Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Cranberries - Forever Yellow Skies

I try to think a few reviews ahead, helps me keep a schedule, but also it gets me thinking about what I should write. I had the early part of this year mapped out. Talk about my favorite album of last year, talk about a couple female fronted European metal bands, finally talk about Of Monsters and Men, and then March; St. Patrick’s Day is in March, might as well embrace my Irish heritage and talk about an Irish band, The Cranberries are super Irish and I like a lot of their songs, I should do that. Furthermore, no one ever talks about my favorite Cranberries song “Forever Yellow Skies” I should do a review on that.

That was my plan.

Then on January 15th of this year, Dolores Mary Eileen O'Riordan died.

My plan has not changed, but this review has likely just become a lot more topical.

In the early nineties, The Cranberries found great success from their first three albums, “Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?” (1993), “No Need to Argue” (1994) and “To the Faithful Departed” (1996). It is these three albums that I best remember The Cranberries for, in fact I have very little memory of their three follow up albums, I might have to revisit those sometime soon. All the songs I remember come from those first three albums, songs like “Dreams,” “Linger,” “Zombie,” “Ode to My Family,” “Ridiculous Thoughts,” No Need to Argue,” “Hollywood,” “Salvation,” “Free to Decide” and not as famous “Forever Yellow Skies.”

They had a lot of hits song, I kind of forgot how good they were.

One thing I do remember was The Cranberries temporarily breaking up in 2003. I was always under the impression the reason for breakup had to do with Dolores choosing to spend more time raising her children but looking at it now, I have learned that her solo career began not long thereafter. Nonetheless, The Cranberries did reform in 2009, but I would not hear about it until 2012 with the release of their album “Roses.” I bought that album when it came out, I was really curious to find out what The Cranberries had been up to up to that point. It was a nice album, but I did not love it, none the songs stuck with me, at least not yet; sometimes a few more listens changes things.

Now I just learned The Cranberries released a new album last year titled “Something Else,” now I have even more homework. As I look over The Cranberries career I see there is a lot I do not remember, and a lot I am sure I have never heard. I am going to have to rediscover the Cranberries sometime very soon. Fequently I benefit a lot by writing these as it forces me to sit down and look things and I learn a lot, I discover many things I have missed.

The third album, 1996’s “To the Faithful Departed” was one of the four albums I owned, and it possibly The Cranberries’ most popular album. “Hollywood,” “Salvation: and “Free to Decide” were all huge hits when the album was new, and all of them are well remembered by fans, however my favorite has always been “Forever Yellow Skies.” I am a rock and roll guy, that should be obvious by now, and I like songs with some force behind them. I like my ballads too, and I really like songs like “No Need to Argue,” but I tend to like a quick drum beat and some exciting energy coming from the vocals, and to the best of my knowledge no song in The Cranberries arsenal fits that description better than “Forever Yellow Skies.”

The intro to “Forever Yellow Skies” is immortal in my memory, it pops out instantly with those drums, but more so with that bassline, when that hits the high times begin and away we fly into yellow skies. Classic of The Cranberries, Dolores wails away with her Irish accent somehow pushing through and giving it all that radiant charm we all love. It is a fast passed and fun song, and I have never grown tired of listening to it over the thousand plus times I must have listened to it by now.

I would love to simply give Dolores and the crew full credit for such an upbeat song, but I would be remiss if I did not mention the lawsuit.

Another Irish rock band active in the nineties, Blink, sued The Cranberries because “Forever Yellow Skies” was, they believed, a rip-off of their song “It’s Not My Fault.” Blink won the lawsuit after it was determined that the two songs were too similar for it to be a coincidence, and I hate to agree because I love The Cranberries and “Forever Yellow Skies,” but I must. The iconic intro of “Forever Yellow Skies” is identical to “It’s Not My Fault,” most notably, and most importantly, the bassline is the same, and that bassline kind of carries the whole song. It is the same bassline during the bridge as well. That part of the song is clearly lifted from Blink’s largely forgotten song.

The howling in “It’s Not My Fault” is wildly different both in content and final sound of “Forever Yellow Skies” but the style of strong belligerent passion being loudly shouted is similar in emotion. Ultimately, I can understand why Blink sued, and also, why they won. 

