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Far Beyond Metal #3 -- King Diamond, Probot

By Chris Hawkins, Contributor
Sunday, February 8, 2004 @ 10:18 PM


This Edition of Far Beyond Met

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2003 has come and gone. Perhaps the strongest year for extreme music in quite some time with twin releases from Devin Townsend, a new Black Label Society disc, and a new Lamb of God release, the year caught a metallic momentum that I hope will not die anytime soon. No one needs to worry if this debut release, one of the most anticipated albums for quite some time, is any sign:

*** Probot ***

Probot is the name given by Dave Grohl for his latest musical endeavor, one in which he wrote the entirety of the music and performed almost all of the instruments alone. Before going any further, let it be known that if you, the reader, are a bit skeptical at first, it’s understandable. I’m a very open-minded music fan, but was never a big fan of Nirvana or the Foo Fighters. That being said, I did not come into this article with the lofty “rock journalist” approach that is undoubtedly espoused in some of the other publications. I, like you, popped this disc in as a Metal fan.

From first listen, one can tell that is exactly how Grohl approached the situation as well. It seems Dave is a Metal fan just like us. The cool thing about this album is that each song features a different vocalist, all of whom were Dave Grohl’s Metal heroes in his formative years. The first three tracks alone practically sealed the deal for me. First off is “Centuries of Sin” featuring Cronos of Venom. The track blazes at a high Thrash pace with an old school vibe making it impossible not to drive fast and crank it. I really didn’t know this drummer could smoke as such, but I was definitely impressed. Cronos’ vocals topped the whole track off, with his raspy, demonic swoon. “Red War,” the second track, kept the momentum going, and managed to kick it into high gear. The track reminded me of a b-side of Sepultura’s Chaos AD album, with Max Cavalera sounding better than he has in quite some time. Many fans would be hard-pressed to believe the track wasn’t old Sepultura. Enough said! Taking things back to the classic approach is “Snake Bite Love” featuring Lemmy. It’s an extremely catchy track, featuring the Punk/Hard Rock styling to be expected from the living legend.

“My Tortured Soul” is perhaps my favorite track of the album. I suppose the ‘70s Doom groove that it hits so perfectly was hard not to be addicted to. This album has seriously and steadily been played for the last month solid, much to the credit of this track with Eric Wagner, of Trouble fame, on guest vocals. The production is just laid-back enough to allow the dirty acid guitar tones and spacey Sabbath/Pentagram-influences to really shine. Wagner’s trippy vocals enhance the experience, as does the next King-of-all-Evil singer on the album’s final track. For “Sweet Dream” (not the Eurythmics tune), Dave brings in the unholy King Diamond. This tune as well has the Sabbath vibe, which is made even darker and more menacing by the King’s skill. Imagine if… never mind. The King exercises his full range, from soaring melodies to trademark piercing screams.

It’s hard to say that Probot could have been done any better. The album continues on with one of the best selections of musical guests to be seen: Mike Dean (COC), Kurt Brecht (DRI), Lee Dorrian (Cathedral), Wino (The Obsessed, St. Vitus, Spirit Caravan, etc.), Tom G. Warrior (Celtic Frost), and Snake (Voivod). I could dissect each and every one of these tracks, but I don’t want to ruin it for everyone. While unexpectedly arriving, Probot has managed to solidify its status as one of the major head-turners to debut in 2004.

*** Essential Old School ***

King Diamond

While driving through the Bible-belt that I call home recently I saw a sign on a local church that I thought would be the perfect quote to introduce the King: “Give the Devil an inch and he’ll become a ruler!” You’ve got to love the South! A legend such as this really needs no introduction. From his solid Metal work with Mercyful Fate, to the more operatic nature of his solo material, King Diamond has always put the evil in devil.

I was lucky to get a chance to speak with King not too long ago who was very excited and rightfully proud of his latest opus, The Puppet Master. According to King Diamond:

King Diamond: “It turned out to be the King Diamond album that is the hardest hitting King Diamond album. This time the way I hear it, it’s a roller-coaster ride of emotion. There’s so many different things going on there. The theatrical side of the music is more elevated. There are, on this album, songs that have this very great theatrical and atmospheric mood.”

