Theme Thursday: Storytellers Pt. I

I like stories.  Most of my favorite things revolve around great narratives; movies, video games, books, etc.  So when a band releases a concept album that revolves around a story of some kind I tend to get all kinds of excited.  Sometimes, more often than not, the stories in music are laid out in an abstract way nudging the listener to delve deeper into the music listening to not just the word that are sung but how the music also works in tandem with the lyrics creating narrative unlike any other entertainment genre.  Here are a few albums that tell a great story.  What’s your take on these albums?  What are some of your favorite narrative driven concept albums?  Enjoy!  Peace Love and Metal!

Blind Guardian – Nightfall in Middle Earth

This one is kind of cheating because it is completely based upon J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth origin book The Silmarillion.  The songs don’t follow the chronological order of the book, but instead highlight different scene from the novel.  The parts that Blind Guardian chose to use for Nightfall… revolve around the wars, battles, and betrayals of the gods who created Middle Earth.  One of my favorite songs off the album is “Nightfall” which recounts when ‘evil’ gods Melkor and Ungolianth destroyed the trees which give light to the world and brought upon a perpetual nightfall, causing the Noldor (the Elves) to change their peaceful ways and swear revenge.

Pain of Salvation – BE

In many stories through out time storytellers have conjured up countless tales revolving around the questions “who is God?”, “why are we here?”, and “what is the meaning of life?”.  BE is Pain of Salvation‘s deep and interesting take on the subjects.  Told in 3 parts BE begins with an all-powerful being asking who it is and when it came to be, as if even God is unsure how He became to be and says the line “I will call myself God and I will spend the rest of forever trying to figure out who I am”.  He then goes on to create the world and the character Imago, who is a reflection of himself in the flesh meant to represent humanity, to better understand who He is.  Fast forward years into modern times and we meet our main character Mr. Money.

Mr. Money is the most powerful and rich person in human history and represents the dark side of us.  And along with Dea Pecuniae, the female representation of sin, they take form of the Adam and Eve of the story.  Mr. Money is extremely arrogant and self-centered and is becomes obsessed with becoming immortal.  He invests almost all the money from his efforts in cryogenics in order to make his immortal dreams a reality by freezing himself and not to be awakened until he becomes immortal.  Which he does do in a sense, becoming the God of Ruin.

There is also the story of the Nauticus, which is an extremely intelligent space probe, which travels the universe searching for the answers which can save Earth (read: Humanity) from itself.  All 3 of these story lines tie into each other and in the end deliver a remarkable album that tackles the ‘meaning of life’ question excellently and with tact.  One of Pain of Salvation‘s most powerful pieces of music on the album is the touching track “Vocari Dei” where the band asked fans to call in and leave a message on ‘God’s answering machine’.

The Sword – Warp Riders

As an homage to the cheesy sci-fi novels and landmark rock opera albums (Operation: Mindcrime in particular) that The Sword front man J.D. Cronise grew up with and loved, Warp Riders tells the tale of an outcast and his quest to restore his home-world’s balance.  As the album is more of a soundtrack to Cronise’s story “The Night the Sky Cried Tears of Fire” the narrative in the album is a bit incomplete, but anyways, its concept is intact and is entertaining.

A planet called Archeron floats in space and has come to a predicament where it finds itself with 3 suns perpetually shining on one half of the planet while the other exists in constant cold and darkness.  On this planet a man named Ereth lives in banishment from his tribe.  He want’s to correct the wrong doings of his tribe and fix the imbalance of his planet.  He sets off to find the Chronomancer who can save his planet and along the way he receives prophecies from (and smokes weed with?) witches, befriends robots, does battle with warriors, and meets the crew of the space pirate shit, The Sword.

A nice and fun tale told with old school and groovy metal only like The Sword can play it.  So, J.D., where’s the novelization of this?  You have some hungry readers ;)  on a side note, man do I love that album art, it reminds me of an Atari 2600 game and the cover to a cheesy genre novel from the 70′s.

Opeth – Still Life

Being no stranger to weaving a story into their albums, Opeth‘s Still Life goes above and beyond the call of duty as Mikael Åkerfeldt weaves a harrowing tale of love, persecution, and death complete with some of the best music the band has ever written and performed.

Being banished by the religious fanatic ‘council’ of his hometown for questioning their faith (not directly specified, but it’s most likely Christianity), the main character returns (possibly a black Muslim if you take the song title of “The Moor” literally, nothing is really clear on this though.  It can also be an insult the ‘council’ dons on him for his different beliefs) to his birthplace to reconnect with the woman he loved, Melinda (also the name of Mikael’s daughter, kind grim, huh), when he was exiled.

