Archives for posts with tag: heavy metal
obama-drowning-pool

Obama poses with Drowning Pool.

As technology has advanced the delivery of music from live performance to radio, tape, disc, and mp3, pop product has played an increasingly personal part for the typical soldier fighting America’s imperial wars. “Music has become a significant source of combat inspiration for American soldiers in Iraq,” argues composer Jonathan Pieslak, who cites interviews with military personnel in an essay he published in 2010, before the U.S. announced an ostensible end to that country’s occupation. “The relationship between music and soldier life seems more intimate in this war since new technology allows music to be a part of soldiers’ lives on and off the battlefield in unprecedented ways.”1

Unsurprisingly, the metal genre – with a tradition of war-themed lyrics dating from tracks like Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” and Iron Maiden’s “Aces High” – has proven to be a favorite among troops preparing themselves psychologically for the task of committing officially sanctioned mass murder. Pieslak points out that in the documentary Soundtrack to War, “multiple soldiers make the analogy that ‘war itself is heavy metal,’ and, in fact, the original version of Gittoes’ documentary was titled, War Is Heavy Metal.”2 Pieslak offers further gleanings from his series of interviews:

Almost all of the metal songs selected by soldiers as an inspiration for combat involve themes of chaos. A favorite album among soldiers is Slayer’s Reign in Blood (1986), which is often credited as being the seminal album of the death metal subgenre. Another popular band is Metallica; their song “One”, about a WWI soldier who survives a land mine explosion in which he loses his limbs, sight, hearing, and speech, was played frequently by [interviewee] Grisham during the initial invasion of Iraq. Drowning Pool’s “Bodies” is another popular song with its repeated refrain, “Let the bodies hit the floor.” In this case, however, the meaning of the lyrics has taken a different form from the original intent. Drowning Pool claim that the refrain refers to the audience “hitting the floor” of the “mosh pit” at a concert, not bodies falling to the ground from acts of violence. When these themes of chaos are combined with the notions of power inscribed in the metal sound, they provide a highly influential tool for soldiers as they prepare for combat.3

“While the power element of metal is manifest in a variety of ways within the music,” Pieslak explains, “it operates, not as a dominating force over the fan, but as an empowering agent.”4 “Music is a means of establishing the identity of the group,” he adds, “and supports the feeling of togetherness through a ritualized musical experience”5 – which is intriguing in view of the fact that more than one of the soldiers interviewed used “predator” as an adjective to describe their comrades’ musical preference6.

Interviewees describe rituals in which soldiers would gather prior to combat to listen to metal or rap together and chant or shout out the lines of a song as a group. “The tendency of soldiers to come together around music, and to sing or yell the lyrics together,” Pieslak suggests, “seems to have precedence in aspects of BCT [i.e., basic combat training].”7 Training regimes which require the men to collectively sing a set of responses to the prompts of a drill instructor develop camaraderie in the unit but also condition in them a repertoire of programmed behaviors and teach obedience to a superior’s will.

An abdication of the self and of humanity is acknowledged by more than one of the soldiers who spoke to Pieslak:

Grisham highlights the music’s power to […] make them capable of “inhuman” acts. In these instances, the music could be said to have a transformative power that removes the humanity element from human identity. Other soldiers said that metal and rap music had similar effects, to varying degrees, on their experiences as an inspiration for combat. Saunders believes that “War is people having to step outside of themselves. It is you having to become what I consider to be a monster.”8

It is also a possibility that metal, owing to the abrasive sonic palette reflected in the genre’s moniker, has contributed to a readiness on the part of men to find aesthetically pleasing elements in the bombastic cacophony of combat itself. A machine gunner, Specialist Colby Buzzell, told Pieslak that “the explosions and the machine guns, and the shooting that’s going on, that’s the music. It’s kind of like listening to Slayer, like that sort of shit. Listening to a two-forty fire off rounds, or a TOW [i.e., tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided] missile hit something, that’s music to your ears, kind of.”9 It comes to constitute, if readers will forgive the reference, a veritable “Symphony of Destruction”. Megadeth, however, it is worthwhile to remember, warned that “Just like the Pied Piper / led rats through the streets / We dance like marionettes” while “Acting like a robot” whose “metal brain corrodes”. Indeed, Drowning Pool’s album Sinner, from which the Iraq occupation forces’ favorite “Bodies” was lifted, was released by a record label called “Wind-Up” – referring, one assumes, to mechanical toys.

