“Whale Metal” vs Baby Beluga (A Guest Post from TovH pal Megachiles)
When our 16 month old was a wee, fresh infant, only one song could soothe him whenever he was grim about the mouth; whenever it was a damp, drizzly November in his soul: “Baby Beluga” by Raffi.
I have multiple hypotheses for why this is, but the most compelling is that Baby Beluga just happens to be the pinnacle of whale-themed music. It’s a perfectly balanced presentation of whale fact, whimsy, and songcraft, giving it a seemingly limitless capacity to conciliate the discontented child. A second leading hypothesis is Canadians are really good at music.
Like any nerd worth his salt, I think whales are neat. I also, as a huge dork, know there were at least a few metal bands in the early-to-mid aughts that were big on whales and whale-adjacent imagery. Dunno what was going on back then but I feel like it was a definite thing. Like one day in 2007 the guy from Baroness just decided to try out the weary Nantucket whaleman look and hasn’t looked back since.
I became curious whether whale-themed metal could compete in terms of both musical quality (as judged by a small child) and its portrayal of whales with the absolute GOAT of cetacean-centric musicdom, Baby Beluga. So I asked the TovH FB group and disqus crew for recommendations, spent a lot of time thinking of all the words I could think of related to whales, dug around on Metal Archives, listened to some music, subjected my kiddo to some music, sat on this for 14 months because the world is falling apart, and am now finally sharing my highly qualified, expert opinion on how some heavy metal songs about whales stacks up to a wholesome 40 year old children’s song about a little white whale on the go.
In rating these “Whale Metal” songs relative to Baby Beluga I created a 5 point scale, with a 5/5 representing a song that is practically equal to Baby Beluga in aspects of catchiness, danceability, and whale representation. So, a 0/5 on this scale does not mean a song is bad per se, just that it utterly fails to briefly entertain a toddler and/or does a disservice to whales in some way.
Throwing a Donner Party at Sea (Physeter Catodon)—Giant Squid
It’s nice that this has a rollicking, nautical cello melody and a pretty cool trumpet bit, or else it would barely make a splash when compared to the iconic, evocative brass and woodwinds of Baby Beluga. My toddler definitely appreciates the melody on display here. Unfortunately Physeter catodon is no longer a valid species name for sperm whales, and has been synonymized with several other outdated epithets under Physeter macrocephalus. We’ll have to dock points for not keeping abreast of cetacean taxonomy.
This could very well be about vikings or other dorky pagan stuff, but orcas (Orcinus orca) are known as “wolves of the sea” so I’m going to include it. Orcas are in the same superfamily as belugas, so points for cuteness by association. Like a lot of Bathory songs this has a nice folky melody and some triumphant chanting, which babies and toddlers generally appreciate (check out Uinuos Syömein Sota by Havukruunu for more baby-approved viking shouting). However as fun as this is I can’t entirely shake the feeling that this isn’t actually about whales. I can’t be bothered to read the lyrics, so I’m gonna have to score this on the low end.Depths of Arcane—White Ward
Those lo-if beats to relax/study to @ 2:24 will definitely elicit a bop or a measured side-to-side sway from even the most truculent child. Also there’s a narwhal mention in the lyrics. Referencing the only other whale in the same family (Monodontidae) as the beluga is a big whale-lore flex. However narwhals have been unfairly overshadowing their more portly and expressive relatives a bit too much lately, so I’m going to have to deduct a half point.
Like the ineffable Raffi, grindsters Internal Rot understand they have a limited window of time to hold their audience’s attention. Clocking in at a concise 0:44, these Aussies really keep it short and sweet on Harpooned and throughout their early 2020 full-length Grieving Birth. Unfortunately so far as I can tell the only lyric in this song is “Harpooned”. Even with a generous interpretation it seems rather grisly and hostile. Tbh I was really struggling to think of words at least tangentially related to whales when I added this one and now I’m starting to have some second thoughts…. Also it doesn’t seem like an action known vegetarian, ecosystem advocate, and children’s music troubadour Raffi Cavoukian would approve of outside of indigenous peoples’ whale hunting rights.
