The Metal Shakespeare Company
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The Metal Shakespeare Company

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"Iambic Pentagrameter: The Metal Shakespeare Company brings the bardcore"

By Randy Harward
Posted 05/29/2008

Ignorance and Shakespeare go together like ignorance and metal; therefore, Shakespeare and metal are natural partners. That is to say, it may not make sense, but it sounds hella good. Together. Metal and Shakespeare. What I’m gettin’ at: Some people get it, some don’t—and are proud of it. Oh, and each has been called the work of Satan (to say nothing of the theory that Danish metal singer King Diamond is suspected, beneath the kabuki makeup, to be the immortal Bard).

So we asked Lord Simms, master of versification and axemanship for The Metal Shakespeare Company, if his music—“bardcore”—is meant to make Shakespeare more interesting? Or is it evangelism, a way to expand awareness and understanding of Shakespeare’s work, like Stryper and Creed have done with Jeebus?

“Well, ’tis more enjoyable to observe a crowd of people, not merely standing and staring, but stirring wildly, like a maelstrom,” says Simms. “And for this reason, we find it’s preferable to perform the works of Shakespeare set to music, as opposed to merely spoken.”

So is Shakespeare intrinsically metal? How do his flowery, high-falutin’ plays and sonnets lend themselves to metallic reconstruction? Please answer in a monologue.

“The Bard is intrinsically metal because, first of all, there is quite a bit of blood in many of the plays. And we all know that metal and violence—especially warfare—are somehow wed. But, mostly, the Shakespearean catalog focuses on the values that are most prized in metal, which are bravery, valor … coincidence. And some Shakespearean villains would make excellent frontmen of metal bands. I, for one, would definitely attend a concert put on by Othello, were he to pick up a Flying V.”

But can one really do justice to Shakespeare in 4-1/2 minutes? His works are considered the pinnacle of the written word—how can you reduce them to a few Satanic verses over galloping riffs and squiddly guitar solos?

“Well sir, Shakespeare is not unlike rock music. You’ve got an album with 60 minutes of music, but often what is remembered is merely the chorus from one particular song that was particularly popular. So we find it preferable to take the ‘hits’ if you will, the most memorable lines from the play, and string them together. Often we distill a play down to its most metal moment, such as the dagger speech of Macbeth, in which the character is plotting murder but is also besieged by illusions, another common theme in metal.”

Your song “Coriolanus”—based on the play—that’s about Caligula, right? All the butt-sex stuff?

“That is entirely untrue, sir. It is about a Roman warrior who is vying to become emperor, and he’s thwarted by a villain—Aufidius, whose speech we use for our song. That was the first play that was set to metal by me. It was in a tavern that the idea was conceived, and in this tavern there was a jukebox. We asked this mysterious device to perform a song for us by Iron Maiden. And to this song I sang lines I happened to have memorized for my studies of the Bard at university. It was then that we realized it would be entirely possible to perform the works of the bard to heavy metal.”

So other than the songs—and fancy threads—what’s the stage show like?

“It varies. On this particular tour, I shall be performing as a soothsayer. I’ve been developing my talents of intuition and we shall take a collection of questions from the audience before the performance, call them onstage and attempt to see into the Other World and help them with decisions or grieving, or lust. On previous tours, we’ve brought an arsenal of weapons that are ‘safened’ with dulled tips, et cetera, and asked the audience to battle one another. And always, if we perform alongside a great axeman, we request he perform with us in a duel, because our axeman—Viceroy Matthew—is quite skilled as well. And we allow the audience to select the winner of the duel.”

Speaking of lust … Is there more or less groupie action when you set Shakespeare to metal?

“Perhaps there is less.”

THE METAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY @ Burt’s Tiki Lounge, 726 S. State, Thursday May 29, 9 p.m. - SLC Weekly

"Thou shalt attend Ye Olde Alibi"

Allen Amundsen For the Times-Standard
Article Launched: 06/05/2008 01:16:04 AM PDT

Professor Harold Bloom argues that William Shakespeare invented humanity.

More accurately, his position is that the works of Shakespeare have forever altered our perception of what the human condition means, namely in terms of how messy it is (and how screwed up everybody is, generally speaking.) Bloom declared that we hear ourselves in the dialogue and climactic set pieces in The Bard's seminal plays; each impassioned exchange and heart-wrenching monologue opens up contemporary minds to the intricacies of primal human emotions. Such academic hyperbole is easy to casually dismiss -- but his central thesis certainly opens up a decent topic for English Lit majors to discuss over warm cups of chai tea on a Sunday afternoon.

I am not sure what Bloom would make of The Metal Shakespeare Company, the world's premiere “Bardcore” band known for weaving the ear-splitting guitar shrieks of Iron Maiden with the iambic wizardry of The Bard's quintessential masterpieces. If Shakespeare invented humanity, then the MSC is the natural extension of his invention by taking all of the Bard's hyper-real ruminations on madness, deception, forbidden love, and the call to war and melding it with the sweet anarchy of high-decibel heavy metal.

The band embodies the notion that the world is indeed a stage, and you and I are merely players -- who enjoy watching four guys dressed like Elizabethans and thrashing out fiery metal riffs.

I chatted briefly by phone with two
of MSC's merry men: Lord Simms (Jason Simms) and William Sly (Randy Bemrose.) The two were still giddy with unbridled excitement from the previous night's show in Albuquerque. They also spoke to me in full Elizabethan character (much as they do during their banter between songs.)

I suppose the first question anyone might ask is what is the connection between the works of William Shakespeare and the operatic rock style of heavy metal?

