These two bands, poles apart in every respect imaginable, illustrate, through two specific songs and two different approaches, how changes in tone, texture and mood within the same piece can serve to elevate the merely good to the sublime. The songs in question are Peste Noire‘s ‘Ballade cuntre les anemis de la France’ from the album of the same name, and Guns ‘N Roses‘ ‘Rocket Queen’ from their much lauded classic Appetite For Destruction.
Peste Noire‘s album came some ways off trail from their early black metal work, reveling in a macabre mixture of folk, medieval, vaudeville, raucous marching music and the sparsest sprinklings of conventional genre stylings. On first listen little more than a bawdy mess excreted over a particularly debauched weekend, this album gradually reveals a strong sense of poetry and an aching yearning for simpler times. Boasting a trebly, deliberately analog tone, the song ‘Ballade cuntre les anemis de la France’ goes through a prolonged martial prelude, richly accented with a wispish melody from the fair grounds, centered around arpeggios, faint lead noodling, and a beat like the thudding footfall of giants. From around the 4:00 mark, however, the song changes tack; staying in melancholic key but generating a marked difference in atmosphere, dripping with pathos and an all too palpable, unfulfilled longing. Intensely melodic yet far more sophisticated than ‘Rocket Queen’s naivete, Peste Noire capture the essence of the living experience itself.
Not a little has been said about Guns ‘N Roses‘ seminal debut, bringing as it did with itself a heartfelt honesty from the streets, warts and all, rarely seen in mainstream music, and which has somehow survived the cynical ravages of time. Where Peste Noire aimed at lofty ideals borne in forlorn environs, Guns ‘N Roses hinted at an inner desolation in the midst of rampant degeneracy. Both records are romantic in the true sense of the word, lyrical in thought and sound.
Album closer ‘Rocket Queen’ builds up to its coda with a suave, serpentine grace, telling the story of a strumpet with typical lack of tact. Based around a knifing main riff with a dominant low end that opens up into a forceful chorus, the song also features an extended jam without vocals in the penultimate moments before the 1-2-3 bridge that ushers in one of the most memorable, unforeseen transitions in popular music. After the many tales of sordid and adult urban life that have gone before, the acoustic, major chord progression is life-affirming, promising renewal and rebirth in a rain to wash away the grit. Disjointed from the main body of the song as a completely stand alone piece, it somehow manages to convey a sense of closure to the entire recording. It tugs at the heart in the most obvious, scheming manner and gets away with it laughing all the while, in the process enhancing if anything the overall experience.