orlandooomdotcom


It’s Almost the 50th Anniversary of Beatlemania: Metalheads, Be Wary of Posers! by orlandooom407

When I was purchasing my tickets for the upcoming Kvelertak concert on the respective online box office for the tour, I found myself slightly amused to discover that, along with Converge, the Norwegian howlers had been labeled simply “hard rock/metal”, defining them in the effective subgenre shared by both Nickelback and Nirvana. But the brief thought also conjured up another name, on the occasion of its first single’s golden jubilee this month, from which a band being in that category places it only just two degrees of separation away. There is rather a significant overlap between consumers of “hard rock/metal” and fans of the Fab Four, and even those who find the Beatles too mawkish, meager, or otherwise lightweight – for a palette, anyway, that has currently expanded to include the exalted flavors of deathgrind, blackened troll metal, and powerviolence, which is apparently a type of music, now – must concede at least a primordial debt owed to them. We have, in any event, been entreated to the idea whether asked for or not.

The more mediocre commentators have always invariably pointed to “Helter Skelter” as the grandfather of metal (“I’ve got blisters on my fingers!”) but an imaginative sort can usually cite less obvious tracks, like the handful I recently saw nominated for this distinction by the author of a Top-100 list in Rolling Stone. “Ticket to Ride” seemed to be the most unexpected choice, and after a repeated listen, one may start to imagine something not completely dissimilar to Black Sabbath. The songs “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide But Me and My Monkey”, “Birthday”, and “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” have also popped up in similar compendia, purporting to discover that missing link.

This is serious musical genealogy, but it’s being offered to you by fabulists. The familiar framework of the Beatles catalogue is precisely why “Helter Skelter” and “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” are as jarring as they are. The metal connection is piecemeal and elemental, owing to the fair-mindedness of John and Paul in inventing or popularizing the use of fuzz effects and rollicking solos. I would like to now suggest the possibility that the indiscernable bridge is a consequence of something approaching impotency. After all, Slayer’s encomium to Holocaust terror has been available for the entertainment of would-be mass killers for three decades, but the White Album inspired racist violence almost immediately. The kind of metal being said to have its roots in Beatlemania has had comparably little success in putting actions to its words at all.  The Beatles attracted more international scorn for claiming to be bigger than Jesus than did the early scene arsonists when they upped that ante at the stave churches in Skjold and Fantoft. But structurally, semantically, and aurally, the case simply cannot be made.

(Not unrelated but somehow more excruciating are those same critics who are still insisting that “Black Metal” should be credited with inspiring the music that bears its name just because Varg Vikernes got caught wearing a Venom tee shirt on his way to prison. Has anyone who makes this claim actually listened to the eponymous album? It is no more likely to have spawned Darkthrone and Gorgoroth than Iron Maiden. Remember, black metal was not even called that until death metal became too trendy a wagon to hitch on to, and now we are asked to believe that a band as bovine and effete as one that would write “possessed by the soul of the gods’ rock-and-roll” in its most famous song inspired our most benighted exemplar of nihilism in music?)

But I have made no secret of my partisan leanings and have had to catch myself in loosely insisting that a black metal element necessarily improves a track. And if we can believe that the Beatles at least inspired the music that inspired the punk that inspired the thrash that inspired the black metal, then let us be clear about what that means. The road from Lennon to, at least, Schuldiner is built on the latter’s unique attentiveness to riffage and picking, and paved with magnitudinal shifts in chord structure and percussion, but black metal managed to evolve divergently and in spite of the trends of either artist. The Beatles, for all their innovations and achievements, remain a manufactured product of capitalist industry, while black metal that is not an expression of working class angst can scarcely be graded pure at all. Your humble servant hastens to inform you that even a musician as prolific and illustrious as Jan Axel “Hellhammer” Blomberg was compelled to take a night watchmen’s job just to make rent. The latter-day Beatles came to be defined in opposition to the promiscuous conceit of the Johnson doctrine in Vietnam and within the overall movement toward civil rights and equality, but black metal has only recently developed a stomach for social consciousness that isn’t retrograde and nationalist.

And yet … “Let It Be”, for all its cloying sentiment, really does appear to contain a downtempo precursor to the Discharge-beat. And there is that riff, just buzzing enough, in the chorus of “Come Together” that one can imagine extended, through eight or sixteen more bars, and ruminatively re-expressed over a blast beat and a ghoulish shriek, that, maybe, streamed through a tinny amp and recorded in a basement, hints at the possibilities of black metal. But don’t expect any peace and love in the forests of poverty and decay.

Click here to follow Zack on Twitter!

– Zack Sigel

Advertisements