Weeping Words

03/10/2005 § Leave a comment

“Inspiration cannot be summed up by an act of will. To labour towards it, is, in effect, to move in the opposite direction. The fact is I don’t think up most of what I write. It’s dictated to me.” – Pirandello

I was impressed by the lyrics to Atrox’s Terrestrials, not just for their grasp of the unusual but for their sheer joy and revelry in the freakish and the absurd. To this day I have not come across anything more inventive in the lyrical side of music. A perfect song is the amalgamation of music, meter, ideas – the more remarkable the better – and execution, but this is not a feat that many bands have the capability of accomplishing. This could either come down to an unwillingness or an inability on the part of the artists to concoct something truly creative through language or a subconscious determination to prematurely ballast the lyrical structure of their compositions so that the song completes itself.

Good lyrics are not paid enough attention to. There may be scores of bands writing lines in Gothic Metal that deserve no more credence than those that wrote them, but there are also a lot of genuinely startling passages that warrant recognition where it is not received. The fact that the average listener finds it hard to dissect songs and to see them as radical hybrids of separate art forms, music and words, to distinguish the two separately, judging them on their own virtues separately of the ties they posses to one another, may go some way towards explaining this. However, there are many albums where even the critics will not mention anything about the lyrics, which strikes me as something heterodox. Of course, as fanatics in music it is the music itself which is going to gain the lion’s share of their opinion and accreditation rather than the words, but to ignore or simply not to recognise some of the more salient examples is a terrible waste.

One of the pioneers of the genre, Theatre Of Tragedy, were the first to really concentrate on the lyrics of the songs as a wholesome ingredient within the music. However, their Norwegian roots did not do much for the lyrics always making sense, since what foreign lyricists – or linguists – fail to grasp, is a true sense of the vernacular. Writing in some form of bastardised Middle English, lines such as “Thine voice is oh so sweet, ryking for me: ‘list and heed’, thou say’st, chancing to lure” may make some semblance of sense, but others, such as “Fair and ‘guiling copesmate Death, be not a malais’d beggar; claim this bloody jester!” just sound ridiculous. This is simply not how people communicate. It’s all very well trying to create something Gothic and exotic with the lyrics, but I’m sure that Chaucer and many of the Middle English poets would be laughing at such attempts to emulate – endearingly, accurately or otherwise – the tongue of their era. Nevertheless, I imagine that the majority of the European fanbase doesn’t have the slightest idea about such literature.

How much of a problem this is depends on how much importance is attached to it, and it seems that a lot of people don’t think it that notable. Why, if they did, would it be possible to pick such lyrics apart and account for all their inconsistencies and fallibilities so easily? Surely the best lyrics are those they are purely admired and extolled without being privy to any form of criticism. One way to avoid this is to take Aesma Daeva’s tack, which is to affectionately borrow lyrics from many poets and songwriters, from John Dowland to John Keats. Such reverence has its shortcoming also, since though it means that the songwriter cannot be criticised for their work lyrically, it leads one to question what possible results we would come across if they did happen to write the lyrics themselves. Would it truly be that awful? One can only assume that it would be until proven otherwise.

Much of the time it seems that good lyrics come from the unlikeliest of places. I was truly astounded to read the lyrics to Cadaveria’s Far Away From Conformity. I can only barely imagine what kind of occultist nastiness this woman gets herself embroiled in. The lyrics to Opera IX’s Black Opera were similar in their depictions of black masses and the dark arts but the very way in which they were described were totally beautiful. It seems that it doesn’t matter exactly what is being written about, but what it important is an ability to describe even the most evil of things in the most ornate of ways. Though I’m sure that songs such as The Divine Rapture accentuate this point [“transfixed by an absolute lightning of freedom, he freed himself in an uncensored dance, he turned his thoughts into words and his words into actions, and his moan was like a sweet chant”] Cadaveria also showed an ability to talk about totally personal things in a similar median – “I will quench your eyelids forever so that you stop feeding yourself with other’s memory, presage of intimate speeches and of obscure and obsessive fantasies, unavoidable condemnation, complicity, extraneousness, I will never know your truth, nor you mine.” Such private musings are rarely open to explanation by the artists themselves when challenged directly. More often that not, you’ll find that musicians are unkeen to talk about the real meanings behind the more personal of their lyrics, which is ironic considering the wealth of people who will hear them. It seems that the most important form of catharsis for the musician is the expression of the personal idea and conundrum, rather than its entire absorption and understanding by the audience. The musician does not choose their audience members after all.

One can go a stage further than this. I remember being told that Tuomas Holopainen takes most of his vocals from diary entries and that no band member is really allowed to know what the subject of the songs he writes addresses. It does seem that there is definitely a feeling a restriction within him, the only way in which things can be truly expressed being through lyrical exposition. This is both a healthy and unhealthy process, since though it gives the individual the ability to express thoughts and ideas, it is also a form of dehumanisation and abandonment of personal responsibility, separating conduct from introspection. Sometimes it feels that only through words such as “If you read this line, remember not that hand that wrote it, remember only the verse, songmaker’s cry, the one without tears, for I have given this its strength and it has become my only strength” can we get an insight into the mind of this kind of composer.

