Heavy Fluff – Metal’s Dark Side

A brash look at metal’s foray into the lighter side of music as some of the biggest names of the genre serenade and show us they are human beings too.



As a general rule of thumb amongst music aficionados, heavy metal and harder edged rock music are not the typical genres to find heart felt, ballad esque songs to evoke and pluck at the heartstrings. Often considered to be soft and, dare it be said, too emotional for long haired, uber masculine head thrashers, they like their strumming fast, drums thrashing and symbols crashing all the while listening to lyrics about death, hatred, mystical landscapes and of course, Old Nick. But looking back over the past forty or so years it has become apparent that these metal heads have a softer side to them also as the depths of hell are examined to reveal several calmer, more touching numbers from some of metal and rock’s hard men.

Kicking off this tour of the more enlightened and softer side to metal music is, quite fittingly the Prince of Darkness himself, Ozzy Osbourne. Ozzy, for most accounts can be heartily considered as one of the all time metal giants, from his groundbreaking work in the genre with Black Sabbath to his solo career and his unfathomable wit that has made him a branded global superstar. So how could this drug fuelled, raging alcoholic hell raiser ever turn his hand to something as soft as a turgid love song. That comes in the form of “Changes” from the Black Sabbath album Black Sabbath Vol. 4. With a lonesome piano from TVs Rick Wakeman, this tribute to a lost love is as far away a change in direction for the Brummy mentalist and his metal mayhem as is physically, psychologically and stomach churningly possible.

Acoustic guitars, tributes to his estranged wife and a tempo and composition that sounds more than a little like the theme song to “The Chipmunks go to The Movies” cartoon from the early nineties. Ozzy’s rap sheet expands with his 1992 effort “Mama I’m coming home”. This overly produced gag fest cannot even be saved by a considerably enjoyable Zakk Wylde solo midway through the gushing lyrics aimed at Sharon Osbourne whom he affectionately calls Mama, a psychiatrist’s field day. Hard to believe this was co-written by old wart face Lemmy of Motorhead fame, three must have really been something in the water.

Up next in the witness stand is American glam and hair metal rockers Poison. Their 1988, second studio album Open Up and Say…Ah was hailed and revered by critics at the time of its initial release. Mixing a devilishly charming blend of sexually driven, good time partying and general carrying on themed songs like “Nothin’ but a Good Time”, “Tearin’ Down the Walls” and “Look but You Can’t Touch”, listeners are then treated to the pseudo country, softest sounding rock ballad, possibly of all time, “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.” From the bowel busting lyrics, “But I wonder does he know/ Has he ever felt like this” being a particular stand out reference to a DJ playing what can only be presumed to be as wet a song as this one. Poison’s Brett Michaels would later go on to be the self styled star of another sex tape featuring Pamela Anderson, not a considerable feat of genius but it can only be presumed that this song, affectionately and squirmingly known by fans as “Every Rose” for short was kept off of his mix tape for her.

To round off this name and shame list of metalers who, in their moments of weakness go over to the light side are a band who, to casual fans, would not be immediately considered candidates for a list such as this. Dressed in torn boiler suits and hidden behind macabre, hideous masks are Iwoa’s very own Slipknot. The offending material is the track “Snuff” from their typically bleak titled fourth album All Hope is Gone. This song, although admitted by the band’s frontman Corey Taylor as a “slow one” continues the over produced, rather ham fisted approach that this band have made millions from for the better part of fifteen years. Peddled as a post goth and emo anthem that had pubescent metal loving boys and girls the world over clamoring for the single as it out poured the emotions they all thought they had, the track does show a temporal maturity from a band who have now long been past their peak. Their lasting legacy disappearing in a cloud of well polished office jobs as the children who littered shopping canters and public spaces dressed all in black even in the scorching heat have at last grown up.

As bad as all of this may seem, it takes more than a few rotten apples to spoil the cider brewery. In general, metal fans are kept frothing at the mouth by their heroes on a yearly basis which almost makes some of these forays into the softer, fluffier branch of music a little more forgiving. If anything can really be taken from this venture down the industry’s dirt track it is that the vast musical ability and talent of which these musicians possess can be aptly demonstrated by their broad horizons and abilities. It still makes it hard to head bang to them though.

Jonathan Whitelaw

Check out the official websites of all the bands and artists featured here: http://www.slipknot1.com, http://www.ozzy.com, http://www.poisonweb.com

Rock’s Classics :: Ozzy Osbourne – Hellraiser

Rock’s Classics takes a step over to the darker side of music as the self ordained Prince of Darkness graces us with his presence.

