DRIVING MRS. SATAN
In the twenty first century, metal is at its most diverse as a genre; fragmented as it is into an inexplicably wide array of subgenres (and subgenres of subgenres). And it's all for the better, I say. Bands, that remain metal at core, have borrowed from, blended, and transformed elements from all manner of musical forms to create such an interesting and disparate mix of sounds within the context of their primary genre. Likewise, over the years, metal bands have covered a multitude of songs from peripheral genres; cannibalising and mutating pop anthems and the like into metal arrangements. It's become pretty standard. A bit of fun, if you will. A less common practice is for bands and artists to participate in the converse. Sure, the likes of Apocalyptica have long given us cello takes on a variety of metal songs (at least before branching out into the realm of original compositions). And, in more recent years, Maiden United, featuring Threshold and Within Temptation members, have been de-metalizing Iron Maiden classics with sonically beautiful results. Then there's been the occasional one-off venture into de-metalization such as Tori Amos' undeniably sublime version of Slayer's 'Raining Blood' on her magnificently inventive 'Strange Little Girls' album. There are, of course, many other examples, including bands that have recorded and performed stripped-down, re-arranged versions of their own tracks, but de-metalizing songs is indubitably a less common practice than the converse. Enter UK-based Italian outfit Driving Mrs. Satan, who are primed to become hegemonists of de-metalization, such is their musical mastery and astute sensibilities for genre transformation.
Garnering wide critical acclaim for their 2013 debut 'Popscotch', Driving Mrs. Satan are back with another suite of songs drawn from the metal genre, which have been transformed into innovative arrangements with gentle folk/alt-pop/ambient flavours. In one sense, their de-metalized takes on these songs are not merely covers; rather, they're drastic reimaginings. If you're familiar with the originals, I predict the majority of people will initially engage with these songs in a comparative sense. I think that's kind of inevitable on a first listen through, as it would be encountering any cover version, no matter how faithful it remains to the original. I found myself trying to hook onto aural fragments of familiarity in each of the tracks; trying to hear the crux of the original songs. That, I will tell you now, is a wasted exercise. Driving Mrs. Satan's transformation of their source material is staggeringly imaginative and breathtakingly innovative. After the initial comparative observations, during subsequent listens, Driving Mrs. Satan's rearrangements of these classic tracks begin to reveal their own charms and sonic beauty. And the beauty is plentiful; this album is sublimity perfected.
In one sense, we're talking about minimalism here. After all, Driving Mrs. Satan are, at core, Claudia Sorvillo on vocals, Giacomo Pedicini on double bass, Valerio Middione on acoustic guitar and drummer Antonio Esposito. And, although instrumentations have sporadically been coloured with a few other sounds, it's a minimalist approach. However, Driving Mrs. Satan, collectively, have crafted music of genuine emotional depth. It could be said that the songs they've tackled here have had their core emotions and power exposed and enhanced by being stripped down. That might be true, and it's certainly true that a song is only as good as it is when performed in a minimalist manner. However, that would be doing Driving Mrs. Satan an injustice. These are not merely stripped-down acoustic arrangements; they're not just de-metalized. Rather, songs have been rearranged, reimagined and transformed - not only in terms of genre, but also with their general feeling and emotions. And the transformations reside in vocal phrasing; tempos; time signatures; as well as the music itself. Aside from the lyrics, it's almost as if Driving Mrs. Satan have taken the very basic components of each song and rebuilt them from the ground up in a diverse act of imaginative flair. Further, melancholic and happy flavours have been added to the songs by transposing neutral root-fifths into minor or major keys. Take the power chord crunch of Metallica's 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' as a prime example, which has been entirely stripped away to the point where guttural aggression has been replaced with ambient melancholy.
Without meaning to overly genderise music in any degree of (mis)interpretation, it could also be said that the original songs have also been stripped bare of their masculine-biased impetus, in favour of alluring feminine charms. This is not only true of the music itself, but of the captivating and seductive tones of Claudia's voice. This lady's vocals are adorable in both their tonality and delivery, with some truly intelligent phrasing at work. Interestingly, with each song's lyrics deprived of both their anger and/or guttural punch, Claudia's delivery of the words actually engenders different reflections on their meaning and significance. Obviously, they're being contextually digested in a whole different era and socio-political climate etc, and it'd be erroneous to presume that context plays no part in the interpretation of their meaning (which could, potentially, vary between each person anyway), but her often heartfelt delivery certainly instigates a reconsideration of these age-old lyrics. While interpretations of their meaning won't change per se, it prompts new contemplations on their significance.
I deliberately haven't dwelled on individual songs in my review... just take a look at the track list if you're curious as to precisely what material has been tackled - Sabbath; Maiden; Metallica; Megadeth; Dio; Voivod; Slayer; Queensryche; Venom and Trust/Anthrax have all received attention. 'Did You Mrs. Me?' should be digested as a whole and, ultimately, free from comparative judgements. What Driving Mrs. Satan have achieved here is remarkable, intelligent, musically sublime and thoroughly imaginative. Incredible stuff.
DID YOU MRS. ME?
Review by Mark Holmes
5th March 2016
1) Hungry for Heaven; 2) Iron Man
3) Caught Somewhere In Time
4) For Whom the Bell Tolls
6) Running Free
7) Peace Sells
8) The Unknown Knows
9) Raining Blood
10) Eyes of a Stranger
11) To Hell and Back
12) Antisocial (French Version)
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...their de-metalized takes on these songs are not merely covers; rather, they're drastic reimaginings...this album is sublimity perfected."