Quoting Melville and flashy drum fills alone won’t impress a toddler. Your music needs texture. And yeah, wave sounds are ok masto-dudes, but do those stack up to samples of the playful splashes and canary-like call of Delphinapterus leucas? I think not.
2.5/5 Pudding-Headed Whales?
I was excited to find a Disharmonic Orchestra song mentioning whales, as I seemed to recall some funky, seemingly baby-dance friendly bass in their music. However this is a little too off-kilter to jive too, despite what the lyrics imply. On the other hand the narrator of Groove implies they’re frolicking undersea á la Baby Beluga, through their observation of plankton “creeping through the grass” (seagrass perhaps). So points there, even though beluga are toothed whales who don’t consume plankton.
Flying Whales— Gojira
“I have to find the whales” Well you’re not going to find them in space that’s for sure, Joe DuPlantier. Despite their protective blubber, cetaceans, like most animals, are poorly adapted for survival in an almost perfect vacuum. While I understand this is a fantastical concept album, Raffi understood that the most gripping fantasy is rooted in reality when composing the tour-de-force 1980 album Baby Beluga and its groundbreaking title track (also see 1994’s seminal “Bananaphone”).
2.5/5 Baby Belugas curled up, snug in their water bed, absolutely not flying in space
Behold! . . . But Beware the Celestial Cetaceans!—The Beast of Nod
Subtracting points for more space whale foolishness. But I do appreciate that this taught me about Brygmophyseter, an extinct genus of toothed, apex predator whales that preyed on other whales. A fricking wild paleohistory tidbit that I appreciate and will likely be readily absorbed by my doomed-to-be-dorky offspring in a few years. Unfortunately babies and toddlers don’t really jive with the weedlies and deedlies and ultra cold/clean production of tech death. Or maybe it’s the lack of easy to learn choruses and simple melodies? Idk, as technically impressive as this is, my kid won’t dance to it and it certainly won’t make for an easy to remember or soothing lullaby.
FUNERAL DOOOOOOM double-round:
That big thiccc chug-chug riff that kicks off at 1:45 definitely evokes the sea and a big ole whale. But the lyrics seem like anti-cetacean Quaker propaganda: “Beware the white demon/Beware the blasphemous end”? Most un-beluga, my dudes.
Drowned VI: Mother Cetacean—Drown
I know it’s called funeral doom for a reason but geez this is a downer.
“Cetacean calls, for the death of their young /Mother Human sinks, for the death of her son”? Listen y’all, I’m a dad now. My capacity for stomaching media that puts children (or dogs or cats) into dangerous or even slightly scary situations is pretty much nil. This metal whale song is definitely 2sad4me.
Licensed to Krill—Vampire Squid
For the sake of sub-genre diversity and puns I’ll include a song about krill (chief food source of baleen whales) eating people. Points for zaniness and ocean whimsy, and that baby-friendly breakdown @1:37, but flipping food webs on their head is a bit much. Alas, it seems the only grindcore that consistently gets a rise out of my kid is by Gimli, Son of Glóin.
Whale 鯨魚—Bloody Tyrant
Now this is more like it. Those riffs! An acoustic stringed instrument that says “Hey, you’re listening to Folk MetalTM!” (note: it’s apparently a pipa). The cheesy cleans! All highly danceable to a little bambino. Also let’s take a closer look at that chorus:
“O mighty whale! Please take me back to my home/ They are waiting, they are longing, I can no longer stay.”
Now that’s some Raffi-tier reverence for our marine mammalian pals. High marks all around!
4.5/5 mighty Baby Belugas, swimming so wild and so free
So there you have it. While it occasionally approaches the quality of that beloved touchstone of the children’s music canon, Whale Metal is no substitute for Baby Beluga.
Be on the lookout for my next article “Who Sang It: Les Claypool, Mike Payton, or The Wiggles?” and “Was Charlotte Diamond’s 1985 smash hit “I am a Pizza” actually the first death metal song?”