Blink - It's Not My Fault

Not to be an apologist for The Cranberries, and I cannot claim to have any unique knowledge into the creation of “Forever Yellow Skies,” but, it is entirely possible that someone from The Cranberries, perhaps the bassist, heard something, and then recreated it without thinking.

I remember Ozzy Osbourn talking about this once. He stated that he did not listen to other hard rock and metal bands, because if he heard it, he would start to think about it and then would write something like it, unconsciously. Given Ozzy’s age and consumption of mind altering substances over his life, he might be forgiven at this point for having an untrustworthy memory, and it is probably very wise of him to guard himself from this sort of unintentionally intellectual theft, but the reality is, human memory is generally horrible, and it is very easy to absorb something and recall it later without realizing it. In the end however, wittingly or unwittingly, “Forever Yellow Skies” is a modified version of Blink’s “It’s Not My Fault.”

Despite this disheartening fact, I do not believe that it takes very much away from the enjoyment of “Forever Yellow Skies.” In the end, we the fans, now have two songs to enjoy, one very good and the other excellent.

We have experienced many celebrity musician deaths recently, and I try not to jump on these things when they happen because I do not feel I have anything unique to add to the sadness of the departed, nor do I wish to clumsily garner attention to my whimsical writings for the wrong reasons. But, since I am talking about The Cranberries anyway, I might as well have a short section about Dolores death.

The cause of Dolores’ death have not been released yet, and I am curious to learn what it was, because she has left us at the age of forty-six, which is far too young. I have not felt the sting of most celebrity deaths because many of them lived long full lives, but I find this one more upsetting because Dolores was comparatively young compared to most. So, basically, that sucks, and I do not have anything more meaningful to offer. I did not know Dolores personally, she was a cool person, who made songs I liked, what could I possibly say to ease the pain of her loved ones?

The only solace I can give is this, a legacy has been left behind. There are accomplish that. There are few who get to be remembered as great artist and Dolores does get to have that. People are going to be listening to Cranberries songs forever. In that strange sense, she gets to live forever.

- King of Braves

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Of Monsters and Men - Love Love Love

Of Monsters and Men’s album “My Head is an Animal” was one of my favorite albums of 2012; so why am I talking about it now. Primarily because I am finally getting around to it.

I remember discovering a lot of good music in 2012, but mainstream popular music was rapidly exiting my playlist as that was a year I began to drift very far away from terrestrial radio. Since that time, I have stayed on top of various recording studios, specific artists, and hyper specific genres, but I have become proudly out of touch with the top forty. I discovered Of Monsters and Men from terrestrial radio, and since I was leaving that behind, they did not work their way into my playlist for several years.

It was not until 2015 or so, when I finally listened to “My Head is an Animal” in full, by that time Of Monsters and Men had released their second album “Beneath the Skin” which I was able to enjoy in full on youtube where they had released lyric videos for every single song. “Beneath the Skin” was really good, but I liked their first album more, and it was still fresh to me because of my avoidance of popular music.

One of the great evils of terrestrial radio is the over playing of popular songs robbing them of their specialness by transforming them into tiresome background music. We have all experienced it, songs we love at first are played over and over again, we hear it upwards of a half-dozen times everyday for several months and we no longer want to hear it ever again. Well I have successfully dodged that for years, so songs like “Little Talks” are still highly enjoyable to me.

I could talk about every single song on “My Head is an Animal” it is that good of an album, but as is my usually habit, I pick a single song to focus on, and I choose “Love Love Love,” simply because it is my favorite.

“Love Love Love” is a bittersweet love song, it is bitter because the message is one of longing and going without, it is also sweet because it sounds so very nice.

I do not believe “Love Love Love” is an unrequited love song, the singing narrative characters expresses a reciprocation to her would be lover, but must relinquish any return of affection, and it is never dwelt on why, but it is made clear that this is a love that must not be realized.

The opening verse gives us a strong sense of regret for allowing any sort of love to grow between the two in the first place. An element of self-loathing is presented by singer Nanna Bryndis, for it was cruel to make this man fall in love with her.

“Well, maybe I'm a crook for stealing your heart away,
Yeah, maybe I'm a crook for not caring for it,
Yeah, maybe I'm a bad, bad, bad, bad person,
Well, baby, I know.”

The second verse gives us the lamentations of this impossible connection.

“And these fingertips,
Will never run through your skin,
And those bright blue eyes,
Can only meet mine across the room filled with people that are less important than you.”

I particularly like the last line, a room full of less important people, that paints a very interesting picture of emotional connection and priority.

The lyrics are nice and poetic, there is a lot to enjoy there, but the deep atmosphere is what gives this song it’s chilling sting.

Iceland produces a lot of interesting music. A common trend amongst Icelandic music is a strong ambience, and Of Monsters and Men are no exception. The music Of Monsters and Men is very rich and full, there are so many unique sounds from so many different instruments including the glockenspiel and a melodica, and I do not even know what that is. I can spend hours just getting lost in the crazy variety of noises produced by this band and the strange mystical adventures they have created.

I mentioned a moment ago the lyric videos, to the best of my knowledge every single Of Monsters and Men has an official lyric video on the tubes. The first album “My Head is an Animal” made it’s lyric music video with simply repetitive monochrome animation that assisted in visualising the already wonderland of Iceland like imagery that was already in my mind when listening to Of Monsters and Men. For the song “Love Love Love” the barely animated short is a Minotaur sitting in a row boat gazing sadly at the water, half way through the song the camera pans out to reveal a sea dragon floating beneath the water. What does this mean if anything? Are we to suspect the long wishing love song is about two mythical creatures? I was not going to guess that initially, but this fun visual does encourage our imaginations to wander.

Like so many other songs I have discussed in the past, the greatest charm of “Love Love Love” and all the songs by Of Monsters and Men, if the power to stir the imagination. Getting lost in all those sounds and experiencing the wonderful feeling of letting the mind wander is one of the greatest joys of music.

Until next month, keep on rocking in the free world.

- King of Braves

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Beyond the Black - Songs of Love and Death

I have never been to the Wacken Open Air metal festival, but it is a dream of mine that one day I will go, probably to see Avantasia. I watch a lot of live performances of Wacken Open Air, as you do, and I discover bands I have never heard before, and among them my recent discoveries is Beyond the Black.

Beyond the Black is a fresh new German metal band fronted by Jennifer Haben and produced by Sascha Paeth. Sascha Paeth was a key figure in the creation and development of Avantasia, he is a basically a rock and roll demi-god, so it follows that Beyond the Black under his tutelage would be good, and yeah, they are. 

Jennifer Haben
I watched Beyond the Black’s live performance at Wacken 2014, and the song that stood out the most to me was “Songs of Love and Death” which is the title track of their debut album. The next logical step was to listen to the album “Songs of Love and Death,” and that was solid, still the title track was the gem that shined brightest for me. I have not gotten around to listening to their second album “Lost In Forever” in full yet, but the title track is once again pretty good.

When looking at the make up of the song, “Songs of Love and Death,” it looks to me to be designed to be a little more pop then your average German metal song. The chorus repeats four times, with only two verses, and as we all know the repetition breeds continuity and the human brain craves patterns, so this is a good tactic to make a song catchy and radio friendly. There is a really great, albeit short, drum solo, that rocks the house, and after the second verse we get a rocking guitar solo, so this song is still sufficiently metal to satisfy. Nonetheless the catchy chorus was the hook that got me listening more than once, so well done.

Another reason I surely like “Songs of Love and Death” is that it taps into that good and bad, light and dark, duality that I enjoy. A song titled “Songs of Love and Death” inescapably reminds of HIM, and all their songs, literally all of them, being about both of those two subjects blended together. Beyond the Black is not as intense about embracing love and death simultaneously as HIM, and in this example, I think death is used more as a benchmark then doom. The tragedy of death is not at all dwelled on, and there are multiple references looking to the future once our lovers are united; in the first chorus, “From this day on we’ll watch our lives unfold,” and from the second “Then we will turn to more than we both could be.”

The excitement of death, from a narrative perspective, is finality. In “Songs of Love and Death” death is the end, and time we have before than is enriched and empowered by love. We become more than we are together then when are when alone, we save each other from ourselves. Death is the end of the turning of the wheel, the end of the song. “Songs of Love and Death” could easily be renamed “Songs of Life and Death,” but that is less dramatic, less poetic too.

Haben invites her narrative lover, and the audience both, to join her on this adventure of life and death, and I really like how to works on both levels:

“Come and join my voice in songs of love and death.
Come and feel me, steal me, save me from myself.
All my longing, wandering heart is yours to have.
Come and join my voice in songs of love and death.
Songs of love and death.”

