Σάββατο, 21 Αυγούστου 2021

Into the Pandemonium: A study in the context, what's right and what's left in metal music press, the past and today.


There is a huge difference in printed music media during the years even within the same company / brand name / magazine. The reasons? Too many. A few of them will be mentioned in this article, but most importantly it is the change of seasons, the change of the audience, the change of people within the same publication, the change of music itself.

Written by Andreas Andreou


Personally, I've been dealt with the printed media for many years, as a writer-editor in magazines and newspapers writing about the art of film and (heavy metal) music. I think I have most of the magazines I wrote but definitely I don't have all those newspapers from my hometown. The more backwards we go, the better money a writer was taking (myself included), while now this looks like science fiction in the current music press where a huge part works for free.

I’ve been also writing for various online media in different countries. I don’t remember everything I have wrote and few of those online media are gone, deleted from the World Wide Web, reminding me that quote from the Blade Runner 2049 film: "Then ten days of darkness. Every machine stopped cold. When the lights came back, we were wiped clean. Photos, files, every bit of data. Gone. Bank records, too. Didn't mind that. Its funny only paper lasted. I mean, we had everything on drives. Everything, everything, everything".

That "only print is real" tag, sometimes is scary but that’s what will probably last. In an imaginary post-apocalyptic world, when everything might be lost, the story of the past will be based on hard copies that survived. Just like those old books and writings which the modern world has based its history upon.

I remember when I was writing for cinema, sometime like 15-20 years ago, where I had a column presenting one new film you must watch, one new film you must avoid and a classic film to revisit. There was a couple of money but from some point and on, it was, "Andreas, things are getting difficult and we already have many people coming from journalism schools that will work for free, they only want to see their name printed". Can you imagine? Did it all started like this? Who knows… I kept seeing my name printed for a while but there wasn't anything entering the pocket, until I stopped due to the lack of time and while I was also working for construction companies back then (before entering the music industry and become part of it), time was very limited for free things.

Someone might say that this is one reason why media in general (online mainly… probably) have such a low level sometimes. Writing, ideas, reviews, interviews look really mediocre and unimportant sometimes. It’s like everyone entered the field without any kind of filter. In the last issue of Iron Fist magazine there are like ten people in total, including publisher and graphic designer, while there are other magazines and online media of much less quality where you can find like thirty people or more. What are all these people doing? Publishers need to have as many people they can since there’s not a "job" for regulars and contributors who have entered a free-willing hobby-like status.

When you're writing for a long time, but most important when you’re reading for a long time, you can understand what’s not "good". Very clearly. Articles about older albums and bands that are just copying the main information from Wikipedia or older features. Interviews with the same boring questions, no depth, no interest in the art, or occasionally you see interviewers that ask a question expecting (and getting) the answer they want in order to satisfy a personal opinion. That's lame. In the end, most of those interviews are like watching Tony Iommi without moustache and the cross; they’re weird and incomplete.

Times are changing and the digital world is expanded to the point that anyone can create something online, just like this poor blog you're reading now where someone is writing a huge text that's against the present era's "reading-only-headlines" false mentality.

Those of you that are not tired reading yet and will continue, know that everywhere you can find good writers; in online and printed media. If you believe that this is not true and that every printed media that's been kept going for decades is crap, stop reading because there are 7000 more words here and you will lose your time. You probably have an opinion stuck in your head like a stubborn boy that doesn't like Marvel and DC superheroes or sugar or bacon. Who didn't like Batman or ice cream or pizza?


 

Back to the past.

Most likely, everything started with the impact of Billboard magazine that also introduced to the audience the Billboard Charts, the blueprint of "charts" tracking the best-selling records (note: the last many years they are not completely valid), leading to all those "top" and "best of" lists. Then it was publications (magazines and newspapers) like Melody Maker, NME (New Musical Express), Record Mirror, Record Collector, Rolling Stone, Hit Parader, Sounds, Circus, Creem and many more. Reaching the ‘80s, there were hard rock and heavy metal magazines worldwide like Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, Metal Forces, Rock Hard, Enfer and Aardschok among others. From the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s and on, while metal music was changing, there were more heavy metal magazines, extreme music magazines, plus publications focused in modern heavy and metal music. Among them: Terrorizer, Zero Tolerance, Revolver, Decibel, Iron Fist and Deaf Forever. Finally, all this time, there were also magazines focused in instruments and their musicians, like Guitar Player, Guitar World and Modern Drummer.

For those that are still reading, let's continue with the changes. There are many known magazines over the years, so hypothetically, let's assume they’re all a heavy metal magazine that's called "Crystal Logic Heavy Metal" (C.L.H.M. in short) and started sometime in the early to mid '80s.

Back in the '80s, you could buy records of bands like Loudness but how many times had you seen how really Akira Takasaki or Minoru Niihara looked like besides that photo on the back of the vinyl cover? Magazines back then had a strong power on presenting the image. Sometimes, the images were stronger than texts themselves, even in major names like Iron Maiden, Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne and Mötley Crüe. In the context of that era, you didn't have the opportunity to read something like what you're reading just right now on your hi-tech mobile phone or computer. You couldn't see hundreds of Ozzy or Dio photos with the press of a button. You were just waiting for C.L.H.M. to hold it in your hands, see the photos and the posters, and put them on your wall. With the lack of the internet and the World Wide Web, anything you could see and read was "something".

In the context of that era, that was powerful, just like the events surrounding the artists. If you were reading that Ozzy had bitten the head of a bat, that looked insane and not stupid. If you were reading that Nikki Sixx broke his hotel room and fought with security under the drug influence, it looked dangerous and not stupid. If you were reading about Vince Neil's drunk driving accident after a party with drugs and women, and the manslaughter conviction for killing Hanoi Rocks' Razzle, that looked like an extreme part of the "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll" '80s subculture and not stupid. Incidents like those weren't "here today - gone tomorrow" news. They're still part of the hard and heavy music culture and history that were spread beyond the fans of the bands and music, all over the international press. It was the press that made those incidents part of the heavy metal subculture and today have reached the status of a legend.

Today, all those would look stupid but in the context of the '80s, they weren’t. They looked insane, dangerous, part of the hard an' heavy music subculture that was corrupting the youth according to the conservatism of that era. And part of that era, were all those magazines too. If someone will read an old article from a magazine of that era and bring it in the context of the present day, it might be funny or silly. Not just the write-up, but also an interview, the questions and the answers, even if the interviewee is someone well known. That was the context of the era. A completely different thing where music and attitude were hand in hand.

If we will see everything outside of their context, magazines and music press in the '80s might be silly and cheesy but then, so could be all the Ozzys and Crües and King Diamonds and Quorthons of the '80s. Were they? It doesn't matter. That was a different era where they could do all of these things, they could have said anything they wanted and press was following in the same manner, asking everything but music. It was a time where offending didn't offend everyone, just the people outside that subculture. In hindsight, you can understand that in the modern, digital world of the present day, people and ways change. Everyone is offended more easily and things are also more sensitive, so the press also changed and also did most of the artists in their interviews, too.

You still have Yngwie Malmsteen though, saying anything he wants without caring for everyone else but most of the artists are very careful. Sometimes, before interviewing a musician from a major band, press might be advised not to ask specific things or they want to check the questions before and they will chose what to answer.

 

It is said that heavy metal in the ‘80s used to be a dangerous music (just like rock in the ‘70s) but in the 2020s, that lack of danger and attitude has changed everything that can be presented to a wider audience in hard and heavy metal music. Nowadays, you can’t built a hype if you will do or say something extreme. Sometimes it won’t even bother the media while in the old days (up to the ‘90s that are already two decades ago…), they were looking for that. That’s a huge change in the current metal subculture, including artists and media since now it’s mostly about the music. Acts don’t really matter and they’re easily becoming old news. You still have extreme ideas and acts, especially in extreme subgenres of metal music but today, media are very careful of what they present unless a well-known musician will enter the radio station with his cock out banging the desk like Tommy Lee did sometime in 1987. Still though, Mötley Crüe's sexism would have a different impact nowadays. Can you imagine that act today? Everything changes. Sometimes, things need to change.

 

That "Crystal Logic Heavy Metal" magazine in the ‘80s had also reviews. There was Iron Maiden, Saxon, and the bands emerging from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, the bands that were getting heavier and more extreme leading to thrash metal and there were also a few other bands presenting something different. The "different" thing in the ‘80s didn’t always meet the acceptance of evolution or change, so when bands like Celtic Frost started adding different and out-of-the-box elements in their music, press was brutal. It was brutal when Black Sabbath firstly appeared in 1970, do you think Celtic Frost would have an easier treatment in 1987?

