Posts Tagged ‘Heavy Metal’

Two South Asian Rock Bands

December 6, 2016

This is a little break from politics. Looking around the Net, I found a number of Rock/ Heavy Metal bands from India and Pakistan. Here’s two of them. This Punkh, a Hindi band, performing with the German robot rockers, Compressorhead.

And this is The Nuke, a band from Pakistan, performing their track, Waaday (Promises).

I don’t speak either Hindi or Urdu, and so have no idea what the lyrics mean. However, the music’s good, solid Rock and they both have the genuine spirit and aesthetic. I’ve put them up because they both contradict western perceptions of these nations’ culture. Unless you have some contact with these communities, you simply don’t expect either country to have anything in the way of Rock music. My guess is that most people in Britain would think of Ravi Shankar and sitar music, Bollywood, and possibly Bhangra in connection with Indian music. As regards Pakistan, most of our impressions of the area are reports of terrorism and Islamic militancy. There have, however, been concerts over here of Pakistani musicians performing traditional Sufi music. This shows an entirely different side of these nations’ culture and their music.

Movie Review: Black Sea and Mark Kermode on Countdown to Zero

December 6, 2014

Yesterday a friend and I went to see the submarine thriller, Black Sea. I won’t say too much, as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it. It’s been advertised on the TV, and the basic plot is that a group of British and Russian divers and submariners get together to search for a sunken German submarine lying at the bottom of the Black Sea. The sub’s cargo is a consignment of gold from a loan the Germans extorted from Stalin during the brief period of peace during the Nazi-Soviet pact prior to the Nazi invasion of the USSR. Ethnic tensions between the Brits and the Russians, and personal betrayal leads to a series of catastrophes that eventually scupper the mission and lead to a battle for sheer survival. It’s a taut thriller, with much of the tension derived from the situation of desperate, dangerous men working in a highly confined, dangerous environment, while trying to avoid detection by the authorities.

Despite the ethnic friction between Brits and Russians, I also found the film optimistic in its portrayal of relations between the two nations. The two leading characters, who set it up, one British and one Russian, are friends living in London. Even after the outbreak of violence, the hero and his Russian counterpart continue working together and try to prevent its escalation. Even after the end of the mission, the friendship between the few surviving crew, Russian and British, continues. I liked it, because not only does it show the current reality in that since the fall of Communism, people from the former eastern bloc, including Russia, have come over here to live, work and set up businesses, but that friendship co-operation between Brits and Russians is as much the norm, indeed possibly more normal, than chauvinistic distrust.

Glasnost and the Rise of a Shared Pop/Rock culture

In this respect, it’s a slightly better world than when I was growing up. I was at secondary school during the new Cold War between Reagan, Thatcher and the pre-Gorbachev Soviet Union. It was an absolutely terrifying time, when many people feared that at any second the world would end in a flash of gamma radiation and fall out. There were some truly horrific films, like Threads and The Day After on American TV, showing what a nuclear war and its consequences would be like, along with documentaries about the possibility of a limited nuclear war in Europe. It was very much a cause for celebration when tensions eased when Reagan and Gorby started to talk to each other around the negotiating table in Iceland, and the USSR began to open up to Westerners and western influences. The first pop video I bought was of UB40’s concert in Moscow, not so much because I liked the great Reggae popsters themselves, but because I was fascinated and delighted by the fact that they were now playing live in Russia in front of their fans from that side of the former Iron Curtain.

And the same process happened in reverse too, as Russian bands and clothing became fashionable over here. The USSR always had a very strong youth culture, and they were not as nearly as backward as was often portrayed in the British press. If you believed the Sun – I know, that’s a very big stretch, but go with it – then the young and cool in the Soviet Union had only just caught up with the Beatles in the 1980s. In fact, the Soviets had a large skinhead culture, who were, I was told at College, referred to by the rest of the Soviet press as ‘British horrors’. A massive Heavy Metal rock culture developed extremely rapidly. The greatest and most visible exponents of Soviet Heavy Metal were the mighty Kruiz, who toured the West and whose albums were available over here. I think one of their songs was ‘Heaviest in Town’, in which the singer searches for the heaviest rock band, only to conclude ‘I’ll fly to Moscow for Kruiz’. There were also a number of other Russian bands, who were virtually unknown over here. Martin Walker, the Guardian’s Russia correspondent, tried to make people on this side of the Baltic aware of some of the best and most interesting in his column. There’s a lot of really good rock and pop in Russia and the former eastern bloc states, quite apart from some of the stuff that appears on the Eurovision Song Contest. They’re on Youtube and worth checking out.

Black Sea reflects this changed situation, and I am profoundly glad that it does and the world has moved on and improved just that little bit since the late 70s and early 80s. Moreover, the film’s sympathetic portrayal of the Russian characters shows it’s aimed partly at the Russian market. Its release during this period of strained international relations between Russian and the West over the situation in the Ukraine shows that the friendship and co-operation between Russia and Britain is now considered the natural, normal reality. My deepest hope is that this situation will continue and that our politicians will have the wisdom to build on it, and not let the conflict in Ukraine drag us back to the fear and hatred of the Cold War, that nearly destroyed our world.