Upon return he isn’t welcomed with the open arms of good news and soon discovers that his love is now has taken another ‘love’, even though she still has love for the unnamed main character (she is either married to another, or has become a nun as the line in the song “Face of Melinda” “And conceded pain in crumbling mirth, a harlot of God upon the Earth, found where she sacrificed her ways, that hollow love in her face”).  Also with his return the council discovers he has infiltrated their town and is still spreading his own ideals.  They don’t take kindly to this, and according to Åkerfeldt, “a lot of bad things start happening”.

The tale ends in tragedy, but the nameless dissident’s actions may have had an impact on some of those who witnessed his end making him a martyr to freedom of religion.  This is one of Opeth‘s best albums and should be missed by no metal fan.  The story is dark and violent but also insightful and deeply philosophical dealing with fanaticism in religion and the extent one goes to for love.  My favorite track from this record is “Moonlapse Vertigo” and it tells the part in the tale where the main character returns to his hometown under the cover of nighttime and his hate of the ‘council’ rekindles and he makes his final decision to discover his love again.

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About RiffRaff

Just takin' it easy for all you sinners.

Posted on March 29, 2012, in Storytellers, Theme Thursday and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Of the ones you posted, Still Life is definitely my favorite, although Nightfall… is also a fantastic album. I haven’t listened to the other two yet!
    I’ll have a think and maybe can contribute a couple to the part two of this…

    • Please do! I want to turn this into a regular thing. This is my test run, so I’m stoked you dig the concept! The other 2 are phenomenal albums, both being my favorite albums from their respective artists.

  2. I enjoy a concept album too. Of the above I’m only familiar with Still Life, which I have to say I’ve always found hard work. Not sure why because I really like much of Opeth’s output, and Blackwater Park – stylistically not dissimilar to SL – is one of my favourites.

    In contrast, perhaps to some readers of this blog, I’m a music fan who likes some Metal, rather than a Metal fan first and foremost, nonetheless, I’d recommend Marillion’s ‘Brave’ and Porcupine Tree’s ‘Fear Of A Blank Planet’ as albums that you guys might well enjoy – not metal per se but pretty rocking in places. Mind you, there’s plenty of prog love round these parts so maybe you’re already familiar. Maiden’s ‘Seventh Son…’ surely deserves a mention – a classic metal concept record – as do Mastodon and Fear Factory, both past masters of the art form.

    p.s. if you’ll pardon a bit of shameless self-promotion, here’s a link to a post of my own re concept albums from a while back – not much Metal, Thrice excepted, but a few singular takes on the theme of conceptual records.

    http://musicbugsandgender.wordpress.com/2011/10/16/coldplay-whats-the-big-idea/

    • I love Fear of a Blank Planet, wonderful concept behind that one too!
      I’m mildly familiar with Marillion, but haven’t heard that album you mentioned, I’ll have to check that out!
      7th Son is on the list for future entries as well as Mastodon and Fear Factory.
      And feel free to drop a link here when ever you want if it pertains to the subject at hand. I like your writing (and would like to read more, hint hint, nudge nudge ;) )

  3. I like a good concept album. I think the first one I ever knew existed was Operation: Mindcrime. I still don’t know much about Blind Guardian. I love Warp Riders…great live band too. This is a cool idea. Already trying to think of other concept albums to write about.

    @Guls, yeah I think we are mostly metal first, but you know we do like other stuff not necessarily considered metal. Just getting into Porcupine Tree. Looking forward to hearing more and also the upcoming Storm Corrosion CD.

  4. I dig the concept too. With the risk of repeating myself, since I seem to like most things on this blog :D

    But.. I did not know “Still life” was a concept album, shows how much I’ve been paying attention to the lyrics. Shame on me. Happens when you dont listen to the songs, or albums, in the right order.
    Read about it and found out that Opeth’s “My arms, your hearse” is also a concept album. I have to listen more carefully…

    • Thanks for the kind words :)
      Ya, Opeth likes a good concept here and there. Besides Still Life and My Arms, Ghost Reveries tells a tale of murder (with the exception of the final track, Isolation Years, which doesn’t have anything to do with the concept of the album). The tale in that one isn’t chronological and plays out like that movie Memento. Blackwater Park and Watershed are also a semi-concept albums. I read an interview with Mikael that he would like the next Opeth album to follow a story also.

  5. Some of my favourite concept albums:

    Avantasia – all of them
    Angra – Temple of shadows
    Coheed and Cambria – all of them
    Evergrey – In search of truth
    Porcupine Tree – Deadwing
    A perfect circle – Thirteenth step

    • Love Avantasia’s albums! and Porcupine Tree too (one of my all time favorite non-metal bands) and A Perfect Circle.

      I was thinking doing a special post of Storytellers just on Coheed and Cambria and making some kind of attempt at unraveling that story. Probably do a big one on Rhapsody of Fire also.

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