Pearl Jam’s ‘Marker in the Sand,’ Atheist Leanings

You have to be careful whenever you make any claim about a band’s lyrics because rock bands are notorious for being ambiguous. However, after listening to Pearl Jam’s “Marker in the Sand” I have to say it leans towards agnosticism/atheism and a freeing of the mind from religion. It doesn’t mean we have to yell hooray or anything, but if you want to add it to your freethinking playlist it would be a good entry. And if you want to interpret it to support your faith and as some sort of indictment of hypocritical religion then feel free too, but what I know of Eddie Vedder is that he leans towards unbelief. SongMeanings.net has a great discussion on what listeners think the song means.

Also please note that asking or calling out God is a literary device often used by unbelievers (I’ve done it myself). It doesn’t indicate actual belief, rather it’s a form of sarcasm.

The lyrics are quite beautiful:

There is a marker, no one sees it ’cause the sand
Has covered over, all the messages it kept
Misunderstanding, what original truth was
And out expanding, in a faith, but not in love

What went wrong?

Walking tightrope high over moral ground
Seeing visions of falling up somehow
Do come down

With the living let what is living love
So unforgiving, yet needing forgiveness first

God, what do you say?

Those undecided needn’t have faith to be free
And those misguided, there was a plan for them to be
Now you got both sides claiming killing in God’s name
But god is nowhere to be found, conveniently

What goes on?

Walking tightrope high over moral ground
Walk the bridges before you burn them down
Do come round

With the living let what is living love
Unforgiving, yet needing forgiveness first

God, what do you say? What do you say?

I feel a sickness. A sickness coming over me
Like watching freedom being sucked straight out to sea
And the solution? Well, from me far would it be
But the delusion is feeling dangerous to me

What goes wrong?

Walking tightrope high over moral ground
Seeing visions of falling up somehow
Do come down

With the living, let what is living love
Are forgiving, yet needing forgiveness first

What do you say? God, what do you say?
What do you say?

Calling out, calling out
Calling out, I’m calling you out

 

‘Jesus Christ Pose,’ a Soundgarden Classic

I’ve been organizing discographies of my favorite bands including the grunge era. One of the best songs to come out of that time period is “Jesus Christ Pose” by Soundgarden. Not only does it have great lyrics but Chris Cornell wailing them out against a pounding rhythm is…well, it fuckin’ wakes up your senses.

The lyrics can be interpreted in several ways, but Chris Cornell has said the Jesus Christ Pose (JCP for short) mainly refers to people who exploit religion for personal benefit. Those religious leaders, politicians and celebrities who put their arms out as if they’re being crucified in the same way as Christ are often attention seeking hypocrites. I would add to that the general mass of western Christians who shout bigotry whenever someone dares to make a crack about their religion or tell them they can’t put the Ten Commandments up in a state courthouse, whining as if they’re a persecuted minority when their faith is in the majority.

The video is a bit more obscure with the meaning, as with all rock videos, and shows some images that might imply more bite–why is there a skeleton still hanging on the cross? The woman on the cross is more obvious (persecution of women) but a skeleton implies permanent death with no resurrection. It may have been unintentional. According to Wiki, numerous items/people were shot on the cross and then narrowed down to only a couple of visually striking images.

The real hypocrisy is MTV banning this video in 1991 and apparently still not playing it in its entirety because of a woman on a cross and related imagery. As if, by this time, this JCP message is still that offensive and MTV’s  junk TV isn’t offensive to the intellect to begin with? Even Christians could see this video as an indictment of false prophets and anti-Christs. And Jesus Christ, if he existed, never had exclusive reign over being crucified. It was simply a method of execution.

And you stare at me
In your Jesus Christ pose
Arms held out
Like you’ve been carrying a load
And you swear to me
You don’t want to be my slave

But you’re staring at me
Like I need to be saved
In your Jesus Christ pose
Arms held out
In your Jesus Christ pose
Thorns and shroud
Like it’s the coming of the Lord
And I swear to you
That I would never feed you pain

But your staring at me
Like I’m driving the nails
In your Jesus Christ pose
And you stare at me
In your Jesus Christ pose
Arms held out like it’s
The coming of the Lord

And would it pay you more to walk on water
Then to wear a crown of thorns
It wouldn’t pain me more to bury you rich
Then to bury you poor
In your Jesus Christ pose
Read more at http://www.songmeanings.net/songs/view/3938/#pGa6bO4lDpzxjR5b.99

Jim Croce, Singing About Hypocrites From the Grave

I really shouldn’t know as much as I do about Jim Croce since he was before my time, but I love his music. He had a short run from 1966 to 1973 as a popular musician before he died in a plane crash. Some of his well known songs are “Time in a Bottle” and “Bad Leroy Brown.” One of my favorites, though, is “Which Way Are You Goin’?” Words of wisdom from the past.

