overground scene

Is this where I came from? #4 J.S.Bach and Dismember

In this, the fourth instalment of the “Is this where I came from?” series of posts I discuss the influence of classical music, J.S.Bach’s music in particular, on Dismember, a Swedish death metal band. David Blomqvist, the guitarist of Dismember, was inspired by Bach to compose one of the most beautiful songs in the history of popular music.

J.S.Bach – Komm, süßer Tod, komm selge Ruh (1736)

Johann_Sebastian_BachKomm, süßer Tod, komm selge Ruh translates into Come, sweet death, come, blessed rest and it is a powerful hymn about the anticipation of death and the arrival at the kingdom of heaven written by Bach for solo voice and basso continuo. Although I have loved Bach’s music since my early teens I only recently discovered this monumental piece. This is not surprising since Bach’s music to which I –  being a guitarist – have mostly been attracted is his Lute suites. Although I think that each person interprets works of art in slightly different ways, I would say that in this piece, the mood that Bach envisioned for someone who longs for death is one of absolute acceptance and resolve. This mood is also reflected in the text. The deeply religious text that accompanies this piece is, according to Wikipedia, attributed to an anonymous author:

Come, sweet death, come, blessed rest! Come lead me to peace for I am weary of the world, O come! I wait for you, come soon and lead me, close my eyes. Come, blessed rest! 

Come, sweet death, come blessed rest! It is better in heaven, for there is all pleasure greater, therefore I am at all times prepared to say “Farewell,”. I close my eyes. Come, blessed rest!

Come, sweet death, come blessed rest! O world, you torture chamber, oh! Stay with your lamentations in this world of sorrow, it is heaven that I desire, death shall bring me there. Come, blessed rest!

Come, sweet death, come blessed rest! Oh, that I were but already there among the hosts of angels, out of this black world into the blue, starry firmament, up to heaven. O blessed rest!

Come, sweet death, come blessed rest! I will now see Jesus and stand among the angels. It is henceforth completed, so, world, good night, my eyes are already closed. Come, blessed rest.

The video that follows is an adaptation of the piece for Organ by Virgil Fox. It is this specific rendition that resembles “Life another shape of sorrow”, the song written by Dismember.

Dismember – Life, another shape of sorrow (1995)

DismembermkcDismember has always been my favorite death metal band. Dismember’s style developed at the same time that Entombed’s career was taking off and, because of that, Dismember has many times been seen as the “poor person’s” Entombed. I have always objected to this somewhat popular perception of Dismember’s identity and contribution to popular extreme music. For starters, I do not think that Entombed created something radically new; I do not think that such a thing as radical innovation exists. Entombed defined the Swedish death metal scene to the extent that they were undoubtedly brilliant and got picked up by an up-and-coming extreme record label (Earache), facts that led to early recognition and placement in an influential position. However, at the same time, they developed their style in close proximity with dozens of other death metal bands that existed at the time. Entombed members were not only close friends with Dismember members but also lived and practiced in close proximity to each other. Thus, I think that their styles developed in tandem rather than separately. Moreover, Dismember was a band that always had unique elements in its sound that distinguished it from its peers. Even on the debut album, but in a more pronounced way on the sophomore album, there are melodic moments and harmonies that originated in classic rock/metal and classical music.

The song “Life, another shape of sorrow”, composed in its entirety by David Blomqvist, comes from Dismember’s third full length masterpiece (Massive killing capacity) and constitutes a prime example of Dismember’s distinctiveness. The brooding intro with the melancholic melody on top of a powerful minor chord progression very similar to Bach’s piece gives way to a section of more up-beat riff followed by redemptive harmonies in the vein of Iron Maiden. This section leads to an explosive tremolo-picking riff supported by a fast Slayer kick-snare beat. The lyrics, sung from the point of view of a person who longs for death, are sung on top of this frantic section which proposes a very different mood than the one crafted by Bach. Here, again, the desire to die is the result of vast pain and hopelessness. Dying is seen as the reasonable action in the context of a life of absolute suffering. However, while in Bach’s case the sufferer seems to be at peace with their desire to live no more, in the case of Dismember, the sufferer appears to be in agony. In the chorus, Matti Karki, the singer of Dismember, screams at the top of his lungs, “Come sweet death, let me sleep forever”. The fast tempo and soulful vocal delivery once more suggest that the person who desires to die is tormented and exhausted from living. The genius harmonised scale played on top of the words “let me sleep forever” adds extra emphasis on the experience of pain associated with living. A brief slower section momentarily interrupts the powerful emotion of hopelessness, perhaps in favour of some time to re-assess and maybe give life another chance, but quickly any hope for the value of living is discredited when the band goes back to the fast tremolo-picking section and a sorrowful guitar solo. The song closes with a repetition of the introductory section, this time played by the Organ, and a narrator saying the words, “Come, sweetest death. Come, blessed rest. And take my hand, and gently lead me on”.

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