Let’s remember an interesting story that speaks about the context of an existing heavy metal magazine in the ‘80s. Back then, a few editors and magazines believed they really had power and actually they really had because it was affecting the musicians, their albums and the readers that wanted to be part of it. Metal Forces' editor Bernard Doe had something like a personal war against Thomas Gabriel Fischer and ended with a rating of 0 out 100 for Celtic Frost's Into the Pandemonium (review at issue 24), mentioning among others, "I put the knife into the Frosties latest piece of shit", "If there was ever a case for Manowar's 'Death to False Metal' slogan to be slapped on a piece of vinyl, then this is it", and "The most talentless hyped garbage that the metal scene has ever had the misfortune to be associated with". That specific Metal Forces issue also carried a full-page advert of Celtic Frost's Into the Pandemonium, meaning that the magazines back then, didn’t really care if they will disappoint the labels which were advertised. That was power. Or arrogance because many of them couldn't foretold the changes of the future including the decline in physical sales in music and the press.

Metal Forces magazine, based in the UK, was presenting a huge part of the underground metal scene of that period, including bands like Cities, Jag Panzer, Pantera of Power Metal era (with a generous review of 95 out of 100), Attacker, even Syrus and Oliver Magnum. It was a magazine that offered huge support and cover stories to bands like King Diamond, Candlemass (rating both Abigail and Nightfall with 99 out of 100) and Bathory but they didn’t really followed what they considered "mainstream metal".

On the other hand, it was funny seeing a metal magazine where in the writers' top albums of 1988 you could see Operation: Mindcrime, ...And Justice for All, South of Heaven and Transcendence but there was nowhere in the Top-20 list an album like Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. It is said sometimes that the "true metal" tag was founded in the '90s but that's not the truth since it has been used in Metal Forces since the '80s. Manowar wanted to kill "false metal" since 1983, so there had to be that "true metal", right? Metal Forces was a magazine that wanted to present that "true metal" and keep distances from mainstream metal. And while Iron Maiden's Seventh Son of a Seventh Son didn't find its way in the writers and readers' top list for 1988, it was also the previous album of the British metal legend that was smashed by the magazine. In the issue 20, you will find a review of Somewhere in Time with a rating of 66 out of 100 with "synth-this" and "synth-that" comments, a "change of instrumentation" and a "temptation to slag off a major band's new album". That was written. You see, Iron Maiden had already a huge success touring worldwide, so keyboards and synths, was a "bad" thing for "true" metallers back in the '80s. And even if Seventh Son of a Seventh Son had a better acceptance from everyone, still it took a while for a few regressive fans to accept it and I can't even imagine how a few would feel when "Moonchild" started with the keyboards. That was enough for a few of them.     

The readers of the magazine didn’t fail them and Iron Maiden of 1988 didn’t make it to the "top album" list of Metal Forces while Metallica was the big winner (number 1 in all main categories). Why did it happen? In their pre-Black Album era, Metallica always had the mentalism of an underground metal band, even after the 1986 tour with Ozzy Osbourne, even during the release of …And Justice for All when they started playing in huge venues. Those fans felt them closer to their mentality. And they didn’t have synths.

Metal Forces also took its revenge against Celtic Frost who after Cold Lake were voted by the readers as the second "biggest joke" (yes, that was a category in the annual poll). According to the readers, Glam was the "biggest joke", followed by Manowar, Anthrax, Bon Jovi, Poison, and… Posers. That was a typical annual result in a metal magazine in the '80s, where Steve Harris was always in the "best bassist" list, Doro and Lita Ford were most of the times the "best female singer", while Bon Jovi and Poison were the strongest candidates for the "worst band". Sometimes, you could also see Jon Bon Jovi in the "best female singer" category, and that was part of the context for heavy metal magazines and their readers in the ‘80s. It wasn’t just the magazines, it was the readers too. Worldwide. So, if a few people in Germany, England, Italy, Greece, or the United States of America believe that it was just the metal press in their country, they’re wrong. The magazines and the editors could influence the audience, could make angry the audience, in a few cases could even affect sales but there was a wider context and kind of thinking within the heavy metal press and fans during the ‘80s and early ‘90s.   

In the UK, you also had the Kerrang! magazine with Geoff Barton as its managing editor, often cited as "the heaviest of the heaviest in heavy metal" but that wasn't really the truth. You could locate obscure heavy metal bands like Apollo Ra within its pages but if you could see those '80s issues, with the crazy colours, pink covers, even adding Aerosmith with Run-DMC in one of them, you could clearly understand that it was a magazine that included rock, melodic rock, hard rock and glam among heavy metal but there, a mainstream metal band like Iron Maiden was a tour de force that even in 1985 was voted as best band without a studio album while there was also artists like Marillion, FM and Pat Benatar in the "top lists". It wasn't exactly the "heavy metal" magazine a few people expected, especially when there was even a full-page shampoo advertisement, a "shampoo kind to your hair, specially formulated to leave it soft, shiny and manageable", or advertisements about Lee, "the jeans that built America". No wonder why readers of other magazines like Metal Forces considered Kerrang! posers.

Sometimes, press was brutal in music that wasn’t so "metal" for the magazine that carried the "heavy metal" title and that continued all the way up to the early ‘90s. Editors back in the ‘80s (and ‘70s too) thought they really had the power and could write anything they want. A hypothetical magazine called "Crystal Logic Heavy Metal" is probably supposed to concentrate in all the genres of metal music. That’s its title after all. So, when sometimes there were a few bands from melodic rock or AOR presented, they didn’t have a proper review, if any, while sometimes glam bands had the treatment of lipstick boys more than their music. But is it something you can blame the C.L.H.M. magazine? Thinking in the context of that era, probably not. That was what a majority of the readers also believed back then.

So, besides the context of the era, there’s always the context of each magazine. And just like the "Crystal Logic Heavy Metal" magazine that didn’t present all the Journeys and Totos of this world, that’s similar with the "Pop and Rock" type of magazines that didn’t present all the Iron Maidens and Slayers of this world. Of course, these examples are major names, so they did write about them sometimes but they never really got the point. Just like all those "Pop and Rock" magazines that every less-known than the typical 5-6 major heavy metal bands they knew, was presented "like Iron Maiden but not that good" or "like Judas Priest but not that good". It was funny finding reviews talking about early Queensrÿche like a second-class-Maiden-clone that "won’t last" or "Pop and Rock" articles in 1989 writing "heavy metal is dead" features. But that was the context of all the Pop-and-Rock magazines, just like the Heavy Metal magazines. Different context in a different era.

The "failed" reviews of the past (just like Celtic Frost's Into the Pandemonium) made a new generation of fans acting like prophets while the prophecy was already completed. And while it was mostly the press that foretold about bands and albums that "made it", it is always the "failure of the press" that people will remember, either it is commercial, either artistic, either the acceptance just changed with the passing of time for both press and audience. It happens in many forms of art. And while Celtic Frost's Into the Pandemonium was praised by other printed media, if they had disbanded after Cold Lake and their influence (somehow) wouldn't cast a shadow over the '90s and beyond, that Metal Forces review would look prophetic. But it wasn't. Many others were though. So in the press over the years - printed and online - you will always have articles that will be remembered and also people (afterwards) acting like prophets while the prophecy was already completed. The only difference is that on online media you can "edit" or "erase" the failure and the mistake. Thomas Gabriel Fischer would wish to erase Cold Lake too but isn’t it like changing the history and the past? That’s what press is also about; a look in the past and what people thought and believed. That’s a view on the past through different eyes even if people of the future will change their minds and/or see things with a different view.   

 

Forward to the present day for a while. There is this bold title in the latest Classic Rock magazine with the Judas Priest’s Screaming for Vengeance cover, that’s writing "Heavy Metal’s Unsung Heroes". Classic Rock is a huge brand name magazine, one of the biggest out there, one of the most important according to labels and bands, therefore one of the leading forces in rock music; a mainstream brand. Just like all those magazines that a few people are used to blame for everything that’s wrong without even reading them, but there’s a reason those magazines are out there for so long. They’re part of the scene, they’re part of the music industry, they have followers and friends, and they’re offering something to the audience. That’s why they’re still there. There are reasons for that, especially when they survive in the modern, digital era while others already gave up years before. There’s no luck in survival.

So, Classic Rock survived and rules part of the scene but many metal fans will laugh with the "Heavy Metal’s Unsung Heroes" headline on the cover of the August 2021 issue. Why? Simply because Judas Priest are "unsung" heroes only compared to Metallica, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne. You can’t really find many more heavy metal bands that are standing higher than Priest in terms of acceptance and popularity. If someone knows just 10-15 heavy metal bands, Judas Priest is one of them, so they’re not "unsung". An unsung heavy metal band is Riot.