Countdown to Zero and the Persistence of the Nuclear Threat

Mark Kermode is the film critic over at Radio 5 live. He’s a very literate commenter, having a doctorate in Horror film. When he was younger, he was the British correspondent for the Horror film magazine, Fangoria, or as he states it was known to aficionados, ‘Exploding Chests Monthly’. His reviews are always interesting and well argued, even if you disagree with him, such as on the subject of the Star Wars films. He dislikes them, while I really loved the first three films, and enjoyed the prequels. He also genuinely appreciates his listeners writing to him and giving their views, even when they take the opposite view to his.

One of the films he reviewed is Countdown to Zero, a documentary about what happened to all the nuclear weapons that were supposedly packed away at the end of the Cold War. The film shows that the weapons and the hair-trigger response systems are still in place. A nuclear bomb is much easier to make than may be thought, and the danger that these could fall into the hands of terrorists and rogue states is very real. The film reveals how at several points after the supposed end of the Cold War, mistakes made by the superpowers could have resulted in a nuclear holocaust. I haven’t seen the movie, but it does sound like a deeply unsettling, thought-provoking movie, and the opposite of the slightly more optimistic vision behind Black Sea. Hopefully, the optimists and peace-makers will win through, and that the world won’t go back to the ideological, economic and nationalistic fears and hate that nearly led to nuclear Armageddon. Countdown to Zero shows that we shouldn’t be complacent, but it does seem that the world is just that little bit better after the end of the Cold War. And we should be profoundly glad of that.

Kermode’s review of Countdown to Zero is on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xfkfn4W_hgM. It’s well worth a listen, especially as it shows we still need to get our politicians working on a truly secure peace.

In Search of Moebius’

September 30, 2013

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After Alan Moore on V for Vendetta, more comic book stuff. Last year, 2012, saw the passing of Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, one of the great auteurs of French, and indeed, world comics. Originally broadcast on BBC 4, I found it on Youtube. It traces the career and work of Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, from his from his modest background, as the child of a single parent following his mother’s divorce. He describes the shock he experienced at art school, when he encountered the better-off, and more polished bourgeois students. He never completed his training, as in his third year his mother married a Mexican, and he went with his mother to live in Mexico. The ancient country’s open landscape of deserts strongly influenced his later work. Back in France he launched the Western comic, Blueberry, scripted by Jean-Michel Charlier.

He then moved on to become one of Les Humanoides Associes, with Bernard Farkas, Philippe Druillet, and others who founded Metal Hurlant. Metal Hurlant was the French original of ‘Heavy Metal’, one of the first adult comics. Heavy Metal was later filmed as a cartoon of the same title. It comprised several individual stories based on the strips in the original comic. The ‘Taarna’ sequence in the movie was based on Moebius ‘Arzach’ strip. He was asked by the Chilean director, Alejandro Jodorowsky, to work on his abortive film version of Dune, providing concept drawings alongside Chris Foss and H.R. Giger. When the film fell through due to budget problems and the reluctance of the major cinema chains in America to screen it, Moebius then went back to comics. He continued to work with Jodorowsky, and together they produced the strips Arzach and The Incal.

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One of the classic images from Arzach.

He returned to the cinema to work once more with Giger and Foss on Alien, where amongst other things he designed the spacesuits worn by the crew of the Nostromo. Back in comics, he and Dan O’Bannon, one of the writers of Alien, created the Long Tomorrow strip, a future ‘noir’ story about a private detective. The vast city depicted in the strip influenced the design of the great metropolis in Ridley Scott’s ‘future noir’, Blade Runner. In 1987 Moebius went to America to work with the mighty Stan ‘the Man’ Lee on the Silver Surfer comic book, Parable. This strip met a mixed reception. Several of the comics’ creators speaking in
the film thought that it was largely well received by the Marvel comics readership.

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Others said that comics fans are quite conservative, and didn’t really like Moebius’ distinctively continental style of story-telling. Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy, was quite critical of the attitude of the American comics industry towards their European cousins. He felt that, although they were impressed with their work and wanted them to work on their comics, they nevertheless did not want them to work in their characteristic manner. Instead, they wanted to fix them so that they conformed to American conventions. Moebius himself was quite content to work on the superhero strip, but the others talking were much less than enthusiastic about the genre. Mike Mignola credited Moebius with inspiring him to leave superheroes behind. Jodorowsky was highly critical about superheroes, and went on to express his complete contempt for them and America. In the 1990s, Moebius once again returned to the cinema to provide the designs for Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element.

The film also touched briefly on his divorce and remarriage. His former partner on Metal Hurlant, Philippe Druillet, noted that wives of comic book artists are all strong women. While the artist simply wants to draw, they’re the ones, who are interested in percentages and the financial side. He believed that they had to be, as comic artists are all really children, who need a mother to protect them.

