Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Metal and Moby Dick

Of the Great American Novels, Moby Dick is by far the most metal. Blood Meridian comes in second, and plenty of metal bands owe more to Naked Lunch, For Whom the Bell Tolls or The Stand. But as far as transcendent, irrefutably classic required reading goes, nothing comes close to matching metal's brutality, integrity, ambition and scope as Herman Melville's masterpiece. When trying to describe Moby Dick, I find myself using much of the same language that I use to describe Master of Puppets. The book certainly shares more adjectives with Metallica's creative output than F. Scott Fitzgerald's.

1. Led Zeppelin, "Moby Dick"

The best-known metal tribute to Moby Dick is the first one, the penultimate track on Led Zeppelin's second album (their most metal record, with "Whole Lotta Love," "Heartbreaker" and their best songs about The Lord of the Rings.) It's generally remembered as John Bonham's signature, and some less discerning Zeppelin fans would direct you to a live version first, where Bonham's drum solos could go on for up to 30 minutes. In person, it must have been mind-blowing, but on record you're still best off with the original, a hard-charging instrumetal (sic) that speaks to Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones' talents just as well as Bonzo's. Had they never met Robert Plant, Zeppelin would've been a mighty power trio.

2. Mastodon, Leviathan

Following up the most promising metal debut of the 21st century with a concept album about Moby Dick sounded like the kind of audacious career-killer that bands aren't supposed to make until at least album number five or six. But with Leviathan, Mastodon rewrote the novel as their own magnum opus, sharing a place claimed by Herman Melville for over 150 years. Succeeding where film and TV adaptations failed, Mastodon honored Melville's prose in songs like "Seabeast," "I am Ahab" and "Iron Tusk," while putting their own original stamp on the story with pulverizing riffage and a game-changing drummer. There has never been a more laudable book-to-album adaptation in modern music, metal or otherwise.

3. Demons and Wizards, "Beneath These Waves"

Wearing their Zeppelin influence on their gauntlets, Demons and Wizards covered "Immigrant Song," cited Lord of the Rings and sang of Moby Dick on their 2005 album, Touched by the Crimson King. If Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian) and Jon Schaffer (Iced Earth) didn't quite match Ahab's insanity in this first-person narrative, they definitely conveyed the doggedness and conviction, quoting the captain himself as "madness maddened."

4. Ahab, The Call of the Wretched Sea

German doom metal band Ahab took not just their name but their entire first album from Moby Dick, adapting nearly all of their lyrics from Melville's book. Of course the band rendered said lyrics irrelevant by burying them in death growls and a muddy mix, but that may have been their most Melville-inspired move at all--keeping its mythical beast lurking below.

5. Sodom, "Tribute to Moby Dick"

10 years after Waldo's sonar cries in the "Hot for Teacher" video and 10 years before Gojira pleaded for the whales on "Ocean Planet," Germany's Sodom based an entire song on whale echolocation sounds. Someone probably should have reminded them that sperm whales don't squeak like that (humpbacks do,) but maybe that fact was lost in the German translation. It's still a good song.

No comments: