Today’s Art (13th May 2018)

Unfortunately, today’s digitally-edited painting didn’t really turn out as well as I’d hoped. I’d originally planned to paint an ornate gothic/heavy metal-style painting, but it ended up being a lot more minimalist than I’d original planned.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Under Shadowy Arches” By C. A. Brown

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Review: “Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa” By Cradle Of Filth (Album)

Note: I prepare these articles quite far in advance. So, this title illustration was made before I reviewed Judas Priest’s latest album about a month and a half ago.

Well, I thought that I’d take a look at a heavy metal album that I’d meant to get over seven years ago but only finally got round to buying a while before I wrote this review. I am, of course talking about “Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa” by Cradle Of Filth.

This album by the venerable heavy metal/ symphonic black metal/ gothic metal band was originally released in late 2010. I actually remember this quite well since the band took the unusual step of giving out free MP3 copies of the song “Lilith Immaculate” on their website at the time.

This track really bowled me over, although I couldn’t afford to get the full album at the time. I then pretty much forgot about the album (apart from checking out another couple of songs on Youtube) until I noticed that it had come down in price and was able to snap up a second-hand copy on Amazon for about three quid.

One of the first things that I will say about this album is that it is very much it’s own distinctive thing. It mostly eschews the grandiose fire and brimstone drama of 2008’s “Godspeed On The Devil’s Thunder“, but it is also a far cry from the decadent De Sade-ian opulence of 2012’s “The Manticore And Other Horrors“. This album is a lot “colder”, more melodic and more gothic. And, it is probably one of the best Cradle albums that I’ve heard. Seriously, it’s almost up there with classic albums like “Cruelty And The Beast” and “Nymphetamine”.

“Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa” is a concept album about the mythological character Lilith. However, it also focuses on a tragic character called Victoria Varco, a 14th century noblewoman who bears an illegitimate child and suffers unspeakable cruelties at the hands of the church because of this. This eventually leads to her having visions of Lilith (and possibly being possessed by Lilith’s spirit), before being brutally murdered by the church’s torturers.

She is then exhumed by her grief-stricken lover, Isaac, in a scene vaguely reminiscent of Heathcliff and Cathy from Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights“. The later parts of the album focus both on Lilith herself and on Isaac’s memories of meeting her through Victoria.

The final song ends with a mildly Lovecraftian flutter, with Isaac saying: “…These words I speak are gates to hell“, evoking the ‘last words’ narrative device used in many of H.P. Lovecraft‘s short stories. In addition to this, it is also a repetition of an early verse from the first song on the album. This gives the album an intriguingly circular storyline, which also hints strongly at a Lovecraft-style unreliable narrator.

And, yes, this album actually has a continuous story. However, this actually harms the album’s lyrics very slightly. Whilst I’ve written before about how Cradle Of Filth songs are basically old-school poetry in disguise, the lyrics in “Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa” often read more like a historical ballad of some kind.

Whilst the lyrics still contain a fair number of poetic flourishes (eg: “By flights of morbid fancy/ Psychomancy, rites of ancient wrong”), the focus on storytelling means that the lyrics are often a little bit more “functional” and can occasionally lack some of the dark eloquence of Cradle’s other albums.

But, enough literary criticism. What about how this album actually sounds?

Well, for the most part, it sounds like Cradle Of Filth. However, unlike some of their albums, this one has quite a few melodic elements, such as a vaguely harpsichord-like segment at the beginning of the first song in addition to other creepily gothic string and keyboard segments throughout the album. These go really well with the more intense guitar segments, which often sound more like a “heavier” version of traditional heavy metal. Personally, I really love all of these melodic elements, but more “traditionalist” fans of the band might not like them.

Likewise, despite the occasional well-placed death growl from Dani Filth, his fast-paced and guttural singing in this album is considerably more understandable than in some previous albums. As much as I love Dani’s older vocal style, his more modern style certainly has merit too.

Plus, like in many of Cradle’s albums, Dani’s harsh vocals are counterpointed by more elegant female vocals. In “Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa”, these are provided by Lucy Atkins (and Dora Kemp).

Like with some of Sarah Jezebel Deva’s vocal segments in “Cruelty And The Beast”, Atkins speaks rather than sings. This lends the character of Lilith a stern, cold gravitas that goes really well with Dani’s more emotional vocals.

