IC2S Playlist Update 28/10/2015

First up this week is “God Is Dead?” by Black Sabbath from their latest album 13. I wrote a short article about this song almost 2 years ago*, claiming that the song was in fact the opposite of the anti-religious song that it appears to be on the superficial level. I still hold fast to this interpretation of course, and it has caused the song to endear on me ever since its release. I hadn’t heard it in quite some time though, until a couple weeks ago when my internet radio station of choice put it on and reignited by love for this song.

Also, I just love how the song sounds. The dark, religious imagery is very effective, and the song has an unmistakable twinge of menace throughout it. It’s just a great example of modern metal and proof that Black Sabbath still have talent and relevance even after a career spanning four decades.

Secondly, we have “Normandy” by Project 86 from their album Rival Factions. Rival Factions was a really strange album for Project 86. From what I understand, there seemed to be lots of frustration within the band about their musical direction – some of them wanted to branch out their sound, and I imagine that there was frustration over the control exercised by frontman Andrew Schwab. The band’s drummer ultimately left prior to Rival Factions‘ recording, while the other bandmates (except for Schwab) would all leave as well by the time that the next album was complete. These frustrations are clearly the primary driving force behind Rival Factions, as the title points out. The album has a really diverse sound: they’ll use their traditional post-hardcore sound for a couple songs, then they’ll break into metalcore, then a straight-up rock song. The resulting album isn’t entirely cohesive and has an extremely short runtime of just over 30 minutes, which makes it probably my least-favourite Project 86 album**… I mean, I still enjoy it, but it’s a bit of a blemish on Project 86’s otherwise extremely consistent discography.

Anyway, “Normandy” is probably the song which most directly addresses the background struggles of Rival Factions. In high school, right as I was getting into Project 86, I was actually going to do a presentation on this song for a class where we were supposed to interpret a poem or song. It’s probably a good thing that I never did this presentation (I got my wisdom teeth taken out the day I was supposed to present so I got off scot-free), because even now I still have a fuzzy idea of what it all means. The song seems to very cryptically use the metaphor of a head-on collision to represent the opposing wills of individuals leading to a severing of ties.

*Side note: two freaking years ago? Where has the time gone?!?
**The only other album of theirs that I think is rather weak and might actually be my least-favourite now is their latest release, Knives to the Future. The album is pretty well-done I’ll admit, but very few of the songs stand out and I can’t help but be disappointed that their hardcore sound has been toned down significantly. Again – still a good album, but I just found it a tad disappointing and not the same high bar that Project 86 usually hits for me.

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Quick Fix: God is Dead?

If you listen to rock music on the radio, there’s a good chance you’ve heard Black Sabbath’s lead single off their new album, 13, “God is Dead?”. On my local rock station, you can be pretty much guaranteed to hear it a few times per day as the DJ gleefully declares “I’m loving this new song, it’s ‘GOD IS DEAD’!” When I first heard the song, I thought that it was just another song decrying the complete evils of religion and how God can’t exist. This actually surprised me because I was under the impression that Ozzy Osbourne is actually Christian (or at the very, very least agnostic), so if he was suddenly preaching that God is dead then he must have undergone a drastic, life-changing event of some sort. Basically, I took the song at face value, something which I imagine many more casual listeners would do – both religious (“Bah, the Prince of Darkness praises Satan once again…”) and atheist (“Woo you tell those religious sheeple Ozzy!”). However, there’s a major component of the song which doesn’t carry over to the radio listener and that’s the question mark at the end of the title. That punctuation mark makes all the difference to the meaning of the song. After hearing the song a couple times and actually listening to the lyrics, I began to detect the ambiguity contained within the interplay between declaration (“God is dead”) and questioning (“Is God really dead?”). Ultimately, I think that the song is leaving the decision up to the interpreter to decide.

Despite the doom-and-gloom tone of the song, it’s actually pretty inoffensive… well, unless you consider any attack on religious fanatics indefensible I suppose. In fact, “God is Dead?” is arguably commendable for a theist since it’s a major mainstream song which tackles one of the greatest philosophical religious questions – if God exists, then why do bad things happen? And why do God’s own followers commit atrocities in His name? In any case, I’m glad to see that “God is Dead?” isn’t the aggressively atheistic song that it appears to be at first glance… and as for Ozzy’s stance on this interpretation, it sounds pretty clear to me.

Thinking about “God is Dead?” also makes me think about religious music in general. I’m sure that there are still many religious people who would write off “God is Dead?” even with this interpretation, despite the sense of hope at its core. What defines “Christian” music? If “God is Dead?” was released by, say, Demon Hunter instead of Black Sabbath, would it be accepted? I’m inclined to think that it would. Why do Christian review sites, like the Childcare Action Project, condemn a very pro-faith movie like Signs for “blasphemy” when said blasphemy was part of the hero’s journey to redemption?* Similarly, there’s the issue of Christian musicians in general, which I think is best demonstrated by, of all bands, Korn. Yes, the Korn that’s famous for such songs as “A.D.I.D.A.S.” (aka, “All Day I Dream About Sex”). In 2005, Korn’s lead guitarist, Brian “Head” Welch left the band because he had converted to Christianity and broke his addition to methamphetamines. He then turned to a Christian music career. Meanwhile Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu, Korn’s bassist, also converted to Christianity but decided that he could reach out to more people if he stayed with the band. This is a very interesting conundrum for Christians in the music industry: Christian music is largely a niche with a very limited reach, mostly concentrated on an already-Christian audience. However, if the artist stays in the mainstream then they risk having their message diluted. It’s a very difficult balancing act and I don’t think there’s a correct approach… but it’s interesting to note that Head’s back with Korn once again (predictably, this has pissed off some uptight Christians who Head soundly trounces on his Facebook page). I’ve never given a shit about a Korn album, but I’m excited to see how The Paradigm Shift turns out and hear if more positive aspects find their way in…

*From their website, they state that “The CAP Analysis Model makes no scoring allowances for trumped-up “messages” to excuse or for manufacturing of justification for aberrant behavior or imagery, or for camouflaging such ignominy with “redeeming” programming. Disguising sinful behavior in a theme plot does not excuse the sinful behavior of either the one who is drawing pleasure or example from the sinful display or the practitioners demonstrating the sinful behavior.” This is just unthinkably stupid. As I showed in my interpretation of “God is Dead?”, context is absolutely everything. This is the sort of inflexibility that makes evangelicals look like total tools…
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