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”.

Dismember – in memoriam

Dismember has been my all time favorite band since the mid 90s. I discovered death metal through the sounds of Dismember and other great Swedish bands such as Unleashed, At the gates and Grave. The  first record I heard was the back then newly released Massive Killing Capacity. The impact of this album is probably much bigger than I can perceive. I remember getting a  guitar on my hands in order to learn to play the opening riff of “Collection by blood”. It further increased my already significant obsession with learning as much trivia as possible about bands. Categories started forming in my head about each individual member’s composing style. Within a few years and when a new album was coming out I could tell with certainty who had writen which song without even looking at the inner sleeve or booklet.

I passionately defended Dismember among my peers when I was hearing criticisms such as that they sounded like Entombed. I hated reviewers in music zines because they would come up with ridiculous reasons to compare them to Entombed. I remember asking the late Nikos Tagalos (of Sadistic Noise ) in the old Rock City (also RIP) whether Pieces was any good:

Tagalos: “what have you heard of them?”

Me: “Like an ever flowing and Massive killing”

Tagalos: “more brutal than both of them”.

One day in the summer of 1997 I spent all day in Metal Era with Jim (ex-Rotting Christ bass player) and his friends while waiting for the very first vinyl copies of Death Metal to arrive. I remember the day I listened to the promo-cd of Hate Campaign and I run home to tell my friends about it. The freezing day I streamed the song “where ironcrosses grow” before the release of the album (it was Sunday and it had snowed).

I got to see Dismember live in the summer of 2005, with a ticket my friend Joan gave me as a present for my birthday. I had the honour of meeting Matti, David and Fred on that day. I was super excited for meeting my heroes, them for seeing a fan with a Dismember tattoo on his arm. The concert was like a dream that came true. They even played Reborn in Blasphemy!

After the departure of Fred, I knew that the future of the band would be uncertain. Fred was the motivator, an important composer and the producer. Of course, one of the things I always liked about and respected Dismember for, was that it was not an one-man band. Every album was a collective effort. And before Fred left, I was equally bummed out about the departures of Robert and Rickard, both of whom are amazing composers.

Then I saw the band again in 2007 in Thessaloniki during a one-day trip.  I ended up spending the night sleeping at the entrance of a building because I spent all my money on records. The show was again amazing and I got to meet Tobias and again Matti and David. I also saw David around 12 o clock at night wandering around the streets of Thessaloniki looking for his hotel. I explained to him that he was going the wrong way and suggested he should get a taxi. He asked me how much it would cost because he was worried that the taxi driver would rip him off, and he had a point…

Dismember seemed to me like a band which had a very laid back work ethic, which is something I respect greatly. It was also a very humble band and having met them I can say that they were not taking themselves very seriously and their primary goal was to have fun and play music they enjoyed. They survived a period very difficult for extreme music (mid- to late-90s) and they did so with dignity. Ok they got a bit more melodic as time went by… but one can see those melodic elements even in their early works. They had always been more into melody than their contemporaries.

In a period of 20 years they offered the world some of the most beautiful music ever created, some phenomenal lyrics and some of the most powerful and extreme executions. They certainly co-defined what swedish death metal means. They consistently released flawless albums, a feat that only a handful of bands have managed to pull off. A week ago they anounced that they will call it quits. This post is an opportunity for me to thank them for being such an inspiring part of my childhood and adult life.

The greatest guitar solos to air-guitar to

Having just watched the amazing French movie “The first day of your life” I feel many different things among which is to write a post about guitar solos. I never really cared much about guitar solos. I have always been more interested in compositions, melodies and riffs rather than leads. However, there have always been certain guitar solos that brought me to my knees and albums where the absence of good solos bothered me. But as long as the music was of superior quality I didn’t really mind. For example, while I loved the early Gamma Ray (first four albums) I always thought that their solos were horrible. But when they got that new guitar player (around 1997) who could play solos I stopped finding the compositions interesting, so good solos didn’t really save the situation. Anyway, there is no such thing as “the greatest guitar solo of all times” but I can try to think of solos that have marked my soul. Of course, there are different types of solos, like the kind that are more improvised and instinctive and those that are more thought-through and structured, fast solos and slow solos, etc. My heroes in the first category are without a shadow of a doubt Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath), Dave Murray (Iron Maiden) and Criss Oliva (Savatage) and in the second one Andre Olbrich (Blind Guardian) and Greg Mackintosh (Paradise Lost). Now to quote Sir Daniel Fortesque “get on with it!”

1. Tommy – Sometimes they come back (Album “Above the light”) at 4:42-5:53

I first heard Sadist’s first album circa 1997. It was on a cassette tape I had borrowed from a friend. “Above the light” was on side A and “Symbolic” by Death on side B. For the first couple of months that I had that tape, I believe that I was listening to the Sadist side 3-4 times per day. I remember going to school and listening to Sadist and having my finger on the rewind button for every time a solo was on. While listening to this particular song and this particular solo I used to get goosebamps. More accurately, I felt like all the blood was drained out of my body or that my soul was leaving my body. At times I felt my knees getting weak, which is what you’d expect from someone whose blood had just left their body :). A very classic minor heavy metal solo but very imaginately developed and amazingly played with feeling. I am aware that on the final part of the solo, the extra keys which accompany add to the magnificent atmosphere, but I don’t think this is against the rules.