The best songs on the album are probably “The Persecution Song”, “Deceiving Eyes”, “Lilith Immaculate”, “Forgive Me Father (I Have Sinned)” and “Beyond Eleventh Hour”.

“The Persecution Song” begins with a beautifully haunting instrumental segment, which manages to be both creepily cold and reminiscent of the warm lushness of Cradle’s “Nymphetamine” album. Dani’s vocals near the beginning of the song are noticeably slower too, which helps to add to the oppressively gothic atmosphere.

Musically, the song is dark, intense and overwhelmingly powerful. Vocally, Dani alternates between several singing styles (eg: slower singing, emotional growling, ominous whispering etc..) which helps to add to the surprising array of musical variety within this song. Seriously, it is one of the most atmospheric songs on the album.

“Deceiving Eyes” has some really intriguing hints of both thrash metal and traditional heavy metal. Although it is mostly just a fairly solid Cradle Of Filth song, these extra musical elements really help to turn it into something a bit more distinctive.

“Lilith Immaculate” is a fast, powerful, opulent and intense song. The opening instrumental is vaguely reminiscent of something from “Godspeed On The Devil’s Thunder”, but, as soon as Dani begins howling, you’ll remember that this is a very different album. This song is something of a duet between Dani Filth and Lucy Atkins, and it is brilliant! It is filled with dramatic descriptions and powerful emotion. If it wasn’t for the fact that this song tells a later part of the album’s story, it would have been a perfect opening song.

“Forgive Me Father (I Have Sinned)” is a slightly lighter, faster and more “goth”-like song. The opening segments of it are something of a palate cleanser from the heavier and more intense songs earlier in the album. Likewise, the guitars sound a little bit less distorted here, which lends the song a very distinctive sound. Like with “Lilith Immaculate”, it is also something of a duet between Dani Filth and Lucy Atkins – which is always cool to hear.

“Beyond Eleventh Hour” is the stunningly opulent ending to the album. It begins in a creepily understated way, with quiet keyboard music and some poetic vocals from Atkins. But, it quickly builds to a spectacularly dramatic climax soon after Atkins intones the words “…and hell will come with him”.

The lyrics in this intense and dramatic song also contain a few gloriously obscene “classic Cradle Of Filth”-style flourishes too. This song is Cradle at their most eloquent, poetic, debauched, blasphemous best! At one point, there’s even some vaguely horror movie-style cackling in the background too πŸ™‚

All in all, “Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa” is one of Cradle Of Filth’s best albums. It’s a cold, heavily atmospheric, furiously intense and creepily gothic album. Yes, it isn’t quite their best album in purely lyrical terms but – musically – it is absolutely stunning. Like with all great metal bands, this album manages to be both the kind of unique thing that only one band could make whilst also being noticeably different from both previous and subsequent albums.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four and a half.

Three Other Things That Heavy Metal Music Can Teach Creative People

Although I’ve written about this topic a couple of times before, I thought that I’d return to the subject of what heavy metal music can teach creative people. This is mostly since I seem to be going through another phase of listening to even more metal than usual (mostly songs by Cradle Of Filth this time round).

So, what else can heavy metal teach creative people?

1) Sophistication (appears in unlikely places): Believe it or not, modern heavy metal is one of the most complex and sophisticated genres of music out there. Since I’m going through a bit of a Cradle Of Filth phase at the moment, I’ll use this band as an example.

At first glance, they don’t really look like a “sophisticated” band – mostly due to the zombie make-up, the borderline-incomprehensible shouted vocals and the fact that some of their songs have “shock value” lyrics.

But, although I’ve already written about how their lyrics are basically old-school poetry in disguise, they are sophisticated in so many other ways too. At least a couple of their albums (eg: “Cruelty And The Beast”, “Godspeed On The Devil’s Thunder” etc..) are concept albums based on various obscure parts of European history.

Not only that, if you listen to the instrumental parts of many of their songs (especially their stuff from the late 1990s/early-mid 2000s onwards), you’ll notice that it can almost sound like a heavier version of classical music of some kind sometimes. Their music videos usually tell a story of some kind or another, and frequently look like small self-contained gothic horror movies.

