Friday, May 4, 2012

Saints in Hell is a Perfect Heavy Metal Song


Goddamn it, I love this song. Morphology time.


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This is a very typical '70s Heavy Metal riff, as devised by Sabbath, Zeppelin and perfected by Priest. Its characteristic is its fluctuating between the seventh, the root and the third (with a small variation including the fourth). For those of you that don't speak music theory, these terms are easy to explain in a different yet more verbose way:

Think of the root as the foundational stone of the piece of music. It's usually the first note you hear (though on this song you hear a slide chord from the seventh to the root but Priest are beautifully gay like that) and the one you hear the most. It's the note you subconsciously wish for your ears to return to, it's your safety net and your Ithaca, your dream destination. Music that deprives you of this safe return is in some degree cruel. Music that diverts you from this destination but ultimately arrives there is either toying with you or challenging you (more on how to tell which later). Either way, it is making you feel things. Much of established classical music theory revolves around how to set up a tonal way point first, and how to return (or, 'resolve') to it in an interesting, yet keeping with compositional decree, way. Here's the riff broken down to just the tonal shifts, no embellishments.


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The third used here is a sad one, that is to say, a minor third, characterizing the scale of the song as a minor scale. Were it to be a single fret higher in pitch, you'd get a very different impression of this riff.


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Kind of gross, right? That's not only due to the minor-to-major change of this particular riff but the way any minor riff behaves when literally shifted about like that. I mean to say that a smarter major interpretation would involve moving the three-one and four-three a step higher to four-one and five-four, but let's not too much into that.

The seventh is the last note of the scale before it repeats an octave higher (therefore, an 'octave' note, the eighth, is just the root note one whole repetition of the scale higher). It's a note that makes the listener long for resolution, for a return to the root. Judas Priest aren't modern classical, they return to the root evenly most of the time, but check out how the riff hangs on the fourth instead at the end of each fourth bar. Judas Priest like the tension of unresolved fourths, we'll see it again in the chorus. Also a word about the seventh in this song, it's quite interesting. In the beginning it sounds like a slide from seventh to root but it's really a hammer-on from a 'strange' chord to a full root powerchord. What's the strange chord? It's like a seventh power chord but without the seventh, instead the root. Guitarists can very easily understand this by playing a single finger barre chord at the seventh position like so:

-
-
7
7
7
0

and then hammering in the full powerchord


------
------
7(h)9-
7(h)9-
7-----
0-----

How is this 'disguised' seventh chord then different from a proper seventh powerchord? Well, it's somewhere in-between the journey, it's even more eager to resolve. It's half-there, the foot's on the shore, so to speak. Judas priest looove this trick. As do early Deep Purple, in fact. Think hard, where have you heard this exact voicing before?


Oh.

But that's a diversion, isn't it? Guess where Judas Priest really got this from:



The moment you stop hearing this and you hear proper parallel fifth sevenths to roots is the moment NWOBHM breaks out. Iron Maiden do not do this, it's too wimpy for their linear riff-terror. Everything must parallel, forever. It's really a '70s thing. Tool are influenced by Sabbath and Zeppelin, not by Iron Maiden, you see.

All that said, this is a very simple riff. In fact, only AC/DC would conceivably find a way to play this riff with even less 'parts' to it. They'd probably remove the initial hammer from disguised seventh to root as they would remove the in between notes from first to third, cut out the swagger but add groove by involving the up-beat more. Something like this?


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There's also an overall presence of the fifth note of the scale but not as part of the chord progression, but inside the chord voicings themselves. The hammer from seven to one in the beginning also has in there a fifth. The fifth stabilizes, but it also colors the sound as very 'metal'. Wherever you hear something that isn't a single note here, you're listening to parallel fifths (that is, fifths that are perfect to whatever note they're the dominant of) The power chord makes this riff metal. Were this to be played in a minor scale relying on the third more than the fifth, it'd sound something like this:


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Weirdly different, huh? This is more emotional in a way, perhaps, but it's a grand characteristic of Heavy Metal music to *not* be played like this. In fact the moment you hear that sort of harmony in a HM song, you can date it to post 1985 at least. If you take this a step further, you're listening to ISIS, really.


