(In this post, Dane Prokofiev returns to NCS with another installment in his Keyboard Warriors series, in which he interviews metal writers — and now branches out to provide an in-depth look at the inner workings of metal’s most comprehensive single resource of knowledge. We are also indebted to Azmodes for the time he devoted to this fascinating discussion.)
Comprised of a large number of dedicated staff members and innumerable ordinary members, the non-profit cyber encyclopedia of metal bands is a project that requires a huge amount of constant effort in order to stay online and remain relevant and useful to metal music writers, fans, and researchers alike.
If you have ever wondered about the internal workings of Metal-Archives.com, here’s an inside look. A fairly new administrator of the site discusses a multitude of issues ranging from the hierarchy system to the controversial topic of what makes a band “metal” enough to be officially recognized and registered in the database.
Who are you in real life?
I’m originally from Upper Austria (no, that’s not near Queensland, our kangaroos are alpine mountain dwellers only), but now living in Graz, Styria, since 2005 and studying linguistics there with the occasional job either at university or otherwise to pay the bills. Nothing really exciting to tell here, to be honest, as I’m just a twenty-something music aficionado/very occasional reviewer who enjoys reading (sci-fi in particular) and playing guitar, as well as the occasional alcoholic beverage with friends at the local metal bar, concerts, or any other kind of social gatherings, and (naturally) working on Metal-Archives.
Why did you choose the nom de plume “Azmodes”?
An equally bland tale, I started using “Azmodai” many years back when frequenting a German tabletop (Warhammer) forum. As with so many nicks, I just thought it was a cool name; the whole variation on Asmodeus, Asmodai, Asmodan, demonic name thing. I think there’s even a character in the Warhammer 40K setting called Azmodai, so that may have played a role as well. Over the years this became “Azmodes”, the “-des” being something of a dumb (Austrian) in-joke among friends. It’s pronounced Uhtz-moe-des, by the way.
What’s your specific role and how long have you been at it?
Well, there are many roles staff members can or must/should fulfill. Some staffers like to half-jokingly call themselves janitors and that’s really not too far from the truth.
On the main site, we check incoming band or review submissions, deal with (error/update) reports on existing pages and just update, deal with issues involving, and keep an eye on any existing entries in general. That also includes dealing with vandalism, trolls, or oblivious/ignorant users.
In practice, no staff member really gets regularly involved with every aspect of the site; we have some people who mostly stick to reports, some who almost exclusively evaluate reviews, etc. There are also a number of staffers who are practically forum mods and only make the occasional update on the main site. I personally prefer the band queue, reports, responding to user inquiries in the “Suggestions & Complaints” sub-forum, and keeping an eye on the database in general.
As for how long, I was approached by an admin and made a site moderator shortly after v2 went online some time around April/May 2011. My “promotion” to administrator happened sometime in summer 2012 (can’t recall when exactly).
How is your daily routine like?
When it comes to incorporating site work into everyday life… casual, but heavily involved. When I’m at home that almost always means my laptop’s running, which in turn is a good indication that the Archives are open in some browser tab. There is of course no fixed timetable; it’s basically just a very involved hobby for me. I deal with user messages, browse new bands, reports, new posts on the forum, etc., at my own convenience.
Of course, being an admin means that I shouldn’t just sit on my ass for months on end, but there is indeed a certain laxness to this “job”. I love doing it, so dealing with MA stuff takes up a sizeable portion of my daily real-life routine. You take care of what you want to take care of and if you don’t want or can’t anymore, that’s no problem either. We’ve had many people step down from moderatorship in the past, and most cases were mutually agreed on and amicable.
Has this ‘job’ ever made you busy to the point that it almost felt like a full-time job?
As explained previously, no one’s under any real pressure. However, there are times—when some staffers are otherwise occupied with their real lives, for example—when the load on the remaining mods increases noticeably. Up until a few months ago, for instance, there were over 2,000 error/update reports pending, and even though I dedicated a good deal of time to handling them (as did other mods and users), it sometimes felt like we barely made a dent; the same goes for the band queue.
