Four “Sanity’s Sake” Classic Heavy Albums Helping Us Weather the Coronavirus Pandemic
What even is there to say in reaction to all this? Fuck. I mean, what a situation, and a goddamn serious one. It's so much to process at once; no one human can fully realize this dilemma without mentally spinning out of control or melting down. For many, crisis mode has been engaged. And even though we all clearly understand the extremely renewed importance of calm, control, and cleanliness, there's the back of our minds yet to deal with. What's going to happen? How long is this shit going to last? How many people are going to get sick and potentially die? Will the fabric of society resist these tearing forces?
Morbid, and grim, and far too real.
There's nothing profound or affirming we can say right now, really, as a music blog, except of course we wish all of our friends, partners, peers, and everyone else in the scene (and beyond) the absolute best through this fucked-up time. We can only encourage everyone to pitch in together as a community and help the leagues of out-of-work artists, venues, and so many more who routinely struggle already but now struggle to a massively greater degree. And we can only suggest that everyone put aside whatever differences they have and focus on the right for every human to live a healthy, dignified life -- to certainly include mental health as well.
Now is the time for us to feel together and make sure we don't get too cooped-up as we all self-isolate to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. While safe, clean, and secluded indoors, all we can do is keep confiding in the music which releases us, sometimes, from the burden of anxious thought, from the burden of the anxious world outside. It's never a good idea to lose awareness, but your mind's faculties need rest just like the rest of your body. Escape into your favorite album for a while, and breathe.
We'll get through it.
-- Andrew Rothmund
Type O-Negative -- World Coming Down
I've been listening to Type O-Negative's World Coming Down more or less on repeat for the past week. It's on the nose, certainly, but I don't necessarily intend it in the crass and obvious way. I'm prone to anxious fits and catastrophizing, elements that make me decent in political spaces where I can help plan for the worst but, at times, can paralyze me like an iron claw wrapped around my throat.
I learned a long time ago the emotional value of doom metal, music that makes me slow down but, and this is important, not turn away. The idea is pinched from a type of Buddhist meditation that has a long name that's not necessarily worth burdening you with; the gist is to stare deep into death, into sickness, into aging, those primal terrors that form the otherwise nameless anxieties that quietly control the actions of our lives, and to simply witness them.
Music like this, or Pallbearer, or Warning, or upteen others I've had on repeat, help me keep that steady eye on the worst of things but in a placid and serene enough way that I don't necessarily get overwhelmed. My mother is in her 70s, and I just recently got laid off due to the long-tail effects of the virus and the crackdown in response, so its presence is very, very real to me. But I don't want to be destroyed by terror, nor do I want to flail against it with childish bravado that could get me or my loved ones (or strangers) sick, hurt, or dead.
World Coming Down is not a perfect record; I tend to skip "White Slavery" because between stray lyrics and Peter Steele's history of anti-black racism, it's hard to stomach. But the general deathward tone of the rest of the album, both in pacing and timbre, let alone the lyrics, feels like a fruitful if painful meditation, something I've been in desperate need of as the well of words seems to dry beneath me in the wake of this choking terror that is potentially threatening to kick me onto the streets.
Danzig -- Danzig III: How the Gods Kill
Danzig's first two albums were iconic: gothic-tinged blues metal with devastatingly cool riffs and the signature howls of the former Misfits singer, now stepping fully out on his own after briefly delving more into heavy metal territory via the short-lived Samhain. Danzig III: How the Gods Kill is still primarily blues-driven, but the vaguely mystical shroud that cloaks his material blossoms to fully envelop the swampy metal, drawing the listener in and whisking them away to bloody, dangerous halls where we can hope to learn (among other things) how the gods kill.
As a whole, it probably stands as the best single album to encompass Danzig's solo sound. The title track is a great example: we're launched from an unforgettable, chilling atmospheric introduction into full-bore evil blues (the riff on this song will forever rank above my favorites), and it's a transition that will steal your heart away. The rest of the album includes a variety of stylings: the bizarre, fill-packed opener "Godless," ballads like "Sistanas," and, most critically, a one-two punch at the end with two of the strongest songs, "Do You Wear the Mark" and "When the Dying Calls."
