The Mayor: Playlist

The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that as of early Sunday morning there is a new page on my website underneath the section dedicated to my WIP, The Mayor. It contains a playlist.

Yes, as is fashionable nowadays (cheers, Stephenie Meyer) I have decided to share with you the music and songs that have either heavily inspired The Mayor or remind me of certain characters. I’ve had this playlist for years and years now (The Mayor has been brewing since roughly 2008). The other night I rediscovered it and made the dreadful mistake of putting it on at 1am thinking that it might help me sleep. Two hours later I was wide-awake, buzzing with ideas, scribbling frantically in my Evernote and cursing myself because I had to get up in a few hours to help walk my boyfriend’s dog. I think this means the playlist does its job…

I’ve put the songs in some form of vague chronological order so that you might be able to glean elements of the plot just by listening, although some songs e.g. ‘Identity Tokens’ and ‘Happy Birthday (My Olde Friend)’ don’t even correspond directly with the plot, they just conjure up a very particular atmosphere or character’s plight that inspires me to write. Others are more explicit e.g. ‘Trust Me’, ‘Electioneering’ and ‘In All My Dreams I Drown’ relate to very specific scenes. Others simply tell of a character’s motivations e.g. ‘Building Ships’ is Jaspher’s theme, ‘The Night’ is John’s and so on. The most important song on the playlist for me is without a doubt Rasputina’s ‘The Mayor’, which is the song that inspired the book in its entirety as well as its title. Rather unfortunately I could only find the live version on Spotify, but it serves the same purpose.

The playlist is largely devoid of my usual metal fare and is instead littered with baroque-goth sea shanties. It should hopefully successfully transport any listener to an 18th century shipping town riddled with pirates, sex-scandals and political corruption.

Click here to listen, and enjoy!

S.E. Berrow

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“Like symphonic metal, War Of The Worlds and Tubular Bells had a baby.” ~ Ayreon’s new single, ‘The Day That The World Breaks Down’

Just a flying visit on my blog today to spread the word of something that’s got me really excited and inspired.

I had a new musical discovery this morning after following a link on Tommy Karevik (lead singer of Kamelot)’s Facebook page. The link led me to Ayreon, a musical project masterminded by Arjen Anthony Lucassen.

arjen

I believe that Ayreon is considered ‘old news’ in the world of metal — I’ve definitely heard the name before — but it’s not something I’ve ever really looked into. Wikipedia describes the nature of the project best so I’m just going to lift it straight from there:

Ayreon’s music is described as progressive rock, progressive metal and power metal sometimes combined with genres such as folk, electronica, experimental and classical music. The majority of Ayreon’s albums are dubbed “rock operas” (or “metal operas”) because the albums contain complex storylines featuring a host of characters, usually with each one being represented by a unique vocalist.

The link led me to new single ‘The Day That The World Breaks Down’ from Ayreon’s upcoming album, The Source:

ayreon-the-source

Tommy posted the link because he is playing one of the characters on the album (the Opposition Leader). Other musicians that I love involved in the project are Epica’s Simone Simons (playing the Counselor) and Nightwish’s Floor Jansen (playing the Biologist).

Anyways, intrigued, I listened to the song, watched the video and… whoa. Just… whoa. Check it out for yourself! The video comes complete with text-commentary about the story, characters and instrument-geekery from Arjen too:

For me personally, it’s like all my favourite aspects of symphonic metal, Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds, and Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells had a baby. I am completely in love with it, and I’ve already pre-ordered myself the earbook (signed by Arjen!):

mtr75156_signed_450

Anyways, just wanted to share!

Take care,

S.E. Berrow


For more information on Arjen Anthony Lucassen, Ayreon and The Source project, follow the below link:

http://www.arjenlucassen.com/

Christmas Music: S.E. Berrow Edition

As I explained at length last year, I absolutely love Christmas. The cold weather, the Christmas lights, putting up my tree a month early, wrapping up presents, watching tat on the tele, being overly critical of supermarket Christmas adverts (Sainsbury’s, this is what you produce after last year’s triumph? Hang your heads in shame) and of course, all the yummy food.

There is however one aspect of Christmas that I absolutely cannot stand, and that is the hideously repetitive Christmas music that plays on all the radios and TV adverts.

I’m certain I’m not alone in this. It’s the same songs every single year: Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’, Slade’s ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’, Wizzard’s ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day’ (Do you really, Wizzard? I mean, really think about it for a second… Do you?), East 17’s ‘Stay Now’, The Pogues’ ‘Fairytale Of New York’… Yes, that’s right, I hold the rather unpopular opinion that I would quite happily never listen to ‘Fairytale Of New York’ by the Pogues ever again. Widely regarded by my friends and family as the Greatest Christmas Song ever written, I personally think they only love it because they get to say a really offensive word halfway through that they’d be horrified to use in real life. Don’t bother arguing with me, Said-Friends; you know it to be true!

‘Fairytale Of New York’ aside, it is not the Christmas songs themselves that wind me up. Objectively, ‘All I Want For Christmas’ is a cracking pop song, the lyrics of ‘Christmas Wrapping’ by the Waitresses are hilariously relatable, Jona Lewie’s ‘Stop The Cavalry’ continues to be painfully relevant after the politically turbulent year we’ve just had, and Nat King Cole’s ‘The Christmas Song’ prompts amazingly nostalgic memories from my childhood. No, what really irritates me is that the radio DJs and retail marketing departments refuse to acknowledge any Christmas songs released post-1995, and no, wistful indie-rock covers by a softly-spoken female vocalists for the latest John Lewis advert definitely do not count. If an artist does release an original Christmas song (e.g. the excellent ‘One More Sleep’ by Leona Lewis from 2013), it’s promoted for a single season and then never heard again…

However, as you may have gathered if you’ve followed my blog for a while, I love music, and I’m used to my favoured genres and artists not being played on the radio and on shop floors. So what does one do when they wish to escape the inane dirge but still get into the Christmas spirit? Why, listen to something else of course!

Here are just a few of my favourite alternative Christmas jams:

 

1. ‘We Three Kings’ – Abney Park (Through Your Eyes On Christmas Eve, 2012)

I am aware of the irony of presenting a traditional Christmas song to be first on my list after harping on about a lack of originality in Christmas music for several paragraphs, however Abney Park’s trademark steampunk sound unleashed on this particularly dark and morbid hymn is what makes this song stand out. “Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume breathes a life of gathering gloom; sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in a stone-cold tomb”.

 

2. Candy Cane Children – The White Stripes (Merry Christmas From The White Stripes, 2002)

I have fond memories of being rather obsessed with this song around Christmas 2005; I’d only just ‘discovered’ the White Stripes that November. It’s a stripped-back slightly morbid number that vaguely references seasonal depression and/or school shootings… I think! The title is a reference to die-hard fans of the White Stripes, known as Candy Cane Children, and the lyric “Nobody knows how to talk to children” was also the title of a pulled documentary. I really love the dark tones of the lyrics and, as always with White Stripes songs, the guitar riff is damned catchy and hits you right in the gut.

 

3. ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ – Melora Creager (Egg Nog Edition, 2013)

egg-nog-edition

Sadly I cannot find a streamable version of this song anywhere for you to listen to, or indeed any evidence on the internet that this ever existed at all… but it definitely does, because I own a copy! Like ‘We Three Kings’ (and along with the ‘Carol of the Bells’), ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ is one of my favourite Christmas carols, so to hear my favourite musician of all time give such a beautiful, minimalist rendition accompanied by both acoustic and electric cello is quite something. Melora Creager is the founder, lead singer and cellist in the pioneering chamber rock outfit, Rasputina.

 

4. Gothic Christmas – Within Temptation (Mother Earth Tour DVD easter egg, 2003)

Within Temptation’s ‘Gothic Christmas’ is what happens when a symphonic metal band puts their mind to writing an original Christmas song. Objectively speaking, this song’s production is pretty terrible, Sharon Del Adel’s usually strong, delicate voice sounds strained, and the music lacks Within Temptation’s usual orchestral punch. The lyrics however poke brilliant fun at the band’s own genre, and I love it: “Santa’s going to grunt in Latin and slay a dragon or two. Rudolph, he will change his name, ‘cause Rudolph just sounds really lame. Now we’ll call him Ragnagord, our evil reindeer overlord. His nose it shall be red no more, it will be blackened to the core!”

