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Lepaca Kliffoth Critical Thinking

Sweden's Therion have been lauded the world over, just about, for their wildly influential and experimental symphonic heavy metal; it incorporates not only classical ambitions and arrangements, but the integration of European folk and even industrial elementals into their sound. Add to this guitarist, songwriter and conceptualist Christofer Johnsson and (non)performing scholar/lyricist Thomas Karlsson's collective studied knowledge of myths, arcane occult knowledge, and folklore from around the globe (East of the Atlantic anyway) and you have the very beginnings of Therion's reach and command of artful heavy music. Johnsson added an opera singer (and now two) a couple of years back to bring life to his simultaneously pretentious and operatic vision of a quadrology of Nordic myth that began with Secret of the Runes, continued in the simultaneously issued Sirius B and Lemuria, and sees its grand -- and oh is it grand -- finale in Gothic Kaballah, the most righteous vision of excess heavy metal has ever seen.

Gothic Kaballah is a double disc -- by an eight-member strong Therion -- with help from friends (one of whom is organist Ken Hensley, formerly of Uriah Heep). It is the epitome of conceptually oriented symphonic metal. It brings together melodies from the West and the East. Its orchestrations are lavish, but the attack is heavier than Odin's wrath -- check "T.O.F. The Trinity" on disc two for a small but punishing bit of evidence of the magical menace found there. Produced by the band and Mats Levén -- who also co-wrote music, played guitar and is featured on lead vocals a great deal of the time -- Gothic Kaballah makes no concessions except one: for the very first time, the band has written and sung in English. But perhaps that's no concession at all considering Americans are the only nationality who hasn't grasped the ragged glory and rugged power of Therion: as a colleague puts it complimentarily, they are the Meat Loaf of metal. The reference is the sheer wide-ranging grandeur in composition, performance, production and execution in their work. They do everything big. This is rock with a big "R." It transcends the metal genre though it is certainly a heavy metal record but it moves territorially into prog rock as well, but a prog rock that's easy to get next to. The tempo and key changes have been part of the Therion compositional mode for a long time, but here the transitions are seamless even as the traditional metal elements remain heavier than the burden of the gods. The album's story is one of intense literary scrutiny, critical investigation, and dramatic pyrotechnics. Richard Wagner would have been proud to write for Therion. Their excesses were his own: dynamics in drama for the sake of moving a story through its paces, revealing secrets, horrors, and promises and revelations of what preceded and proceeds from the Judeo-Christian apocalypse. Therion ascend the staircase of the gods on Gothic Kaballah and tells them to bring it on, while simultaneously acknowledging their ferocity, glory and power.

As the crackling guitar and bass riffs open "Die Mitternachslöwe" on disc one, and keyboards and blastbeats enter with sinister force, a soprano sings "In the end of time, in times of revelation/Lion from the north will appear in a dark nation..." Petter Karlsson and Levén add a chorus to further the tale "...Read the forecast/fear the eagle/See the wonders, trust the lion/Read the prophecy, the savior of midnight..." without a trace of irony; guitars play in counterpoint then a single bass chord carries the menacing tension until the tune ends. The listener has entered the netherworld of Gothic Kaballah, where light shines through punishing guitar forms, a murky smoke and mirror-adorned cave of fact and fiction, elliptical storytelling, pronounced thematics, changing keyboards and introductions and disappearances of characters from gods to animals to mortals and sprites of every stripe. Oh yeah, there are numerous killer dual guitar leads to top it all off. The title track, with its low-tuned guitars and basses playing in sharp counterpoint, ushers in sledgehammer cadences that Metallica could never have imagined, let alone pulled off, and they give way to folk melodies -- that really are melodies -- and booming tom toms that offer the melding of tribal expression, gritty keyboard sounds, and classically oriented harmonics. The way the story is told and the different musical landscapes used to move it along offer the argument that Therion have created the first great rock opera of the 21st century. Not that you have to pay attention to the narrative to appreciate it: this is the metal that disappeared aboveground in the U.S. a decade or more ago.

Gothic Kaballah is the first shot from the Therion canon on the American market in earnest. Aimed squarely for the Yankee heart, it conquers with theater, menace and above all a stellar Nordic stoicism which rebels while it assumes the mantle of control. Currently there is no one on the scene that can come close to Therion's ambition or ability ( the conviction, spiritual devotion, and maniacal pummel in "The Perennial Sophia" or "Son of the Staves of Time" should shut up all but the most cynical metalheads). Therion have the money, the promotion, the chops, and the sheer vision to make this happen without a smirk or a nod to kitsch. This is the right introduction for America (though all their records are available here); those who come to Gothic Kaballah as their first taste of this band would do well to pick up the rest of the quadrology and listen in order. Gothic Kaballah is brilliant, disturbing, grandiose and very listenable -- those who thought metal was for knuckleheads and the ignorant should pay heed and give this baby a spin. It possesses both bone-riffing thud and bell-ringing clarity, orchestral strings and bass throbs that sends the dials spinning into the red. It is destined to be a classic. This is Euro-metal at its zenith; it moves the entire heavy metal universe a giant leap forward. It may be early in 2007, but already Gothic Kaballah is the gold standard to beat.

