13 February: the day of Wagner & Heavy Metal
Under the heavy constellation of history comes the date, the 13th of February , not just as any other day. Today is a day of weight, of a divine gift and a sudden death. On this day, history erupts dark clouds of sound, reminding us of what has fallen upon us.
On February 13, 1883, Richard Wagner took his last breath in Venice. With Wagner's death, the composer of the music of the future died. The life of the man who seemed to have fulfilled his ambitions (with the building of his own opera house in Bayreuth) came to an end. Ambitions that, even by Wagnerian standards, were immeasurably grand. What remained was a void of which it remained to be seen how it could be filled. Could Wagner's music and his ideas about theatre stand the test of time? Wagner was a force of nature, a man with immense energy and a restless heart. That heart caved in at Palazzo Vendramin on 13 February 1883. It took the doctor three hours to arrive in a gondola. The price for a heart attack in a picturesque place was a high one.
Where the gods led the composer of Der Ring des Nibelungen to the Walhalla on 13 February of the year 1883, they gave us Heavy Metal on 13 February of the year 1970. On that day, on a Friday the 13th, Black Sabbath released their debut album. Heavy ironclad riffs, chiselled in granite, rising up in a landscape in which those who ventured into it had to fearfully admit that they better give up all hope. The term Heavy Metal had been used before. As synonym for torture (in William Burrough's Naked Lunch) and to describe a certain kind of sound. The sound of a motor ("Heavy Metal Thunder" in Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild") and the sound of a guitar (of Jimi Hendrix) but there is some consensus that with the release of Black Sabbath's first record Heavy Metal was born as a genre. That first record, a sort of demure version of the blues, paved - together with the headbutt riffs of its successor from the same year (the album Paranoid with its title track, Iron Man and War Pigs) - the way to a heavy metal future. Black Sabbath came from Birmingham, city of the metal industry (a modern Nibelheim of sorts, a place where Alberich’s dream was accomplished) and from that decorum the band provided the world with a new soundtrack. Mankind accepted it with a proper banging of the head - it hadn't be so grateful since Prometheus gave mortals the fire of the gods.
On February 13th, we look back in gratitude and awe. That day is Wagner & Heavy Metal day.