Monday, June 01, 2015

On the joylessness of much metal, plus: Titan's Eve, Unleash the Archers - new albums!

I have to admit, music snob or not, that I'm a sucker for a catchy tune. I actually bought a total pop album at Red Cat today, an album I never imagined I would own: Split Enz' 1981 LP Waiata, because of the presence of the song "Hard Act to Follow," an anthemic, slightly gothy New Wave item that has been infecting me for the last few weeks. It came up out of the depths unbidden; I had consciously completely forgotten the song, probably hadn't heard it for something like 30 years, but for no reason I could discern I found myself singing the chorus to myself for weeks on end, constantly meaning to look up on Youtube who the song was by. When I finally remembered the tune when I was actually sitting at my computer, I was kind of embarrassed ("it's by SPLIT ENZ?") and shocked at how much punkier it had sounded to my inner ear while I was humming it to myself in the shower. I've gotten over it, bought the LP, and stuck the song on a playlist on my phone along with an even guiltier pleasure from the early 1980's, Harlequin's "Innocence." Embarrassing, right? But such fun songs. (It helps that I was 12 and 13, respectively, when these songs were actually on the radio, before I even knew what punk rock was).

This brings me to something I don't imagine it's very cool to say, but one of the reasons that I haven't stuck very close to my recent flirtation with metal is that I've begun to realize that a lot of metal these days is simply not very much fun. Evil posing, evil soundscapes, brutal, guttural vocals, double-kick-drum sonic assaults, and shredding like you have thirty fingers are all fine things, and have their place, but there has to be something in the songs that's actually enjoyable to listen to, y'know? Something besides punishing thrash to facilitate your self-conscious glowering. Having devoted a good chunk of time a few years ago to death metal and black metal - neither of which I'd paid any attention to for the first couple of decades of their existence, since I'd walked away from metal as a punk teenager, right when thrash was emerging - I've kind of come up for air and realized that there's something wrong with the fact that I can't hum a single Cannibal Corpse song to myself, even after having listened to a few of their albums dozens of times over. I have a few gross lyrical images that have stuck in my head - worm infested vaginas, necropedophiles, intestinal cranks, what have you - but I can't even replicate in my head the way their catchiest tune goes, which surely has to be that Jack Owen song about some guy going around skinning women - whatsit, "Decency Defied." I mean, that's a REALLY catchy song by Cannibal Corpse standards, but it's no earworm. Best I can do when it's playing is nod my head up and down; once it's over, no tune lingers, nothing you can hum to yourself while you go about your day.

At least nothing I can hum.

Far as I can figure, something happened to metal around the time of the emergence of thrash and the crossover with punk where people started to take it and themselves really, really seriously - maybe to get away from commodified embarassments like Quiet Riot and Ratt and so forth, or maybe to compensate for something else, like being a dork at heart, say (which is nothing to be ashamed of, note). Remember when Mickey Rourke's character gets all sentimental about hair metal of the 80's in The Wrestler? I disagree with his conclusion that Kurt Cobain fucked everything up, because punk has very seldom stopped being fun, or ever had a problem with being dorky; even a brute like GG Allin writes really catchy, silly, memorable and infectious songs (ask my girlfriend, who has to put up with me singing choruses of "she gives me blowjobs" while we walk down the street; I did offer to trade it up for "I Wanna Suck Your Cunt," which has an equally sing-along-able chorus, but it didn't convert her, what can I say). The wrestler has a point, though: since the 80's, the joyful aspect of metal has all but disappeared. Having given it a fair go, I've sold off most of my Mayhem and Gorgoroth and so forth, stuff I bought when I was doing my metal plunge (2008-2011, mostly) and am probably never going to regret that. I've kept some stoner doom stuff, kept some folk metal, kept my Bison and my Motorhead and Sabbath, of course, and hung onto a smattering of more joyless and intense stuff like Deicide, Morbid Angel, and Slayer, but the truth is, I barely listen to it. Hell, I'd put on a Judas Priest album before I put on any of that stuff, these days. Or Iron Maiden - I mean, fuck it, on some level I still am trapped in thinking it's not cool for a punk to enjoy music like this, but "Hallowed Be Thy Name" is an incredible song, just incredible; the fourteen year old me who loved it was right, and the fifteen year old me who rejected it in favour of listening exclusively to hardcore was wrong, period.

In any event, what I'm discovering is that I like my metal - to the extent that I like metal at all these days - to be melodic, dramatic, anthemic, hooky, catchy. I don't care how technical your playing is if it doesn't actually result, at the end of the day, in something resembling a tune - or at least a tune obvious and simple enough that I can recognize it as such. Amon Amarth would be another example of the stuff I still like; they seemed to peak with Twilight of the Idols and Surtur Rising - I didn't actually get much out of their next LP, which seemed a little less inspired, but both of those albums have songs you can actually REMEMBER AS SONGS after they're finished. Here, let me prove it: (proceeds to sing quietly to himself, more or less to the tune of the song, "See me rise the mighty Surt, destroyer of the universe, bringer of pain and death and hurt, something something of men and Earth" - "scorcher," it turns out. I mean, I didn't say you had to understand what the singer was saying, though it does help if you can make out a phrase here and there).

Of the local metal discs I've listened to in the last few years, to review them for the Straight or such, there are actually only a few bands that I really have retained interest in, and - Bison notwithstanding, because I will likely always be a Bison fan - it turns out that the bands I'm most interested in on the local scene are playing very much the same sort of tuneful metal that you see Amon Amarth making, even if they're classified in totally different genres. I'm probably going to pick up the new Unleash the Archers album as soon as it comes out, for instance, and - if my life were different - I would be on hand for the June 6th album release gig by Titan's Eve at the Astoria (event page here). Despite thrashing with considerable intensity, Titan's Eve, on all three of their releases, have written songs that I can sing in my inner ear. "Becoming the Demon," say, off their first album, is one of the catchier local thrash tunes I've heard, especially the chorus - which they don't get around to for a couple of minutes; so don't be thrown by the pummelling build-up. Their new album, Chasing the Devil, isn't quite second nature to me yet, but I've enjoyed the one listen through I've given it. They make metal that is tough, sure, but it's not afraid to actually be enjoyable. Like, you don't have to be embarrassed that you're not going out to burn a church after the show. You're actually allowed to listen to their music and have fun and not take it all so goddamn seriously... It is, in the end, only rock'n'roll, fer chrissake (but I like it).

Alas, come Saturday night, the night of the gig, I will probably be stuck in Maple Ridge, catching up on writing, marking student papers, and hanging out with my Mom; getting out this weekend is just a little too complicated, and it's not like I can drag my girl to this show. I mean, their songs are kinda catchy, but they're not bring-your-girlfriend catchy! (However, I fully intend to expose her to Unleash the Archers sometime soon).

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