For a long time, I’ve considered myself a metalhead first and a punk second, even if my musical evolution didn’t really reflect that. I’ve loved punk since I was 15 and riot grrrl since I was 18. I started getting into metal only at around 22, but that’s how I viewed myself since then. Metalhead first.
The other day, I came across the CD For Battles Once Fought by a black folk metal band called Arafel. About five years ago, I used to have only four of their songs on my player, and I saw them live in Jerusalem once at the Yellow Submarine. I recently remembered just how great their show was so I checked their website again to see if they were going to play in Israel again in the near future. They’re not. But before I left their page, I streamed a sample of one of their latest tunes and was blown away by how awesome it is.
I’m not a huge fan of black metal. I’m more of a death metalhead. But Arafel’s style is so unique and incorporates so many elements of metal, they can’t be categorized as purely black. It’s more like black, death, viking, pagan, epic war and folk. Their songs have the machine-gun staccato snare beats of black metal, the headbang-triggering tempo of death metal, the harmonic keyboard, acoustic guitar and violin melodies of folk, death growls, black shrieks, clean folk, all wrapped up into a neat little package along with viking lyrics (in English and Russian) about going off to glorious battle, bravery and triumph. With the added element of the totally goth female violinist, hello? How amazing is that?
That day, I decided that listening to a sample of a song will not be enough. So I streamed the full record on YouTube and felt like I had just discovered metal for the first time, and fell in love with it all over again. I left the office that day with my melted face hanging off my shattered skull in bloody clumps, feeling like I’m walking on fluffy yet pitch black clouds of winter fog. Arafel’s doing, no doubt about it. Still metalhead first.
At home, I also ripped the only CD of God Dethroned I own, before realizing I have their entire collection in the computer, and the songs “The Grand Grimoire”, “Loyal to the Crown of God Dethroned”, “The Crown for the Morbid”, and “The Art of Immolation” reclaimed their rightful place in my mp3 playlist. Along with some songs of Arafel, of course.
I’m rather picky with my metal bands, which is why I’m left completely dumbstruck when I discover a band whose sound fits my preferences so perfectly as it did that moment when I listened to For Battles Once Fought.
Other bands that I listen to today, like Deicide, Decapitated, Cattle Decapitation and even King Diamond, had to go through a long and arduous initiation process through my eardrums before I managed to acquire the taste, appreciate and enjoy their style.
Deicide took me a while because I found Glen’s voice to be too masculine. After two songs, I would say “OK, that’s enough testosterone for one day,” and would switch to Arch Enemy or Decadence. If I went over three songs, I would need some hardcore riot grrrl music to balance myself out.
At one point, I even tried my ears with Morbid Angel. I read some really great reviews about them and expected to be blown away. But the only thing I was blown away by was just how bored I was with their tunes. I tried to listen to them again and again to figure out what it is about them that people find so amazing. Nothing clicked. The more I listened, the more bored and restless I became. I finally dropped them. Boring metal, including doom, sludge and stoner, is so not for me.
With King Diamond, I had trouble with his clean vocals. For me – unless the metal band in question is Black Sabbath – metal was all about the guttural growl. Unless we’re talking about gore; then it’s all about gurgling blood. So when I heard King Diamond’s high-pitched falsetto singing “beyond the graves, lies the gate, the gate that leads to the dead,” like he was in some twisted Broadway Halloween production, I couldn’t help but think “sounds like the Bee Gees are possessed or something.”
But eventually, I acquired the taste and King Diamond is now one of my favorite metal artists, second only to Arch Enemy. Death are a close third. After that come Decadence, Amon Amarth, Deicide, Carcass, Decapitated, Cattle Decapitation and the rest.
With Arafel, there was no need for taste-acquiring. I loved them automatically. I was so surprised by my response to their music that I wondered why there aren’t any more bands out there that could tickle my fancy so suddenly and so completely as Arafel. They are now tied with Amon Amarth on the fifth spot.
I think I should start trying out more genres of metal. Death is great, but this newly resurrected metal grrrl feels like exploring the many ways her eardrums can be shredded and just how far her brains can be splattered. Still metalhead first. Always metalhead first.
Peace, love and the protagonist arrives in a ship and kills the dragon with his mighty ax…