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Is this where I came from? #13 Horror cinema and Death metal album covers

The relationship between horror cinema and death metal is a complicated one.The orthodox and not particularly critical way to approach this relationship is to resort to the so-called birth of heavy metal in the late 1960s. If Black Sabbath is the band that captured the imaginations of musicians, music journalists, and fans who co-created the genre we know as heavy metal, then it makes sense to argue that horror cinema is a cornerstone of the genre. Black Sabbath got its name from the Mario Bava classic horror anthology from 1963. Moreover, the band supposedly made the conscious decision to write songs that would constitute the equivalent of horror cinema in the music industry.

In line with this tradition, horror cinema has been an integral part of death metal lyrically, visually, and musically. Some of the seminal musical and lyrical death metal texts reference horror cinema directly. Possessed‘s influential debut Seven churches from 1985 kicks off with the song “The Exorcist“, incorporating both the title and theme tune of the groundbreaking horror film from 1973, albeit slightly altered presumably to avoid copyright issues. Another foundational death metal album, Death‘s debut Scream bloody gore (1987) includes the song “Evil dead“, whose title refers to the cult horror by Sam Raimi, and the intro melody is a cover of the theme tune of Zombi, the cult zombie-gory-horror film by Lucio Fulci. Deicide‘s debut (1990) also references Evil Dead in the song “Dead by dawn“. The homonymous song off Entombed‘s debut, Left hand path (1990), concludes with a version of the theme tune from Phantasm (Entombed has used dialogue samples from horror cinema in many other albums, including on Clandestine (1991), Wolverine blues (1993) and Morning star (2001)). It could be argued that horror cinema references were early on established as canonical for new occupants/creators of the death metal genre.

Many death metal bands have used the imagery of horror films in their album artworks. Cancer‘s awesome debut, To the gory end (1990), a cornerstone of British death metal, references the gory and influential sequel to Night of the living dead (1968), Dawn of the dead (1978), with its cover artwork which depicts the famous zombie with a machete slicing its head, making it one of the most identifiable death metal covers of all time.

Deceased‘s supercharged debut album, Luck of the corpse (1991), portrays on its cover the corpse of the medium from “The drop of water”, one of the tales from Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath (1963). The terrifying dead medium is one of the most nightmarish characters in the history of horror films, and in my opinion does not fit the intense death-thrash of the album. I would expect something much darker and claustrophobic from an album with this cover, something more akin to early Asphyx or early Benediction.

Six Feet Under‘s classic now debut from 1995 is full of references to murder and classic horror themes, such as zombies (“Torn to the bone”, “Still alive”) and werewolves (“Lycanthropy”). The cover of the album has been taken from the poster of the 1990 Gothic horror The haunting of Morella, a film loosely based on a story by Edgar Alan Poe. In spite of what I thought were silly performances, awkward sound and editing, and messy direction it is a wildly entertaining movie. The cover is a brilliant painting that fits the style of the album well; I truly feel haunted when I’m listening to it. Obviously, the title of the album, Haunted, also alludes to the film.

Death Breath was a breath of fresh stinking air in the early days of the somewhat mediocre resurgence of old-school Swedish death metal. What better way to celebrate Nicke Andersson’s return to death metal than to reference some old-school horror cinema! Death Breath’s self-titled EP and debut album from 2006 reference the classic Hammer horror The plague of the zombies (1966). The iconic zombie with the empty eyes and the grotesque snarl is to this day one of the most terrifying monsters in film, and stands in sharp contrast to the rest of the film, which is not particularly frightening in my opinion. By the way, if you haven’t seen the video that the band made for the homonymous song do yourselves a favour and watch it; pure Night of the living dead worship!

Revolting is another new “old school death metal” band par excellence. Accordingly in its debut titled Dreadful pleasures (2009) it references an old school horror film titled Monster, also known as Humanoids from the deep (1980). Revolting might not be of the order of old school death metal bands like Death, Deicide, Cancer, and Entombed, but Humanoids from the deep is a great movie that truly stands out. Alongside the usual horror tropes (stalking, people murdered one after the other, gore, nudity) this movie has great cinematography and an interesting plot. The artwork is pretty cool too.

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Is this where I came from? #12 Clive Barker and Dismember

The newest installment in this series of posts is about a band and an author I admire a lot. I have loved Dismember since my early teenage years in the mid 1990s, and Clive Barker is an author who I admired first as the writer/director of the first Hellraiser film, one of the absolute masterpieces of horror cinema, and then as a unique horror writer. The song “Hallucigenia” by Dismember was probably influenced by Barker’s book The great and secret show.

