A Comment on Bardic Tradition in metal

leypold-wandererinthestorm

The terms bardic or minstrel metal have often been used to describe bands that usually sing in a clear voice and with anthemic overtones, often imitate medievalesque motifs and write lyrics in the manner of romanticized ancient legends. Generally, the metal subgenre most readily associated with bardic expression is power metal because they advertise themselves as modern-day minstrels and theirs is the kind of catchy and upbeat music most people can latch on to most easily. The bardic spirit along with the culture it transmits, however, requires a sturdier medium that is able to etch its runes indelibly without detracting from the importance of their message.

Power metal could be described as a blend of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden mixed with the energy of speed metal. The influence of Ritchie Blackmore cannot be overstated either. In time, they developed their own tropes and particular voices that set them apart from their Briton godfathers. Bands making music in this style are known for an overt expression and presentation that falls just a little short from that of the despicable glam metal. More often than not, these theatrical habits and indulgences overshadow both the content of the music and the words, both of which come close to becoming only an excuse for narcissistic expression. The persona takes precedence over the message.

A sensible division of terms would be advisable here since the words bard and minstrel actually denote two very similar but different traditions. The bard was said to be an itinerant poet who, with the help of music, kept traditions and values alive through stories and legends written in meter. The minstrel made its most significant appearances in courts. Its main job was to entertain the nobility. The latter job’s description often overlaps with that of a jester whose curriculum included clownish acts like juggling. Here is where we find the most apt description for bands like Helloween or Blind Guardian, who willingly and naively took the latter term for themselves.

In lieu of this minstrel metal, a bardic one, with enduring power to carry and transmit the word by giving it the place of honor, is needed. Firstly, any musical tradition with this aim must achieve an optimal balance between being both evocative and submerging yet enveloping the words so that these are propelled forward, emphasized, given contour and colour. Secondly, this is metal. And as proper metal, the riff must lead.

30 thoughts on “A Comment on Bardic Tradition in metal”

  1. Sheesh says:

    The Bard’s Song. BG between 1988 and 1998 is unfuckwithable.

    Also, first 3 Helloween. First, especially.

    1. They’re gimmicky, as is most power metal. And the character is jester-like, colorful in a way to entertain. Some power metal bands accept this. But see little difference and perhaps do not give to much thought as to the difference between the epic story telling that preserves traditions in legend, and the clownish entertaining they provide.

      I think a lot is in the speed, and the patience to develop a song, which those bands never have. They deliver a straight-up pop metal product. Like I said in this post, for them, the music becomes a background for them. Blind Guardian is the perfect example of minstrel metal as I explained and related it to the original meaning of being a court minstrel

      Epic retelling in the manner of Candlemass lends itself more to focusing on the content of the story. This is also what Atlantean Kodex do, what Quorthon did on Twilight of the Gods. An exception, I think, to this problem in power metal was Rhapsody’s debut, Legendary Tales.

      1. Sheesh says:

        You have BG totally by the wrong end of the stick. I suspect you have spent very little time with power metal as a whole? I may be wrong. BG have a superb sense of adventure and wildness and expression of mythology. There is an element of “cheese” as with most 80s metal and the occasional dramatic swell and trough in their post-’93 work but that is not to the detriment of the sheer solidity and quality of their work and nowhere near clownish entertainment – there one would think of the so-called “folk metal” bands. I would definitely put the first decade of BG on the bardic side of your own scale and the first Helloween is pure speed metal.

        Have you read this article published a few years ago on this very site (though it had different people running it then)? http://www.deathmetal.org/zine/of-power-metal-and-other-tales/

        I also suggest a listen to this song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPmsA7zd3a8

        Slightly on the darker edge of the power metal spectrum, riff-ends go down instead of up providing a more doom-laden feel.

        1. I started out with power metal, I still found most to be too persona-oriented.

          Yes, I’ve read it.
          Yes, different people.

