Yeah, I know. It took me a long time to come to the point. But if I’d tried to put all this into one long post, you’d have gone back to the bong, that six-pack of PBR, or the latest episode of Metalocalypse before finishing. If you’ve stumbled on this site for the first time today, what follows will make (slightly) more sense if you read Part 1 and Part 2.
Just about anything packaged that you buy to eat or drink comes with a label that identifies the ingredients. Often, one of the components will be vaguely described as “natural flavors” or “artificial flavor.” Turns out there are companies you’ve never heard of that generate mountainous piles of cash manufacturing flavor additives for food and beverage makers. Some of those flavor additives are made using natural ingredients and some are synthesized from stuff you would never think of putting in your mouth. Those companies are constantly searching for new flavors that might become a hit with consumers and sometimes all they try to do is mimic flavors that have already become a hit. They identify chemical compounds that when mixed together in the right formula produce a taste that people already like and will keep buying — at least til they get tired of it.
My favorite example from the New Yorker article that prompted these posts is the flavor company that was being paid to analyze dips made from natural ingredients and then develop chemical compounds that could be injected into a “slurry” of starch, oil, and salt to create stuff that tastes (for example) like guacamole. Or the makers of energy drinks trying to capitalize on the popularity of Red Bull by having the flavorists intentionally make their shit taste bad, because that’s what consumers have been conditioned to believe energy drinks are supposed to taste like. So what does this have to do with metal?
Well, what happens in the world of flavoring also happens throughout our consumer-driven culture, including even extreme metal. There are more extreme metal bands churning out music today than I can ever remember. But a lot of those bands are just slurry. They latch on to some popular style — the easier to play, the better (e.g., deathcore) — they figure out the formula, and they crank out some tunes to stick up on MySpace. As in all things, it’s easier to copy than to create, easier to ride on the backs of the herd in whatever direction the herd is heading than to go your own way. Amazingly, some of these bands actually develop a following and get signed to some label. Sooner or later, most of them will sink beneath the waves like weighted corpses.
Some bands have got a little more talent than the slurry, plus the smarts to realize that “growth” or “evolution” in their music is necessary to make them stand out from the crowd and save them from oblivion. So they tweak their sound by adding some new components to their formula. Problem is, those new components often sound exactly like what they are — forced and artificial, tweaking for the sake of tweaking, mixing and matching known flavors in an effort to come up with something that tastes different.
And then there are the true innovators, the ones that really deserve to be called artists, the bands that develop their own distinctive sound and style of playing, the ones that genuinely contribute something fresh to the musical landscape. Even those true innovators are building on what others have previously done. No shame in that. Isaac Newton famously said, “If I have been able to see further than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.” That’s the kind of metal most of us are constantly looking for. We may have to wade through a sea of slurry to find it, but it’s a revelation when it comes.