rjdsabbath

The Battle of Heaven and Hell, Where the Mob Rules, and the Dehumanizer is the Devil You Know

The Neon Knights and the Children of the Sea met Lady Evil in the battle of Heaven and Hell. Or so they thought. They met at the Wishing Well, there to see who would Die Young and who would Walk Away. Win or lose, all combatants knew that in battle, Lonely Is the Word.

rs-196175-99979514

And the two sides did Turn up the Night. Voodoo flourished even in the very Sign of the Southern Cross, neither side knowing that E5150 was the code of their demise. First the Mob Rules, then the embittered County Girl retaliates as souls are Slipping Away, Falling off the Edge of the World Over and Over.

As the battle raged, the Computer God tallied the lost, for After All (The Dead) alone continue beyond the computer-generated TV Crimes, to send Letters from Earth to the Master of Insanity, hoping he will use his Time Machine to erase the Sins of the Father before it is Too Late, before each I is Buried Alive.

And The Devil Cried as the Shadow of the Wind shrieked against the Ear in the Wall.

 

Ultimately, Atom and Evil unleashed Fear once kept inside the Bible Black, to Double the Pain beyond the ministrations of even a Rock and Roll Angel. The Turn of the Screw proved so painful that it led to even the most sane and compassionate toward Eating the Cannibals, to Follow the Tears to Neverwhere, losing the last vestige of hope for Breaking into Heaven.

Black Sabbath – Heaven And Hell (Live In N.Y 1980)

 

Written By Dr. Metal  <Martin Jacobsen>

The Battle of Heaven and Hell


The Story of the Black Sabbath That Made All Citizens Paranoid Because the Master of Reality Opened Volume Four of the Sabbath Bloody Sabbath in Order to Sabotage the World Via Technical Ecstasy until the Citizens Said Never Say Die!


At a Black Sabbath I met The Wizard Behind the Wall of Sleep, where N.I.B. created a Wicked World from a Sleeping Village, which did not heed the Warning.  


The War Pigs made all citizens Paranoid. They fled on a Planet Caravan to find the Iron Man at his Electric Funeral. A Hand of Doom served Rat Salad, and the citizens knew they were in a land where Fairies Wear Boots.


And in this land, a Sweet Leaf grew until After Forever. As Embryo after embryo grew into the Children of the Grave, an Orchid bloomed, heralding the Lord of this World, who dragged the citizens toward the Solitude possible only after falling Into the Void.


And the Wheels of Confusion clouded Tomorrow’s Dream, and any Changes or FX that followed only made it easier for the Supernaut to make the citizens Snowblind, assuming a Cornucopia existed at every Laguna Sunrise, inciting a St. Vitus’ Dance Under the Sun as Every Day Comes & Goes.


But it was not really so, and the Sabbath Bloody Sabbath presided over by A National Acrobat dispelled the Fluff with one utterance of “Sabbra Cadabra.” Then the citizens said to their culture, you are Killing Yourself to Live. They then asked themselves Who are You? Are you Looking for Today? Do you expect to be saved by a Spiral Architect?


And then opened Hole in the Sky, and the citizens said to themselves “Don’t Start (Too Late), or you’ll fail to see the Symptom of the Universe, the Megalomania disguised as The Thrill of it All. Beware the Supertzar, and always ask Am I Going Insane? They did not know about The Writ, where the answers lay.


And the citizens became dehumanized, acting either as Back Street Kids shouting You Won’t Change Me or descending into denial saying “It’s Alright, the Gypsy will see to it that All Moving Parts (Stand Still), and the Rock ‘N’ Roll Doctor will say “She’s Gone” to all Dirty Women.


But hope again emerged among the citizens, who shouted “Never Say Die”! Johnny Blade was stopped from gouging out Junior’s Eyes, and even though A Hard Road had been created by the Shock Wave, the citizens were able to unite in an Air Dance, hoisting a banner of cooperation reading “Over To You” and marshalling their forces to Breakout by Swinging the Chain that had heretofore bound them to their own darkness.
Written By Dr. Metal <Martin Jacobsen>

The Story of The Black Sabbath

blacksabbathchicagojan2016_2_638

Source: Blabbermouth.com

February 4, 2017, Black Sabbath retired as a touring band, playing their final show at the Genting Arena in their hometown, Birmingham, UK.  Whether they play together again or not, I believe it’s fair to say that they exited the stage with grace. They toured for over a year-reaching 1.6 million fans in 26 countries on 4 continents. Make no mistake: it was a lucrative enterprise.  They surely didn’t go into it for altruistic purposes alone.  But they did chose to commune with fans one last time, and I find it a dignified-perhaps even gracious-note to go out on.  Until long after forever (and Bill Ward is included here because he too created the music this tour championed), Black Sabbath will be among those whose genius became a genus.  They will forever be the founders of heavy metal.