 

5. Jingle Hell – Christopher Lee (A Heavy Metal Christmas Too, 2013)

This one is more of a novelty song than anything. Christopher Lee, he of the operatic bass voice, is a little-known huge fan of the symphonic metal genre. Lee actually released his first metal album, Charlamagne: By The Sword And The Cross at the ripe old age of 88, because nothing keeps an ex-Nazi hunter down. From that point onward, he released metal-renditions of Christmas carols every year up until his death in June 2015. ‘Jingle Hell’ was his second offering, and you can hear him talk about it here.

What a legend.

 

6. ‘Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End)’ – The Darkness (2003)

Unlike other songs featured on my list, this song by early 00s glam-rock band The Darkness does actually very occasionally get some airtime. Released in 2003, X Factor was having a year off for reasons I cannot remember, so we actually had a genuine race to reach the Christmas no. 1 spot for the first time in God knows how long. Unfortunately this track lost out to a cover of Tears For Fears’ ‘Mad World’ by Gary Jules and Michael Andrews (a beautiful song, but hella depressing to listen to at Christmas and not exactly what I would call festive). Despite reaching the same point in the charts as The Pogues and Mariah Carey, The Darkness’ genuinely joyful and celebratory offering hardly ever gets played on the radio, and is usually relegated to Christmas compilation CDs.

 

7. ‘Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!’ – Dean Martin (A Winter Romance, 1959)

Christmas With Nat And Dean (1990) soundtracked my childhood Christmases. This song is my favourite off of that album (and frequently named as my absolute favourite ever Christmas song), and it just reminds me of being all warm and cosy and sheltered in front of the fire and unwrapping all the beautiful gifts that my mummy and daddy had got for me that year, surrounded by family, toys and good food.

 

8. This Ain’t New Jersey – Smith & Burrows (Funny Looking Angels, 2011)

The most recent addition to my list of favourite Christmas songs, ’This Ain’t New Jersey’ is a simply beautiful ballad sung by Tom Smith (Editors) about a couple having a huge trivial fight over the use of the American name ’Santa Claus’ instead of the English ‘Father Christmas’. The protagonist of the song expresses disillusionment with the Christmas period pretty much in line with this blog post (“Those same old songs every single year, we drink, we sing and forget the things we need to hear”), only to eventually get snowed in with his partner in the pub on Christmas Eve. When the fight fizzles out the next day, he is able to set aside the stress and commercialism of the period and remembers to say that he loves his partner very much after all. I love the song’s relatability, melancholy and honesty, and the fact it still manages to have a happy ending. Just beautiful.

 

I hope that you enjoyed this post and that you feel enlightened and inspired to seek out other alternative tracks to listen to this Christmas!

Take care,

S.E. Berrow

“Suckerpunch the demons from my dreams.” ~ Delain release their new single, ‘Suckerpunch’

DelainDelain – one of the more accessible symphonic metal outfits, hailing from the Netherlands – just released the official music video for their new single ‘Suckerpunch’. The song is taken from the upcoming Lunar Prelude EP, due for release on 19 February.

My goodness. It is stonkingly good. With a rousing chorus, a combination of synths and symphonic elements and a pretty decent, slick video to boot (metal videos are notoriously cheesy) lead singer Charlotte Wessels is sounding sublime. Plus – and this is very exciting – and they have a new guitarist… a female guitarist! Her name is Merel Bechtold and it’s just so refreshing to see a feminine face in a metal musician lineup. Merel, welcome!

I must confess I wasn’t all that excited about Lunar Prelude (I’d always rather listen to a full album), but I most definitely am now!

Lunar Prelude

Have a listen yourself and let me know what you think:

Take care… and keep it metal! \m/

S.E. Berrow


Visit Delain’s official website for information on Lunar Prelude and more:

http://www.delain.nl/

For more information on newcomer Merel Bechtold, she has her own website here:

http://www.merelbechtold.com/

 

King Of Kings by Leaves’ Eyes: Album Review

King of KingsKing of Kings is the sixth studio album from German-Norweigan symphonic and folk metal band, Leaves’ Eyes. Formed in 2003, the group is fronted by former Theatre of Tragedy singer, Liv Kristine. Her gorgeous, soft melodic vocals are accompanied by the death-growls of her husband, Alexander Krull, whose band Atrocity form the remainder of the line-up:

Liv Kristine Espenæs Krull: clean vocals
Alexander Krull: keyboards, growls
Thorsten Bauer: guitar, bass
Pete Streit: guitar
Joris Nijenhuis: drums

The lyrical content of Leaves’ Eyes albums almost always revolve around Norse mythology and Viking history, and King of Kings is no different. This is a concept album about the life of Harald “Fairhair” Hårfagre, the first King of Norway, whose naval victory at the Battle of Harsfjord in 872 united Norway into one country. The end result is quite simply stunning.

Tracklisting:Leaves' Eyes

  1. Sweven
  2. King Of Kings
  3. Halvden The Black
  4. The Waking Eye
  5. Feast Of The Year
  6. Vengeance Venom
  7. Sacred Vow
  8. Edge Of Steel (feat. Simone Simons of Epica)
  9. Haraldskvæði
  10. Blazing Waters (feat. Lindy-Fay Hella of Wardruna)
  11. Swords In Rock

The album opens with the introductory track ‘Sweven’, which is an old Norse word for “dream” or “vision”. With its gorgeous folk opening, fiddle, harpsichord-sound, steady drumbeat and Norweigan lyrics, the title seems completely perfect as we are transported back in time to Harald’s childhood. It runs seamlessly into the album’s title track, ‘King of Kings’, which quite frankly is the best symphonic metal song I have heard in a long, long time. Whilst ‘Sweven’ served as an introduction to this track, ‘King of Kings’ serves as an introduction to the album itself, introducing the concept and themes of what is to come. Continuing in the vein of its predecessor with dream-like chimes and percussion, it then storms through with stirring choirs in the form of the London Voices choir. The symphonic elements from the White Russian Symphony Orchestra positively soar alongside Liv’s pure, faultless vocals and Alex’s understated growls. The effect is absolutely outstanding.

Things turn up a notch for ‘Halvden The Black’, a song about Harald’s father (there is some debate as to where the ‘Black’ in his name comes from, whether it be his hair colour, the colour of his skin or the ice-covered river he drowned in). The opening bars and battle-chants remind me a little of the soundtrack to Skyrim (an RPG video-game by Bethesda, 2011). The choir and Alex’s growls are much more prominent here, conjuring dramatic images of death and destruction. The effect is very exciting, and bound to be a lot of fun to hear and play live… I have a ticket to their upcoming gig at the O2 Academy, Islington on 10 November, and I can’t wait!

The next track, ‘The Waking Eye’, starts out as though it is going to be a lovely ballad with Liv’s beautifully soft vocals but soon develops into something a little more mid-tempo. ‘The Waking Eye’ has a slightly Eurovision feel to it and although it’s not a personal album highlight, I think it is one of the more accessible songs Leaves’ Eyes have put out. It was the lead single from the album and it’s a good choice because the breakdown is surprisingly heavy, which acts as a good taster for the overall sound of King of Kings.

The fifth track ‘Feast of the Year’ is a short, pipe-ridden interlude that leads into the rousing, galloping riff of ‘Vengeance Venom’. This is a celebratory-sounding Viking feasting song that invites the listener to fill up their drinking horn and go dance around the mead hall. The lyrics however tell of a disagreement between Harald and his father over some stolen food and a Sami suspect, whom Harald saves and in turn earns the trust and aid of the Sami people. Despite cries of ‘vengeance, venom, pillage, plunder!’ this song has such an infectiously joyous feel to it, and is another personal album highlight.

‘Sacred Vow’ brings us back to a more symphonic, epic sound with a truly great sing-along chorus. The lyrical content deals with Harald’s proposal of marriage to Princess Gyda Eiriksdatter of Hordaland. She refused and demanded that he first become the sole ruler of Norway. In dedication to his cause, Harald gave a sacred vow to cut neither his beard nor hair until he had fulfilled Gyda’s wishes, hence how he came to be known as Harald “Fairhair”. In ‘Edge of Steel’ Harald makes good on his vow and goes to battle against all those who oppose him. Here I think is where the album falls down a little for me. I was really excited to see from the track-listing that Simone Simons was to provide a guest vocal on this song, however considering how soft and light Liv’s voice usually is compared to Simone’s powerful operatic soprano, it’s actually really very difficult to pick her out (hint: from what I can hear, she alternates with Liv during the verses and sings alongside her during the chorus). In fact, if I didn’t know Simone was there, I would never have known! This was a big disappointment for me, and overshadowed my perception of the track as a whole, but it been growing on me since.

