Music is universal. That goes without saying. Every country has its own anthem, and every continent, indeed every region, has its own unique sound. Through the years these sounds have evolved, borrowed from each other, and intertwined, even becoming synonymous with, the culture of an area and sometimes even an entire nation.
Just as bagpipes immediately make us think of Scotland and the infamous vuvuzela now reminds us of South Africa (and the worst World Cup in recent years), sounds such as these over time attach themselves to a culture and paint a picture of that culture. Over time, new people come and go leaving new things behind, which the locals then combine with thier own techniques, materials, disciplines, philosophies, even ingredients, and create something that is both old and new. Take food, for example. The Portuguese brought wine to India. The result was the vindaloo that we in England have come to love so much.
This is true in music also, as people move from place to place taking thier instruments with them. Just as wine moved from West to East, the guitar had already come the other way centuries earlier and given us the ingredient which forms the basis of most modern music. After all, instruments are the ingredients of music, and the musicians the chefs. And just like real chefs, there are those musicians who specialise in the traditional disciplines and those who are not afraid to combine ideas from two or more different places to create a fusion.
But rock music and heavy metal has become a culture in its own right, a culture that does not belong to a region but to a generation. Like-minded people the world over, from the rebel on a motorbike who sticks the middle finger up at authority, to the introvert, deep thinker – the quiet guy on campus who runs home after college so he can barricade himself in his room because he finds comfort and release in the lyrics of his favourite metal band. You don’t have to be either of these guys, you can simply be a guy who enjoys the sound of heavy guitars. It doesn’t matter. Rock is universal, for most people a way of escape from their everyday lives.
Quite often people’s appreciation manifests itself in other ways too. “The International Rock & Roll Dress Code” including (but not limited to) long hair, tattoos, faded denim jeans and black t-shirts emblazoned with the logos of an individual’s favourite band, has become as much a part of rock culture as the guitar itself and is a sure-fire way to spot a fellow rocker the world over, that guy you may not know anything about, may not even be able to speak the same language, but with whom you don’t need words to know that you have a lot in common. I’ve seen him in Sweden. I’ve seen him in Portugal. I’ve seen him in Egypt, Austria, Ireland, even in India. Such is the worldwide nature of our so-called “sub” culture.
So if we are truly a culture, a way of life as opposed to just a genre of music, then I’ve decided to put together this article to examine how heavy metal (in particular) has been received worldwide and how it has fused with the music of other cultures the world over, and to have a look at some of the results. And also just to celebrate the increasingly international nature of rock & roll, heavy metal, thrash metal, death metal, doom metal, viking metal, funk metal, folk metal, black metal, gothic metal, ska, punk, ska-punk, classic rock and everything else in between, which I like to call “The Alternative Spectrum”.
So without further ado, let’s delve into this intercontinental tour with a few bands from closer to home.
Part One – Europe
Here’s a few bands from our home continent. Think of it like a “Eurovision Rock Contest”. Which one gets your vote??
Hailing from Waregem, in the land which, according to my friend Dean is “famous for two things – chocolate and paedophiles” (Thank you Dean), death metal outfit Aborted have added a third item to that list and shown that the so-called “Boring Belgians” know how to make a hardcore tune too. Check out the delightfully named “Meticulous Invagination” above, if you dare.
Danish band Svartsot combine folk riffs with fierce drumming and death metal vocals, creating a viking/death metal fusion. This is a fairly new band to me, having discovered them only a few weeks ago, but so far I’m far from disappointed! What do you guys think? Carlsberg don’t do bands but…
(Incidentally, anyone else noticed that Carlsberg don’t seem to do anything?? Not even nice lager.)
A country famous for being crap at football. Although saying that, I do remember them holding Scotland to a 2-2 draw a few years ago. I rest my case. But just like the late Mr. Barry White, what they lack in sporting ability they make up for in musical genius. Despite being little more than a few towns on top of a group of rocks in the North Sea, The Viking Metal craze that is sweeping Scandinavia has reached these shores too and they wanted to be part of it. So, flying the flag for this tiny nation is Týr, with lyrics drawing upon traditional Faroese folklore. Enjoy……
There is just so much good music coming out of Finland at the moment that I could probably fill an entire article just about that. Over the years, Finland has been more closely associated with long, dismal winters and high suicide figures than with quality music. But since Lordi came along and won Eurovision with the classic “Hard Rock Hallelujah”, the world started to take notice. The list of bands from Finland who have made it big in recent years is a long one; Finntroll, Turisas, Moonsorrow, Nightwish, Amorphis and Swallow The Sun to name but a few. But let me share with you a couple of my personal favourites:
Korpiklaani – a band after my own heart, as all their songs are about drinking. Here they are performing their popular hit “Vodka”, a song which my friend Dean tells me has since been remixed into a popular song on the rave scene…
And the best Finnish band of all (in my humble opinion): Ensiferum. Listen to “The Victory Song” here, if you can manage to sit through all 10 and a half minutes of it. Fucking inspiring, excuse my Finnish.