Lyrics can also be used for personal and political means. After Forever’s earlier lyrics carried a far more political slant which has now of course traversed over to Epica. In the absence of Mark Jansen to write lyrics for them, After Forever’s lyrics have now become increasingly sensation-based, addressing news-based issues and pointlessly tackling social ideas of the dysfunctional family and child abuse. I say ‘pointlessly’ since though the expression of the ideas was quite thorough, it failed to address its own reasoning or to leave a moral behind. It’s fine to postulate ideas, but for such postulation to be of any worth there must be some positive conclusion, some feeling of discovery inherent in the analysis.

These isolated examples are by no means engulfing the scene with their prowess. They are only isolated through dint of their exclusiveness. Most lyrics seem only present because the music has to have words attached to it, otherwise we’d all be purely gazing at a bunch of instrumentals. About 75% of lyrics in Gothic Metal are actually not worthy of any note at all. They fulfil the most basic of functions – to flesh out the music. It is here that we find the most dire examples of lyricism in the genre. Such travesties range from the clichéd [“come to me, Ravenheart, messenger of evil” – Xandria/ “morning star, shining from afar” – Sirenia/] to the intentionally catchy and also clichéd [“set me free with your love, set me free” – Lacuna Coil]. It certainly makes sense that lyrics such as these go unmentioned, or if they are mentioned, then purely for their banality and facileness.

However, if uninfluenced by the media and the desire to write, release and sell the next record quickly, not every writer is in control of that which they produce on paper. It’s naïve of a musician to think that every note they write and every word they pen is a decision they are in total rule over. Just because something emanates from the individual does not mean there is a direct force of control between the signifier and the signified. I’m sure there are many occasions where artists are under certain quantities of pressure in order to produce something effective, attractive and sellable which may impede real creativity, but there are also plenty of lyricists out there who are able to produce startlingly good song lyrics in spite of the amount of pressure they are under. In a way, the duress you are subject to is immaterial; it is only the finished product that proves who the real sculptors are.

Crimson Tears – Gothica

03/10/2005 § Leave a comment

CD Info
2005
Label: Independent
4 Tracks
Language: English

You always have to be careful when calling your band anything with the word ‘Crimson’ in it, it conjures up all kinds of nasty images. Remember Crimson Tide? It just sounds terribly unfortunate, like it’s something that your chemist wouldn’t even give you a remedy for on prescription. ‘Crimson Tears’ isn’t a whole lot better, but at least it sounds more wholesome. Call your band Crimson Tears and your first EP Gothica and it becomes clear about what direction you’re heading in musically. Whatever happened to letting the music guide you, to not letting the call of a sub-genre be your muse and to not pandering to commercialism, hmm? Well, obviously those are not huge concerns for everybody, in fact, I may as well go outside and shove a big bandwagon in the middle of Europe for everyone to go and jump on. No remedies needed there, prescription or otherwise.

Nevertheless, in the UK we should be grateful for the fact that Crimson Tears exist at all because what we have here is actually rather a good EP, in fact, it’s the best Gothic Metal with female vocals to come out of this country possibly ever. I don’t know what it is about the UK, but we’re fabulous at losing at our own games – cricket, football, Gothic Metal, you know the drill. We started the damn thing and everyone else excels at it. Well, I don’t know whether we’re anywhere close to regaining the Gothic Ashes but at least we’re clawing our way in the right direction.

Crimson Tears comprises of five members, their ages ranging from late teens to mid 40s. This is, in an embarrassing way, the English version of Morning. Not since the days when I first fatefully spun Circle Of Power has a band been made of such a spaghetti’d hotchpotch of ages and experiences. Nevertheless, the difference between the two groups is stark from the first listen. The first thing that hits you about Gothica is the fact that the sound production on this album is solid. So often with these first EPs you get guitars that sound as if the strings are made of mushy peas while the snare drum sounds like the tin they came in. Not so here: everything is full, commanding and delightfully imposing and Gina Oldham‘s vocals are everything that they should be. There is the odd moment when they seem to lack a little feeling, but then, when singing lines like ‘take me to heaven and play me like your guitar’ it’s difficult not to laugh. Maybe they had to edit that out.

The first song, Eternity, is probably the best on the EP, with Gina‘s vocals climbing steadily throughout and building to a climax that sounds like, well, the beginning of the song but in a higher register. It’s successor, My Plea, is very Nightwish-esque especially with the orchestral hits on the keyboard and the chain-gun riffing followed by twiddly guitar interludes. This isn’t actually bad stuff and there’s certainly a good amount of potential here. Crimson Tears have obviously created some sort of foundation for themselves and if the Nightwish-esque ditties weren’t intentional, then more songs like these might certainly snare other fans who like to spend their time skirting the top ridges of the genre. The title track, Gothica, is a slower and longer number which gets a little repetitive after a while, whereas Crimson Tears really put the boot in for their finale, Gardens of Sorrow, which could certainly qualify as an entrant in a Nightwish simulation contest.