Things slow right down during the truly beautiful ‘Haraldskvæði’, a song based on a poem of the same name which consists of a conversation between an unnamed Valkyrie (handmaids of Odin who conduct slain Norse warriors from the battlefields to Valhalla) and a valravn (a supernatural raven of the slain). It is a homage to the fallen warriors of battle, and the soft pipes in the background alongside the chants of the London Voices choir give it a distinctly Lord of the Rings feel (which makes sense as the London Voices choir also worked on the Lord of the Rings soundtrack).

The climax of the album and Harald’s life comes in the form of ‘Blazing Waters’, which features spiritual chanting from Lindy-Fay Hella of Nordic-folk band Wardruna before morphing into a heavy medieval-sounding track with some truly fantastic electric violin, crashing guitars and aggressive, haunting vocals. Every symphonic metal album has an ‘epic’ song on it that lasts a bit longer than the others, and this is King of Kings’ one, telling the story of the great Battle of Harsfjord. At this stage for me personally, it’s not the most memorable or standout of tracks, but that may simply be a matter of simply getting used to it and unpicking all the layers. It does have an absolutely gorgeous ending though with some more ambient vocals from Lindy-Fay. In fact whilst writing this review it has grown on me massively already.

Sverd I Fjell by Martin F.
Photo by Martin F. The Sverd I Fjell monument was created by sculptor Fritz Røed from Byrne and was unveiled by King Olaf V of Norway in 1983. The largest sword represents Harald “Fairhair” Hårfagre and the smaller swords represent the petty-kings he defeated. The monument as a whole is said to represent peace, as the swords are thrust into rock and thus can never be moved.

The albums closer, ‘Swords In Rock’, is named for the monument of the same name (or Sverd I Fell in Norweigan) erected in 1983 as a monument to the Battle of Harsfjord, bringing us back to the modern-day and the present. With sword-slash sound effects, cheesy wolf howls and a galloping fiddle perhaps a little overly reminiscent of ‘Vengeance Venom’, this light-hearted fun track is on the face of it an odd way to end such an intense listening experience as King of Kings, but makes sense I suppose in the context of looking back through history.

I’ll be honest, I seem to have missed out listening to a load of Leaves’ Eyes albums between their third album and this one. In fact I’ve only ever heard two of their albums before – Lovelorn and Njord – and so I’ve always associated them with making soft, beautiful music to fall asleep to. This album is so much more epic and dramatic than I could ever have hoped for and I absolutely love it. I definitely need to check out some of their more recent releases.

Truly stunning, and one of my favourite albums of the year so far.

Verdict: 5/5

S.E. Berrow


Leaves’ Eyes official website:

http://www.leaveseyes.de/

Fancy a listen? Check out these officially-released videos of some of the tracks reviewed above:

‘Halvden The Black’: https://youtu.be/KNqfIxjKFjo
‘The Waking Eye’: https://youtu.be/GWQQ1Gxo7sc
‘King Of Kings’: https://youtu.be/c_vYIT2sxo0

Official websites of guest musicians:

http://epica.nl/
http://www.wardruna.com/

Sunday Night Piratey-Metal Goodness

I just found out that power metal band Amberian Dawn have a new album out this Friday called Innuendo… this is very exciting news! Clearly I have been living in some kind of goth-cave to have only discovered this at the eleventh hour.

Amberian Dawn | Innuendo

I still haven’t got my mitts on a copy of Leaves’ Eyes King of Kings yet either, which quite frankly is a travesty. God, payday can’t come soon enough…

Leaves' Eyes | King of Kings

Anyways, Amberian Dawn’s latest track, ‘Fame And Gloria’, is pirate-themed and pretty catchy, and seeing as my book The Mayor has pirates in it, it seemed pretty on point and I thought I’d share. Enjoy!

I hope you all had a wonderful weekend.

Take care,

S.E. Berrow


Be sure to check out Amberian Dawn and Leaves’ Eyes’ official websites:

http://amberiandawn.com/
http://www.leaveseyes.de/