seth diamond gods of fire 248 .
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'Eight days of victory, this story that we tell
Is a tribute to the men who saved us from this hell
The stench of pigs at the Altar of Zeus
Was cleansed by this miracle which showed us all His truth'
- From "Eight Days of Victory"
If that doesn't sound exactly like the story of the Maccabis that we recount on Hanukka, it's only because you've never heard it told by New York City metal band Gods of Fire.
The group's new album Hannukah Gone Metal celebrates the Festival of Lights through an ear-shattering fusion of heavy rock, traditional melodies, shredding vocals, a touch of rocking klezmer and whole lot of humor. Songs like "No Gelt No Glory," "The Quest for Latke Oil," the complex rock opera "Taking the Temple," and "Spin For the Blood of Our Elders," with its unforgettable line "Spin the dreidel on this Hanukkah day to keep the twisted beasts of hell away," could be construed as either blasphemy or ironic hipster parody. But behind the tongue-firmly-in-cheek lyrics about spinning dreidels and fighting dragons for latke oil, the extensive of war talk and the kitschy Iron Maiden-style riffing, there's a big Jewish heart beating with a love of tradition and history, as demonstrated by the last verse of "Eight Days of Hannukah":
'The miracle that occurred at the Temple that night
Was a triumph that all Jews carry with them in their lives
When times become their hardest and it seems all hope is gone
We remember that He will provide as our spirit carries on.'
"I was raised Reform, but my father was raised as an Orthodox Jew in Brooklyn; he was president of his synagogue and kept kosher until he was married," said Seth Diamond, the frontman for the part-time band, which was formed in 2003. "I didn't follow in his piety, but we were definitely traditional in our celebration of Hanukka. My favorite holiday song growing up was 'Oh Hanukka' - it's got an amazing melody."
No wonder that among the six original songs on Hannukah Gone Metal are versions unlike you've ever heard before of "Oh Hanukka" and "Havenu Shalom Alechem."
Diamond, a 33-year-old Brooklynite, who, when he's not leading a heavy metal life, spends his days working in Internet advertising operations, has been obsessed with metal since he was a young child.
"I knew how to dial up the distortion knob on my amp before I knew about the birds and the bees. It always spoke to me, even at a young age," said Diamond on the phone from New York earlier this month, the day after he attended a Metallica concert at Madison Square Garden.
"And it was a source of pride for me that there were so many Jews involved in metal. The first record I bought was Twisted Sister's Stay Hungry," he added, citing Jewish members of bands like Anthrax, Megadeth and Dream Theater.
FOLLOWING A STINT in the 1990s playing with an instrumental indie rock band, Diamond returned to his metal roots. Since forming Gods of Fire and releasing a 2003 album, Wrath of God, Diamond and his bandmates have treated the band like a committed hobby, sporadically performing in the New York area and reveling in the excess of metal with elaborate sets, costumes, fog and pyro effects.
Diamond's fusion of his Jewish identity and his metal mania began a few years ago when the band recorded a head-banding version of "Hatikva" as the theme music for a friend's podcast in Israel. The connection grew stronger last year when the band performed at Major League Dreidel, a sevivon spinning competition in New York.
"They asked us to open the show, and that gave me the idea of throwing a couple traditional songs into the set," said Diamond. "We ended doing an entire set of Jewish songs. The idea of doing a Hanukka record came out of that evening."
Diamond admitted that it took a little convincing to get some of his band members, some of whom aren't Jewish, to sign on to the project; but once everyone was on board, the ideas started to flow.
"At the beginning, we were just happy to be focusing on a project, but as it went on and we learned the melodies and the traditions behind the songs everyone got involved," he said.
According to Diamond, metal music, which often focuses on ancient civilizations and Greek and Roman mythology, is a perfect match for the rich traditionals of Hanukka.
"Metal often focuses on history, looking to the Templars or the Vikings as mystical figures of the past. Lots of Scandinavian bands found their lineage and pride through writing about their history," he said. "The more we learned about the Maccabis and their faith, we found that we had our own mystical warriors to look up to.
"Writing the songs was a blast. We started with coming up with an outline. We made a list of the most important elements of the holiday, and from that we would figure out what to write the songs about."
One natural topic for any Hanukka song is, naturally, potato latkes. But the dilemma that emerged for the band was how to write a song in their genre about such a mundane subject. What's metal about fried potatoes and oil?
"We eventually came up with a theme - creating a Lord of the Rings-style story about the challenges of these villagers to get the oil for their latkes, involving an epic dragon battle," said Diamond. "It was the quest for the oil that became the song "The Quest for Latke Oil."
RELEASED AT the beginning of November, Hannukah Gone Metal is already making waves in certain circles, and Gods of Fire are planning two Hanukka shows in New York, on December 12 at the Knitting Factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and on December 17 at New York City's Fontanas. While it may not be the fitting Hanukka gift for everyone, Diamond thinks that Hannukah Gone Metal will appeal to a few specific niche markets.
"First, there's the pure metalheads - religious holiday or not, it's still a great metal album and I would hope metalheads would take a listen. Second, I think the hipper Jews - the whole culture of 20- and 30-somethings who are finding their own Jewish identity, writing blogs - would come for the kitsch and stay for what we think is a fantastic record. And lastly, the Jewish teenagers and Hebrew school kids are a natural audience," Diamond said.
"Maybe we could be the gateway for parents and kids to come to some kind of Jewish understanding. I don't think secular Jews are aware of the connections that can be made to the past. It would be great if a kid decided to learn more about his heritage after hearing the album."
Given the chance, Hannukah Gone Metal could become a holiday favorite, with kids singing along to the festive title song in which Diamond bellows, "Are you ready for your eight crazy nights?"
In the song, a Hanukka celebrant recites the list of gifts received on each night of the holiday, like a "golden yarmulke," "oversized socks," and a "menorah constructed of stones." When he reaches the final night's candle lighting, in one screaming refrain the whole venture created by Gods of Fire is neatly encapsulated - "On the eighth night, I demand Metal!!!!!"
You can hear tracks from the album at Gods of Fire's Myspace page - http://www.myspace.com/godsoffire.