And now here’s a single from a metal band, a genre that I am close to completely uninformed about. Now, I did get into a bit of a metal phase in high school (I mean, who didn’t?), and I’m pretty familiar with Metallica’s most popular releases and Reign in Blood is still one of the greatest rock albums ever and Venom is a cool band too, etc. At a certain point, though, it was one of those genres that I briefly found pretty intriguing, but quickly grew out of in place of the next type of music that had caught my attention at the time. With that being said, I’m probably going to make myself sound like a complete fool with the next few paragraphs. I don’t mean to discredit the legion of loyal metalheads who find so much to appreciate with the genre that, frankly, just tends to go over my head very often. And I am also completely aware of the slew of metal subgenres, such as thrash, death, black, sludge, doom, and others. I’m sure if I actually took the time to pay close attention to the impressive breadth of bands and albums that have built up throughout the history of the genre (and the history of it subgenres, for that matter), I could really find something to marvel at and obsess over, certainly as much as I obsess over all my pop music. For now, however, I’m much more comfortable with focusing on the neat, confined categories of said pop music, while also keeping my mind open and willing to dip into something a bit harder every so often.
And thus comes in the band of the moment. Of course for the first true metal single I come across on this challenge, I happen to stumble upon one of the most obscure artists I’ve encountered so far. I know that metal tends to thrive on its own obscurity at times (there’s just so much out there), but Axemaster doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page nor much information on Allmusic! I was only able to find some nuggets of info on the band from their own website, as well as various metal sites across the web. They’re presumably from Kent, Ohio, formed in 1985, survived numerous lineup changes, and have released multiple cassette albums, EPs, and singles throughout the years. “Crusades” comes from their 1987 album Blessing in the Skies, which was rereleased with bonus tracks in 2007; thus, there is a confusion of information surrounding when the actual single was released (either in ’87 or ’07), but their website confirms a 1988 single release of this particular song. Also on their site, the band’s sound is described as “a combination of the dark riffs and feel of doom metal and the energy and aggression of non-speed thrash metal”. Not sure what exactly what means, but I’ll take it!
With my admittedly limited knowledge of metal music, I can say that “Crusades” fits nicely at home with work from classic metal groups such as Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. The recording is driven by its dominant, overpowering guitar, providing the general spine of the whole track with the repetition of a few basic marching power chords. The lead vocalist possesses the same style of gravelly vocal performance that one would expect from a group of this type, but the lyrics he emits are perfectly comprehensible, unlike a vocalist from, say, a death metal band. My immediate impression of this song was just how angry it sounds – but, I mean, I guess that’s to be expected. But while something like Iron Maiden just sounds so theatrical in its aesthetic, there is a legitimate mark of venom to the lyrics that are being expressed and the disdain with which it’s emitted that turns this into something a bit more anger-inducing, perhaps.
Admittedly, I’m not terribly educated on the historical Crusades of the medieval era – which is undoubtedly being referenced here – although I am perfectly aware that it heavily involved the quarrels between the Christian powers and those who believed in ideals that went against the Christian faith (Pagans and Muslims, perhaps). Metal is often philosophical and certainly very critical of oppressive structures that lead to the darkness of its sound, religion being one of them. While there’s not really a line that concretely points to Christianity as specifically the root of the evil professed here, lines like, “We must turn away from the Crusades of today… Their lives are lost in vain” certainly give off the impression of the band’s contempt for what has become the dominant religion of the western world. And it is true that while Christianity is arguably a religion that was built off of ideals of goodness and communal love, many have been and continue to be oppressed by individuals and structures who choose to highlight the most exclusionary, elitist interpretations of their religion. And like it or not, these kinds tend to be the loudest voices of them all. This is references in this song with lines like, “Thoughts of poison / Swords of hate / For the fighters / Death awaits”, “Will history repeat itself?”, and “For ideas they don’t share / The crusaders will appear / Or there will be nowhere to hide”. Sure, it might seem at least a tad hyperbolic to compare today’s climate to the centuries of mass bloodshed that occurred during the actual Crusades, but metal is built off of this vibe of intensity and it is so captured here.
I can’t really say for sure if this is a good song or not. I am simply too uninformed in the metal genre to really feel comfortable making that call. It certainly is an interesting one, though! I am always pleasantly surprised when I make a brief trip back into the realms of metal and find that I at least slightly involved with its sound. Metal is one of those genres that often takes intriguing segueways into dark, complex territory that few other types of music dare to go, and I think it’s at least a little important to keep in touch with that contemplative part of oneself every once in a while. I have no idea if Axemaster is a very renown or even a well-known band (none of their videos on YouTube have any comments), but “Crusades” sounds convincing enough to stand alongside many of the greats either way. Once again, I apologize for maybe sounding like a real jackass through this entire review! Hopefully my next metal review will be more satisfying.