Thursday, December 25, 2014

Trans-Siberian Orchestra - Old City Bar



“Old City Bar” is one of the few original songs by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, who are primarily known for their Christmas themed rock operas, they also have a bulk of songs that are rock and roll adaptations of classical music. Since most Christmas songs are in fact modifications of old folk songs and classical music, I believe it is fair to say that the vast majority of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s music is rock opera versions of classical music. While “Old City Bar” is undeniably Christmas themed it is one of the few completely original tracks by the group.

I was curious just how few Trans-Siberian Orchestra songs were original after writing the above paragraph and I was surprised to find just how many songs were attributed to O’Neill, Oliva and Kinkel, but they take credit for songs like “Mephistopheles' Return” and "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24” which I know for a fact are collections of various classical pieces glued together. While going through each song and figuring out the percentage of Trans-Siberian Orchestra songs that are one hundred percent original is the sort of thing I am want to do, I will decline doing so at this time, I am not made of free time. Sorry Internet, I failed you. The point remains however, I am very confident that “Old City Bar” is one of the very few completely original songs created by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

I mean no real criticism when I point out that the vast majority of Trans-Siberian’s songs are quasi covers, after all just about the only thing I like about the holiday season is the music of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I would not be caught dead listening to Christmas music until “Christmas Eve and Other Stories” came out in 1996. This tiny bit of information however does help support what makes a song like “Old City Bar” special however.

The guitar is the instrument that speaks to my soul, and there is little I love more than a nice guitar melody, acoustic or electric. Like any simple charming acoustic song I always get it in my head that I can learn to play it myself, and “Old City Bar” is such a nice song it would be advantageous to know how to play it, but being layman I struggled terribly. This is not too surprising really, many of the acoustic songs I have sat down to learn have turned out to be much more intricate and complicated then they sound; which should really give us all a greater appreciation for the sheer talent of the professional guitar players out there who make it look so easy. If you really want to learn how to play “Old City” bar, this girl explains it pretty well I think: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEwaX71VjM4

The real charm of “Old City Bar” is the quaint nature of the story and the uplifting message there within. A quick synopsis of the story is a women is stranded in the cold streets on Christmas Eve and a child recruits the help of a bar keep to help her get home safe and sound. The child suddenly vanishes after the good deed is done and the rumor emerges that the child was an angel. In a turn of great generosity the bar keep lets everyone drink for free, and the bar is like home to those to dwell inside. These two verses perfectly capture the spirit of the song;

“If you want to arrange it,
This world you can change it,
If we could somehow make this,
Christmas thing last.

By helping a neighbor,
Or even a stranger,
And to know who needs help,
You need only just ask.”

I think we have all heard a variety of explanations as to what constitutes the true meaning of Christmas. We technically have two primary cultural influences that dictate two completely different messages. The various Pagans of Europe would celebrate their Winter Solstices as the rebirth of the sun and the coming of new life as the deepest days of winter were passing. The Christians, who effectively stole the holiday from the Pagans, celebrate the rebirth of their savior Jesus Christ. The commonality is the theme of rebirth, that is not a coincidence and also not important to a discussion about “Old City Bar.” A lot of people have come to terms to with the idea that the Holiday season is about “peace on earth,” which is a nice try, but more pragmatic people are forced to recognize the truth that the holiday season has become more to do with commercialism than anything else, but perhaps the healthiest message we should believe in is the one O’Neill and company are encouraging for us to share, and that is charity and kindness.

I would be lying if I pretend to care about the “reason for the season” I do not even like Christmas, I’d rather be working. Can you imagine how much work I could get done around the office if no one else was there to sideline me with unpredictable problems? It would be so nice. However as much of a scrooge you may qualify me as, I really like “Old City Bar” and I really like the message it invokes. If you want to make a better future, go make it; be the difference you want to see in the world; help a stranger; pay it forward; and other clich├ęs. Every day is the future. We are the future, all of us.