Speaking of Riot, it was Classic Rock magazine that presented the reissue of Riot’s Thundersteel with a rating of 5 out of 10, mentioning that it "just sounds like a tinny, poor man’s Judas Priest" (issue 141, February 2010). Let’s stick to it for a while, not about blaming Classic Rock, but about the context, the writers and what a review is (really) about.

That specific review was written by Geoff Barton and I can’t really explain how important he is for the metal press so you can just "google" him. After all, that’s what many of the writers do nowadays: googling! Checking online to find the information, dates, everything, even copying texts from online sources, changing a few words and voila! You have your "article". Today, the information is very easy and that leads to less work and less thinking for the mediocre media. Looking back to history and what’s written in the press, sometimes, new-era writers are afraid to speak their mind and make the audience intrigued so we’re seeing countless reviews with ratings of 9 and 10 to 10, something that’s slightly insane. Looks like a few modern-age writers (in both printed and online media) can’t separate what’s really great from what’s just an average release and they just don’t want to be "remembered" as the ones that "failed" to "understand" a future classic album.

How does a proper, long and detailed review should normally look nowadays?
A. Informing the genre. The author should be clear about it and not just writing lines like "a dark vibe from hell coming straight from the heart of Satan reminding the Northern demons". He can just write, "This is black metal in the vein of Mayhem". Simple. Music writers should write about music and not trying to sound "poetic". If it is an already established band, it’s not a redundancy to write two more words (f.e. "black metal") and the scribe should mention if the band is faithful to their style or if there are musical changes.
B. Adding information about the album. Members, production, even cover art, everything that is part of the physical release but not just copying the EPK.
C. Where this album stands in the present day and where it really stands looking back in the past. For example, in 2021 Helloween released a new same-titled album reuniting past members Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen. The writer should add where the album stands in the present day and the present standards of the genre (it can be rated just for that) but for such an important brand name, he should also add where the album really stands in the discography of the band. If the scribe wants to rate that album with a 9 or 10 out of 10 without adding the above detail, Helloween will look like an equal or a better release than Walls of Jericho and Keeper of the Seven Keys. Is it? It's been already more than three decades from those classic Helloween albums, so do you believe that in three decades from now, Helloween will be equally remembered? That's the kind of questions that must be analyzed unless the scribe and the press will ignore completely the past and see music just as a present thing. Is this correct?
D. Writer’s personal taste and opinion. That’s when a writer can ignore "C". Music is also about the personal taste and analyzing an album through a personal view, sometimes is very interesting, even if it is against a rational flow and objective musical criteria, as long it is not leveling as far as the value and the past of the artist concerns. The text should always be more important than the rating and you can’t really blame the personal taste. There lies the true power of music: The music that makes you feel something is more important than any objectivity. And that’s personal. As for the one who writes it? If the scribe feels so, it should be written.

So, if you want to write a good review (an interesting text) the steps are easy: What’s the album, the information about it, trying to be objective, placing the album in the context of the present day and standards (analyzing the album’s value in the context of the present day is very interesting), seeing where it stands in the history of the band (or the genre), and adding a personal view. "C" and "D" might challenge each other but that might be intriguing if the write-up is interesting. Always remember, the text should be more important than the rating. The scribe can add any kind of rating but the text is the important thing, even if many of the readers are only looking to the rating. The text is the most important thing, how objective or personal or intriguing it is. To be honest, rating might not be needed but that’s something of a standard in music press.  


Back to the Classic Rock. Just like what we already mentioned, it’s a CLASSIC ROCK magazine after all, so they can have their mistakes (if you can call it so) outside their field. NEVER FORGET THE CONTEXT. Just like the mistakes and/or the ignorance of each "Crystal Logic Heavy Metal" magazine towards classic rock, you will have the same of each "Pop and Rock" magazine towards heavy metal. You can disagree with the "Heavy Metal’s Unsung Heroes" headline of Classic Rock, you can disagree with that 5 out of 10 rating for Riot’s Thundersteel but it might be just the writer’s personal taste and opinion. Is it always correct? That’s up to the reader. Can you blame a rock magazine that wrote something about heavy metal, even if it’s historically and practically wrong? That’s up to the reader. Can you blame a heavy metal magazine that will write sometime something invalid about pop and/or AOR, even if it’s wrong or slightly insulting? That’s up to the reader. Very few articles and interviews can have an impact in music and definitely not those outside the context of each magazine. You don’t have to buy a heavy metal magazine to read about classic rock or AOR, and you don’t have to buy a classic rock magazine to read about heavy and thrash metal.  

But should a magazine like Classic Rock write only about "rock", and not about heavy metal or thrash metal? NO. They can just find people knowing and following the scene without sticking to the older established major bands. It’s simple. Problem (if you can call it so) is that a few brand name magazines look like they’re depending to "brand name" editors of the past, ending sometimes magazines of the past (under a mainstream umbrella). Of course, there’s no disrespect to any of all those GeoffBartons and MalcolmDomes and Paul Elliotts of this world but sometimes, that type of editors that have lived Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Def Leppard in their heights, will see almost everything else like "poor man’s Judas Priest" and "poor man’s Iron Maiden". That’s the writer’s personal taste and opinion, bringing the newer and/or less known artist in the context of the past comparing it with the older legends and their music but they’re missing the context of today and the present standards, ignoring also the future and the possible impact to it. Just like those who wrote that Queensrÿche sound like a second-class-Maiden-clone that "won’t last" in the early ‘80s.


Genre purists, boomers and mainstream media.

Just like a few editors that were in the front line in the ‘80s and early  '90s, there is a very specific idea of what "classic rock", "hard rock" and "heavy metal" are, also accepting mainly bands that are having commercial success and historical value. But there, we’re entering another road of fans and how they view a few magazines and music in general.

It is very common in rock, punk, metal, many kinds of music that many fans are trying to degrade other genres and bands in order to incorrectly highlight what they prefer as a "better" genre. It's the "genre purists" who believe they know the "better music". In the "I-know-better-than-you" stubborn attitude, someone will say that black and death metal is just noise, someone will say that AOR is just soft butter and cheese music, someone will say that punk is just about social lyrics and the same noisy music, someone will say that neoclassical metal and shredding is guitar masturbation, someone will say that classic rock is dad-music, someone will say that traditional metal is music for teenagers or people who still live with their parents, and someone will say that grunge is a subculture of people who don’t know how to play. They’re all wrong and no one really knows everything, neither can cancel anything else. From the moment that there’s a subgenre or music style out there and it has the bands, the labels and its audience, it will have its airplay and will be also part of the press.

So, getting back to the music press, from the moment that there is an audience for a music genre, press will cover it. The bigger the audience, the bigger the coverage, and that’s why many times you’re seeing specific bands ruling the media. Because at that specific time, they had the bigger audience, and the magazines that keep the audience, keep their circulation over the years. Sounds like business? Yes, it is.

At the same time, brand name magazines that have a specific target of mainstream music fans, will just keep writing about those classic and commercial artists, and they also need all those GeoffBartons and MalcolmDomes and Paul Elliotts of this world who could just call Brian Johnson, Joe Elliott, Sammy Hagar or Tony Iommi, and have a new exclusive comment or a brief interview for a new feature about the past. They were there in that glorious past, they met a few of those legends, and they have their private phone or private email or their manager’s contact, so they’re important for the publishers and chief editors of the mainstream media. You can’t blame all those for keeping the past alive but you probably can blame them for not looking to the future.

There’s also the other side of the coin too and I will make it short. It’s those new editors and fans that don’t care for genres and the past. Those who believe that all the Scorpions and Iron Maidens of the world are dinosaurs and their fans are "boomers". The only difference is that there aren’t GeoffBartons and MalcolmDomes on this side of the coin because those boomers built their name over the years and no matter what we say, this isn’t something easy. Just like everything in this life, one can have a hundred successes and one failure, but most of the time, some people only remember the failure. Isn’t it funny remembering only the failure?


Times are changing and so does music and the audience.

You had a few genres in the ‘80s but in the ‘90s each one of those genres gave birth to subgenres, others became relevant, others irrelevant, and also many new things appeared or older music evolved and transformed. Bands changed too, just like Fates Warning which left the debut album’s IronMaiden-ism for the progressive power metal acrobatics of Awaken the Guardian before leaving completely the "power metal" element in the ‘90s. The ‘90s was the season of changes for everything in the music industry and press also tried to follow, so you had heavy metal magazines trying to be relevant adding material that sounded irrelevant for their older audience. Part of that audience left, but while the readers were also changing, a few of those magazines managed to keep another part of their audience while they also gain a new one.