tep

Source: Tony Iommi Facebook Page

Black Sabbath exhibits perhaps the preeminent paradoxical property of genius: knowing the best without knowing any better.  They were four kids from a decaying society who didn’t realize they shouldn’t try to be what they wanted to be.  They didn’t realize that they couldn’t rise from their circumstances-like foliage from humus-and create something completely new all by themselves, without permission, without planning.  What they knew was that what they had created was true and that its truth lay in its own properties.  And they knew that they may as well make this truth their lives because there was nothing to lose.  They knew being broke playing music was better than being broke some other way.  They discovered that when up is the only direction left to look, they found beauty waiting for them.

history_2

Source: Official Black Sabbath Website

Perhaps this example can lead us to look up as well.

Perhaps we did that when we went to see The End.

When we went to see the end, we went to see the beginning.  We went to receive a blessing from The Elders.  We went to witness the progenitors of an entire genre of music (perhaps a new philosophy),  the iterations of which continue to descend into our consciousness-a magnificent cascade of shimmering perceptions allowing us all to glimpse the deeper beauty of the reality we inhabit. The End gave Black Sabbath an opportunity once again to reach into our less comfortable selves and bring out unsettling fears and feelings.  By re-presenting these fears and feelings through their music, Black Sabbath helped us recognize that these emotions are also part of our humanity.  The 1.6 million fans who attended The End tour shared that moment of humanity.

tec

Photo Credit: Phil Davies, Global Black Sabbath Convention, at Genting Arena, 2/4/2017

And here’s the genius: In The End, it makes us feel happy.  We feel purged of our fears and failings.  We feel as if we are understood and accepted from the inside out.  When we looked up at the stage or the screen at The End, we were all-Black Sabbath included-looking up, experiencing the most salient symptom of the universe: the beauty waiting for us.

***

Written by Dr. Metal

Vinyl Analysis #6

Special thanks to Michelle Johnson, Carly Carthel and Rick Ossian for reading the draft.

Special thanks to Phil Davies of Global Black Sabbath Convention for sharing his photo for this post.

THE END Brought the Beginning Once More: A Personal Note on Black Sabbath’s Final Tour

In the Iommi Paradox (IP), I argue that Tony Iommi’s riffs are primordial, that he’s finding the riffs instead of building them.  I still believe that, but I think the theory may need to be refined.  I think I’ve fallen into the “instant incarnation” fallacy—that Iommi always immediately divines a perfect riff.   While most of us would surely agree that Iommi has a well—developed musical intuition, I think I’ve allowed that assumption to cloud my vision a bit.  I’ve made an error in my thinking, a common one.  I’ve overlooked what I already know.  It’s the curse of knowledge—that we know so much about something we forget that other people may not know it.  In this case, I did it to myself.  I got caught up in the product and missed the process.

The Perfect Riff Paradox

So, here’s the premise.  In the Iommi Paradox, I argue a found music hypothesis.  I argue that the riffs Iommi produces are not created but found, that he has tapped into an archetypal feeling and elaborated that to us through his riffs.  I am not abandoning this theory in any way.  But I think in setting the contrast between Iommi finding riffs and most other people struggling to create even a shadow of the music he transmits to us, I missed a larger truth.  I claim he finds the riffs rather than building them, but until this morning I had never considered a much simpler and perhaps more valid—and valuable—possibility.  It’s so simple, in fact, that it seems immediately axiomatic.

Tony Iommi found these perfect riffs…because he was looking for them.

So, I offer you The Perfect Riff Paradox, a corollary to the Iommi Paradox.