Clive Barker – The great and secret show (1989)

The great and secret show is the first part of an unfinished trilogy known as “the art”. In this fantasy/horror Barker weaves a complex story about the battle between two evolved beings (that once were human) over the space (i.e. Quiddity) between our world (i.e. Cosm) and the afterlife (i.e. Metacosm). One of the two beings is the Jaff (or, his human name, Jaffe), who is drunk with power and has evil intent, and the other one is Fletcher, who wants to protect Quiddity from the Jaff. The Jaff has the ability to extract from people their primal fears, materialised as monsters that he calls terata (the Greek word for monsters), and Fletcher has the ability to bring into existence people’s fantasies, what he calls hallucigenia. By raising Hallucigenia he forms his “army from the fantasy lives of the ordinary men and women he met as he pursued Jaffe across the country” (p.64). At some point in the story (after page 367) the fantasies of many of the residents of Palomo Grove, touched by Fletcher’s power, come into existence. Many of those fantasies are of sexual nature, leading many of the people isolating themselves in their homes reveling in sexual debauchery with their hallucigenia.

Dismember – Hallucigenia (1995)

Dismember’s “Hallucigenia” is a song composed by Richard Cabeza, and it is one of the most fantastic songs off Massive killing capacity, and a cornucopia of references. It kicks off with a brilliant, creepy Autopsy-like melody, leading to an up-beat Venom-sounding chord progression (I’m thinking “Countess Bathory”) that is repeated during the chorus, ending in a similar way to Kiss‘s “Black Diamond”. The song title and lyrical content refer back to Clive Barker‘s The great and secret show. After reading Barker’s book and realising the connection, and after listening to this album for 23 years, the lyrics suddenly made sense! The protagonist of the song is someone who apparently fantasised about sexual debaucheries with demons. Hallucigenia refers to these fantasies coming to life.

Lyrics: “On my throne of sin, I watch the demons feed, nails cut deep into my flesh, and release my pulsing blood. Serpents dance before my eyes, and tempt the lust inside, let me taste the pain, devour me, my wicked queen! Whip me with chains of sin, let your jaws open my skin, lips and tongues licking the wounds, in ecstasy I’ll rise. Whores of hell, demons appear to feast on my flesh, bleed with me, souls forever free. Taste the pain and the desire, like a drug it’s my need, bleeding bodies, endless orgies, in carnal blasphemy.”



Is this where I came from? #11 Ozzy Osbourne and Hearse

It has been a long time since the last installment of the “Is this where I came from” series of posts. In this post I will look at a riff created by Randy Rhoads during his brief, but significant, period with Ozzy Osbourne, and how it was interpreted by the Swedish death metal band Hearse. Rhoads’s riffing, and the way it was further developed by his successors, had a big impact on metal guitar playing. Especially his distinct style of fast strumming re-appears in several incarnations of metal guitar-playing, ranging from Rage (Manni’s riffs owe a lot to Rhoads) to Entombed (listen to the recent “The winner has lost“).

1. Ozzy Osbourne – S.A.T.O. (1981)

Ozzy’s second album, Diary of a madman (1981), is my favourite album from him, alongside The ultimate sin (1986). The song that instantly stood out for me when I first listened to it was “S.A.TO.”, still one of the best songs, with some of the most phenomenal and out-of-control guitar work ever recorded. This song is a true Randy Rhoads classic, and I consider him a God simply on the basis of his playing on this song. Now, as Ozzy fans know, it is really hard to find YouTube videos of original Ozzy Osbourne songs, so for the purposes of this post you can listen to the riff that Hearse drew on by a fan-made video. The riff in question starts at 0:34.

2. Hearse – Well of youth (2003)

Hearse is a relatively underground band fronted by Johan Liiva, formerly of Arch Enemy and Furbowl. Max Thornell, Liiva’s bandmate from Furbowl, is also part of Hearse. Their style is commonly referred to as melodic death metal or death-n-roll, but I think both definitions fall short of the range of Hearse, as their music has d-beat elements, traditional death elements, grind, bluesy riffs and guitar solos, psychedelic passages, and classic heavy metal melodies. Dominion reptilian (2003) is my favourite album from them. It is an album full of unique, inspired songs, and a simply phenomenal performance by Liiva. None of the other Hearse albums come close to the awesomeness of this one, although In these veins (2007) and Single ticket to paradise (2009) are also pretty good. The melody that starts at 0:20 and is repeated two more times throughout the song is very similar to the main riff of S.A.T.O.



