Well hello there. Welcome to what is basically me being enthusiastic about music for several pages. If that’s something you find interesting, welcome! I have listened to much more than what I introduce to you here over the course of last year, but it should be a good representation of my listening habits. If all goes well, you might even find some hitherto unknown music you enjoy. And if not, that’s fine. This is, after all, a personal thing.
Garmarna – 6 and Vedergällningen
Garmarna is one of these bands that came to my attention years ago, and I simply can’t remember how. By all accounts, it should have been more likely that I had never heard of them, but somehow I found myself listening to them and liking what I heard. Most of it, anyway. A Swedish band singing exclusively in their own language and with a relatively unique genre (something like a Folk-Trip Hop-mix), they didn’t really draw huge crowds outside their home country. Although they were always kind of popular with fans of Medieval music despite not playing Medieval music – but some of it sounds like it might be. It’s a bit complicated, is what I’m saying. If anyone knows Saltatio Mortis, which is rather unlikely if you don’t frequent Medieval markets but very likely if you do, they covered – butchered, really – Garmarna’s rendition of “Herr Holger”, so that’s where you might have heard a version of their music.
In 2001 they released a rather weird album called Hildegard von Bingen (as a friend of mine put it back then: “you could probably pop some Magic Mushrooms, listen to that record and see some wild colours”), and after that, for years, there was nothing and most people who knew the band just assumed they had disbanded. Then, 14 years later, Garmarna released their sixth album, aptly named 6. Is it a masterpiece? No, I don’t think so. What it is, though, is a record of a band that many, me included, were sure would never release another and a record that made me listen to their old stuff again. There definitely are good tunes on there, too, it’s just that there are also some that are too much “meh” or resembling pop music for my unreserved enthusiasm. But some others I really do enjoy listening to, and the new record really made me rediscover the band. And I’m happy that they didn’t stop making music after all. So that’s nice.
This is the first song of the new album, “Över Gränsen”. Enjoy this wonderfully weird music video. Yay for musical forest spirits, I guess? Also, there’s a rap part by guest artist Maxida Märak. In Swedish. Which is also kind of cool. All in all, what’s not to like?
These two songs are from their 1999 album Vedergällningen (vengeance). They are quite typical of the band at that time. Not much else to say, really. I like them both.
Wintergatan – Wintergatan
Wintergatan have a rather creative and gadget-y approach to music making. You may have seen that Marble Machine video that was popular on YouTube a while ago? If not, it is embedded here. Watch it, it is great.
The songs on their first and thus far only album evoke images of a warm summer night in Paris in me, on the Seine or perhaps outside a café. Which is interesting for several reasons. For one thing, I’ve never been to Paris. For another, Wintergatan are from Sweden (Vintergatan (the winter road) is the Swedish name for the Milky Way). And the question I get asked the most when someone hears me playing their songs is “is that the soundtrack to some video game?” So maybe I’m alone with that association.
Be that as it may, they certainly have some unusual instruments in their repertoire, apart from the drum kit, keyboard and bass you might expect in a band, we also find vibraphones, an accordion, an old typewriter as a percussion instrument and an assortment of various mechanical instruments, built by the artists themselves. And while all this could point to a pretty gimmicky style that might grab your attention for a short while and mainly for reasons of curiosity, Wintergatan manage to bring it all together in a fitting way, creating genuinely harmonious songs with a sound that’s already quite typical for the band despite having published only one album so far, ranging from slower, folky tunes to faster, more electronic ones that almost sound like techno. Admittedly, you need to have a thing for folky and electronic music to really enjoy their songs, but I do, so that’s nice.
Certainly not a band whose songs I can listen to all the time, but occasionally, they’re just right.
Both tracks are from their only studio album
The Marble Machine
Amorphis – Magic and Mayhem and Under the Red Cloud (and all of it, if I’m honest)
And now we come to a band most of you who read this might not actually like, but I love them, so there. This entry won’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows a bit about my musical tastes. Amorphis was the first proper metal band I’ve listened to. I don’t have a favourite band – however, if I had to choose one, it would be them every time. Founded in 1990 in Helsinki, they started out by playing death metal, but later developed and changed their style to a more melodic and much softer type of hard rock/metal, completely without the growls that are typical for the harder varieties of the genre, and then, after Tomi Joutsen replaced Pasi Koskinen on vocals, took a turn towards a still very melodic but more aggressive style reminiscent – but not a copy – of their earlier work. Metal.de recently called it “melancholic progressive metal”, but… I’m not sure that’s a thing, if I’m honest. We can just go ahead and call it melodic death, albeit with a distinctive sound that is immediately recognisable, despite the change in style over the years and albums.
Starting with Tuonela, Amorphis have been somewhat willing to experiment musically, indicated by the sudden appearance of a saxophone. Of course, some people immediately proclaimed that the band had started to suck and that they wouldn’t be listening to their music anymore – it’s a time-honoured tradition in metal – and even now there’s a chance you’ll find people bickering about what is and isn’t metal in the comment section of their YouTube videos. Who cares. Don’t read YouTube comments, that’s good advice in general, and if you’re into it, just enjoy the music. This willingness to try out things could be seen a few years ago at the Wacken Open Air, when they performed some of their older, relatively brutal tracks completely unplugged, with clean vocals and various instruments including, again, the Saxophone, resulting in a very interesting – in the best way – sound. In May, Amorphis will publish their thirteenth album, Queen of Time, and I, for one, cannot wait.