It is too early to know what to make of Beyond the Black, but this is a really good start of a career for Jennifer Haben who is only twenty-two years old. Which means she was eighteen or nineteen when “Songs of Love and Death” came at, and approximately the same age when she performed at Wacken in 2014, and that is interesting.

Speaking of interesting, I could not help but notice the entire band outside of Haben quit after the second album “Lost in Forever.”

Also, interesting, the lack of formation of an official band during the recording of “Songs of Love and Death,” and the high number of musicians who helped record the album (twenty-one).

I also could not help but notice how good looking Jennifer Haben is.

Confirmed as good looking
At the avoidably risk of sounding cynical I will address the elephant in the room, was Haben handed a metal career by Sascha Paeth? Sascha seems like a nice guy, sounds like the sort of thing he might due for a nice young person. Is Haben something special, that drew the support from so many talents? What exactly is going on?

When I started writing this review, the end statement was going to be something like “I look forward to seeing what the future holds for Beyond the Black,” but now I am like “wait… we have seen musical careers handed out to young talented singers before who looked a certain way, is that happening to metal?”

Now I do not know what to think, and in many ways, that is more exciting.

There comes a point in every music fan, or critic’s, life when the soullessness nature of the pop music industry ceases to be so offensive. We just come to accept that corporate greed and manipulative marketing get in the way of all kinds of artistic endeavors, and that some people value money more than art, even though they pose as artists. No one likes it, just likes unhealthy fast food, but we come to accept that such cheap tactics have a reason to exists however disappointing that may be.

I would be disappointed to learn that Jennifer Haben is a pretty face with a manufactured music career, but that is the excitement of the future for Beyond the Black, she could easily crush that cynical concern with the next Beyond the Black album. Haben no longer has Paeth producing for her, she no longer has the twenty-one musicians helping her own, she does not even have the band that helped her kick butt at Wacken 2014. The next album will be doubtless her own creation, and since she is a good singer and seems likable in interviews I hope she is successful in banishing doubts about her place in the European metal scene.

Should the worst prove true this could prove true, this would be the first case I aware of where the ugliness of manufactured pop music has infected the European metal scene, but even then, I get it, we all got bills to pay, at least some decent songs were written in the mean time.

I am routing for you Jennifer, now go establish yourself as a talented song writer, which is a lot easier said than done.

- King of Braves

Songs of Love and Death - Live at Wacken 2014

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Within Temptation - Mother Earth

Within Temptation; the Netherlands answer to Nightwish. Both bands formed in 1996, so I am unsure if one band influenced the other significantly or if this is an example of parallel thinking. Like most, possibly all, fans, of European metal music, I love Nightwish, and I often credit them for popularizing the combination of metal and opera as their original lead singer Tarja Turunen was a trained opera singer and their popularity was international. However, this entire time Within Temptation have been doing something very similar with their lead singer Sharon den Adel who insanely, somehow, is self taught, but could fool a layman like me into thinking she too is an soprano singer.

If we are to continue our comparison of Within Temptation to Nightwish for one more paragraph, I would suggest that Within Temptation has more of a woman’s touch. This at first may sound like an unusual suggestion since both bands are fronted by powerful female vocalist, but there is something in the lyrics and the themes of Within Temptation’s music that is impressionably more feminine. I am confident this has everything to do with Sharon den Adel’s influence, as she is the primary writer of Within Temptation’s lyrics, while the unconquerable Tuomas Holopainen has written effectively all of Nightwish’s music, words and all.

In 1997 Within Temptation released their debut album “Enter,” and they have consistently released new material every three to four years thereafter; it is impressive how workmen like and consistent they have been about this. Their last album “Hydra” came out in 2014, so we are due for a new Within Temptation album this year, also den Adel has been working on a solo project “My Indigo” so we have that to look forward to as well.

It has been a very steady and successful career Within Temptation have had, all of their albums have been well received, and I have listened to all them multiple times, a praise I should be able to, but rarely can give the bands I talk about on this blog. Naturally I have a favorite, and that is Within Temptation’s second album, released in the year 2000, “Mother Earth.” Actually, I can be more specific than that, I really like the beginning of the album “Mother Earth.” The first three songs, “Mother Earth,” “Ice Queen” and “Our Farewell,” are probably my three favorite songs by the Dutch band, and they play in the listed order at the beginning of the album, so yes, no wonder “Mother Earth” is my favorite album of theirs.

I have always found the title track “Mother Earth” to be very interesting. I have always taken the lyrics to be form the perspective of the avatar of the planet or a druid like sage explaining the motivations and whims of the world in which we live. Maybe it is my Gaelic blood, but a song the “Mother Earth” commanding our lives and demanding our respect fits in nicely with concept of Gaia and old Irish folk lore about the cyclical nature of life.

A great added element to the song “Mother Earth” is one of foreboding danger. Within Temptation and den Adel never explicitly in any way make the song about environmentalism, though it could easily be interpreted that way, there is specific lines remarking how the earth is not ours to control, and humans are regarded as rather powerless in comparison. The earth is spinning and moving through the vastness of space led by it’s dance partner the sun, and nothing any living thing on it can alter that.

The opening verse makes it quite clear where the power lies in the relationship of man and earth:

“Birds and butterflies,
Rivers and mountains she creates.
But you'll never know,
The next move she'll make.
You can try,
But it is useless to ask why,
Cannot control her.”

More so in the chorus:

“She rules until the end of time.
She gives and she takes.
She rules until the end of time.
She goes her way.”

We are but passengers on the world’s journey.

Then we get to “Ice Queen.” This song can very easily be imagined to be about a literal “Ice Queen” a sorceress, like Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen, or just as winter itself. Much the way popular fiction and mythologies, like the Celts, saw the earth and moon as feminine, I believe Within Temptation has done the same with the winter season, and describes her as the “Ice Queen.” Like I said earlier, Within Temptation has noticeable woman’s touch in their songs.

Ice Queen

Like the first song on the album “Mother Earth,” “Ice Queen” also possess an dark element of danger. The “Ice Queen” takes life away, and once again it sounds like humanity is powerless to stop her from doing so. Another literal force of nature that human kind has no control over.

Immediately a threatening tone is taken in the opening verse:

“When leaves have fallen,
And skies turned to grey,
The night keeps on closing in on the day,
A nightingale sings his song of farewell,
You better hide for her freezing hell.”

Once again everything is said to us in the chorus:

“Whenever she is raging,
She takes a life away,
Haven't you seen?
Haven't you seen?
The ruins on our world.”

Which brings us to the final song in this trilogy “Our Farewell.”

Our Farewell

I always thought “Our Farewell” should have been the final track on the album, after all it is song saying goodbye, well not really, it is kind of the opposite. Unlike the previous two songs there is no foreboding danger, no looming threat, no sense of powerlessness in “Our Farewell,” instead there is pronounce of love and sorrow.

“In my hands like a sea of memories,
I can hear you say my name,
I can almost see your smile,
Feel the warmth of your embrace.
But there is nothing but silence now,
Around the one I loved,
Is this our farewell?”

All three songs have really good opening verses.

Interestingly there is a sense of motherly love, again that woman’s touch shinning through, which makes us think that the one that is loved is the child of the female narrator, perhaps literally, perhaps cosmically so.

“Sweet darling you worry too much, my child,
See the sadness in your eyes,
You are not alone in life,
Although you might think that you are.”

That sorrow is beautifully washed away in the final verse:

“So sorry your world is tumbling down,
I will watch you through these nights.
Rest your head and go to sleep,
Because my child, this not our farewell.
This is not our farewell.”

I have always found “Our Farewell” to be very touching, perhaps because I am alone in life, and my world is tumbling down, at least I think it is. Forget amount me, and we can see a really uplifting message of remembering and holding fast to all that is good. Friends and other loved ones who slip away, that is not necessarily farewell.

All three songs have a common theme, and that is the passage of time. As time passes “Mother Earth” will continue to go her own way, and there is a bleakness to human exists in the wake of the planet’s comparable immortality. As time passes all things die, winter comes in the form of the “Ice Queen” where she unescapably takes life away. Lastly, loved ones slip away from us, sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently, but the treasured memories are with us forever, the wounds heal and there is a joy in remember what we lost. It is easy to be thankful for the things we have, it takes a mature perspective to be thankful for things we have lost, and I think that is the final message of this trilogy of songs. Acceptance of the world, death, and loss. Acceptance of the passing of time.

I do not know if this specific analysis is what den Adel meant for the listener to take away but that is how I have always felt about these three songs. While I love all three songs individually, when I think of them as a trio, they become this voyage of grief and healing guiding the listener through life.