Especially in the present day, heavy metal is a very sophisticated genre (just listen to Nightwish or most songs by Iron Maiden if you don’t believe me). Yet, there’s surprisingly little pretentiousness surrounding it. Heavy metal bands do all of this amazingly complex and sophisticated stuff, yet metal is one of the most welcoming, generation-neutral (eg: some metal bands are in their 20s, some are in their 60s etc..) and unpretentious musical subcultures out there.

So, what relevance does this have to writers, artists, poets etc…? Well, it all has to do with letting your work speak for itself. It is about putting substance over style. It is about the importance of skills and practice, rather than trying to become popular for the sake of it. It’s about building up a fanbase because of the quality of your work rather than “being famous for being famous”.

2) Personality: One cool thing about metal bands is that they each have their own unique personalities and sensibilities. Even when they seem slightly similar, they are still unique in different ways. You can usually tell two metal bands apart from each other just by listening to the way that they play their instruments, write their own songs etc… (Seriously, I cannot overstate the “write their own songs” part enough!)

Even bands within the same sub-genre of metal who have had members in common with each other (such as Gamma Ray and Helloween) are very distinctive. For example, Gamma Ray’s music tends to be a lot louder, slightly slower and more intense, whereas Helloween’s music tends to be slightly lighter, faster and more horror/fantasy-themed. The two bands still sound like they are related to each other, but they also sound different to each other too.

So, again, what relevance does this have to writers, artists, poets etc…? Well, it is all to do with the value of developing a unique and recognisable style. This is something which is typically developed by taking inspiration from a unique mixture of things that you consider to be “cool”. It also involves, amongst other things, looking for what these “cool” things have in common with each other.

For example, in my own art – many of my influences (be they heavy metal album covers, old horror novel covers, cyberpunk films, old computer games etc..) often make use of high-contrast lighting (or “Tenebrist” lighting, to use the fancy word for it). This is where the colours and/or light sources in a picture are made to look bolder by contrasting them with a darker background. So, naturally, this is a part of my art style. It looks a bit like this:

“Scaffolding” By C. A. Brown

3) Maturity: This might surprise you, but heavy metal is probably one of the most sensible and mature genres of music out there. And, I don’t mean “mature” in the sense of one of those silly 1980s “explicit lyrics” stickers that are still somehow a thing these days.

In short, the metal genre has got a lot of the more immature “rebellious shock value” stuff out of it’s system during the 1980s/90s. Since metal is a non-mainstream genre these days, metal bands are thankfully spared the endless controversies that seem to plague anything vaguely popular.

As such, metal bands don’t have to worry too much about either courting controversy or about inadvertently causing it. After all, the only people who listen to metal these days are fans of the genre, so they’re unlikely to be shocked by more traditional elements of the genre.

In other words, metal bands have more creative freedom and, after using it to rebel for a while, they’ve got most of this out of their system and instead usually focus more on making music that is meaningful (or just fun), that sounds good and impresses their fans.

This means that when long-running or modern metal bands use things like four-letter words, disturbing descriptions, risquΓ© descriptions etc… it is often done in a way that is either more moderate, meaningful, infrequent, creative, comedic and/or carefully-considered than you might think. And, surprisingly, the music still sounds just as good!

Since there’s no point in shocking people just for the sake of it any more, these elements either have to be used in a way that actually has artistic merit or not used at all. And, despite heavy metal’s historical reputation as an “edgy” or “controversial” genre, you’d be surprised at how many modern metal songs could probably be played on the radio without censorship if DJs were willing.

So, yet again, what relevance does this have to writers, artists, poets etc…?

Well, simply put, it’s a good example of how creative people mature over time, if given the creative freedom to do so (eg: without having to worry about and/or court controversy all the time). It’s an example of how immature “shock value” will often give way to maturity and artistic merit if creative people aren’t held back by constant controversies etc..

————-

Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Short Story: “Stage Fright” By C. A. Brown

With a soul-shuddering screech, the guitars kicked in. Not even pausing to draw breath, Skull almost crushed the mic in his hand and let rip: ‘Thundering steel, electric eel. Skies darken, rise the electro-kraken!

