The Metal Minute Awarded 2009 Best Personal Blog By Metal Hammer Magazine

Friday, March 13, 2009

Is Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells the First Official Death Metal Album?



Okay, the mind of Van Horn is a strange place to leave breadcrumbs for your exodus back out, however, try and ponder this one a moment if you will...

If the name of Mike Oldfield is new to you, fret not, you're more out of the dark than you realize, assuming you've seen The Exorcist. Remember that creepy piano ostinato from the film twinkling in your ears and down your spine, a candlelit melody of the macabre spawning a contemporary love affair with Satan? A-ha, there you go, got it? Good.

Of course, that haunted thread is called "Tubular Bells," or rather, it's one mere segment from Mike Oldfield's winding 48-minute prog experiment by the same name. Divvied out in two suites, if you will, the mood of Tubular Bells is ever-evolving from dreamy acoustic solitudes to chime-hallowed valor to distorted acid streams to Farfisa-laced fugue and everything in-between.

Oldfield, who is so perfuse with his Tubular Bells creation he's redone the damned thing not once but twice, doesn't always plunge his listener into the bowels of purgatory in Tubular Bells. Frequently the extensive composition is romantic and playful. At one point in the first half of the album, the multi-faceted Oldfield sets up a primary melody with various instruments from xylophone to grand piano to mandolin to distinct guitar pitches to the titled tubular bells, all called out piece-by-piece from Vivian Stanshall like those old music instruction records used by almost every band teacher in the seventies and eighties. All meticuloulsy sculpted together for a lofty and uplifting swoon set on repeat, ahhhhhh...

However...

What is the likelihood Oldfield was subconsciously onto something in 1973, particularly in the second piece of his impressive Tubular Bells vision that set the course many years later for death and even black metal? As gorgeous as the acoustic-led intro melody is, particularly when peppered with mandolin sweeps, flamenco, Gothic piano and other assorted textures, can you not hear the subliminal dirge weeping beneath this exquisite sublet? Listen to enough black and death metal and you have to pull this selection alone into question, especially once Oldfield twists a spritely new course thereafter which then slides into a heroic, Renaissance-spirited ouevre. I'm telling you, this album's a wonderful mind rape.

You're buying into this, aren't you? Okay, I understand your doubt, despite the fact Oldfield wails out psychedelic electro slides and gets close to what would one day be known as heavy metal. However, the damning evidence--if there really is evidence with this admittedly silly postulation--comes when you're least expecting it.

Where in the hell was Mike Oldfield's mind when he turns Tubular Bells on its constantly-developing ear with plunging Faustian piano strikes and out-of-nowhere demonic puke growls? Considering this largely-instrumental body of work yields random vocal sections courtesy of recruited choruses in addition to the paired hymn and ohm chants of the "Girlie Chorus," comprised of sister Sally Oldfield and Mundy Ellis, what possessed Mike Oldfield to scare the living shit out of his listeners with these ghoulish death grunts?

No sale, you say? Yeah, you're probably best going that route. Nevertheless...

Death metal has many roots in many countries from Norwegian forests to tropical jungles to Oriental waters and even American suburbs. That being said, there's something to entertain from a stylish and extroverted English composer possessing backgrounds in jazz, classical and rock with the capacity to play 30 instruments who created a grand-scope of work best remembered for its opening five or so minutes. Those ghastly chimes and the upsetting organ flogs make you subconsciously recall the cryptic bark "The sow is mine!" snarling in its wake simply from its time-honored imprint on modern cinema. In other words, Black Sabbath and Pentagram had much to do with the entire genesis, but twirl about this other possibility a moment, eh?

Tubular Bells is the ultimate sensory overload, but it's a joyous excursion in sound, whether the tones alter from soft and grandiose to outright alarming. Oldfield's punctuated hellhound growls (listed as "Moribund Chorus") in the second part of this expository audile journey gives enough of a flag to at least consider it a birthright for death metal, if not new age, the latter being more rightly akin. I mean, someone has to be credited with instigating the rule that death metal must be roared and ralphed at will... Also consider Oldfield and Tubular Bells mark the birthright of Virgin Records, so take that little tidbit of knowledge as you will.

All I can say is there's a reason death metal bands over the course of two-plus decades have historically begun their sets with taped loops of Tubular Bells' chilling revelation before launching into hyperspeed...

No comments: