Can you amend that parenthetical to say: "Europe --- and Voegtlin --- take Judas Priest very seriously." Will you clear up those "pomp & camp" / "irony & kitch" qualifiers, too? Are you saying Priest straddled (ha) these lines?
Very nice work on this blog. This question of whether Priest is a big joke or not, it needs exploring I think. What is ironic about Priest? I don't see it. There is no irony in Metal. Its an impossibility.
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(Argh! Blogspot please make the edit button happen!)I can get a sense of irony from most of their post-Stained Class works. There's something in the way Halford sings about how Hell bents for leather and all that which makes me unsure if he really means what he's saying while when I listen to Accept, Running Wild or any early 80s euro-Heavy Metal band that's influenced by Judas Priest (aren't they all?) I am convinced they mean every bit of it no matter how stupid it sounds on paper. That said I don't hate 80s Judas Priest, I listen to it quite often actually but I don't think it's their most honest and meaningful material. So I can perhaps see the reasoning behind Helm's descriptions although they sound a bit harsh even for me.
Halford singing about leather isn't convincing?! OK.
Isn't that more about disingenuity than irony?
I get a very strong vibe of Halford both enjoyed the subject matter of 80's Judas Priest and at the same time looked down on the unwashed masses that idolized it and him. There is a self-loathing there, in the self-identified Metal God, that goes a long way to explain why self-loathing is a defining characteristic of almost every longtime metal listener.I think Halford thought it cheeky to write something like 'Ram it Down', there's no question in my mind. I think it's a joke to him. It's a joke he often allowed himself to take very seriously, but a joke nonetheless.There's so many Halford lyrics that mean absolutely nothing on paper, yet the man elevates them with his passionate singing, it's a conundrum, isn't it?It is the cultural heritage of Britain, that sort of self-affacing reflex that undermines the high desire of the individual. It's like it's not allowed in the UK to stand out if you don't hate yourself to compensate.Americans loved the kitsch because it verifies their trash culture sensibilities instead, whereas Europeans, also because of second-language-problems, usually take it completely at face value.So, James, I do not think Halford is disingenuous at all, I think he's saying one thing and -often- believing the other, but sometimes might entertain the idea of saying one thing and believing it too. Inherently ironic, for me. Compare and contrast with Iron Maiden where Harris reads a book/watches a movie and Harris then Writes A Song For Maiden about it, completely earnest like and then Bruce Dickinson sings it with all his might without believing a word of it.Halford singing about leather means Halford likes leather, but it's not enough to like it to make it a song, it also tickles him that he's making a metal song about *hidden homosexuality*.Compare with 70's Priest, especially Sad Wings of Destiny, and *especially* Dreamer Deceiver, where Halford spells out the whole situation for us. It's alright to be deceived by dreams.Wrnlrd, I hope it's clear I am not saying Priest is a big joke. I am saying they're *also* a joke that they veer left and right along the path of self-seriousness and utter camp. I hold 70's Priest and 80's Priest in different regard because of this. I can bang my head and drink be-... chamomile to Breaking the Law, Breaking the Law, like everyone else. But Dreamer Deceiver makes me want to become a better person instead. This blog examines the latter type of metal not because I consider the Dionysian intoxication of party metal beneath notice, but just because empirically, it's not something I return to very often.
Is it documented that Halford was really "hidden" about his homosexuality? Only interviews I have w/ him from the 80s are from Creem Magazine and the topic never comes up. Even my poorly developed teenaged gaydar knew he was into dudes. I mean, "Starbreaker." Yeah. The aforementioned "Ram it Down" and "Hell Bent for Leather." Are we to beleive Halford truly thought his listeners didn't realize what they were listening to?
I think more the case that Halford expected everyone to get he was gay from all the allusions in the lyrics and clothes and then when he saw how much people not only didn't get it (especially in europe, remember "London Leatherboys" by Accept?), or didn't care to get it (in america) or even thought the opposite, that HM is all about masculinity and jock-type shit (heavy metal parking lot), the more he loathed them and his whole part on that circus.Hence his exit in the 90's, his industrial project 'Two' with Reznor and the interview (specifically to metal mags) "yes I am gay".You got it early, most people didn't. There was quite an uproar.
