No Sex Please, We’re Femme Metal

01/09/2006 § Leave a comment

Man is and remains an animal. Here a beast of prey, there a house pet, but always an animal. – Joseph Goebbels

You can give up your whole week, you work and you go home and you have dinner and you do other stuff, but the only thing you’re thinking about is f***ing something on the weekends. – Peter Sotos

It’s an unsurprising fact that obesity in men and women in the UK is rising. 28% of men before age 24 are obese, which, when you think about it, this is a staggeringly huge amount. It’s almost a third of the entire sex that is packing too much worm-meat, and it’s not like there is a shortage of opportunities to do it. In the USA the statistics are higher, with a stunning 65% being overweight or obese, nearly two-thirds of the entire population.

Bad food is everywhere. Advertised on the radio, on the TV, billboard signs, offers in magazines. This is the stuff that beckons the lazy pedestrian in with vivid shop signs and bright colours, promising of quick food at cheap prices. You never see advertisements on television for vegetables though. No company ‘owns’ carrots or potatoes and no-one, after a heavy night out on the town, suggests that everyone should get together for some butternut squash. It’s only at three in the morning, waiting for buses in the dim, thick light of Tottenham Court Road that you see people heaving Burger King boluses back onto the payment; kebab shreds mixing with beer, passing through nicotine-coated oesophaguses.

We’re really not doing overselves any favours. For many, the promise of a productive night out consists of chugging back as many pints as possible. It doesn’t matter where you do it, hopping from bar to bar and from trend to trend is all about the next place to consume beer. In a sense it hardly matters about the environment it is done in, the bars with the neon strip lighting, fast music, breaded snacks and plush interiors are all presentation cases for the alcohol being poured inside. Without it, no-one’s going to call on these places. They’re visited as a forum for escapism where you spend the money you’ve worked all week for on beverages which will help you forget what it was you did to earn money in the first place. There are social brownie points to be had by making a complete and utter pratt of yourself of an evening. For a reason that a lot of people can’t work out, if you’ve drunk too much, picked a fight with someone, touched up someone else’s girlfriend, thrown up on a bus, fallen asleep on the pavement but still managed to make it home at some point, it is deemed to have been a ‘good night‘. As a youth, we are all so sadly and shamefully unoriginal.

This is just the skin of the scene though, the very tip of a lurid and seedy iceberg. Sex and alcoholism go well together, both are forms of vice and both indulge very basic needs and desires. In a sense we want it all, the ability to have as much food and drink as we want and to be able to gratify our lusts. And we can, as long as money is involved.

A few years ago, after a particularly depressing time in my current living situation I found myself down at one of the more ’upmarket’ strip joints in Central London, a place that I’d never heard of but then I was hardly very much into the ’scene’. If you’ve never done it before it’s unusual to walk into a large room and see lots of female bodies writhing solely for the pleasure of those there. In a sense it’s quite surreal. Over the next few months I spent more time at similar places in London as a student. The girls were all incredibly friendly and nice, never English but mostly Eastern European or South American. They’d chat for a bit about whatever you wanted, then they’d remove their clothes for you and bugger off. In the meantime you could drink beer and talk to whoever you had arrived with [if you’d arrived with anyone] though these were not the sort of places that you came to for conversation. Literally every two minutes a new girl would come up and sit next to you and sometimes you had to usher them away until it became a bit annoying. The amazing thing about it was how utterly pointless the whole experience is. You walk out having paid twenty pounds for each three minute dance and leaving with nothing. You didn’t even spend enough to get drunk. You looked at girls for a bit, gave them some cash to do hardly anything and that was that. I know people who spent hundred of pounds every night at these kinds of places. You can leave feeling almost dejected and lonely at the end of a night.