Lyrics to “Which Way Are You Goin'”

Which way are you going?
Which side will you be on?
Will you stand and watch
While all the seeds of hate are sown
Will you stand with those who say
“Let his will be done?”

One hand on the bible
One hand on the gun
One hand on the bible
One hand on the gun

Which way are you looking
Is it hard to see?
Do you say
“What’s wrong for him is not wrong for me?”
You walk the streets of
Righteousness but you refuse to understand

You say you love the baby
Then you crucify the man
You say you love the baby
Then you crucify the man

Everyday things are changing
Words once honored turned to lies
People wondering, can you blame them
It’s too far to run and too late to hide

Now you turn your back on
All the things that you used to preach
Now it’s, “Let him live in freedom, if he lives like me”
Well, your light has changed, confusion rains
What have you become

All your olive branches turned to spears
When your flowers turned to guns
Your olive branches turned to spears
When your flowers turned to guns

 

—–
Another interesting video take of the song:

Lyrics | Jim Croce lyricsWhich Way Are You Going lyrics

Shift, ‘Watch it Burn’ Album Review

Watch it Burn by Shift, *** Stars

When I came up with the slogan for Freethunk “You’re not crazy, they are!” it was meant to be tongue in cheek, but also to represent the need for freethinking entertainment. Entertainment that reminds you that you’re not alone and that not believing the gods is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. So when I find a band that doesn’t mind posting the infamous atheist “A” on their official site, of course I want to plug them. I won’t simply say their music is good because they have leanings towards freethought or atheism–that would be disingenuous. But that’s the best part about Shift–their music does kick some ass!

You can download the latest album “Watch it Burn” at www.shiftband.net for free. However, if you’re a supporter of the Freethunk concept of a competing culture of ideas against the predominant superstitious culture and the Christian subculture, then buy the expanded album for 4 bucks (I mean it’s 4 bucks!). Why? Because it includes a cover of “Dear God” originally by XTC, one of the more interesting interpretations, and also an Anthrax cover of “In My World.”

It’s hard to nail down the style of Shift, but there is an old school metal feel to the crunch of the guitars and the vocals range from rage to softness, something I appreciated since so many new bands I test out just growl on their records and call it a day. I prefer melody mixed in with the pounding. We tend to call it progressive metal now, but back when I was growing up we called it “power metal.” Power metal is basically metal that wasn’t thrash or necessarily speed metal, but it did stomp on the heads of hair metal bands with their embarrassingly weak song structures.  It had a toughness, a competence, if you will, that made you feel like you were listening to true metal (if there is such a thing). Shift has that competence. It’s not perfection–they are experimenting–but you are listening to a band that loves its craft and is going make you pay attention as they are “not just another band.”

Lyrically, you’re going to find that they are indeed lyrics–not a blunt atheistic view thrown in your face, but word-crafting that may or may not mean what you think (artists, can’t they just be blunt? Ha! Never!).  Seeing as how the album title is “Watch it Burn” with the cover art showing the earth on fire the lyrics all seem to tie into destroying ourselves or allowing our leaders to destroy us. I kept having the name George Bush pop up in my head as one of the culprits and I couldn’t help but think of the past ten years of Iraq and Afghanistan and even the economical mess we’re in.

I can tell you that the song “War is Peace” has to be Orwellian. 1984 has been my favorite book since childhood. The song is a reminder that we’ve been tricked again. With the Republicans and some conservative Democrats telling us how to fix the economy and how it was the “new leader’s fault” I can’t help but wonder what our world economy would be like without all the bloodshed. I’m not naive enough to think that we can adapt the principles of Gandhi into the government, but for Christ’s sake, how much have we spent on the military alone in the United States while Americans are suffering–including education where our kids are falling behind in math and science. “Peace is peace” and the apocalyptic bonehead Bush wasted both lives and money trying to avenge his father on Saddam. Killing is bankrupting the United States.

Whoops, off on a tangent–but that’s what the music makes me think about and it is a satisfying release of anger. Because we should be angry at seeing the world burn for the sake of a few.

Rob \m/ (as he signs his name) hinted that they are working on a release with an atheist theme when I received an email response. That would of course be awesome and Freethunk will most definitely highlight it. The metal genre has always had more advantages when it comes to expressing views on religion–we expect them to be anti-authoritarian–but there can be a lot of truth found buried in those lyrics that nonmetal fans might appreciate.

If you’re a metalhead freethinker, download this one. If you’re an eclectic listener (metal is one of my first loves, but I like classical and folk music too) then take a chance. Four bucks helps support an “out” band growing in its musical talents.