I submit the notion in the Iommi Paradox that “Maybe these “simple” riffs didn’t exist before because no one was looking for them.  I know it may sound a little odd, but Tony’s gift is one of awareness. He finds the terrible beauty of the cosmos and gives it to us in a handful of power chords.”  The notion that Iommi has an awareness—an intuition—most of us do not had already occurred to me.  And I argue in the Master of Realty review (MOR) that the first three Black Sabbath albums evince an obvious evolution in composition (which I again elaborate in the Great Lefty: Live Forever liner notes); he seems to break every die he has cast.   What I had not really considered before was that the riffs along the way to absolutely perfection—while powerful, memorable, iconic—were perfect in their time and place.  Their integrity and power are not in question, and any riff The Master offers has the depth and aplomb to fulfill the Iommi Paradox, to “warm our hearts with chilled blood.”  But their excellence doesn’t mean Iommi had found what he sought.  In a Platonic sense, the riffs along the way are as perfect as they can be.  As he climbed the ladder of progressive illumination, the riffs he recorded as he ascended represented the highest awareness available.  When he finds the absolute version, it is so perfect that it seems like it’s brand new.  But he had given us glimpses all along, and when the perfect riff or song emerges, we were somehow expecting it.  While most of Iommi’s riffs are found, the perfect ones took longer to locate.  He was looking for them, and found many others along the way.  The examples below will illustrate this hypothesis.

The metal world has been arguing for decades now that the opening riff of the song “Black Sabbath” uses the flattened fifth or “Devil’s Interval” and that this riff constitutes the beginning of heavy metal itself.  The argument that “Symptom of the Universe” off Sabotage is proto-thrash has been in the air for some time.  I have long said that “Symptom” confirms rather than creates thrash, and I’ve mentioned that “Paranoid,” “War Pigs,” “Electric Funeral,” and “Children of the Grave” all herald thrash.  In fact, I argue in MOR that “Children of the Grave” is the first consolidation of elements that would become the thrash moment.  I’ve likewise argued for many years that the opening riff of “Cornucopia” is the pinnacle of doom metal and that some bands—Saint Vitus in particular—have sought to reproduce it because of its perfection.  But as I’ve thought about the doom elements in the albums preceding this one (especially “Lord of this World”), I’ve somehow bought into my own conclusion that the riff is somehow perfect by accident.  That was a mistake.  It wasn’t accidental.  It was sought after, and ultimately, found.  Herein lies the Perfect Riff Paradox, a sought music hypothesis.

Let’s take two riffs (actually, entire songs or groups of riffs) noted above: and “Cornucopia” and “Symptom of the Universe” and explore this.  You can hear the songs by clicking the titles here.  You may also want to hear “Children of the Grave”

“Cornucopia”

Iommi had generated doom riffs as far back as the first album.  The riffs in the “Sleeping Village” suite are surely pieces of the puzzle.  “Iron Man,” “Electric Funeral,” and “Hand of Doom” all reflect a doomy approach.  As I argue in MOR, the final three songs on Master of Reality refine the approach, and on Volume 4, not only “Cornucopia” but much of the album offers the ethos that would come to define doom metal.  Some fans offer “Under the Sun” as the “god riff” of doom, and it’s surely as good as “Cornucopia.”  One could say that the two together are the finishing touches of doom.  But I’m going to use just “Cornucopia.”   The interesting thing about this riff—the entire song, really—is how perfect it seems.  I cannot hear it without thinking that all other doom metal is derivative.  It fulfills all expectations.  It’s perfect.

My misapprehension, as I note above, rests on the assumption that all the riffs before it were also perfect.  What I mean is that I’ve always perceived them as somehow final.  I felt that his riffs were somehow all separate but equal items in a collection.  I now think this was an incomplete approach.  Perhaps (and maybe Iommi didn’t think of it this way on purpose) Iommi was seeking that perfect sound, that perfect configuration.  He really does the same things on Paranoid, Master of Reality, and Volume 4.  The layouts of these albums are more or less similar.  But the music gets heavier and heavier.  During the songs in which he means to be heavy, each album is almost impossibly heavier than the one before it.  That seems like seeking the truth.  The last four albums seem not to have this sort of thick, sludgy, plodding menace.  In fact, there may not be anything after Volume 4 that’s as heavy as Volume 4, at least during the Ozzy era and perhaps throughout Iommi’s oeuvre.   He’d found it in “Cornucopia” (and/or “Under the Sun”).  It’s so heavy that is seems brand new.  All the elements form former iterations of doom are there, but they are more perfectly rendered.  The slow, plodding diatonic components are slurred together, and held to the point of breaking.  The riff falls, then heaves upward, then falls lower, then falls and heaves downward until beginning again.  It seems new.  But it isn’t really new, it’s perfect.  Perhaps what makes perfect, perfect, resides in sounding new no matter how familiar it becomes (or always-already has been).