You’re not allowed to touch either. Though you can go in other places and they’ll let you, and you can go in a few more places and they’ll let you do even more. There is no end to the kinds of fetishes that you can indulge in in a city like London. It’s pretty sick in one way, but even sicker that it’s looked down upon by some people. The attitude in Europe, however, is very different to the attitude in the USA. A bare breast in a film in the USA will probably mean the MPAA slap a PG-13 or R rating on a film whereas you only have to walk down the streets in France and every other advert has got breasts everywhere. Go to the beaches in France, Spain and Italy and you’ll see the same thing. For some reason it has become necessary for the censors to shield us, or at least the younger among us, from one of the most natural things that any creature can experience. Carnal and natural desires have had taboos attached to them for as long as anyone can remember. Those poor girls, having to do that. Forced into it by chauvinism and sexism. It’s thoroughly degrading and disrespectful. OK, don’t be proud of the power of sexuality. Women are not the weaker sex, nor have they ever been. Men want sex all the time, it’s a given, but it is women who choose whether to give it to them or not. It doesn’t take much to coax a man into bed. Pornography, especially softcore, is the ultimate in enticement and empowerment and the ultimate in reminding men that women have everything every man wants, but only when they choose to give it to them.

I find it amazing that not more of the press have picked up on the pull of sexuality for female fronted metal, especially when the covers of so many male-fronted metal albums feature photographs, illustrations and images of women in all levels of undress. Many bands have realised the power of this, sometimes to make records more sellable and sometimes to up the anti. Male-fronted metal is very much aware of its sexuality, or at least its need for sexuality. Female-fronted metal has a whole different attitude towards sex. In fact, female-fronted metal is a very asexual beast. There are no lyrics about screwing, no lyrics about indulging in rampaging bestial desires and no depictions of eroticised women apart from maybe the odd angel, and there is no subgenre where the depiction of angels is more tiringly prevalent.

There are so many beautiful girls in the world of femme metal but they are never marketed as sex objects. Presumably the primary reason for this is that many of these bands do not have massive labels behind them. Napalm and Century Media may be large labels in their own rights but none of these companies are pushing the females to portray themselves in any kind of a sexual manner, certainly not in the overt ways that we are used to seeing when turning on Saturday morning television or MTV and watching the pop acts who seem more keen to sell through sex than music. Any why not? Sex and some types of music go very well together, but maybe sex and femme metal do not. Maybe femme metal is too much of a delicate creature to involve itself in such nefarious thoughts and practises or maybe the concentration is about the music too much to sell itself out.

One band in the femme metal scene which has been accused of selling itself out more than any other is Lacuna Coil. For the past few years the band have very much been trying to break the USA and have done so admirably. They put an awful lot of work into touring and changing their sound to make it more accessible. Karmacode, their latest album released this year will no doubt be their biggest seller to date, much to the glee of Century Media. Cristina Scabbia is a very attractive front woman and I’m a little surprised that she hasn’t been portrayed more sexually in order to sell the band further to the teen crowd, to the hormonal, grubby 16 year olds who will salivate and do God knows what else over her pictures, and to the females who will admire her and emulate her. Not too long ago she posed for the cover of Stuff magazine in what was clearly her most titillating shoot to date, and though it caused a mild stir in the metal crowd, it was not a patch on some of the photoshoots that female pop bands and artists are doing.

If you take a look at some of the outfits worn by the other singers, Sharon Del Adel, Tarja Turunen, Simone Simons and Floor Jansen, there is never a time when sexuality is really a strong element in their portrayal of the music. Simone Simons was allegedly offered a spread in the Dutch playboy to which she declined and Helena Michaelsen from Imperia was interviewed in Penthouse but the shoot was nothing particularly racy. A lot of the time, femme metal gets such little coverage in the press anyway so that when an artist from the more popular end of the scale starts to promote the music in this way it is thought of as misrepresenting the scene and that a lot of people, knowing nothing about femme metal, will tar all bands with the same brush.

At the end of the day there is nothing sexy about femme metal, but for the fans, this is another thing that gives it its edge over other musical forms. Femme metal bands are not concerned about sexuality, sex or eroticism in their music, it is the music itself that counts and any detraction from this is seen as an exercise in falsity and ingenuineness. As a musician, it’s only possible to do one thing at a time. To sing – and to sing well – shows ability, but to do so with other intents puts the whole objective into question.