Forget Rammstein. Listen to Blind Guardian. Enough said.
And don’t mention the war.
Gibraltar, eh? Who would have thought it?? Well, the band in question, Breed 77, actually made it quite big a few years back with their most memorable hit entitled “The River” from the album “Cultura”. Blending mournful vocals with soothing Spanish flamenco guitars, it was a memorable album which showcased their versatility and was one of the first really good examples of metal-fusion that I can remember hearing. Since the success of Cultura they’ve released a few more albums but have spent a large part of their time touring and are still going strong. Just this year they played at Download, a festival which had an attendance estimated at somewhere around the 120,000 mark. For a band from a tiny dependency with just 30,000 people, that’s not bad.
Plate-smashing and heavy metal?? Why not!! (Actually, joking aside I think that could actually work.) But the only thing that will get smashed when you stick on a bit of Firewind will be your eardrums. Despite sounding like the condition you get after eating too much vindaloo, Firewind are an awesome band with some amazing guitar work. At a party a few months back where most of the music being played was hip-hop and R&B, I was jokingly asked by a few stoned youths to put some of “my” music on. I put on “Mercenary Man”, the song below, and the response I got was along the lines of “I was sayin like put some rock on for a joke yeah but that shit’s like, not bad ya know!!” See if you agree.
Budapest has a bridge called the Chuck Norris Bridge. I think that’s pretty cool. Another thing about Hungary that is pretty cool is Pokolgép, a heavy metal band from the same city who are still going despite reaching the peak of their fame around the early 80’s. So a bit of a trip back in time as well, this one. I first heard of them from a Hungarian couple I got talking to in the Hobgoblin not long ago. The girl wrote their name down on a piece of paper which I then found in my pocket two days later and had since forgotten what it meant. So I googled it. Two things I like about them: They sing in their native language (and I’ve got a lot of respect for bands that do that), and they have some amazing outfits. Just check out the video!!
A slight change in musical direction here and a venture into a world I have little knowledge of: Dance metal. Despite being metal, it also falls under the dance music umbrella which is something I’ve not had too much exposure to. But I stumbled across these guys, Dope Stars Inc, while researching for this article and thought I’d have a bit of a listen. I must say I was impressed. Though it has a slight Rammstein-esque feel about it, and it may be dance metal, or industrial metal or whatever it is you want to call it, it’s the metal part I’m interested in. Overall, definitely bearable. Here they are performing “21st Century Slave”.
Another tiny country known for its reputation as another minnow of European football (and also its status as a tax haven). What they should be known for is the band Erben der Schöpfung who have once again shown that sometimes the really good bands come from the most unlikely places. Spanning genres such as electro, gothic rock, and melodic and symphonic metal and with a female lead singer with a voice rivalling Amy Lee’s in classically-trained Sabine Dünser, they were doing tracks comparable in style to Nightwish as early as 2001. Some members went on to form the band Elis who were equally as successful but sadly in 2006, Dünser died from a brain hemorrhage at the age of just 29.
While on the surface, Norway would seem like just another quiet (albeit expensive) Scandinavian country where nothing much happens apart from snow, Norway has a very dark musical past. You’re probably familiar with the story of Burzum frontman Varg Vikernes who in 1993 murdered bandmate Øystein Aarseth. Vikernes was also convicted with burning several churches and served 16 years of a 21 year prison sentence, having been released on parole last year. But the band I want to share with you all is the much more light-hearted (but still slightly dark) Turbonegro, a band introduced to me by my pal Will a few years back, when he bought me their album “Party Animals” as a birthday present. A lot of you will probably have heard of them already but nevertheless, here is their fantastic magnum opus “All My Friends Are Dead”.
