Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Helloween - Warrior


This is a thrash song, see? Yes, the main riff is in a major key but can you really call it happy? Given the subject matter, it instead sounds ironic, like the triumphant martial pattern of the army falling at the battle of Waterloo.

Listen to how the sections are clearly segmented, the riff does this, the bridge that, the chorus is shouty. Just one song before, Helloween were starting to break down these chunks of song into smaller orchestral configurations. But this song is grim and linear. Lots of galloping guitar triplets. Mr. Kai Hansen is getting this sort of song out of his system as it's one of the very last straightforward bangers on record. Markus Grosskopf (bighead? That's the extent of my German) can't resist throwing in more melodic bass licks around the staccato rhythm guitar figures but that's pretty much it as far as flavour for this song. The three-part solo is remarkably uninteresting, mainly due to the weak switch-up in the rhythm pattern between part two and three. Helloween will do so much better at this sort of thing. Very soon.

Had this been the direction this band pursued, Helloween would have been remembered by obscurantist enthusiasts as an interesting second-tier speed metal band that contributed a variation to a form that, by 1987 would be considered charmingly outmoded while the death metal bands and the technothrash bands upped the ante. Like Pyracanda, perhaps.

The lyric is interesting for a few reasons.

Blackened sky a final flash
Death is in the air
Warriors without a face
Destruction everywhere

Silent falls the hammer
Noone hears the cries
No escaping from this hell
Your prayers won't be heard...so die

Brainless cruel commanders
Sending death and pain
Soldiers only robots
Fight for their life in vain

Die, now! die, warrior!

Somewhere in the shelter sit the men
Who hold your fate in hands
Playing chess and you're the loser
You're a small pawn in their game

Somewhere in the shelter sit the men
And they don't realise
A war without survivors is a fight
That's never won
So die!

Barren land desolate waste
Destruction is complete
Survivors creeping thru the ruins
Decaying flesh and meat

Somewhere in a shelter
Some pigs are still alive
And still they play the game
They don't give a damn

This is a very stereotypical view of war by teenagers and that's why the song still is resonant for me. It's not a politically informed thesis, it is instead a sideways look into a common wound. How much do you know about war? Do you understand the geopolitical confluence of events that led to the second World War? Why are some wars called 'humane' while others are considered unjust in the eyes of history? Do you understand the functionality of war? How supply lines work, what trench warfare is? Well, Helloween did not. They had an open heart and open hearts are also open sores. The colour of the lyric is existential, as expressed by someone you had no first-hand experience with the philosophical movement. War is seen as senseless and alienating. The motives of it are misunderstood; Powerful men playing a sadistic game. Mom and Dad are engaging in tactics that little Helm and little Helloween are ill-equipped to understand. Again, the dark beauty of oblivion turns the teenager towards a morbid fascination. "Decaying flesh and meat... they don't give a damn... SO DIE".

It could be said that much of Heavy Metal's fascination can be traced back to these two words. Wielding death as a weapon. Darkness descends.

Understanding why Heavy Metal of darkness is a dead-end requires the understanding of what wielding death entails. The final command is self-destruction. Outward devastation, internal desolation. Letting light in is as much a choice as continuing to exist can be said to be a choice.

Helloween are dabbling with death, it's fascinating. Song by song they're shedding skin. Even by the next song to this, the light will begin shining through the mists of oblivion. Are there better weapons to wield than the cruel scythe of death? Helloween will make their case. But for young Helm, and for young Helloween, up to now this record has had to say this to us: Drugs are bad. Society misunderstands me. My parents quarrel. Nobody gives a damn about me so I'll teach them all by dying tragically!

Friday, July 6, 2012


Excuse lack of posts
I landed a second job
Days turn to weeks fast

Now, pay attention to Murderer. From the intro, they're trying to do something outside the thrash paradigm. One guitar starts hacking away at a palm muted, E. Business as usual so far, it could be a slightly faster Judas Priest. Then the stereo guitar enters at a minor third, and then the bass at a fifth, and a snare fill takes the place of the octave. Go, Helloween-mini-orchestra, go!

The riff is introduced, an E - D is placed in the background and we're off to the verse. Tightly integrated to the movement of the vocal are mini guitar hooks. This is where power metal starts, really. In density. The main connective force between US power metal and the Teutonic counterpart is in this density. In putting thirty Judas Priest hooks into a single song. There is more considered melodic information in the verse switchup on 'Murderer' than in most individual Heavy Metal songs that came out up to 1985 in their entirety. Why is this? Were Helloween possessing some genius that their inspirations, say, Iron Maiden lacked? Of course not. Mr. Harris could write you his awkard Heavy Metal suite as well. The difference is not in capacity, it is in quantity. Helloween, along with a slew of NWOBHM-inspired Heavy Metal bands, are in a hurry to impress. Every song must be packed. Whereas America's Jag Panzer would go to a length even further and throw contrasting parts that do not seem to cohere at all in a sequence and hope their sci-fi power metal would stand on its whole merit at the end, Helloween are very concerned with both density and flow. Starlight showed this on the solo section, but Murderer goes at it throughout.