Rainer Chlodwig von K.

Endnotes

  1. Pieslak, Jonathan. “Music as an Inspiration for Combat among American Soldiers in Iraq”, in George Kassimeris and John Buckley, Eds. The Ashgate Research Companion to Modern Warfare. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2010, p. 386.
  2. Ibid., p. 390.
  3. Ibid., p. 395.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid., p. 392.
  6. Ibid., pp. 389-390.
  7. Ibid., p. 393.
  8. Ibid., p. 396.
  9. Ibid., p. 394.
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Deathgasm

High school heavy metal outcast Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) has little going for him until he meets fellow metalhead Zakk (James Blake) in a record store. Along with a couple of hopeless nerds, they paint their faces a-la-KISS and form the ominously named band Deathgasm. The group would seem to be doomed to obscurity until Brodie discovers an ancient satanic manuscript and turns it into one of Deathgasm’s songs – the resulting dirge unleashing demonic forces that turn the people of their sleepy New Zealand town into rabid zombies. It then falls to Brodie, love interest Medina (Kimberley Crossman), Zakk, and the rest of the gang to rid the planet of the impending ultra-bogusness.

A New Zealander film, Deathgasm follows in the tradition of Peter Jackson’s early splatterfests Bad Taste (1987) and Dead Alive (1992), and might also appeal to those who fondly remember such metal-themed horror outings of the eighties as Hard Rock Zombies (1985), Trick or Treat (1986), and The Gate (1987). Gorehounds and aficionados of things gross should definitely come away from this feast satisfied, with Deathgasm’s veritable buffet for the depraved boasting mass blood-vomiting, forcible earring removal, dildo violence, blood-shitting, urine-squirting, decapitation, sodomy with a chainsaw, and a demonic zombie’s penis getting weed-whacked off.

4 out of 5 flaming pentagrams. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that this “brutal as fuck” Kiwi film experience is:

Fucking Andrea Dworkin A Wyatt Mann9. Anti-Semitic! During band practice, Zakk wears a t-shirt bearing a caricature of Jewish feminist Andrea Dworkin created by the infamous Nick Bougas, aka A. Wyatt Mann.

8. Pro-gay. Medina, on hearing her first blast of metal, envisions herself as a warrior goddess with fawning lesbian slaves at her feet.

7. Anti-bully. Medina is turned off by her boyfriend’s bullying of Brodie. The film even treats Brodie’s coldblooded murder of this character as a moment of comedy.

6. Feminist/pro-slut. Boringly, once the supernatural splat hits the fan, Medina (of course) transforms into an ax-wielding, zombie-butchering metal chick. “I was thinking about getting a tattoo,” she says, because “It would drive my dad crazy.” She then displays to Brodie the spot on her chest she would like to disfigure.

5. Pro-drug. Brodie gets high with Zakk, who is also shown drinking and driving with no adverse outcomes. It is noted that Brodie’s mother was institutionalized after going nuts and debasing herself under the influence of meth, but this information is presented with irreverence rather than caution.

4. Anti-family. None of the characters like their parents. Zakk’s father even has to be killed after he turns into a zombie. In addition to its subversive treatment of conventional domesticity, Deathgasm also features a dashboard trinket in the shape of a baby smoking a cigarette – antinatalist imagery celebrating death, corruption, and nihilism.

