Dec 152011

(A new music video from a Long Island hardcore band called Stray From the Path provoked a discussion last night between me and TheMadIsraeli, and that in turn led the MadIsraeli to pen this post, which raises some interesting questions.  Comments please!)

Let’s take things back a couple of decades . . .

The 80’s.

When I think of the 80’s, I think of three things.  The best action movies, fucking Slayer, and the tape-trading scene.  I’m only 22 and had the misfortune of missing out, so I can only imagine how exciting it must’ve been to get together with some friends, swapping old demos of greats that were to come or underground legends that were never to be heard from again.

From what I’ve heard and read, there was real community there, the manifestation of the love of music through human interaction and true brotherhood, all with a common unifying purpose and affection: The metal.  Really, not just the metal, but heavy music in general.  Hardcore also had its own thriving tape-trading circuit.  So where is this taking me exactly?

Not only does Stray From The Path play tight, chaotic hardcore full of piss, vinegar, and street rage, they’ve also shown that they know how to make you think.  The lyrics of this particular song and the imagery in the video provoked a conversation between Islander and me that got me going on this post.  You can read the lyrics here for reference (they’re also at the end of this post).

Based on the video, Islander and I originally speculated that this song was simply about the evils of piracy, but the lyrics don’t suggest that, and in combination with the images contained in the video, it appears that there really is something deeper in the subject matter of this song: Not a protest against getting music for free, but the idea that the digital age is killing the heart, soul, and community of music, and especially heavy music.

Now why is that exactly?  How could that be?  It is the reduction of art to file size and bit rate.  I can even look at myself and see that digitalization has kind of desensitized me to the true value of music as both a labor of love by the musicians and as an art form.  I just sort of gobble it all up and go through it like a trash compactor because I can do it so easily.  Trying to resist that is part of why I decided to wait ’til release days to finish album reviews.  I wanted to give the albums time to sink in and to give myself time to fully appreciate the music for what it is.  Ideally, I want to have the space to fully capture and understand the essence of the music I’m listening to, something that is admittedly hard for ANY of us here at NCS or any metal blog to do and yet produce enough daily content to keep readers engaged and entertained.

And what has happened to that sense of community epitomized by the tape-trading scene, as I understand it?  It seems that it has become less common for people, either one-on-one or in a larger group, to go over to each other’s apartments or houses to hang out and listen to an album that has just become available that everyone is stoked about.  That kind of in-person sense of community in metal seems to have been undermined by the digital age. People are no longer heading to the record store and bumping into fellow metalheads who are as stoked as you are about whatever new music you’re there to pick up.

Even in the early part of the last decade, before file-sharing and the like REALLY took off, I connected with many people at the local FYE, picking up the new God Forbid or Shadows Fall album at a time when I was in love with first-wave metalcore.  I had good experiences, sometimes having random strangers in my age group with similar musical interests piling into my car with me just to jam that shit the fuck out on the stereo.

It’s moments like these that have mostly died out with the digitalization of music.  I think that phenomenon has also resulted in diminished metal brotherhood. People now have fewer chances or reasons to meet and share music on the streets or in their homes or stores, because it’s so easy to get up in the morning, hit The Pirate Bay, Filestube, Mediaboom, or what have you, and grab what looks good.  That’s reducing listening to music to the equivalent of eating for pure survival and nourishment.  On-demand, costless, rapid consumption of music makes it mean less.

Is that what acquiring and listening to music has been reduced to?  Mere routine?  Maybe it would do us some good to be sent back a decade or more, to live for a while in a different age.  Maybe that would be for the good of metal, to return to an earlier time.  Because really, wasn’t metal originally something above and beyond just the creation of music and the hearing of it?  Maybe, as Stray From the Path proclaims, we really should take it back to the streets.  Maybe we really are essentially slowly killing the art we so love by making it too accessible and too plentiful.  What happens when you become desensitized to what you love?  Do you really love it anymore?  How much does it really mean to you at that point?

I’m not really reaching a conclusion or making an argument here, just asking the questions, because I don’t know for sure.  What I do know is that I love this music with every ounce of my being.  At moments like this, I remember an ex-girlfriend of mine.  The one who got away, you could say, and who shaped who I am today immensely.  She used to carry around an old tape player with her and had amassed a TWO THOUSAND PLUS TAPE COLLECTION.  That was legit to me.  I wonder if all my arguing with her about the modernization of the music industry being for the better was wrong, and that in fact, it’s for the worse.

Lyrics To “Bring It Back To the Streets”

When there was a sickness, there was a cure
Right outside on the streets at the record store
There once were heros that we looked up to
We never thought that we would do the things that they’d do

Their presence is long gone
Disconnected from the world that we grew up on
Nothing will ever make as much of an impact
When you hear these words will they make you react?