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The weird thing about this riff to me is that it's not very impressive on its own. It only starts to move when the band goes into a groove with it and eventually Rob Halford comes in with his vocal line on top. The emotion that's missing with all the parallel fifths in the chords is serviced beautifully with that violin-esque vocal line. Whereas a modern metal band would try to do both things with the choppy riffs, Judas Priest knew then how to not overplay and let their lead instrument tell the tale.


As to the chorus, I expected it to move to an inverted (that is, an octave down instead of higher in pitch) fifth as is very customary for this sort of early Heavy Metal, but instead it's an inverted fourth, the exact pitch the verse riff hangs on, then. Let's listen to it:


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As you see this riff hangs on its own fourth, that it to the relation of the root, the seventh. Not only is the listener here anticipating the resolution of this verse riff's fourth into the somewhat-established but transient tonal, the return to the verse riff provides true resolution from seventh to root. It's beautiful and tidy.

The other interesting thing about this chorus riff is that it omits a lot of steps in an imaginary chord progression, instead adding in a wobbly tremolo tease. It's a playful chorus line that a lot of latter metal guitarists would instead pack with staccato trills and other flash, something like that perhaps


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But that just doesn't move like the original. That's the sort of arrangement detail that only comes from a full band rehearsing material and being brave with changes. '70s Heavy Metal originators were innovators by virtue that there wasn't a 'script' to stick to to begin with. This sort of vitality is inherent in '70s Priest. No matter how many tight and complex riffs an '80s US Power metal band would later cram in a song, there's an excitement here that was lost in that the '80s US Power band already was well aware of the script that Priest laid down.

From then there's not much guitar to transcribe. There's a pause with just drums. Then there's open root power chords, and then the second guitar starts playing a series of minor third chords in an ascending melody. And then the song erupts.


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From there it's a return to the initial verse riff.

The song structure is the following

A B A B C D A A

Which is generally speaking, a pop song structure. But there are so many little touches in here that are not simply embellishments. They are there to perform a function. The only way to understand that function is to look at the lyric, and where it ties in to the music.


Verse 1:

They laughed at their gods
And fought them in vain
So he turned his back on them
And left them in pain
Now here come the saints
With their banners held high
Each one of them martyrs
Quite willing to die

Chorus:

Wake the dead, the saints are in Hell
Wake the dead, they've come for the bell

Verse 2:

Cover your fists
Razor your spears
It's been our possession
For 8,000 years
Fetch the scream eagles
Unleash the wild cats
Set loose the king cobras
And blood sucking bats

Bridge:

We are saints
In hell
We are saints
In hell
We're going down
Into the fire
We're going down
Into the fire

Break Riff:

The streets run with blood from the mass mutilation
As carnage took toll for the bell

Abattoir, abattoir, mon Dieu quelle horreur
For a time is was like second hell

Saints in Hell

Verse 3:

The battle is over, the saints are alive
How can we all thank you, we felt so despised
Saints in Hell



To understand why this song is so awesome, we have to come to terms with at least a little of what mister Halford is telling us here. As usual with many Judas Priest lyrics, there's a lot of symbolism going on. The song seems to be about one thing, but it may be conveying a divorced sentiment. On the surface level this seems like a cryptic biblical tale, where a squad of saints-to-be (willing to die) descends into hell to recover the bell. I'm not too into Christian theology so I'm not sure what this bell's about, but what I get from the song is that it's a relic of importance for the faithful. So they descend into hell and there is a great battle. Curiously, it is the streets that run with blood from the carnage, our streets (as I do not believe hell is paved by the state) and we are informed it was like 'a second hell'. Hmm. Then, their objective accomplishes, the saints leave, alive (therefore not really saints). And the question hangs, how can we thank them, we felt so despised.

