Friday, July 6, 2012

Murderer




Excuse lack of posts
I landed a second job
Days turn to weeks fast

Now, pay attention to Murderer. From the intro, they're trying to do something outside the thrash paradigm. One guitar starts hacking away at a palm muted, E. Business as usual so far, it could be a slightly faster Judas Priest. Then the stereo guitar enters at a minor third, and then the bass at a fifth, and a snare fill takes the place of the octave. Go, Helloween-mini-orchestra, go!

The riff is introduced, an E - D is placed in the background and we're off to the verse. Tightly integrated to the movement of the vocal are mini guitar hooks. This is where power metal starts, really. In density. The main connective force between US power metal and the Teutonic counterpart is in this density. In putting thirty Judas Priest hooks into a single song. There is more considered melodic information in the verse switchup on 'Murderer' than in most individual Heavy Metal songs that came out up to 1985 in their entirety. Why is this? Were Helloween possessing some genius that their inspirations, say, Iron Maiden lacked? Of course not. Mr. Harris could write you his awkard Heavy Metal suite as well. The difference is not in capacity, it is in quantity. Helloween, along with a slew of NWOBHM-inspired Heavy Metal bands, are in a hurry to impress. Every song must be packed. Whereas America's Jag Panzer would go to a length even further and throw contrasting parts that do not seem to cohere at all in a sequence and hope their sci-fi power metal would stand on its whole merit at the end, Helloween are very concerned with both density and flow. Starlight showed this on the solo section, but Murderer goes at it throughout.

(As an aside, this density is why little Helm had a difficult time going from his power metal introduction to appreciating 'classic' Heavy Metal from the originators. Songs too slow. Too few parts. Not enough speed! Took a good decade and a very roundabout journey to see the brilliance of using less to achieve less)

Thematically, the lyrics to this song are kind of ridiculous on the surface level. They come to me often because I sang it to death as a teenager. The initial verse/bridge/chorus in particular 

He said get out of here 
Nobody wants you here 
You smashed his head
And the man died

And there's a murmur going 'round
For the appearing crowd
Searching for motives 
and reasons why

Now take a look at yourself and you'll see
What you are in the eyes of the world
You didn't want it but now he is dead
And you're on the run from the law

Murderer - in every crowd
Murderer - to the whole world
Murderer - you're on the run
Murderer - you'll have to kill
AGAIN


Let's look at the subtext here however. The first strong theme is alienation. The reason for the murder is not because the protagonist wanted to steal something or even because they were sadistic as in a death metal song. The reason is because the protagonist, before he even became a murderer, was undesirable to society. They wanted him out, he lashed out and it's a downward spiral from there.

People try to understand why this happened and blame the protagonist for being out of control. "And like an animal which escaped from the cage, they're hunting off of their holy land" they go on. There is a strong christian morality substrand to this whole thing, especially with how sin leads to sin leads to sin. The protagonist will have to kill again, it's the only way to survive now that he's done it once. In effect, he is inhuman. Yet, the shocking power of this 'you'll have to kill again' is ambiguous in tone in the song itself. Power metal is about conveying the sense of will of the protagonist. This is the invention of Helloween more than anyone elses, this is their contribution. I am not sure they meant it to be so (we will discuss this on the next song, "Warrior" and finally on "Victim of Fate" to have a clearer picture) but this dreadful subject matter is elevated through the power of the song to the point where I did as a restless child - and still do as a well-manned, thoroughly docile and harmless adult - a surge of dark power at the end of that chorus. "So be it, then!" goes little Helm "a murderer by accident, a murderer by intent!". Stepping outside of Christian morality only to get air in one's lungs means one is a Christian pretending not to be one. As a result, they'd be wracked by guilt. One can only imagine what life would be in the shadow of the horns by pretending to be in-human. No gray zones, no middle grounds. If you've taken a life, you're a monster. Suddenly, the flirtation with Carpenterish campy horror movies makes a bit more sense, as they too, were completely Christian. The killer in Halloween is, we are told, directly to the camera by the psychiatrist in the film, beyond salvation, completely inhuman. A monster. Words no real physician of any kind would endorse.

So, I think mr. Kai Hansen was taking some air with songs like this, as he's definitely returned to the light triumphantly with further offerings. But that doesn't mean this music is incincere. In fact isn't it more sincere, this vague storytelling of a man's downward spiral as means of roleplay, than pretending to be, for example, a serious 100% goat-worshipping, blood-drinking, nun-defiling satanist when you're not?

Music doesn't need to be real. If art is anything, it is the opposite of real. Music doesn't need to be ideology to be imposing. There needs to be a passionate driving force behind what is expressed, and there needs to be ethos in the execution, certainly. But the text can be as little as 'Murderer' has to offer and still resonate. People do not really think in nuanced terms. They struggle to keep up with their own thoughts, and they put them in order in text (likeso) and with constant reviews until a higher structure seems, for a second, to crystallize. This is how philosophy is written. Philosophy is not written in art, in song, there is no such desire, I am certain of this. A lot of bands could stand to augment their art a lot be being stupider about it, by having less clever things to say, meta-conceptually, about their own art. A lot of art needs a lot less definition to be powerful.