The review queue was very long (100+) up until recently as well, and the mods “in charge” of it could barely keep it contained. In the end, we took care of all of these, and they are down to tolerable numbers thanks to our user base and the staff, but the work is of course never-ending and there will definitely come a time when certain things will spike again.
Also, I have quite the email traffic with band members, managers, or any kind of site users in general, be it for correcting mistakes, updating entries, or just explaining how the site works. This can take up more time than you’d think, so yeah, I’d say calling it a full-time job could be accurate sometimes, but there’s no real stress or pressure. Also, there is no wage, unless you count the occasional free CDs/merch I receive from thankful bands and musicians.
This whole “Metal Gods” and “Metal Lords” business sounds like something out of medieval England. Whose idea was it?
[Cyber-laughs] Yeah, I suppose it has a bit of a pretentious touch if you aren’t used to it. It’s just harmless fun with the ranks, really. According to Morrigan, even though she doesn’t remember whether it was her idea or HellBlazer’s, she recalls them coming up with those titles late at night over a decade ago. It was just a bit of fun they had when making up the rankings.
Have you ever plotted to overthrow the two webmasters, HellBlazer and Morrigan, with other staff members?
Why, of course. There are lots of cabals and intrigue among the staff; Constant powerplays… Nah, we’re all on pretty good terms. Besides, there’s the small deterring fact that the owners could instantly counteract any attempted coups and demote and ban the culprits. 😉
What??!! That’s an absolutist form of ruling!! OVERTHROW ‘EM AND INSTALL A GOVERNMENT THAT PRACTICES REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY!!
We’re all far too nice/lazy for a coup d’état. One option would be to wait for the Ubergods to perish of old age. (They’ve passed 30 already anyway!) But their position is probably hereditary, so this is but a mere seed of an entire Québécois metal-archiving dynasty.
In all seriousness though, the staff is not Morrigan’s and HellBlazer’s army of mindless minions. HellBlazer doesn’t even intervene in everyday site micro-management that often and prefers the site coding/server/framework maintenance and broader rule-outlining/discussion area of things. Morrigan gets more involved with everyday business, but major decisions are always weighed among the whole staff first and not just implemented because management says so and that’s the end of it, if you catch my drift.
From the outside we may seem like an elitist inner circle ruled by two tyrants to some, I guess, but open discussion is actually quite prevalent and un-tethered in the staff-only internal forum. Obviously, not everyone is always in absolute agreement with everyone else, but we work toward acceptable compromises for the more dividing issues and will also consider user input/suggestions if warranted/applicable. We’re just a group of mortals who love metal, like to think themselves reasonable, and try to figure out how to run the site the right way.
Where do you get inspiration for the annual April Fool’s Day joke if it’s your turn to do it?
That’s not quite how it works. It’s never anyone’s turn in particular, just a general brainstorming among some mods some time before April 1st. I, myself, have never been involved with any of the implemented pranks.
When it’s time to start thinking of something for April Fool’s Day every year, are all staff members involved in the brainstorming process?
It’s usually a small number of staff members, plus some discussion on IRC and/or the internal forum. Not every mod is involved with the site on that level. The FBI thing last year was largely the owners’ idea, I think. Adding KoRn to the Archives three years ago was the brainchild of one moderator and developed into a collective effort. I wasn’t a staffer back then, though, so I wouldn’t know for sure without checking some old forum thread.
How did the idea for the Nickelback joke entry come about this year?
Morrigan and HellBlazer were on vacation at the time, so it was up to two or three mods to conjure it up and an admin to approve on short notice — pretty much overnight. Thanks to time zones, I was asleep at the time it was decided and actually done, so I was in for a little surprise myself when I got up the next day. Personally, I thought it was a bit crude and obvious, but it turned out pretty effective and an amazing number of people still fell for it.
Metal-Archives.com recently hit the 90,000 mark for the number of bands registered in its database on March 31, 2013. Does this figure include every band ever registered (defunct or not)?
Yes, that includes every band currently listed, regardless of their status. To quote our stats page, there are (as of April 7th, 2013, 6:00 pm EDT) “90134 approved bands. 48901 are active, 2011 are on hold, 30351 are split-up, 3950 changed name, and the rest (4921 bands) are unknown.” What this doesn’t take into account are bands that were listed at some point but deleted again for whatever reason. I imagine those clock in at around a thousand or so, but don’t quote me on that, that’s a wild guess. Obviously, deletions are the exception rather than the rule.
Can you elaborate more on why “deletions are the exception rather than the rule”?
Bands are reviewed by staff (usually one single mod, but quite often more) before getting approved or rejected, based on a number of factors, with the main two and deciding ones being “metalness” and the band having a valid release as defined per our guidelines. We try to be thorough in this regard and usually succeed, but there have been cases in the past where previously approved (i.e., listed) bands were removed again. This can have many reasons: The band may have been re-evaluated, music-wise, and found lacking; the band’s only demo may have turned out to be recorded but never released; the band was discovered to be a deliberate joke/fake, etc… We have had all these cases and more. Some brought up by mods, but the majority of which pointed out to us by users, either vigilant and attentive or just stumbling upon some fact by mere chance. These things are unfortunate, but can’t be eradicated entirely considering the total number of bands listed as well as daily submissions.
There exists a misconception that once a band is in, it is beyond reproach and stays forever, no matter what. And coming back to the previous question, a band staying is far more likely than a band getting nuked again; as it should be, naturally. But seeing that the approving mod(s) are by no means infallible and everyone everyday can make mistakes, we reserve the right to take a second, third, or nth look at each entry listed.
Actually, I was surprised that the number is still below 100,000. I was always under the impression that Metal-Archives.com would have at least a few hundred thousand bands registered in its database by now. Is this due to the guidelines you guys have for what constitutes a ‘metal’ band?
Well, if we’d allow hardcore punk, industrial, nu-metal, or whatever, we’d have more bands, so I guess the current number is, as you put it, due to the our guidelines on music, yes. We are of course very much aware that many people don’t agree with where we draw the line, especially regarding borderline genres like metalcore, grind, or “post-metal”, but the current definition of what the site views as metal and what it doesn’t hasn’t changed much as a whole and has served us pretty well over the years; we feel it works reasonably well and is realistically outlined. Sure, it’s something you can never really “solve” (i.e., please everyone) with a subjective and fuzzy thing such as music, but there has to be some kind of boundary. You wouldn’t believe what people are trying to add to the site sometimes.
Regarding sheer numbers, you also have to consider that we require bands to have some form of valid release, which precludes myriads of bedroom or otherwise short-lived metal projects from getting accepted. If we were to open the floodgates for those, so to say, we’d have reached 100,000 bands long ago, no doubt. But we prefer quality to sheer quantity in this regard and enforce that requirement to keep up a certain standard of relevance and professionalism for listed entries.
You mentioned that I wouldn’t believe what people are trying to add to the site sometimes. Do you have any outstanding examples to illustrate this point?
Oh yeah, there are all kinds of retarded crap. It’s sometimes difficult to ascertain where exactly idiocy ends and trolling begins (not like the two can’t overlap…), but whatever the submitter’s motivation, the outcome can sometimes be hilarious for us. I won’t go into potentially debatable rejections and borderline genres here, since there’s more than enough completely black-and-white stuff waiting to be dug up.
For starters, some people seem to consider the most peculiar genres to be perfectly good hunting grounds for potential submissions. We’ve had jazz fusion, indie rock/folk, ambient, pop punk, harsh noise, random avant-garde, and every shade of soft rock in the queue. Some of these are no doubt FOR THE LULZ, but a considerable number are indeed genuine.
One particular user discovered distorted guitar chugging in one or two songs by some experimental dark cabaret project—just one or two songs among a quite extensive, devoid-of-metal discography—and he saw fit to submit it as “avant-garde metal”. A few weeks ago, another individual decided—for whatever reason—to throw Joy Division at us. We have some of the more popular bands blacklisted to prevent stuff like that, i.e., people adding Nirvana or Linkin Park, but no one thought to include friggin’ Joy Division up until that point, because… it shouldn’t really be necessary, right? Well, apparently it is.
One of the most persistent types of non-metal submissions is the type of ambient (or sometimes “dungeon synth”) bands labeled as black metal. Yes, obviously there can be overlap with black metal in all forms, degrees, and shades. Many submissions, however, are just droning guitars with screaming over the top, and hey, I can even understand why some people regard distortion and black metal shrieks as sufficient for actually calling a band black metal. But some others are just really, really mellow ambient and nothing more. I’m talking about stuff like Vangelis here (I wish some of these submissions were even one thousandth as good as him, though), and there’s really no room for subjectivity; it’s like calling Eminem post-punk. Many users who try to add these bands are also quite tenacious about it and often resort to brute-force resubmission and posting outraged tirades afflicted by having-last-word-itis on the forum. I wish I were exaggerating.
Other amusing milestones I remember are School of Rock (yeah, the Jack Black movie, whoever submitted it was referring to the band in the film and yes, some of the actors wrote two songs themselves, AFAIK, but yeah…), someone submitting (the already-listed band) Necrophagia, with their entire(!) discography translated into Spanish for seemingly no apparent reason, and a 12-year-old Mexican trying to add this guitar project he had allegedly created for a science fair. (I don’t want to be too hard on that kid, but it was basically just someone picking up a guitar for maybe the third time in his life and recording about an hour of random pentatonic scale noodling.)
Oh, and then there was that one troll(?) project with a CD-R release limited to 1 (one) sharpie’d copy, photo of said copy included, handnumbered “1/1” (the submitting user subsequently inquired on the forum as to why his band had been rejected).
I’d also like to mention that certain people seem to be under the impression that we are a bunch of blind morons. Over the years, we’ve had quite a number of obviously faked pictures of CDs included with submissions to fool us into thinking the band had something released. Let me direct your attention to this particular masterpiece of image manipulation (note the included camera flash):
Unfortunately, not all attempts at deception are that transparent.
Additionally, we all know that your regular homo sapiens love to get creative with genres, so please do enjoy some selected descriptors we lifted from the genre fields of some of the more intriguing submissions:
- “Crust Core-Cross Over-Metal Punk”
- “party – deathcore-new deathmetal”
- “Orbit Metal”
- “Happy Grindcore”
- “Super Power Metal”
- “Black-Death/Grind Bambini”
- “dense lumber / trudge / aggro crag”
- “Brutal Death Green Metal”
- “Harrowing-Oppressive-Multiform Suicidal Black Metal”
- “Ultra Brutal Death Metal”
- “agricultral heavy metal”
- “new wave of polish raw alternative black metal”
- “weird-metal-electronic-whatever band”
Apart from those, the band queue is practically an unending cornucopia of troll submissions; some moderately amusing, many painfully unfunny, and the rest, just plain… arcane. Most of them are not worth mentioning, though.
Well, that was a quick and very cursory overview (for bands, let’s not get started with reviews and reports), but I hope it paints a vivid picture.
What marks out the boundaries for a grindcore band to be considered ‘metal’ enough to be included in the registry?
Simply put, it needs to be based more in/influenced by (death) metal than punk, which in turn means that we need metal riffs to pervade the music. I’m not very good with the technical aspects of musical descriptions and also not the biggest fan of grind (we have other mods who are much better with this particular subgenre), so that’s about the best answer I can give you there.
Many people don’t realise that grindcore is not necessarily a metal genre and has in fact many of its origins in the punk scene. As something of a hybrid thing with bands then and now coming from both the metal and the punk/crust ends of the spectrum (and everything in between), it’s—as with other bands most of the time—a case-by-case thing to judge and not everyone always agrees with the more iffy bands. Listen to accepted grind bands (Insect Warfare or Wormrot, for example), then listen to the ones not listed (Anal Cunt, Fehlgeburt, etc…) and compare them. This should already give you a general picture of our standards in this regard.
Even though all three of the following bands are considered to be pioneering bands of deathcore, only Whitechapel is registered in the database while Bring Me The Horizon and Suicide Silence are not. Why is this so?
