Arts & Culture
Hanukkah Gone Metal
I guess Jewish Metal is something that has always been a part of me. The first album I ever bought was Twisted Sister’s Stay Hungry, a schmaltzy collection of hard rock from one of Long Island’s many amazing (and partially-Jewish) bands. … Read More
I guess Jewish Metal is something that has always been a part of me. The first album I ever bought was Twisted Sister’s Stay Hungry, a schmaltzy collection of hard rock from one of Long Island’s many amazing (and partially-Jewish) bands. From the moment I was aware of music, Metal has been my calling. I knew how to tweak the distortion settings on an amp before I knew about the birds and the bees. Metal was the theme of my Bar Mitzvah (Metallica was the dais). I had, and still keep, a running list of every prominent Jewish Metal musician. But outside of knowing how much influence Jews have had on Metal, there really weren’t any examples of truly "Jewish" Metal. Not that I would want to hear a Jewish Stryper, but none of the melodies have reflected the traditional music we all grew up with. Considering the wonderful intensity of the harmonic minor scale why have American Jews relied so heavily on Western European melodies and the Blues when writing Metal? It would be easy to write 1,000 words about the commercial, cultural or political reasons, but what about the artistic reasons?
In high school, via John Zorn, I got really into Klezmer. Seeing the electric version of Masada at the old Knitting Factory in the early 90s expanded my mind and caused me to really connect with Jewish music. I started attending Klezmatics shows, picking up old recordings, and discovering a very accessible pathway to the soul of 20th Century Jewry. However at this point I never intended to try to experiment with any of this myself.
After spending my college years playing in Indie Rock bands I joined the Metal band that has been so much of my identity for the last seven years, Gods of Fire. Although the band is half Jewish, we never explored this in our music. Our lyrical subject matter runs the traditional Metal gamut of dark magic, Greek mythology, Viking warriors and Necromancy. Then the Major League Dreidel organization asked us if we would be interested in being the opening act for their 2008 Dreidel spinning tournament. We had the idea to incorporate a Metal arrangement of "Hatikvah" I was once commissioned to record for a podcast as the intro to our concert, but this idea quickly expanded to ultimately performing an entire set of Metal-ized Jewish songs. The success of the evening led to the idea of recording a full length album, Hanukkah Gone Metal.
The initial ideas flowed quickly. It would be eight songs, one for each night. We would keep our versions of "Oh Hanukkah" and "Havenu Shalom Aleichem," and write six songs of our own. Each song would represent a significant part of the holiday. Then the hard part started. How do you stay true to your Metal roots while writing about gelt or frying up latkes? Also what should the record sound like? I wasn’t comfortable staying exclusively in the realm of traditional Metal. I knew we needed to do something special. We were making a holiday record for *our* people and *our* culture. And then I started humming some melodies I remembered from Shul. I picked up the guitar and cranked up the distortion. The sounds of the synagogue were PERFECT for Heavy Metal. Then I made some calls. I can get a clarinet player, and a trumpet player too! Not only could I have a Klezmer feel on a few songs, but I can have the sounds as well! Suddenly the vision and the sound came together quickly. We were truly going to make a JEWISH METAL album. One foot in each culture, co-existing peacefully. Admittedly some of the songs are very American and conventional, but I hope the more Judaic songs could serve as a bridge to help someone else connect with their history, and learn more about Hanukkah or Klezmer. I don’t know if Gods of Fire will make another religious album, but the sounds and the melodies of our faith are here to stay.