Helloween didn't need anyone in 2012 to tell them any of this, they were in a big hurry to lay down these tracks. I am sure the lyrics to this song didn't take more than ten minutes to put down. I killed a man. I have to kill again. My rest comes in my own death. I've had this thought when I was twelve, as most of you kind readers did also. Why didn't you write a Heavy Metal song about it and yet Helloween did? This is a question that doesn't request an answer, a rhetoric device, if you will. What it insinuates is that the business of doing and the business of explaining are often divorced, and for good reason. There's nothing more crippling than the business of explaining when you should be in the business of doing. This is why I haven't posted here in a while, because I've had to make a whole lot, very fast.

Helloween were on the fast track too. The Helloween EP landing in '85, the full LP in '86, along with Judas. A good corpus of work, very fast, very dumb, yet reaching with mad ambition as far as composition goes. Soon we'll talk about the interesting brother track to Murderer, called, well... Warrior. From gazing inwards (Murderer) to gazing outwards (Warrior) and ultimately to gazing upwards (Victim of Fate). Don't hold your breath, gentle reader. God is far away.

9 comments:

  1. Now if I had (and still have) some problems with the lyrics of Starlight - these totally resonate with me. And it's not so much because of the darker theme (one of the first things when coming fresh to heavy metal is the guilty fascination/attraction for taboos and stuff that society don't discuss about in the same passionate manner HM often express) of the song but the sense of isolation and being estranged with the society. Classic track.

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  2. I remember hearing Helloween in 1986. I didn't pay them attention. Fast picking and something like guitar harmony. German metal. Pale pumpkins. Now I'm giving them a fresh listen. I feel guilty for spending hours trying to figure out what these songs are doing. What these sounds are doing. What these texts are doing.

    There's nothing more crippling than the business of explaining when you should be in the business of doing.

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  3. As a side note whilst sorting out some old drawers I recently found some lyrics to an imaginary Power Metal song that I wrote as a twelve/eleven year old. It was titled 'Age of Fight' and was a complete rip off the bands I listened to at the time, mixed with those 'cool' english words that are the ones kids know (Fire, blood and indeed fight).

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  4. I've never killed anyone, but I suppose I can relate a little to the alienation aspect of this. Some time ago, I moved on from Christianity to... I dunno... explicit weak atheism? My family was not pleased about it, and while they haven't exactly disowned me, it's pretty clear that they'll always see me a little differently now. My wife is especially unhappy about it, as she has decided that her faith is the primary thing keeping her life from being miserable, and now she feels like she's going through things without me. Anyway, what I really wanted to get at was the fact that no one in my family seems capable or willing to accept that my new set of beliefs isn't something that I chose, but rather the natural consequence of a series of events that influenced my thinking. I didn't choose it, but I feel a slight sense of alienation from my family as a result of it.

    On an unrelated note, I find it interesting that the final chord of this song is not the tonic. That lingering unresolved harmonic tension is important. The harmony never resolves to where your ear wants it to go, and the murderer in the song can never again feel at home.

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    1. Erenan, great catch on the song ending.

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  5. I'm sorry to hear that, Erenan. You might have to baby your parents for a while if they're throwing a tantrum over your life choices. If they want you to be part of their lives, they'll have to accept you as you are. Give them time and space to do so but make it clear to them that the time is not infinite. Give them a year to come to terms with your falling out of faith but no more. You're an adult and you hold the power in this relationship because the only thing you owe to your parents as an adult is to listen to them and consider their point of view. That's it. No more. Once they realize that they have no other power over you, it'll be they that will bargain with you to have you in their lives.

    Your wife however is a whole different thing. It's very cruel to be without support from all sides in your evolution in your faith. But if you want my opinion, please consider that, although I completely understand your point of view about how your position now is a natural consequence, you should own up to it as your personal choice anyway. What you're describing is similar to how a lot of people who come out to their parents and friends as say, gay, haven't chosen to be gay. But by telling everyone that they are, they've chosen to be out as gay. Similarily, you could have kept your loss of faith private and remained a social christian to appease your family and wife, but you chose not to. So own up to your choice and make no further apologies for it. If there's going to be any healing in your social life, the people being childish about it need to see you at least be firm about your choices.

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  6. Thanks for your advice. I'll consider it... However, it's a little unclear to me what owning up to such a choice would actually mean in practical terms. I don't see myself as having been anything but firm about it, and I don't think I've made any apologies for it, either. I may be misunderstanding what you mean. In any case, I stopped myself a couple times while I was writing out the long version of my personal history for you, but I'm not sure I really want to plaster this stuff all over your blog right now. I'm actually more interested in Helloween, to be completely honest.

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  7. That's fine, didn't mean to put you on the spot or anything. I'm not sure it's an issue of practicality but that parents sometimes would rather their children do not bother 'the family' with their various existential concerns and it's only real when the children are, as you were, completely firm and stick to their choice. Then it becomes clear to the parents that they will have to aknowledge and accept what they're being told. They can't just stubbornly stick their heads in the sand until it goes away.

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  8. The first lyric stanza feels abruptly entered. Less deep purple but blackened blue.

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