(Andy Synn has been thinking… and here’s what he’s been thinking about…)
Recently I was chatting with some friends after a show on the topic of clean singing in metal – its history, its use, its place, and its purpose… the how, the when, and the why of it…. and it got me thinking. Thinking hard enough to put together this little piece of persuasive ponderment anyway.
Of course clean singing has been a part of the metal landscape since the genre’s very inception, and despite this site’s (tongue-in-cheek) name we definitely understand and respect it for its importance and its contribution over the years. Heck, I can honestly say that I LOVE a lot of cleanly sung metal, from the majestic melancholy of Primordial and the devastating bombast of Nevermore, through the gritty gallows-humour of Sentenced and the shameless extravagance of Devin Townsend… and that’s not even counting the umpteen bands who intermingle clean/harsh vocals with aplomb!
But when we’re talking about the more extreme styles of metal that we tend to cover here at NCS, clean singing can often be a contentious issue. And I can understand why, as it’s possible to get it very, very wrong when it comes to clean singing.
The maniacs out there who actually visit our putrid site on a daily basis will have noticed that I didn’t post anything yesterday, which I think is only the sixth day in more than five years when that’s happened. It wasn’t because of fucking off. “Fucking off” isn’t in the NCS dictionary. Once again, it’s because my fucking day job is fucking with me — and that will continue to happen for the next two weeks.
Once again, I’ve been dispatched away from home on a project that keeps me ridiculously busy both day and night. Yesterday I didn’t even have time (or the right frame of mind) to listen to a single song, much less the time to scribble something for the site. There will be days here and there between now and the end of the project when I can throw something together for NCS, or edit, format, and post the scribblings of other people. But I’m afraid there will be a noticeable drop in the volume of content on the site.
Transient’s Krysta Martinez
(About two years ago we posted a five-part series on metal culture [which can be found here] by cultural anthropologist and dedicated metalhead David Mollica, based in part on his Master’s dissertation and interviews he conducted in preparation for writing it. He is embarked on a new study, and we’ve agreed to help him recruit participants.)
Hey all. You might remember me from my guest series about my research on the culture of heavy metal. Well, I’ve somehow managed to convince another group of professors that letting me study metal is a good idea and I need some help with the project. In my post about women in metal (here) the content was mostly based on conjecture and anecdotes mentioned by men that I had interviewed because only one woman agreed to be interviewed for my research. Well, I’m finally getting around to addressing that issue.
I’m currently working on a research project that looks at gender in the heavy metal community and what it means to you to be a metal head. I’m looking for 10 guys and 10 girls (must be 18 or older) who are willing to be interviewed over the phone, via Skype, or by email. The interview will take about an hour.
NCS supporter and budding contributor Grant Skelton wrote me to propose an idea that I thought was cool. But it will become a reality only if we get some help.
Grant’s idea was for NCS to invite guest contributors to write a showcase on bands from their cities/states/regions within the U.S. The bands wouldn’t necessarily have to be unsigned and independent bands, but the mission of the series would be to put the spotlight on lesser known names — bands who don’t get much media coverage, and maybe even don’t have any official releases (beyond demos) under their belts.
The goal would be to post installments in the series once or twice a month, with the lofty aim of eventually trying to cover all 50 states. Grant also suggested that we consider inviting international contributors — which makes sense to me, given that we write about bands outside the U.S. at least as often (and maybe more frequently) as we do home-grown products. So this invitation includes people who live outside the U.S., too.
(An old subject, and probably not much new to say about it. I get like this when I’ve had too much to drink. At least there’s some good metal at the end.)
We’re not an overtly political site. I emphasize the word “overtly”, because if you’ve been paying attention, you can probably figure out that we have our views, and they influence what we write and what we write about.
But it’s not the result of any kind of editorial edict. We all write what we want to write about. There are no assignments here, there are no litmus tests. Maybe that’s a strength, maybe that’s a weakness. But somehow, I think we do have a basic world view, one that all the writers subscribe to. It’s a minimalist communion, because we are far from clones of each other. The only communion is the worship of art. Our goddess is The Muse, our god is Pan. Except, those are metaphors — we have no god in what we do here, we praise the achievement of human inspiration and talent.
Up to a point. For many music fans it’s impossible to separate the creator from the creation. And to varying degrees, we have trouble doing that, too. Ninety-nine percent of the time, it’s not an issue — 99% of the time we don’t really know what bands believe, and 99% of the time their music isn’t dedicated to any controversial philosophies. Resistance to authority, rebellion against the imposition of structure by people who mean nothing to you, revulsion against religious dogma — those really aren’t radical views, and they’re increasingly less marginal, even in society as a whole. That view of the world might be a revelation to 18-year-old’s, but it’s old hat to most 40-year-old’s. It means very little in judgments about the quality of metal.
Photo by Tim Flach
About the title of this post: I’m using the term “we” very loosely. A lot of people who visit this site, maybe a majority of you, probably don’t like disgusting music. Heavy and harsh, even angry and savage — yes. But disgusting? Not likely. I’m just as sure that many of you do. I do. But why?
I’ve had that question in my head for a long time, but like most hard questions, I put off focusing on it. What got me thinking about it last night was Durf Talitopia’s review of Primitive Man’s new EP, Home Is Where the Hatred Is, at Brutalitopia. He wrote:
These are four songs that make you feel the need to shower after listening, and then maybe consider just drowning yourself in the bathtub…. Home is Where the Hatred Is will definitely not be for everyone. It’s uncompromising in its ugliness, relentlessly spewing spite and bitterness from every second of every song…. This is music that has little to no commercial appeal, music that most people would probably turn off halfway through the first track. In short, it’s music made by a band that believes in it…. I love that Home is Where the Hatred Is exists, and I think it’s one of the most distinct, incredible albums I’ve heard in a long, long time… even if I might not listen to it again for a long, long time.
