Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Sci-Fi Music (Part 2: Metal Edition)

In Part One, I covered some of my favorite examples of science fiction music in a variety of genres (funk, prog rock, and, in the case of Janelle Monáe, R&B and almost everything else).  In this part, I'll concentrate on one of my favorite genres that has perhaps the greatest affinity for science fiction music: heavy metal.

Black Sabbath, "Iron Man"

In the beginning was Black Sabbath.  While other musicians paved the way, Sabbath was the first true metal band.  The band's concept was simple: if people like to get scared by horror movies, might they like to get scared by music, too?  The band gets its name from a 1963 Boris Karloff movie, Black Sabbath.
Paranoid (1970) (Kitten added)

Although they started out with horror, with their 1970 album, Paranoid, Black Sabbath made their most famous foray into science fiction.  The song "Iron Man," contains what may be the most awesome riff of all time (according to internationally recognized authorities Beavis and Butt-head).

Iron Man is a robot (or maybe cyborg) abandoned by his makers and out for revenge.  It's not super innovative as a science fiction story, but to its philosophical credit the song asks the million dollar question for any artificial intelligence research: "Has he thoughts within his head?"

And did I mention that riff?

(When it comes to science fictional Sabbath, I have to give a shout out to the Dio-era song "Computer God."  RIP Ronnie James Dio.  And it looks like Sabbath itself will meet its final end later this year.)

Queensrÿche, Operation: Mindcrime

It was the 1980's: the time of big hair, unnecessary ümlauts, and pre-grunge metal supremacy.  Queensrÿche's Operation: Mindcrime (1988) is a concept album that takes place in a near future dystopian America.  There's a protagonist who begins to remember his past involving drug addiction, corruption, a failed revolution at the behest of a sinister villain named Mr. X, and a prostitute turned nun named Mary.

It's epically nerdy and gritty in the way only the late 1980's could have been.  Listen to the especially epic song "Eyes of a Stranger."

Devin Townsend Project, Ziltoid the Omniscient and Z2

Devin Townsend is the Canadian master of prog metal and cheesy jokes.  This duo of hilarious science fiction concept albums is something like the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy of Metal.  The eponymous Ziltoid is an (allegedly) omniscient being from another dimension who comes to Earth in search of our universe's ultimate cup of coffee.  Hilarity and epic prog metal ensue.  (Listen to the album here.) In the second Ziltoid album, Ziltoid briefly teams up --or does he? --with Earth's Captain Spectacular to defeat the War Princess (another inter-dimensional being) and her poozers.  (See the video for "March of the Poozers").  Along the way we get to meet other wacky characters, like Herman, the Planet Smasher (who hates musicals).

I don't think Ziltoid is really omniscient (the plot would be pretty boring if he were), but he does bring up a classic argument that there could be, at most, one omniscient being: "If there were to be two omnisciences, I would be both."  (The idea is that being omniscient means you know everything, so if we differentiate individuals partly based on their set of known things, there could never be two different omniscient individuals.  I don't know if this is what Townsend had in mind, and it's a lot funnier when you hear him say it in the Ziltoid voice).

Amogh Symphony, The Quantum Hack Code

The Indian/American group Amogh Symphony has created a somewhat Matrix-like story through narration interspersed with super proggy and djenty instrumental tracks.  As a fan of Indian philosophy, I appreciate little touches like using the word samādhi to describe the unconscious state of humans under machine control (although samādhi is supposed to be a good thing for most Hindus and Buddhists).

Listen and read about the group here.

The Sword, Warp Riders

The Sword is sometimes referred to as "hipster metal."  I'm not sure that's fair, although they do lay down their riffs from the hipster oasis of Austin, Texas.  They definitely have a 70's retro air about them, worshipping at the altar of Black Sabbath.  Honestly, Warp Riders isn't musically my favorite album from The Sword (their fantasy-themed albums, like Age of Winters, probably have better riffs).  Still Warp Riders is a concept album with a fun science fiction story, not to mention super cool retro sci-fi cover art.

Listen here.

The Faceless, Planetary Duality

To say that technical death metal isn't everyone's cup of tea is about as severe an understatement as there is, but whatever you think about this extreme music, there's no denying the talent of the musicians that make it.  I often wonder if tech-death music is actually made by robots, because playing with this level of speed and technicality seems almost inhuman.

For a great example of science fiction tech-death, see  The Faceless's Planetary Duality, a concept album involving a conspiracy of alien control loosely based on UFO/conspiracy theorist/Coast-to-Coast AM type David Icke.   Plus, it has pretty cool cover art.  Listen here.

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