Is this where I came from? #10 Dean Koontz and Autopsy

This series of posts has traditionally been about obscure examples of musical intertextuality across genres. I have so far discussed several examples of riffs, melodies and song structures traveling through time and space; from 1970s English Hard rock to 1990s Swedish Death metal (#5), from 1980s Irish Shoegaze to 1990s US Progressive metal (#3), from 1990s Welsh Alternative rock to 2000s German punk (#8), and others. In this, the 10th installment, I will do something slightly different. I will focus on song lyrics (as I have done in the past in a post on H.P. Lovecraft) and I will hypothesise that Autopsy got the idea for the song “Dead” from a section of Dean Koontz’s book The eyes of darkness.

dean_koontz-1Dean Koontz – The eyes of darkness (1981)

For a long time I considered Koontz a horror/mystery writer who was good, but by no means of the order of Clive Barker or even Stephen King. That opinion changed when I read the absolutely fascinating Phantoms (1983), a book whose plot is amazing, the different avenues that the plot follows and the crossroads on which these avenues meet is mind-blowing, and it is quite gruesome as well. The eyes of darkness is a book that was definitely enjoyable, but nowhere near as good as Phantoms. It is about a mother who tries to solve the mystery around her son’s death. I will not go into more detail because the plot is irrelevant to the aim of this post. What is relevant to this post is a description of the protagonist’s dead son on page 6:

“Torn and crushed in a bus accident with fourteen other little boys, just one victim of a larger tragedy. Battered beyond recognition. Dead.

Cold.

Decaying.

In a coffin.

Under the ground.

Forever.”

14c-autopsy-bandAutopsy – Dead (1991)

Mental funeral is an unprecedented masterpiece, and my all-time favourite Autopsy album. The song Dead is a strange song, in that its lyrics are just 10 words, morbidly narrated (and written) by Chris Reifert, on top of a gruesome riff. The melody preceding and then following the narration proved to be an extremely influential one in the death metal genre, with countless bands imitating it (you can hear the similarity on Entombed‘s “Somewhat peculiar“). The muddy composition, the singing style and the lyrics make it one of the most memorable and creepy songs in one of the most memorable and creepy albums of all time. The lyrics/theme are almost identical to the short text by Dean Koontz:

“Dead.

Stiff and cold.

In your box.

To decay.

Dead.”



Is this where I came from? #9 Running Wild and Unleashed

For the 9th installment of the “Is this where I came from?” series of posts I decided to revisit Unleashed, one of my all-time favourite death metal bands. In the first installment of this series of posts I demonstrated how Unleashed were influenced by Black Sabbath to compose one of their absolute masterpieces, namely “Shadows in the deep”. But, lets face it, who hasn’t been influenced by Black Sabbath? In this post I argue that Fredrik Folkare, Unleashed’s main composer since Hell’s unleashed (2002), was influenced by Running Wild, one of the pioneers of German heavy/power metal.

running-wild6Running Wild – Beggar’s night (1987)

Running Wild is a band I never got into, even though I was exposed to them during my formative heavy metal years – at the same time I fell in love with other power metal bands such as Rage, Helloween, Scanner, and Gamma Ray. My favourite album from them is probably Death or glory (1989), and I never really listen to any of their other albums. However, over the years I have come to appreciate the influence their heavy tremolo-picked riffs and epic attitude might have had on the emerging death metal scene of the late 1980s. “Beggar’s night” is a song off the Under jolly roger album released in 1987. The intro riff is patterned around slow tremolo picking. It starts with open string picking on the high E string. The two other notes that are being repeated throughout the riff-pattern are C and B on the 8th and 7th frets on the same string. Each one of the two sections of the riff has a slightly different ending. After the riff is played once, the power chords come in on top of it, following an E, G, A, G, F#, E progression, giving the song an epic feel.

unleashedwackenUnleashed – Winterland (2004)

Unleashed’s Sworn allegiance album starts majestically with this song written by Fredrik Folkare. The opening riff of this song, which re-appears on the chorus, is very impressive, and it is reminiscent of the opening riff of “Beggar’s night”. There are clear differences between the two riffs, but there are also some obvious similarities. Just like in the case of “Beggar’s night”, “Winterland” involves slow tremolo picking on an open string. In this case it starts with open string picking on the G string. The other two main notes in the first section of the riff-pattern are again on the 8th and 7th frets of the same string, in this case E flat and D. The chord progression played on top of this riff is G, A, A#, F#, A, A#, G, in a similar way as in “Beggar’s night”. When the drums come in, however, the same chord progression is played differently as the power chords give way to tremolo-picked individual notes, giving the backing riff a more “death metal feel”.