Durf found the EP’s final song particularly disturbing: “‘A Marriage With Nothingness’ is one of the most uncomfortable songs I’ve ever encountered, to the point where I genuinely don’t know if I ever want to listen to it again.”
I hadn’t heard that song, or anything else on the EP, until reading the review. I listened to “A Marriage With Nothingness” first, and then I started writing this post.
quilts made of metal shirts by Ben Venom
(Here’s an opinion piece by Andy Synn.)
It seems like we often (and deservedly) praise bands for having a multitude of influences, for having a multi-faceted and varied sound, for achieving synthesis of diverse and disparate elements and using them to create a unique core identity for themselves. Heck, one of the key ways (although far from the only way) in which Metal progresses is by incorporating new sounds and influences, new styles, into the core genre, so it’s not surprising that we often laud those bands who bring something new, something fresh and exciting to the table.
After all, lack of breadth and variety in a band’s influences often does tend to lead to repetition and stagnation. If your band is happy to describe yourselves as “like Meshuggah” for example, then it’s odds-on that you’re probably just going to sound like a lesser-copy of the Swedish cybernauts. Just as if you’re a Thrash band and your only influences are other Thrash bands – and usually that means going back to the same tapped-out well as every other band – it becomes less and less likely that you’ll be pushing the genre forward, rather than simply rehashing or reworking what’s gone before (not, let me add, that there’s always anything intrinsically wrong with that).
Yet we also have to be careful about praising bands with too many influences wholesale. It’s certainly possible for bands to go overboard with their disparate influences and styles, and end up a directionless mish-mash of bits and pieces of other bands, which never really cohere into a greater whole.
But that’s not the only potential problem bands face when trying to weave together their influences and inspirations…
(Grant Skelton provided these confessions.)
(Author’s Note: This article is not intended to be persuasive. It was written neither in support of filesharing nor against it. Instead, it recalls my experiences with filesharing and how those experiences shaped my consumption of music as both an art and a product.)
My family bought our first computer in 1998. I was 13. We had AOL 3.0 (You’ve got mail!). I spent most of my time on the PC playing games that a person my age probably had no business playing. Educational games like Postal, Doom, Blood, and Duke Nukem 3D kept me from completing many a homework assignment. Chat rooms were another productive and beneficial investment of one’s time.
I was still a burgeoning music fan in those days. My CD collection was sparse, and my ears were still very conditioned to ’90s grunge rock provided by local radio stations. I genuinely liked grunge, and I still do. But I always wanted something… more from my music. I wanted something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I wanted the grunge to be angrier, faster, meaner. I wanted music with more aggression. Something with fire and venom.
art by PSHoudini
(Here’s a New Year’s Day opinion piece by Andy Synn.)
There’s been a lot of chat recently (actually, I suppose it’s a pretty constant state of affairs) about what is or, more frequently, what isn’t Metal. In fact you’d be hard-pressed to go very long at all in this scene without encountering someone willing to tell you how you’re “doing Metal wrong”, and happy to lay out a list of all the Heavy Metal Commandments which a good metalhead should adhere to.
And yet, somehow the irony of this goes right over their heads. The same people who preach the inviolable laws of “Metal” (which, strangely enough, always seem to apply solely to the things they do and the bands they like), are the same people who harp on about the evils of religion and blind faith. Whether it’s willful denial or simple ignorance, I don’t know, but it’s absolutely mind-boggling to me.
You see, not to be too blunt and simplistic about it, Heavy Metal is, at its heart, just a musical genre. And quite a varied one at that. But still, a defined genre. One based around loud, distorted guitars, hammering drums and (ideally) a palpable sense of passion and fire.
Yet there’s also an idea that it’s something more than that – that it’s something almost like a religious movement, that it’s a culture, something that exists independently – and somehow questioning this assertion is, in itself, “unmetal”.
In fact, certain people particularly don’t like it when you start to question what Metal is…
(Our guest Grant Skelton returns to NCS with a thought piece about extremity in metal.)
“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”
Revelations 3:15-16, English Standard Version
The psychedelic haze of the 60’s wasn’t extreme enough for an unknown heavy blues band called Earth. So they read some occult fiction and wrote a song based on the tritone diabolus in musica, the Devil’s interval. The song was named for a horror film starring Boris Karloff – Black Sabbath – and the name became their own. After about a decade, Sabbath were no longer on the fringe. Their extremity had waned. Enter thrash metal. Booze-pounding, head banging, denim-donning guys with mullets. If Sabbath, Maiden, and Priest were too slow for you, throw on some Metallica, Megadeth, and of course Slayer. If those bands didn’t do it for you, you could dig deeper underground for Sepultura, Possessed, Pestilence, Death, Dark Angel, Celtic Frost, and so on. Don’t forget the Florida death metal scene. And the Gothenburg scene that answered right back. Then there’s Norwegian black metal that gave us the likes of Darkthrone, Emperor, Immortal, and Mayhem.
Each generation of metal musicians stands on the shoulders of those who came before. Every generation builds on what came before it, creating layer upon layer of extremity. What was considered thought-provoking ten years ago is stagnant today. And yet, there is something of a veneration for the bands of yesteryear. Old bands that broke up, or stopped recording prior to the Internet age, are seeing a resurgence in their popularity. Young, new fans are hearing older music and they want it. They want to stream it and buy it. They want T-shirts, they want tickets to shows. They want a reunion album and a tour. So they buy an older album that just got remastered and released via Bandcamp. Or they throw in on an Indiegogo, GoFundMe, or Kickstarter. They want perks and prizes. They’re not content to just hit the repeat button on YouTube. They want to be a consumer of quality music, and not just a passerby.