3. Anti-Christian. “Hell is awesome,” the viewer learns. Brodie’s churchgoing aunt and uncle, described as “balls deep into Jesus”, are revealed to be hypocrites when anal beads and dildos are discovered in their bedroom. “Older Christian people maybe should steer clear,” star Milo Cawthorne says in an interview included on the DVD.

2. Conformist. Getting across the stupidity of “conspiracy theories” and those who espouse alternative interpretations of history and current events, the unsophisticated Zakk attributes his neighbors’ strange behavior to “the Illuminati pourin’ fuckin’ fluoride in the water or something.”

1. Superficially anarchist. Though stupidly consumerist in their obsessions, Zakk and Brodie steal the things they want – even stooping so low as to siphon fuel from an ambulance.

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

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Human Highway

Human Highway (1982) ****

Co-scripted and directed by eccentric rocker Neil Young (using the pseudonym Bernard Shakey), Human Highway is the weirdo sort of movie destined from its inception to become an item of cult interest. Young stars as lamebrained mechanic Lionel, who dreams of rock stardom while making a mess of his duties at Dean Stockwell’s roadside gas station and diner, where coworkers include Sally Kirkland, Russ Tamblyn, and Dennis Hopper. The diner is situated near a nuclear power plant where the boys from Devo work and are exposed to so much radiation that they actually glow with red light. Stockwell, who has inherited the diner from his father and finds it in financial disarray, gets the idea to torch his unprofitable business and be rid of it; but will he be able to hatch his plot before toxic waste, radiation poisoning, or a full-blown nuclear holocaust throws a monkey wrench into his plans?

More of a gratuitously bizarre curiosity than a genuinely admirable film, Human Highway remains a valuable document of the prevailing new wave musical sensibility of the day as applied to cinema, and also conveys the anxieties of the eighties about the possibility of nuclear holocaust and the threat to man and the environment posed by toxic waste. This black comedy’s script, unfortunately, too often aims for the random and leaves most of the ideas and characters underdeveloped, while the production values are on the order of a typical episode of Pee-wee’s Playhouse – which, depending upon the viewer’s individual taste, could be a blessing or a curse. The film really starts to fall apart from a narrative standpoint during the second half, with (for some reason) a montage of Native Americans dancing around a bonfire of wooden Indians and Lionel dreaming after being knocked unconscious of rock-and-roll stardom and excess, and letting a groupie suck milk off of him with a straw. The high point of Human Highway is an extended bout of down-and-dirty, feedback-fried riffing and jamming between Neil Young and Devo, with the team totally freaking out and looking like a bunch of psychos.

4 out of 5 glass parking lots.

Incident at Channel Q

Incident at Channel Q (1986) *****

Al Corley headlines this trash heap treasure as Rick Van Ryan, a smug, sarcastic, rebel-rousing VJ at regional television station Q 23. The teenagers love him, but stick-in-the-mud suburbanite parents and Christian conservatives are all in a tizzy and picketing Rick’s unwholesome influence, demanding that his program, Heavy Metal Heaven, be taken off the air in order to save young people’s souls. Corporate sponsors are getting nervous, the old guard at Q 23 hates his guts, and the Tipper Gore ticket is getting unruly, with two right-wing brutes ambushing Rick in an alley and beating him up, after which the young radical moves to bring the cultural crisis to a head, barricading himself inside the TV station and calling on his followers to lend him support. 

What passes for a story line in Incident at Channel Q is primarily a pretext for exhibiting a series of then-recent music videos in their entirety, these videos – ranging from Rush to Rainbow, KISS, Iron Maiden, and all points in between – taking up half or more of the movie and simulating the experience of watching 80 minutes or so of MTV on a typical day in the 1980s. The music, for the most part, is fantastic stuff for 80s rock buffs, with a trio of videos – Lita Ford’s “Gotta Let Go”, the Scorpions’ “Rock You Like a Hurricane”, and Motley Crue’s vicious “Looks That Kill”  – constituting some of the greatest, most outlandishly photogenic material ever committed to film. Poofy hair, horror lighting, whore makeup, chintzy sets, studded leather wristbands, tight pants, and other depravity abound, with KISS’s “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose” being another fun and action-packed video, while others – Rush’s “Body Electric” and Deep Purple’s “Knocking at Your Back Door” – showcase the post-apocalyptic imagery that was popular in those years.