Tourniquet’s Ark of the Suffering Hypocrisy

I clearly remembering going to Lloyd Center Mall in Portland, Oregon to pick up my copy of Tourniquet’s Stop the Bleeding. Back in the day. Christian Metal was not readily available in most stores–not even Christian bookstores–so I ordered it through a small Christian Supply located within the mall. It took a trip on MAX, the light rail service, to get there and a brief walk past a couple of begging homeless guys who I usually gave a buck too (no longer recommend doing that, always give donations directly to a homeless charity or your money is probably going towards booze). Once I had it (on cassette, mind ya) I couldn’t wait to get home and play it on the stereo reading the lyrics at the same time.

I still think Stop the Bleeding is a great album–though I know the high-pitched style of singing by Guy Ritter on some of the songs throws some people into fits of laughter. It is corny if you’re not a fan of eighties metal, but no worse than King Diamond or glam metal and Guy Ritter discontinued that style of singing for the most part on subsequent albums. At the time, I liked the high-pitch, the growling, and the straightforward singing throughout Stop the Bleeding. Guy Ritter was one of the best speed metal singers in Christian music as well as speed metal in general, in my humble opinion. He had a great range and there is a comparable difference when you listen to the lead singer that took over the reigns after Ritter left the band (certainly, they’ve done some good stuff too, it’s just not the same though).

After, I lost my faith at around age 23, Stop The Bleeding presented some lyrical problems–ones which, as a Christian, I just couldn’t see. In particular, the song “Ark of the Suffering.” It is about animal abuse and Tourniquet even put out a video which MTV wouldn’t air because they thought it was too graphic.

Tourniquet’s efforts to expose animal abuse are to be commended in most circumstances, my question here is the song title in relation to the lyrics. Unless I’m misinterpreting, the “Ark” in “Ark of the Suffering” is an allusion to Noah’s Ark that carried the animals to safety while the flood waters killed everything on planet earth. So what you have is a Christian metal band sitting in judgment of people abusing animals while not placing any judgment on God’s actions within the Biblical flood myth (and to Tourniquet this would not be a myth, it is literal).

According to the Noah’s Ark story, God committed more animal abuse in forty days then man has in–per the creationist timeline–4,000 to 6,000 years. He saved only two of every kind and killed the rest by drowning. It did not matter if animals could sin or if there were newborns or if the animals were domestic and tame. Imagine the reality of this situation if it were to happen? Because whenever you see depictions of Noah’s Ark in movies, cartoons or TV format they don’t seem to show newborn wolves dog paddling until they’ve exhausted all their strength and gone under the waves. What about fresh water mixing with sea water and poisoning creatures under the water? Even birds, with no where to land might eventually be affected unless they could float on the water like a duck–then they would starve with nothing to eat. The flood model does not propose a calm rain (slow drowning versus quick drowning I guess), it proposes violent natural destruction instigated by God. How is this not animal abuse of the worst kind?

I’m just pointing out the hypocrisy of the song and the hypocrisy of a band against animal abuse that believes in a God that drowned almost all of the animals on earth as a collective punishment for man’s sins. God could have been a “just God” simply by snapping his fingers and making the guilty men and women fall dead. Also, let’s not forget all of the pointless animal sacrifices to God which were supposed to be a poor substitution for Jesus Christ. Why did God need ritual sacrifice of animals at all?

I also have to note my own hypocrisy at the time of being a Christian metal fan for not even recognizing the irony of singing about suffering animals and then alluding to Noah’s Ark. I’m sure Tourniquet has done some great work to bring awareness to animal suffering but this has to do with humans extending rights to animals and has nothing to do with God.

From the perspective of science, I also have to note that I think animals are necessary to make human lives better in regards to animal experimentation. Certainly, there has been abuse in this area and an ongoing ethical debate–such as testing make-up on animals–but when it comes to new drugs, I’m sorry but the rat is going to be the “guinea pig” not someone’s child.  It’s possible in time we may be able to come up with simulated computer models that do away with the need for animal testing, but I don’t think it will happen anytime soon.

In regards to vegetarianism, which creationists believe all predators were at one time in the Garden of Eden then that is just a bunch of nonsense. I’m not saying you can’t be vegetarian and usurp nature’s role for you to be an omnivore/carnivore, but humans are natural meat eaters and there’s nothing sinful about it. We may come up with a meat substitute in the future (I’ve tried several, Tofurky ain’t bad) but let’s recognize that eating meat is what got humans this far in evolution. It will be the ingenuity of humans that alleviates the suffering of animals since evolution is mindless and we see no godly intervention.

And lastly, in regards to hunting, I was surprised while reading National Geographic one day waiting for the dentist to find that hunting is actually responsible for a lot of conservationism. Of course, you always have the stereotypical sporting hunter who drinks more beer than shoots, but the avid hunter knows his range and knows what will destroy it. If hunters have nothing to hunt because of land development or environmental disasters then they’re out of luck. That’s why they push to reserve and save land for wildlife. I’ve never quite understood killing animal for sport, since I think killing an animal should be done out of necessity, but I just ate a McDonald’s burger; who am I to criticize a hunter who brings deer meat home when I lazily had a cow killed for me? Hunting can be abused, but it appears to have done more good overall such as President Teddy Roosevelt starting the first National Parks and hunting organizations that actively petition to reserve land for wildlife.

This article is not meant to bash Tourniquet, besides Believer, they are my favorite Christian or “white” metal band. As a freethinking atheist, though, I can’t help but try to put these lyrics for “Ark of the Suffering” in perspective.

BTW: Gary Lenaire, guitarist and sometimes vocalist of the original band setup, has since become a freethinker and wrote the book An Infidel Manifesto: Why Sincere Believers Lose Faith.

Ark of the Suffering Lyrics:

You think it’s alright to destroy God’s creation
They don’t have a voice so who cares how we’re treating them here
If you read His word you should know that he blessed them
I know your defense is to say “God said dominate them”
Do you think dominate means to kill just for sport
Wear the fur from their backs
train them for circus acts
Take our pets to be gassed once their “cute” age is passed
Don’t you see in their eyes how they trust us

but man in his sin turns that trust into horrible pain
When God says to man give account of your life’s work
we must be prepared to reply “Your creation I have loved”
Locked behind steel cage
forced to take drugs we’ve made
cut them up just to show
what we already know
Before they die…
who will hear them cry

Gen 1:20-30, Hab 2:17, Ps 145:9, 16-17, Ps 150:6, Ex 23:11-12,
Jon 4:11, Prov 12:10

From: http://www.elyrics.net/read/t/tourniquet-lyrics/ark-of-suffering-lyrics.html

Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds Musical

Jeff Wayne’s mini-masterpiece, a musical adaptation of War of the Worlds by author H.G. Wells is a concept album oddity that has persisted until today. It was released in 1978 and has been rereleased in various forms including extended versions with behind the scenes demos and new mixes. I prefer to stick with the original though as I first discovered it on Rhapsody’s music service before I had so many problems with song interruptions and canceled my subscription. It is definitely Seventies inspired combining an orchestra with Seventies disco beats, woeful singing and alien psychedelic noises–at least that’s my best description. Really it comes down to a concept album that you’re not sure you like at first but after the second listen I was hooked.

Between the tracks there is narration by Richard Burton as the the Martians invade and thankfully the story doesn’t gloss over one particular part of Wells’ story that I often look forward to (I’m so twisted). What I’m referring to is the holy man who goes mad, Parson Nathaniel. While Wells, according to Wiki, was not an atheist, he rejected traditional religion in favor of his own personalized view of god. His characterization of the good parson was less than complimentary. The musical has Parson Nathaniel shouting, “Devil” at the alien invaders which of course does no good. God does not rescue us, nature does and in a form that we had to evolve and conquer ourselves. The irony of Wells story is what has made War of the Worlds such a classic.

I’ve never been satisfied with the film adaptations of War of the Worlds as it is one of my favorite books, either they feel incomplete, hokey or like the Spielberg version they discard the time period and feature a guy who actually believes in even weirder aliens. Jeff Wayne’s musical adaptation does a better job of capturing the mood of the book, the passing of certain key events and the longing of the main character to find his wife and for the invasion to be done. It does what a concept album should do–provides a journey of emotions.

I should confess that while I perceive the album in this manner, others may certainly find the music hokey due to the Seventies influence. But many of the tracks were sought after to listen to individually at the time of its release and the track “Forever Autumn” made the UK Top 5 Single. The album itself was on the UK charts for 290 weeks and there were translations of the musical into Spanish (with narrator Anthony Quinn) and German(with narrator Curd Jurgens). The album itself included extended art like the painting you see here. This was no small undertaking and I would say, due to the initial response and the continued interest, is a classic piece of music with possibly some flaws.

I’ve found myself listening to it numerous times. We all know Martians aren’t going to get us, but place yourself in the role of what would happen if we were under attack by an alien world. Would we forget our differences and band together as a human race? Or would we go mad like Parson Nathaniel?

‘Exhibit B’ by Exodus, Music Review

Exodus’ release in 2010 of Exhibit B: The Human Condition was on my list to review as soon as I heard it and I have some extra time this week to finally do so.As always, heavy metal is one of the best Freethunk genres for criticizing religion as there is room to write lyrics that blast away at the current offenses. Heavy metal also covers unspeakable subjects that while possibly exploited for the sake of the song, can be explored using reason. Exhibit B covers numerous morbid topics of interest and is a follow up to the 2007 release of The Atrocity Exhibition…Exhibit A. If you’re not familiar with the Exodus sound it is thrash-style heavy with a vocalist who is not going to be ignored. I consider myself eclectic in my musical choices, but I am favorably disposed to this type of sound as I grew up on Christian Metal with the same kind of rough and raspy vocals, pounding drums and buzzsaw guitars. It’s only been in the past 5 years that I’ve discovered bands I should have been listening to instead of the White Metal noise.

