverlogical studies about metal as a cultural force, metal fans as mental retards or a bunch of angry youths wasted out of their minds (come to think of it, they're pretty much the same); also there are those good studies, made by people who actually understand metal and the reason why it's so popular. Many, many, many books about history of heavy metal have been written - one that comes to mind right away is The Sound of the Beast - but they all focus on the objective sides; these books are very good at what they are, but that is exactly the reason they fail to please the hardcore fans who already know how Metallica became the biggest (although not the best) metal band in the world. If that's what you want, this isn't the place for you and you can leave, no harm done, no bad blood between us. Actually, I'm urging you to do it now.

You're still here? Good, I'm very glad you decided to stick around for at least another paragraph. Now, let's talk.

I'm not a superhuman, but just a 24-year old fan from Finland, so I am not going to give you (the readers, the fellow Metal Hearts) an all-encompassing history of a movement of music which itself is so complex it's getting ridiculous. Instead I'm going to give my personal view on all the possible (new or old as shit) subjects I can think of - starting from a particular sub-genre and it's influence on me as well as all of metal community, and going on ranting about psychology of experiencing music. Because of the nature of this blog, there are three very important things to say before I can even start thinking about writing anything: 1) this is all, 100%, (no?) bullshit included, my personal opinions and views, and every one of you are entitled to your opinions and hopefully we can discuss them in a manner that is not offensive or insensitive towards any one person or a group of people; 2) I do not posses all the information, I do not know all the possible bands that have ever existed, or I haven't heard all the records by all the (important or not) bands, so there are going to be clear holes in everything; 3) because all this is so heavily up to me as a person, I think it's important for you to know who I am, where I come from and what kind of music I have listened at what stage in my life. The third point is the basis of this text.

I found metal at the tender age of 12. My friend handed me a copy of Children of Bodom's Follow the Reaper (then a brand-new record) and ordered me to listen it at home. I was hooked after - actually, during - the first spin. I just couldn't stay there, sit and listen, and I had to do something. So, what did I do? I opened the door separating my room from the living room and shouted, at the surprise of my mother who was doing some cleaning, "THIS IS WHAT I LIKE!" And then I shut the door to her rather expressionless face.

I never backed from my initial reaction to that kind of music. After dwelling into Children of Bodom's very limited discography, I started searching new bands to exploit and I've been doing that now for the half of my life. It never stops, for me: if someone, anywhere, for any reason, recommends a band or an album or a song, I just have to check it out, even in the briefest of ways. This is just the way I listen to music, nothing more than that: always looking for more, never satisfied with the knowledge I have.

After Bodom I found my next (very stereotypic, I know, so just hang on) favorites: Iron Maiden (first metal-show I ever saw was Iron Maiden on their Eddie Rips Up Europe ´05 show in Helsinki), Judas Priest, Stratovarius (very common among my generation of Finnish metal fanatics), Metallica, Manowar, Sonata Arctica... Eventually I found my taste, more specific and unique; by the age of 16 I had been introduced to King Diamond and even to this day I consider Abigail the best record ever made. Nowadays I have over 500 (metal) records - all of which I have listened for the first time while reading the lyrics. I have another blog - in Finnish, tough - where I go through all these records one at a time and write something down. These records include all the important sub-genres of metal from "protometal" of Black Sabbath and Deep Purple to thrash metal, speed metal, first and second wave black metal, power metal, folk metal, grindcore... I'm not (totally, at least) unfamiliar with any the "big" (considering Norwegian black metal as big is kinda funny, you know) sub-genres.

Twelve years of frantic listening of metal has led me here, writing these words down in my apartment in eastern Hel(l)sinki which I share with my girlfriend and our two dogs and a cat... and also my collection of records. But that's not all I am: I also study at the University of Helsinki (General history, if you care), I write fiction (one published novel in Finnish, suck on that!) and try to have a life. This all seems trivial, I know, but for you to understand even a fraction of my opinions, you have to understand a fraction of me, the person behind the opinions. I'm not omnipotent academic genius who knows everything about everything. I'm me, 24-year old bastard from the coldest fuckin' place in the Universe. (This is what I call humor, try to get use to it, you'll see a lot of it.)

There are still several questions about this blog I have to answer (to myself, mostly): am I going to write texts in a chronological order (starting from the endless discussion about the first metal band/record) or am I going to write one text here, one there, and hopefully one day I would have a chance to gather all the writings inside covers and re-arrange them to chronological order. Also, a big question is how often I will publish a text for your entertainment/annoyance - to tell you the truth, I shouldn't have time for any of this, but I gotta do what I gotta do, so there we are.

Some things I know, though. The name of the blog is set in stone: "Life of Heavy Metal" says it all. First of all it's about my life with metal, how I've forced myself as part of the 40-something year old cultural movement and how I view it; secondly it's about the life, the history, identity and being, of heavy metal. Another thing I know is that I'm not doing this for anyone else than myself: I adore metal and I want to write something about it, it's as simple as that. If no-one agrees with me, fine, shit happens, and that won't stop me from listening music, thinking about it and writing these texts.

P.S. Before I forget: I'm going to use the same method of indicating when I'm talking about a specific record or a song or a band. Bands are in normal letters, like this: Black Sabbath. Song is in italics: Black Sabbath. Albums in bold: Black Sabbath. So, just to save confusion: Black Sabbath's song Black Sabbath from their first record Black Sabbath.