 “Symptom of the Universe”

Perhaps because doom metal had been settled on Volume 4, the next couple of Black Sabbath albums experimented with numerous approaches—overall faster tempos, elaborate (even sprawling) compositions, increased use of keyboards, increased use studio effects, variations of genre.  Amidst this experimental atmosphere, we find what many have come to call the beginning of thrash: “Symptom of the Universe” off Sabotage.  Above, I’ve listed songs that reflect thrash metal elements before thrash was cool.  Starting with the Paranoid album, we hear the incipient thrash template: chugging riffs, dominant use of the open sixth string under the riff, solo breaks based on long scales and shredding, tempo changes, and themes such as metal health, addiction, and war.  Master of Reality continues this trend, ultimately offering “Children of the Grave”—which I will go to my grave defending as the first complete thrash song.  In fact, a comparison of “Children of the Grave” with “Symptom of the Universe” may illustrate this hypothesis as well as any approach.  The thrash section of “Symptom” runs from 0:00-4:10.  In “Children” that section runs from 0:00-4:30.  The songs are about the same length overall.  Both songs share a number of features in terms of overall design.  This analysis will extend the Perfect Riff Paradox to the collected riffs constituting both of these songs and demonstrate how “Symptom” offers a clearer vision of what would become thrash metal.

“Children of the Grave opens with Geezer’s famous bass chug and Bill Ward’s iconic drum roll, but at :14 when the entire band goes into the main riff—a tight chug followed by descending power chords (a half step)— thrash metal is born.  From :20-30 we find the “sustained power chords over the chug” section (reminiscent of “Paranoid”).  Then we return to the riff.  This constitutes the main body of the song.  From 2:09-2:21, a rapid ascent/descent pattern creates a “toggle” effect.  Then they slow it down to a doomy march from 2:37-2:46 as a bridge back to the riff.  The shredding solo lasts from 3:45-4:10, followed by the power chords, followed by ascending bends toward the closing sound effects.

The song itself lasts about 4:10.  There’s 50 seconds of sound effects at the end, so this analysis focuses only on the first 4:10.  In that time, we have five distinct parts.  While the song does have an identifiable verse/chorus base (as do most thrash songs), there is considerable variety.

“Symptom” follows the same basic pattern.  It begins with a chug followed by descending power chords, but this time, the chords form the “Devil’s Interval,” just as in “Black Sabbath.”  From :22-33, the riff changes to sustained power chords, but this time, they are the entire riff and not an addition to the chug.  The power chords in “Children” follow a basic pattern of diatonic elements (again, as in “Paranoid”), but in “Symptom,” it’s a flattened pattern, just as in the main riff.  This flattening seems to be part of what Iommi was seeking and elevates the riff to a different form of perfect.  It seems new, yet it combines two former approaches to reveal a pattern that was always there but not available until Iommi had spent considerable time seeking it.  From 1:55-2:20, they launch into descending scale (repeating it 8 times), which corresponds with the toggling part in “Children.”  They do so again at 3:14-3:36, where they then follow with a bridge to 3:50.  The bridge comprises tremolo picking followed by ascending licks.  While this segment corresponds structurally with the doomy march in “Children” (although it appears later in the song) its construction intensifies rather than slows the song.  The tremolo picking echoes the chug of the main thrash riff, and the ascending licks pull the song toward the solo section.  In “Children,” the solo follows the sustained power chords; in “Symptom,” it follows this bridge section, or rather, is undergirded by that bridge section, which is changed to a high-register chug, increasing the intensity by increasing the speed and raising the register.  So, in order, we have the descending scales, then the ascending tremolo—picked bridge, then the shred solo over the high-register chug.  All of these elements—the ascending structures, increased tempos, and infinitely varied patterns—presage thrash metal.  While the pattern replicates “Children” in its basics, and both thrash sections are about the same length, the songwriting in “Symptom” reflects a much greater moment of discovery.  Iommi included not only new elements (such as tremolo picking and increasing speed) but also formerly used approaches like the Devil’s Interval.  He had already been looking for the thrash model (whether he knew it or not), and this analysis shows that he found it.  His former use of thrash elements were part of the search.  “Symptom” was the ideal form.