When there was a sickness, there was a cure
Right outside on the streets at the record store
There once were heros that we looked up to
We never thought that we would do the things that they’d do

‘Cause if this world is all about digital lives
I can say that I’m ready to die
One time, when you need to be saved
With a kick and a push you can get away
One time, when you need to be saved
You can go and get lost in a mixtape

‘Cause if this world is all about digital lives
I can say that I’m ready to die

Since we can’t live in yesterday
Say goodbye to the past as the world turns grey
Since we can’t live in yesterday
We can look to the future but it’s all the same
This generation has gone up in flames
Because with all hope gone there is no cause for a change
We know it’s inside us all and the world has made it harder
To latch onto the sound of being set free

Disconnected from the world that we grew up on
Bring it back to the streets


  1. Upon reading this my first reaction was that you’re falling into the golden age fallacy (things were so much better before). However I concede that since we’re only talking about a rather minor subset of “things” it might not really classify as such, but I still think you’re wrong. In the bad old days yes you could visit a record store (I do miss this), and browse but that meant you were limited to what they had in stock – what if the guy who stocked the metal section really only liked power metal and hated everything core? Now you go online and you can find everything and anything you could possibly want, your choices are endless. Further how many bands do you think you now hear that would *never* had gotten a chance back in the days of A&R departments and FYE stores?

    I think you are making the incorrect correlation between how music is available and how it’s consumed. The people who just mindlessly download and give it little to no thought would in the past probably have consumed it in the same way, just less of it. And there are times we all do this, we find some band online grab a few free tracks and forget about it, but I’m willing to bet that has just as much to do with the quality of the music as it has the availability.

    In the end I think progress is good and we’re better off for it, we might have lost that chance meeting at the local record store but all the gains make that a small price to pay.

    • I can’t really answer as to who I would have and would not have heard back then. I’ll give you that, but I still felt it was worth addressing. Personally, you may be right but all of the shit I truly love and that hits me the right way? I CAN get at the record store. My tastes as I’m sure the readers who follow up on my shit realize I’m not the most kvlt 1337 leet dude around.

      In regards to the consumption of music, I can only say you are definitely wrong. When I was relegated to only being able to purchase physicals I was FORCED to appreciate and take in the album for all it was worth because it was all I had available to me. This process is what made albums like In Flames “Whoracle” and Slayer’s “Reign In Blood” so pertinent to me to this day.

      • I have a crapton of music on my computer that I have yet to listen to, and more that I have yet to buy. Even with all that I have been listening to Moonsorrow’s “Tulimyrsky” EP on steady rotation for months…not because it’s all that I have and I’m forced to appreciate it, but because I find the music so gods-damned compelling I can’t NOT listen to it. To my mind, repeat listening because it speaks to you is far superior to repeat listening because it’s all that’s available.

        • Exactly. I’m not sure why having less choice is a good thing. I still immerse myself in music, I think this is the 5th time today I listen to the same album, but I chose that myself. I still have the choice to change it to something different, which back in the old times I might not have.

      • So if you can get everything you want at your local record store what is the problem? Go there, buy your one album a month and be forced to listen only to it. Nobody is forcing you to buy music digitally (or online), or is your complaint that you still go to the record store but nobody else is there for that chance encounter?

  2. I’m in full agreement with .jh and would also say that for myself, as a reclusive and generally anti-social sort, I was never into that whole “hang out at the record store” thing, nor did any of my friends like the same music I was into. I would have loved the internet back then, because it would have allowed me to connect with people like you and the other fine folks here at NCS and enjoy that sense of community that was lacking. The ready availability of music nowadays means two things to me: one, people who would never have had a voice “back in the day” because no record label would have picked them up, are able to produce music we never would have had the chance to hear otherwise AND are able to get immediate feedback on it. Two, with such a massive amount of choice available to consumers, I think it sort of encourages or maybe even forces artists to push themselves a little harder and farther to produce the best art they possibly can.

    • And as a side note I’d also point out that just because cassette tapes aren’t really around anymore, that doesn’t mean the art of the mixtape and the concept of tape swapping has to die. NCS has already put up two “mixtapes” that I know of, and I enjoyed going through both of them (even if I didn’t always enjoy all the music).

    • This is pretty much how I feel. Well said.

    • One agrees with your statements. But, doesn’t the newer way of consuming music somewhat harm the development of “a personal relationship” with the artist? We do gain opportunities to interact with a lot more people over the internet, and a lot more easily with the artists as well. But, it’s one thing to exchange emails with one another to exchange bad-breath and the stench of sweat face-to-face (for those who might be into that I mean).
      There of course will be those small group of people who truly appreciate an artist’s music, listen to it regularily, go to their shows whenever they play nearby, and maybe buy a shirt. But, the larger group of listeners don’t immerse themselves in the music as much – or rather don’t return to the artist’s music again. [Unlike oneself, who does about every 3 months periodically, to any artist’s music that at least mildly interests me.]