Perhaps this “roller-coaster ride of emotion” can be credited to the amazing skill used in crafting this metal opera of sorts. King Diamond has always had the most top-notch musicians at his bidding, with guitar virtuoso and producer, Andy Laroque, leading the way. A new dimension is added, however with Lidia, who provides some breath-taking female vocals. This was truly an unexpected twist so I had to ask how it all came about:

King Diamond: Well, she was actually at the time contributing to Metal Hammer and interviewing me. She asked if I’d like to hear her demo, and I was like, ‘Sure.’ I was blown away by her voice. She sounds classically trained and there’s a lot of emotion in there that she adds. It’s just very, very cool. The whole experience is enhanced.”

King Diamond has always been a masterful story-teller, the H.P. Lovecraft of Metal. On this album, his usual subtlety and censorship is thrown out the window. He explains:

King Diamond: It’s self-censorship I would call it. You always have small things going on in the story. This time around I have to come out and say certain things to give it the right feel of the gruesome nature of what was going on. It needed to be rawer, otherwise I couldn’t describe it. The story itself this time, it’s the kind of story where I changed things around a bit. Like one song, it’s like, ‘how come they turn their victims into these kinds of puppets.’ It’s like, how is that process done? It’s because of the ritual that happens. That dates back to the beginning of the story. It’s so complex and yet very easy to understand as you read through the story. It’s more action-packed, there’s more things happening and once you read it the third, fourth, fifth time, you will suddenly see this kind of spider web fall apart. It’s all very tied-together.”

The Puppet Master is indeed as intense musically as lyrically. What are King Diamond’s favorites within?

King Diamond: There’s one song called “So Sad,” and I’ve heard that it has brought many to tears. It’s on a deeper level. It’s a very emotional song where all emotions come to a head. Then there is the song called “No More.” It’s very, very sad, and very orchestrated. It still turned out to be so heavy. That song is where everything goes crazy. It’s where the Puppet Master’s scalpel goes to work on my body while I’m burned alive. It turns my body into a puppet. It’s really intense.”

The true adventure in the album is reading the lyrics while listening to it, and watching the story unfold. Without giving the plot away completely, here’s King’s synopsis:

King Diamond: “The puppet master does rituals over these dead victims. His wife is out killing these people at night and bringing them back. He exchanges the souls of the dead people with demons and brings a different kind of soul back to inhabit the puppets through their eyes. The puppets are brought to life. They look so grotesque with their sewn-on eyes. To make them walk, they inject human blood into their eyes.”

One cannot help but wonder what the inspiration to this strange tale may be:

King Diamond: “My inspiration actually came from being in Budapest in ’99. It must have been a day we had off where we went walking through the very old, very narrow streets. We came across a theater, a very old theater from the 1800’s called the International Puppet Theater. Obviously it was closed. My mind started going wild. I wondered what it was like. We wandered around and found puppet store after puppet store, and they were all closed and had no lights in them. It was still daylight. You’d get up close to the window and see these stores full of puppets, some of them were like they were alive, sitting on chairs. It gave me an eerie feeling like, what if they were alive?”

The final twist to the album comes with its end. King Diamond does something entirely different on The Puppet Master:

King Diamond: “In my stories, I always win at the end and get my revenge, but not this time. The story just goes down, down, all the way into hell and back. In the story, for me, I end up in a state that is worse than being dead, and so does my girlfriend. The puppet master and his 300-pound wife, they represent pure, total evil. I really wanted to write this type of story.”

Before interviewing King Diamond, I contemplated all the years I’ve listened to him, hoping that he would not be “normal” as most shocking entertainers turn out to be. In fact, the interview resulted in being quite the opposite. I can honestly say that King Diamond is the real deal, and all the preconceptions one might have regarding his demeanor are most likely true. When I told him how albums such as Them and Conspiracy had literally brought about nightmares, he simply laughed and replied, “Thank you. I know I did a good job then.” As he told me the tale behind The Puppet Master I definitely had chills. It’s even more chilling when hearing it from the serpent’s mouth. For King Diamond, everyday truly is Halloween!