Below him, the crowd went frigging wild. Against the blood red glare of the stage lights, he saw a thousand black T-shirts and a thousand faces twisted in frantic ecstasy. Somehow, it never quite got old. Beside him, Razor raised his obsidian guitar and let out a volley of crunching chords. Taking his cue, Skull ducked towards the crowd and screamed: ‘Crushing jaws, lock your doors! Bladed tendrils, slashing claws.

The crowd roared back. A hundred horned hands saluted him. The bass throbbed through his body. As the drums let off another salvo and Razor launched into a machine-gun guitar solo, Skull raised his arms and shouted to the crowd: ‘I wanna hear you scream! Raise the roof, you mean metal mother…

He paused. For a second, he didn’t know why. Then it hit him. Two of the stage lights were in the wrong place! At the back of the crowd, two red points of light stared back at him from ground level. A hundred thoughts raced through his head. What if someone had got crushed? What if one of the roadies screwed up the safety checks? How the hell are those lights still working if they’ve just fallen from the ceiling?

Then, he noticed that Razor’s guitar solo was almost over. He glanced at the rest of the band, none of them had noticed the lights. He stared at the crowd again, they weren’t screaming in agony or fleeing in panic. Maybe it was just a reflection of some kind?

Letting out a silent sigh, Skull went into autopilot and belted out the chorus: ‘Fear the seas, ancient prophecies! Deep evil, deep evil! Primeval creature!

When he glanced at the cavorting crowd again, the two lights seemed brighter. They were larger. They were getting closer. For a second, he was frozen like the proverbial deer in the headlights until a crashing cymbal from the back of the stage shook him back into action. Leaning towards Razor, Skull pointed at the lights. Not even pausing, Razor just raised his eyebrows and mouthed: ‘Wanna stop?

Skull shook his head. The song was almost over. The show must go on.

But, a few seconds later, the red lights had reached the mosh pit and the crowd had started to notice. Like the seas from some stern sermon, the crowd parted. The music fell silent. Even the drummer had noticed that something was wrong. The only sound that filled the air was slow, thudding footsteps. The two red lights glowed like suns.

And then, as it walked under the scarlet stage lights, Skull saw it. It looked like something from the record covers of his youth. A great, hulking horned demon with skin as scaly as a crocodile and teeth like twenty knives. What Skull didn’t expect were the clothes. The hellish monster was wearing a three-piece suit! As the apparition drew even closer to the stage, he even noticed a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles around the creature’s fiery eyes.

When the creature opened his fearsome maw, Skull had expected a deep growl from the pits of hell. Instead, the creature’s voice sounded thin, severe and sharp. ‘Will you turn that racket down?! Can’t you play some nice music instead? Something that everyone can enjoy?

Skull was dumbfounded. Razor’s mouth fell open. Ignoring them, the demon levelled a bony claw at the crowd: ‘And, all of you, why are you staying up late? Don’t you have work tomorrow? You know, I’d bet that some of you are still in school. You don’t get good grades by going to dismal dives like this and listening to music that is clearly unsuitable for people your age.

Everyone remained silent, unsure whether to laugh or scream. The demon growled menacingly and opened his fearsome maw. Amidst the confusion, Skull knew one thing. He was on stage. Everyone looked up to him. He was the closest thing to a real authority figure in the room. Shuddering at the implications of this, he realised that he had to do something. Then it struck him. When you’ve got a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Standing to attention, he turned to Razor and barked: ‘Start “Crypt Of The Corpses”! Don’t question me, just bloody do it!

Shocked into action, Razor reached down to his guitar and launched into the blistering opening riff. The noise cut through the air like a katana. The demon winced. A second later, the drums kicked in and Skull heard the bass thrum loudly. The demon recoiled. Grabbing the mic like the hilt of a sword, Skull took a deep breath and then let the words explode from his throat: ‘Crushed skulls, evil rituals! Vestal virgins, sacrificial surgeons!

The demon let out an unholy screech. A second later, it was drowned out by the roaring of the crowd. As Skull watched with stunned fascination, the pulsing mass of humanity in front of him converged on the demon. The swarming mass undulated and jumped. A sickening squelch filled the air. For a second, Skull felt like he was in a terrifying freefall. Without even noticing it, he began to mutter “oh shi….