There's a thick layer of irony, I think, to this song. Self-appointed saints that go on a divine quest. Much suffering as a result and they leave as they came. We, the spectators are divorced from their cause, if anything the saints bring us hell.

What I think this song is really about is war. It's about a 'holy empire' going on a crusade against imaginary enemies, resulting in real casualties. It is the war torn felt despised, struck by the thunder of a brainless god.

Judas Priest are a smart band.

The verse singing is standard for '70s Priest. Halford's doing his 'dramatic Opera' soprano, with its beautiful vibrato and repeated phrasing. This voice is the voice of power. In the chorus we get a more rock n' roll extravagant phrasing that is also augmented by a cavernous guitar overdub. '70s Priest were very into theatrical mixing. Halford says 'the saints are descending to hell' and a Tipton hits a reverberating dive-bomb to punctuate the fact. If they were an orchestra, they'd use different instrument timbres to achieve this result, but as they were a Heavy Metal band, all they have are guitars and guitar effects.

In the second verse, where Halford calls for the 'scream eagles', listen to yet more guitar overdubs doing theater. The 'wild cats' are a pick scrape, the cobras a salient hiss and the bats a staccato swoop. How many other bands would go this far to illustrate their lyric? And especially the type of Heavy Metal lyrics by Halford that many were quick to describe as juvenile and throwaway?

In the break where Mr. Halrford informs us that the saints are indeed going down into the fire we get dramatic delay effects. This 'descend' is commented by the ascending melody in the guitars. In fact, the final sound effect before the battle breaks out is what sounds like a missile being launched (though its origin is probably a reversed cymbal crash). And then the tempo picks up dramatically. To me it sounds like superior firepower is in effect, like the battle that is happening is asymmetrical. Self-appointed holy men are reigning destruction down on heathens.

The streets run with blood from the mass mutilation.
Abbatoir, abbatoir mon Dieu quelle horreur.

Oh the irony.

We come back down from the battle high with many self-congratulations. The beautiful thing about the ending of the song, that quivering 'Saints in Hell' that is repeated is this: Mr. Halford puts to use a considerably difficult vocal technique, where he both uses timed tremolo (meaning, the 'period' of the tremolo in his voice is clear eights of the tempo, it's not just whatever tremolo he could muster) and he also slides from a note to another and then down again. Ask any trained singer, this is very difficult to do. He uses this technique to push the ironic message of the song home (for anyone paying attention, at least). All this melodrama is to serve self-appointed saviors. They're patting themselves on the back. We went to hell. We went to hell. We are Saints. They will love us for saving them from themselves.

What I want to keep from this whole discussion is something that I feel is missing from a lot of modern Heavy Metal, and which I would love to see restored. There is a dialog between composition and lyric here. There are meaningful choices being made on every level of this production that are commenting on what the song is about. There aren't just riffs and riffs and a solo (actually this song doesn't even have a solo). This song is very much about a thing, and everything about it is about this thing. It's impossible to study this song and not arrive to a thing, perhaps this thing, but certainly a thing. The thing that this song is about is not the song itself.

A long of great music has a program, as they call it. Heavy Metal used to be About Things. Now it's about Heavy Metal itself. It's about how extreme the music itself it. It's about how technical the players are. It's about self-congratulation. It's as if when you listen to modern extreme metal, you're looking at the self-proclaimed Saints descending to your level to pummel and disembowel you for your own sake. Do you like how our loud double-bass is fucking you? Do you like how my linear myriad of notes is flaying you alive? Do you enjoy being our little masochist? And then the saints leave. We felt so despised. It was a solution, for a time.

