tyranny of souls

Part 164: “You scratch my back…”


RECORD STORE TALES Part 164:  “You scratch my back…”

In the past, (Part 120, in fact) I talked about how T-Rev would keep his eyes peeled for discs that he knew I wanted.  It worked out to be a mutually advantageous arrangement;  a large chunk of my collection came to me simply because T-Rev knew I wanted something.  I’m sure the reverse was also true.  But this referred just to discs that showed up in our respective stores.

I had a different arrangement with “QUO”, who worked with me at my own store.  In this case, we’d actually buy each other stuff while we were out on our own record shopping excursions.  I found the following entries in my journal, illustrating exactly the kind of “you scratch my back…” arrangements that we had.  It was pretty awesome.

Date: 2005/10/25

Today I picked up a Bright Eyes 45, an Arcade Fire 45 for QUO, and the new Motley DVD since I didn’t see the tour. I hope the documentary footage kicks ass! The last Motley DVD (given to me by an ex) really sucked. Maybe Vince actually sings on this one instead of letting the fans do it all!

I actually picked up the Bright Eyes 7″ for QUO as well, but he already had it, so I just kept it for myself.  I don’t know which Arcade Fire I bought for him (it was probably “Rebellion”), but the Bright Eyes was “Gold Mine Gutted”.  (The Motley DVD I am referring to was Carnival of Sins.)

This was in return of a favour QUO did for me, one week prior!

Date: 2005/10/18

QUO picked up three CDs for me in Toronto last night:

1. Bon Jovi “Have A Nice Day” single (has two live tracks first released on the box set, but in studio versions).
2. Bruce Dickinson Tyranny Of Souls Japanese import with bonus track.
3. Iron Maiden “The Trooper” CD single.

I remember giving QUO a wishlist.  This was back when HMV Toronto still carried Japanese imports (which they no longer do, see rant here).  I remember putting Avril Lavigne CD singles on that wishlist too!

This is what obsessive Record Store Guys do.  We help each other out.  It’s in our blood, the blood of the collector!

REVIEW: Bruce Dickinson – Tyranny of Souls (2005, Japanese version)

Part 37 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!


BRUCE DICKINSON – Tyranny of Souls (2005, Japanese version)

I spoke about this album’s lyrics at length previously in a Record Store Tale called Navigate the Seas of the Sun.  Part of the reason I love this album so much is due to the lyrics.  As good as The Chemical Wedding was, science fiction is much more my speed than is William Blake.  Therefore, given that slight edge, I actually do prefer Tyranny of Souls.  If you’re curious about the lyrics then do please check out that aforementioned Record Store Tale.

Lyrics aside, Bruce Dickinson has had a pretty consistent decade as a solo artist, Maiden notwithstanding. Ever since his Accident Of Birth CD, he’s done nothing but truly excellent heavy metal music. Tyranny Of Souls, however is unique among them: It is Dickinson’s first solo album since rejoining Iron Maiden in 1999. Would anything be different this time? After all, usually when one does a solo album, it is to get ideas of one’s chest that are not appropriate for that band.  Sometimes, that can lead to misguided genre experiments that are pleasing to few but the artist.

Reassuringly, Tyranny Of Souls is not a drastic departure from the music Bruce made on his last solo album, The Chemical Wedding. Tyranny uses that album’s sound as its starting point, but actually grows and progresses as you listen to it.  It starts just as heavy, but then starts to explore light and shade.

“Mars Within” is an instrumental bit that sets up the first song, “Abduction”. It’s one of Bruce’s heaviest, but then he takes it even heavier with “Soul Intruders”. This is metal just as awesome as Bruce’s best work.

Then we get a little anthemic with “Kill Devil Hill”, easily one of the best melodies Bruce has ever written.  The Wright brothers’ first flight is the subject here.  We all know Bruce is a pilot and aviation is a passion of his.  The passion ended up producing one of his best tunes.  Just a great, incredible singalong anthem.  I challenge you to get the chorus out of your head.

“Navigate The Seas Of The Sun” is a Maiden-esque power ballad, it could have fit right in with anything on Dance Of Death.  Every bit as good as “Kill Devil Hill” with thoughtful lyrics to boot.  More awesome songs follow:  another anthem called “The River of No Return”, a fast metal tune called “Power of the Sun”, and the insanely catchy “Devil on a Hog”.  Despite the silly title, this is simply a great groover, a ride you do not want to end.

The dull sludgey “Believil” is the only stumble.  Skip worthy and dumb-titled, I consider this one to be filler.  It’s one of those slow dirgey songs that tries to sound modern and fails. Luckily it’s also short, and it is followed by the monstrous title track, which ends the domestic album on a rather sudden note.  I prefer the way the Japanese CD ends, with the epic power ballad “Eternal”.  Roy Z’s incredible guitar soloing propels this one to the clouds, ending the album on a much more satisfactory note.

Speaking of Mr. Z, he does co-write and produce once again.  The drums are ably played by a chap named David Moreno, who replaced the very talented David Ingraham in Z’s Tribe of Gypsies.  The bass is handled by a couple guys named Ray Burke and Juan Perez.  I miss the recognizable character of Ingraham and original bassist Eddie Casillas, but this album is still strong without them.

Tyranny of Souls is a triumph in many ways.  One is that Bruce managed to make a heavy metal record different from Maiden, but just as good.  Another is that Bruce made an album worthy of his own back catalogue.  Whether you agree with me that it tops Chemical Wedding is not important.  I realize that’s a tall order.  Hopefully, you will agree that Bruce made yet another winner, a staggering string of great records.

