Heavy metal is my world, and has been for decades, but the word “heavy” itself can be used to describe other types of music as well. Sure, hearing Pantera play ‘Suicide Note Pt. II’ live was the heaviest thing my ears have ever heard, but I’m talking about the heavy music that hits your heart as well. For example, when you hear ‘Redemption Song’ by Bob Marley, or Johnny Cash‘s cover of ‘Hurt,’ your whole soul feels like it has been taken over by the artist until the song ends. That’s the heavy I’m talking about, and last Friday Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds released the heaviest record of 2016.
Skeleton Tree (Bad Seed LTD) is the sixteenth album from this group, but one that has truly moved fans of all types of music, even Nergal from the mighty Behemoth.
Why is the record so heavy? Well there are many reasons, with the main being the tragedy that hit Nick Cave‘s family in 2015. His fifteen year old son, Arthur, fell off the cliffs in Brighton, UK last year, and lost his life due to his injuries. While the writing for this record began before he lost his son, the lyrical dynamic obviously changed into something very dark, and very honest. His words have always been from his heart, but to hear a father open up about losing a son is something that affects you in an indescribable way. When he sings “All the things we love, we lose,” you can’t help but picture him with his son. When he can barely get through the lyrics “Nothing really matters when the one you love is gone … I need you,” you can’t help but break down, and those are just two examples of his painful honesty that is found in each and every song. While this may not be his best vocal performance, from a technical aspect, it’s one that every person who listens to it will remember. Losing a child is described as the worst thing imaginable for a parent, and you hear Nick Cave deal with that very horrible pain in every single world on this album.
While the lyrics stand out as the “heaviest” element of the record, the music behind the voice is just as impactful. The band has always evolved their sound over their three decades together on this planet, but with the tragic tale behind the making of this album, they added in new elements that send chills down your spine. Whether it’s a string section that suddenly stops so he can speak one word, a scratchy guitar chord, a synthesizer holding a low note underneath an entire track, or a strike on a piano key, they accompanied the lyrics with one of the darkest atmospheres I’ve ever heard in music. If they released the album as an instrumental, it would still be one of the heaviest records ever, but with the lyrics coming from a man dealing with a grief no man should ever feel, it all comes together to completely shake you to the core.
I applaud Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds for releasing this album. Not many artists would open themselves up during a time like this, but that’s one of the reasons why this record is so powerful. Hopefully this brought him some closure, or at least helped him deal with the undeniable grief for the time being. He does hint at a little glimpse of hope on the final track, so hopefully he has begun the process to heal, and will continue to create his beautiful music. If not, he has made his masterpiece.
Skeleton Tree is out right now, and I strongly urge you to pick it up. If you won’t take my word for it, read the thoughts of Randy Blythe on the record. The Lamb Of God front man feels like I do. This record is the definition of HEAVY.
THIS IS THE ALBUM OF THE YEAR. PERIOD. Nothing else has even a remote chance of coming close. In fact, with a very few exceptions, almost everything (& I do mean EVERYTHING) else looks, well, it looks utterly inconsequential compared to "Skeleton Tree", the latest from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. It's simply shattering. This Spartan album is agonizingly beautiful, as well as deeply, deeply heavy- when I say it's heavy, I do not mean heavy in the banal & cartoonish manner of down-tuned guitars on a metal record, I mean TRULY heavy- heavy like the grief that consumes the totality of someone's being when a person they love more than they love their own life dies. That is a brutal comparison, but entirely appropriate, as that's exactly what happened to this man- during the recording of the album last year, on July 14th 2015, Cave's 15 year-old son Arthur (one of 2 twin boys) fell to his death from a cliff near Brighton Beach, England. The expression of grief in Cave's lyrics & vocals is not the sharp & uncontrollable explosive cry uttered when a parent learns of their child's unexpected death, it is far worse- the dull, grinding, ever-present knife in the gut you feel in the supermarket line months later after the funereal. You are standing there trying to buy something to feed yourself & what is left of your family, & you suddenly realize you don't know if you feel more like killing yourself or the stranger in front of you. You have no idea of how to go on living anymore, you can't believe air is still somehow getting into your lungs, you are completely crushed & devoid of any sense of purpose- THAT is the heaviness of this album. Although it is a modern-day masterpiece (& I mean that in a 100% literal way), I would rather it never been made- I would not wish the events that precipitated its darkness on my worst enemy, much less a musician I respect so highly. I don't know how he found the strength to finish it- this is a REAL artist functioning at the highest level during the absolutely most horrifying of times. God bless you, Mr. Cave. I hope you find peace.
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