I want Heavy Metal to tell me a story that isn't about Heavy Metal itself. I do not love Heavy Metal because it's Heavy Metal, I love it because it's a powerful avenue for expression of higher ideals and lower desires. If Heavy Metal is just talking about itself, it's then merely a different type of hip hop, boasting about its beats per minute and palm muted trills and sweep-picked solos. It should be a challenge to modern metal musicians: if you don't have something of value to say, something you believe in, then find it. Find a thing. Describe the thing to me. Tell me why it's important to you. If you can't talk on the level that Judas Priest are talking - and keep in mind Judas Priest were and are widely mocked for much of their material's apparent vacancy - then, mon Dieu, quelle horreur, you're doing it wrong.

29 comments:

  1. Argh! I'm at work and utterly without speakers or headphones of any kind. I'll have to go back later and read it through a second time. Still, a good read even without the audio examples. I'm fascinated by the comparison you make between the saints' righteous warfare and the function of modern Heavy Metal. I'm curious how long ago you believe this function changed from being about Things to being about Itself. I imagine it was probably somewhat gradual, but how long ago is "Heavy Metal used to be about things" and how recent is "now it's about Heavy Metal itself"? Is there a middle ground, or is this a discrete binary quality? Also, surely there must be more than a few modern Heavy Metal bands who still write about Things.

    I too love for music to tell me a story. Not necessarily a literal story, but some form of programmatic meaning. Sometimes I impose this meaning upon music that I listen to, often without realizing it. I've been listening to Aspid a lot lately, and I have no fucking idea what those songs are about. So I naturally just kind of imagine that they're all about the creature in the cover art, and I suspect this makes the album work for me in a very different way than it probably would otherwise.

    One other thing: A point of distinction. What you are calling the root is technically called either the tonic, the tonal center, or the first scale degree. The term "root" really refers to the reference note of a chord, not to a key or scale. So there's a root for (almost) every chord you hear in a composition, but there's exactly one tonal center for whatever key you're playing in.

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  2. I am self-taught in music and also Greek, I thought 'root' and 'tonal' were interchangable! Thanks for the correction, don't take it the wrong way that I'll leave it as is in the text because it's good for my mistakes to be showing. Since you seem to have a formal education, I would appreciate if you catch any more mistakes here or elsewhere to keep letting me know.

    I do think it was gradual, the move from 'Heavy Metal about things' to 'Heavy Metal about Heavy Metal' and ironically, Judas Priest were the first to do it. When HM self-identified as such, that's where it started. I think certain Manowar tracks are as bad as it gets for self-congratulating HM. And a lot of brutal technical death metal is as self-congratulatory as far as extreme metal goes.

    There are a lot of modern HM bands that still write songs with a story in them, certainly. But there's a hell of a lot more which are songs with riffs, plus a story in the lyrics on top, completely divorced from the music. It's there that people find it so easy to listen to HM without paying attention to the lyrics. It's not necessarily the listener's fault: the music isn't trying to cohere with the lyrics anymore.

    Aspid, I suspect, are about very angry socio-politics, but true, I also have no true idea what they're going on about.

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  3. Well, I suppose the cover art creature might symbolize the aspect or aspects of the socio-politics that they were angry about. This makes it all the better for me.

    Actually, for being self-taught, your music theory is very good. Most of the other terminology you are using is fine, and the rest of it, though maybe not as precisely technically accurate as some University professors might demand, is easily parsable.

    On the Internet, I tend to withhold these kinds of corrections out of fear of looking like some kind of snob or pedant or something, but if you really prefer your mistakes pointed out, I'd be happy to do it.

    The worst I've heard was "Army of One" from Annihilator's Metal. Oh my God. It's a miracle I made it through the one time I listened to that album. I had seen your endorsement of early Annihilator, and so I started with their first couple of albums. They were so good. What the hell happened?

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  4. I welcome corrections made in good faith, and I know you've always came to my posts to comment in good faith. Thank you for your kind words.

    There is some merit in learning theory on my own, I think. I learned everything a bit *weird* because I did it on my own and my music comes out weird as well. I like weird, so...