Conclusion

An argument could perhaps be made claiming that Iommi just got better at song writing as time passed.  He is, after all, a working musician, and it stands to reason that he would improve over the years.  My response to such an argument would be that he has indeed steadily improved as a musician and a song writer.  I’m not disputing that.  I’m suggesting that what it means to be a song writer is different for Tony Iommi.  He is not a typical metal composer.  I’m suggesting that he possesses a vision of music itself.  He isn’t making it up.  Many artists do that.  They make new music by making more old music.  Iommi seems to be searching for the ideal form of music itself.  As I’ve shown here, he continually found more perfect models.  It’s not an accident that “Symptom” has been held up as a primordial thrash song.  But the fact that it inspired others to imitate only enhances our understanding of Iommi’s vision.  He’s never really claimed allegiance to any particular genre, and as I’ve written in the past and as many fans would say, he’s founded metal and most of its subgenres, not to mention experimenting with numerous forms.  He wasn’t trying to create thrash metal.  He was trying to find a perfect riff .

And he did.

***

Written by Dr. Metal

Vinyl Analysis #5

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Michelle Johnson and Karen DiZefalo for reading the draft form for me.

Vinyl Analysis:The Perfect Riff Paradox (or Sought Music Hypothesis)

I was listening to Black Sabbath’s “Neon Knights” over and over again with my son, and I was thinking about how different it seemed compared to the first eight Black Sabbath albums. It’s really proto-thrash, I think. Interestingly, the construction isn’t out of the norm for Tony’s writing-with the heavy E-string presiding over the entire construction. But it’s really fast, and that difference in tempo reminded me of some Dehumanizer demos of a song called “Bad Blood.” They played it through at different tempos, and I marveled at how distinct each version seemed. That was an early inspiration for my theory about how Iommi is a composer. The song was almost independent of tempo. Its construction sustained all of them.

Then as I listened to the solo in “Neon Knights,” and he really shreds in a way that seems new for him on this one (and I recall watching him play it live and being amazed), I thought I noted a similarity between this solo and his solo in “NIB.” The tempos for the songs were different, but the “Neon Knights” solo seemed almost like a reversal of the “NIB” solo (that is, the beginnings are reversed.  “NIB” starts at the Iommic second and climbs to the middle of Em pentatonic; “Neon Knights” starts mid-Em pentatonic and descends, picking up the Iommic Second the first time on first ascending element). The difference-and the similarity-lay in the use of the major second-an F# added to the Em pentatonic scale, in this case, at the ninth fret on the A string. In “NIB,” he adds it in the beginning. In “Neon Knights,” he descends to the major second and used it as a transition. Then, as I watched some videos of these solos, I recalled the “Age of Reason” solo I had studied awhile back. Again, he uses Em pentatonic with the major second added.  Further, he seems to choose this particular note as a location for innovation in his solos.  It seems like something a composer would do.

942695bafaea4e93abb2ad9eb2a0126b

Iommic Second

Then it hit me: “NIB,” “Neon Knights,” and “Age of Reason” use varied tempos but the solos use the same scale. And then it hit me harder that what Iommi does in these solos indicates an evolution in his composition and playing. And then it hit me hardest that the use of the Iommic Second forms a control factor that might provide a basis for comparison across these solos, allowing the innovative practices to appear in relief.

I’m going to add sample videos of guitarists covering the solos in question.  These videos will be worth a thousand words apiece-three times the total for this essay.  For the purposes of this essay, I suggest that you confine your viewing to the solos only.  It may be hard to do, as they are all quite excellent.

“NIB”

“NIB,” off the album Black Sabbath (1970), seems to follow a standard tempo. The ascension from the distinctiveness of the major second to the twelfth position might be described as stately, increasing in speed but not departing too far from the song it belongs too, prompting the player in Sample #1-Nick Didkovsky-to refer to this solo as a “beautifully constructed piece of music.”

Sample #1: The video below is Maestro Didkovsky’s lesson for this solo. The solo occurs in full from :16-1:00.

Sample #1

The solo-which is about 44 seconds long-proceeded from the bridge riff and the uses trills incorporating the major second at the ninth position (:24-25) and ascends to the E minor pentatonic at the twelfth, returns to the major second and trills again (:42-44), and ultimately employs licks frequently used in early Black Sabbath solos (such as “Black Sabbath,” “Paranoid,” and “Fairies Wear Boots”).

“Neon Knights”

“Neon Knights,” off Heaven and Hell (1980), has a much faster tempo. The 44 second solo follows accordingly. While the recording is down-tuned one-half step, the scale is the same and played in the same position as “NIB.” The “Neon Knights” solo begins “in the middle” of E minor pentatonic and descends fairly leisurely to the major second where the ascent begins. The solo speeds up almost continuously as it proceeds and contributes to the hurtling, thrashy vibe of the song. While the solo goes higher than the E minor pentatonic a couple of times, most of it remains within E minor pentatonic (with a blues lick or two). The techniques characteristic of Iommi’s earlier work give way to pure speed for most of this solo. Again, however, like the use of trills in “NIB,” Iommi returns to the major second three times in this solo, and each time, it adds distinctiveness to the overall composition.