Lyrics are not always important to every music lover, but they often make or break an album for me. I don’t mind love songs or nonsense lyrics…but I get tired of them pretty quickly. Repeated listenings require music that is going to cause me to think or drive me forward with inspiration.  Exodus launches into what I would have to say are blood-soaked songs about man’s depraved condition without any answers except waiting for the end of earth and enjoying the show. Inspiring? Not for humanism, but I believe we must recognize the darker aspects of  humanity and without that recognition we can’t find the cure…and no, it is not Christ, I think Exodus makes it painfully clear. A predisposition towards violence is what humans have to overcome in order to co-exist peacefully, religious violence included. If we can do so we then reach our man-made paradise. While it may not seem like it, we are making progress, slowly but surely. I wish Exodus could also see that.

The first morbid introduction into the human condition is “The Ballad of Leonard and Charles” recounting the killing spree of  Leonard Lake and Charles NG, serial killers who abducted and tortured victims in the early eighties. It is not a pleasant ballad but if you read a little history on Leonard you find that first, he was diagnosed with a mental illness (schizoid personality disorder) and that second, he seemed to be obsessed with pornography. The Christian apologist, not to mention the far left feminist apologist,  is going to jump to the conclusion that pornography leads to acts of rape and torture. The rational humanist has to pause. With a billion dollar industry such as porn, why is Lake the exception and not the rule? In other words, with all the customers of porn, how come we don’t have the majority committing these crimes instead of a few individuals? We then have to realize it may be the mental illness at play (Lake thought nuclear war was imminent and he planned to rebuild the human race with female slaves) or it may be that the man has given into fantasies he should never have entertained. I would suggest mental illness, but certainly blaming porn solves nothing.  Why? Well if porn is the correlation then we would have to ask about the other correlation. Both men had served in the Marine Corps. Does the Marine Corps create serial killers? Of course not. There was something truly wrong with these two men and we should set our sights on discovering the real reasons for defecting from society instead of placing blame on pet targets.

To the lyricist I would say simply that Leonard and Charles were abberations–not the norm. This is why I find it odd that the conclusion of bands like Exodus (reference the last song on this album) is that humanity has gone to shit and deserves to disappear. Only a small portion of humanity has gone to shit and in regards to serial killers, they are a very tiny fraction of the human race. The same goes for the next song with the same theme of an individual living outside our agreed upon morality…

“Class Dismissed (a Hate Primer) deals with the rampage shooting at schools and it sounds like Exodus is referring to the Virginia Tech school shooting by Cho Seung-Hui in 2007 ), but is probably ambiguous enough to cover any school shooting. Since we just had the Arizona shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in the same vein, this song seems very relevant. Trying to get into the mind of a rampage killer is hard to do. All of us have problems and many of us end up on the receiving end of bullying or humiliation or just being ignored, but we find ways to cope. I remember being lonely and by myself in school numerous times which is probably why I began drawing and writing so much. That’s the key, providing ways to cope when you’re not the popular kid or even semi-popular and especially when you’re not going to get laid (admittedly, another reason for legal prostitution–ooh, someone may call me on that but sex is therapy). The arrogance of a loner who decides to kill others at random is an offensive, cowardly act. Again, only a few do it and most likely they have a mental illness.

Depressed yet? Well, while maybe not intending to, “March of the Sycophants” always elevates me into a good mood. Another reminder that “You’re not crazy, they are.” I’m going to post the lyrics below, but safe to say they blast the Christian Right. If anybody has reared their ugly heads more than ever recently it is the Christian Right. Lyrics obtained from DarkLyrics.com.

Do as they say, not as they do
March to the tune of the Christian right
Hypocrites, their rules they don’t apply to you
Parading in the name of Christ
Former leader in a hotel room
Smoking crank and sucking cock
Guilty as sin yet innocence presumed
Still they talk the talk

[Pre-chorus:]
Christian soldiers
Trudging off to war
Behind the cross of Jesus
And still they…

[Chorus:]
March!
March!
It’s the march of the sycophants, they
March!
March!
March in time to the rhythm of the right, they
March!
March!
Here come the sheep, all promenade, they
March!
March!
Everybody loves a parade

Masters of hyperbole
They claim to know what’s wrong or right
The mob led to believe so easily
Like a moth to a light
Pro-life, anti-life and so sincere
Battalions of the dull of mind
Obeying all they read, see or hear
The ignorant leading the blind

[Pre-chorus]
[Chorus]

Brain dead plebeians
Rally ’round the Bible and the flag
Their prophets are a plumber
And a small minded rifle packing hag
One nation under God
And one under the thumb
Marching to the beat of a different kind of drum
It’s the march of the sycophants!