Diablo Swing Orchestra – The Butcher’s Ballroom

01/09/2006 § Leave a comment

Diablo Swing Orchestra are clearly a group who don’t harbour concerns about being labelled since most of the work is done for you in the band title. Yes, their sound does have a swing element to it in parts and yes, there is certainly an air of ‘devil’ to the music. Don’t let the term ‘orchestra’ fool you too much, however. Though there is a wide variety of different instruments on this album, they are rarely played all at the same time, therefore the orchestral sense refers more to the quantity of instruments at the band’s disposal rather than the idea that you’ll get twenty things playing simultaneously. This removes any ostentatiousness or epic air from the band’s sound that some may have been concerned about, so the songs don’t give the impression of being played in the majesty of an opera house or orchestral pit, but rather in the backroom of some 18th century peasant tavern.

The Butcher’s Ballroom is really a journey through a variety of different song ideas, some jazz, some metal and some swing, and others which are short, one minute interludes which help mesh the album together. These interludes, for what they’re worth, are certainly not fillers since though they are only a minute or so each they are all beautifully executed. D’angelo, a clean operatic aria sang over acoustic guitar, Qualms Of Conscience, a soft, piano-led piece along the lines of the slower Beethoven or Chopin pieces and Gunpowder Chant, by far the most creepy song on the album, which purely consists of the murmur of a didgeridoo put to the beat of a snare drum, conjure up a classically dark but sinister atmosphere between each number which is bespoke to the tone of the album.

The full songs themselves are also quite different to one another though it is the first two tracks of the album, Balrog Boogie and Heroines, which are the most deserving of the Swing tag, both of which heavily use trumpets and the plucking of a cello to add to the swing feel. Indeed, this theme bleeds into the third track on the album, the wonderful fiesta-esque Poetic Pitbull Revolutions, which includes trumpets in abundance and sounds like something that might be played at a Spanish carnival. The rhythm is mostly carried by the drums rather than the guitars, since the drumbeats dictate what kind of feel each song is going to have while still managing to retain an undeniably metal air.

The band have decided to use operatic female vocals for all of the songs and though this might scream ‘Nightwish’ to some people, nothing could be further from the truth since though Nightwish started out with operatic vocals as a mistake, Diablo Swing Orchestra use them very intentionally and they work spectacularly with the music. Ann-Louice Lögdlund is no doubt an immense talent and it’s clear that she is not attempting to have an operatic voice for effect. Opera is obviously her forte, and this does help the music to have a highly unique and individual feel even though a lot of the songs, especially on first listen, may come across as a little challenging.

Not every song on the album may be as individual as the band would like, though. Clearly an effort has been made to make a lot of the tracks sound different especially when in so many metal albums it’s usual for some songs to sound like carbon copies of the next. However, towards the end of the album the songs start to trail off and sound like nothing too special anymore. The earlier songs have such strength, energy and fire and the later ones, since they’re not using the same tricks anymore, turn into more standard metal songs with no real hooks or centres.

Still, this is hardly a big criticism since overall the music is inventive enough to hold its own and it will definitely keep you coming back for more time and time again. In a way Diablo Swing Orchestra have treated us with their uniqueness and it’s easy to take them for granted when there is hardly any other band that they can be compared to, especially when it comes to metal bands with female vocalists. The years since making their EP have clearly been put to good use and we should all enjoy the results of such a labour. The Butcher’s Ballroom, whichever way you look at it, is a thoroughly original and well-executed debut that many bands could only hope to pull off, and others wouldn’t even have the creativity to envision.

8.5/10

Angtoria – God Has A Plan For Us All

01/09/2006 § Leave a comment

God Has A Plan For Us All is a significant album title in a genre that doesn’t really ooze imagination, not lyrically anyway. A lot of time albums end up with silly titles such as Emoceans or Consign To Oblivion so it’s nice to know that Angtoria have put a little bit of thought into the way that their debut comes across. And so they should since this thing’s been a while in the making. Angtoria released two demos, the first of which came out three years ago and since then it’s been a little tricky for them to get everything together, not least because their singer lives in Kent [near Sevenoaks if you must know] and their other two formative members, Tommy and Chris Rein, live in Sweden. Not an ideal combination you might argue, but in these times when the information superhighway is about as overused as the word ‘Angel’ in a Nightwish song, it’s more than possible for a Gothic metal band to have their members dotted about all over Europe, though I hate to think what kind of hell that would put them in if they tried to play live.