The audience is also changing. From the stubborn regressive fan that believes knowing everything already, to the person that believes that can learn anything with the press of a button online, up to the fans that never stop reading and learning and listening to new music. Even if music will stop today, we will never reach a point knowing everything already. Anyone can be an expert in specific things and have a solid opinion and idea but one can’t really know everything.

In the end, everything changed so much, that a magazine like the hypothetical "Crystal Logic Heavy Metal" could have in the same issue features and interviews from Whitesnake, Atlantean Kodex, Tool, Saxon, Slipknot and Napalm Death. In hindsight, it is proved that in the present day, the strict context is forgotten and that’s a huge change and difference with the past. We never stop learning. We should never stop learning.  

Still though, while the music industry also changes, underneath the current status there is a thrust to perpetuate the presence of all the classic bands; the brand names. Nostalgia and worship of the past is one of the main keys of how music industry is moving and the classic bands must stay with us forever, with one way or another. Older bands always get more attention when they are active and when a major act is touring or releasing new music, the music industry is moving around them: Record stores, concert promoters, and the press. Keeping the old will always be relevant.         


The Fanzines.

Music press is not just the magazines you can see everywhere. Over the years and while there is a hardcore audience focused in specific genres looking for in-depth information dwelling in each genre’s underground scene, there will also be the fanzines. Independent (sometimes homemade) press focused in specific subgenres providing features and interviews for albums and artists that will rarely make it to the mainstream press. There are pros and cons for fanzines. While the information through interviews could be the highlight and the reader can really find out something he was missing, learning new bands and albums, many times the write-up is poor and/or completely out of any context, facts and objectivity. A good fanzine though, could be a great source of information adding a missing or obscure link in the history of music and many of those fanzines of the past are excellent in that field.



Where music press is standing today?

In the context of each magazine according to its basic music genre, there are the historical facts, brand names and leading musicians/bands/albums that shaped the story of its wider context, so there is a line to follow. In this line, there are all those subgenres, older bands and all the new acts and albums of all subgenres, modern, new, hyped and traditional. There’s a big part of all the present music magazines that regressive fans of each genre won’t like but music has become a wider thing where not all people agree with. Even within a magazine, there are always different opinions between the writers. Writers that are also changing over the years, leading music magazines to different faces. Just like the football teams that are keeping the same brand name, in magazines you’re having many "players" changing and the "coach" keeping the line.

The change of people within the same magazine, is also an element that can affect it even if the audience keeps referring to the publication’s name. It can be very different, it can completely change, just like the athletic teams and bands that continue with the same name but they can have huge differences with their past. So, having in mind what and how something was written in the ‘80s, or the ‘90s, or the ‘00s, even within the same magazine, it might be completely different with what’s written in the 2020s. It is not just the magazine and the brand name but also the editors and people writing there too, that matter in the wider image.

Brand name magazines like Metal Hammer (founded and based in the UK in 1983) were published in different countries too, just like Rock Hard that was founded and based in Germany, also in 1983. A few of the local language editions met an important success in their countries and are still in circulation after many years, established as important players in the music industry while others didn't make it locally. In the beginning, a few of the local editions of magazines like Metal Hammer had translated texts from the British version but over the years they changed to something independent with their own editorial team and exclusive features keeping just the brand name. In the end, what might have the same brand name in the UK, in Germany, in Greece, even in Japan, can be a separate entity with its own context and impact.   


How the writing has changed over the years?

A LOT. While am reading constantly, from the 2010s and on, the information is more important and correct, while texts are more focused in music than anything else, something that’s more than obvious in the interviews. Nowadays editors have more sources to check and communication is easier with labels and musicians, so most of the work is the text itself. Having the long past and what’s already written, editors and magazines learned from mistakes of the past, except from older writers that can’t change.

In all those magazines that are still circulating, besides a few authors whose name is expanded beyond each publication, chief editors can interfere in texts, sometimes changing or erasing or adding something. This kind of "writing filter" was very rare in the '80s and the '90s while from the '00s and on it is more common, especially within writers that are not paid or it's not their main job. As it is already previously written in this article, the ‘80s and the ‘90s was a time where offending didn't offend everyone, just the people outside that subculture. But in the modern, digital world and the present day, people and ways change. Everyone is offended more easily and things are also more sensitive, so the press also changed trying not to offend a few musicians and especially the audience.

Printed magazines still have to work with strict deadlines, without second thoughts and edits like most of the online media, so if nowadays articles and interviews are better written and more informative why some people claim they preferred magazines the way they were in the long past?

Well, if you would browse a magazine in 1986 or 1987, you would read about Iron Maiden’s Somewhere in Time, Helloween’s Keeper of the Seven Keys, Yngwie Malmsteen’s Trilogy, Ozzy Osbourne’s The Ultimate Sin, Running Wild’s Under Jolly Roger and Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet, while in 2020 or 2021 you would read about Iron Maiden’s Senjutsu, Helloween’s same-titled album, Yngwie Malmsteen’s Parabellum, Ozzy Osbourne’s Ordinary Man, Running Wild’s Blood on Blood and Bon Jovi’s 2020.

In 1986 and 1987 you also had Slayer’s Reign on Blood, Fates Warning’s Awaken the Guardian, Queensrÿche’s Rage for Order, Dokken’s Back for the Attack, countless more, and albums of multi-million sales up to today from bands like Whitesnake, Def Leppard and Metallica. "OK boomer", someone might think but that’s something really important for all the boomers of the world.

So, while in the metal press of today you can read about the present acts and albums of all subgenres, over the last years, many magazines use to revisit older years, albums and bands, offering a new review of them with the present eye and in-depth information, something that press didn’t have back in the day. On a personal note, it is very important reading how the press and audience view an album like King Diamond’s Abigail when it was released but if an article will be written for that album today, it will be definitely better, as long as the writer won’t forget to add how it was viewed when it was released. Reaching musicians and people involved themselves for their memories, is also something adding value to the articles.


The illusion of knowledge.

In this blog that a few people are reading all this time, you can find interviews dated 5 or 10 years ago, that the author would completely change in the present date. Everything changes, everything can change. And if you will ask me, "why don’t you change or update those old interviews and articles herein?" I will reply that I probably don’t really like all those edits of the modern, digital world. I don’t find wrong the mistakes of the past and it is a good opportunity to seeing how things change and evolve. It's not bad to have a few mistakes there as a reminder so you will be better in the future. We will never stop learning because as someone once said, "The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge."

The press, the writers, promoters and the artists, they all have done something wrong, something great, something unnecessary in the past. It’s up to each individual to keep what they want to remember but we should always keep in mind that sometimes the memory remains for what is and what’s printed but also everything can change with the passing of time.  
 
There are so many bands out there and there are so many writers too but let’s not forget that you don’t have to be a musician so you can write about music, just like you don’t have to be a chef in order to say if you like a hamburger or not. It’s very simple. If there’s an objection, remember this: Just like anyone that can be a "writer" by writing something, everyone can be a "musician" by grabbing an instrument or just "singing". There will be just different results and impact. I remember trying to sing and play the guitar during my high-school years, even rehearsing with a few friends, but we weren’t that good. It’s very clear by looking back but in the early ‘90s we thought we were awesome and we were having fun. In hindsight you can understand that knowledge is something you’re gaining after many years and not something you’re born with. You might be smart or talented but that’s something different.

You might be a hard worker but you might lack of talent. You might be talented but you might be lazy. You might be smart but you could also be ignorant. Play the music you want, write the music you want, listen to the music you like, write about music if you wish. If there is an audience, you’re doing something good for them. Few or many, for a while or for a long time, forgotten or remembered.

In the end, it’s all about the music and the passion for music. That will remain.


All photos are from the author’s personal archive.

Δευτέρα, 19 Ιουλίου 2021

BLACK SABBATH in 1971: Master of Reality and the end of innocence.


Written by Andreas Andreou


SATAN, COCAINE, GOLDEN RECORDS, USA: 1971 ON THE ROAD.

During 1970, Black Sabbath released two albums (Black Sabbath, Paranoid) and from small clubs they went on to tour in the United States while their albums met a huge commercial success despite the negativity of critics and the press that couldn't see at that moment what was happening. Reviews of the albums at the time were savage. The key to commercial success though, always had to do with the USA too; if a band managed to tour in the USA and enter the charts, success was in sight.

The United States of America was a completely different world than Europe and England half a century ago, and the 22-year old fellas from Birmingham got to learn about it and even changed their perspective of the world. When you travelled in the USA in 1971, you could see headlines about Ku Klux Klan bombing school buses, a bomb on a plane, a bomb here and there, the Attica Prison riot, and of course the Vietnam War was still raging. But 50 years ago, there were more things that nowadays sound like they don't matter or they're just "old news" and a "stupid thing". In 1971 in the USA, you had the sentence of Charles Manson after the "trial of the century", and you could also see the founder of the Church of Satan, Anton LaVey, in the cover of the famous Look magazine. "It's a satanic world", Geezer Butler told Rolling Stone magazine that year, and Satanism was a "thing" back then in the USA. "Satan" was a word mentioned with fear in the society half a century ago. Things were different.


