Saturday, May 08, 2010

Surfing with Probot! and Soulfly! and Probot ft. Max from Soulfly!

The cast of characters in this post gets a little long, so bear with me:

Dave Grohl we know. He drummed for Nirvana, played almost everything on the first Foo Fighters album, and is generally considered to be one of the best rock drummers of our age, and also a very very kind and rich man. Almost a decade ago he decided to make a metal album, sort of a tribute to the guys he listened to growing up. So he recorded a bunch of original metal songs, again playing almost everything, in the various styles of his heroes. With help from Zwan guitarist Matt Sweeney, he recruited most of those heroes to sing/bark on their respective songs. You can imagine the childlike glee this must've inspired in Grohl's quivering fanboy heart (much the same glee that the above playset inspired in MY heart nearly 30 years ago--maybe that's what inspired the band name?). The resulting album looked like this:

The album got mixed reviews, though everybody seemed to like the drumming. Two of the standout tracks concerned Babylon. Grohl hasn't written any Babylon songs for the Foos, so it's not like Babylon is a going concern of his. But if you're playing around with traditional metal themes, you've gotta sing about Babylon SOMEWHERE.

The first, more obvious tune is "Access Babylon," a brief hardcore rant featuring Mike Dean from Corrosion of Conformity and, on guitar (MY fanboy heart quivers), Bubba Dupree from the original unhinged DC hardcore sickos, Void. (They're my favorite band on the old Flex Your Head comp!) Nice touch!

"Access Babylon" is a dumb joke on "Access Hollywood," sort of like W.A.S.P.'s "Sunset and Babylon" was a dumb joke on "Sunset and Hammond," or whatever the intersection of the Rainbow Bar & Grill is. Babylon equals Hollywood, the way Babylon ALWAYS equals Hollywood (or at least L.A.)--see also the Transplants and Steely Dan. The song's aimed at a former straightedge stalwart who's been corrupted by fame and money. Sellout! Probably Dave, Mike, and Bubba called up this sellout poseur to invite him to their TV party, and he was out visiting the Playboy Mansion. So now the boyz make a shredding mockery of their poseur friend, in hopes of piercing his heart and getting him back. And they're also shredding against the system of temptation (Babylon) that stole him away. Flex your soul, dude.

A world away is Probot's other Babylon song, "Red War," featuring and co-written by Max Cavalera from Sepultura and Soulfly. Seriously, you NEED to hear the drumming in this one.

"Red War will fall on my enemies!
Babylon is full of hypocrisy!"

"Red War" is lyrically problematic, at least if you subscribe to the notion that rock stars should not declare holy wars on other countries. Cavalera is no stranger to prophetic outbursts. His group Soulfly is basically a very vengeful and disturbing Christian metal band. Cavalera uses war imagery to lyrically "downstroy" his enemies--excuse me, GOD'S enemies. It's a brilliant, if not always theologically justifiable, conception of Christian metal. Who are the loudest, angriest dudes in the Bible? The prophets, right? So that's who Cavalera imitates.

Here, though, he gets disturbingly literal. It's one thing to declare Red War on your enemies. It's another to give their address as the Khyber Pass, which connects Paki- and Afghani-stans, and which will apparently be the recon point for Cavalera's army of heavenly chariots/tanks/unmanned drones. He also growls about carrying "the sign of the cross" into war, and bringing along "the twelve tribes in the mountains of Zion." Again: the lyrics of "Red War" suggest that the Afghan War is wreaking divine vengeance on the enemies of Max Cavalera, which is to say the enemies of the Judeo-Christian God. If this were U.S. policy, it'd have pretty dire implications.

But really, what do I care about a dreadlocked metal dude's politics? It's not like he has the ear of American politicians--he makes his living melting faces metaphorically, and he does a fine job. And it could be that he's merely DEPICTING the adrenalin jolt that accompanies battle, much like that movie that just won Best Picture (Cavalera's a bit less thoughtful), or like the "Charge!" movement from Karl Jenkins's Mass for Peace. Then again, maybe Cavalera sees our mission against Afghanistan as the final showdown in some eschatological battle, and what difference would that make, really? What, do I have to AGREE with everyone that melts my face these days? That'd really thin out the pack.

To recap, the Probot album has the distinction of containing two Babylon songs, each with a very different symbolic use. One is the decadent Babylon of L.A., its face set like flint against the honesty of the hardcore crowd. The other is the infidel Babylon of the Middle East, its back turned on none other than God. Though both places are called "Babylon," their residents probably wouldn't find much to talk about at a dinner party.

As a postscript, Cavalera would return to the scene of the sin a year or two later, with Soulfly, for the song "Corrosion Creeps" (just reading that title puts the Fall's "Cruiser's Creek" into my head: "There's a party goin' on around here!--Corrosion Creeps, now..."):

This one starts with a metallized Dick Dale riff, so you know it's either about surfing or Arabs. "Blood on the sand", "Khyber Pass" (AGAIN), "Babylon is not far": I'll give you one guess, meathead. Cavalera's always open to interpretation (i.e., escape hatches), but I THINK it depicts the inner turmoil of a soldier in Afghanistan--spiritual corrosion, whatever. Geographically though, if you're standing at the Khyber Pass and you say "Babylon is not far," you'd better not mean "Iraq" or you're in for a world of dehydration and disappointment. To get to Iraq from the Khyber Pass would mean crossing Afghanistan AND Iran, and we all know what happens when you mistakenly hike into Iran.

So Babylon must not be Iraq, it must be THE SYMBOLIC AXIS OF EVIL, our soldier's unholy destination, whatever that may be. The Taliban shipyard, how do I know? At least, Max Cavalera seems very sympathetic to our boys in blue, so God bless him, and I'd like to check his papers.

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