Get you a band that can do all of that
Motörhead – Inferno and Sacrifice
When Lemmy died in late 2015, it marked the end of one of the most influential bands in recent history. It is almost impossible to say anything about them that hasn’t been said a thousand times over. But if you don’t know them or only know “Ace of Spades”, it might be easy to underestimate the influence the band has had on an entire genre of music, namely rock and metal. “We are Motörhead,” Lemmy would announce before every concert, “and we play Rock and Roll”. Which they did, with Lemmy’s unique voice, sculpted by decades of cigarettes and whisky, a gnarly bass that took over the job of the rhythm guitar, everything turned all the way up to eleven, everything louder than everyone else. Without them, it’s unlikely that any of the early thrash metal bands would exist, or not in that form. Just to pick one example: no Metallica – and now think about how many bands they influenced, like them or not. No, if you even remotely like rock and metal music, especially newer bands, chances are that your favourite band exists, directly or indirectly, because of Motörhead, at least in part.
Motörhead isn’t only noteworthy for their role as influencers, they also made bloody good music, and that’s the more important reason they’re on this list. I had the opportunity to see them live at Wacken years ago. There were lots of great concerts at that festival, but when Motörhead took the stage – you know in Kung Fu movies, when the young pupils who have already learned a lot show how well they know how to fight, and are really fast and energetic, and quite impressive, but then the old master shows up and demonstrates why he’s, in fact, the master? It was like that. They just effortlessly rocked harder than everyone else. Motörhead was simple but great rock n roll. And a lot of it – 22 albums in total, or, if you want to put it this way, the same album, 22 times. But the truth is, that was exactly what was expected and it would have been frankly weird if they had started to experiment. No, Motörhead did one thing, it was what they did best.
Dominik Eulberg – Diorama
Dominik Eulberg is one of those people who combine ornithology and techno. He’s also the only one who does that. At home in a genre that you either enjoy or find rather boring, minimal techno, he seems to spend quite a bit of his time in the Westerwald, recording the sounds of nature to later integrate them into his songs. Cut back to some years ago, when I discovered his music, I really don’t remember how, and found myself somewhat surprised that I actually really liked it – after all, I had been known to dislike most techno. Although on reflection, that might be because most techno I ever heard was Scooter. So there I was sitting in my living room and listening to tunes with weird (but somehow awesome) titles like “Der Purpurrote Sonnenuntergang am Schilfumsäumten Bergsee”, “Die Alpenstrandläufer von Spiekeroog” or “’Brenzlich, Brenzlich’, dachte der Feuersalamander”. And I really enjoyed them. Interestingly, it is not at all immediately obvious that nature sounds are used in his tracks, it is only after you know that and really listen to it that you may notice. It nevertheless makes for a distinct sound and Eulberg is really good at creating a consistent mood. If his love for nature isn’t obvious from the titles alone, he also released a concept album called Heimische Gefilde, featuring techno tracks interspersed with short, narrated pieces that introduce various native species to the listener.
If techno or electronic music in general is in any way your thing, give these two tracks a try. They’re well worth listening to, I think.
Sodom – Sodom
There’s not too much that can be said about Sodom. If you’re a fan of Thrash Metal you most likely already know them, and if not, they probably only sound like noise to you. Sodom are masters of keeping it simple, with one bass (performing a role much like Lemmy’s in Motörhead), one or two guitars, depending on whatever the current line-up is, and a drumkit – combine it with Tom Angelripper’s signature raw vocals and you get a neat package of no-nonsense, in-your-face Thrash that brushes your teeth and bothers the dog. And, but that’s more of a feeling I have than anything I could quantify, there’s an honesty about the band and its music that feels in line with their working-class Ruhrpott origins.
The lyrics fit mostly in two broad categories: either humorous songs such as “Der Wachturm” or cover versions of, of all things, Schlager such as “Aber bitte mit Sahne” (they even sang a few songs with Roberto Blanco on stage once, which, by all accounts, was a lot of fun), or on the other hand, war. Their often quite straightforwardly martial titles and lyrics (Ausgebombt, M-16, Agent Orange), together with no less subtle album covers, mostly featuring their mascot “Knarrenheinz,” confronted them with accusations of glorifying war. However, anyone willing to invest more than a few seconds to glance at the song titles will notice that the lyrics are in fact an expression of the band’s abhorrence of war, which should already be obvious to anyone familiar with the concept of “reading between the lines,” but even if you take an extremely literalist approach to the lyrics you’d still have to account for parts like “Ausgebombt”’s “Spielt nicht mit dem Tod, der Krieg ist nicht mehr weit. Vernichtet Eure Waffen, lernt aus der Vergangenheit” or the many times during a live show Angelripper demanded “stop the war in [Kosovo/Afghanistan/Iraq or wherever the current war was]”
And with that bit of context for those of you who don’t listen to metal and aren’t necessarily familiar with the genre’s often rather drastic and direct texts and imagery, here are some examples of their music
Die Ärzte – Ist das alles? and Die Bestie in Menschengestalt
Ah, yes, Die Ärzte. If you live in Germany and don’t know about them, can you please show me the rock you’ve been living under on a map? I’ll spare you the introduction to the band. The times I listened to them last year were a bit of a trip down memory lane for me; they were one of the first bands I ever listened to, together with a friend, way back in primary school. Naturally, the songs I’ll present you with are from their older stuff. One of them, “Schrei nach Liebe”, has made a bit of a comeback in 2015, when, as a reaction to xenophobic attacks, “Aktion Arschloch” caused the song from 1993 to top the single charts again.