Town hall rabble
Cry liberty and justice for the few
It’s the end of they world as they know it
That’s what they’ll say to you
Conspiracy theories eaten raw like meat
Fed by the mother of lies
They suck straight from the teat
It’s the march of the sycophants!

[Solo Lee]
[Solo Gary]

The other set of lyrics that may make you feel good are from “Burn, Hollywood, Burn.” I realize the violent imagery, but sometimes all of the trash TV can get on your nerves. Dedicated to my TV hating friend, Jon.

Land of enchantment and fake reality
Where they put in vitro breeding machines
On the cover of a magazine
Trailer trash and human freaks
They grab their minute of fame
And still the puppets watch
And everybody knows the names
That’s why I say

Burn, hollywood, burn
When it’s dead and gone we’ll never miss a thing
Burn, hollywood, burn
No more rotten to the core little sweet sixteens
Burn. hollywood, burn
Time’s running out on their minute of fame
Let’s douse the fire by pissing on the flames

So young, bitch and famous
Hotel heiress, glamour queen
The only reason we know your name
Is bad night vision pornography
From the “real” housewives of botox hills
To the cunts of Bel-Aire
You can’t look away from the cathode ray
Why does anybody fucking care

Burn, hollywood, burn
When it’s dead and gone we’ll never miss a thing
Burn, hollywood, burn
No more rotten to the core little sweet sixteens
Burn. hollywood, burn
Time’s running out on their minute of fame
Let’s douse the fire by pissing on the flames

Lastly, while I can’t cover every song on Exhibit B, I think “Nanking” is an important one. Nanking refers to the Japanese invasion of China where horrors abounded. My reasoning for liking the song have to do with my opinion that Japan has never really owned up to their shame over this historical event from 1937. Germany has a worse reputation under the Nazi flag and yet I don’t even think the Nazis were this vicious–just heartlessly methodical. The one thing I love about the United States and the west in general is our artists expose all our hypocrisies and sins. I can go to Netflix right now and find a dozen movies on our abuses of African Americans including the slave era. With Japan, and feel free to post a comment, I have yet to find a Japanese movie about Nanking–the kind of penance we go through in the west doesn’t seem to make it to the DVD shelves there. Certainly, I don’t believe in collective guilt, I didn’t personally hang black people or take away their rights back in the day, but I do want to recognize it happened as part of the history of our country and as a lesson to our young people. As Exodus says in the song “Massacre removed from history books. No mention of men hung from iron hooks,” the Japanese people don’t seem to teach their young the past sins of their country. That bothers me. As an example, Japanese filmmaker Satoru Mizushima is working on a documentary called “The Truth about Nanking” where he insists it is all political propaganda. Sounds like our western Holocaust revisionists. Will there be a brave Japanese director who defies him and tells the Japanese people that it did happen? I doubt it.

Exhibit B is an angry, angry album. They conclude with the song “Good Riddance” which should make your stomach turn. I can’t only recommend it for the powerful music, lyrics inciting damning history and reflection, but it is fatalistic, pessimistic and without hope. Which is too bad. I believe if Exodus could take a step back they might weigh the good against the bad and push for hope for a better world. I’m still an optimist and Exodus would probably deem me a lunatic for being so. However, I see progress all around me and sometimes impatience overwhelms us. Listen to Exhibit B but temper it with Bad Religion and then throw Louis Armstrong singing “What a Wonderful World.”

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They’re really saying I love you.

I hear babies crying, I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more than I’ll never know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world.

Emusic Christian Love – Vengeance Versus Die Happy

Emusic.com is one of the few places you can find lost Christian metal albums from the early years when the scene was just beginning.I try to search for them occasionally because, foolish me, I bought everything on cassette tape back in the day and kept putting off buying a CD player (CDs were expensive, dammit!). A recent search popped up Intense Records and if you know anything about that label it was one of the better known ones for putting out everything from Christian pop metal to Christian thrash.

So two of the bands on the Intense label from that era are Vengeance or Vengeance Rising (due to a name change for legal reasons) and Die Happy. Ironically these two bands were in a big financial dispute that eventually ended with one lead singer getting royally pissed off and actually trying to seek “vengeance.”