Sample #2: The video below-featuring Ricardo Monteiro-offers a great close-up of the solo, which transpires from 2:04-2:48.

Sample #2

The first usage is at 2:14 where the note is used as part of an ascending progression (kind of like “NIB”). Then from 2:32-34, there is a really interesting descent toward the major second that “unfolds” in a slowing cascade setting up perhaps his fastest shredding ever, shredding that uses the major second as a staging area. As you see in the video, Ricardo descends to the major second, plants his index finger there, and the whirlwind of notes begins. As the shred continues, the major second appears once more-caught in passing again during the final build-up. In this solo, the major second seems to be almost thematic-a little extra there, there. Plenty of players can play Em pentatonic fast as lightning. I’m not sure nearly as many think to feature the major second. This seems like the mark of a composer.

“Age of Reason”

“Age of Reason,” off the album 13 (2013), features a much slower tempo than the other two songs, although the tempo changes numerous times over the course of the song. In terms of the solo, the song itself is at its slowest when the solo occurs. In terms of texture and nuance, this solo is among the best in all of Black Sabbath-different speeds and techniques accumulated over a lifetime of composition, a solo that could only proceed, perhaps, from the same mind as “NIB” and “Neon Knights.” I’ve written elsewhere about the feeling of the solo, and will just note here that the anguish and turmoil reflected in it are greatly enhanced by the use of the major second.

Sample #3: The link below features guitarist Aaron Kipness in a 2014 performance of “Age of Reason” by New York Black Sabbath tribute band Into the Void. The 56 second solo transpires from 4:56 to 5:52.

Sample #3

The first instance of the major second occurs from 5:06-10. As in “Neon Knights,” the solo descends or unfolds toward the major second and then “spins” a bit before transitioning back to the twelfth position. The second occurrence is from 5:35-37 and constitutes the darkest moment in the solo. It’s also the only moment here under examination when the major second becomes the center of a final moment for a segment.

So, these data suggest that the major second stands as a theme in Tony Iommi’s composition of guitar solos. The placement of elements centered on this note indicates a greater than chance probability of design. Across the years and the tempos and the styles, Tony Iommi has remained true to the first principle of the Iommic Second.

****

Written by Dr. Metal

Vinyl Analysis #4

Acknowledgements: First, let me express my admiration to Nick Didkovsky, Ricardo Monteiro, and Aaron Kipness for their fine playing. Special thanks to Maestro Didkovsky and Dylan Pruiett, School of Rock-Lubbock, for advising me in music theory and being patient with me as I learned how to talk about what I was talking about.

Nick Didkovsky

School of Rock-Lubbock

Ricardo Monteiro-Youtube

Into the Void-Facebook

Vinyl Analysis: The Iommic Second-Tony Iommi’s Use of the Major Second (in Three Solos from across His Career)

Heavy metal questions nearly everything.  It’s the purpose of the genre, really.  It pushes musical boundaries.  It challenges time-honored assumptions.  Metal is not afraid of God. Or Satan.  Or…Plato?

In teaching my Heavy Metal as a Literary Genre class, I have had many students present the Death song “The Philosopher” off their 1993 album Individual Thought Patterns.  The basic theme of the song lies in the chorus: “Lies feed your judgement of others / Behold how the blind lead each other / The philosopher: You know so much about nothing at all.” The attitude here is one of the first or second year college student.  The questions that arise early in a university education ultimately lead to a reexamination of basic assumptions.  As evidenced by the lyrics above, “The Philosopher” strikes a defiant tone, giving the student an opportunity to challenge the university, the underpinnings of the Western intellectual tradition, and perhaps the basic philosophical bent of this humanities professor.

itp

The Metal IRONy lies in fact that this song, this album, and this band sustain the Western philosophical tradition.

W.K.C. Guthrie argues in The Greek Philosophers from Thales to Aristotle that “[t]he lifeblood of philosophy is controversy” (67).  Thus, the student, who undoubtedly finds this song, and its use in a class presentation, to be an act of defiance, in truth engages in the controversy that makes philosophy philosophy.  Perhaps the student didn’t stop to think that a heavy metal class in a university in the Bible Belt providing a safe space for this defiance had already spilled a little of this lifeblood on his or her behalf.