But then he saw her. Below the red lights, a cheering woman with raven hair held a long, twisted horn above her head. Dark ichor dripped from the base of it. A second later, something flew through the air and landed near the drummer with a loud splat. Skull didn’t turn around, but he heard the drummer shout: ‘That was pretty… heartless… of you all!‘ The crowd laughed. A smile crossed Skull’s lips and he launched into the next verse.

Later, the band sat around backstage. The adrenaline rush had faded and they were on their fifth beer, unsure whether they were drinking to celebrate or to forget or both. Finally, Skull picked up the remote and turned on the TV.

On the evening news, pictures of police officers milling around an old stone building splashed across the screen. In received pronunciation, the newsreader said: ‘Following reports of several lost pets, police visited the offices of the local conservative club. They found what can only be described as some form of ritual sacrifice...’

Beside him, Razor raised his bottle and said: ‘Makes sense, you know.

First Impressions: “Firepower” By Judas Priest (Album)

Well, although this is more of a rambling “first impressions” article than a full review, I thought that I’d share my thoughts about the new Judas Priest album. Interestingly, I originally hadn’t planned to pre-order this album (mostly since I worried that it would be like the songs I’d heard from the band’s previous album).

But, then the music video for “Lightning Strike” turned up on Youtube and I thought something along the lines of “Even if this is the only good song on the new album, then I’ve got to have it“. So, I pre-ordered it (something I only usually do with albums by Iron Maiden and The Offspring).

This decision was confirmed to be a wise one when the official audio for “Firepower” appeared on Youtube sometime later. And, well, it’s finally arrived πŸ™‚

So, let’s take a look at “Firepower”:

Fun fact: This adorable fellow is called TITANICUS! *metalgasm*

One of the first things that I will say about this album is that it starts out astonishingly well. Seriously, I’ve found it literally impossible to listen to parts of the opening track (“Firepower”) without reflexively cranking up the volume, flashing the heavy metal horns and headbanging like a motherf… Well, headbanging a lot.

Seriously, this track is proper, intense “Painkiller“-level heavy metal. Not only that, many of the song’s lyrics are also hilariously ironic too (eg: “With open arms we fight for peace/We fight with FIREPOWER!!!!”). It is, at the time of writing, probably my absolute favourite song on the album.

The second song (“Lightning Strike”) is an absolutely perfect follow-up to “Firepower”. It’s the kind of fast, intense Judas Priest song that could also easily have appeared on their “Painkiller” album. Seriously, this song is Judas Priest. Literally, the only thing that could make this song even better than it already is would be if they’d added a couple of crackling lightning sounds after Rob Halford sings “…lightning to strike”.

The third song, “Evil Never Dies” is this really cool mixture between gloomier “Angel Of Retribution“-style Judas Priest and some of their slightly older stuff from the 1980s. Whilst it lacks some of the sheer intensity of the first two tracks, it is still quintessentially Judas Priest.

The fourth song, “Never The Heroes”, is another interesting mixture. Basically, the intro and chorus are epic, resplendent stadium metal and several of the verses are sung in a slightly quieter, slower, more understated and menacing way. Then the song builds up into a surprisingly epic mixture of the two styles.

The fifth song is called “Necromancer” πŸ™‚ Needless to say, it’s another song that is reminiscent of the band’s “Painkiller” album πŸ™‚ It also contains a few hints of their “Angel Of Retribution” album too. Seriously, it is literally impossible for a band like Judas Priest to write a song called “Necromancer” and it not be amazingly epic πŸ™‚ Ok, “Firepower” is still my favourite track from this album, but this one is definitely in the top five.

The sixth song, “Children Of The Sun”, is another “Angel Of Retribution”-style song which contains a really interesting mixture of louder and quieter/slower segments. It also contains a few interesting hints of 1980s-style Priest too (eg: some segments very vaguely reminded me a bit of songs like “Nightcrawler” or “A Touch Of Evil”).

The seventh song, “Guardians”, is an instrumental piece that starts out as a slow piano tune that gradually rises in intensity until it perfectly segues into the opening of the eighth track (“Rise From The Ruins”).

This song is kind of interesting since, the slower and more solemn segments of the song reminded me a little bit of Bruce Dickinson‘s solo stuff (which is never a bad thing πŸ™‚ ). But, the chorus is very much a Judas Priest-style chorus, which sounds like an interesting blend of “Angel Of Retribution” and some of their songs from the ’80s like “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll”.

