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.
(Andy Synn wrote this post.)
I’ve been thinking about beginnings a lot lately. With NCS hitting its fifth anniversary, and with my own four-year anniversary at the site having come and gone a few months ago, I’ve obviously been thinking back on where we’ve come from, where we’ve been, and how all those strange, chaotic choices and coincidences have led us to this point.
I’ve also been thinking about my own musical history, all the bands I’ve discovered, all the bands who’ve fallen by the wayside and, in particular, the bands which started me off down this road…
So settle in, loyal readers, it’s story-time.
(The following piece is by guest writer Grant Skelton.)
I want to kill you.”
- The Doors, “The End”
“I am my father’s son
He’s a phantom, a mystery and that leaves me nothing!”
- Slipknot, “Eyeless”
You’ve clipped my wings before I learned to fly…”
- Metallica, “Dyer’s Eve”
(We welcome guest writer Dylan Sanders with the first of what we hope will be a continuing series in which literature is paired with metal.)
The following pairings were made through similarities in musical and lyrical moods, themes, or other associations. I will include short summaries of the literary works included and also why I associated the chosen albums with them. Runner-ups will also be included.
Now you can probably look at this first one and say, “Gee I wonder how he made this association. I bet it had something to do with oranges or dark colors or generally fucked up covers”. To tell the truth though, I didn’t notice the “oranges” until after I chose the album to best represent Krilanovich’s nightmare.
(In this post Andy Synn offers some opinions and poses some questions — and invites your answers in the Comments.)
Now that the financial crisis is over… fair and equitable punishments have been meted out to those involved… the banks have all learned their lessons… and nothing like that will ever happen again…. I think we can safely move on to discussing more important topics, right?
All (slightly depressing) jokes aside, zeitgeisty terms like “too big to fail” actually have their use and can be applied and utilized in a bunch of wider contexts. Case in point, what happens when a Metal band becomes “too big to fail”, and how does a band even reach that point?
EDITOR’S PREFACE: Thanks to a recommendation from my friend MaxR at Metal Bandcamp, I discovered an article written by veteran musician Matt Harvey of California’s Exhumed that he posted at the Exhumed blog (here) in late August. It consists of reflections about the evolution of death metal, as he has witnessed it, over the more than two decades he has spent in the scene.
I thought the article was really well-written and very thought-provoking, and it occurred to me (and to Max) that it was something more people ought to see. I also suspected that it would generate some interesting discussion among readers of our site. So, I contacted Matt Harvey and asked for his permission to re-publish his article here, and he graciously agreed.
I’ve re-posted the article exactly as it appeared on the Exhumed blog, with the same graphics, links, and music clips. Perhaps needless to say, I hope people will make the time to read this in its entirety and to add your thoughts in the Comments. I don’t expect everyone will agree with all of Matt’s observations and opinions, but I think you’ll find it informative and interesting, regardless. Here you go:
(Our old friend and stalwart NCS supporter Vonlughlio is passionate about metal, he happens to like physical copies of the metal he favors, and he lives in The Dominican Republic – which means he mostly has to order what he wants, and that isn’t always easy. In this guest post he singles out the labels that mean the most to him. We encourage you to do the same in the Comments.)
I decided to write about my favorite labels in metal after a discussion with a friend in which he stated the following: “I don’t buy from the labels because they don’t give the money to the artist or treat them with respect”. Sure, there is some truth to that in the case of certain labels, but there are labels out there who represent the opposite of this statement. Plus my friend could usually still buy direct from the band if needed, but that is another discussion for another time.
So to counteract this negativity about labels, I’m going to list my favorite ones. The list doesn’t include the largest labels, since they tend to specialize in different genres from my favorites. This is also my way of rendering tribute to those I’m listing for their hard work.