Is this where I came from? #8 Manic Street Preachers and Cross Stitched Eyes

In this the 8th installment in the “Is this where I came from?” series of posts I claim that a song by Manic Street Preachers, from an album that is considered to be a landmark in the history of alternative rock, influenced the contemporary crust/punk band Cross Stitched Eyes to write one of the stand-out tracks off their debut album.

manic street preachers - quartetManic Street Preachers – Ifwhiteamerica toldthetruth foroneday it’sworldwouldfallapart (1994)

This is the only album I have listened to from the Manics, as their devoted fans refer to them, and I can say that I do understand why someone can become obsessed with this band. First of all, judging by this album, this is a band that in spite of having enjoyed some widespread popularity (I distinctly remember being exposed to their music on popular music TV shows during the 1990s), it was not afraid to stray away from popular music conventions. Indeed, this album is chock full of musical ideas that can catch someone off guard. Each song requires from the listeners to be particularly attentive and active if they want to be part of the process of popular culture in which the band invites them. While listening to Nirvana or Smashing Pumpkins is undoubtedly a form of productive consumption, I would imagine that it is not as demanding as listening to the Manics. Based on my own musical background, I can relate to the Manics in different ways. This song starts with a jazzy riff that reminds of late 1980s Nomeansno. Shortly after that it moves on to a minimalist, dark, dissonant riff which repeats itself for several times and a beat that complements the dark vibe of the riff. The singer’s pitch, theatricality and use of vibrato are reminiscent of Jello Biafra. The song then goes through several other changes, including a happy bridge and chorus that anchor the song to more mainstream alternative rock music, before the band returns to the main dark and dissonant riff. This main riff is the one that influenced Cross Stitched Eyes. This album has definitely been influenced by Faith No More, and, in turn, has definitely influenced System Of A Down.

cseCross Stitched Eyes – End (2008)

I first listened to Cross Stitched Eyes back in 2008 when their debut album (Coranach) was released and I thought they were great. I didn’t think that they were particularly innovative, but it was obvious to me that they were music fans who had embodied their influences and craftily blended them in their own sound. These influences, I would imagine, include Amebix, The Cure, Motorhead, New Model Army,1980s crust music in general, and, as I suggest in this post, Manic Street Preachers. The song “End” which closes the album is one of the best songs in it and is driven by an awesome opening riff and drum beat, which are very similar to the arrangement around the main riff of “Ifwhiteamerica toldthetruth foroneday it’sworldwouldfallapart” (on the video that follows the song starts at 2:30).



Is this where I came from? #7 Motorhead and The Hellacopters

This series of posts is concerned with the intertextuality of popular music, or, in other words, the ways in which popular music composers borrow ideas from each other. While all music is recycled, especially in terms of the various compositional and stylistic conventions that impose their structure on creativity, there are instances where more distinctive ideas, such as a melody line or a riff, are being shared among creators that sometimes are ostensibly worlds apart. So far I have focused on slightly obscure cases of borrowing that takes place across genres, or subgenres, diachronicaly. In the present post, however, and with the sad occasion of Lemmy’s demise, I will present a more obvious case of intertextuality, namely how the Hellacopters, a heavy-rock band, was influenced by the riffs, groove and attitude of Motorhead, another heavy-rock band.

motorheadMotorhead – Die you bastard (1983)

Motorhead’s Another perfect day is an album that I loved from the very first time I listened to it. It is also an album that marked the first major line-up change in Motorhead’s career and apparently, from what I read on the internet, divided their audience. Indeed, some of the songs on it could be characterised as slightly melodic and “clean” compared to their previous albums. I personally never understood why anyone would be disappointed by this album, and I still consider it a masterpiece of high-octane heavy rock ‘n roll. The song “Die you bastard” closes the album and it is driven by an awesome bass riff, which is also the opening riff. The initial bass riff is played twice, then Philthy comes in with single strokes on the snare drum, indicating the tempo, while the lead guitar hits one note for every beat. As I demonstrate next, the resulting awesome arrangement put together beautifully by these English pioneers inspired the Hellacopters to compose one of their best songs.

hellacoptersHellacopters – A cross for Cain (2000)

“Cross for Cain” is an impressive song written by Nicke and Anders and originally published in the Toys and flavours EP. It can also be found in the Cream of the crap volume 2 (2004) collection. One might wonder why such a masterpiece did not make it in any of the proper studio albums and was instead released as a b-side on a single. I think that the reason behind this decision is that Nicke did not consider it original enough to be on a proper album, as it basically is a tribute to Motorhead. The opening riff does not resemble “Die you bastard” in any way, but the way the lead guitar and the snare drum come in is almost identical. Half-way through, right after the second chorus (at 1:17), the normal flow of the song is interrupted by an awesome riff which is almost identical to the main riff of “Die you bastard”. Still one of the best songs the Hellacopters ever wrote, and a big nod to Motorhead’s influence on them.