In that world (the USA), Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward met all kinds of weirdos and people who invited them to Satanic ceremonies and black magic gatherings since they had the fame of devil-worshippers. They got praise from followers of Charles Manson, even Anton LaVey himself, who (according to Tony and Ozzy) arranged a black magic parade in San Francisco honoring the band with a "Welcome Black Sabbath" banner. They never really understood it but that was America; A different world. And keep in mind that we're talking about something different: That was the context of the world half a century ago.

Years later, the Church of Satan said that the black magic parade was a myth, but in this world, Black Sabbath was often related with black magic and Satan even if they had just a handful of songs about Old Nick and they always denied every connection with that - they even made fun of it. They had a dark vibe, a presence of an invisible fifth member and the Devil's interval, the tritone, and THE RIFF, but that's all; it just gave birth to Heavy Metal.

However, when Ozzy parted ways with the rest and everyone entered the '80s, things changed, heavy metal music became something different and both parties (Ozzy in his solo career and what Iommi did with the Black Sabbath moniker) embraced the dark image and all those myths. Ozzy became the bat-biting Prince of Darkness and sung songs about Aleister Crowley and Manson's murders, while Tony Iommi wrote riffs about the hill of the headless cross and Satan, even added a red devil baby in the cover of a Sabbath album. Well, they kept wearing crosses, just like those Ozzy's father made for the original 4 in the early days that were supposed to keep them safe from evil eyes and evil possessors but things really changed in the '80s. According to the "image", Tony Iommi made most of the people that entered the Sabbath timeline in the '80s wearing crosses, just like those Ozzy's father brought. That was the '80s, the second decade of cocaine that became the devil's daughter for both Ozzy and Tony who were seduced by her, but let' go back to 1971...

Black Sabbath started writing the first new songs on the road, while touring in the UK (with a short visit in Australia for the Myponga Pop Festival) but they stopped since the management and labels asked them to visit again the USA for touring since Paranoid got its US release by Warner Bros. Records a few months later than the Vertigo UK & European release. The band played in the USA until April, and a few shows followed back in Europe with the last one at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England, on April 26th of 1971. The show in Royal Albert Hall was supposed to be during the January British tour but the band was banned because of their image, their lyrics and their music. Promoters were afraid.

 

In just a few months, both Black Sabbath and Paranoid achieved gold status and a third tour in North America was booked starting in July 1971. Black Sabbath had just a few weeks until May to finish their third album and continue touring, in a schedule that nowadays looks unreal and impossible.

 

Before even releasing Master of Reality, Black Sabbath had already performed more than 200 shows (sometimes performing two shows at the same day) let alone all those shows during 1968 and the first half of 1969 before changing name to Black Sabbath. While the first US tour was something like a successful experiment, the following ones and the shows they performed, made them one of the biggest bands of the planet. The audience went mad when Ozzy, Tony, Geezer and Bill were on stage and even if that was just the beginning, they were already old dogs but they never stopped learning new tricks. Black Sabbath continued in North America until late-October 1971. When 1971 came to an end, Black Sabbath had already performed an estimated number of 300 shows. Think about it for a while. And it was not just that. They continued touring supporting Master of Reality in the United Kingdom during January and February of 1972 while in late-February they returned to the USA for more shows until April 1972, adding an estimated number of 50 more shows!

We've said the USA changed the band's perspective of the world. They were already introduced to marijuana and different kinds of pills but in the world of America the hard-line drug-dust came in front of them just like pizza and all those groupies, weirdos and freaks, among the thousands of fans. Tony Iommi must have been the first one who did cocaine while Bill Ward and Ozzy Osbourne shortly followed during some LA nights. Ozzy was introduced to cocaine by Leslie West of Mountain, a guitarist that was a huge influence for another important person in Ozzy's timeline: Randy Rhoads.

Master of Reality was certified gold from advance sales before it was even released. In a period of two years, from late-1969 to late-1971, Black Sabbath shaped different heavy genres of music, inspired countless people, released three albums and went from small clubs in England to headline shows of thousands in the USA. That was the end of innocence and the beginning of a new era. "I feel the band is getting very influenced by the American trip", Ozzy said to Melody Maker in 1972, when they were somehow relocated in the United States, and influence for every new song was coming from the world. It was just a different new world, so that's what the music was about: the daily life and social chaos, drugs, pollution, war and evil, supernatural and the afterlife. Still though, there were also moments of happiness and love within those songs.

 Black Sabbath at Central Park, NYC. August 15, 1971 (photo by Bob Gruen)

 

WHEN WAS "MASTER OF REALITY" ACTUALLY RECORDED?

The most confusing thing is the period the album was actually recorded. According to various sources, Master of Reality was recorded during February-April 1971 in Island Studio in London, while Tony Iommi wrote in his biography Iron Man (First Da Capo Press paperback edition, 2012, page 94) that the album was recorded in February and March of 1971, and he's also mentioning they had two weeks to record Master of Reality. In the kind of life of people like Tony, Ozzy, Geezer and Bill, exact dates are not something that's really certain when they're asked about it.

For sure, the album was recorded in London with producer Rodger Bain for the third and final time, and Tom Allom engineering. But it wasn't recorded during March, since by mid-February until early-April, Black Sabbath were touring in North America. Then, they returned to Europe for a few more European dates in Scandinavian countries with the last one in London, England, on April 26th of 1971. So, the album is either recorded after that date in May or June of 1971, or before February 1971, or just those few days during early April after the North America tour and before the few European dates.

So, when was Master of Reality recorded? Maybe they worked on a few basic tracks after Christmas of 1970 up to early January 1971 but surely entered the studio early-February for a few days. The final recordings were probably in a week during early April and/or completed in May 1971.

The album was released in both the UK and the USA on July 21, when they were already back in the United States for another major tour.


THE ALBUM. THE SONGS. THE LEGACY.

Recorded with producer Rodger Bain, the album is the perfect follow-up to Black Sabbath and Paranoid. Primal and gloomy, heavy and honest, Master of Reality is the end of innocence for the band members before they will move on to more ambitious and experimental albums as established rock stars, without any specific few-days recording limitation from record companies and management, or producers like Bain claiming part of their glory.

Down, down, down-tuned, Master of Reality was the heaviest album on earth upon its release. The heaviest thing the world witnessed up to that moment. It was the year where the term "heavy metal" also started appearing in magazines more often and found its true meaning in describing that specific genre-defining album that became the blueprint for all-things heavy, different sub-genres and music styles that followed years (even decades) later. Master of Reality was the heavy metal music of its time.

However, a few people and writers are often confused and believe that Tony Iommi down-tuned his guitar for the album but that's not really correct. Iommi did it in just three songs: "Children of the Grave", "Lord of This World" and "Into the Void". "They were played with guitars detuned three semitones to sharp C", an expert - musician would say, and I guess that's the exact musical term for what Iommi did. But why did he do it? After countless live shows and days on stage, the pain in his chopped fingertips was constant. The sound was already heavy but with the down-tuning he reduced the string tension and that was easier for him to perform the mammoth riffs. Then, Geezer Butler also down-tuned his bass to match the Riff Master and Ozzy started singing higher to balance everything.

Today, there are many audio engineers and people in the music industry, and when something (very) heavy and sludgy appears, sometimes, someone will say "it's not properly recorded", while others are lost in overproduced albums that you can't really listen to all the instruments and music elements properly. Labels didn't change Black Sabbath's music, and "social media experts" of the modern age was something that didn't exist, but it would be fun to have them back then speaking about "a bad production", "average vocals" and "sloppy playing". Thankfully, 50 years ago nobody affected Sabbath's sound and the history of music changed. With all its "faults", the "you can't do that!", and "maths" that are not right; because simply, music is not just maths and it can be something more. Frank Zappa once explained it better. In the end, Black Sabbath really did everything their way. With weird riffs for the time, different changes, sounds and tempos "that's not going to work!" even within the same track. They made it work. Thankfully.

 

There wasn't any single prior to the release of Master of Reality. "Paranoid" (the song), a last-minute track requested by the label for the previous album, was a huge hit, but Black Sabbath had a different perspective and they never repeated it or looked for it in the '70s; the "hit", a label wanted. They even talked to the press about those pop "screaming kids" you could see in mainstream acts. "We don't need those fans. And we're not changing our act just to please kids who bought the single", Sabbath's comment was in the Disc and Music Echo magazine.