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

- King of Braves

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Bloodbound - Moria



Bloodbound is a Swedish power metal group that formed around 2005 and since that time they have already gone through two drummers, three bass players and an impressive four lead vocalist. What’s all the more impressive is that they have released six studio albums which means they manage to replace the lead singer once every one and a half albums on average, which is pretty fucking crazy when you think about it. Still congrats to Tomas Olsson (lead guitar), Fredrik Bergh (keyboard) and Henrik Olsson (rhythm guitar) for keeping the dream alive and sticking it out with such volatile line up changes in such a short period of time.

The original vocalist Urban Breed actually performed on the first and third studio albums, which only raises more questions about the coming and goings of band members. Finally on their forth studio album Bloodbound found their most consistent lead singer to date Patrik Johansson.

This seems to be a very common thing in Europe, band members hopping from one band to another. I mentioned this before when talking about musicians like Michael Kiske, Kai Hansen, and Jorn Lande, and how they have managed to be in approximately half a dozen different metal bands each. Like Skwisgaar from Dethklok they have basically been in every band ever. The past and current members of Bloodbound have been involved in a number of bands I have never heard of before and could barely find any information about any of them online, which in this day in age is a shock, but this does explain why I have heard so little about Bloodbound despite them having several decent songs, and there is still a lot I do not know about Bloodbound, but one thing I am confident in saying is “Moria” is a damned awesome song.

Coming off of their 2011 album “Unholy Cross,” the first album to include current lead singer Patrik Johansson, “Moria” is my favorite song I have heard from Bloodbound so far. I am very big on song structure, now admittedly I am untalented fool of a musician so I likely miss a large variety of subtle details in the music I listen too, but I think I listen well enough to pick up on the big picture. The songs I have always enjoyed the most have set pieces, verses, chorus, and bridges with a logical, simple gluing together of these things. “Moria’s” intro is a nice slow crawl towards excitement and the verses have one rhythm pattern and the choruses another. We have a nice guitar solo in the middle, like every great rock song should have, and the outro repeats the chorus into gradual departure of the instruments until only Johansson’s voice remains. And it is a really, really, I can’t emphasize this enough, really good chorus.

Not all metal songs are catchy, in fact, sometimes it is frowned upon in the metal community to be so, but I love the hook “Moira” has with its chorus. The lyrics are simple but meaningful and they are sung with the exact right amount of intensity, and it helps the guitars leap out with the vocals.

“Bang your head to hell and back,
Shaking the ground of Moria.
Raise the dead our time has come,
Show me the horns of Moria.”

Show me the halls of Moria, oh he said "horns?" Well that makes less sense.
Of course it is impossible for me to ignore the obvious “Lord of The Rings” reference. For those of you who missed it (somehow) Moria is the underground Dwarven kingdom the fellowship travel through in the “The Fellowship of the Ring.” The same place Balin led a group of dwarves into who met their doom at the hands of the goblins and orcs within, you should remember Gimli morning the dead as Gandalf read the journal of their fate. The same place Gandalf fought the Balrog, you know “You shall not pass!” that place; Moria. Presumably everyone would agree that the battle in the halls of Moria is a perfect event to write a metal song about, however... it is doubtful to say the least that Tolkien’s “Moria” is literally being referenced in this song. I mean the “horns of Moria?” It is as though they are referring to a demon named Moria or something. Maybe they thought the Balrog was named Moria? Maybe not, or maybe no one should care?

Despite expecting fantasy literature reference the lyrical content of “Moria” is actually rather agnostic or atheistic. The bridge into the chorus is;

“The night has fallen,
And the sky is clear.
You feel the darkness,
Surround you.
I’ll pray for mercy,
When I’m six feet underground.
I’ll pray for mercy,
When Eden’s found.”

And then slightly modified the second time around;

“The light is crawling,
And the time is near.
A touch of evil,
That bind you.
I’ll pray for mercy,
When my heart has stopped to pound.
I’ll pray for mercy,
When hell is found.”

And both bridges conclude with this fantastic little bit;

“Heavenly pictures try to rape your mind.
Tormented creatures you will find.”

Whoa!