- King of Braves

Friday, January 12, 2018

Beast In Black - Born Again

Nuclear Blast Records is my number one go to site and youtube channel to discover new music. Probably every few weeks I discover a new song or band I like, and every few months I find a band I really like. So, I stumble onto Beast in Black “Born Again” on youtube, I have no idea who this band is or what to expect, other than metal, and I tune in.

The video of “Born Again” is just the singer of the band getting pumped and then getting way into the song while he sings. My initial thought was, ‘this could be really lame, this guy is really getting into his own song,’ but my first thought once I was finished the song was ‘holy hell, that guy can sing, I am so glad he got so pumped up.’ This singer is Yannis Papadopoulos, and even though I have just been introduced to this Greek metal singer I am confident I will be a life long fan.

I was instantly reminded of Battle Beast. The sound was similar, and the name of the band was very similar, so I immediately began to wonder if there was a connection, and there was, Beast in Black’s primary song writer and lead guitarist is none other than Anton Kabanen, the former lead guitarist and song writer of Battle Beast.

In many ways Beast in Black is an extension of the three previous Battle Beast albums. The driving force of Kabanen is everything behind all of these beast albums, and it raises the question, why start a new band?

I have been reading every interview I can find with Kabanen and he is remaining respectfully quiet on the matter, but he has quietly revealed that a combination of the band name Battle Beast never being trade marked and some falling out with the rest of the band has cause Kabanen to move on. What is a man to do when he is driven out of the band he created? Start a better band I guess, because that is what he did. I really liked Battle Beast. I am so impressed.

It blows me away how great Beast in Black is. The band is great, and the album “Berserker” is one of the best debut albums I have heard in a long time, likely my favorite album of 2017.

Return to the song “Born Again,” this is a great song, but what is it about? It is a very intense love song, one of my favorite dramatic lines is:

“Love is a killer that never dies,
Murdering its victim with delight.”

Powerful stuff, but is there more? I think so.

You cannot name your band Beast in Black, and name your debut album “Berserker” without giving away the concept of your concept album. “Berserker” is a “Berserk” concept album, the band name “Beast in Black” is a nickname for the protagonist Guts. This is another extension of Battle Beast’s themes, as the “Unholy Savior” album had two very Berserk songs in “The Black Swordsman” and “Kingdom.”

I love the manga “Berserk.” I would go so far as to say that “Berserk” is one of the top five greatest fantasy stories ever told, right up there with “Lord of the Rings” and “A Song of Ice and Fire.” So similar to other bands, like Blind Guardian, who win me over hard by writing songs about my favorite stories, Beast in Black has got me on board for a Berserk concept album in a very big way.

The first track, named after the band “Beast in Black” is an epic power metal song describing the vengeful fury of Guts the titular character of the manga and anime “Berserk.” It is the most epic thing, possibly ever.

Beast In Black

That is obviously Guts' silhouette in the official lyric video of "Beast In Black."

I really love the song “Beast in Black” and the other obvious Berserk songs “Zodd the Immortal” and “The Fifth Angel,” but not all the songs are about Berserk, apparently. So, I wonder, is that first love song that brought me in “Born Again” is it about Berserk?

“I lie awake at night,
And dream of your return,
Behind closed eyes I see you,
Just the way you were.”

Oh god, this song is about Guts and Casca isn’t it?


Casca and Guts
There is a good reason why “Berserk” is called “Berserk,” and the protagonist Guts has good reason to destroy, murder and retaliate. The briefest explanation I can give is this; there is very little magic in “Berserk” up to the point where Guts’ best friend Griffith betrays the Band of the Hawk. The betrayal is demons show up brutally kill everyone and then eat them, except Guts and Casca, where upon the reborn Hawk demon god version of Griffith rapes Casca in a pool of her dead friends’ blood, and desperate to save her, Guts gruesomely hacks his own arm to free himself from the jaws of a monstrous demon only to have one of his eyes gouged out. Casca, understandably completely loses her mind and has been an invalid in the series since.

So yeah… that’s what the berserking is all about.

It is very heart breaking seeing Casca cower from Guts gruesome visage terrified of her one true loyal protector in a world now overrun with demons.

"Will we ever be the same again?"
“The diamond shatters and now I know,
How much pain it causes,
When you're gone.
All I can wish now's a miracle,
Miracle to reawake our love.