2. Tony Iommi – Neon Knights (Album “Heaven and Hell”) at 1:59-2:44

Tony Iommi may be the master of riffs, some of which have basicaly constituted the foundations upon which british and swedish death metal were built, but is also the master of soloing. His soloing abilities are more prominent in the post-Ozzy Black Sabbath, especially in the albums he did with Dio. The feeling present in Iommi’s solos is something I personally never found in another metal band. The reason for this is, I think, that after a certain point the Malmsteen style of playing dominated the metal world. Most of Iommi’s solos are phenomenal but there is something about this solo that I cannot get over. The conversation from 2:07 until 2:22 is just phenomenal.

3. Andre Olbrich – Imaginations from the other side (Album “Imaginations from the other side”) at 4:39-5:15

Andre Olbrich is a god and Blind Guardian are probably the best metal band of the 90s (along with Rage). All of his solos are thought-through and could stand on their own. His solos are not simply scales but have complex rythms and patterns, which usually bring them closer to being melodies and integral parts of the songs’ structure. This specific solo is a representative example of his art, although most solos on this album and the rest BG albums are equally amazing and inspired.

4. Anders Bjorler – Cold (Album “Slaughter of the soul”) at 1:55-2:16

The first three At the Gates albums are among the most challenging and unique albums of contemporary music. Slaughter of the soul is briliant but in a much more conventional and mainstream way. Here song structures are simple and straightforward with clean solos and everything. One of the solos that have always made my skin crawl is this one. Clean guitars firstly calm the listener and subsequently build up, slowly preparing the listener for a downpour of intense emotions reflected in the soulfull first notes of the solo. The seven distorted notes on 2:00 take the solo to a whole new level…

5. Greg Mackintosh – Forever Failure (Album “Draconian Times”) at 3:28-4:36

One of the best songs ever writen in the history of the universe. Every single moment of this song overflows with beauty and inspiration. The solo right after the sample is the icing on the (melancholic) cake. I don’t think I can describe why this solo is so good. Find out for yourselves.

6. David Blomqvist – Dreaming in Red (Album “Indecent and Obscene”) at 0:51-1:28

That’s how Dave Murray of Iron Maiden would have sounded if he was sad and had downtuned his guitar. Another example of art that leaves me speechless. Great ideas and execution. David achieved the perfect tone on this album. I don’t think I ‘ve ever heard a better sound on a guitar solo. His entire work is monumental but I think this one stands out as a cult moment.

7. Criss Oliva –Hounds (Album “Gutter Ballet”) at 2:45-3:45

Criss is a solos-master and on this haunting song his genius shines through. He sounds like Randy Rhoads on cocaine. Abbrassive, emotional and sophisticated, all in one.

8. Tony Iommi – Falling off the edge of the world (Album “mob rules”) at 3:33-4:06

A song that I could not leave out of this list. Sheer power and intensity in a solo that can bring on the Amaggedon. Every time I listen to this solo I want to jump out of my body. When you think that there’s nowhere else he can go he keeps going! And the way he packs everything up in the end is just ridiculous!

9. Dan Rock and Brian McAlpin – Into the everflow (Album “Into the everflow”) at 6:20-7:47

What happens when you put together Black Sabbath with Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull? This song! The solo is just phenomenal, there are so many things going on, so many dimensions that there are really no words to describe…

10. Deniz Tek – Descend into the Maelstrom (Album “Radios Appear”) Entire song

Deniz Tek is god and motivation for people to grab a guitar and learn to play it.

11. Al Pitreli –This is the time (Album “Dead winter dead”) Entire song

The entire album is a treasure of solos. Al pitreli definitely steped in and did justice to the legacy of Criss Oliva. Extremely emotive album and Al is one of the major reasons why.

12. Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman – Psychopathy Red (Album “World Painted blood”) at 1:17-1:53

I would never expect a band like Slayer to be in a list like this one. But their incredible last album has a  little something for everyone. When it comes to solos, you either love or hate Slayer. If you are unable to understand that they are not interested in producing proper solos, or that their approach to soloing is exactly what fits their music then you haven’t figured what Slayer are about. Anyway, this specific solo is genius. The part where Kerry leaves it for Jeff to pick it up at 1:33 is hallucinogenic! And the crazy stuff Jeff is doing around 1:47 are just awesome!

13. Dave Murray and Dennis Straton (Adrian Smith on video)-Phantom of the opera (Album “Iron Maiden”) Entire song

Dave Murray is an institution, with a unique style and unbelievable feel when he is playing and when he is composing. Probably the sweetest sound I’ve ever heard. Now this song is without a doubt monumental. But every single time in his career that Murray goes down that neck, my skin crawls.

14. Chuck Schuldiner-1000 Eyes (Album “Symbolic”) 2:14-2:39

A masterpiece of an album filled with excellent, inventive and emotional solos. The specific solo however is one of my all time favorites. It comes in after a series of rhetoric questions and tragic realisations to seal the tragedy. A trully amazing phrase that sticks with you and resounds the final line; “we are enslaved now”.

15. Marty Friedman and Dave Mustaine-Hangar 18 (Album “Rust in Peace”) at 3:50-5:07

Such a classic song with such an amazing riff which conciliates punk attitude, eeriness and kindness. The solos throughout the song are amazing. Marty provides sophisticated ideas with arpegios and so on and Dave provides chaos. The interplay of solos after 3:50 is just insane. Perfect to air-guitar to!