Inspired by the "It's the sweetest leaf" slogan of Sweet Afton cigarettes from Ireland, "Sweet Leaf" begins with Tony Iommi's echo-coughing after a big joint offer by Ozzy and taped in the studio. The blueprint song for the '90s heavy and stoner rock music is a love song but it doesn't involve people, just the love for marijuana ("I love you sweet leaf"). Just like "Sweet Leaf", "After Forever" was also a song raising controversy with lines like "would you like to see the Pope on the end of a rope - do you think he's a fool?" but the song is not against Christ and God, it is just a song criticizing the Catholic Church and the "people like you that crucified Christ". Geezer Butler, a raised Catholic, writes "they should realize before they criticize, that God is the only way to love" giving also one of the first lyrical contents to '80s bands like Trouble but also white (or Christian) metal.

"Embryo" just serves as the intro to "Children of the Grave", "a little classical thing to give it all a little space and create some light and shade" as Tony Iommi writes in his autobiography. Of course, while Sabbath was all the time on the road and with all previous song ideas used in the first two albums, they have limited time writing new songs, so those small instrumental parts, besides sharing a similar purpose, the out-of-the-box light in darkness and gloomy vibe, were bits that extended the album's tracks. And then, you have one of the most iconic Sabbath (and heavy metal in general) tracks, "Children of the Grave". Arriving from a working-class life at the height of the Vietnam War, Black Sabbath echo the world of late-60s and early-70s from the eyes of the youth. In the first verse, Ozzy sings about children who start to march against the world in which they have to live, and in the last verse, he talks to them: "Show the world that love is still alive, you must be brave, or you children of today are children of the grave". It's a warning to the children of that era, the kind of song that the youth of the early-70s was connected with, felt and loved, despite the criticism of the media against Black Sabbath. Having a Hammer Horror vibe, this song is a work of genius, from Iommi's galloping riff that influenced almost everything in heavy, epic and power metal in the '80s, to Bill Ward's overdubbed timbales and Ozzy's desperate "yeah!" at the end of each verse. "Children of the Grave" was revolutionary and besides its music, it was lyrically a huge influence for what followed the next years.

"Orchid" is another Iommi acoustic piece, adding light and colour within the shade and darkness, following the revolution of children of the grave before the devil song; one of the few actually Sabbath wrote in the '70s about Old Nick, Satan, the evil possessor that becomes your confessor. "Lord of This World" was a sinister song for the context of 1971. The riff and the change after a few seconds but mainly Ozzy's performance gave that threatening element, adding also the trademark "yeah" in the end of the first verses. It's one of those Sabbath tracks that Ozzy's voice becomes the soul of the song, playing the role of Satan himself, and after the final verse, Iommi and Butler lead the song to glorious heights proving that the chemistry of the original Sab-4 was perfect and was never reached again in such a continuation.

There was a debate for years about who's really singing on "Solitude". Of course it is Ozzy and that was Sabbath's first true love song including flute and piano by Iommi. Ozzy's pessimistic and eerie performance on lines like "the world is a lonely place, you're on your own" is another shivering moment that gives to Sabbath's gloomy vibe a new dimension adding also an ambient element. That's what made Ozzy the voice of Black Sabbath and no one sang the '70s song better. It doesn't matter who has the better voice because Oz is the character for those specific cuts. His voice became the emotion and the feeling of those songs. He became insanity, the drug, the loss and the depression, the anger, the possessed. You can't control those feelings, therefore you must be them in order to be convincing, and Ozzy was all of them.

And finally, you have the end of the world. "Into the Void", the apocalyptic horror with pollution killing the air, hate and fear bringing mankind to the final suicide, leaving the earth to Satan and his slaves. Just a few freedom fighters escaped the brainwashed minds and those could be the warned children of the world that escaped the grave. Lyrically, this is another song - warning, while musically, it is one of the greatest moments of Black Sabbath with incredible work by Iommi, and Butler matching the riff behind him.

The Sabbath influence and inspiration was instantly spread all over the world and this is recorded and documented. This is one of the very rare cases in the history of music; Black Sabbath was a revolution. When they toured Europe in 1969, people (fans and other bands) already started talking about "those" songs, without even having an album out and when the debut album was released, everything changed. Instantly.

The Flower Travellin' Band from Japan (!) released their debut album Anywhere just a few months after Sabbath's debut in 1970 and they covered "Black Sabbath" (the track) already, while Ronnie James Dio was already covering live "War Pigs" with The Elves. The Sabbath sound-factor was everywhere already. In 1971, when Master of Reality was released and became the heaviest album in the world, they were already an established and influential band, and the Black Sabbath albums were released everywhere. There are pressings of the first three albums, even in territories like New Zealand, Israel, South Africa, Lebanon, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Taiwan and Philippines, released there already until 1971.


 

THE "HIDDEN" SONGS.

The known track list of Master of Reality when it was released from Vertigo is: 1. Sweet Leaf, 2. After Forever, 3. Embryo, 4. Children of the Grave, 5. Orchid, 6. Lord of This World, 7. Solitude, 8. Into the Void. However, in the first US pressings of Warner Bros, the Master of Reality tracklist appears as: 1. Sweet Leaf, 2. After Forever (including The Elegy), 3. Embryo, 4. Children of the Grave, 5. The Haunting, 6. Orchid, 7. Step Up, 8. Lord of This World, 9. Solitude, 10. Deathmask, 11. Into the Void. While there are countless pressings of the Black Sabbath albums, sometimes those "secret" and "hidden" songs look like separate tracks but what they really are?

Nothing new. Those are actually "ghost" titles. Mostly appearing in North America pressings, Warner Bros. Records wanted more songs because of their publishing deal, so Black Sabbath needed to have a minimum of 10 songs/titles per album in order to reach the publishing agreement. Those "extra" titles were never part of the original recordings and were added afterwards. "The Elegy" is the intro - first section of "After Forever" that also reprises within the song, that's why it is mentioned as "including the Elegy". "The Haunting" are the last seconds of "Children of the Grave" with the whispering echo voice of Ozzy, "Step Up" is the intro riff of "Lord of This World" and "Deathmask" is the first part-segment of "Into the Void".

The most interesting part is that those "secret" songs were mostly added on the vinyl labels and not on the albums' sleeves while they somehow disappeared from later US pressings. Back in the day, those "extra" and "secret" songs reached a mythical status confusing most of the people for a while but reality was something different.

 

THE MISTAKES.

When the album was released, the instrumental tracks ("Embryo", "Orchid") and "After Forever" were credited to Tony Iommi alone for the first time, while the rest five tracks were credited to all of them (Iommi/Butler/Osbourne/Ward) just like before. However, everyone knows that Iommi never wrote lyrics, nor did one tell Ozzy how to sing the vocal melodies, even if during the Sabbath years, many times he sung upon the riff. It is known that the lyrics of "After Forever" were written by Geezer Butler but we don't know why this song was credited to Iommi alone in the beginning. That's what most people say, right?

Well, the credit to Iommi-only could be a mistake of Vertigo Records that handled the UK and European pressings, since in the US pressings of Warner Bros. the credit is correct and includes all names. In different pressings of the album in recent years, the credit has changed to all of them.

A few first pressings had the title on labels like Masters of Reality and that was corrected in future pressings. Among the first pressings with mistaken labels were US, Canadian and German versions, while in German early pressings, they also forgot to add "Embryo" on the labels.

The "hidden" songs also added a mistake that kept going for decades, especially on vinyl pressings. While "Into the Void" was split in two in the early pressings ("Deathmask" and "Into the Void") in the subsequent pressings, the time duration of "Deathmask" (the first part of "Into the Void") was added in the time duration of "Solitude", so the ballad appeared as an 8-minute song. That mistake kept going to many different vinyl pressings even until 2011. Of course, when the vinyl records or compact discs were playing, the time separation between the tracks was correct and the mistake was only mentioned on labels.

The mistakes on names and artists is very common, so there are many early pressings with wrongly written names.

US Warner Bros. Records' first pressings with wrong title (Masters of Reality), "ghost titles" included and "After Forever" correctly credited to all (Iommi mentioned as "Ioomi")


 

 Early German pressings with wrong title (Masters of Reality), missing title ("Embryo") and "After Forever" credited to Iommi.

 

 

 US Warner Bros. Records' early pressings with corrected title, no "ghost titles" (except "The Elegy" that remained), "After Forever" correctly credited to all, and wrong running time for "Solitude".

 

THE MANY FACES OF THE ALBUM.

There are already around 400 different versions of Master of Reality since July 1971 all over the world, making it one of the most-times released Sabbath albums. The most known cover versions have the purple band logo and the album title in black letters, or black letters with white border, or black letters with purple border. But there are more. Much more than you can imagine and probably we will never see them all.

First vinyl pressing had the Vertigo swirl label on side A and tracklist on side B. Vinyl was in a Vertigo poly-lined inner sleeve and there was also a poster. Instead of a regular cover sleeve, there was a laminated sleeve in the form of a box-envelope opening from the top and bottom. Band logo and album title were embossed on the front cover, while on the back there were printed lyrics and credits. That was also the first time that Black Sabbath lyrics were printed in an album since the previous pressings of Black Sabbath and Paranoid didn't include the lyrics.


 

EPILOGUE: KILLING THE HIPPY DREAM - A NEW ERA RISES.

The original Sab-4 (©) were raised in the urban and industrial area of Birmingham and when they released the first two albums in 1970, they presented what is considered the beginning of heavy metal. With the third album, Master of Reality, they became the inventors of Heavy Metal and the world of music changed. It was the music, the name, the aura, the lyrics. They had them all, but most important, they also had the RIFF. In those first 6 albums, they played all the riffs that built heavy music offering inspiration for thousands of variations of their riffs that shaped heavy and metal music with all their sub-genres in the '80s, the '90s, the '00s and beyond.

In 1971, when Master of Reality was released and Black Sabbath presented heavy metal in a full primal form, society started changing and Black Sabbath were there to get and return that vibe, the soundtrack of war, nuclear destruction, social struggle and evil. The era of flowers and innocence was gone and critics hated Black Sabbath for "killing the hippy dream". The Woodstock generation and the dream of a better society failed within society itself.

Jimi Henrdix died in 1970, The Beatles broke-up in 1970, a new era started and it's not just "love and flowers". Before Black Sabbath, there was soul, pop, psychedelic rock and the flower pop movement; things the magazines presented. Then, Black Sabbath came and presented something new in its full form. That wasn't just a random heavy riff, one song in one album, just a cover or an image; they had a continuation. And since it wasn't just one element or just a few "heavy" moments or just a song, critics and magazines didn't know how to handle them. There wasn't anything alike before, so this new, heavy music, was considered a "mistake". Critics mocked Black Sabbath but this "mistake" was something really new and revolutionary that youth loved and was taking over everything the critics previously adored.

A new era began and half a century later Master of Reality is among the most important cornerstones of everything that followed in hard, heavy and metal music. Decades later, there are still countless musicians, bands and producers, who’re trying to reproduce the music, the feeling, the performance and the sound of Master of Reality and what the original Sab-4 did in the ‘70s. You can’t beat that.

 

 



Δευτέρα, 19 Απριλίου 2021

The Chronicles of the Sword: A study in the early years and the debut albums of DOMINE and DOOMSWORD.

by Andreas Andreou


You were called by the Gods, their powers to wield. Guard well the Secret of Steel...

...it was the year MCMLXXXIII when Manowar unleashed upon humanity the album Into Glory Ride and the quest for the Secret of Steel started in the world of heavy metal. For the brothers Enrico and Riccardo Paoli, the journey began exactly that year in Piombino in Italy. Enrico on guitar and Riccardo on bass, were joined by Stefano Mazzella on vocals, Agostino Carpo on guitar and Carlo Funaioli on drums. School kids at that moment, they started rehearsing but actually, in the very beginning, they mostly started learning how to play. The passion was there, something that became more serious when they decided to quit playing cover songs and started composing their own original material, leading to the year 1986 when under the name Domine, they recorded their first demo, sometimes referred as Domine, others as Demo 1986, including the songs "Lords of War", "Let the Lightning Strike", "King of All the Kings" and "Eyes of Medusa".

During their early school years, bands like Black Sabbath, Saxon, Kiss, Thin Lizzy and Queen were the ones they were listening to, but Enrico Paoli was also influenced by sword 'n' sorcery novels, horror and authors like Michael Moorcock, H.P. Lovecraft, Paul Anderson, J.R.R. Tolkien, even the Homeric epics and mythology, leading to the epic side of heavy music and the glorious bands of the era like Manowar, Virgin Steele, Cirith Ungol and Warlord. And while band names like Destroyer (inspired by the album of Kiss) and Bloodlust were also used, Domine was the final name they chose, establishing a complete epic aesthetic for the music, lyrics and art. What most people don't know is that the origins of the name come from Pink Floyd's "Astronomy Domine" song but in Latin the word "Domine" definitely sounds epic and perfectly suitable for the band's music.

Enrico Paoli, seeing Manowar live in 1986 and Ozzy Osbourne with Jake E. Lee, believed that the band should be stronger on stage and Domine performed a few live shows supporting bands from Italy like Dark Quarterer who had released their same-titled debut album in 1987 and The Etruscan Prophecy in 1988, and were also based in the same area. In April of 1989, Domine decided to record a professional demo at Much More Studio in Florence, where Italian bands like Sabotage and Death SS were using, since Enrico Paoli never really liked the 1986 demo. Named Champion Eternal, the new demo included "The Mightiest War", "Doomed Lord Dreaming", "Stormbringer, the Black Sword", "May the Rainbow Shine on You", "The Eternal Champion" (a suite in 7 parts) and "Kings in Darkness". Performing a few more shows in Italy and spreading the demo in a few countries like their homeland, Greece and Germany, Domine started building a small underground fan base.

One more demo was recorded in 1991 but this time, Domine didn't travel to Florence for the recordings so the result was a very rough output, mostly recorded live without a proper mixing procedure. Named Bearer of the Sword, the third demo included the tracks "Introduction", "Dark Emperor",  "Midnight Meat Train", "Ghosts, a Poem", "The Ship of the Lost Souls", "Blood Brothers' Fight" and "Uriel, the Flame of God".


At that point, with the Champion Eternal and Bearer of the Sword demo tapes, Domine already had their own style. They didn't sound like the European heavy / power metal bands but they also didn't sound like the heavy / power metal bands from the United States. Maybe you could find a few similarities with bands like Virgin Steele but Domine's epic heavy metal was something different, a league on their own, that was based in songs  composed in a way that could highlight and expand the storytelling, something that was very important for Enrico Paoli, the main composer.

Lyrically, Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné series is the key influence but Paoli definitely added more stories in the songs, like "Midnight Meat Train'' that is based on Clive Barker's horror story from the first part of Books of Blood collection. For those interested, there is a same-titled film directed by Ryuhei Kitamura (check also his film Versus) in 2008 with (the now famous) Bradley Cooper in one of his first roles, and Vinnie Jones. Paoli himself is a huge fan of horror movies.

The purpose behind the low-budget recording of Bearer of the Sword demo (in a period where recording didn't have the digital and social media world's convenience) was mainly to save money in order to have a properly recorded official release, a 7" single, or a split mini LP , but it didn't happen. Actually, the following period didn't go as Domine probably wanted since a record deal never came but instead, the departure of singer Stefano Mazzella in 1992 and guitarist Agostino Carpo later, is what followed. Despite some negative reviews over the years, Mazzella was a close friend of Paoli and he always believed that he would be improved. Mazzella didn't really want to move on a professional level and that was always Paoli's goal. From that point on, Enrico remained as the only guitarist and the new singer was Simone Gazzola. That line-up recorded the Demo '94 including the tracks "Intro", "The Mass of Chaos", "Rising from the Flames", "Freedom Flight" and "Army of the Dead". Even if this demo is often considered "official", it was a recording that wasn't spread or sold like the previous ones. Gazzola's vocals didn't satisfy the band who kept those recordings as a preview of songs that wanted to properly record for the debut album. However, they already sent a few copies to friends, just to listen to the songs and that's how that demo was spread in the tape-trading years.

The singer's spot was many times what a few reviews found as the weakest part of those demo tapes, something that Paoli has also stated in the past. Gazzola didn't last but drummer and founding member Carlo Funaioli also left Domine, and then the Paoli brothers moved to Florence (they were born there before moving to Piombino). When Paoli started looking for members in Florence, drummer Mimmo Palmiotta joined them, already known from Death SS since he performed in their albums ...in Death of Steve Sylvester (1988) and Black Mass (1989), he was a personal friend of Enrico and they knew each other from the underground metal scene and also played together in the short-lived Italian band, Masterstroke. And then, they were lucky enough to have Morby (born Adolfo Morviducci) joining them as the lead singer after refusing the first time he was asked, when Mazzella left. Previously known as the singer of Sabotage, Morby also sang in Time Machine's Shades of Time EP and we already have reached 1997, the year that Domine's debut album Champion Eternal was finally released.

For better luck, when Enrico Paoli moved to Florence, he started working for Audioglobe, a major distribution record company in Italy and then he founded Dragonheart Records, a division of Audioglobe, and Domine's debut album was released by his own label.


Recorded at Planet Sound Studios in Florence, with songs that were already written during the previous years, Champion Eternal starts with "Hymn", the intro to Domine's world and then... Legions of black cloaks are gathering to "The Mass of Chaos", a song inspired by the horrors of Lovecraft and similar minds, speaking about a sect that summons a Demon God of another dimension through a sacrificial ritual. "The Chronicles of the Black Sword" starts with a small instrumental part named "Doomed Lord Dreaming" and the narration "My name is Elric and I bear the Black Sword" is the beginning of the main part called "Stormbringer (The Black Sword)", an epic and dramatic song about Elric of Melniboné and the sword that drinks the souls of his enemies. "The Freedom Flight" starts with the screams of Michelle Pfeiffer's character named Isabeau in Richard Donner's noble fantasy film Ladyhawke (1985), while she falls off a tower and transforms into a hawk. That epic song about freedom and hope, leads to the "Army of the Dead", a dark epic suite in 5 parts, inspired by sword 'n' sorcery stories, where a city of immortals becomes a city of the army of the dead.

What Domine have managed to do and what separates them from the majority of epic heavy metal bands, is that their stories build the songs. The storytelling becomes the song. An intro that set the mood, a riff that becomes the character, a melodic passage that becomes the character's feelings, the performance, the vocal lines and the way Morby sings, the bass guitar that's always there like the shadow of the guitar that has its own ghostly character, the drums and every beat that could be a clash of swords, marching of warriors, and in the end a redemption or just a dark fate.

"The Proclamation" is a narrated part introducing the "Dark Emperor", a J.R.R. Tolkien inspired story. All narrations of the album are courtesy of Richard J. Burton, an old friend of the band who also narrated in the demo years, while Steve Sylvester of Death SS offers a few backing vocals. There are certain moments where keyboards are really important for the atmosphere and in "Dark Emperor" this is more than obvious since there is a ritualistic aura of terror. "Rising from the Flames" starts with a doomy Sabbathian riff to become another epic that's often overlooked. Being mainly an epic heavy metal band so far, the horror element is very strong in the early Domine years. We've seen it in previous songs of Champion Eternal but in "The Midnight Meat Train" that element is a prowler who few people find slightly out-of-place since it brings terror in the modern era and New York's subway. Still though, who can ignore that deadly riff, Palmiota's speedy pounding and Riccardo's maniacal bass? And finally, the storytelling we mentioned before finds its true essence in "The Eternal Champion", a suite in 7 parts, an iconic epic metal song, an immortal tale, a heroic saga.


The rest of the Domine albums also came out by Dragonheart Records, a few of the older songs of the demo years appeared in them and Domine more or less became a power metal band keeping also the "epic metal" element. There aren't many European epic and power metal bands with such a strong discography but that debut album always has a special place in the heart of those who lived the later demo years and were expecting that album to finally be released. I still remember the day I bought it upon its release and I still remember the first moment I listened to it. And since then, I never stopped following the 8-arrowed symbol of Chaos and what Domine's music represents.


This sword is the backbone of the life that I know...

...listen to the wind, it tells the story. The same year Champion Eternal was released, another band was forming in Gallarate, in Italy, using the name DoomSword. Actually, the idea of forming the band, came when the guitarist of the extreme metal band Agarthi (known as Vali) met Maurizio Chiarello, the owner of the Underground Symphony record label, during a visit in a record store in Milan and everything begun during a conversation about Cirith Ungol. Vali said that he wanted to form an epic metal band inspired by Warlord, Medieval Steel, Cirith Ungol and similar acts, and Maurizio told him that if he does it, he will release the album.

Vali called Avenir, his fellow guitarist from Agarthi and started completing what he said, immediately. Inspired by the cover art of Warlord's Deliver Us MLP, Vali became Deathmaster handling vocals too, and Avenir became Guardian Angel, handling drum duties too. With the addition of Soldier of Fortune (they all used pseudonyms) on bass, Sacred Metal demo was written in a few days and recorded in a few hours, including the tracks "Swords of Doom", "Sacred Metal", "Foredoomed", "Warbringers" and "On the March".

150 copies of that demo were supposed to be pressed but actually 150 covers were made and the manual copying of the tapes stopped after 30-40 copies because the band lost a whole bunch of covers. During the tape-trading circuit, hundreds more were spread-copied to underground metal fans building immediately a strong fan-base. Just like the Domine demo tapes, I remember myself trading (copying) demo tapes of Greek metal bands and getting a tape having the DoomSword demo and a few more goodies of that era.

Prior to DoomSword, there is a brief story lost in time, when Deathmaster was in another band with Guardian Angel and Mario Degiovanni. Formed in 1993, the short-lived band of Warhammer recorded just a few demo tracks and split because Mario wanted to follow a path devoted to Manowar while Deathmaster wanted to add more elements and follow a path devoted to the Asatru period of Bathory. Mario joined Wotan in 1998 and while the third DoomSword album Let Battle Commence (2003) is the most Bathory-inspired album of the band, Deathmaster (using the name Vali) formed Gjallarhorn releasing the album Nordheim in 2005 keeping there all his Nordic and Viking music elements that were closer to Quorthon's music, so DoomSword would never lose their own identity.

Epic metal was very strong in the Mediterranean where Greece was always the leading force of fans back in the '90s, followed by Italy, even if the "epic metal" term in Greece was spread already by a specific editor of Metal Hammer magazine. It doesn't matter if the term was probably occasionally there, it was spread by the articles of that magazine helping building a foundation of underground metal fans that later distance themselves from the mainstream press. Looking back in history, nowadays "epic metal" definitely can be seen as a subgenre and not just a set of mood because of the lyrics. Sometimes it is epic heavy metal, sometimes epic power metal, sometimes epic doom metal but the same-titled debut album of DoomSword is one perfect example of a pure epic metal album.


Recorded at Alex Studio in July-August 1998, the line-up was Deathmaster on guitar and vocals, Guardian Angel on drums and guitar, Dark Omen on bass and Nightcomer on lead vocals. Guitar solos were performed by Deathmaster, Guardian Angel and also guests Gianluca Ferro, Paco Trotta and Alex Festa. The band never performed live with that line-up or during the period of the debut album but singer Gabriele Grilli (Nightcomer) joined DoomSword on stage during their show at Keep It True Festival in 2008. DoomSword's same-titled debut album was released in March 1999 by Underground Symphony.


Opening with "Sacred Metal", the album sets the epic metal mood at once. You know what's going to follow; stories of glory, steel and legends of the past. The chanting of Deathmaster on the intro passes the torch to lead singer Nightcomer and the most natural epic metal feeling one can imagine dominates the album. After the anthemic opening track, they raise the banners higher with the sword-wieldin' metal of "Warbringers" and with "Helms Deep" the battle is raging. Along with writers like Michael Moorcock, Robert E. Howard and J.R.R. Tolkien, the lyrics of DoomSword were also inspired by the writing of Quorthon and Mark Shelton, building small stories within the songs. After the Tolkien-inspired "Helms Deep", in "One Eyed God" DoomSword speak about the Asgardian All-Father and in "Return to Imrryr", the dragon with the black sword, Elric of Melniboné. The songs are epic and melancholic but they don't have yet the barbaric wrath and the dramatic storytelling of the following albums.

In the next albums, DoomSword presented more solid lyrics about mythology, legends, medieval themes, Viking saga and Celtic legacy. Deathmaster also is going to handle all lead vocals from the next album Resound the Horn (2002) where the band had already finalized their epic metal style. But the debut album is a pure and passionate release, an album inspired by specific bands and records and Deathmaster knew that he wasn't ready yet.

DoomSword offered an album by fans for fans. One of the most important releases of the underground metal scene of its time. So important that it was a scene-defining album for epic metal. True and original like very few, just like the excellent version of  "Nadsokor", a Cirith Ungol cover taken from the One Foot in Hell album of 1986. This album is a rare case that stands on its own and it doesn't matter where one will place it in the band's catalogue. "We're the ones, the chosen to wield the swords of doom", they continue at "Swords of Doom" and indeed, DoomSword knew that the SWORD will guide their heart and that was just the beginning; the SWORD was forged.

Closing with "On the March", we're getting a glimpse of the future and the following albums. That song brings upfront the dark epic side of DoomSword, the epic doom metal element that was also present in the future and lyrical themes of siege, vengeance and death.

The marching just began.


Thor Battering the Midgard Serpent painting of Henry Fuseli (German: Johann Heinrich Füssli) that is used as the cover art of the DoomSword debut album. In 1790, Fuseli became a full Academician, presenting that painting as his diploma work.


The author of this blog and Deathmaster, Anno Domini MMX (Up The Hammers Festival 2010), agreed that Hammerheart is the greatest Bathory album.