    No Uni teacher to break my bad habits, I guess. The only problem is that I haven't taught myself proper classical harmony theory and I really feel that's something I should have a tutor for. The area I need the help with is moving my tonal center from key x to key y in a graceful way (or as graceful as I desire at the time) in a way that is dependable. What I mean by dependable is doing it in a way that I know will work and I know *why* it works. So far I go from key x to key y in improvised ways, every time. These improvisations become bridge riffs, and sometimes I really like how they come out (sometimes they're the best riffs in the song, actually) but I'd really like to know how to push a melody that starts in key x to resolve beautifully in key y. I might just pick up a few books and do the study myself, but eh, sounds like something I'd like to speak to a human about.

    Hah, is 'Army of One' full of errors? I haven't listened to modern Annihilator closely because as you've noticed, they're awful. What happened? I can only guess Jeff is phoning it in so he has material to tour. On tour they still play very well and mostly old material. So what can I say? More power to him as long as he's doing at least the live shows right. You don't *have* to make more than one or two amazing records to go in the pantheon, really.

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  5. With respect to "Army of One" I was speaking to the self-congratulatory idea again. It's just that it's a song explicitly about how metal will always survive even though its detractors may try to kill it off because metalheads are all one big united front and here is a list of some my favorite metal bands and let's all bang our heads and so on and so on.

    Nevermind about that, though.

    Here, let me talk about key changes for a bit in the terms that I learned about them. There's a difference between a key change and a modulation. A key change is that thing that happens right in between measures, usually between phrases, where the key just sort of jumps from one to another, sometimes reinforced or possibly justified by the harmony that led up to it, sometimes not. A modulation is when the tonal center actually changes in the middle of a melody so that the melody ends in a different key from when it began. J.S. Bach was the king of this. It happens as a matter of course in baroque fugues and probably Bach's two and three part inventions as well, so if this is what you're looking for, Bach is a good source to study. But knowing where to look doesn't make it an easy task. Key changes are generally easier to manage, modulations generally harder, and the effect is strikingly different in each case.

    From what you say above, I suspect you're looking for the latter of these two concepts, which sadly, is the more elusive to master. Personally, I still operate mostly in the same way you describe, often completely by accident (Oh, I've modulated! Does it work within the piece's context? Yes? Okay, I'll keep it!), but it is possible to learn to do it deliberately.

    There are some specific techniques one can use to make this happen. If you look at the Wikipedia page for "Modulation (music)," you can find a list of several. For more information, you really need to look at examples from music that pulled it off well. The book that I learned from was called "Tonal Harmony" by Stefan Kostka, but it's a formal textbook, and I'm not sure how useful this will be to you without having studied music theory in a formal context. It was extremely useful to me, however, because the chapters clearly lay out individual concepts one by one. There are two chapters dedicated to modulation, and otherwise the rest of the book was (to me) basically a catalogue of stuff I can use in my music (particularly the parts of the book about Chromaticism).

    If you want to talk to a human about this stuff, I'm open to talk about it, but I don't suppose the comments of a blog post are really the place to do it. Let me know if you're interested, and maybe we can work out a better time and venue for this.

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  6. You are very kind. I will return to this later on and take you up on your offer, possibly. Your distinctions between key change and modulation are instantly recognisable to me in music I've both heard and written. At least I know what to look for, initially.

    Contrapunctus 9 starts with a phrase in La which resolves in Re, which is quite remarkable. There's even a small three-semitones-in-a-row phrase in there which sounds as if it belongs completely. J.S.Bach sure was something.

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  7. To my mind, art, in order to be important, must convey an important message. In the music world, and therefore the HM world, the importance of the message can be expressed both musically and lyrically. For many, Judas Priest is the quintessential metal band.
    Musically, JP are able for the best and the worst. Clearly, saints in hell is a masterpiece when examining its music. Perfect riffs, mood changes, Halford at his best. This is possibly one of their top-10 songs. Lyrically though it is a mediocre song in the truest JP fashion. A no-brainer. No, they do not use symbolism in order to convey their message. After all, there isn’t any important message to convey. In fact, there is no message, period!!
    JP’s lyrics are ‘words that come out of my mouth’ as Hetfield would put it. They use catchwords, slogans, and they are so good at it. So good, that the titles of so many JP songs are names of HM bands. Catchwords stick to one’s mind, they make choruses grand, they make you scream ‘Saints in hell’, but they do not necessarily convey an important message. I do not think that the streets described in this song are not found in hell. They could well be built by the ‘State of Hell’, with a little help by the saints themselves. In the truest JP fashion.