Another country which I know has a massive metal scene, but it’s a scene I know very little about. Once I was sitting in the car park in my cousin’s car waiting for him to come back from somewhere so we could go somewhere, and I was flicking through the radio stations and happened to land on one where the track that was playing was some epic guitar solo – it was awesome! I started to wonder why I had never heard this piece of music before. Then the guy started singing, and I realised. It was a Polish radio station. And I cannot speak Polish, so I shall never be able to find out what that song was. But the experience did teach me one thing and that was to check out a bit more Polish rock. So that’s exactly what I did, and although I still haven’t found that amazing song, here’s one pretty decent one I did find – it’s a band called Abaddon and the song is called “Bezprawie”. It’s sort of like the Polish version of The Ramones, but on speed.
You might recognise this one from the film “Rock’n’Rolla”, from the scene where the guys are getting tortured by the Russian Mafia. The song is called “Dopilsya” and it’s by a punk band called Ex Sektor Gaza. Again it’s in the native tongue and in this case I think that only adds to its appeal. You might disagree, but have a listen anyway.
A country famous for being crap at football. Although saying that, I do remember them holding the Faroe Islands to a 2-2 draw a few years ago. I rest my case 🙂
By now we’ve heard about many different kinds of metal, metal-fusion genres and the like, but… Pirate Metal?? This has to be the greatest invention EVER!! Heavy metal and pirates – a match made in heaven. A bit like mint sauce on cream crackers (Hey, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it). There’s not much else that needs to be said about this one – here’s Alestorm performing their hit “Keelhauled”, about a very nasty and painful punishment that used to be handed out aboard pirate ships, whereby they would tie the poor guy to a rope and toss him off the ship’s bow, so that the current would drag him under all the way to the stern. If he didn’t drown, his flesh would be cut to ribbons by the sharp barnacles that would attach themselves to the undersides of wooden ships. Personally I think we should try it out with N-Dubz.
Another band I hadn’t heard of prior to researching this article. Kindly suggested by my Swiss friend Mr. Donici, who is in Barcelona as I write. With a song entitled “Vodka ‘n’ Roll”, here’s the magnificent Mägo de Oz. Spanish vocals with a touch of Irish ceilidh with a generous lashing of good old metal, this is a belter of a song with something for everyone.
ABBA?? Who the fuck are ABBA??
I already mentioned Swedish bands Ebba Grön and Asta Kask in my article Top 10 Underrated Bands, but here’s another couple of bands worth checking out. Firstly another recommendation, this time coming from my friend Olle. This is the Swedish punk band De Lyckliga Kompisarna (Swedish for The Happy Friends), with their song “Hockeyfrilla”, which I think is about the type of haircuts that hockey players seem to go for. Whatever that is.
And secondly, here’s another band I think I mentioned in the Underrated Bands article – the fabulous Köttgrottorna, whose name translated means “Meat Caves”. Nice…
First, listen to this song.
Now, where do you think this band originates from?
If you said Dublin, you’d be walking away empty handed. The answer, of course, is Switzerland (If you’re really clever, you would have noticed that Eluveitie is a corruption of Helvetia, which of course is what the Swiss call themselves.) Though with the Celtic riffs in the background and even the title, “Inis Mona”, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a Neo-Celtic Irish metal band. No such thing. Cracking tune though.
And finally, we finish up with that little country at the other end of the M4. And an alternative reggae-metal band from Newport called Skindred. Frontman Benjy Webbe has compared Newport to Seattle. I’m not sure about that, but what I am sure about is Webbe’s amazing vocals and the band’s ability to maintain a perfect 50/50 balance between the two genres of reggae and metal so that they are an advert for both, and an insult to neither. Quite often when you get a fusion band come along, the fusion is ever slightly biased in favour of one style. That’s not the case with Skindred. It… just works. If you’re not convinced, have a listen…
So, that concludes the first leg of our world tour of metal. We’ve seen 20 bands from 18 different countries, and I very much hope you enjoyed reading this (somewhat long) article and listening to some of the finest metal Europe has to offer.
Please treat this article like the Eurovision Song Contest, and let me know in the comments which nation(s) would get your vote based on what you heard. And feel free to let me know if I’ve overlooked any great bands (or countries). Check in next week for Part 2, when I’ll be looking at Africa and Asia. Until then, Au Revoir, Goodbye, Auf Wiedersehen, Do Svidanja, Arrivederci and Hasta La Vista. I’ll be back…