The film’s talking heads comprise a veritable gallery of some of the leading figures in American and French comics, including Smilin’ Stan Lee, the founder of Marvel, Jamie Lee, the artist on Marvel’s X-Men, Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy, Jodorowsky, Druillet and Moebius himself. In contrast to his bizarre heroes and galaxy-spanning quests, Moebius himself comes across as a quiet, affable man, though one of speakers said that they would be afraid of Moebius the man. The documentary gives a fascinating insight into the life and career of one of the great figures of Science Fiction comics. R.I.P., big man.

Warning: Metal Hurlant was one of the very first adult comics, and inspired similar magazines in America and Britain, such as Epic Illustrated and Warrior, in which Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta first appeared. These comics explored issues around sex, and so a few of the drawings contain sex and nudity.

The movie can also be seen on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNas99oEXBU.

David Bowie: Pop Blasphemy and Big Bucks

May 13, 2013

David Bowie was in the news again last week. According to the Independent, the video for his latest track features a gangster-priest and Bowie himself as a messianic figure. The article on it concluded that whatever the reception the song has, pop music will continue to mock Christianity. Now I’m aware that in writing this post I’m playing into Bowie’s and his promoters’ hands. There’s no such thing as bad publicity, as the saying goes. And as Oscar Wilde, whose trial was very bad publicity indeed, wrote, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. Bowie’s foray into Christian imagery and pop blasphemy nevertheless needs to be critiqued and criticised.

Bowie is an icon of pop ‘cool’. The androgynous look he pioneered in Ziggy Stardust went on to influence Goth and certain forms of Heavy Metal. A veteran of the pop world, it seems that he resurfaces every decade or so to release another album to critical acclaim. He is, or was, the subject of an exhibition at the V&A. Yet in the use of Christian imagery to provoke, amuse or offend, he seems definitely behind the ball. Other pop stars have been doing it for years. Madonna’s more or less built her entire career on it, and it’s part and parcel of various Goth, Industrial and Black Metal bands, like Cradle of Filth. In fact the use of blasphemous or anti-Christian imagery in some pop and rock music is now so much part of the genre, that it’s hardly shocking. Indeed, it’s almost boring. Whatever the dangers of using such images were in the early days of rock’n’roll, it now seems quite safe and calculated to boost sales rather than harm them. The use of imagery from other religions wouldn’t have the same effect. It would either be seen as irrelevant, racist and even dangerous. In the case of Islam, it could result in diplomatic incidents, mass riots and people dead, including the singer. And so it’s easier to pick on Christianity. As countless scandals have shown, a bit of outrage can always be guaranteed to boost sales. And Christianity is a safe target. It might lead to the odd condemnation during a sermon, but that’s about it. You can also count on such anti-Christian images being defended as free artistic expression, or justified comment on an archaic and corrupt institution. The days when such things were really controversial are long gone. Anti-Christian imagery and shock tactics are now pretty much traditional across much of popular culture. In the case of the Heavy Rockers, it’s pretty much a stereotype. Rather than a true revolt against society, it’s now just an empty gesture. It gives the fans the sensation that they’re doing something daring and rebellious, while in fact what they’re doing is simply repeating and rehashing yet another pop cliche. They don’t even have to do something that would genuinely require a little thought and determination, like going on a protest march, joining a political party or activist group, or even standing on the picket lines protesting against the latest library or school closure. Now I’m not saying that Bowie necessarily isn’t politically aware, or that his fans aren’t. I am merely saying that the use of anti-Christian imagery can, and frequently is a substitute for any deeper message. Before Barack Obama’s election galvanised, and continues to polarise, American political opinion, people were increasingly turning away from politics. In Britain membership of the main political parties is in decline, and fewer and fewer people were turning out for elections. Some of this was due to cynicism, a belief that all political parties are the same, and all politicians are self-centred hypocrites and ego-maniacs out to deceive and exploit the electorate. It also has to be said that many people just can’t be bothered to vote. Politics can be boring, as anyone who’s ever attended any kind of committee meeting knows. It can also be highly emotive and confrontational. In addition to this, some of the issues can be arcane and difficult to follow. It’s not for nothing that economics has been ‘the dismal science.’ Why bother being bored and angry, when you can be entertained instead? Just skip the news and watch a pop video instead.

As for Bowie, for all his critical acclaim and adulation, his own heyday was in the ’70s and, to a lesser extent, the ’80’s. I’m not sure what proportion of the public actually buys his records, but my guess is that most of his fans are at least in their 30s or 40s. I doubt he has much impact on the teen market, except as someone held up to them by older connoisseurs as a true icon of pop. And as far as weird and disturbing imagery goes, he faces some extremely stiff competition, like that veteran self-publicist, Lady Gaga. Next to her, Bowie’s anti-Christian posturing looks decidedly old hat. And so once again Christianity is attacked by another publicity-hungry rocker, hoping to make more millions out of album sales.