Sunday, 1 July 2012

Dorset - the Wizards of Wimborne

Wimborne Minster seems to be the musical capital of Dorset.  Last month saw the Wimborne Folk Festival take place - folk music, ceilidhs and morris dancers.  It's been going for 33 years and attracts thousands of people from all over Dorset, England and (indeed) the world!  I'm totally down with Morris dancing (skipping around waving handkerchiefs, how hard can it be?), so I decided to challenge myself a little bit by concentrating on Wimborne's other famous musical export, Doom Metal band Electric Wizard.

So what is Doom Metal?

Doom Metal is a sub-genre of Heavy Metal.  It's more extreme or 'heavier' than Heavy Metal, with a slower tempo and a lot of electric guitar, bass guitar and drums.  I must admit, I'm no great fan of Heavy Metal (or Doom Metal!) - I find it repetitive and depressing - but this blog is all about challenging myself to learn new things, so I downloaded the album Electric Wizard and I've been listening to it over the past few weeks.

Stoner Doom

I've learned that within Doom Metal, there are more sub-genres, depending on the kind of Doom Metal a group plays.  Electric Wizard are considered to be a 'Stoner Doom' band, as many of their lyrics refer to drug-taking, especially marijuana or hashish, leading to hallucinations.  Something I like about Electric Wizard is that their lyrics are quite interesting. 

Stone Magnet

Electric Wizard album cover
The first track on the album Electric Wizard is called Stone Magnet - which is a reference to 'getting stoned', but also, I think, doubles up as a reference to the ancient stones that dot the English countryside (Stonehenge being the most famous) and their supposed magnetic qualities.  The lyrics include images like 'the ultraviolet sun' and 'Spinning eye of the Lord' and the hallucinatory effect of smoking dope is described in the line '[I] can see a thousand worlds, right here in my bed'

I'm also including a video from YouTube, so you can listen for yourself.

Other forms of Doom

Other sub-genres of Doom Metal include; Epic Doom (which uses elements of classical music), Sludge Doom (influenced by Punk), Funeral Doom (which uses funeral dirges), Drone Doom and Death Doom.  It's a whole world of Doom that I didn't even know existed!

Religion and Black Sabbath

One of the original 'doom' bands was Black Sabbath and, indeed, Electric Wizard takes their name from a combination of two well-known Black Sabbath songs, The Wizard and Electric Funeral.  I also listened to a bit of Black Sabbath, as I was researching this blog post and, I must admit, I quite liked their first album and I can see it was a very original concept, when it was released in the early 1970's.

One theme across the Doom genres, is the pagan element of the music.  This often comes through as satanism, but I can't help wondering if it's merely an expression of something in English (and Northern European) culture that is pre-Christian?

Evil woman

Metal music, in general, is incredibly male-dominated.  It's all about men dealing with their fear and anxiety and there is hardly any place for a woman to get involved.  Women are either portrayed as being evil witches, who trick men and break their hearts (like Black Sabbath's song, Evil Woman) or helpless virgins whose only purpose in life is to be sacrificed to dark powers, as with Electric Wizard's songs, Devil's Bride and Black Butterfly.

Memories of Ancestral trauma?

It's interesting that Heavy Metal also tends to be dominated by white, 'Anglo-Saxons' or Northern Europeans.  It's been incredibly popular in countries like England, Germany, Sweden, but also amongst descendents of northern Europeans in the United States and Canada. 

Cover of Come my Fanatics
In my first blog post about Dorset, I talked a lot about the 'Celtic Heritage' of England and, listening to the death and destruction of Doom Metal, I can't help but speculate on the ancestral memories of a people who have suffered invasion after invasion - perhaps, musical genres like Heavy Metal have inherited some of that 'ancestral trauma'?  When I listen to the songs of bands like Electric Wizard and Black Sabbath, I hear the voices of pre-Christian paganism, but Anglo-Saxon paganism rather than Celtic paganism. 

English folk songs are often quite violent in their underlying meaning, I'm thinking of songs like John Barleycorn and I wonder if Heavy Metal has inherited an angst and despair that is particularly Germannic?

Environmental Destruction and the Apocalypse

I've learned that Doom Metal is quite Apocalyptic which, in the late 20th-century world of Electric Wizard, has translated into anxiety about environmental destruction.  You just have to listen to songs like Mourning Prayer with its lyrics about 'poison clouds in the sky/Acid rain in my eyes' to see what I mean.  I'm pasting in a video from YouTube below, so you can listen for yourself.

The political side of Doom Metal

At first, it might not seem as though Doom Metal is overtly political, but some of Electric Wizard's lyrics in songs like Mourning Prayer and Stone Magnet deal with the corruption of the political systems 'Politicians, can't they see/Their greed is destroying me' and the despair of young men living in a society where the economic future is bleak 'No hope, no future, no fuckin' job'

Even after listening to Doom Metal for a couple of weeks and trying to understand the concepts behind the music and lyrics, I can't say that I've grown to like it, but I can see how appeals to young, especially teenage, men who are full of anxiety about their place in an increasingly alienated society.

Doom Metal today

Electric Wizard are still recording and touring, in fact, not long before the Wimborne Folk Festival, Doom Metal bands from all over the world, including Electric Wizard, gathered to play at the Maryland Deathfest.  Featuring bands with names like Dying Fetus and Church of Misery - I couldn't think of a worse way to spend my weekend - give me skipping and hankie-waving any day!

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