Friday, 5 July 2013

Lasting Impact: Bruce Dickinson - The Chemical Wedding

"In the darkness, the raven's head
In the courtyard, clothed in fear
I see gates that are opening
There's only one way out of here "

Well, it's Take Two time. This is the second time I am writing this note as the last one got sucked into the interspace like The Newborn from Alien: Resurrection. Never to be seen again, except during my hindsight moments of regret.

This is my second in a series of blogs about albums that in my mind have made a lasting impact on my psyche, not just on a musical level but on a more fundamental level. There are few other albums that I might write about in the future when the fancy takes me like The Beatles - White Album, Bill Hicks - Arizona Bay and possibly some others. The last one I wrote about Iron Maiden - Live After Death I talked about how that one had influenced my literature choices and interest in history.

Bruce Dickinson, is a modern day polymath. He sings with Iron Maiden, has a solo career, runs a airline, writes books, writes movie scripts, avid fencer apparently trained the UK Olympic team in the 80's, has a radio show on BBC 6, TV host, got a BA in History, is a guest speaker for business events and probably more than that. He joined Iron Maiden in 1981, replacing the more punk style singer Paul Di'Anno and they went on to become possibly the biggest Heavy Metal band in the 80's. He stayed with them up until 1993 to start of his solo career, which is an interesting and varied one. He didn't really do a Heavy Metal album until his fourth album, Accident Of Birth, which was essentially what an album Iron Maiden would have wanted to make during that time, when they were struggling with Blaze Bayley. Then came The Chemical Wedding.

The Chemical Wedding was my introduction into his solo career. I bought this album blindly to be honest, I just phoned up the music store in Reykjavik and asked if they had any albums by Bruce Dickinson and the sent me this. The first time I put it on I thought "What the fuck is this?". Oh man it was heavy, well at least to my ears then it was heavy, so I put it away. But I couldn't stop reading the lyrics and looking at the plethora of portraits that were included in the booklet. The lyrics were mainly based on poetry by philosopher, painter, poet and all round mad genius William Blake.

William Blake was an English poet and painter, who people ignored generally when he was alive between 1757 - 1827. William was very much ahead of his time in terms of writing, painting and thinking. He was a Christian when it was in fashion, but the way he practised Christianity was not. At all. He wasn't against being religious, but he did oppose the institutions of religion. He had what could only be called a Buddhist view of Christianity. Satan, God and Jesus weren't actual beings but rather states of mind. With the goal in life to become as God, or in his words "He is the only God ... and so am I, and so are you.". Satan was to be beyond salvation. William opposed slavery and championed free love, the soul isn't separate from the body but rather an extension of it, "Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by Incapacity. / He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.". In his writing he created his own world and mythology that was meant to symbolise his vision of Christianity. He was also a very unwell man mentally, though of course that could depend on how you want to interpret that. From a very young age he had visions, and these visions kept on coming to him throughout his life, which included being encouraged and instructed by Archangels on what to write, and that those writings were read by other Archangels. It could be argued that without those visions we would not have his wonderful poetry or paintings today.

If people are really struggling, think of The Great Red Dragon which featured quite heavily in movies The Red Dragon and Manhunter. The Francis Dolarhyde identified so strongly with. Just such a shame that the former was so shit compared to the latter. The book was better than either though.

The Great Red Dragon

And of course without those visions we would not have been given the pleasure to listen to The Chemical Wedding.

The Chemical Wedding is, in short a masterpiece of Heavy Metal. This I found out after I got over my fright of the heaviness. Bruce Dickinson alongside Roy Z, Adrian Smith, Eddie Casillas and Dave Ingraham completely excelled themselves. While most lyrics are based on William Blake's writings, Bruce Dickinson decided to use the whole of the psalm Jerusalem for his song... Jerusalem, only adding choruses when needed. But William Blake is not the only inspiration, because Bruce does seem to be a big fan of Alistair Crowley, like so many others in Heavy Metal, hence the title The Chemical Wedding. Now for the music, most of the songs were written by Bruce Dickinson and Roy Z, with two songs written by Adrian Smith with Bruce.

And... The... Songs... Are... Amazing!

This album is still in my mind the best Heavy Metal album of all time. Everything on here is composed perfectly and played perfectly, just listen to the guitars on The Tower. In that song Adrian plays a guitar solo, and with the aid of studio magicianship pulls it off with five guitars. The Rhythm section in the form of Eddie Casillas and Dave Ingraham(Who, with Roy Z, double up as Latin Rock band Tribe Of Gypsies) is one the best I've heard since Black Sabbath's original duo of Geezer and Ward. Roy Z quite frankly is one of those guitarists and producers who should be more recognized than he is. Since this album he has embarked on a very successful career as a music producer for the likes of Helloween, Rob Halford, WASP, Judas Priest and more. As a further treat Arthur Brown (He of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown fame) read out two poems by William Blake at the end of Book of Thel and The Alchemist, with his deep baritone voice that just fitted oh so perfectly with the mood of the album.

The album does start of with a thunderous song in the shape of King In Crimson then straight after there is a power ballad in the shape of the title song, which has a very very nice guitar melody that I imagine isn't very easy to reproduce in a live setting. But that is also something that the album does very well, it swerves from light to heavy very easily. Melodies are revisited frequently to provide a common thread between the songs, which is a dangerous game to play as it can come across like the musicians are just to lazy to write fresh material. But there is no such worry on this album, it all comes together in the end.

So far I tend to have the habit of listening to this album from start to finish several times, every couple of months. I would have loved to have got a sort of a sequel to this album with the same line up, but alas it wasn't to be, not long after Bruce and Adrian rejoined Iron Maiden. But thankfully due to their reunion, Blaze Bayley started his solo career with almost equally strong albums as Bruce put out during his downtime from Iron Maiden. It's a shame the same can't be said for Paul Di'Anno.

And I am still in awe of it, and slightly frightened.

"And so we lay
We lay in the same grave
Our chemical wedding day... "
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