This Friday Favorite is going to be agonizing. I don't just love music - I adore music. Lots of music. A billion dollars wouldn't be enough to purchase all of the music I desperately want. Ten years wouldn't be enough time to talk about it. Those "Desert Island Albums" questions, where you're reduced to picking 5 albums to get stranded with, leave me sweating. Strand me on a desert island with a 1 terraflop iPod, damn it!
But we're going to try to reduce a great love down to nine: three categories, three artists. And I'm going to weep over all those I have to leave behind.
1. Black Metal
When Chaos Lee and I lived together, he'd play his black metal albums in the living room. I'd catch snatches of growls, insanely fast drum work, and just the most brutal cacophany of sound I'd ever heard.
"How the fuck can you listen to that noise?" I asked the first time. Chaos smiled.
The next time, I paused by his computer with head cocked. "Actually... there's sort of a rhythm there. They're actually growling on key." Chaos smiled.
The third time, I appeared beside his computer salivating, pen and paper in hand. "What's the band's name? Emperor. Thanks. And the album? Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk. Excellent. I. Must. Have. It." Chaos laughed. He'd known all along I'd fall, and fall hard.
Black metal is, to me, the modern-day equivalent of Beethoven. It's melodic, complex, atmospheric, and utterly beautiful. The lyrics read like poetry - dark, immense poetry. And the corpse paint makes the concerts more interesting.
Emperor, of course, is one of the greatest black metal bands of all time. Anthems is one of the easiest albums to suck people in with, because it starts off with such a gentle little instrumental melody, getting darker, darker, and then wham - full on black metal mayhem, with interludes of instrumentals that put many classical composers to shame.
Dismal Euphony is just tremendous fun, and gorgeous. I'd started with their song "Carven" on a compilation, which gave me the impression they were typical dark, black metal. Then I heard "Days of Sodom." The chorus sounds like Barbie girls. I'm not kidding. They can be dark and melodic as hell, but they have this light touch of whimsy you just don't often find. Their greatest album evah is Autumn Leaves, which contains the incomparable "A Thousand Rivers."
But my favoritest ever black metal band in the entire universe is Dimmu Borgir. They balance everything to perfection. Some of the drumwork on Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia completely rearranged my friend Eric and my heart rhythms - you know an album's good when you have to hold on to furniture and gasp, "Oh my fucking God that's amazing!" every thirty seconds. And stage presence - holy shit. Spiritual Black Dimensions remains my favorite album of theirs, even so. The clean vocal work on it transports. Tremendous.
2. Symphonic Heavy Metal
And oh, shit, here we go with the bargaining. "But-but-but what about power metal?" my brain whines. Bugger.
But symphonic heavy metal is one of my absolute most favorite genres of music in the entire universe. I love the way it fuses the power of metal with operatic voices. It wraps around me like an epic poem come to life.
Nightwish - Tarja Nightwish, not this new-lead-singer bullshit they're trying to foist on us as the real thing - was my introduction into the genre. Tarja has one of the best voices anywhere. This is one of those people who could sing the phone book and leave you in ecstatic tears. Oceanborn is probably their best album, but I have to admit a tender spot for Century Child as well.
I thought I'd be upset when Liv Kristine left Theatre of Tragedy, but then she hauled off and started Leaves' Eyes. Holy. Fucking. Shit. Viking themes, some of the most powerful riffs in the universe, and Liv just pouring out the liquid crystal vocals. So far, Vinland Saga is their absolute pinnacle, but it's early times yet.
And I thought, that's it. There'll never be anything better. Then I discovered Epica. Wow-e-wow. They're aptly named. Epic, indeed. Everything about that band is epic - the music, the lyrics, and certainly Simone Simons's singing. I haven't got a favorite album, yet, because I'm hopelessly smitten with everything they've ever done, but I'll put forth The Phantom Agony as a good place to start.
*coughpowermetalBlindGuardian/Demons&Wizards/Savatage/IcedEarthcough* Sorry. Terrible frog in my throat, just then. Right, moving on.
3. Dark World Music
I'm going to be an evil beastie and filch this label for the kind of music that fuses elements of ancient and traditional music with modern forms. Calling this stuff "eclectic" or "gothic metal" just doesn't capture the full flavor. And it's got lots o' flavor.
Dead Can Dance was the first band that showed me, indeed, the dead can dance. They pulled from a variety of sources that most people only hear of in music colleges and turned it into tremendous modern music. They do the most haunting version of the Irish ballad "The Wind That Shakes The Barley" that I've ever heard. You want to hear 16th century Catalan like you've never head it before? Go to them. Ditto for the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Just incredible. A delightful exploration of their work can be found in A Passage in Time.
Loreena McKennitt is another world traveller, and she'll tell you stories in her liner notes. She's heavily Celtic influenced, but you'll get a taste of the ancient Middle East here and there, as well as France, Spain, and a thousand points between. And the harp - oh, how that woman can harp, in the best possible sense of the word. I started my Loreena McKennitt addiction with The Book of Secrets, but there's no reason not to own absolutely everything she's ever done.
I stumbled across Qntal on AOL's gothic station. No shit. It's gothic in about the same way as Tom Leher is comedy - you could call them that, but you're missing the fact they transcend those categories. Absolutely divine. I have no idea how to really describe them - there's definitely a Medieval feel, but utterly modern. Transcedental. It's the kind of music I put in when I want to be transported beyond the world. I began my journey with Qntal V: Silver Swan.
And, already, I feel the pain of leaving out so many incredible genres and bands. Your turn to suffer. I know some of you are going to worry about leaving a novel in the comments, but don't. Just let yourselves gush. Music is one of the greatest gifts of being human, and there's no reason we shouldn't indulge in oceans of enthusiasm over it.