Ozzy Osbourne & Zakk Wylde

Ozzy Osbourne & Zakk Wylde © Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment

Taking a distinctly metal fringe on this installment of Rock’s Classics, the 1991 hit “Hellraiser” by music’s godfather of carry on, Ozzy Osbourne. Taken from his sixth studio album No More Tears, “Hellraiser” has gone on to enjoy phenomenal success since its initial release, nineteen years ago and remains one of Ozzy’s most popular tracks.

Debuting in early autumn of 1991, Ozzy’s album No More Tears was intended to continue his long associated success now that he had fully established himself as a credible solo recording artist. The album spawned five singles, most notably “No More Tears” and “Mama I’m Coming Home” but interestingly did not include “Hellraiser”, an odd decision that baffles fandom and music listeners to this day considering the huge popularity that the song has gone on to accumulate. No More Tears also holds the distinction of being one of Ozzy’s most successful albums in terms of sales, the other being the 1981 solo debut Blizzard of Oz.

The track is one of great interest and love from heavy metal and rock fans the world over. Despite having a distinctly hackneyed and clichéd title, the song deals with the irreverent truth and almost sacrificial love that the narrator, in this case it should be believed to be Ozzy himself, has for the world of rock and roll music. Indeed the opening line “Heading out on an endless road/ Around the world for rock and roll,” aptly starts the drum fuelled, blistering guitar odyssey of mythical landscaping and grotty real life gigging.

Musically the song can be considered a borderline metal masterpiece, certainly much more credible than the album filling, seventh placed song on the track listings that it was treated to by producers. Zakk Wylde’s screaming Les Paul smashes through the speakers and earphones like a stampeding elephant, his riff writing and execution acting like a sharp bolt of lightning tearing through the night and down the listener’s spine. Couple this with Ozzy’s signature wailing and the song takes on a distinctly Gothic feel, continuing a wonderfully healthy obsession with such topics and trends that were popular in the early to mid nineties where it seemed nothing would be considered credible had it not been given the Mary Shelly treatment. See Meatloaf’s “I’d do anything for love” and Alien 3 for further examples. Osbourne’s vocal work should also be commended considering he probably hadn’t been home or even to bed since the late seventies.

“Hellraiser” has a strong legacy in many different formats and avenues. The song was covered by Motorhead, frontman Lemmy having contributed to writing and production on No More Tears, the song appearing on the soundtrack to the motion picture “Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth”. The song would also go on to appear in the video game GTA: San Andreas, continuing Osbourne’s now lengthy affiliation to the ultra-violent video game franchise. It is therefore with no real great surprise that “Hellraiser” for all of its semi biographical and almost demonic repenting nature that it has become a mainstay of Ozzy’s live set lists. With a popularity that grows with every generation that hears it for the first time, “Hellraiser” is certainly considered one of the textbook tracks for new and old metal and rock fans to listen to, another example of Ozzy Osbourne’s seemingly immortal talent and freedom of expression.

Jonathan Whitelaw

The song is available for download on iTunes and check out Ozzy’s official website for tours and band information: http://www.ozzy.com/

Album Review :: Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of its original release, Ronnie James Dio’s Black Sabbath debut gets the deluxe and double disk treatment.

Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath - Heaven and Hell © Universal Music

With the 30th anniversary of its release having just passed, Black Sabbath’s seminal 1980 album Heaven and Hell is treated to a deluxe edition revamp from good folks at Universal Music. The album, the first since the unceremonious firing of charismatic front man Ozzy Osbourne, the Birmingham metal gods produce a stand up early 80s metal masterpiece despite the numerous trials and tribulations each of the members were suffering through at the time.

Replacing a front man is never an easy task for anybody to achieve. It is even more difficult when the man you are replacing is Ozzy Osbourne, the self styled Prince of Darkness and general, all round hell raiser extraordinaire. This was the task that befell seminal second division screamer Ronnie James Dio as he was approached in 1979 to replace Osbourne, the departure the result of his growing unreliability mainly put down to his excessive substance and alcohol abuse, a mighty task considering the band as a whole were no angels in that field anyway. Combined with remaining original members Tony Iommi on guitars, Geezer Butler on bass, Bill Ward on drums and the inclusion of Geoff Nichols on keyboards, Black Sabbath entered the 1980s seeking some retribution and a fresh start from their rather stagnant act that had plagued them for much of the 1970s, their initial success having worn off a long time previous.

Heaven and Hell is very much a heavy metal album, not surprising coming form one of the genres biggest and best pioneers. Debuting in 1980 it should be noted that of the three bands who sought the heavy metal sound that is known now, the others being Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, Sabbath always considered themselves the hardest and, arguably, darkest, certainly from a lyrical point of view. Songs like “Lady Evil” and “Neon Knights” are classic sounding Sabbath numbers, Iommi’s dark and heavy riffing combined with the distinctly different approach to singing provided by Dio make the whole album gel together nicely, percussion is on course as ever from Sabbath, Butler’s blistering bass not letting up at all and the thrashing of Ward’s drumming providing the spine on which the whole outfit projects from. Ward in 1980 was arguably one of the best rock and metal drummers in the world, a feat he is not often considered for due to what can only be described as his extra curricular activities off, and sometimes on, stage.

