Graded on a Curve: Rebellion,
Shakespeare’s Macbeth: A Tragedy in Steel

Shakespeare sucks. You can make neither heads nor tails of his plays because his characters are always spouting words I’m convinced the Immoral Bard made up on the spot, and they have more footnotes than words.

And I’m not the only critic who thinks Shakespeare’s Scottish tragedy was a plate of rotting haggis. In 1606 a theatre critic for The London Cock-a-Hoop wrote “Last night’s debut of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth made me harken for a return to Middle English. As gagging playgoers streamed from the Globe Theatre at the end of Act II the poor lad portraying Lady MacDuff tore off his wig and cried “I’ve had enough of this fancified gibberish!” I strongly recommend that worthies in search of real entertainment avoid this Black Plague of a play and head over to Blackfriars Theatre to check out Strumpets on Ice instead.”

Fortunate for us we have we have a sort of Cliff Notes in metal to Shakespeare’s tragedy in the form of the German power metal band Rebellion’s 2002 concept album Shakespeare’s Macbeth: A Tragedy in Steel. The LP—the band’s debut—is an audacious masterpiece that peppers its heavy metal thunder with dialogue from Shakespeare’s play. Shakespeare would no doubt doff his copotain to Rebellion in tribute, agreeing that their version of Macbeth makes his smell like the foul ordure of a prancing bear.

As you’ve no doubt known from the start, it’s Shakespeare’s Macbeth: A Tragedy in Steel that reeks of bear shit. You can’t fault Rebellion for their ambition, but you can fault the finished product as one of the worst LPs this side of Starship’s Knee Deep in the Hoopla. You know you’re knee deep in something when a heavy metal album comes complete with a ten-member “cast,” each and every one of whom has mastered the fine art of overemoting.

And then there’s the music, which falls into the sub-sub-genre of pomp metal. It’s your standard issue fare; I’ve heard better and I’ve heard worse, but mostly I’ve heard better. The band includes a guy Rebellion probably pulled from an unemployment line and whose musical contribution is listed simply as “cocksman.” And there’s another guy who’s credited as playing the whipstick. I’m guessing he’s a studio musician. Good whipstick players are always in demand.

The LP opens with an oration (“As we know, man does not walk the earth alone, but is surrounded by strange creatures and spirits”) by the narrator, who I’m pretty sure isn’t quoting Shakespeare. But the players’ dialogue comes straight from the bard’s mouth; as for the band, they seem to have stuck with the Cliff Notes like I did, and you can’t help but cheer them on as they do their hapless best to prove they’re every bit the poet as the play’s author.

Song titles range from the show-offy (“Husbandry in Heaven”) to the depressingly predictable (“Evil Speaks,” “Demons Rising”). The album credits list only one singer but there are definitely two, and about the only thing I like about Shakespeare’s Macbeth: A Tragedy in Steel is their vocal back and forth. That and the sword fight. The sword fight is great.

By any rational standard Shakespeare’s Macbeth: A Tragedy in Steel deserves an F for Fiasco. But I’m upping it half a notch because say what thou wilt it’s a comedy record that gives Spinal Tap a run for their money. And the beauty of it is that, unlike Spinal Tap, Rebellion weren’t even trying. Their sincerity is almost touching, but to quote Shakespeare himself, Shakespeare’s Macbeth: A Tragedy in Steel “stands not within the prospect of belief.” Yet here it is. “Out, damned album,” you may say. But once you’ve heard Shakespeare’s Macbeth, its stain will be with you forever.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
D-

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