'Tis Most Metal

Portland's Metal Shakespeare Company brings the ax down on the bard

Thunder and lightning. Enter four MUSICIANS, clad in velvet and tights, and carrying AXES. The MUSICIANS, herewith known as the METAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY, begin playing their AXES loudly as LORD SIMMS sings lines of poetrie directly from the work of one WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.

And the scene is set for the Metal Shakespeare Company, a Portland, Ore., group fronted by Jason Simms (aka Lord Simms), who, despite his birth sometime in the 20th century, has an uncanny ability to speak as if he were a denizen of Elizabethan England.

"Though my language may beguile thee, I assure you my story is completely true," said Simms over the phone from Portland, before telling the story of the group's inception while Simms was a student at Lewis and Clark College in 2006. "I wast imbibing ale in a tavern one eve when I didst say to a mate of mine, 'Sir, I wish that I could perform the type of music played by minstrels such as Iron Maiden, though I fear I wouldst be mocked, for to do so with a straight face would not be in vogue, as they say,'" explained Simms. "So he did suggest, without hesitation, that a Shakespeare metal band couldst be conceived and more well-received by the audiences of the day."

From there, Simms set out on a quest to find musicians who shared both a love of metal and a love of the Bard, and the group's signature sound, "bardcore" was born. Since then, the group has toured the country and released one self-titled album. They also have a brand-new 7" that will be sold at upcoming shows.

Simms is quick to point out that the metal the Metal Shakespeare Company invokes is neither death nor thrash, since "methinks our death-metal-and-thrash cousin wouldst suit perhaps another poet." But, as he explained over e-mail after a digital-recorder meltdown ("There is a wizard who doth bewitch frequently our equipment, and I am loath to know that thine he hath bewitched as well!" wrote Simms. "And o'er such distance!"), "In the case of the Bard and that metal most shining and true, one canst find a peculiar mixture of the masculine and feminine. If thou lookst to the great metal minstrels of the 1980s, one shall find a group of silly men clad in wigs and tights, not unlike those men who didst portray the fairer sex in Shakespeare's Globe."

Translation: Shakespearean drama and heavy metal are really not all that disparate. "In each, there is sophistication—metal minstrels must have catlike skill within their realm or be cast aside for more suitable players," said Simms. "But each must appease the base. The Bard didst compete with bear baiters for plebes, and so do we with the myriad mindless diversions of our day. And 'tis for that I stand upon bars, kiss spectators of both sexes, wrestle when called upon, and otherwise refuse to be ignored."

The Metal Shakespeare Company takes the dramatic nature of their music and lyrics to heart during live shows, performing duels with swords—and even public executions. It's metal antics pre-pyrotechnics; one can, in fact, see Ozzy Osbourne's biting the head off of a live bird as not too far away from the realm of Titus Andronicus or Richard III.

Continued Simms, "Methinks too there is an element of bombast in each. For one couldst compare a love as powerful and quick as that of Romeo and Juliet to a summer's day, but perhaps a 90-second finger-tapping solo wouldst be truer."

Verily, the music that the Metal Shakespeare Company composes for monologues and scenes, such as Macbeth's "Is this a dagger which I see before me?" speech (Act 2, Scene 1) or Isabella's plea to Angelo to spare her brother from Measure for Measure (Act 2, Scene 2), expertly transcribes the emotion and depth of each scene with instruments.

The Metal Shakespeare Company is also not limited to plays; their new repertoire includes a version of Sonnet 66, "Tired with all these, for restful death I cry." Said Simms, "In these 14 lines, Shakespeare doth renounce all that makes him hate the world. 'Tis a most metal subject indeed."

This, ultimately, is the Metal Shakespeare Company's goal: to find that which is most metal within the work of Shakespeare, and use that power to bring the work of the Bard to audiences of all ages and backgrounds.

"Upon the stage of an S&M dungeon we have flogged and been flogged," said Simms. "And upon the stage of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival—the largest in the land—we were cheered and honored by children yet half-grown and their silver-headed elders. Our destiny is untamed, and without roads laid before us, for we are the first to take up our work. But of all the groves where we may go, the kingdom of Las Vegas doth beckon above all others. With travelers daily new, we couldst refine our arts without wearing the soles of our shoes in long and treacherous travel. If we didst construct a globe of steele to be our home and stage, 'twould be in that land surely best loved."

Most metal, indeed.