”[The Bard's] work doth naturally lend itself to metal. The tragedies most of all; war, treachery -- these are common to metal music. There is no darkness without light” said Sly.

This natural bridge between the most popular scribe in the English language and the world of searing guitar solos is self-evident to the band. The MSC witnesses this connection all the time during their gigs.

”We enjoy seeing the various bodies in the audience whirling into a frenzy in the...mosh pits, as you call them” he added.

The MSC certainly knows how to work a crowd. They are extremely gimmicky in the best way possible. Not only do their fans and audiences get the joke, they revel in it. They have played everything from small rock clubs to Renaissance Fairs, and no matter what the venue or context, their aim is always to woo the crowd with a fusion of metal madness wrapped in a blanket of admiration for the Great Works. As Lord Simms observed;

”During his time, Shakespeare's plays were very similar to that of heavy metal show...rowdy people, throwing things , throwing fruit at the stage...a very different type of audience from today's theatergoers, whom of which are very bourgeois and seem to like to sit still,” Simms said.

I asked if any of their fans show up in costume.

”Sadly, no” said Sly. “But we would most appreciate it! It is not standard practice, however.”

On the subject of clothing, Lord Simms immediately interjected, “We feel out of place in your time is rather curious, people walking about in their under garments and so forth.”

Costumes and stagecraft aside, what about the group's sound? Their most popular song is “Hamlet” a faithfully rocking rendition of the brooding Prince of Denmark's famous soliloquy (”Alas poor Yorrick, I knew him well...” etc. etc.) Another favorite is 'Dagger of the Mind' which literally riffs on Macbeth's homicidal thoughts (”Is this a dagger which I see before me...” etc. etc.) Again, these song choices reify the connection between The Bard and hard rock.

”We felt it was describes murder most foul. Macbeth was besieged by delusions...very much in the vein of metal” said Simms.

Not only does the band bring hearty rock 'n' roll with tongues firmly planted in cheek, but they also bring enlightenment. Simms is proud of their swamp-rock ode to the obscure play Coriolanus.

”It is an educational song for the Bard layman.” Simms said. We see it as a duty to spread the works of The Bard through metal.”

William Shakespeare invented humanity. The Metal Shakespeare Company has reinvented the way in which humanity thinks about (and rocks out to) the works of William Shakespeare. They are very excited to be on the road and to revisit the magical forests of the North Coast. The band played The Alibi last January and fondly remembers the welcoming vibe of Humboldt County.

”Our audience presents a vast schism between the Plebeians and the Noblemenm” Sly said. “In your fair city of Arcata [note: he pronounced it AR-KAY-TA], we have found a dearth of Plebeians in your area, which pleases us very much. We rather like them.”

To paraphrase Hamlet himself, though this band might seem like madness, there is a clever and entertaining method to it.

Get Thee to The Alibi!

The Metal Shakespeare Company plays with thirtythreeandathird Saturday, admission is $5. - Times-Standard (Eureka, CA)

"The Bard’s Tale"

“To be or not to be; Who are we?; That is the question; It matters not; To bleed or not to bleed; For we are metal!” proclaim the members of Portland’s Thee Metal Shakespeare Company. The merry band of brothers plays power metal based on the works of William Shakespeare. Seriously.

The quartet of minstrels’ show includes costumes, Old English and the occasional crowd-pleasing Iron Maiden cover. The band is touring to promote its self-titled “magical disk” on CleanBox Entertainment by means of “a noble steed of steel always traveling at maximum speed and maximum volume,” says axeman Viceroy Matthew.

The tunes are playful and the musicianship great. The abundance of guitar solos is easily justified not only as a genre convention but as a musical interpretation of soliloquy. You can’t have a good power metal band without a shining singer, and axeman and vocalist Lord Simms can sing an impressive range with crystal clarity.

They’re fairly confident that Shakespeare approves of the music but have yet to hear from him. “We’re not sure; correspondence has been frighteningly slim. We talked to his PR people, but they’re dodgy at best,” says drummer William Sly. When questioned about the authorship controversy surrounding the Bard’s work, he replies fervently. “This is false — these are lies. There is one Shakespeare, and there will be death, destruction and ruin to all who claim otherwise. There can be none other.”

Thee Metal Shakespeare Company heralds itself as “bardcore.” Viceroy Matthew explains: “It is more than music to us; it is truly the way we choose to live our lives in an epic and glorious manner, harnessing as much power as possible. We project our sound with magic, alchemy and sonic waves to the audience.”

Perhaps best of all, Viceroy Matthew wears a silly hat during performances.

Thee Metal Shakespeare Company, Purple Rhinestone Eagle, Speculative and Harmony Volunteers play at 9 pm, Sunday, June 8, at the Samurai Duck. 21+ show. — Nick DeMarino - Eugene Weekly


Self-titled full length CD on CleanBox Entertainment. The single "Hamlet III.i: To Bleed or Not to Bleed" receives some college radio play in Oregon and California.



Really, power metal and Shakespeare are pretty similar when you think about it. They're both bombastic and concerned with honor and glory. They're both simultaneously manly and a bit fruity. But it wasn't until 2006 at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, that a group of bookworms who could shred decided to combine them by literally adopting the bard's texts as metal lyrics.

A Metal Shakespeare Company show is about 70% metal and 30% theater. In addition to guitar harmonies, there are duels. With swords. Audience participation has included public readings of the bard and public executions.

MSC is a versatile band that has performed with like-minded theme metal acts like Thor, Zolar X, Doro, Mini Kiss and Stovokor as well as rock n' roll bands like Dead Moon and the Hunches. But colleges and Shakespeare festivals are the band's most successful market. They performed at the nationally renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival last year.