CIMMERIAN CLASSIC

Prior to an overseas trip in the early nineties, I hosted a Book Party. The goals were threefold: to reduce the amount of stuff I needed to put into storage, see people for a farewell drink and chat, and perhaps raise a few shekels for the travel fund.

So I put the word out, mentioning a savage cull of the sizeable science fiction and fantasy collection, and inviting friends to re-home the refugees in exchange for a donation to the Vinyl Connection Travel Fund. (A piggy bank was provided).

The preparation for this gala event was simple but time-consuming. Discarding books is no easy task. Particularly knotty was the problem of series. Do you keep one? All? Make a selection?

Some series were pretty easy. I’d loved the early Gor series by John Norman, despite some misgivings about his gender politics, but as they’d gone on (and on) the misogynistic survivalism of the stories began to grate. So a dozen counter-Earth books were easily reduced to two (which I have never re-read, incidentally). Another example concerned the classic E.R. Eddison series. Only the first, The Worm Ouroborus, (1922) was retained.

When it came to Robert E. Howard’s Conan The Barbarian tales, however, I struggled. All half-dozen paperbacks had been read at least twice, but the stories kind of blurred together a little. In the end I simply picked the first couple and put the rest on the Help Yourself Desk.

This long-winded back story is to explain how delighted I was to come across a flash looking compendium of Conan stories in my local Op Shop. At two dollars for a volume fatter than an Aquilonian trader it was a steal. But I paid anyway, and brought it home as triumphantly as any returning hero with saddle bags full of gold.

Conan Robert Howard

What has it been like, re-immersing myself in the printed adventures of the barbarian hero so memorably portrayed by the former Governator in the 1982 film? To be honest, mixed is the word I’d choose. The relentless Dungeons and Dragons violence starts to numb the senses, lacking the variety of, say, Jack Vance’s classic Dying Earth stories, while the limited emotional range of the hero excludes the refreshingly sardonic humour of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser in Fritz Lieber’s tales. Still, there are moments that are simply thrilling in their elemental savagery and there’s always R.E. Howard’s creative and colourful use of language to enjoy. So I’ll continue travelling the countries of Hyboria with Conan for a while yet, propped on the couch with the remains of a bottle of red in the quiet time after normal mortals (aka my family) have succumbed to the heavy-lidded inducements of Hypnos.

On one such evening, as Tangerine Dream’s Hyperborea swayed and pulsed in the background, I found myself pondering a question that has troubled fantasy-loving music freaks for decades. What would Conan’s favourite record be?

Wonder no more, friends, for after much arcane research and extensive consultation with Dionysus I can reveal the answer. When your favourite chainmail wearing, broadsword swinging, helmet cleaving hero wants to power up for some serious adventuring, there is one record that stands above all others like a blood spattered hero atop a mound of fallen enemies… Paranoid by Black Sabbath.

Black Sabbath Paranoid

“War Pigs” is a hell of a way to open an album. The initial riff rocks and sways like a drunken sailor, a siren ululates in the background then—surprisingly—silence. The voice of Ozzy Osbourne delivers lyrics of battle and violence, cueing the hard-riffing guitar sound of Tony Iommi.

Sorcerer of death’s construction

In the fields the bodies burning,

As the war machine keeps turning

Death and hatred to mankind

Strap on your weapon of choice, comrade. Join Conan and the Sabbs for a trip to hell.

Released on 18th September 1971, Paranoid was the second album by Birmingham’s finest purveyors of first-wave heavy metal. Actually, creators rather than purveyors. But that’s history. Today we want to know why in Crom’s name they didn’t open the album with the charging riffing monster that is the title track. “Paranoid” is quintessential hard rock: a prototype killer riff, chanting vocal, rock solid rhythm-base from Bill Ward and Geezer Butler. Oh, that’s history too. Conan doesn’t give a rat’s arse about yesterday. Nor tomorrow. As long as there are foes to fight, wine to drink and wenches to er, wench with, he’s as happy as a head-banger in a mosh pit.