The ninth song, “Flame Thrower” is more of an ’80s-style song. It’s occasionally a little lighter and slower than the song’s title would suggest but it’s still a reasonably good song, and it sounds like a modern version of a song that the band could have put out in the 80s. Seriously, this is a 1980s Judas Priest song made in 2018 πŸ™‚

The tenth song, “Spectre”, is another interesting blend of 1980s and 2005-style Judas Priest, with a few interesting vocal flourishes from Rob Halford (even including a brief spoken segment) and a few unexpected influences (is that a second of… dubstep.. I hear in the intro?) . Although the main guitar hook somehow didn’t quite seem like a good fit with the rest of the song, this is a wonderfully varied song that really shows off the band’s range.

The eleventh song, “Traitor’s Gate” starts with a menacingly slow guitar intro, before exploding in intensity. This is another intense Judas Priest song and is pretty cool, with the stand-out parts of the song probably being some of the guitar segments (which wouldn’t be out of place on the “Painkiller” album).

The twelfth song, “No Surrender” is…wow! This song is wonderfully ’80s πŸ™‚ It’s slightly lighter in tone and it’s probably one of the more catchy songs on the album. The opening guitar segment also reminded me a little bit of an ’80s rock version of the intro to “Beheaded” by The Offspring, which was really cool πŸ™‚

Plus, I love how Rob Halford’s singing style is a little bit more melodic for most of the song and then, near the end, the instruments fall silent for a second and he growls “…with no surrender!” in a really “Painkiller”-style way. It’s a really dramatic moment πŸ™‚

The thirteenth song “Lone Wolf” starts out with a slightly funky and gothic intro, before turning into a distorted wall of guitars. But, this song seems a bit less varied and dynamic than many of the other songs. It isn’t exactly a “slow” or “quiet” song, but it isn’t as intense as I’d have liked. Still, I could detect a few subtle hints of 1960s/70s style Black Sabbath in this song, which is cool πŸ™‚

The final song, “Sea Of Red” starts with a slow, acoustic introduction. Seriously, the early parts of this song are like a Judas Priest-style version of some of Bruce Dickinson’s slower solo stuff mixed with the song “Angel” from Priest’s “Angel Of Retribution” album. And then the song begins to build in intensity. This song ebbs, flows and crashes… like a sea.

All in all, my first impressions of this album are really good. It’s certainly on the same level as the excellent “Angel Of Retribution” and it reaches “Painkiller”-like levels of awesomeness during quite a few moments too πŸ™‚ Ok, it would have been beyond amazing if the whole album had sounded like the first two tracks, but it’s cool that the band wanted to use a greater variety of sounds and styles in the album, and most of this works really well πŸ™‚ Seriously, this is a heavy metal album πŸ™‚

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get somewhere between a five and a six. Because, it’s 2018 and Judas Priest are still making songs that sound like stuff from “Painkiller” and “Angel Of Retribution” πŸ™‚

Short Story: “Background Music” By C. A. Brown

Strange as it might sound, the best place to daydream is at a metal concert. In fact, I’d even go so far as to call it a form of meditation. If you’re seeing a band that you’ve heard before, then the goosebump-inducing “oh my god, I know this song and now I’m actually seeing it live” feeling quickly wears off and – with the cheering, the beautiful stage lights, the physical thumping from the speakers and the fast music – you can go into a kind of trance.

It is the last thing you’d expect to happen and yet it almost always feels perfectly natural at the time. I’d be standing in the middle of a music festival crowd and, whilst the rain hammered down and the gnarly dudes on stage growled into the mic, my mind would suddenly drift elsewhere. I’d find myself wondering what some kind of Aliens-style horror movie would look like if it was set in a bizarre desert village where the skies were always perfect blue and the buildings were painted the same colour as the hourglass sand below.

As the singer would rouse the crowd into repetitive cheers, I’d find that I was shouting along without even noticing it.

Instead, my mind would be mapping out this horror movie village, whilst also playing suspenseful scenes where scaly reptilian creatures lurk just out of sight and some nameless faceless main character explores the mysteriously deserted village.

And then, as the guitars begin to screech and wail again, and the rain drives down even harder, I’d suddenly realise that this cheesy B-movie that my mind had conjured up would work way better as a videogame. But, then, I’d wonder whether it’d be more fitting as a slow, suspenseful Resident Evil-style survival horror game or a fast, intense Doom II-like action game. I’d debate this question seriously for a minute or two, weighing up the pros and cons of each option until I remembered that I don’t know how to make videogames.

As the crushing disappointment of this fact hits me, the song finishes and the lead singer shouts to the crowd about how awesome we were. How we were louder than anyone they’d heard at the other festivals. Of course, they probably said the same thing at every festival. No doubt it was a hangover from the days when people held lighters rather than phones in the air. But, it didn’t matter. Because it was what we wanted to hear.

And then the band would launch into the next song and I’d realise that it was one that I associated with some memory or part of my life. As the sky darkens and the feeling of the rain fades away, I’d find that I was back in the past again. But not the actual past. Not the real past with all of it’s mixed emotions, awkward moments, dull days and foolish thoughts – but something else. My memories would suddenly go from being a montage of mental images and words to being a single emotion. A totally new emotion that literally was that part of the past.

Then, I’d try to think of a word for it. And I couldn’t. I could feel it more strongly than anything else and I knew exactly what this brand new emotion felt like – but, I was the only one who did. No-one had gone before and added a word to the dictionary to describe the exact feeling of remembering that exact time from that exact perspective. I realised that I had something really precious, but that I could never share it. Sure, I could try to paint a picture using words that people already knew, but it would be a crude, second-hand bootleg copy. It wouldn’t even come close.

Then, as the word “bootleg” flashed through my mind, I’d find myself back at the concert again, listening to the music. I’d realise that I’d been singing along the whole time and my throat was hoarse. My eyes would flit towards one of the phone screens held towards the sky, showing a miniature version of the flashing, dancing stage. Then I’d wonder if I’d be visible in any of the concert bootlegs that showed up on Youtube a few days later. Inevitably, I wouldn’t.

Then, with applause and shouts, the concert would end and the crowd would begin to scatter. And, with more than a little surprise, I’d find myself realising that I could remember more about the daydreams I’d had than the spectacular show I’d just seen.

Review: “Rock In Rio [DVD Version]” By Iron Maiden

Well, since I’m still in something of a musical mood at the moment, I thought that I’d take a break from talking about Nightwish and look at something by one of my other favourite bands – the one and only Iron Maiden. In particular, I’ll be taking a look at their “Rock In Rio” concert DVD boxset from 2002.

This was the very first Iron Maiden DVD that I ever got (my first Iron Maiden CD was either a charity single taken from this album, or the CD bonus tracks on the “Carmageddon II” game disc) and, despite the fact that one of my favourite T-shirts is based on the cover art for this DVD, it was something that I’d forgotten about slightly. It had languished unwatched for years on the shelf above my computer until, during a slight moment of boredom shortly before writing this article, I decided to dig it out again….

Wow! I can’t believe that this DVD is over 15 years old! How time flies!

Rock In Rio” is a recording of Iron Maiden’s set at the Rock In Rio festival in Brazil in 2001.

This was about a year or two after Bruce Dickinson rejoined the band following several years apart from them, and the DVD is something of a celebration of both this and of the beginning of Maiden’s more “modern” phase. Gone is the more falsetto-heavy sound of Bruce’s original time with the band during the 1980s and 1990s. Instead, it is replaced by a slightly louder, deeper and more serious singing style that is synonymous with Maiden’s more current stuff.

Scream for me Brazil!!

Although it probably took place during the tour for Iron Maiden’s then-new “Brave New World” album, Rock In Rio’s two-hour setlist is crammed with classic songs, with only about five songs from “Brave New World” making their way onto the stage. But, since “Brave New World” is probably one of Maiden’s weaker albums (if such a thing even exists), the classics-filled setlist really helps to show the band at their best.

One interesting thing here is that Bruce also sings both old songs that were originally performed by Paul Di’Anno (“Wrathchild”, “Iron Maiden” and “Sanctuary”) and, more surprisingly, two songs from Blaze Bayley’s then-recent tenure with the band (“The Clansman” and “Sign Of The Cross”).

