As I’ve noted before, I ask about some subjects – and get a lot of suggestions – without actually using them immediately. Sometimes, it might take me a little while to sift through the songs that I have and work out how to string them together – and sometimes, the songs I get simply don’t really inspire me.
/Tuesday Ten/395/Gods and Monsters (songs of mythology)
This week is one from the first group. There was a great selection of songs, but I had an idea in my head about how to go about it, and it took a while to get that right. There’s a lot of mythology in song, as you might expect, and I quickly realised that the songs suggested covered a whole host of different mythologies and beliefs – so I tried to make sure I covered ten different mythologies, some rather older than others, and it reminded me of a few bands I’d not listened to in a while, and also reappreciate anew one artist I never quite got into as I should.
There were 128 suggestions for this overall, most of which were made back in September 2018 when I originally posted this (so nearly eighteen months ago). Of these, eleven had been used before, and there were 115 unique songs, suggested by 47 different people. As always, thanks to everyone who takes the time to suggest songs. Every single one is considered as I record them manually (in a vastly over-engineered Excel file, frankly). The next two coming up, by the way, will be Instructions and The War on Terror, but I’ve not decided which order they will be posted in yet.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
/L’unification Des Forces Opposantes
I’m starting this week with what could be considered one of the oldest tales or myths of all – and almost certainly the oldest one for which we have written evidence. The Enûma Eliš (Enuma Elish) is the Mesopotamian creation myth, effectively how the world, gods and humans came to be – and This Morn’ Omina thrillingly recreated this with this astonishing seven minutes of tribal fervour. Mika Godrijk and his colleagues have long been looking at the connections between the ecstasy of the dancefloor and that of religious ritual, and on this song they absolutely fucking nail it – especially live, where this track is as amazing as it is exhausting…
/Papyrus Containing the Spell to Preserve its Possessor Against Attacks from He Who is in the Water
When it comes to Egyptian myth and legend, there’s only one band I would ever consider featuring, and that’s the US tech-death metal band Nile, who’ve long had an interest in egyptology (and other ancient mythology to a lesser extent), and indeed build most of their song themes around it. The often dark and forbidding nature of what awaited believers in their life and afterlife – perhaps a reflection of the harsh climate that Egyptians ancient and modern have had to deal with – rather works well with the brutal attack of Nile’s sound, too, and one of the most immediate songs of theirs is this, the rather unwieldly-titled lead single to their excellent album Ithyphallic, wherein they discuss Book of the Dead Spell 31, to protect the recently deceased from being eaten by crocodiles before they enter the afterlife…
/Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice) / It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I could have written an entire Tuesday Ten – or frankly three or four – on songs that either reference, or are about, elements of Greek Myth. Maybe because it has such a rich depth to the stories – but then, don’t all the other mythologies I’ve featured this week too? – but maybe because it is the one most referred to in the Western world, whether we like it or not. Still, the always-earnest-but-still-fucking-brilliant-and-life-affirming Arcade Fire are the only band I can think of right now that decided to do two songs about the same myth on one, sprawling album, and basically do them as different points of view – and this is, course, a doomed love story. Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice) has a calmer, almost choral feel as the song swells like the tides, as Orpheus hopes against hope, while It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus) is much more urgent, as the band swing to a loose-limbed beat and Eurydice tries to surmount the odds that are stacked against her.
/We Stand Alone
Arguments continue to bubble up every now and again about what is the best Covenant album, but their extraordinary 2002 album Northern Light is certainly a candidate to be considered, as they continued the knack with floor-filling anthems (and live favourites – at least four songs from this album are live staples to this day) and also lush, heartfelt ballads. But the thing for me that really set this album apart were the lyrical preoccupations. Many of the songs refer to Greek myth, but this song appears to transport the band to the sunshine of Rome, both ancient and present, as Eskil Simonsson contemplates walking in the footsteps of the peoples that left their mark across much of Europe over the centuries (and indeed still do). Live this song is something else, even eighteen years after release, the ever-ecstatic reaction from the crowd when the opening synths herald it and the general joy of hearing such a fantastic song once again.