          And your observation on the riffs going down a doom-laden feel is what I would say is a better direction for bardic interpretation. See Atlantean Kodex’s The White Goddess for a good example. See how the singer becomes the carrier of the message. His intonations towards making the words clear and explaining them. A singer may carry the main role in the music, as would be with bards, and use his tools to make the story itself the center. Blind guardian falls into the kind that lets the technique and the musical affectations become the center.

          Let me put it this way. What is meant by “standing out” or coming to the front refers to the expression of the singer. It is a little bit of an abstract concept, but has real implications and ways of doing it.

          A good comparison is the religious music of JS Bach versus the classical operas of Mozart. In the former, the singer must become “apersonal” so to speak, a medium, a channel for words and notes. He must lose his personality. In the latter, it is all about effusive expression. The content in the latter is used BY the singer.

        2. Marshall says:

          “Have you read this article published a few years ago on this very site (though it had different people running it then)? http://www.deathmetal.org/zine/of-power-metal-and-other-tales/

          Yeah, the dm.org readers like those bands and so does Varg. BG and co. weren’t “power metal” or “minstrel metal” until some other idiots piggybacked on the style and ruined it. Kind of like what happened to speed metal with “thrash”.

          “I said many things about Rush, I did not say they were on Permanent Waves”

          I don’t get that when:
          A) Rush isn’t metal (or neoclassical, ambient, etc.) so irrelevant
          B) A lot of readers like Rush
          C) Rush didn’t make pop music, with about the only other non-prog bands doing that being Rainbow and Scorpions. They deserve praise, not vitriol.

          If Rush was one of only three popular non-prog and non-proto-metal bands to make “good rock”, then I don’t see where you’re coming from with your thesis. Why not rip on ACTUAL pop music, false metal, or SJW’s instead of the stuff readers actually like?

          1. Yes, I’ve read it.
            It was submitted by someone else.

            You are mixing up the whole minstrel versus bard thing.
            I am using their original meanings to make a divide, not commercial promotion tags.

            A) Rush isn’t metal,

            And your point is?

            B) A lot of readers like Rush.

            My opinion on these things is never based on ad populum.

            C) Rush made plenty of pop music.
            They’ve also made other stuff.
            Actually most prog groups, even the best, all made some straight up pop. From ELP to Yes to Genesis. All of them wrote at least some pop tracks.

            Again, separate the topics. If you are butthurt about my Rush review, go comment over there.

  2. Bobby says:

    Manilla

    Road.

    The ultimate bards of metal

    1. On The Deluge, at least. Thanks for reminding me of that. I’ll be listening to it later.
      But this Kawir album is extremely recommended on this front.

  3. Jan says:

    Graveland’s Thousand Swords album is kinda bardic, lyrically. Not so much for using voice as a centrepiece or prominent compositional tool. Summoning sort of does. It is probably as close as black metal has come to this tradition.

    1. I agree about Graveland’s Thousand Swords

    2. I think Summoning is almost doing this on Old Mornings Dawn

      1. Johan says:

        I think you are right, only it is centred around the voice more in a wagnerian style, that is to say, fully immersed in and dependant on every other aspect of the composition, as opposed to being the absolute focal point of it.

  4. Ara says:

    I listen to Mythotyn a bit to scratch this itch without having clean vocals deter the experience, although songs like “Hail Me” feature them in a cheesy yet undeniably fist-pumping way.

    1. I don’t deny the power of power metal. I enjoy some of them quite a lot. Some make really good music. This comment is only in regards to that “bardic nature”.

      1. Ara says:

        I find Mithotyn to feel quite Bardic, and their use of black metal vocals works for me in a Gargamel-trying-to-eat-the-Smurfs kind of way.

        1. That sort of theatrical thing is what I was pointing out was more of a minstrel kind of thing.

          A bard is not a clown or a mere entertainer, he is a teller of stories and a preserver of oral tradition.

  5. Ara says:

    *Mithotyn rather.