5 pentagrams for the rock and the morally righteous camp value. VHS copies of Incident at Channel Q are inexpensive, so readers who see one languishing on a used bookstore shelf or in a moldy box in a basement are advised to redeem it or suffer the vengeful disfavor of Satan. 

 

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The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988) *****  Heavy metal and film are a natural match, integral as visual self-definition and showmanship are to the various musical styles and ways of life that fall under that broad banner.  In 1987 and 1988, filmmaker Penelope Spheeris was granted priceless access both to the towering figures and to the nameless nobodies, musicians and fans alike, who constituted the heavy metal subculture at its crest, resulting in one of the greatest music documentaries ever made.

Interweaving performance with interviews and footage of fans, The Metal Years is not only a treasure trove of source material, but a triumph of creative, witty, and meaningfully critical editing.  Interviewees range from titans like Ozzy and Steven Tyler to would-be stars and shabby groupies in varying degrees of candidness and spontaneity.  Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons are epigrammatic and more or less in character for the camera, while Bret Michaels and others are disarmingly chatty and almost come across as dweebs.  Others, particularly the members of Odin, merely come across as pitiably self-absorbed, delusional, mediocre, and doomed.  Also featured are peripheral figures like a sleazy old dance contest promoter and a judgmental “de-metaling” activist worried about the music’s insensitive attitude toward women.

Spheeris poses a number of interesting questions, both overtly and by implication over the course of the film.  For instance, what thought processes and meanings inform the songs?  Does rock godhood cause alcoholism?  Are rockers patronized by groupies afraid of catching AIDS?  Is rock the natural emanation of overpowering manhood, or are all of these guys just insecure?  Are they irritated or gratified when others take their ideas?  Is heavy metal as a profession a wise or even remotely plausible aspiration for all of the self-confident unknowns?  Are any of these people sane or healthy individuals?

On the latter score and with regard to alcoholism, Chris Holmes of W.A.S.P. provides a fascinating case in point as Spheeris finds him lounging in his pool and drowning himself in liquor in front of his reticent mother.  Holmes at different points claims to be both happy and sad and calls himself “a piece of crap”.  Which is the truth?  Is Holmes putting on an act for the camera or is he really a tortured wreck?  Either way, his segment is one of the most memorable, and there’s something compellingly revolting or heroically abrasive about a man who calls himself a “motherfucker” in the presence of his own mother.

The tension between reality and rock phantasmagoria is sustained throughout The Metal Years.  How much of the story is theatre and how much is really lived – or do such distinctions exist for these people?  Almost omnipresent and acting as a theme or a character in The Metal Years is the smoke that filters the light in the bars, arenas, and dim rooms where these characters live their dreams and nightmares.  Is it stage fog, all just part of the show, or is everybody from Odin on up living in an illusory fug of their own unsavory exhalations?  Part of the joy of The Metal Years is its willingness to allow the viewer to draw for himself the necessary conclusions.

You know when a film begins with a busload of strangers joining in a corny rendition of “Sister Christian” that you’re in for a high-camp moviegoing experience, and Rock of Ages certainly doesn’t disappoint in that department.  The tale of an innocent Tulsa bimbo who casts caution to the wind to try to become a singing sensation in picturesquely sleazy L.A., Rock of Ages is definitely true to the 80s at least in its willingness to plunge into the over-the-top outbursts of feeling at any moment, and is never ashamed of being what it is: essentially a feature-length narrative music video version of a Broadway musical and a love letter to the long-gone but not forgotten hard rock and power ballads of the time.