(As an aside, this density is why little Helm had a difficult time going from his power metal introduction to appreciating 'classic' Heavy Metal from the originators. Songs too slow. Too few parts. Not enough speed! Took a good decade and a very roundabout journey to see the brilliance of using less to achieve less)

Thematically, the lyrics to this song are kind of ridiculous on the surface level. They come to me often because I sang it to death as a teenager. The initial verse/bridge/chorus in particular 

He said get out of here 
Nobody wants you here 
You smashed his head
And the man died

And there's a murmur going 'round
For the appearing crowd
Searching for motives 
and reasons why

Now take a look at yourself and you'll see
What you are in the eyes of the world
You didn't want it but now he is dead
And you're on the run from the law

Murderer - in every crowd
Murderer - to the whole world
Murderer - you're on the run
Murderer - you'll have to kill

Let's look at the subtext here however. The first strong theme is alienation. The reason for the murder is not because the protagonist wanted to steal something or even because they were sadistic as in a death metal song. The reason is because the protagonist, before he even became a murderer, was undesirable to society. They wanted him out, he lashed out and it's a downward spiral from there.

People try to understand why this happened and blame the protagonist for being out of control. "And like an animal which escaped from the cage, they're hunting off of their holy land" they go on. There is a strong christian morality substrand to this whole thing, especially with how sin leads to sin leads to sin. The protagonist will have to kill again, it's the only way to survive now that he's done it once. In effect, he is inhuman. Yet, the shocking power of this 'you'll have to kill again' is ambiguous in tone in the song itself. Power metal is about conveying the sense of will of the protagonist. This is the invention of Helloween more than anyone elses, this is their contribution. I am not sure they meant it to be so (we will discuss this on the next song, "Warrior" and finally on "Victim of Fate" to have a clearer picture) but this dreadful subject matter is elevated through the power of the song to the point where I did as a restless child - and still do as a well-manned, thoroughly docile and harmless adult - a surge of dark power at the end of that chorus. "So be it, then!" goes little Helm "a murderer by accident, a murderer by intent!". Stepping outside of Christian morality only to get air in one's lungs means one is a Christian pretending not to be one. As a result, they'd be wracked by guilt. One can only imagine what life would be in the shadow of the horns by pretending to be in-human. No gray zones, no middle grounds. If you've taken a life, you're a monster. Suddenly, the flirtation with Carpenterish campy horror movies makes a bit more sense, as they too, were completely Christian. The killer in Halloween is, we are told, directly to the camera by the psychiatrist in the film, beyond salvation, completely inhuman. A monster. Words no real physician of any kind would endorse.

So, I think mr. Kai Hansen was taking some air with songs like this, as he's definitely returned to the light triumphantly with further offerings. But that doesn't mean this music is incincere. In fact isn't it more sincere, this vague storytelling of a man's downward spiral as means of roleplay, than pretending to be, for example, a serious 100% goat-worshipping, blood-drinking, nun-defiling satanist when you're not?

Music doesn't need to be real. If art is anything, it is the opposite of real. Music doesn't need to be ideology to be imposing. There needs to be a passionate driving force behind what is expressed, and there needs to be ethos in the execution, certainly. But the text can be as little as 'Murderer' has to offer and still resonate. People do not really think in nuanced terms. They struggle to keep up with their own thoughts, and they put them in order in text (likeso) and with constant reviews until a higher structure seems, for a second, to crystallize. This is how philosophy is written. Philosophy is not written in art, in song, there is no such desire, I am certain of this. A lot of bands could stand to augment their art a lot be being stupider about it, by having less clever things to say, meta-conceptually, about their own art. A lot of art needs a lot less definition to be powerful.

Helloween didn't need anyone in 2012 to tell them any of this, they were in a big hurry to lay down these tracks. I am sure the lyrics to this song didn't take more than ten minutes to put down. I killed a man. I have to kill again. My rest comes in my own death. I've had this thought when I was twelve, as most of you kind readers did also. Why didn't you write a Heavy Metal song about it and yet Helloween did? This is a question that doesn't request an answer, a rhetoric device, if you will. What it insinuates is that the business of doing and the business of explaining are often divorced, and for good reason. There's nothing more crippling than the business of explaining when you should be in the business of doing. This is why I haven't posted here in a while, because I've had to make a whole lot, very fast.

Helloween were on the fast track too. The Helloween EP landing in '85, the full LP in '86, along with Judas. A good corpus of work, very fast, very dumb, yet reaching with mad ambition as far as composition goes. Soon we'll talk about the interesting brother track to Murderer, called, well... Warrior. From gazing inwards (Murderer) to gazing outwards (Warrior) and ultimately to gazing upwards (Victim of Fate). Don't hold your breath, gentle reader. God is far away.