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  8. Well you seem very certain about this. I don't agree. Who are those who felt so despised? Why a second hell? Why they irony about such a seemingly straightforward matter? Also, if looked at straightforwardly, it's a christian song, but Judas Priest are not very christian in most senses.

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  9. Do you think I'm making shit up on the lyrics?

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  10. No, not at all. It's an informed interpretation.

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  11. I don't have much to add to the discussion but I just wanted to say that I too think that the song IS about things and not just nonsensical slogans and "cool" wording..

    Saints In Hell is definitely one of JP's best songs yet so often overlooked.

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  12. Perhaps it's overlooked because apparently Priest never played it live. Too difficult for Halford?

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  13. Priest's lyrics have come to mean "nonsensical slogans" and "cool wording" to this generation since they've been horribly decontextualized. You can't dis-world Priest (lyrics/music) and expect it to have the same import. Moreover, this content doesn't translate at all to contemporary time, i.e. it's not something you average Pandora/Last FM kid is going to be drawn to.

    This stuff is meant to be thought about, obsessed over. Art, music, lyrics. It's all a hefty package, pre-Internet, pre-blog, pre-messageboard. The "community" then was YOU. You and your headphones and your engagement with the lyrics. No room for irony in a adolescent/teenage head circa 1978.

    re: "overlooked"

    Found only a few boots with Stained Class material on them. And, yeah, "Saints..." wasn't on any of them. Halford had the range for sure then; no telling why they didn't play it.

    IMO Stained Class in fucking toto is overlooked. Don't know why, since it's the strongest Heavy Metal record ever recorded. Most folks hold British Steel or Screaming... in higher regard. Not this guy.

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  14. You're painting too rosy a picture. '80s Priest lyrics, a lot of them seem like empty sloganeering to me and I've tried to make sense of them for years. Most of 'Painkiller' is very tired lyrically as well (though there are convincing parts of it). Priest dug their own grave British Steel/Killing Machine and onwards. The reason was simple: to become "metal gods" they clearly understood they had to stand for *nothing* but that. And that in itself is empty posturing. Self-checkmate.

    Of course a good (or at least meaningful) Halford lyric slipped through here and there in their 80-90s incarnation but it was the exception rather than the rule.

    On Stained Class, it's an amazing record, yes. No filler, almost all stellar songs. Priest at their most aggressive and biting, Halford at his best, vocally.

    I don't think Halford could ever sing anything like he did on the records, even the next day after the studio recording. He's wavering all over the place at every live clip I've seen him, '70s included. He just liked to set a high standard in the studio, but he never was a Geoff Tate (who was arguably more powerful live than on record). Heavy Metal's a difficult arena for singers. Second next to classical opera.

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  15. I meant specifically Stained Class. But I'll stand up for their entire body of work too, even when they got self-referential! I mean, c'mon, they WERE Metal Gods. Who could blame them?

    Jesus, even Turbo has aged well... Look at what their contemporaries were doing... Maiden was singing about long-distance runners; Ozzy and "Shot in the Dark!"

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  16. No deity I'm interested in should ever have to say 'Hi. I am your God.' I maintain that Judas Priest becoming metal gods was their way to secure a following and carve a niche. If nobody else is going to accept being called Heavy Metal, to self-identify as Heavy Metal, then there's a gap in the market!

    Hehe 'look at what their contemporaries were doing'. I can spot an apologea, I won't debate the finer points of JP fandom with you. I don't give a shit about Maiden's long-distance runners or Ozzy's latter stuff either. Sure they're worse, but that doesn't make '80s Priest magnificent.