Do you remember the night we met?
Will we ever be the same again?
Inside the fire with my regrets,
Wish I could be born again tonight.”

Suddenly “Born Again’s” intensity is not just suitable but necessary. There is a desperate and devastated affection between Guts and Casca that may never be repaired, and the adventure of blood and fury is underlain with this tragic love, almost obtainable, so close, yet so out of reach. “Berserk” may be a Japanese comic, but it is of the highest quality story telling, and bold Anton Kabanen has written this deep powerful rock song that captures the complexity of all that story telling and all those emotions in what is probably best song of the entire year of 2017.

What I am trying to say is, I really like Beast in Black’s debut album “Berserker.” If you like metal and/or manga, it is a must listen.

- King of Braves

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Battle Beast - Unholy Savior

In January of 2015 I did a review for Battle Beast’s song “Madness.” I chose to talk about “Madness” because it was the fresh new single that had just been released by Battle Beast at the time, and it was also my first exposure to the band. I had a lot of raw feelings of excitement to express, which typically leads itself to some meaningful commentary.

At the time I wrote my mediocre impression, but highly enjoyable experience, listening to the band; I wrote: “The guitar solo is not going to win any awards but is serviceable. The rhythm sections is solid and heavy but nothing world breaking.” I had not listened to their second album (self titled) yet, I had not listened to the newly released “Unholy Savior” yet, so I did not know.

I did not know, how freaking badass everything about Battle Beast was. “Madness” is a very fun song, but it possesses a touch silliness with the questionable English, and the obvious attempt at being demon warrior hardcore metal. It is a good song, a very good metal song, but, it is not Battle Beast’s best, in fact it pales in comparison to the title track from “Unholy Savior.”

I did not know.

The self titled album blew me away after I finally got my hands on it and listened to it in full. “Let if Roar,” “Out of Control,” “Into the Heart of Danger,” and “Machine Revolution” are all amazing metal songs, each one of them make me want to go on an epic journey to fight demons and robots, and despite however much I love the “Battle Beast” album, I am only so confident in saying that it is slightly superior to their third album “Unholy Savior.” The only reason I am so torn, is the strength of the title track “Unholy Savior.”

Had I known just how perfect “Unholy Savior” is as a song, I would have skipped over “Madness” and gotten right to the point; “Unholy Savior” very good album, but the title track is a mind blowing awesome song.

I have often written about the ebbs and flows of music intensity. Low valleys make for more dramatic heights. Soft moments in the metal song make the furious moments all the more meaningful. Balance is the key, and “Unholy Savior” is a perfect example of rising action, climax, rest and second climax. Exactly the story structure I most enjoy.

The intro; the hum of the keyboards, the sound of a toiling bell, a quiet scream, a muffled roar, and then drums and guitar blast together. The machine gun drums burst out in well paced bits, jumping out every time they are needed and silent when they are not. Another valley, the first verse, where we take in all the dark words by singer Noora Louhimo.

The volume of everything increases on the first chorus, but things slow a little for the second verse. This second verse is noticeably more aggressive than the previous, not eclipsing the rage of the chorus, but the drama has heightened.

The chorus hits a second time, no louder than the first time, but it stays with us longer, and leads us to the guitar solo.

Then everything drops off and we get this sad little poem:

“I'm a shadow in the corner,
Begging to be found.
Suffering in silence,
As the world spins round and round.”

Than one last time, the chorus hits, only with greater fury than before. Like an explosion of unbridled wraith is let loose when Noora sings and the bands erupts in violence metal music.

“Unholy savior awakens within.
Salvation in disguise,
The undreaming darkness,
A graven image, a hero to some,
Destroyer, cold as death,
The slayer of hearts.

Unholy savior, forever to be.
Salvation in disguise.
The undreaming darkness.

Salvation in disguise.”

It might be easy to handwave away “Unholy Savior” as a song about the devil, which would fit in nicely with my musical tastes, however I think this song is more universal than that. Battle Beast is a metal band in love with fantasy, it comes up in many of their songs, and they have an obvious fondness and the darker elementals of that genre. It is possible the “Unholy Savior” refers to a specific anti-hero in a fantasy story I cannot at this time pinpoint, or as I suspect, it is probably generic, to all dark heroes from all possible tales of fantasy adventure.

I love everything about “Unholy Savior.” It was possibly my favorite song of 2015.

