(Andy Synn wrote the following opinion piece.)
The initial title for this column was “The Law of the Average”, as its overall focus was initially supposed to be on how easy it is for bands to settle for just being average… often without even realizing it.
But, as I was writing it — and, as usual, my thoughts were racing ahead of my typing — I realized that although my musings on the curse of being merely “average” was definitely still a big part of the piece, the main focus had shifted somewhat. I was no longer writing about how it must feel to realize (or, even more frequently, not realize) that your band may not ever rise above being simply “average” in the grand scheme of things… I was writing about how and about why I think this happens. Which is a subtle but important distinction.
And, ultimately, I decided (though I don’t really know if “decided” is the right word) to zero in on one fact in particular.
The importance of influences and how they shape you, as a band, as a musician, and as a person in general.
I haven’t written about this subject in a while, but a recent private exchange of messages on Facebook got me thinking about it again. The subject concerns music created by bands (or at least parts of bands) who embrace Nazi ideology or other similar racist ideologies and beliefs.
These thoughts are my own, not necessarily those of anyone else associated with our site. The issue may come closer to my consciousness than other writers here because I tend to write more about underground black metal and certain offshoots of it, which have tended to be a more fertile breeding ground for this kind of thing than other metal genres.
(Andy Synn rants again….)
(Please note – the following rant is very much tongue-in-cheek and not intended as a piece of serious critical writing. No-one is going to actually stop you using these words. That being said, there’s possibly a kernel of truth or two in here somewhere…)
Ladies and gentlemen and smizmars… let’s try a little experiment shall we?
What I’m suggesting is that we – as writers, as fans, as commenters – agree to a moratorium (i.e., a temporary prohibition or embargo) on the use of certain words and phrases which have, to my mind, been roundly and seriously abused, over-used, and thoroughly bastardised in recent years.
Can we do it? I don’t know. What will happen? I don’t know either… but it might be interesting to see what comes from removing (albeit, only temporarily) certain “go to” words from our lexicon.
Plus, let’s face it, I’m sure some of you are just as sick of some of these words being misused, misapplied, and lazily attributed where they don’t belong!
(Andy Synn wrote this opinion piece that ends in some questions for you.)
So I was listening to the new Allegaeon album, Proponent for Sentience, this morning (spoiler: it’s really good) when a question suddenly struck me… what is the optimal length for an album?
It’s not a new question by any means, as it’s one I’ve discussed with friends and colleagues over a cold beverage several times before, but it’s definitely one I keep coming back to, particularly when – as happens upon occasion – some overly-angry, impulse-control deficient commenter rears their ugly head and lambasts a writer (whether here or on one of the many other sites I frequent) for daring to suggest that an album is “too long”.
There’s definitely a certain subset of people (I suppose we can call them “fans”) who get unnecessarily indignant at any such suggestion, and who insist in no uncertain terms that more is always better, and how dare anyone be so churlish and ungrateful about it.
In many ways they’re a polar opposite to those “fans” who consider themselves entitled to anything and everything a band puts out, the ones who constantly demand more, and feel like they deserve everything for free because “without us, you wouldn’t even have a career” (seems to me like they don’t have much of one with you… but I digress…).
But though I can’t stand so-called “fans” who act as if a band owes them something, I’m also not big on the idea that we should just blindly accept whatever they give us without criticism.
As I guess most people know, I live in the Seattle area. It’s a great place to live in almost all ways, except as a place from which to conduct the operations of this putrid little blog — a downside about which I was vividly reminded over the last 12 hours.
It’s a time zone problem. When the normal work day begins out here in the Pacific time zone, it’s already lunchtime on the East Coast, mid-afternoon in South America, the end of the work day in the UK, evening in Western Europe, and the dead of night in India — just to mention a few of the places inhabited by bands and labels whose releases we tend to write about most often. And don’t get me started on Australia and New Zealand (which are further west, but on the other side of the completely bamboozling international date line).
This creates all sorts of complications, especially when we have agreed to post premieres for bands or labels who are on the other side of the world.
(Andy Synn prepared these meditations on why he listens to metal.)
Like most of you (or so I’m assuming for the purposes of this column) the above question is one that I was, for a long time, quite intimately familiar with. And though I tend to hear it less frequently nowadays than I used to, variants of it still crop up now and again:
“How can you listen to that stuff, it’s just noise?”
“Where’s the melody?”
“It all just sounds the same!”