It’s Die Ärzte. You don’t need me to tell you more. Go listen to the(ir) songs already.
Fettes Brot – Am Wasser Gebaut and Auf einem Auge blöd
Here comes an admission that 16-year-old me would probably kick me in the shins for: I – on occasion – like me some Hip Hop. I’m not a fan, though, by any means, and I am for the most part relatively specific about what I like, but some of Fettes Brot’s songs are definitely among that.
There definitely are some classic tracks here (take “Nordisch by Nature”, for example. I mean Hip Hop op platt, what’s not to like), and while some are simply fun, songs like “An Tagen wie Diesen” are an expression of disgust and outrage at the state of the world and society. And it’s perfectly possible that I’m showing a woefully incomplete understanding of Hip Hop culture here, but I have always enjoyed those kinds of songs much more than the ones that basically brag about the artist’s wealth, combined with a frankly astonishing amount of sexism and slurs. I’d say “maybe it’s just me,” except that I have very little respect for artists who use their platform to take a shot at minorities or disadvantaged groups. And especially in such a text heavy genre as Hip Hop I find the clever and/or political texts much more interesting – but that applies to all genres. I also find having to listen to Rock ‘n Roll lyrics about tits and bikes pretty boring. And – at least to me – “An Tagen wie Diesen”, or, Samy Deluxe demanding “Weck Mich Auf”, don’t feel the least bit inauthentic.
With that said, will I become a true Hip-Hop aficionado? No. That’s unlikely, as those of you who are have probably guessed by now. But I’m definitely no longer in the “can’t like it on principle” camp I was in during my middle school days.
Eluveitie – Evocation I and “Thousandfold”
Usually found in the neighbourhood of melodic death metal, which I actually don’t enjoy that much in their case, Eluveitie must at some point have sat down and decided, you know what, lets record an instrumental concept album about Celtic mythology and let’s write all the lyrics in Gaulish. Combine that with the fact that “instrumental” here includes instruments like the hurdy-gurdy, flutes and a harp, and you certainly get an interesting listening experience. For me it’s a classic example of “I like it, but I can’t listen to it all the time.” It seems to be a bit of a “love it or hate it” thing, the most common questions I get when I play that album are “what language is that,” but also “can you put on something else?”
So it’s not for everybody, then. Which is perfectly fine, and I suspect that the very things that some find annoying are what attracts others to the music. They may be interested to know that recently the successor, Evocation II – Pantheon, was released, very much in the same spirit but focusing, as the title suggests, on the Celtic gods.
Ah, yes, and “Thousandfold” is a song from a different album, Everything Remains as it Never Was, more in their usual style. And while I’m sure the YouTube comments would feature the usual bickering, how it’s “not metal,” “pop” or simply not “trve”, I don’t care. That song is fun, and in this case, that’s all that matters to me.
The Vision Bleak – The Unknown and Carpathia
The Vision Bleak are officially a gothic metal band, but you’ll find anything from grooving rock to proper metal on their songs. Fittingly for a band with that name their lyrics deal exclusively with themes from classic horror literature (think Lovecraft), or at least with folk tales that fit in the same genre (such as Baba Yaga). The singer’s voice is pretty much fitting for “gothic metal”, though.
Considering how well received virtually all of their records were in the press (that covers bands of that genre anyways) and how catchy most of their songs are, they should have all the ingredients for a really successful metal band, more so when you consider the fact that they were founded by Schwadorf, who was previously the mastermind of Empyrium, and while most of you will probably ask “who?”, they are a metal/folk band with a dark romanticism vibe that was/is both well received and relatively well-known in the metal scene.
It is a bit surprising, then, that you can see them performing in small venues like the Marx, with hardly more than 150 people in the audience. Which is nice for the audience, of course, since it creates an intimate atmosphere that concerts in larger venues with a huge crowd simply will not provide, but for the band it could be somewhat frustrating, one imagines. Maybe that’ll change in the future, but in the meantime, should they be on tour again and you maybe have never been to a metal concert but are willing to check it out and looking for a fun concert with an affordable ticket price, you could do a lot worse than The Vision Bleak
Johannes was listening to well if you can’t figure that one out I can’t help you while writing this article