In this post, Chanitra Bishop, Web and Digital Initiatives Librarian at Hunter College, draws from her experiences using Wikipedia in classrooms and libraries. Her recommendations are useful for framing classroom discussions during Wikipedia assignments, or can operate as stand-alone media literacy exercises to complement any kind of assignment. 

When it comes to doing research, Wikipedia may not be the first source that comes to mind, especially for a librarian. However, the reasons that might make Wikipedia a questionable choice for teaching research and critical thinking skills are actually good reasons to use it.

Wikipedia is great because it’s familiar to students. Students often begin and end their research on Wikipedia, anyway. Teaching them how to use it is a great opportunity to teach critical reading and research skills.

Here are five learning objectives I’ve identified in my experiences using Wikipedia in classrooms libraries.

1. Using Wikipedia for background information

Learning objective: Teach students the importance of background research, and how it can aid them in the writing process.

Many students skip background research, either because of time or because they don’t think they need it. When students begin their research, they may not know much about their topic (and those topics can be broad). Students often need help knowing what to look for, and how to use what they find.

Have students read a Wikipedia article on their topic and look for:

  • Key issues; why the topic, person, event is important
  • Important names/authorities/events
  • Major dates

Discuss with students how they might narrow down their topic based on what they learned from the article.

Key questions:

  • Is there an important person or event or subtopic that took place that they want to further research? For example, the article on birth control: Do they want to discuss a specific method, or various viewpoints?

2. Compare Wikipedia Article to Encyclopedia Britannica

Learning objective: Teach that different sources often provide different information, so it’s important to look at more than one source, and to evaluate the quality of those sources, when doing research.

Unless students are required to use several sources, students might rely too much on a single source. This assignment helps students see how sources include or exclude certain details. Assign students to read the Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica articles (or another source) on the same topic. Then ask students to compare and contrast the two.

Key questions:

  • Do they both provide the same information? What does one provide that the other does not?
  • Do they provide the same references? The same number of references?
  • What are the reference sources? Are they Internet sources, books, magazine or journal articles?
  • Has your class discussed or used any of the sources?
  • Does one encyclopedia provide better coverage of the topic than the other? If, so, why?

3. Wikipedia Article Analysis

Learning objective: Teach students to recognize bias in sources, specifically websites like Wikipedia, and determine the quality of the article

Students often come across websites in their research that appear to be great sources. This assignment asks students to think about Wikipedia’s “Neutral Point of View,” and if an article draws from reliable sources.

Key questions:

  • Are there any gaps in what the article covers? For example, does it cover all popular opinions on topic, every year of an event, and all of the people involved in the event?
  • Is the information accurate?
  • Is the information presented objectively? Is the article slanted towards one perspective (or ignore others)? Are there any signs of bias in the article? Is article told from a “Neutral Point of View”? Does the article provide statistics to support its claims? Does the article make general statements like “most, many…”?
  • Has the article been rated? If so, how is it rated? Why? Do you agree with the rating?
  • Do the article’s sources contain information similar to other sources, such as encyclopedias or class readings? Who is the publisher? What is the source of the information? Is the information supported by other sources?
  • Is the material well-written, presented and organized? Is it organized in a manner similar to other Wikipedia articles?

4. Source Evaluation

Learning Objective: This assignment teaches students to be more critical when selecting sources and to consider whether the source is appropriate for their research.

Students might select the first few items from online search results, rather than reading more about the source to determine if it is appropriate. For this assignment, students analyze the references used in a Wikipedia article. Wiki Ed’s handbook on Evaluating Wikipedia can help students evaluate article quality.

Key questions:

  • Review the abstract. How is the article related to your topic? What facts, criticism, and analysis is provided?
  • If available in the catalog record, review the summary or table of contents. Are the chapters related to your topic?
  • Where does the article appear? Is it in a well-known newspaper or magazine? Is it in an academic journal?
  • Scan the major headings of the article. Does it focus on a particular perspective? Does it discuss other opinions? Does it provide any disclaimers for limitations of the research?
  • Who is the author? Google the author, have they published other materials on this topic? Where do they work? What are their credentials?
  • Who is the publisher? Are they well known? Is it a university press?

5. Evolution of an Article

Learning Objective: Teach students about the development of Wikipedia articles and online communities. Help students see how articles are improved and that the articles are dynamic.

For this activity, students look at the history of an article and compare the current version with an older version.

Key questions:

  • How has the article changed? What has been added or removed from the article since the earlier version?
  • Do you agree with the changes? Do you think the article is better? Why?
  • Look at the talk page, has there been any major discussions of changes? If so, what were they?

These notes were condensed from Chanitra Bishop’s presentation, “Teaching Research & Critical Thinking Skills Through Wikipedia,” at WikiConference USA 2015, which you can watch here. To find out more about Wiki Ed’s resources for instructors, see our Teaching page. 

Photo: “Chanitra Bishop at Regional Ambassador training, 2011-07-07” by Sage Ross – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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