*** English Doom ***

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Why dedicate an entire section to a specific genre of music? The reasons are many. First, English Doom has given the world some of its greatest Metal albums to date. Some of my personal favorite albums of all time fall into this category, and I believe that more people need to be made aware of the great Metal they have been missing. The Metal press has never given the collective purveyors of low-tuned despair enough exposure. Because no churches were burned in the recording process, these bands weren’t as newsworthy? Maybe it was the lack of face paint. Who knows?

Metal was amazing across the board in the early ‘90s... that is, of course, in the underground. Chuck Shuldner was defining Death Metal with Death, alongside legends like Carcass, Entombed, and Morbid Angel. The second wave of Black Metal was beginning to take form with the rebellious, raw, and immaculately unholy output of early Mayhem, Burzum, and Darkthrone. All the while, a less-covered movement was developing in the U.K. Lee Dorrian left the early incarnation of Napalm Death to form Cathedral. Paradise Lost released some great material, peaking with Gothic, an album that helped mold the framework of later, friendlier Doom acts like Type O Negative. The pure speed and technicality of ‘80s Thrash, Speed, and early Death Metal perhaps drove bands to completely shift gears. Doom had never gone away since its birth with Sabbath and fruition with Pentagram, but it was definitely hibernating. The contrast to everything else was immense. An introspective, sometimes-painful, sometimes-beautiful musical experience, Doom almost seemed more intelligent. It was intelligence without the geek factor, though, that came from the more Prog-type bands (sorry Prog fans!) Doom Metal, to me, was the Stanley Kubrick, the Salvador Dali, or even the Edgar Allan Poe for Metal-heads. Why do we need Doom with its often-musical minimalism and despondent themes? Perhaps the reason is because life itself is the ultimate tragedy. Art must be felt, and all aspects of the human experience must be captured. With all of this in mind, I present to you two of the progenitors of English Doom Metal and their respective new releases, My Dying Bride’s Songs of Darkness Words of Light, and Anathema’s A Natural Disaster.

My Dying Bride

One of the originators of said scene is My Dying Bride. Their early output saw a band shrugging off their Death Metal tendencies to produce albums such as the ground breaking, Turn Loose the Swans, and ‘95s The Angel and the Dark River. Releasing Like Gods of the Sun in ’96, My Dying Bride, certainly on a roll, had seemingly perfected their sound, a dark mixture of slow, ever-downward-spiraling guitar riffs, violin, and mournful vocals. This was the music to drown in. It would relentlessly pull you in, adding ever so slowly, layer upon layer of sorrow, numbness, and eventual tranquility. MDB took a brief detour with 34.788%...Complete, an album that gained mix reviews from most fans. In 1999, though, the band returned to Doom excellence with The Light at the End of the World. The Dreadful Hours, released in 2001 further proved that My Dying Bride was not giving up their Doom Metal art. It is with their latest release, Songs of Darkness Words of Light, however, that My Dying Bride has solidified their status as Doom Metal Perfection.

The new album has picked up where The Angel and the Dark River and Like Gods of the Sun left off as it contains the painfully slow tendencies of the first and the more epic “heavy” side of the latter. This is not to say that Songs of Darkness… is merely trying to recreate a once-treasured formula. This is not stagnant nostalgia. Listening to the new album not only conjures up images of what Turn Loose the Swans may have sounded like with good production, but also forcefully pushes the band forward into the future. The lead track, “The Wreckage of My Flesh,” is a perfect example of this as it sets the tone, slow-paced yet eerie. The mind is never left to wander while the almost-Black Metal screams of singer, Aaron Stainthorpe offset by the infectiously simple and haunting guitar and keyboard passages during the verse sections. The vocals cover a vast range, in fact, from aforementioned screams, to narrative passages and mournful-sung pieces. “Catherine Blake” finally lets the double bass loose, but it is on “The Prize of Beauty” and “The Blue Lotus” that the band breaks out their slow, hard-hitting groove. It’s refreshing to hear a band unveil powerful grooves that are not solely meant to incite a mosh pit. The album contains all this and more that you have either come to love or will grow to love about My Dying Bride. It will hit the stores March 9th, don’t pass it up.