I honestly do not have enough resources or information to sort through the dispute. It was more like a he said/he said debate about who owed what and what was each band member’s obligation. To sum it up, Vengeance came out with the album Human Sacrifice and Once Dead which stirred up the Christian Music Scene with the first real thrash band. This was back in the late eighties. Then after the Once Deadtour, all the band members except for frontman Roger Martinez departed to form Die Happy which played in the “new” tradition of grunge music. Roger Martinez was left with the debt of the tour and financial stress from running Vengeance Rising and felt that all of the former band members were liable. He accused Die Happy of essentially ethics violations because they wanted to wipe the debt clean with bankruptcy (again, clarification may be needed here). Martinez apparently trudged on and paid off all of the debts, some of which were personal loans, but through the process became disillusioned by the Christian music scene and Christianity in general. He turned to drugs and women, became an atheist and has not produced an album since even though he legally owns the Vengeance Rising name.

This story was part of whisper-whisper rumor mill within the Christian metal scene for the most part until so many questions were asked that it became public knowledge. The problem with the scene and Christian entertainment in general is that they want to avoid malicious gossip as the Bible condemns it. While admirable, this also allows for personal injustices to occur and for individuals to not be called out when they screw others over. Thus, there was quite a bit of infighting amongst Christian bands that was not openly discussed. The Vengeance debacle is one of the most well known because Martinez began sending out packets of information to anyone on his mailing list explaining in long rants how he had gotten f’ed over. I should know, I got one myself and then pissed Martinez off even more by doing a parody of the scenario with one of my badly drawn underground comics–even as was trying to say in my parody that there should have been financial responsibility on the part of Die Happy.

Another odd moment is that I got a call from Al Menconi after sending one of my comics to him (which he admitted he didn’t read) and he told me that he thought Roger Martinez was demon-possessed. His evidence seemed to primarily rest upon Roger’s use of foul language left on his answering machine. Demons love to say, “fuck!”

Anyhoo, it’s an interesting story from Christian music history that just goes to show the Christian industry is no different from the secular industry (tons of affairs, premarital sex and drug use all swept under the rug). BUT the music is still good! I am not one who just because I am now atheist tells people not to listen to Christian metal. You’re going to find religious lyrics in the best of music throughout recorded time and therefore I treat this music as mythology much like if Greek myths were turned into hymns.

If you want to check out Vengeance Rising, their two best albums are Human Sacrifice and Once Dead. Roger Martinez’s vocals are gnarly, the guitars are chainsaws and the drums are pounding thunder. The lyrics are filled with Biblical references and violent images of horror like the song “Beheaded”:

I want (my) head chopped off
You’ll see (my) body rot
But then (I’ll) reign with Christ
And then you will fry

The cover art for both albums was also controversial and was pulled from the shelves or covered up my many Christian book sellers at the time. It’s nothing compared to the violence of The Passion of the Christ and was quite ridiculous considering Human Sacrifice refers to Jesus and the album art shows a nail through a hand with blood. The real issue was that Christianity wasn’t ready yet for heavy metal beyond the power ballads of Petra and Vengeance scared the mainstream church. Now-a-days, bands who scream Jesus into a mic are usually bringing in a decent income, although some may or may not hit the big time just like any artist in show business. The potential to earn over 100k a year is there when it wasn’t there in the past–unless you wore bee-striped spandex.

Die Happy has two worthy albums on Emusic as well, Die Happy and Die Happy: Volume 2. The name Die Happy, as a I recall, came from a T-shirt that showed a smiley face with cross bones. I’m pretty sure the T-shirt came first and not the band but correct me if I’m wrong. Again, the music is grunge-like as Pearl Jam and Nirvana were the big thing at the time. It is solid music and these were talented band members. However, if they did leave Roger Martinez saddled with a debt as a result of playing in the band Vengeance you do have to question their Christian ethics and possibly their general moral obligations to a Christian brother? If this was simply business then maybe bankruptcy was a legitimate business option, but as I mentioned there were personal loans involved. I do not believe it is ethical to not pay back personal loans, regardless if you find a legal loophole that will not allow you to be sued. I will say from the rumor mill that Roger Martinez was apparently a difficult personality to get along with (but then a lot of creative types are).

Eventually, I’m going to have to write about Tourniquet and Believer. While Vengeance Rising and Die Happy produced some good albums, Tourniquet and Believer excelled in their craft and it is a shame they had to be labeled “White Metal” at a time when White Metal was associated with the likes of Stryper. If it hadn’t been for Jesus, you might actually know who these bands were due to their talent alone. Damn you, Jesus! You ruin rock ‘n’ roll!

Sabaton – ‘Primo Victoria,’ Military History Metal

Primo Victoria - **** Stars

 

Sabaton is a brilliantly themed metal band and I picked their album Primo Victoria to highlight here because it was the first one I randomly downloaded off EMusic.com (I try all sorts of new bands off that site). What has impressed me recently about the metal genre is the trend towards themes such as pirates, mythology and even literature and therefore when I read the description of the album it was a must-have. Primo Victoria is a collection of songs, nay anthems, about military history. 

One could argue it may be a glorification of past wars, but I believe Sabaton is better than that. All military history buffs tend to glorify specific battles  and historical figures, but they usually circle around to temper their glorification with an understanding of how horrible the violence was. It is a morbid fascination, but one that reflects our humanity and the way we behave and I believe such explorations within art are legitimate. It also reminds us, despite the crop of fatalistic Christians who think our world is getting worse and headed towards Armageddon, that we are actually on the decline in terms of overall violence. Human empathy is increasing. 

Primo Victoria as a whole focuses on several aspects of war, from invasion to tanks to submarines, and mainly covers WW2, though “Into The Fire” appears to be about Vietnam, “Reign of Terror” is about Operation Desert Storm, and “Counterstrike” is about the Six Day War  involving an Israeli-Arab conflict (what else is new?). The title track “Primo Victoria,” which I provided a YouTube video for below so you can hear it, is about D-Day and the liberation of France. 

  

The music, if available at the time of the invasion of Normandy, could have been listened to by the troops to encourage them forward into battle. The main anthem goes like this: 

Through the gates of hell
As we make our way to heaven
Through the Nazi lines
Primo Victoria
 

Ironically, the band is from Sweden and Sweden doesn’t bring to mind stories of war, but no matter. Primo Victoria is their second album and while I must preface that progressive metal combines influences of eighties hair and power metal with a modern twist and therefore can sometimes feel “cheezy” to some, I think overall the lyrical content is intelligent and the music is addictive. Certainly it is better then yet another love metaphor or sex anthem from the latest MTV featured band. There’s also something about the way lead singer Joakim Broden belts out the words with rolling r’s and a throaty-raspy sound that is different and bold. It borders on campy but is saved by the entertaining and almost uplifting manner in which the songs are done and I honestly love it. A throwback to tough metal touching on very real situations of blood and guts and not demonic imagery or references to Satanism for shock value. It’s as if a military historian with respect for the stories of the past stepped out of his study and plugged in an electric guitar. 

Now again, there may be a debate here amongst humanists if this is a glorification of war and violence, but I think freethinking history buffs who like progressive metal will “get it.” History is a fascination most of us share without having to approve of the horrible things done to our fellow man. Sabaton does also seem to let their bias through on some of the songs so this isn’t merely historical observation. The listener will have to take that into consideration and explore their own feelings on each piece, which to me makes the music very Freethunk. Regardless of any debate, as a metal album, Primo Victoria is a unique and dare I say original specimen and I highly recommend it. 

Lair of the Minotaur – Greek Mythology Metal

Ultimate Destroyer - **** Stars

Metal Music has diversified in so many ways that there is a niche for every taste. If you like Lord of the Rings then listen to Blind Guardian. If you like tales of pirates then listen to Alestorm. There is a band out there singing about something that will be to your interest, especially if you are a heavy reader of fantasy, science fiction and mythology.

Lair of the Minotaur is not a new band, but they are new to me. I discovered them with my monthly download off of emusic.com. After the first listen I was already hooked. Ultimate Destroyer from 2006 is a collection of thrash/death metal  with themes of Greek Mythology. Song titles includeBehead the Gorgon” andThe Hydra Coils Upon This Wicked Mountain.”  The music itself is rich in time changes, vocal changes and crunchy guitars. My main complaint about death metal is that it can often all sound the same so those who are creative enough to distinguish themselves in an overcrowded genre have my attention. I especially like the mixing of vocals where the singer doesn’t simply growl incoherently but provides different ranges of what their voice can do.

For Freethunkers into metal and mythology, the lyrics are wonderfully dark with ancient images of fanciful creatures of imagination like the classic Gorgon:

She was a beautiful maiden
Until she lay in the goddess shrine
Athens swore revenge on Medusa
With repugnant tusks of a swine

Locks of snakes drape over her head
Brazen hands and golden wings
Demoness of the grotesque

Into her grave, you feel it in your being, you slave
Eternal pain, your essence fades away, today!

War starved gorgons
Serving death to all
Perseus shall be slayer
Her head will fall…down

Laying waste to the countryside
No living thing can behold her stare
See your last breath in her eyes
Men of stone adorn her lair

BEHEAD THE GORGON!!!
From LyricsMania.com

Now certainly, Lair of the Minotaur is not fine literature in song–it is inspiration drawn from the Greeks. But it is very satisfying–highly recommended. I included a video below for the song “War Metal Battle Master” from the album of the same name. According to Wiki, this appeared on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball in a highly edited version. It’s a bit over the top, but let’s realize that so were the Greeks back in the day.