But is Angtoria a Gothic metal band anyway? We seem to be approaching a stage where the terms ‘Gothic metal’ or even ‘femme metal’ carry negative connotations for a lot of ‘serious’ bands, maybe because the idea of either conjures up images of mutable fads and ephemeral fanships. And this is hardly surprising because the singer in the band, Sarah Jezebel Diva, has spent twelve years doing vocals for Cradle Of Filth, so it’s understandable that she may consider herself as coming from a more established background. However, like it or not, Angtoria very much are a femme and Gothic metal band since their style is in the vein of artists such as Penumbra, Epica and Flowing Tears.

The individual songs on GHAPFUA are of a relatively high standard, the title track telling the story of a small girl who is abused by her priest [“God has a plan for us all, open up for him and let Jesus in” – nice], the tune being helped along nicely by some simple solos and impressive instrumentation. Suicide On My Mind, Deity Of Disgust and Hell Hath No Fury Like A Woman Scorned are the most impressive of the bunch, the latter’s intro being extremely full and effective and one of the best that I’ve heard in this style. What Angtoria succeed at very well is making their music likeable through symphonic simplicity. God Has A Plan is quite easy to come back to time and time again and though it’s not really a very heavy album overall, fans of the band are likely to come from both the male and female-fronted metal camps due to Sarah‘s background.

The album is not quite consistent however, since even though it does very well to keep up its effect and pace for the first half of its duration, it does collapse in the middle like a quiche left out in a picnic for too long. Songs like Original Sin with its metal growls, Do You See Me Now with its ‘strong independent woman’ message, and The Addiction which sounds like a cast-off from the Titanic soundtrack don’t do very much to make GHAPFUA a total success. Indeed, some of the songs do suffer from the affliction of Six Feet Under’s Not Deep Enough inasmuch as the verses are quite good but the band seems to have totally lost any idea of how to follow through, and as a result there are quite a few annoying choruses which will have some listeners reaching for the skip button and even holding it down for a few seconds. The band’s only cover, being of Kylie Minogue’s Confide In Me is surprisingly good though – and miles better than the original – which is unusual since metal covers of pop songs are usually atrociously embarrassing.

If anything though, God Has A Plan has benefited from the time that was taken over it, since if it were rushed there’s a strong likelihood it could have become a disappointing effort at a bombastic metal album when it actually accomplishes what it sets out to do rather well. I wouldn’t be surprised if we had to wait another few years for their next album, my only concern being that now the band has two Cradle Of Filth members to fill up the ranks it could turn into a bit of a Leaves’ Eyes syndrome with Angtoria playing second fiddle to the COF members’ main interests, resulting in hurried albums and poorly constructed songs while the singer tries to keep the ship afloat. However, it’s still a worthy debut and deserves a generous amount of attention and respect, though its lasting appeal may hang somewhat precariously in the balance.

7.5/10

Delain – Lucidity

01/09/2006 § Leave a comment

Far be it from me to think badly of Roadrunner, a label that have put out a myriad of good albums over the years and gave us all the informative filth and expletive-fest that is Blabbermouth. Yes folks, many times every day Blabbermouth will be sure to deliver you not only the latest in the world of hard rock and metal but will also bring you up to date with the latest profanities, swear words, and exceptionally offensive phrases ensuring that you know the very best way to ridicule your fellow man even though you have absolutely no idea who you’re talking to. It will also tell you the best concerts to avoid unless you want to get beaten, shot or pulverised by a bunch of overenthusiastic nu-metal fans. So it’s something of a relief that Roadrunner can sign calm and ungritty artists, reminding us that the metal universe can be a nice place from time to time. Still, I’m a little confused as to the reasons that Delain found themselves on this label since Roadrunner are not normally known for signing bands with female singers. It seems there was a bit of incest going on somewhere but then anybody who’s anybody has got somewhere in the music business by getting through a back door.