Like grindcore (or metalcore), deathcore is a metal/punk hybrid genre. Bring Me The Horizon and Suicide Silence are not on the site because we consider them to be more on the hardcore than the death metal side of things.
Is it very costly to keep Metal-Archives.com running?
According to the owners, it is, and it would be impossible for them to pay it out of their own pockets, but thanks to the affiliate links (Buy from Amazon, eBay, etc.), the revenue generated more than covers the costs, luckily.
Why not feature advertisements from metal labels?
In the words of Morrigan, she just wants the site to be completely ad-free. She doesn’t like seeing ads on the sites she visits and generally uses software to block them, so she doesn’t want to inflict them on her visitors.
Who designed that grim and ornate logo seen at the top of the Metal-Archives.com home page?
The logo was designed by a good friend of Morrigan’s, who’s a graphic artist. He goes by the handle VileRancour on the site.
Haven’t you guys considered asking VileRancour to design a Metal-Archives.com T-shirt?
That idea has been thrown around a couple of times. I asked Morrigan about it and she said that a few have suggested shirts in the past, but she doesn’t think there’s enough demand to justify having T-shirts printed. She has yet to see a good design for one anyway.
Morri hasn’t asked VileRancour for T-shirts, but knows he’s busy with work and other personal projects, so she doesn’t know how available he would be these days.
Do you feel proud to know that Metal-Archives.com is an essential item in the paraphernalia of writers for virtually all metal-related blogs and magazines?
Most definitely. There’s a certain sense of accomplishment in knowing that one contributed to this great resource and we’re always glad and thankful to hear the site mentioned in the way you just did.
Just as Metal-Archives.com is essential to metal-related blogs and magazines for their research, in what way(s) do you think the latter is essential to the former?
For starters, we’re an encyclopedia, as in “we collect and document facts” and are not a, for example, promotional service by design. Magazines/blogs are obviously an integral part of the metal community and, as such, can be invaluable for us in terms of providing evidence/clarification or every kind of new fact or trivia in general. Secondly, we don’t view the site as the be-all-end-all resource for everything about metal, there’s other kinds of content better suited for other types of sites, just like there’s Wikipedia and there’s, say, TVTropes. Things can complement each other.
What are your favorite metal blogs and magazines?
I mostly read the odd underground reviewing/music blog. There’s a few online magazines (stormbringer.at and powermetal.de come to mind) I sometimes visit (I used to and still sometimes do write the occasional review or news entry for the latter), but all in all I’m kind of haphazard/all-over-the-place when it comes to “keeping up” and the most definite thing is probably my Facebook page feed/soon-to-be-dead Google Reader.
In the past, people used to read news stories in one whole piece on the pages of metal magazines or cyber pages of metal blogs and websites that do not deal in gossip and rumours. Now, people snack on bits and pieces of such “news stories” on their Facebook page newsfeed or other social media platforms before the entire picture is even formed. Do you think this is for better or worse? Why?
Do they? Personally, when I’m saying “my FB feed”, I mean almost exclusively official band pages I subscribed to, and I’d like to think that there isn’t any kind of misinformation going on there. And I do visit certain webzines/blogs that I consider to be professional, and official band websites occasionally. It’s not like gossip or rumours are totally new inventions by social media platforms anyway. To be honest, I’m probably the wrong person to ask about this honest-and-real-old-vs-frantic-ADDish-new debate, as I never bought any physical magazines or read the more gossipy ones online.
I think there are still just as many people following bands and the scene in a coherent and “down-to-earth” way as there is the occasional sensationalist tidbit junkie. And if not, the former still seems to clock in at a very sizeable number. Many metalheads/music lovers I know don’t even have a FB account. 😛
Sure, this Internet thingy makes the spreading of half-truths and misinformation much more efficient, but it also allows a kind of interconnectedness, accessibility, and creativity unheard of before. (May sound like a tiresome platitude, but there it is.)
I don’t think I have anything more substantial to say on this topic, as I’m just not particularly alarmist about this nor do I think reality is such that I should be.