- King of Braves

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Darkest of the Hillside Thickets - Nyarlathotep

The Crawling Chaos.
The Faceless God.
The messenger of the outer gods.

The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets is a perfect band for what I like to write about. Hailing from Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada, this lovable band of rock nerds have created something truly wonderful; a cheeky punk rock band whose majority of songs are half comedy half grim homages to H.P. Lovecraft.

It is a perfect idea for a rock band, and something I dearly needed in my life.

This light-hearted approach to Lovecraft is something of akin to the horror comedy genre of movies like “Evil Dead” or “Reanimator,” where humour is found amongst the deadly and horrible. Such things have always touched upon my sensibilities and dark sense of humour and after many years of gradually listening to more and more music by Darkest of the Hillside Thickets I have come to love the band and all that they do.

Despite the fact no one I know has ever heard of them, Darkest of the Hillside Thickets have been around since 1993. That is almost twenty-five years of being virtual unknowns, and once again I have the internet to thank for introducing them to me. A cult band if there ever was one, the Darkest of the Hillside Thickets have done a handful of small shows every few years in the British Columbia area, sometimes branching out into Washington state, maybe elsewhere, I do not know.

Way back in the day I hosted a radio show, and one night I was digging deep trying to find songs to play in a Lovecraft theme episode, and that was when I discovered Darkest of the Hillside Thickets. At the time I had only been listening to songs like “The Innsmouth Look” and “Yog-Sothoth.” It would take a long time to discover some of their best that came out later like “Shhh,” “Frogstar” and “The Math Song,” none of which have any notable connection to Lovecraft, but “You Fool Warren is Dead!” is absolutely about “The Statement of Randolph Carter,” and it is fantastic. However, my favorite, is one of the first I ever heard “Nyarlathotep.”

I am a man who deeply enjoys deep lyrics, but today will not be one of those days where I post some quote from the song in the blog and blab about how clever it is, because in “Nyarlathotep” the words are not in English. If the comment section on is to be believed, Darkest of the Hillside Thickets are singing in ancient Egyptian. Upon further research I have since learned that the band reached out to their fans to help write “Nyarlathotep” finding a fan who actually spoke, or at least knew, middle Egyptian. That sort of artist fan relationship is very endearing.

Also judging from the comment section, the Japanese really like “Nyarlathotep.”

From what sounds like a tambourine, a death rattle is created, and it is the first sound in “Nyarlathotep,” the first sting that brings out the deathly ambient sound. Next the war drums hit and a rolling thunder carries us forward to the lead guitar and Egyptian vocal melody.

by Erkanerturk
I have talked in the past about the sound of implied terror and horror, and “Nyarlathotep” has something of that, but also something else, it has that joyful levity. Like all the Darkest of the Hillside Thickets songs there is an ironic mirth added to the songs of dread; and dread is an appropriate description of the subject matter.

Everything Lovecraft wrote, and everything he created, was horrifying but also nihilistic, and the being Nyarlathotep is no exception. The space monsters in Lovecraft’s works are also ultra dimensional gods, and are often very difficult to describe because they are so alien. As I explained in the last review, Cthulhu physically is the most human, somehow, and as such he has proven to be the easiest for fans to rationalize in their minds and illustrate, and this probably goes a long way to explain Cthulhu’s popularity. The most human cosmic god Lovecraft created in personality is probably Nyarlathotep. None of the Lovecraft gods have any relatable human motivations or emotions, they are completely unrelatable, except for Nyarlathotep.

Using his shape shifting powers Nyarlathotep has through out history appeared as a human, most notably as an obsidian dark skinned Egyptian, who shows devices and objects of wonderful and terrible affects. His powers are many and he could cause massive harm at any time to all human civilization, but he relents, for Nyarlathotep enjoys toying with humans, we are his play things, his greatest source of amusement. Nyarlathotep’s playfulness and cruelty are inherently human traits, his dark sense of humour and manipulative manner is the behavior of a trickster, and humans can relate to that.

This video from the Exploring Series explains Nyarlathotep better than I can:

The Exploring Series - Nyarlathotep:

I really like the Exploring Series, he talks about all my favorite things, Middle Earth, Elder Scrolls, and Lovecraft. We should probably hang out.

In summary, some nerds in British Columbia decided to make punk band where they combine horror and comedy to sing about a variety things, but namely Lovecraft’s mythos, and I like them because their fun.

- King of Braves