Albums of 2010 – Bingen, Blackie… and black metal. Part II: The Past

09/01/2011 § Leave a comment

As 2011 considers getting into its stride, I should pay tribute to two artists who made a massive difference to me through 2010. This ‘review’ of the last year is actually a three-parter, the final part of which can be added to at any time in the next few weeks. For the moment though, it’s important to address a couple of things.

2010 was quite a difficult year for me, one of the reasons being that I spent six months in a job that I detested. It’s certainly quite normal for people to hate their jobs, and this may seem nothing special to whinge about, but for me the ramifications cut deeper. My place of work was in a horrific area of London, somewhere which had personally negative echoes for me and that I never wanted to go back to. I couldn’t wait to be rid of its grey towers and miserable citizens. It was, I imagine, one of the causes of my monomania.

I’ve already written quite a comprehensive journal about W.A.S.P., my feelings for them and which of their albums I consider the most important. There’s no reason for me to expand any further on my feelings with regard to their music. But what I shall concentrate on here is their importance for me as a band, which is not confined to 2010 alone. W.A.S.P.’s predominance was unsurpassed for me, they became this addictively-playable behemoth which I couldn’t tear myself away from. Indeed, I wouldn’t want to. These days, with metal being ever-more difficult to be impressive, and a lot of the time not even knowing what to do with itself, it’s very rare for me to find a band that gives so much over and over. Great music should not just be about feeding you emotionally, but giving you the same thing time and time again, tirelessly. There are so few bands that can do this, one of the last ones to do so for me being Opeth back in 2005.

When people have talked about having all-time favourite bands, I’ve always thought they were being rather immature and restrictive. I enjoy knowing a large amount of musicians but I’ve got to the point where one band really stands out for me. As much as I love artists such as Fates Warning, Death, Coroner and The Mars Volta, W.A.S.P. is just one small step above these. It’s not only the music which makes such a gilded impression but Blackie Lawless’s relentless persistence to make the band work for over 25 years, no matter what was thrown at him. And such devotion and passion is wholly inspiriting.

So much for W.A.S.P. and my obsession with them. The second artist necessary to address is somewhat of a surprise. I’m not sure that I’d be able to class her music as classical but I’m sure plenty of classical aficionados will tell me that’s exactly what it is. In spite of years of learning and singing classical music in school, I always considered anything ‘classical’ to involve works from the 16th century onwards. Bach, Mozart, Handle and Beethoven were ‘classical’ to me, whereas works of musicians like Guillaume Dufay or John Dowland inhabited a different category. The composer I’m talking about goes much further back than that, right to the end of the 12th Century.

It was a trip to the medieval Clink in SE1 which made me think about what kind of music was being written, played and sung at that same period in history, even better, with female vocals. Female vocals in music were not used an awful lot around that period, though it was the works of Hildegard von Bingen which really brought them to the fore. Hildegard’s work is generally written in plainsong, i.e. what a lot of us would call these days singing in ‘unison’. There is a large amount of polyphony sprinkled in as well, but for me it’s the use of the plainchant which makes the music something different. The meter is also fascinating to me since 900 years ago music was written in a wholly different way to how it is now. Non-existent are the simple, easily-mimickable structures of 4/4 timing, indeed at times it’s hard to pick out any rhythm at all: the music seems to be written more on particular flow and feel, relying heavily on strong leads. It is its own fluid entity, rather than being caged by the comparatively strict boundaries of the modern time signature.

I remember saying a while ago that listening to Hildegard’s music felt like being ‘cleansed’ and indeed this is the case. The more we become interested in exploring different types of music, the harder it becomes for anything to make a lasting impression on us. It was clear, after listening to a few canticles, that here was something very different indeed. Here was something woven from a woman’s own fascination, devotion and heart, and completely unaffected and uninfluenced by modern ‘values’. The values here were those of her pious devotion, but Hildegard’s understanding of her own music and faith stretched beyond that. A truly remarkable women for her own time and now, the early medieval feel of her music appears almost familiar to me, and I’m positively surprised that a classical composer has made such an impression, something which has never really happened to this extent before.

The common thread which links the two of these together [I’m sure Hildegard would be horrified at the thought of being linked to W.A.S.P.] lies in their commitment to their case. In spite of their wildly different approaches to music-writing, there is a similarity in their artistic fidelity. Many, many bands plead about how dedicated they are to their musical cause, but the proof is purely in the output – and the extent of it. Both have stayed firmly and unstrayably engaged to their cause, with a catalogue of quality works as testament, which shows that when you truly are the music you’re writing, when it really does come from inside you, it is unignorable to those listening. 2010 gave me a lot of interesting music to listen to, but none on such scope and scale as these two. This is the only similarity they share, and I’d hope that Hildegard, in her openmindedness, would on some level be able to understand that. Blackie, on the other hand… I dread to think.

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