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.
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.