    I wasn't hugely into Priest as a child but I'm way more into them now, so it's a compliment to them that Stained Class hits me right in the gut, without nostalgia or prior anything to help it along. But Turbo. Turbo hasn't aged well. There's a couple of songs in there that are good, but that's like complementing the seventy year old hooker because her knees aren't too wrinkly.

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  17. 70 yr old hooker? You get what you can, man.

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  18. Objection your honour!!! Don't badmouth Somewhere in Time, the only Maiden album that has interesting lyrics. I take any given time Long Distance loneliness over 8,000 (??) years of "pseudo-Christian allegory" (yeah, right...)

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  19. I'm sorry, it will never be left to stand that "Turbo" has aged gracefully on Poetry of Subculture. I have my limits.

    ivory gate, what are you referring to with your quote of "8,000 years of pseudo-Christian allegory"?

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  20. If Saints in hell have anything to do with Christianity, isn't a little off to count 8,000 years in their lyrics? Do you take literally the "second hell" reference and NOt the "8,000 years" one? Did Halford know how to count?

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  21. You really seem to have a chip on your shoulder about mr. Halford's intellectual capacity, or lack thereof. I find the man intelligent, charming and articulate. Many of his lyrics are layered with meaning, though I know you disagree. His delivery shows a sharp, playful mind. Mr. Halford was much more than a "metal god", which is why it seems so small to pretend to be just that.

    When you enclose something in quotes, you have to be able to attribute it to someone else having stated it as is. Rob Halford has not gone on record as far as I know on any "8,000 years of pseudo-Christian allegory". Neither have interpreted that number in any way in the text above. I am not aware what the 8,000 years are about. I'd love to ask mr. Halford, but I do not know how! If anyone can get me in touch, though, I would clear this up.

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  22. It seems that the shortcomings of the medium, make me defend my views, or rather your perception of my views. Fine, let me explain. No chip on my shoulder about Halford's intellect, yours, or anybody else's. Here we are taking about his lyrics though (that is, his WORK, not his intellect). You try to make a literal explanation of the lyrics (cryptic biblical tale, saints-to-be, Christian theology, second hell), but this is selective. Can you ignore the reference to the lyric "It's been our possession
    For 8,000 years"? What kind of story with reference to Christianity could well ignore that the dogma has been around for 2000 years?
    Anyway, i am not trying to convince anybody (but i defend my view that most of JP's lyrics are just catchwords) or piss anybody off, but i think that contributing to this dialogue does not mean that i have to agree with you. And by the way, i know they are called quotation marks, but they are not only used to cite quotes of others. You do this too you know in your texts (e.g. "metal god", "Turbo etc.).

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  23. I am making the case for the opposite of a literal reading, actually. I am saying this song, that literally reads as some Christian-themed story of saints going down to hell to reclaim a bell, is actually an allegory about war from the point of view of the aggressors.

    I do not want to ignore the "It's been in our possession for 8,000" line. I do not know what it's about, perhaps it's something related to the bible. The Jews and Jewish faiths are 3,000 years old, but the math in the bible are really sketchy. Perhaps this source helps?

    http://wiki.answers.com/Q/According_to_the_Bible_how_long_have_humans_been_around

    I do not know what's that about, but as I am not making a claim that this song is literally about Christianity, my hypothesis doesn't fall apart because I can't account for the 5,000 that are left. But I doubt the answer to that is that mr. Halford cannot count.

    As to quotations, I call Robert Halford a "metal god" exactly because he has called himself a "metal god", and I do not agree that he is a "metal god". If I wrote for example "Robert Halford, the Metal God", that gives a very different meaning to my text. It implies I aknowledge his said self-definition. Also, we often write out names of records (or books, or films) in quotes to not confuse the text. For example, compare:

    I really would like to get Turbo discredited in the eyes of the HM community
    I really would like to get "Turbo" discredited in the eys of the HM community

    The former can be read to mean that I want to see myself discredited, vigoriously so. If you're using quotations to convey irony, please reconsider that practice. Quotes are ironic by themselves sometimes because they are citing the direct words of a different source while contradicting their spirit. But without an original source to cite, there can be no quotes. Furthermore, it's grating to read someone "write" like "this". This isn't an episode of Friends, this is Heavy Metal. Say what you mean unless irony is absolutely necessary to make a point.