  6. LostInTheANUS says:

    Speaking of power metal, any new good shit come out recently? And by recently I mean in the past 10 years?

    1. Battleroar – Blood of Legends, 2014

      1. Johan says:

        Checking it out now, thankyou David!

    2. mouthbreather says:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUglrgjPhuA

      Sort of like Helstar meets Voivod.

    3. Mega cheesy but good: Rhapsody – The Frozen Tears of Angels (2010)

  7. Marshall says:

    “They deliver a straight-up pop metal product. Like I said in this post, for them, the music becomes a background for them. Blind Guardian is the perfect example of minstrel metal as I explained and related it to the original meaning of being a court minstrel”

    You think everything that wasn’t listed on the DLA is “pop music”. You said the same about Rush, for the most part.

    1. >You think everything that wasn’t listed on the DLA is “pop music”

      No. I think many things that are not on the DLA are also NOT pop music. You are confusing being minstrel clowns with being pop. I never said Blind Guardian was pop, I said they were court jesters.

      > You said the same about Rush, for the most part.

      I said many things about Rush, I did not say they were on Permanent Waves.

      You are just not reading attentively or thinking thoroughly. Don’t be defensive. Just think.

  8. Marshall says:

    “Canadian neo-progressive trio Rush have made poignantly sentimental yet technically edged music for some years. Their work showcases agile guitar playing and well-studied songwriting. ”

    Straight from the ANUS.
    Pretty sure you’re the only one here who thinks a single album from their discography isn’t pop music, and you didn’t even choose their best album.

    1. It is my opinion that Permanent Waves is their best album and I have strong reasons to believe so.

      What they did after was purely pop music. What they did before was elongated hard rock.

      They never made top-grade progressive rock.

      Nothing I’ve said contradicts the statements in ANUS. And even if they did, so what?

      besides, why are you commenting on Rush on THIS thread?
      Go to the Rush review and comment there to at least be on topic.
      You’re not getting any other answers here. Read the review again.

  9. Marshall says:

    You clearly elevate bardic metal over minstrel metal, which is why I and another commenter are charging you with ripping on bands/a band that does not deserve it. Then you play this little game to obfuscate everything, whilst calling me “butthurt” and insinuating I lack reading comprehension (btw, who re-reads metal articles?).

    I never made this personal. I just disagree with you immensely, and I am voicing the concern that you do not represent the interests of most readers. Look here:
    “In lieu of this minstrel metal, a bardic one, with enduring power to carry and transmit the word by giving it the place of honor, is needed.”

    and

    “They deliver a straight-up pop metal product. Like I said in this post, for them, the music becomes a background for them. Blind Guardian is the perfect example of minstrel metal as I explained and related it to the original meaning of being a court minstrel”
    ” The minstrel made its most significant appearances in courts. Its main job was to entertain the nobility.”

    You emphasize that minstrel metal merely entertains, while bardic is more worthwhile. By your own admission, you elevate bands like BG to a lower status. Do you see why I posted what I did, now?

    1. Yes, this is exactly what I said.
      Bardic > Minstrel, from a traditional artistic point of view, so to speak.
      If you are new to this website, or to art appreciation in general, then I understand why you find this assertion shocking.

      But your previous posts fly in all directions and in the wrong directions. You got it right on this post.
      The rest of the things you said are mixed up or unclear.
      I’m not obfuscating on purpose, but I do find what you’ve said before obfuscating.

  10. Marshall says:

    Belittling your readers and obfuscating their purpose won’t get you anywhere. You’re better off just letting commenters duke it out, instead of totally shutting down debate with your wayward, ad hominem discussion style. Just a tip from someone who has actually blogged on sites like this before.

    1. I will repeat one more time. I did not “obfuscate my readers.”

      I said from my point of view, you were obfuscating things. I don’t belittle you, I only find you short-sighted and overemotional, making things personal when they are not.

      If you feel insulted only because I suggest that a familiarity with art appreciation would help you understand the issue, it is only because you put your ego before the issue at hand.

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