Needless to say, he brings his own unique interpretation and energy to these songs, turning Di’Anno’s more punkish renditions of these songs into something closer to modern Iron Maiden and turning Bayley’s broodingly dramatic performances into something even more epic and dramatic.

Seriously, I cannot praise Bruce’s rendition of “Sign Of The Cross” in this concert highly enough! It is, by far, the stand-out track on the DVD. Perhaps even the definitive interpretation of the song in question. He takes a solemn, ominous, emotional song and turns it into ten minutes of spine-tinglingly energetic passion and menacing quietness.

The Siiiiiigggnnnn Offff The Crrrrooosss!!!!!!

In terms of Iron Maiden’s performance, they are as energetic and enthusiastic as you would expect – with each song roaring loudly through the speakers as Bruce Dickinson runs and leaps around the stage in his usual fashion, whilst the other band members swagger around and have fun.

There isn’t a weak or lacklustre performance during any part of the concert. All of this passion and energy is emphasised through a lot of fast video editing, which rarely lingers on a single shot or camera angle for more than a few seconds.

Of course, all of the movement and quick editing makes getting screenshots for this review a bit of a challenge. But, oh well…

Seriously, if there’s one thing to be said for this concert, it is that the band are having fun. And it is a joy to watch! Bruce occasionally makes amusing comments to the audience, whilst the other members of the band do all sorts of hilariously silly and/or cool stuff, like throwing their guitars into the air. You really get the sense that these are six expert musicians who love nothing better than putting on a great show.

And what a show it is! The stage design, lighting design and filming still stands up to this day! Unlike the more limited concert halls from many of their earlier live videos (and the one time I actually saw them live – at a theatre in London in 2006), the band take full advantage of the extra real estate offered by the gargantuan outdoor stage. Multicoloured lights glow beautifully in the darkness, a helicopter hovers above the festival to provide a few dramatic aerial shots, and then there’s the stage design itself.

Seriously, this is one of the coolest-looking stages that I’ve ever seen!

It is truly epic!

The stage is filled with scaffolding and corrugated metal panels, which help to lend the stage a slightly “dystopian sci-fi” kind of look, whilst also providing a handy climbing frame for Bruce during a few instrumental moments. The backdrop changes several times during the set, varying between art from the band’s albums and a plain black background.

And, yes, Derek Riggs’ awesome cover art for “Number Of The Beast” also makes a welcome appearance too πŸ™‚

Needless to say- later in the set – the band’s mascot Eddie makes his appearance. This time, he’s a giant wicker man filled with pagan-style dancers.

Surprisingly though, Eddie doesn’t appear during “The Wicker Man” at the beginning of the concert, but during “Iron Maiden” (about two-thirds of the way through the show) instead.

Naturally, Eddie also has glowing red eyes too. Because, would you expect anything less?

My only real criticism of this DVD has to do with the packaging. For some reason, the discs are packaged inside a thin cardboard sleeve and held in place by two sticky pieces of sponge. To call this flimsy would be an understatement!

In fact, when I opened this DVD case after quite a few years, both discs almost fell onto the floor and the piece of sponge holding the special features disc in place seemed to be missing. Needless to say, this has caused scratching to both discs and, to my horror, I found that a few moments of the concert disc were unplayable as a result. Likewise, when I put the concert disc back into the case, I had a rather difficult time getting it to sit back on the spongy circle, which seemed to have expanded somewhat.

As for the special features disc, I didn’t really have time to rewatch it before writing this review but, from what I can remember of it, it contains documentary footage of the band during their time in Brazil, as well as interviews with the band etc….

I might be confusing it with another Iron Maiden DVD but, if I remember rightly, one of the cool things I remember from watching this disc when I was a teenager was the fact that it contained a few silly little easter eggs hidden throughout the various menus etc…

All in all, DVD packaging aside, “Rock In Rio” has stood the test of time surprisingly well. It is two hours of pure energy and passion, and it is an absolutely stellar introduction to the band if you’ve never heard them before. If you’re looking for an epic music video, you can’t go wrong with this one! Whether you watch it in one sitting or just skip from song to song, it’s something that can be enjoyed again and again.

Yes, it might lack some of the pyrotechnics and/or background animations that characterise more modern concert footage from metal bands, but it is still pretty much timeless.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least five.