And, as much as I’m occasionally tempted by the knee-jerk, involuntary reaction (“YOU JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND!!!) I’m not an angst-ridden teenager anymore… I’m an angst-ridden adult, and thus far more willing to engage with these sorts of questions and statements, and try to understand where they’re coming from.
Plus, it’s actually a good question… why DO we listen to Metal?
(Andy Synn has been thinking… and now shares his thoughts in defense of the phenomenon of crowdfunding.)
I’m often surprised, and yet not surprised at all, at the amount of ire and controversy that surrounds the issue of crowdfunding.
On the one hand it’s seen as a way for bands to engage more directly with their audiences, to cut out the middleman, and get their music directly into the hands of their audience (whilst also, hopefully, cutting down on the oft-crippling levels of debt they would otherwise accumulate).
Yet on the other hand barely a month goes by without someone – whether an older band feeling crotchety, or a newer band trying to establish their “punk” credentials – getting their underwear in a twist over the issue, calling it “pathetic”, or equating it with “begging”, while stating that “real” bands like them never had to do that (simultaneously bolstering their own perceived credibility in the process, whilst also ignoring the hundreds and hundreds of “real” bands who take out loans from banks or friends or family in order to fund their music).
Still, I can see where both sides are coming from (to an extent anyway), even if I don’t necessarily agree with where they end up.
(This post is by Grant Skelton, and he will explain what it’s about.)
After several years, I’m finally back in school finishing out a Bachelor’s. This was an essay I wrote for a journalism class called “Mass Media & Cultures.” In a nutshell, the course covered communication of news messages between (or about) different cultures and how those messages are framed.
My assignment for this essay was to “select a commercial movie that deals with either a culture clash or attempts to depict another culture and discuss the effect this film and its message might have on an average adult viewer.”
I chose the 2013 Icelandic film Metalhead, directed by Ragnar Bragason. One of the class textbooks I refer to is Jaap van Ginnekin’s Understanding Global News: A Critical Introduction. I include these details just to provide some context for the assignment. I really enjoyed writing this paper, because metal culture is still largely misunderstood by the public at large. Most of that misunderstanding has been informed by media platforms that frame heavy metal culture as something that is an antagonistic, subversive art form that directly contributes to acts of violence. But that’s a topic for another day.
A fair warning, this essay does contain some spoilers about Metalhead. It isn’t my intention to ruin the film for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but the paper would have been impossible to write without revealing some of the elements of the film’s plot. You can rent “Metalhead” on Amazon for $3.99. The DVD looks to be about $13. I haven’t seen it on Netflix or Hulu.
And now for the essay.
(Here are some ideas from Andy Synn….)
Recently my good friend DGR and I were having a discussion about the merits of Songs From the North, the new Swallow The Sun triple album, focussing mainly on which of the three CDs we considered the strongest overall, which we thought were the best songs across all three albums, and just generally shooting the shit about the reasoning behind releasing such a mammoth endeavour in one fell-swoop.
As expected, we eventually digressed into a wider discussion of the band’s discography, but came to loggerheads over how we viewed the band’s 2012 release Emerald Forest and the Blackbird. DGR thinks that, though it’s not the band’s best album, there’s still some solid songs on there. I disagree.
Because it doesn’t pass “The Setlist Test”.
(In March of this year we gave cultural anthropologist and dedicated metalhead David Mollica a platform for recruiting people willing to be interviewed for a research project about gender in the metal community and what it means to be a metalhead. And now we’ve got a report on his interview results and conclusions.)
I know I’m all kinds of slow with getting to writing this, but you know… excuses and stuff. Anyway I’d like to share what I found from the interviews some of you lovely readers were kind enough to sit through with me months ago. Thanks to your help I ended up interviewing 6 women and 5 men, making this the first study of its kind that I know of to have equal gender representation. Most other studies looking at gender and metal have ended up talking to a pile of dudes and next to no women.
Without getting into the fine and horrendously boring details, I do inductive research. Basically, I like to ask questions and see what I find. I’m not a mathematician and I don’t like to treat people like laboratory subjects. Instead I look for patterns and common themes that emerge from the interviews I conduct. I then take those themes and patterns and put them into categories that can be used to build a model of what I am researching. This time around, I found four common categories that help to explain why women are sometimes under-represented at metal gatherings. Some of these things are going to be obvious to you, so keep in mind that the research was intended for an audience in the social sciences who generally can’t tell Fenriz from Gaahl.