And with this under his belt, Maiden returned to the studio refreshed and renewed, ready to take on A Matter of Life and Death

5/5 stars

Part 148: Navigate the Seas of the Sun


Navigate the Seas of the Sun

We had a staff Halloween party in the late 1990’s.  T-Rev had this cool “alien head” — he got it back in ’97 or ’98 from a convenience store.  It had alien head suckers inside.  He asked the guy at the store, “how much for the alien head?”  The guy answered, “If you buy all the suckers in it, you can have it.”  So he did.

The candy was awful by the way.  I did my share, trying to help him consume it all.

But he got this alien head out of it, and with it, made a cool alien costume.   And for the Halloween party that year, I wore the costume.

We had one girl at the store who had a phobia of aliens.  I’d never heard of that before.  We found it amusing, so after she got to the party, I came up the stairs wearing the alien costume.  Well, she was just terrified.  We thought it would be funny, but it wasn’t funny.  If I could go back and change that, I would.  It was a dick move on our part.

I don’t know the story behind the alien phobia, but back then I didn’t believe in aliens.  I subscribed to Carl Sagan’s theories.  I was a big fan of his book The Demon Haunted World.   I simply didn’t think there was any evidence for alien visitation, nor did I think it was possible.  Speed of light and all that.

Since that time I’ve read a lot of books.  Stanton T. Friedman was the most convincing.  A nuclear physicist has credentials that are difficult to dismiss, and he makes convincing cases.  I’ve also read Whitley Strieber, Jenny Randles, and many others.  I’ve come to the undeniable conclusion that some UFO sightings are real.  Most are hoaxes.  I’m not interested in those.

But what the hell does this have to do with music?

Aliens and UFO’s have provided subject matter for numerous classic rock and metal songs.  Sammy Hagar’s a believer, and he’s incorporated that into some of his lyrics.  Mick Mars is a hardcore believer.  Blue Oyster Cult’s “Take Me Away” is a great example.  Fu Manchu’s “King of the Road”.  There’s many more.

In my years of collecting though, I have never found a better set of lyrics on the subject than side 1 of Bruce Dickinson’s excellent Tyranny of Souls album. Kevin, an employee, picked me up a copy at HMV Toronto back when they still sold Japanese imports.  That was the cool thing about working in a record store. We helped each other out.

Bruce Dickinson is clearly a believer.  I suspect he’s read his share of Von Daniken.  Witness the lyrics to “Mars Within”:

Mankind returns to the stars
But sometimes, the stars return to mankind…
Didn’t you come this way before, a million years ago?

Although there’s also a reference to Professor Bernard Quatermass in the same piece, it’s easy to associate these lines with Von Daniken’s theories on ancient aliens.

But there’s so much more on the same album.  “Abduction”:

Are you the truth to sit in judgement on my sins
Evil laser gadgets come to penetrate my skin

The next song, “Soul Intruders”, is more abstract but contains clear space references about the “solar wind” and “cosmic streams of time”.  But one really cool lyric is “Kill Devil Hill” which combines these themes with the Wright Brothers and first flight.  Everyone knows Bruce is a pilot and is interested in the history of aviation.  The Kill Devil Hills, near Kitty Hawk in North Carolina, is where the Wrights were the first to achieve heavier than air powered flight.  But the lyrics hint at more:

Blood brothers of angels, now hear us
We earthbound your offspring, don’t fear us
God willing, we’ll raise up, be near you
So open your arms now and take us

To me, Bruce is referring to the aliens as the “blood brothers of angels”, and mankind as its offspring. This too is a common theme in UFO lore.  Some believe that, at minimum, aliens have manipulated our DNA and directly interfered with our evolution.  There’s no proof of course, but that’s not my point.  I’m just looking at the lyrics and their inspirations.

The final song of these sci-fi themes on the album is “Navigate the Seas of the Sun”.  Bruce even paraphrases Albert Einstein:

If God is throwing dice,
And Einstein doesn’t mind the chance
We’ll navigate the seas of the sun

Einstein once said, “As I have said so many times, God doesn’t play dice with the world.”  Einstein was talking about quantum mechanics and its seemingly random predictions.  But what Bruce seems to be saying is, if Einstein’s wrong about the universe, then there’s a chance we can break the speed of light and journey to the stars.

Later on in the same song, Bruce changes up the wordplay:

If Einstein’s throwing dice,
and God, he doesn’t mind the chance
We’ll navigate the seas of the sun

I love this.

The song is loaded with all sorts of beautiful sci-fi wordplay.  The song is clearly about leaving Earth behind:

So we go and will not return
To navigate the seas of the sun
Our children will go on and on
To navigate the seas of the sun

This conjures up the image of multi-generational ships that may be necessary to colonize other worlds.  The song in general brings to mind the Arthur C. Clark novel The Songs of Distant Earth.  Eventually, our sun will use up all its fuel.  This is inevitable.  It’s physics.  If humanity is to survive (if we even last that long) we will have no choice but to find another world to live on.  Earth will be fried to a cinder when it goes nova and turns into a red giant.

We can’t go on tomorrow
Living death by gravity
Couldn’t stand it anymore
We’ll sail our ships to distant shores

Death by gravity is another theme that Clarke explored in his books.  He felt that we could extend our lives by leaving this cradle and living in zero gravity.  Now we know that living in zero gravity deteriorates our bones, possibly to the point of no return.  So should we go on to explore the stars, this is an obstacle that must be overcome.

I’m grateful to Kevin for supplying the Japanese version of Tyranny of Souls, but I’m really, really sorry to the girl that we scared with the alien costume!  With the benefit of hindsight, I wouldn’t have done it if I knew then what I believe today.