Both songs pack killer riffs and, most importantly, a preternatural danger that couldn't exist in our banal reality.
The atmosphere the album creates, along with its peaks and valleys of volume and energy, takes me on a left-hand path away from the mundanely scary stuff in life and into a realm where the worries are more thrilling: maybe I'll speak the wrong word into a dying flame and find myself trapped inside the flickering light, or I'll invite a spirit over from beyond the threshold of a mirror. There's rather few albums out there that can transport me so completely and conjure an electrifying sense of escapism. In Danzig's world, blood should run up the walls, and right now, that doesn't sound so bad.
Blind Guardian -- Nightfall in Middle-Earth
It’s easy to become consumed by the fear and panic these days even when consuming the most level-headed of reporting about the COVID-19 pandemic. For someone who is a bit of a news junkie like myself, who maybe can stomach more troubling accounts than most, this still feels like maximum stress overload. It’s best now that we relax however we can, and for me, that’s so far been best met within distractions worlds away from what we’re all dealing with. It’s been the combination of, and the relatively new phenomenon of, delving into dense literary lore via summary and analysis online along with one of my earliest favorite metal albums in Blind Guardian’s Nightfall in Middle-Earth.
This album was an early touchstone for myself as a burgeoning metalhead and while more extreme forms of metal have in large part surpassed much of my interest in power metal, Blind Guardian is still one of the few bands from the genre that I’m still captivated by.
I loved Nightfall in Middle-Earth from the beginning for being close enough to the speed and thrash metal I first fell in love with, like Metallica and Megadeth, while at the same time incorporating baroque musical flourishes along with vocal harmonies and composition that harken to an even earlier musical love of mine in Freddie Mercury and Queen -- such a connection was not just a fantasy, though, as Blind Guardian previously covered Queen’s “Spread Your Wings” and their subsequent album A Night at the Opera was a clear enough wink to Queen’s identically named 1975 album. What escaped me as a young teen hesher was the exact connections the album had to J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings epic lore prequel The Silmarillion, a tome not like a modern novel but far more in common to mythic histories like The Iliad, the norse Eddas, and The Bible.
Fortunately the Internet these days provides plenty of avenues to comprehend such a work, as I’ve found guidance from YouTube channel CivilizationEx (in particular their videos on the Before the Ages and the First Age) and Reddit user Edledhron’s post regarding all sorts of context into the album.
All these (and more) have illuminated so much of the meaning behind an album I’ve already dearly treasured while also keeping me away from too much anxiety inducing news updates. In these times of needing to defeat both helpless panic and mind numbing boredom, I suggest diving into either a favorite album from youth or into mythical worlds never personally explored before. If you want, both then perhaps let Nightfall in Middle-Earth be your first stop.
Death -- The Sound of Perseverance
I usually seek invigorating music when I need to keep my head on straight, especially during anxious times. Maybe it has something to do with distraction, but I think it's more about attention: anything flat or unembellished won't occupy enough of my erratic mind to maintain focus. This is so definitely not an issue with The Sound of Perseverance -- every Chuck Schuldiner riff throughout its one-hour runtime bleeds on sharp hooks and biting edge, it's impossible to ignore any part of it. And, my god, how effortless this music coalesces, almost to the point that you lose sight of just how much raw talent was present.
A lot of "classic" metal albums feel "classic" -- The Sound of Perseverance is still modern and probably always will be.
When albums like this ascend to "forever great" status, their reputations can begin to precede the music -- also, repeat listens again and again can wear things down even further. An odd counter-effect of this virus pandemic is that the anxious mindset it manifests is actually fertile breeding ground for worn old hits. They will slap, kick, and whip with renewed vigor and enthusiasm, guaranteed -- Death, for one, I've listened to a hell of a lot. But it's been a while, and I'm finding The Sound of Perseverance in particular to hit the sweetest of spots.
Oh, and that Judas Priest cover. Fuck yes.