Full of energetic visual orchestration in scenes lit with wonderfully period-faithful pinks and blues, it achieves a greater emotional impact by setting itself in the late 80s, when hard hair rock was still at the top but about to go into eclipse as the 90s loomed, like a snapshot of a great civilization on the verge of collapse.  What sounds on paper like an utter waste of celluloid – and I’ll confess to having gone into this one expecting a shamelessly cutesy mercenary rock wreck – actually ends up being flawless and instantly classic.  The songs, with obvious affection, have been selected and utilized thoughtfully, contributing integrally to the storytelling and character development.  Visually as well as sonically sharp, Rock of Ages is fine-tuned cinema, so that the unsung stars of Rock of Ages are the choreography, art direction, and especially the editing, which weaves the meaningful singing, dancing, and involving melodrama into a beat-perfect winner.

The emotional centerpiece of the film may be Tom Cruise and Malin Akerman’s duet rendition of “I Want to Know What Love Is”, which manages not only to be rousing musical moment, but also a genuinely touching, sexy, and humorous lovemaking scene.  Watch it and you, too, may find yourself wanting to know what love is.  Verging on absolute crudity but simultaneously heart-stabbingly sweet, this is romance as it ought to be filmed: creatively, dangerously, and with a true sense of supernatural abandon and harmonious wonder.

So much is right with Rock of Ages that I’m willing to forgive and even embrace its various eccentricities.  For one thing, the cast down to the last man is made up of people I never would have imagined I wanted to see in a tribute to 80s rock.  A special “What Am I Doing in This Movie?” Award goes to Mary J. Blige, who  nonetheless lends vocal heft and an air of experience in her role as the manager of a strip club where Julianne Hough lands a gig.  Cruise, at least, is an iconic 80s actor, and thus would seem to be only vaguely relevant to the material; but the casting of Cruise turns out to have been the perfect choice as he channels just the right mix of cocky success and sexiness gone to seed with untapped human depth, so that his performance ends up being one of the film’s major endearments.

Catherine Zeta-Jones and Paul Giamatti offer high-caliber ham antagonism of the Tipper Gore sanctimoniousness and soulless corporate parasite varieties, respectively, with Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston rounding out the villainy as L.A.’s crooked mayor determined to kill the strip at the bidding of his prudish wife.  Fresh-faced Diego Boneta, meanwhile, is cute and compelling as a bar band  singer longing for rock godhood as “Wolfgang von Colt”.  Julianne Hough’s singing may be slightly too faux-soulful and Britney-bratty to be exactly faithful to the 80s, but she’s touchingly sweet and plays a naive Oklahoma girl convincingly.

Harmless but also anachronistic and not really relevant to 80s rock as its fans would probably prefer to remember it is the wholly superfluous gay romance at the movie’s margin, inserted for nothing but cheap chuckles and propaganda apparently.  If you ever wanted to see an adorably slovenly, in-need-of-a-shave Alec Baldwin kiss a man, though, Rock of Ages is definitely your fix, with adorable Russell Brand being the lucky guy in this case.  (Oddly enough, Rock of Ages isn’t Baldwin’s first man-man mouth action, since he did the same, albeit with different motivation, in 1992’s Prelude to a Kiss.)

More dark and satanic content in this film, along the lines of Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny, would have been nice, but since Rock of Ages is primarily a film about love and rock’s redemptive power, it might have been a distraction. I also would like to have seen even more and bigger big hair on the women, but that is a somewhat minor complaint.  I’ve watched Rock of Ages eight times so far and I always discover something new.  An enthusiastic 5 stars.  See it and remember: don’t stop believing!

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Rock of Ages is:

6. Drug-ambivalent

5. Proudly gay

4. Anti-state

3. Anti-Christian

2. Pro-liberty

1. Pro-rock (though the argument could be made that, by transforming heavy metal into a song-and-dance show, the film has actually neutered rock by (almost) rendering it safe for the family).

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