    I have no problem with you not agreeing with me. I have no problem with you thinking most Judas Priest lyrics are empty sloganeering (I would agree for most post-'70s material). I am just replying with further clarifications because it seems to me you've misunderstood me in this particular case, about this particular song, about the meaning of the word literal and the function of quotations.

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  24. The riff comes from the song 'Cheater' on their first album. It seems to be an adaption of the riff from that earlier song of theirs. I suspect the 'bell' is symbolic and not a real bell. I suspect it's taken from the line "Don't ask for whom the bell tolls, the bell tolls for thee".

    I suspect the saints going into hell is a take-off of the idea behind the song 'the saints go marching in'. There is a passage of revelations where christians or believers go to hell and fight there or something.

    The band Rush use a phrase about a bell tolling 'for thee' in their song 'Losing it"

    More interesting to me is the song order. I think during 'saints in hell' rob sings the line, "we're going down, into the fire (of hell). This is followed by a long lesson about the evil's of the white man. The very first words of 'Beyond the Realms of Death" state, 'he'd had enough, couldn't take anymore'. The whole album seems to dabble in both sci-fi and religious symbolism. The song 'white heat, red hot' would be a song I would say could be looked at in a religious way, especially since Rob sings 'Ahmen'. Is he singing 'are men' or 'ahmen' at the end of the line?

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  25. Thank you for the very revealing comment.

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  26. Regarding the lyrics...

    Stained Class has songs like "Stained Class" and "Savage" that are more explicitly about modern society, not so much of the "biblical" sounding language. I do think that in metal it's fairly common for musicians to write stuff that "sounds cool". I mean like Tom Araya from Slayer has claimed to have some degree of Christian faith and I saw an interview where he said that God doesn't hate us all, but that was a fucking cool album title! I think many of the songs of Stained Class could be partly read as allegories for modern society, while being equally excitement and thrills, not meant to be taken too seriously.

    I've considered that some people are being exploitative when they take stuff from religion or legend and turn it into some form of art or entertainment that doesn't show much respect or understanding of the source. However I think there are some concepts that, while may have been popularized by some religion or legend, can't really be owned by anyone and people are free to use those concepts in their art or entertainment. While "Saints in Hell" is undoubtedly influenced by Christianity's hell and saints, hell and saints are general enough concepts to adapted for personal usage without it seeming that you've exploited Christianity or stolen from it. I still don't know what the bell is. Is it anything to do with "For Whom the Bell Tolls"? I think the song is also based on the "armageddon". It's as though the carnage has spilled out of hell into earth and earth has become like a second hell. The last lyric "we felt so despised" I thought was being said by the saints themselves who were hated by all the evil beings in hell for their goodness, but possibly not.

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  27. The first 4 lines in the lyrics capture my interest in their grammatical shift with the usage of the word "god" in the plural and the singular form. Lines 1 and 2 suggest polytheism while lines 3 and 4 (and all through the end) switch to monotheism (referencing what I perceive as the God of the Judeo-Christian bible.)

    Another interesting line is at the Break Riff with the usage of the French text "Abattoir, abattoir, mon dieu quelle horreur". The first thing that came to mind was "Why French? Are these saints French from the time of the Crusades?" Then another thought came to mind regarding this very line in the lyrics...had it been Italian text instead of French text, it would have tied it or heavily implied it to Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy.

    By the way, the musical analysis was enlightening and informative.

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    1. Thank you for your contribution, Jax True. Though this blog is inactive, it is not due to failure but rather success. I'm glad to see people stumbling on it still.

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