One of the first bands to really make it big post-Björk from Iceland, the curious, naturalistic post-rock etheralism of Sigur Rós has had a surprisingly wide appeal, and as Pitchfork pointed out last year, there are a number of reasons for that – but perhaps to non-Icelandic-speaking ears, their appearance soundtracking multitudes of TV shows and films has probably helped. But that’s not to take away the staggering beauty of this album in particular, which pulled post-rock away from doomy navel-gazing to glorious, sunlit and mysterious lands. Frankly, Iceland is mysterious enough without a soundtrack, having been there a couple of times. Just the landscape alone looks like you’ve landed on another planet, the language is infamously difficult to penetrate, and the way of life is very different too. And then there are the folk tales and mythology. But rather than the Íslendingasögur (Sagas of Icelanders) that have influenced so much literature since their writing centuries ago, this song is dealing with the Huldufólk – the Elves. Large proportions of the Icelandic population reputedly refuse to say that they don’t exist, and in recent years they have even caused planning issues with new developments as their supposed homes are protected…
/Come On Pilgrim
Including this appears to get really complicated, mainly as Nimrod has a whole host of attributions and beliefs around him, and not just depending on which religion you might follow – but it would appear that the only mention I can find of their being an “incestuous union” that created Nimrod’s Son comes from a bitterly contested book in the Victorian era. Much as with most of Frank Blank’s songs for Pixies, meaning and timing is (deliberately) confused and messed around with, leaving you in doubt as to what the fuck he’s seen and known. He wrote some fucking great songs, though, and this one (one of two dealing with Incest in on their first EP, the other being the equally excellent The Holiday Song…) is absolutely one of them.
/Cine iubeşte şi lasă
/Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού
The always intriguing Greek extreme-metal band Rotting Christ found an astounding new lease of life in the past decade, as they expanded their sound yet further – light years away from their early Black Metal beginnings – and became a fully-fledged, tribal force, and lyrically began to explore the darker side of religion and mythology across the world. Here they take in Slavic, Babylonian, Mayan, Incan, and of course Greek myth and mysticism, but one of the most intriguing moments is where Sakis Tolis hands over the vocals to Souzana and Eleni Vougioukli to explore a Romanian curse. The title apparently means “Who Loves and Leaves”, and according to comments elsewhere originally comes from Drăguș, in the wider region known as Transylvania – and the song is delivered by the Vougiouklis with astonishing, finger-jabbing threat. Also worth watching is the amazing take on it by Souzana and Eleni Vougioukli that pre-dates the version they did with Rotting Christ.
/The Day The Ravens Left The Tower
One of those bands that emerged during in the punk era, and despite setbacks along the way have perservered, like other bands of their ilk thanks to a devoted group of fans. This song refers to a common legend around the Tower of London and particularly captive Ravens there, of which there are always at least six, and the legend has it that if they were to leave the Tower, the Crown would fall “and Britain with it”. Needless to say there are quite a few versions of how the legend originated, but as with many such superstitions, no-one appears willing to risk what would happen if the Ravens did leave! The current Ravenmaster is Chris Skaife, whose entertaining style has become something of an internet hit (the Ravens themselves are marvellous entertainment, too), and there’s certainly no chance of the Ravens being allowed to leave nowadays…
/Tales From The Thousand Lakes
If I’d have had more time this week, I might have asked my Finnish friends to talk to me about the Kalevala, a work of epic poetry that is apparently central to Finnish identity (and from what I understand, some of the tales within go back centuries), and that Finnish band Amorphis are one of a number of metal bands from the country to have used it extensively in many of their songs – and particularly on this album (where most of the lyrics come from it). This song I suspect I need more context for, but in English it seems to be a simple tale of an unexplained castaway at sea, being questioned by the birds for his predicament…
/Me and the Devil Blues
/King of the Delta Blues Singers
Mythology doesn’t necessarily need to be old, of course, and rock music has a mythology of it’s own. The short life of Robert Johnson is probably, in the eighty or so years since his death at just twenty-seven, has been more influential and spawned more mythology than anyone else in popular music. The myths that arose around his work were probably helped by the paucity of information at the time, and how little has survived (he recorded just twenty-nine distinct songs, and even with the ability to post-produce these days, the fidelity still isn’t amazing), but his apparently sudden improvement in guitar playing led to the legend that he sold his soul to the Devil at a local crossroads. Ironically, of course, he didn’t live long enough to achieve that success, but decades later was found to be enormously influential, and needless to say, the legend spread. Cross Road Blues, though, never mentions the Devil, as it is just a tale of trying to hitchhike, but Me and the Devil Blues really does, as the Devil appears at his front door. And even with just recognisable twelve-bar blues and his voice, there is something that crackles through this song. You can hear the future of blues, and rock’n’roll, and the behemoth both became, both in the sound and the racy (for the time) lyrics. And, of course, the 27 Club continues the mythology in another way…