Anathema

Anathema perhaps haven’t gotten as much exposure as My Dying Bride, but this is not to say that they are any less deserving. Anathema always seemed, at least to this writer, as Doom Metal’s little brother. They were a young group when their first EP, The Crestfallen appeared in ’92. Supporting other great U.K. bands like Paradise Lost and Bolt Thrower on the road garnered them a sizeable following. 1995 brought about an Anathema coming into its own when they released The Silent Enigma. This was Doom Metal that had less Gothic tendencies than its genre-sharers, but more emotion. One of the most soul-tearing moments to date had been achieved with the last two tracks, “A Dying Wish” and “Black Orchid.” Anathema certainly peaked, though, with Eternity, an album that contained everything from despair to hope, pain to beauty, and heaviness to tranquility. Some of the finest moments were contained within the quieter parts such as the spoken word passages of “Eternity Part II” leading the listener into the beauty of “Hope,” or how “Eternity Part III” sets the precedent for “Cries on the Wind,” and finally, “Ascension.” This album alone could warrant an entire article because of its purity, and its despondency-turned-salvation themes. The band forged on throughout the ‘90s. Alternative 4 was perhaps the last album to truly touch this writer. Afterwards, the band continued on to an eventual Floyd-meets-Radiohead approach. A Natural Disaster sees the band combining their more recent tendencies with a return to the spirit of the past that made them so very far ahead of their time initially.

Opening up the album is “Harmonium.” Seemingly setting the precedent of a mellower album, guitars jump forward to drive and command the track. The end result is a start that is nothing short of mesmerizing. The following few tracks venture into an almost Radiohead Kid A-era state, electronic yet not, and full of longing and introspection. Music like this can only be written from personal experience, and now, as always. Anathema wears their heart on their sleeve. The instrumental, “Childhood Dream,” features amazingly low sub-bass and synthesizer work from keyboardist Les Smith, the mastermind behind some of the band’s genius keyboard parts on Eternity. Suddenly, though, the band changes direction and literally falls into “Pulled Under at 2000 Metres a Second,” definitely the heaviest track of the album and one which would have fit better beside the tracks on The Silent Enigma than their later material. It is as if, though, the entire album with its contrasts is constantly building up to the climax and last track, “Violence.” Contained within is an unbelievable marriage of simplicity and ingenuity. Melodically, the song changes very little throughout, while rhythmically and subtly, the ringing pedal tones are expanded upon. Musical moments such as these have to be heard rather than described, as is any great stimulant, tangible or intangible.

Upon opening the envelope that held this album, I immediately put life on hold in the hopes of being swept away by one of the few bands who can truly do such. The first thoughts to enter my mind after listening to A Natural Disaster were that the Anathema I grew up with is back. While the band has constantly changed through the years and sounds little like its firm Death and Doom Metal roots, the spirit has returned. Though the formula may be different, the conviction which leads to the overall effect is ever-present. Anathema merely approaches their task of creating an album of introspective beauty and darkness in a different manner. This is a band that is not satisfied to rely upon the same tone throughout, but rather to paint a musical landscape covering all dimensions of emotion and melody. Anathema does not focus on just the light and dark, but also explores the grays in between, and for that I thank them.

*** Turning Heads ***

Burnt by the Sun

The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good

The latest release from Burnt By the Sun on Relapse Records sees the band refining their monolithic sound. From their debut self-titled debut EP, to their last full-length, Soundtrack to the Personal Revolution, BBTS have been devoid of categorization. The same holds true for The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good. BBTS’s ability to simultaneously incorporate aggression, humor, and musical chops has set them above and beyond their peers.

Song title like “Washington Tube Steak” and “Pentagons and Pentagrams” should give the reader a glimpse of the tongue-in-cheek Metal/Hardcore/Experimental tendencies within. Some of Extreme Metal’s more experimental bands tend to over-indulge in their eccentricities, leaving most listeners puzzled; however, BBTS offer balance. Some of the band’s craziest counter-melodies and off-time rhythms are present creating musical insanity with a pissed-off genius that ties it all together. Top things off, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, The Breakdown. It’s a masterpiece, highlighted on “180 Proof,” “Arrival of Niburu” and the aforementioned “Washington Tube Steak” that succeeds by reminding us why we all love Extreme Metal. Having never seen the band live, I can only imagine the brutality of the pit they conjure up.