I am very partial to these lyrics. It is a sort of “fuck you” to people threatening non-believes with hell and bribing them with heaven. Effectively all that is being said is, “I will believe you when there is a valid reason to believe you,” and also “I will not be intimidated,” in a very powerful manner. I really like the “tormented creatures” line, it could mean that those obsessed with “heavenly” ideas will become tormented, or it could be that they search so desperately for validation for their absurd believes they project horror onto everything and will either create or falsify the hell they so desperately feel the need to believe in as a counter weight to their imaginary heaven. Good stuff.

I like the guitars, I like the energy, I like the Tolkien reference, I like the song structure, and I like the whole atheistic theme; basically a perfect song for my subjective tastes. Good work Bloodbound, I hardly know anything about you, but I think “Moria” is among one of the best songs I have heard in recent years. Keep up the good work and good luck keeping your lineup intact.

- King of Braves

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Uriah Heep - The Wizard




Uriah Heep is many things. They are a largely forgotten progressive rock band from the greatest era of music ever (the sixties and seventies). They are an endearing band that has existed for over forty years, thank you Mic Box for keeping the dream alive. They are a fun band that frequently visited themes of fantasy and science fiction. Also Uriah Heep is a prime example of what the seventies were. While largely forgotten in time, Uriah Heep did enjoy a splash of success in the early days of their career and part of it probably had something to do with just how well they fit in with the peace and love movement.

There are few things more relaxing and easy going then mellow hippie music, and some of Uriah Heep’s early tracks fit that moniker well, perhaps most notably “The Wizard.” Like many early Uriah Heep songs “The Wizard” is very simple, all you need to play it is the C, D, and G on a string guitar. In fact “The Wizard” is one of the few songs I learned to play adequately well, and I am but a dabbler.

This ties in directly to what I would consider the two culture primary points of a song like “The Wizard.” There is the obvious fantasy theme, which I love and there is also the overlap of the seventies hippie moment present throughout.

The music video is soooooo nineteen seventies:
Everyone seems so happy in that video.

The first instinct most people is to assume anything about a kindly old wizard is based off of Gandalf or possibly Merlin, I do not feel Uriah Heep is singing about any such specific individual in “The Wizard.” As described in the second verse;

“He had a cloak of gold and eyes of fire,
And as he spoke I felt a deep desire,
To free the world of its fear and pain,
And help the people to feel free again.”

Gandalf never wore a cloak of gold. The wizard in question comes off like some kindly old hippie which directly ties into the second primary cultural inspiration.

“He was the wizard of a thousand kings,
And I chanced to meet him one night wandering.
He told me tales, and he drank my wine,
Me and my magic man, kinda feeling fine.”

Basically the song is about getting drunk and stoned with a hippie, who happens to be a sorcerer, which is amazing. If I was foolish enough to indulge impossible things on the bucket list of my life, it would include getting drunk and stoned with a wizard.

It is easy to see just how strongly this all ties into the peace and love moment, after all the message of the Wizard is about cooperation and understanding:

“Why don’t we listen to the voices in our hearts?
Because then I know we’d find were not so far apart.
Everybodys got to be happy, everyone should sing,
For we know the joy of life, the peace that love can bring.”

So spoke the wizard in his mountain home.
The vision of his wisdom means well never be alone.
And I will dream of my magic night,
And the million silver stars,
That guide me with their light.”

It is simple notion that likely is invoked constantly but is nearly thought of in such terms, why don’t we listen to the voices in our hearts? The truth is, no matter for culturally different we are, with open hearts we will always find we are not so far apart. It is a really message in a really mellow song, and I find it so completely calming.

“The Wizard” is the first track off of Uriah Heep’s 1972 album “Demons and Wizards” evidently “The Wizard” along with “Paradise/The Spell” satisfy the “wizard” half of the album title. Meanwhile “Rainbow Demon” one of my favorite songs of all time which obviously is the “demon” side of the equation. The theme of wizards and magic would carrying on to Uriah Heep’s next album, released the same year “The Magician’s Birthday” and I suspect the magician and the wizard are the same lovable hippie, but perhaps I will discuss more on that another day.

- King of Braves

P.S. Also fun, the Blind Guardian cover: