(We welcome guest writer Alex, the co-founder and chief editor of Metal-Fi and an audiophile who has been listening to metal for more than 20 years. The following piece provides a detailed introduction to “The Loudness War” for metal lovers who don’t know about it, but should prove to be an eye-opener even for people who do.)
Metal is supposed to be loud. Extreme metal is supposed to be even louder.
Suffice it to say, for many years I was a religious zealot when it came to the above doctrine, especially when I was in the company of people who I knew despised the genre. Many of these “civilians” treated it as simply noise, and my volume habits would only help underscore that belief. But it was through my volume fervor that over the years I started to notice something, namely, it seemed that my metal collection was gradually sounding worse, i.e., each successive new release I bought would sound worse than the prior one. What the hell was going on?
The fact is most headbangers never heard of the Loudness War until the release of Death Magnetic.
You and your metalhead friends.
It’s time for some hard truth (I’m not stupid — I save the hard truth for Saturdays because our audience drops on Saturdays). The hard truth is that you are most likely a big fucking geek. I can say this with confidence for four reasons. First, you can read. Second, you are reading a metal blog. And third, in all probability you are a metalhead. I’ll come to the fourth reason in due course.
Actually, the third reason is the biggest clue. I haven’t conducted any kind of scientific study, because I am not a scientist and studying sounds like work. Instead, I base my conclusion on years of first-hand observation. And what I’ve observed is that most metalheads are big fucking geeks. Not all, mind you. Some are career criminals. But even the ones who look like career criminals usually aren’t — down underneath their scary exteriors, they’re just geeks.
I suspect this conclusion would be greeted with disbelief by most people in the straight world, i.e., the people who look away quickly and increase their speed when they drive past the outside of a metal venue, because they think we’re ALL career criminals. But you know what I’m talking about, don’t you? And if perchance you don’t, I’ll assemble some of the evidence.
Sólstafir – photo by Gediminas Bartuška
(In this post Andy Synn voices his opinion about the most important unifying factor in all great metal.)
Ok, so, hyperbolic title aside, this is an issue I’ve been thinking about for some time.
The question of why.
Why I love the sound and fury of metal. Why I love certain bands and not others. Why I love this genre, over any other. What it is, beneath all the noise and chaos and bloody-minded catharsis, that truly connects with me.
In many ways it’s something instinctive. Or at least it feels that way. Sometimes it seems like there’s no rhyme or reason behind it. Yet it’s also something that seems ripe for analysis and self-reflection. Something that says just as much about me as it does about metal.
So, in pseudo-analytical fashion, I’ve been attempting to identify some sort of underlying factor that contributes to my love of metal as a whole. Something that explains my love of the genre in its varying forms, from the live performance to the recorded art, and something which explains why it stimulates me not only to wax lyrical about the genre here at NCS but also to create lyrically in two bands of my own.
And that something is simple.
(NCS contributor Leperkahn shares with us the essay he submitted with his application to the college he will be attending this fall.)
I believe I’ve mentioned a few times here before that I’m still a high school senior (if you didn’t know, now you know). Thus, in the fall of 2013 I was more or less engulfed by the college application process, and the multitudes of essays that go with many applications, especially for those colleges that decide admission “holistically” (i.e., most of the ones I applied to). Most of their prompts are exactly the same, and evoke nothing but boredom and annoyance, such as the “describe an experience in which you had to come back from failure, and how it changed you” drek.
The University of Chicago, however, does it right, offering by far the most interesting (yet difficult) essay questions of any college I’ve heard of. The prompts an applicant had to choose from were as follows:
I’m feeling a bit hammered this morning, because I got more than a bit hammered last night (I have a bad habit of throwing caution to the wind on Friday nights). The silver lining to the cloud in my head is that I’ve found it’s best to write about Facebook when I’m already feeling miserable.
Last month I made myself miserable by exploring recent reports that Facebook had begun tweaking the algorithms they use to determine what users will and won’t see in their Facebook news feeds, reducing the reach of Page posts to 1-2% of the people who have liked those Pages. This appears to be a not-so-subtle effort to incentivize Pages to pay Facebook in order to reach more of the users who follow them.
After I published that rant, a reader named Katy sent me a link to a video, and the video is what prompted this addendum. It makes me want to spit. To be more precise, it makes me want to hawk up something nasty from my lungs and spit that, because garden-variety saliva just doesn’t adequately express my combined feelings of disgust and depression.
I think about this subject a lot. In fact, I think about it every day. Although I usually don’t manage to review an entire album more than two or three times a month, I write almost every day about individual songs that I’ve heard. I tend to do that quickly, but even then, mixed in with trying to put sentences together in a near-frenzy, I’m thinking (fleetingly) about what makes a review of music worth reading.
I don’t have a single answer to that question. And even the many answers I’ve thought of aren’t all ones I feel capable of following, because I’m a self-taught amateur and I know my limitations. But I thought I’d spill some thoughts about the subject in this post, as much to provoke discussion by readers and other writers as to help myself in a continued groping for some kind of mental synthesis.
I think about what makes a good review from two perspectives, and they don’t exactly line up with each other: What’s fun to write, and what’s useful and entertaining to read. This is why there are so many different answers to that question with which I began: what’s fun to write varies with the writer and what’s useful and entertaining to read varies with the reader. It’s hard to make yourself and everyone else happy.
I know what I enjoy reading. I want to get a sense of the music’s sound and the skill of the songwriters and performers. I want to know something about the genre, and something about the band’s history and interests, if I’m not already educated about those things. But I’m almost equally interested in the skill of the writer. I want to love the prose as much as the anticipation of what I might hear. If a review is dull and drab, inarticulate and deficient in lively turns of phrase, I’m unlikely to go back to that writer a second time.
(Guest writer Andrew Rumbol delivered unto us this interesting discussion of psychological research that attempts to identify the effects of aging on tastes in music. Of course, there’s a metal angle to what he has to say… and invitations for your comments at the end.)
An interesting piece of research came out near the end of last year, from the department opposite the lab I work in. You can read the official press release here (which also links you to the primary research paper, if you’re interested in nerdy things like their sample selection or standard errors):
This group of psychologists undertook two cross-sectional studies (looking at a group of people that varies in one particular aspect, but is similar in others such as ethnicity and socioeconomic status), to investigate how people’s music tastes change throughout their lives. They found a striking trend: our music tastes pass through 5 distinct ‘dimensions’ – intense in adolescence, contemporary then mellow as early adulthood progresses, sophisticated in middle age, and finally unpretentious. I’ll discuss these results in more detail later – but, being both a scientist and a cynic, I was curious to find out how (and how precisely) these categories were defined.
So, a brief history on the psychology of musical preference:
(We welcome Chris “OJ” Ojeda, frontman of West Virginia’s Byzantine, with an eye-opening guest article about the economics of music streaming and what fans can do to increase band revenues. Despite the April 1 posting date, this is no joke.)
Hello friends and audiophiles. This is OJ from the band Byzantine. I want to spread some information that I have been wanting to tabulate and disseminate for some time now. This information is based on 1 topic only: Legal Music Streaming and the Amount An Artist Gets Paid.
Before I get into the hard numbers of this topic, I want to make clear that I am completely bipartisan on this issue. I do not feel that legal streaming has ruined my band’s chances at being a top-tier money-earning act. We have attempted to do that all by ourselves and I am completely fine with that. I also do not feel that legal streaming has afforded my band or myself any luxuries. The figures I have compiled will back that up. With that being said, I have to admit I am very grateful to be spreading this information on my band because it means two very important things:
1. At 39 yrs old, I still have a band, and that’s pretty awesome.
2. A small number of people actually listen to our band and that’s even more awesome.
(Christian Molenaar plays guitar (and flute) in San Diego’s Those Darned Gnomes. He also performs, on those or other instruments, in Mortal Bicycle, Static Goat, City of Brass, Cëmetricity, and the Cooldad Memorial Volcanic Orchestra, among others. And as you’re about to see, he knows a thing or two about a host of subterranean sub-sub-sub-sub genres. And he can write. And he’s funny.)
There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call… The Gorenoise Zone.
Halfway between the utter pretension of so many in the noise scene and the legitimately questionable tenets of goregrind (here’s looking at you, Cemetery Rapist) lies the paragon of human musical innovation, a hybrid creature so truly beautiful it can only be heard by those pure of heart. Welcome, friends, to the world of gorenoise.
After Islander wrote about Phyllomedusa’s most excellent Puddle Dependency I felt compelled to spread the gospel of gorenoise, its history and what may lie in its future. Take my hand, friend, and walk with me into a beautiful new world…
(Yesterday we posted BadWolf’s review of Lord Mantis’ forthcoming album, Death Mask. The review led to some interesting exchanges in the Comment section, most of which revolved around the album’s controversial cover art by Jef Whitehead. BadWolf now follows up with this post.)
Here at NCS, we are blessed with a great stable of readers and commentators. For the most part, you guys respond with decorum and thoughtfulness, even when we cover transgressive and confrontative music, like the kind we covered yesterday in my review of Lord Mantis’ new album, Death Mask. That album features a striking piece of cover art, which some people have claimed is transphobic, or otherwise vile toward transgendered persons. That artwork was produced by another controversial member of the metal community, Jef Whitehead of Leviathan, among other projects.
In that thread, Charlie Fell, bassist and vocalist in Lord Mantis, spoke up. And he had this to say:
“The art work wasn’t meant to offend it was made to be a portrait of myself destructiveness as well as my minds eye view of my humanity and sexuality. The last album also featured a transgendered Christ on it and its been a theme in our cover art through out the bands existence. Im not always the best with words and come off a bit crass and insensitive to some people but I have no problems or prejudices with any race, gender (cis, trans or otherwise) or sexual orientation.