Whatever the reasons behind it, and whatever the reasons for the four-month delay in Lucidity being released, finally I managed to hear the album after a wait that was at times a little frustrating. The samples on the Delain site this time last year taunted a lot of us with promises of an album’s-worth of fantastic female-fronted Gothic rock and metal, and I was starting to think the triad that dominate the top of the femme metal pyramid were about to become a foursome, and it’s not hard to see why when you realise that Martijn Westerholt, the ex-keyboardist from Within Temptation, decided to make this his main project a few years ago.

If there’s one thing that Lucidity oozes, it’s professionalism. This is no debut album recorded in the dingy confines of someone’s basement on phonographic cylinder and mixed with the finesse of Keith Floyd after one and a half bottles of sherry, but classy and full sound production that you would expect from bands at the top of the ladder. The guitars are full, the vocals are rich and the whole thing is as beautifully put together as a male beach volleyball team chosen by Julian Clary. And this is part of the problem, really. One of the things that was primarily noticeable to me was that Lucidity is so perfect and Brylcreemed as an album, that the genuineness and authenticity seem to have been totally removed from the music. There is no heart, no core to many of the songs, and I get the impression that a lot of them have been toyed with over a few years to the point where they’ve lost their original essences.

Charlotte Wessels, the vocalist who carries most of the songs and who is no doubt set to be a star, has a most beautiful voice. Her sound is clear, warm and vivid over the thickness of the music and it’s almost as if she’s been singing on albums at this level of professionalism for years rather than someone who’s come more or less out of the blue. The songs that she’s given to sing, however, are not always the most interesting of offerings though there are two – possibly three – which are stunners. Frozen, Pristine and Daylight Lucidity are by far the best of the bunch and are some of the most instantly satisfying treats to come to this side of the genre for a very long time.

Shamefully though, the good points don’t go much further. Delain’s music is very much in the vein of Within Temptation – almost identical at times – so it’s not surprising to see Sharon Del Adel making a guest appearance on one of the songs. However, the guest appearances don’t stop there. Not only Sharon makes a contribution, but also Liv Kristine from Leaves’ Eyes, George Oosterman from Orphanage and Marco Hietala from Nightwish/Tarot who is on a ridiculous number of tracks on the album. If there were just one or two appearances that would be fine, but with so many of them the band seems to have tuned Lucidity into some kind of Gothic rock party for the sole purpose of money-spinning, since the inclusion of these voices does very little for the music. Delain ends up feeling very much like a project rather than a band, and this isn’t helped by the fact that Marco’s vocals, as much as I like them in Nightwish, clearly just don’t fit in here. His voice is too powerful for the drony simpering splodginess of this kind of music and he’s way under his league. Liv Kritisine, for her part, adds very little to the album as well, and See Me In Shadow, one of her two offered tracks, turns into quite a boring, drawn-out squeak of a song which offers little to the experienced or casual listener.

It’s very easy to be cynical about albums in general – sometimes far more than it is to be positive – but Delain did set themselves up for something of a fall here. I was really under the impression that this was going to be a special and quenching piece of work but instead Lucidity is little more than a piecemeal mishmash of musical offerings, pasting in talents from all over the genre and throwing them into one Gothicy melting pot. It’s very much a case of overseasoning and things aren’t helped by the standard, unimaginative chord progressions that don’t give the singers very much to work with or elaborate on, the upshot being a deluge of tracks which are as fulfilling as watered-down Sunny Delight – sweet for a split second, but ultimately insipid and plain. The younger Gothic demographic will hoover this up like heartagram patches but the rest of us will be left feeling undernourished and unsatisfied. In spite of two or three very good songs, Lucidity is not quite the success and saviour some of us had hoped for, and eight more tracks of guest-fuelled junk do little to save this disk from being stuck on the shelf and forgotten.

6/10

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