So he might not like “Planet Caravan”, a slow, tabla-driven Eastern tinged ballad with a quiet, echo-laden vocal from Ozzy and some delicate picking from Iommi. But I like it. There’s a lull in every storm, you know.

An incredible first side closes out with “Iron Man”.

I am Iron Man

A twisted guitar slash leads into one of the most iconic riffs in rock. Ozzy sings in unison with the guitar. It is simple, but not in the way of a child’s wooden blocks. This is simple in the way Stonehenge is simple. Eternal, monolithic.

IMG_3944

Side two of Paranoid opens with all the frivolity of a gothic horror film on “Electric funeral”. Yet the dark stuff has a sense of theatre, of dark spectacle rather than any intrinsic nastiness*. This song, for instance, has an almost jaunty middle section where the band chant the title lyric like sneery weasels before the lurching riff returns and Ozzy moans about evil souls and hell. If this was playing through stacked Marshall amps during a battle, Conan would bellow with laughter as he lopped limbs and disembowelled miscreants. “Hand of doom” has a similar feel (and that, of course, is one of the sustained criticisms of Black Sabbath—the lack of variation in, well, everything) until it speeds up for an energetic middle section (Ha! Take that, previous bracketed criticism!).

“Rat salad” is an instrumental that includes a bit of drum solo shenanigans from Ward. Paranoid closes out with “Fairies wear boots”, the odd lyrics of which should probably not be examined too closely, lest clinical paranoia results.

Overall, one of the great second albums of all time, and a worthy winner of King Conan’s Album of the Age.

Before we leave mythical Hyboria I must report that your correspondent—diligent in both investigative journalism and wine consumption—spent further grape soaked hours seeking the perfect comedown album for our favourite barbarian. I mean, after all that killing and whatnot, you need to chill-axe don’t you?

Tangle Edge - In Search of a New Dawn

Lurking in the VC collection were a couple of albums by little known Norwegian band Tangle Edge. This fascinating instrumental group released their first album In Search of a New Dawn in 1989. Full of unusual tunes, sounds and instruments, it is a wonderfully varied exotic treat. Imagine a blend of psychedelic folk and space rock, Tangle Edge are doing it. Eastern drones, crunchy phased riffs, shifting rhythms, acid-drenched guitar—often all in the same piece. Occupying some disputed terrain between the Mahavishnu Orchestra, psych-folk band Trees and Kula Shaker, Tangle Edge are well evoked by the titles of the pieces on In Search of a New Dawn

Isis At The Invisible Frontispiece

Caesar’s Integrated Flaw

Nephthys

A Secret Inside Clopedia

The Approaching Triptykhon Sunset [listen]

The Centipede’s Tune

Later Than The Pinworm Era [listen]

Mushy Shadows From a Lost Caravan

Solorgy

If this is the soundtrack to your after-battle party, be prepared for some pretty intense tripping. Conan’s advice? Wear loose clothing, keep the wine flowing, and have plenty of pliant companions at hand. After all, you’ll probably die tomorrow.

IMG_3958

* Unlike the infamous 1971 Rolling Stone review of Paranoid, which is utterly revolting. Not only foul, but confused. Author Nick Tosches conflates Black Sabbath with Black Widow.

*

Let me know what you think of the Hero / Music fantasy idea. There could be more…

 

22 comments

  1. NOT a metal fan and NOT a fantasy fiction fan, but it speaks to your writing that I still very much enjoyed this post! I have to say that “Rat Salad” and “Later Than The Pinworm Era” are two of the more disconcerting song titles I’ve encountered! Tangle Edge *do* have a very interesting sound…had you asked me to guess their country of origin, I probably would have put Norway at the bottom of the list…though that may be because I’m a quarter Norwegian and am thinking of my Midwestern relatives’ taciturn natures. I *love* that album cover…fun to see Horus plucking some strings.

    P.S. Shekels!! 🙂
    P.S.S. Love your autumnally hued album array at the top…fitting as we here in the upper hemisphere nudge toward the equinox.
    P.S.S.S (?) And I love the idea of future fictional hero/music pairings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are hereby awarded the famed “Dented Shield of Perseverance” for pushing past your (dis)inclinations to the end of this rather epic post.

      The Tangle Edge is a fabulously psychedelic cover, isn’t it? Would make even a morose mid-western part-Viking smile, surely?

      P.S. You’ve got to pick a pocket or two!
      P.S.S. It’s dried blood, not autumn leaves
      P.S.S.S. You really shouldn’t encourage me. It’ll doubtless mean more fantasy and grisly boy stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I proudly accept my DenShiP award!! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Sign me up for more of these posts, Bruce. Really enjoyed that… I now have images of Big Arnie Conan laying waste all who stand against him while listening to Ozzy singing/ chanting over big slabs of Iommi led riffage. Marvellous.

    Also intrigued by Tangle Edge. I shall need to hit up the internets for some more information of them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Arnie as Conan would blitz any air-guitar competition, don’t you think?
      Here’s a link for further Tangle Edge info. I really like them. One of the least 80s sounding albums from the entire decade!

      http://www.progarchives.com/artist.asp?id=1672

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I reckon so, Bruce.

        Thanks for the further reading link… I’ll get to getting!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. terrific drunken sailor simile Bruce – that’s exactly what the intro sounds like!
    And I’d be keen to read a ‘top 5 second albums’ list too

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sure could be a cool list, Geoff. Might have to begin some research!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. If I keep listening to all this new music (Tangle Edge) I’m getting turned onto, my head is going to explode. I’m also going to live by your last paragraph about “loose clothing, wine and pliant companions”. I’d be interested where the “Hero/music fantasy” takes your mind.

    Like

  5. Makes me want to give Paranoid a blast.
    (And I do mean a blast, which makes me wonder if Maison Vinyl sleeping quarters are soundproof?)
    A good read, thanks Bruce.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, different musics require different times of day. 😉

      Like

  6. Excellent, I spent most of the late 70’s and 80’s listening to records and reading fantasy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you felt at home Neil. 🙂

      Like

  7. Know, O Prince, that I really dug this one for lots of reasons.

    I love the Conan stories unquestioningly, but I consider the Lin Carter and L Sprague de Camp (hugely underrated writer, I always thought) as just as authentically Conan as the REH stories. Red Nails is the one for me, plus the story about fighting the Picts (memory too dimmed to remember title).

    Much as I love Paranoid unreservedly (Fairies Wear Boots is probably my fave Sabbath song) and I was at an Indian restaurant last week where they played the whole LP, quietly, while we ate, my own theory is that Conan would be drawn to the strutting masculinity of the disco scene. I can see him, open-shirted and massively thewed, starring in ‘Saturday Night Reaver’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Disco, eh? Oh you silly man.
      Since our last correspondence over at your place, I’ve read ‘Red Nails’. It is a ripper tale. More complexity than many or REH’s. I certainly wanted more Valeria! (Is that spelling correct?)
      And guess what? I wish I hadn’t culled the few collaborative Conan volumes during that fire sale. We must discuss Lin Carter and L S de C over an ale sometime.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m so pleased it lived up to my memories of it, there’s a goodly dose of realpolitik and S&M about it which both made a strong impression on my teenage self.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes, I can well imagine. It’s hard to do insane decadence subtly, especially when there are heads to be cloven and breasts transfixed with steel. But Howard managed it supremely well.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. I can vision Conan screaming as he is chopping off someones head:
    “Yeah, fairies wear boots and you gotta believe me
    I saw it, I saw it with my own two eyes, all right now!”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It works, doesn’t it!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It works big time

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Man I read a ton of SF growing up (and still get to it, now and then). Probably a good thing I didn’t attend that party. I could have funded your tour of the world.

    Off to give Paranoid a proper airing. Loudly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Loud is the only way to go. Have a blast!

      Like

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