Often for art to succeed, it isn’t necessarily the sheer complexity or oddity of it all that is the greatest factor, but rather when the artist knows what rules to break. BBTS is definitely skilled as such. Their reshaping of Extreme Metal and listener’s expectations of it is much like any great invention. Sure, BBTS didn’t single-handedly create the genre, but like the genius who said, “fill this cylinder with water, add a carb, and pull,” they have made the experience more enjoyable for us all.

Burst

Prey on Life

Relapse has done it again with the debut album from Burst, Prey on Life. The album is a constant pull between high and low. If a comparison must be made, it can be said that Burst is to Hardcore what Opeth is to Death Metal. Never satisfied with the standard verse/chorus formula that has been beaten to death time and time again, the band incorporates the extremity, urgency, and intensity of Hardcore and Metal, and adds its own shade of atmosphere expressed in an almost jazz-like free form. Agonizing screams and brutal, solid drumming are offset by guitar work steeped more in melody and the occasional jazz progression than chugging riffs or syncopated breakdowns. Perhaps this can be attributed to location, as it seems European bands have the tendency to push the marker higher in their genre. Please do not be under the impression, though, that Burst is a high-brow, different-to-be-different band. Ultimately, Burst rocks; however, in their own self-devised, puzzling musical format. Expect to be pulled in immediately by the melody, and then taken on your own journey throughout the extremes that are explored. Burst’s best music perhaps is yet to be written. We will all be waiting.

*** On DVD ***

Black Label Society

Boozed, Broozed, and Broken-Boned

Finally, due to the increase in quality Metal DVDs that are hitting the shelves as of late, I’m adding a DVD section to Far Beyond Metal. To get the ball rolling, a perfect start for this corner would be the latest DVD from Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Society, Boozed, Broozed, and Broken-Boned. Labeling this as the be-all, end-all video for any Zakk Wylde fan is a tremendous understatement. For the price of a case of beer, the Zakk Wylde fan can enjoy hours upon hours of Zakk. It’s almost impossible to see it all in one setting. There’s just that much!

The focal point here is without a doubt the concert filmed live at Harpo’s in Detroit, MI. From the opener, “Demise of Sanity,” it’s clear that thousands of Black Label fans are ready to decimate the place with Zakk and his flawless band commence to bring forth the Metal. It seems that the crowd’s focus is never allowed to stray from Zakk. The guitar-hero -- now cultural-leader -- leads his devoted masses through this ritual with tunes like, “Bleed for Me,” “Stronger Than Death” and “Genocide Junkies.” When the set approaches its middle, things slow down a bit; however, the intensity is firmly maintained. Zakk stands alone in the middle of the stage, just a guitar-hero and his Les Paul, to perform “Spoke in the Wheel.” What was always a great example of songwriting is now perfected and forever embedded into my mind, at least, as musical magic. When all other elements are stripped away and we are only left with the bare essentials, the voice and the guitar, the end result usually comes across as a naked, pale resemblance to its recorded predecessor. Said theory is not the case here. Its success lies in its stripped-down approach. Perhaps this approach just makes it that much more memorable, and that much more emotional. This mood does not linger long as BLS follow strongly with “Born to Lose” and Zakk’s inspirational guitar solo. Other highlights of the concert include “Super Terrorizer,” where Zakk proclaims what we already know, “Limp Bizkit sucks cock!!” and the closer “Berserkers.” The DVD would have been worth the money had it only included this live concert. For those who haven’t seen Zakk perform live, check this section out first. You will be impressed.

What I actually enjoyed most about the DVD was all the extras that were included. Of course there are the drunken hilarious moments giving a bit of a nod to the Pantera homes videos, but guitar lessons? There’s some bang for your buck! Zakk teaches the solos to “Miracle Man” and other hits as well. If all this weren’t enough, there’s footage from a live acoustic set, a completely mind-blowing set at that. Surprisingly, Zakk performs an acoustic rendition of “Stillborn.” The track almost sounds like a different song, but maybe gives some insight on what the initial songwriting may have entailed. The bottom line is that there’s more music, beer, and extras on contained on this home video than one could ever expect. Black Label Society never fails in delivering the most 100% pure, high-grade Metal with every consecutive offering. After all, each chapter, the fans are who makes the Black Label Society “Stronger Than Death”!


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