In Heavy Metal Parking Lot doesn't a fan (American) make a comment like "Downing and Tipton are great, and Halford, dunno about him"... and everyone around him giggles? Most kids in my neighborhood seemed to have seen the Mad Max uniform and immediately connected that to the homosexual references in Mad Max. We were maybe six years old, so it was probably something we saw as vaguely evil and strictly in terms of the villains of the film, but it was not a mystery. A black leather policeman's uniform with an exposed chest area is gay.A focus on life altering metal is important. I think a lot of the 80s Priest output fits the bill. I don't think the broad division of 70s/80s Priest is adequate. The Ripper is probably not on the same level with Dreamer Deceiver. Likewise in the 80s you have songs with varying medicinal value. I like Hard As Iron for the drive from work. If the lyrics or title were meant as a subversive fuck you to Halford's more homophobic fans, as far as Im concerned thats a footnote to the entity it summons in my car, and the service it performs in banishing all authority figures to the phantom zone for 4 minutes, 8 seconds.
The case of '80s Priest is something we could go on about for a long time and specific cuts deserve specific mentions. They were visionary and invented a lot of what is now considered HM cannon. But they were also often lazy, out of touch and incoherent in their songwriting and aesthetic choices late on. It's easy to give Sad Wings of Destiny a pass even if it foreshadows the issues I attribute to '80s Priest because the songs are so damn good. Even so, there seems to me to be a definite drop off point. "Beyond The Realms Of Death" is the last hurrah of good Priest. Every record after that had good tracks but usually offset by half-hearted filler or pandering metal anthems ("United"?). Priest caught on in how behind the curve they had come when they tried Painkiller, a very strange record.I agree the '70/'80s line is a blurry one and my personal preferences weigh too much in what should be a historic call, but it seems to me that at when Judas Priest start self-referring as metal gods, some of the face value is inherently lost. Don't talk to me about metal, talk to me through metal about things that matter. The Ripper is one of my favourite songs on Sad Wings of Destiny because its fantasy is complete. Once I started seeing the double entendres (or worse, the lazy mean-nothing cuts) on much of Priest's later catalogue, the fantasy there would no longer cohere. I felt as if Halford was speaking down to me. Also it's interesting that apparently child you and the kids your age listening to priest got his homosexuality, and in mad max too? I can't say the same, it never occured to me as a child. I entered HM proper through teutonic speed metal and leather and chains were the metal uniform by then. I didn't learn that homosexuals had that fashion until much, much later. I bought 'Balls to the Wall' and though the image on the cover was kinda strange, though!
I guess it doesn't say much for the parenting skills in the neighborhood, but in the early 80s when cable was free on weekends, you could see movies like that on repeat. It is common practice in B Movies to make the villain a homosexual, as though that ensures the audience will be disgusted by this individual. Of course we didnt know all that it meant as kids, but as the early Priest videos were playing on MTV, the uniform was a clue that Halford was one of those guys like Toe Cutter and Johnny and Bubba. Also we had already seen The Village People on Solid Gold and American Bandstand.
That's pretty fascinating. Both that the homosexual dress code meant 'you should be disgusted by this person' and that even kids, before they knew what sexual deviancy is in particular, were pre-programmed as a byproduct. It's interesting to me how the cultural climate of the Regan '80s in America created so much cynical ultra-violent film yet was so prudish about overtly displaying anything but vanilla sexuality in any other context than slow-motion-vaseline-camera-saxophone-sex-scene. And it's interesting to consider the role of Heavy Metal (especially the american interpretations of NWOBHM) in that very same historical context. At least Omen wrote both peans to street violence ("metal forces / cruise the speed of light / feel the surge of energy / to kill on sight / we are tomorrow's warriors / marching in the street" what the fuck, Kimball?) *and* dodgy paedophilia ("long wavy hair of flaxen gold / surrounds me in a dream / she's too young to be so bold / I want to make her scream / you have the body and face of a child / you've never felt such things / if it is lust and desire you choose / I'll set your spirit free"). You wouldn't see he latter type of lyric coming for a european band like say, Dark Quarterer. Or even the first type, really. But I prefer the risk of these things being expressed - and wouldn't want Omen to be any different - than this peculiar culture of hyperviolence and bereft sexuality of the American '80s.I enjoy this dialogue, by the way.
You see the gay villain in genre movies from all over the world, Hong Kong Martial Arts films of the 70s-80s, Italian Westerns, etc. 80s American action films probably used it with more savagery and not so much humor as say the Chinese did, but its everywhere. In ROAD HOUSE the villain aint a villain without the quip: "I used to fuck guys like you in prison." It seems like this is then used to justify the hero ripping out the villains throat. Somewhere there is probably a book about this that I should be reading. Anyhow, speaking for myself, while the movies were teaching this it was being reinforced by the adults snickering and muttering "faggot" at the TV. This must have been happening in a lot of living rooms because the movies kept pandering to that mentality as though it moved product.I don't know how violent the American movies really were compared to imports like Mad Max, or Italian horror. Often it seemed like foreign films had the real good gore. And there was plenty of imported T & A on cable. "Emmanuelle In Bangkok" always seemed to be on. I think the vanilla Hollywood of the time was offset by this a bit. We weren't really that isolated.I dunno if Halford meant to out himself with the leather police uniform, but anyway the power of the music was able to bend that image into something else entirely. The cop from the Village People is one thing. Halford was something else too, bizarre and futuristic. Maybe this is why the Mad Max connection seemed so relevant at the time. Also there was the idea of the road, freedom thru driving, being an outlaw, etc. common to the videos and that film. When I look at Live Vengeance today I still think he looks fucking cool in that cop hat. Making gargoyle shadows in the spotlight. I am putting my fist through the wall for every song and I could give a shit who he's with after the show.Yeah this is fun. Thanks for writing this blog. Its nice to read writing from this general perspective youve got going on.
The Adversary being a natural abberation in all ways is ancient, yes. I don't think medieval representations of satan with the upright phallus mentioned anywhere that his perchance for sodomy was female-oriented at all. Everything holy and right, inversed and blasphemed. It always tickled me that I read desire and lust hidden in christian desriptions of cardinal sins.(slight tangent: when Profanatica honed in on the sexual sins aspect of satanism and how they're going to suck semen off of the bible, it has really funny - and depressingly philosophically bankrupt - that the amended their stance with "... it's not like we're gay or anything! nun sodomy all the way,bro!". If you're going to do something, do it right, etc)The problem with tracking down a worthwhile book or two on the subject is that there's probably too many to choose from, this seems like such a broad subject.I don't think the US was isolated from sexuality at all, but it's like you say, it was hidden. You saw the skin and the real gore from dodgy imports which in this way might have been seen as even more shady than they were intended to be in their native space. I'm suggesting that sort of indirect and hidden way to get to 'the good stuff' (i.e. the stuff that humanity is built on, sex and death) might have painted those base desires with extra amounts of fetishism. One reason it didn't occur to me that Halford was gay for a long time was because sexuality wasn't foremost in my mind in the list of hidden meanings I was searching for as a Greek kid. We're a christianized country yes, but sex was still much less of a tabboo here in the '80s, I suspect. Or perhaps, it was less sexualized in my house because I lived with my dad and brother and there was no mom around to hound us for the filth we occassionally perused. I agree that no matter what Halford was going for, the power of the final, complete thing made it possibly something else entirely. But it is the case sometimes - at least it is with me - that when I realize the artist's intention, it clicks so much that my internal representation is rapidly reconfigured: I can hear Judas Priest being about fucking guys now and although I am neither disgusted nor disappointed exactly, I just am not as interested. I can take it like it is an expression of hidden desire but it's usually just too cheeky in how it goes about it. I don't care about jokes in my metal. If Halford wanted to touch me he would have written about what he was into directly and openly and since he's one of the most talented vocalists in this world, backed by an once-incredible band, I'd have stood up and listened and been affected. That is Heavy Metal.The again, my favourite album ever, 'Awaken the Guardian' by Fates Warning, is a series of extended metaphores too and I do not begrudge John Arch for them at all. So perhaps it is just a disappointment that is was about fucking in specific, all along.Again, thanks for the discussion. There'll be much to talk about again as the blog rolls onwards. Agnes Vein is next and I get to surround them with thoughts on one of my favourite authors, M. Moorcock.
Interesting chart, I enjoyed reading the discussion about Judas Priest that followed as well. I'd like a clarification: Is the "newcomer" someone who encounters Metal or someone who encounters Helm? At first, I thought it was the former, seeing it as an attempt to connect and explain the various genres but looking through it and the various comments (worst genre from Europe etc), I suspect it's the latter.Also, I am not sure I like that distinction between Romanticism and Modernism, esp. in the context of continent of origin. Doom metal had St. Vitus, Obsessed, Trouble, American bands all of them.A bit harsh on the european power metal bands too, esp. regarding their interpretation of Priest. I'm thinking of Helloween here of course, who displayed a refreshingly humorous approach to their art to balance the serious stuff (like Halloween or Keeper). Thoughts?Nice blog and nice to read you again by the way!
Vic, hi!Metal, or Helm, what's the difference? I never clamed to be trying to do something objective here, just honest.There is no "worst genre from Europe" comment on the chart. The closest the chart comes to such a value judgment is by discounting dross like grindcore from the big tree.Helloween were trying to be funny in a 'Monty Python' sort of way on some of their songs and besides that being a tremendous faiure (as a personal opinion) it is very clear that this approach has nothing to do with 'knowingness', i.e. irony. Doubletalk. Saying one thing and meaning the other. Helloween had no idea Halford wasn't on the level, and they were not inspired by Priest to be ironic. Neither were they inspired by Priest to be funny, as Priest are never openly funny (I might be forgetting one or two Priest songs that could count as funny, here). There is no 'doioioing!' sound effect marking erectile disfunction in a Priest song, like in Helloween's 'Rise and Fall', for example. Helloween being funny was a Helloween invention, for good or worse.I do not think it's harsh to say Europeans did not get the irony in Priest, as I generally mean that as a compliment, at least as to the quality of metal that it inspired.St. Vitus are not a romantic band as far as I can tell. They come from a hardcore punk background and a good chunk of their lyric has to do with society and belonging (or trying to belong). I am not familiar with the Obsessed.Trouble are a God-fearing entity, no romance there, though they have other things to recommend them. Generally, I am not saying 'Romanticism = good, Modernism = bad'. These are terrific doom metal bands. They just come from a different angle.And on Modernism, check back soon for my piece on Anacrusis.
Without even looking at the comments I knew there would be a lot after reading the chart, though I never would of guessed most of them would be about Judas Priest.If we want to be selective of Heavy Metal as a purely Romantic art then I can understand the exclusion of a few things, but at least in my own view I can't entirely divorce the influence of modernism, Punk/Hardcore, Sludge, Drone or Post-whatever in Heavy Metal. With the point of Saint Vitus above, I think Cathedral and many a die hard Doom Metal band would stand up in recognition of them.Anyway, regarding the chart I do have a few comments (and I know it's not like this is a chart written by god from above absolutely set in stone or some constitution we're drafting, but just to make observance I mention a few things): There's no mention of the 80's European Thrash/Speed scene, which most importantly included the German Thrash Scene. By EuroPower... I imagine we're talking about Stratovarius and such? I can't help but think Grindcore shouldn't be written off. I understand it not being mentioned often in the context of this blog and the view of Heavy Metal that's being explored here, but I also can't block out the observations of how many Death Metal bands (including no less than Morbid Angel) were influenced by Napalm Death and other Grindcore bands. Or even Death Metal/Black Metal bands having their origins in Grindcore... like Bolt Thrower, Carcass and Rotting Christ. Finally on this issue, obviously some American bands were rather highly romantic and unfortunately the chart paints it like that's the case. (Again, just comments. I don't think anyone attempting it would devise the most absolute and perfect chart of Heavy Metal's history).Regarding social commentary, I'm not sure that should be used as a reason to reject something as un-Heavy Metal or even un-Romantic. I think few titles would fit William Blake better than social critic. Nor politics be an exclusionary topic either considering how much Romantic writing was involved with the French Revolution (and many other revolutions and developments of Nationalism). If there's something Heavy Metal has taken in great pride from it's Rock and Roll roots it's a rather anti-War (or at least a rather critical view of war) view and distrust of societal institutions (Giant essays cold be written on Metal's dealing with Mental illness and how society approaches it). And as a perfect tie in to now making a few notes on the Judas Priest discussion lets also note Stained Class is perhaps Judas Priest's most socially critical album.I can't really say on what people from the 80's thought on whether Rob Halford was gay or not since I'm only 24 and by age 13 when I got into Metal it was already an established fact about Halford. What I can reasonably conclude is there was confusion regarding the matter then and I don't think leather, chains and motorcycles were purely the trademark of certain gay sub-cultures. Let's not forget Steppenwolf, Hells Angels, Easy Rider, Punk Fashion and Motorhead.As for 70's vs. 80's Priest, yes the 70's material has a much more reflective perspective. What the 80's era does have is a continually echoed message in the lyrics of self respect, standing for your guns and a strong individualism (that might be in rebellion with society). All of which have become bread and butter for many a Metal band (whether singing it bluntly or metaphorically). And as for what era stands out more, well this is pure subjectivity. I can only say I juggle around Sad Wings of Destiny, Stained Class, Screaming for Vengeance, Defenders of the Faith and Painkiller as brilliant 10/10 albums. Also I'd never call the 70's perfect. I don't care much for the first album and Sin After Sin isn't brilliant from start to finish, in my subjective listening.
Hi, The Wolf. I do not consider HM to be purely Romantic art. It is torn between Romanticism and Modernism. The tension creates wonderful art. Even the most melodramatic Atmospheric Metal is modernist in that it's ugly electronic extreme music made by disaffected youth in a studio and to be published worldwide. These concepts are modernist even if the music tries to sound ancient.That's the thing, modernism is inescapable in rock and roll music, so why go out of your way to underline pedestrian concerns when it comes to aesthetics? About 80's Teutonic thrash and speed, it's true I didn't mention it directly. Thrash metal is distinctively an American sort of music and although standout bands like Kreator, Destruction or Sodom had their own early takes on the form, by 1987 all of them were playing in a very American fashion as well. Also note that today's retro-thrash revival is strictly about aping the American type of thrash (with the odd Voivod worship band like Vektor here and there). A strange band that wants to play like early Kreator today probably isn't a retro-thrash outfit: for them, thrash never went anywhere.Grindcore, I take your point but you have to realize I have a very thorough knowledge of HM and my lack of familiarization with Grindcore (beyond the early originators, of course) has cost me nothing in my understanding of the artform: this should tell you something.Rotting Christ played like a bad Carcass for the entirety of one demo tape. Everyone played like a bad Carcass for a brief spell. Then they all stopped that nonsense and went to make great romantic art. This should tell you something.There's a great difference between being vaguely anti-war (for which there might be a lot of explanations) and making highly political art like punk bands do. I may be against war on romanticist grounds, sure, and many a HM band were indeed, but that's one thing. Writing an essay on world hunger or racism and why can't we all get along like Anthrax is another.
Also I wanted to say that I find it really funny that I called AC/DC 'neo realist' and nobody so far has called me on it. I guess it's too subtle of a joke.