But for all the defiance assumed to reside in using this song in class, the initial choice of the song probably lies in the premise that the song itself defies philosophical thought.

Not on your lifeblood.

The challenges articulated in this song derive from basic western philosophy.  In the main, an introduction to philosophy course will offer a view of philosophy dividing the discipline into five branches, following, more or less, depending on the book you use, this model:

  1. Metaphysics-the study of reality
  2. Epistemology-the study of knowledge
  3. Logic-the study of thought patterns
  4. Ethics-the study of proper behavior
  5. Aesthetics-the study of beauty and perception

Of course, the beauty of the model is that you can suddenly find yourself in the middle of a different branch than you thought you were in the middle of.  While the divisions comfort us with uniformity, taxonomy, and the ever-reassuring numbered list, the truth is that there are no branches of philosophy “but thinking makes it so.”

So, as we will see, the lyrics of this song actually harness the five branches model.  To be fair,  philosophy has done a remarkable job building a framework for our thoughts.  It’s likely that  Chuck Schuldiner and my students and the university and you and me cannot really escape the model.  We are so accustomed to it that it’s there whether we mean for it to be there or not.

For convenience, let’s have a look at the lyrics:

Do you feel what I feel?  See what I see.  Hear what I hear?
There is a line you must draw between your dream world and reality.
Do you live my life or share the breath I breathe?

Lies feed your judgement of others.
Behold how the blind lead each other.
The philosopher: You know so much about nothing at all

Ideas that fall under shadows of theories that stand tall
Thoughts that grow narrow upon being verbally released
Your mind is not your own; what sounds more mentally stimulating is how you make your choice
So you preach about how I’m supposed to be, yet you don’t know your own sexuality

Lies feed your judgement of others.
Behold how the blind lead each other.
The philosopher: You know so much about nothing at all

So, the first three lines fall under the standard philosophical branches of metaphysics and epistemology (which go together like peas and carrots because you can’t know reality without thinking about how you know).  We see three (touch, vision, hearing) of the five senses referenced, the epistemological method of empiricism (philosophy based on the five senses).  Then the question of perception the emerges between dreams, reality, and what constitutes life-the distinctions between them falling rather firmly under metaphysics.  Taken together, the use of these questions-that we feel, see, hear, dream, and breathe-reflects a basic use of logic; that is to say, if the number of common elements amasses sufficiently, we must be more or less endowed with similar capacities-a standard act of classification required by most philosophers before a question is interrogated.

Next, the chorus adopts an ethical stance, asserting that our knowledge lies in “lies” and that the “blind lead each other,” a sense-based metaphor criticizing the fact that we are being led by the philosopher who claims to know but does not.  This notion calls up the Socratic Irony of who knows that he knows not knows more than he who thinks he knows but does not know.  IRONically, when this death metal song (think aesthetic defiance) is used in class, it seems to be chosen to illustrate that the university-symbolized by the philosopher and/or my class and/or myself-may “know so much about nothing at all.”  Somehow, however, (perhaps it’s all that defiance), the fact remains that the premise of this song is a “judgment of others” based on the thoughts of someone who has given no real reason for us to believe him.

Then the next verse holds that theories control ideas, and then ideas are weakened once spoken, that our mind becomes so deprived of thought that all we really think about is how we think we think about how we think.  Intended or not, there seems a touch of deconstruction in this progression, and this is undoubtedly an epistemological discussion.  The next line-“So you preach about how I’m supposed to be, yet you don’t know your own sexuality”-steps from epistemology to ethics, seemingly reasserting the premise that the blind lead the blind, that those who presume to tell us how to act are no more prepared to contemplate choices than we are, suggesting that anyone telling anyone how to act is inherently unethical.  Again, the IRONy rises to the surface.  We are being exhorted to question the right of another to guide our thoughts by someone telling us not to allow another to guide our thoughts.  Somehow, the aesthetic form of a death metal song-because metal questions everything-makes the arguments offered here authoritative by the mere suggestion of controversy, which makes the IRONy doubly IRONic because controversy is the lifeblood of philosophy.

But the fact may well be that we are being led by lies to judge others by someone who knows an equal amount about nothing at all as anyone else.  I’m a doctor of philosophy, so who knows what I do or don’t know, or know I know, or know I don’t know, or don’t know I don’t know.  After all, I’m talking about the guy who’s talking about the guy who knows about nothing at all.