Nevertheless, Gothica should not be sneered at, since in spite of its obvious intentions to be recognised and appreciated for what it is, a new mewling infant in the Gothic scene, the music it carries is brimming with promise. There might be a little too much of the recognisable form in songs like My Plea and Gardens Of Sorrow, but the overall result is a very positive one. I get the impression that this is Crimson Tears’ first toe in the water, first attempt at recognition, and it’s recognition that they deserve, since Gothica is very much a grab at the torch rather than a stab in the dark. These people know where they want to go and with a little drive, which judging by Gothica I’m sure they’ve got in them, they could definitely carry the banner for UK Gothic Metal. For a long time we’ve been waiting for someone to do just that, and maybe that time is not too far away.

Stream of Passion – Embrace the Storm

03/10/2005 § Leave a comment

CD Info
2005
Label: InsideOut, Sony/BMG
12 Tracks
Language: English/Spanish

I was never too much of a fan of Arjen Lucassen. Even though he seems to have his finger in more pies than the entire Newcastle United fanbase and he’s worked with the biggest and most important names in the whole of Gothic and metal in Holland, it still took me a while to work out what the big deal was about him since albums like The Final Experiment and The Human Equation did little to float my proverbial vessel. So I was less than enthusiastic about his latest project, least of all because it’s called Stream Of Passion which, let’s face it, sounds a little bit dodgy. Definitely not something you’d want to get caught in, more like something you’d want to end up in a plastic cup.

But things seem to be going very well already for this group. They have managed to sign with Sony in Benelux and have a European tour in the works at the end of this year. Still, Stream Of Passion came out of nowhere for me. A few whispered words on forums and gesture mentions from the odd enthusiast did not do very much to install a huge sense of potential. Nor had I heard anything from Marcela Bovio apart from a short speck on The Human Equation.

However, all of my doubts were allayed within five minutes of hearing Embrace The Storm. This is not an album that gives itself away easily, it doesn’t bash you in its opening moments and foist its power on you straightaway. There’s no arrogance in the opening bars, no conceit. Conversely, it lets you in gently with the soft pounding of drums and Marcela singing dreamily over the top. In fact, initially it’s hard to know what you’ve let yourself in for here. Nevertheless, this is a promising start to the album. There are no choirs, no classical instrumentation. Clearly the intention here is not to be Gothic and not to confirm to any sort of pre-approved standard along the lines of the Within Temptation or Epica intros. One thing that is quite clear early on is the fact that Marcela in an incredible vocalist. She’s one of the best singers I have come across recently and she has a very smooth tone to her voice. There is no uncertainty to her sound and it’s great for the musical reins to be held by such a good vocalist since one doesn’t get worried about the music being spoiled by a momentary lapse of concentration resulting in a bad note.

The second track, Passion, is one of the best on the album, and I was totally blown away by the chorus. Not only for its power, but for how the vocals ride the instrumental tune perfectly – so fluidly over the jutting and buffeting of the power chords and the staccato stopping and starting of the main rhythm section. This is inventive music, but in its most bare and accessible sense.

The good music doesn’t stop there, either. The rest of the album has that rare ability to hold your attention marvellously – and so it should do since there are some really fantastic numbers here – Open Your Eyes has a beautiful chorus and the way it develops slowly in the five minutes open to it is quite impressive with Marcela controlling the whole number effortlessly and pleasurably. Out In The Real World has a fantastic string riff which is only played twice, thankfully, since anything more would be overkill, and it is an extremely strong number, its only shortcoming being that it’s a little short in time. But by far the best track for me is ironically the shortest – the wonderful Breathing Again, which is probably the softest song on the album, and though it may have the rubber stamp of ‘ballad’ surely imprinted on it, it manages to be totally filling and nourishing, carried beautifully by Marcela’s breathtaking vocals.

However, Embrace The Storm is not a total success since it doesn’t always hit the mark. The music is good, but there are dips in the album where some of the songs don’t quite hold the strength of the others. This is not to say that the poorer songs are obscure numbers which you may come back to in a few listens and realise you really like after all, it’s more that they’re a little flat. Strangely enough, it’s hard to know whether this is because they are dull in their own right or because some of the other numbers are of such a high quality that it puts them to shame. It seems one way that this could have been remedied would be if this album were a mix of accessible numbers and more progressive tracks since this would give a perfect mix, making it impossible to overlook any of the songs.

And I’m sure that Arjen has the ability to do it – I get a great sense of promise from this band. Though this is not strictly a debut album since all the other musicians are experienced, it’s a damn good project. I sincerely hope that Arjen concentrates on this and Marcela has the ability to juggle Stream Of Passion and Elfonia to both bands’ credit. Stream Of Passion has the ability to be a huge name in female-fronted metal and since there is no Gothic tag here, they would sell on the merit of their sound and talent alone, which they more than deserve to do.

8.5/10

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