The true beauty of Heaven and Hell lies in the band’s ability in versatility. As a genre, heavy metal especially in its infancy is not often citied for such things as dynamic versatility but Sabbath are more than capable of breaking tradition. At the dawn of the decade the so called New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) was introducing bands such as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, bands who took heavy metal in a much more epic direction, big, arena sized songs and huge scoped lyrics that spoke of legends and myths and creatures of the night. No longer would metal be reserved to the dank and rather small, graveyard sized topics, fans wanted their metal large and they were happily fed it. It is therefore pleasant to hear songs like “Wishing Well” and “Children of the Sea”, songs that hold a much more grandous sense of scale, the latter being inspiration for Iron Maiden’s “Children of the Damned” from 1982s Number of the Beast.

Included in the deluxe re-issue of Heaven and Hell is a bonus disk featuring live editions of the more popular songs from the album. Spanning across different performances, all from 1980, it should be important to note that out of the seven additional tracks, two of which are “Heaven and Hell”, another two tracks are “Children of the Sea” making the thought that although this deluxe edition of the album is not quite as full as previously thought. Although the production has been stepped up, cleaning the songs which are now three decades old, the fact that Sabbath are pumping this and the rest of the Dio years albums seems to be a rather callous money making scheme from Dio who is and has been reportedly dying for the past decade it would seem. None the less, Heaven and Hell is a worthy album of metal standing that should be enjoyed by fans.

Jonathan Whitelaw

The album is on general release in all major record shops and check out the band’s official website: www.blacksabbath.com

Video Game Music – The Evolution of a Classic

With the growing popularity of video games as a financial alternative, their soundtracks have played a major part in that popularity.

super mario

Super Mario, still the industry standard © Nintendo

The world is still reeling from the financial events of the past few years that have had a resounding effect on the music industry. However, as is often the case, many other industries have thrived in the face of adversity, most notably the video game and home entertainment industries. It is therefore only fitting to look at the effects and evolution of the video game soundtrack, from its humble MIDI format tunes to the ever evolving, vastly improved and almost limitless choice of modern video gaming soundtracks.

Often underappreciated but never overlooked, the soundtrack and music behind every video game has been a constant, almost genre defining aspect of the industry. Starting relatively early when home entertainment was beginning to take off during the late 1970s and into the 1980s, music within video games was initially limited and very, very basic, much like the games themselves. With the advent of the Commodore Amiga and the rival console Atari ST becoming major selling tools in the mid 1980s, it was only natural that the music of the games would utilise the inclining abilities of the graphics and general size of the games themselves. Sampling with MIDI format, it was not an unknown fact for professional musicians to use the Atari ST as a MIDI formatting tool rather than an actual gaming console.

It would be this format that perhaps the most famous video game music would be utilised to its whole extent, when in 1985 the world was introduced to a short, fat plumber from Brooklyn who had been sucked down a drain into the Mushroom Kingdom. He was, of course Super Mario and his signature theme song could be heard throughout the planet resonating from children’s, both young and old, bedrooms. Composed by Koji Kondo, “The Super Mario Bro. Theme” would be one of six total themes the composer would create for the initial game released on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Often citing the music as the longest and hardest of the six themes to create, Kondo was initially given a blank arena with the eponymous character running around within its limitless walls. As the game developed, so did the theme, upping its tempo and becoming the now trans-generational classic that is adored the world over. Indeed back in the early days of the game’s development very few could believe what a piece of history was within their midst.

Crediting Latin rhythms and couplets for his inspiration, Koji Kondo cites the theme as having a positive, increased interactivity between the gamer and the events unfolding on the screen. Indeed not only was the theme complimentary of the game but it would become the unofficial anthem for gamers, genre and the industry as a whole.

As the streamlined, silvery veneered 80s rolled into the baggy trousers of the 90s, the evolution of the video game continued to come on in giant leaps and bounds. Gone was the humble 16-Bit side scrolling classics that the generation before had worshiped and in came the much broader, graphic intense games and consoles. With the new found ability to create much vaster games by utilizing CDs as opposed to cartridges, PCs had been doing this for years of course, the step in content and sheer mass of music that could be pumped into games was also increased greatly. It would be the Playstation and N64 generation of consoles where the video game soundtrack would be properly born and given its own plinth on which to display. Games such as the Final Fantasy Series, Metal Gear Solid, Road Rash series and the ever controversial Grand Theft Auto (GTA) series created worlds that were large enough to immerse the user and therefore required a soundtrack to match this magnitude. The GTA series alone boasted one of the broadest spectrum of choice when it came to soundtracks, their Vice City installment having eight “radio stations” that covered broad music tastes from hard rock classics like Ozzy Osbourne’s “Bark at the Moon” and David Lee Roth’s “Yankee Rose”. Compared to the more grating warbling of Bryan Adams’ “Run to You” and even “Ghetto Life” by Rick James. These stations were even large enough to be mass marketed as a CD box set, which of course had fans drooling and clamoring for upon release.