Think about it.

****

Written by Dr. Metal

Vinyl Analysis #3

Vinyl Analysis: Metal IRONy: Installment #1-The Philosophy of “The Philosopher”

Vinyl Analysis: I Need “Help!”

Help_0

“Help! I need somebody”!

A song that starts by shouting “Help!” is hard to ignore. It’s my favorite Beatles song, hands down.

When I hear “Help!,” I sometimes think I need to get some help. It drives me entirely crazy. If I were to openly weep and jump up and down screaming like I want to between 00:50-1:00 in, I might end up getting some help whether I want it or not. I understand why Beatlemania happened when I hear those ten seconds. In an effort to get my feet back on the ground, I’ll try to examine and understand, You Know, That Part When…

A few years ago, when I was younger than today, I noticed a detail in the song that made me feel totally stupid. I have known this song all my life. I think the discovery of the phenomenon here under study comes from what was my favorite part of the song until now, which is the sound of the vocals when they sing “my independence seems to vanish in the haze.” That part of the song has always stood out for me. I always thought it was the timbre in their voices on “vanish in the haze,” but now, I find I’ve changed my mind. It’s opened up the doors to a new understanding.

Perhaps I should start at the beginning. The phenomenon begins at 00:10-00:20 with the lines “When I was younger, so much younger than today / I never needed anybody’s help in any way.” They shorten “younger” to “young” and “needed” to “need” in the backing vocals. I’m not sure the idea of lead and backing vocals even applies, given that it’s an internal dialogue. That’s the brilliance of it. Sequentially, it seems to be a systematic exchange, but in terms of narrative structure, it’s fluid, and any voice can repeat or sustain the story, and the rheme or closing of the predicate comprises all the voices. Take the lines above for instance. The single voice and the backing vocals are not the typical pop music echo. It goes like this (backing vocals in parentheses):

When I was younger
(when I was young)
so much younger than today
(I never need)
I never needed anybody’s
RHEME [all voices]: help in any way

 There’s a sustain/introduce pattern. See it? Interestingly, they use those shortened forms. We linguists refer to these deleted suffixes {-er, -ed} as inflectional morphemes, which means that they only enhance a word’s grammatical function. The words don’t mean anything new, with or without the suffix. It’s only a grammatical detail. And it fits the meter better to shorten them. And maybe even more importantly, it foreshadows another morphological reduction that I daresay makes the entire song work, both narratively and musically.

In the next verse, at 00:50-1:00, we find that they have tried to replicate the narrative structure I noted above. I’ve copied the lyrics below from A-Z Lyrics.

(Now) And now my life has changed in oh so many ways
(My independence) My independence seems to vanish in the haze
(But) But every now (Every now and then) and then I feel so insecure
(I know that I) I know that I just need you like I’ve never done before

But this is not how The Beatles have done this. Here’s how it really goes and why it makes me so crazy.

(Now)
And now my life has changed
(My life has changed)
In oh so many ways
(My indepen…)
My independence seems to
RHEME (all voices): vanish in the haze

There’s the same sustain/introduce narrative pattern, but this time, they shorten “independence” to “indepen.” which is an entirely different morphological operation. They clipped a derivational morpheme {-ence}, which does affect meaning, and in this instance, the entire word loses its meaning because the stem “independ,” although it feels verby with a nouny modifier, does not inhabit any part of speech category. You can’t “independ” no matter how hard you try (no wonder he feels so insecure). Not only have they clipped the noun suffix, they also leave off the /d/ phoneme. It’s so subtle. If they had tried to sing “independence” there, it never would have fit. They made it fit the meter by just cutting it off. There’s something innovative, even brave, about that.

And then, AND THEN-when they actually do sing “independence,” they defiantly enunciate each of the syllables, only to find that the rheme, the final word-“seems to vanish in the haze” with all the internal voices confirming the loss.

Think about it. Everything lines up. He needs help, his independence is incomplete, then when he tries to assert it, it vanishes. That’s the story line and the psychological state it articulates. It all fits musically because the shortened form preserves the meter, thus sustaining the narrative AND musical elements.

I don’t know if I can say this changes my life in oh, so many, ways. However, I’m not feeling down about having missed this element for so long. Those days are gone. I’m feeling more self-assured about having at least noted that something special exists, even if it took this long to figure out, you know, that part when…

Written by Martin Jacobsen (aka Dr. Metal)

Vinyl Analysis #2

Beatles_press_conference_1965

 

The Beatles – Help