Posted by: Mark Nielsen | March 26, 2010

Wicked: Schwartz & Finnish Death Metal Narrating Earth’s Finish

We're MELTING.... melting...

[Editor’s note: I write the following as a Christian, in an “opposition research” kind of spirit. I’m not a huge fan of any kind of heavy metal music, especially death metal, but I do know a bit about it, and I don’t find it universally abhorrent or heretical. We ignore The Shadow at our own peril.]

I was doing some fact-checking on a Richard Rohr book (Adam’s Return) that made mention of –of all things– the musical Wicked by Stephen Schwartz, and I found myself on the brink of  The Apocalypse. Except Rohr called it “The Wicked” in his book.  Oops. Something didn’t smell right about that, plus I had actually forgotten alot about Schwartz (creator of Godspell and Pippin, as well… Aha! Now it starts to make sense.) Richard, you do know your Jesus, and other great mythologies, but maybe you lack a bit in the area of musicals, source of much modern American mythology.

Which makes me want to finally see Wicked, which I skipped (skipped Gregory Maguire’s source novel also, though I do respect both). My sister Laura has been an Oz fanatic since we were kids, and loves the musical. I had planned to see it, never got around to it. Maybe when some local revival or school production comes around, I’ll have a chance (for a lot less than the usual $75+ ticket price, hopefully).

Then after finding the error, in poking around the net somewhat randomly, I also stumbled upon one of those scary, funny, not-so-funny, super-weird, intense and kinda cool European death metal bands,  The Wicked. They only have two full-length LPs out so far, and are currently “unsigned” according to the Encvclopaedia Metallum, but they’ve been around for about ten years. If this band isn’t the primary basis for the great Adult Swim program Metalocalpyse, I don’t know who would be.

Officially, The Wicked’s style/genre is called “Melodic Black/Industrial Metal“. So it owes much to Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Metallica, etc. But it also has that more modern Industrial nihilism of bands like Nine Inch Nails or Rage Against the Machine. On their first record, … For Theirs is the Flesh, they feature such titles as High Voltage Messiah and Elsewhen (The Final Unmaking)  [click for full lyrics, …if you dare]. Here’s a sample line:

“The beast of forbiden [sic] lore shall be defeated nevermore.

You are weak, sentient meat.
In the end we must live.”

Then I got to wondering why the whole death metal scene ever got to be so big in Germany and Scandinavia? (Full discolosure: I’m 1/4 Danish.)

At first glance, I thought about the overall harsh, cold, challenging climate – particularly in Finland and Norway. Ingmar Bergman and plenty of other artists were dealing with the starkness of the Scandinavian psyche and landscape for years before death metal came along. So were Nietszche and some of the major philosophers and historians.

But the whole weather/low-light  thing — including the oft-cited statistics about higher suicide rates in Scandinavia — are only part of the story. I’m not sure where I stand anymore on the concept of demons, for example. But if they were anywhere, I suspect they’d have some major strongholds in that part of the world. From Vikings and Beowulf thru Macbeth thru Hitler and beyond, a mythology (and often a reality) of violence, death and darkness has been heavy upon the northern European soul for generations.

I can’t go too far with this without sounding like a nutcase. But it’s a curious thing to think about, isn’t it?

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!!! “


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