The future looks as bright as it ever does for the video game industry and it would appear that the music scene is not far behind in realizing the fantastic potential and gap in the market. With the Playstation 3’s recent release of their Final Fantasy XIII title, it is important to note that Leona Lewis received a hefty pay packet for her song “My Hands” from her second studio album to appear in the game. To be more precise the track was chosen to replace the traditional theme of the franchise, a gesture that merely supports and solidifies the strong position and money making that video games and their soundtracks will continue into the coming decades.

Jonathan Whitelaw

All of the featured video game franchises can be found at their respective websites: http://mario.nintendo.com/, http://www.ffonline.com/, http://www.konami-europe.com/, http://www.rockstargames.com

1980 – 2010, Imporant 30th Anniversaries in Music

A selection of 30th Anniversaries in music being celebrated in 2010

John Bonham

John Bonham 31/5/1948 - 25/9/1980

2010, although brand new and still got that new car smell, is an important year of 30th anniversaries in the world of popular music. From the decaying age of sixties and seventies rock excess to the dawn of electro pop and funk, the three decades between 1980 and 2010 have arguably been some of the most important in the long, storied history of the music industry.

Beginning with January and February, there are some important anniversaries coming up within the next few weeks. Most notably would be the 30th anniversary on the 19th of February of the late, great Bon Scott, lead singer of AC/DC and all round hell raiser. His autopsy read “death by misadventure” but fans and critics all believe the story of him choking on vomit. To quote the immortal Spinal Tap however, nobody knows if it was his own vomit. Sadly missed but aptly remembered by the superb album Back in Black, a fitting tribute to the man and a fantastic introduction to replacement singer Brian Johnson.

Another death that shocked the rock world was that of Led Zeppelin’s drummer John Bonham. Much like his Scottish/Australian counterpart Bon, Bonham was a notorious alcoholic and furious drunk who was as famous for his binges as he was for his triumphant drumming. More importantly his death marked the end of Led Zeppelin as a band, the remaining members deciding to disband rather than continue without Bonham. Arguably this was coupled with the frankly appalling condition some of the members were in at the time and the waning popularity of the band’s music. Thirty years on however and Led Zeppelin are as popular as ever with record sales, t-shirts and merchandise now gracing high streets once again and with the constant rumour they will reform for another show at Glastonbury later in the summer, their popularity has definitely grown in the past three decades.

On one final, rather morbid note, on the 18th of May 1980, the pioneering and frankly genius Ian Curtis took his own life, spelling the end of Joy Division. However like with so many other tragic moments in life, not all was at a loss as the remaining members formed New Order and would go on to be one of the most popular recording artists of the twentieth century, their electro, alt-rock and house sounds becoming the anthems of generations growing up and filling nightclubs around the UK and the globe.

1980 also saw the release of a number of highly influential and classic albums in the world of rock and roll and beyond. The Ace of Spades album from Motorhead brought the heavy metal outfit from the borderline cult to the public’s attention, the signature song of course becoming a massive hit in both the rock world and remaining a constantly played classic on rock radio stations throughout the known world. The Blizzard of Ozz also marked Ozzy Osbourne’s first foray into the solo market having just been fired from Black Sabbath. Not a classic album by any great means but should be noted as featuring “Crazy Train”, a staple of his career and arguably the single which made Ozzy a mainstay on television and radio to the present day.

Moving away from a more metal oriented area, the thirtieth anniversary of Never Forever by Kate Bush. Although a distinctly average album, this effort by the talented vocalist proved to be the very first UK number one by a British female artist and the very first album released by a female artist to head straight into the charts at number one. Yet more evidence that Bush was already on her way to being an important bastion and champion of female recording in rock and popular music. The ever controversial Ted Nugent released Scream Dream in June, yet another hard rock, screaming album form the very talented guitarist who does his best to create chaos and hunt endangered animals with his bow and arrow.

There we have it, a small selection of albums and bands who celebrate landmark thirtieth anniversaries in 2010. We shall just have to wait and see how the year pans out and what if anything will be seminal enough to warrant a thirtieth anniversary in 2040.

Jonathan Whitelaw

Check out iTunes or Amazon for albums and artists featured here. Also check out: www.ledzeppelin.com, www.ozzy.com, www.katebush.com, www.acdc.com, www.tednugent.com, www.neworderonline.com, www.imotorhead.com