  3. Fuck Israelis.

  4. I actually agree with the statement that digital access has desensitized us in some way to the music. With downloading and filesharing it definitely has become more of a commodity. Instead of having to put your hard earned down for some music that your going to be stoked on you can just download what ever tickles your fancy and when you saturate yourself with so much music it can loose what made it special in the first place.

    • So how is having to listen to the same album over and over again because it was all that was available and you spent your hard earned cash on it any LESS desensitizing?

      • I mean desensitizing in terms of how you become so saturated with all the different types of music at your fingertips, a rapid consumption of music versus a slow meal. I’m saying this is the case for everyone but I see the point that TheMadIsraeli is making

        • As with anything – “Moderation. Moderation. Moderation.”
          One has gone through both stages – obsessively listening to the same album for days on end, and listening to albums one after another without ever going back to one I’ve listened to before. But, after doing it for long enough, one either moves on from listening to new music at all or learns to change one’s habits for the better.

          • Agreed..its a mental adjustment. At some point people need to realize they arent ever going to own everything, and need to be content with what they have

  5. Those lyrics were insightful and your article was thought provoking. We have definitely struck a Faustian bargain here.

  6. While there is an argument to be made about downloading creating a mass consumption effect. I think the digital age has done as much good as bad. Like .JH and Trollfiend were saying, the internet has made music available that normally would never be heard outside of certain countries or even certain cities. If youre the only guy in your group whose into metal, you can find and talk to people with similar tastes. Hell, how many people would have bought that turd of a Morbid Angel album if they hadnt been able to stream it first.

    What I really think happend to the idea of a metal brotherhood is the fracturing of metal into so many different sub-genres. Youve got black metal fans hating death metal, and death metal fans hating power metal, and everyone hating deathcore. There’s just no unity to be found anymore when the genre is so diverse.

  7. I think a sort of tangential point here is the devaluing of music as a whole. It’s become more and more a commodity created FOR the user and less BY the artist (this is a generalisation I know, but please read on while I use it to elucidate my point).

    I was looking at the recent album by Ever Forthright and noticed that they have an option to download an instrumental version of the album, much as Periphery did… but why?

    Is it stating that the vocals are mere icing and less important than the rest of the music? If so, why even bother with them? Surely the vocals and lyrics should be treated as just another part of the music and incorporated fully into the composition? I’m not sure what it says when bands are so eager to mute this part of the record out.

    Picking apart the music in this manner just seems like another step on the slippery slope of pandering to the potential audience – don’t like the vocals? Well we’ll take the out for you. Think there’s too many guitar solos? Don’t worry, we’ve got a version where all the guitar solos are replaced with the ambient sounds of the rainforest. Eventually there’s going to be a different version of the same product for every taste.

    And I think that’s actually a bad thing. Music isn’t made to cater for others, it’s a singular piece of art, much like a painting, or series of paintings, that expresses something indefinably human. It shouldn’t be made to order like that. Yes there are compromises to be made when selling music and trying to make a living off of it, but stripping away entire elements of your sound just seems wrong to me, or at least sends the message that vocals are unimportant, so you don’t even need to bother listening to them.

    It results in consumers feeling like they “own” a band, and that the band should be catering specifically to them and their sense of self-importance. And I say that could well be a very dangerous outcome – there’s some sort of logical disconnect going on there. You have to realise that if you want a band to continue to make music, and in particular if you ever want to see them live, you are going to have to support their endeavours and not treat them like employees. If you want to actually experience art you have to either create it yourselves, or support it in others, instead of just buying the mass-produced copies that cater to your needs without challenging you.

    The other downside is that this sort of approach, the sense that bands exist to please their audience, could result in you only ever experiencing your “local” scene, as bands are no longer able to tour or even produce music for wider markets. Or it could create a sort of cultural ghetto-isation where only bands from areas with a sufficient enough fan-base will be able to survive. Geographical segregation of metal. Now although the internet has allowed us to experience metal regardless of geographical boundaries, I also think it has some culpability in making us less willing to actually put down money to support that same music. So yes, you can now hear an ace metal band from the pacific mid-west, but they don’t have a local fan-base to make them financially viable, and can’t rely on the internet either, as they’re not catering to the specific needs of the gluttonous musical consumer.

    That last point was a little convoluted and I’d be happy to address it further to clear it up at a later time. However I say all this not to harangue, but to inspire. I’ve always said that metal bands should not write for their audiences, they should simply be thankful that their music has touched a chord in so many others. But equally as listeners we should be damn well thankful for the wealth of art and talent which we now have access to, something which I think the increasing “digitisation” of music has made people largely ignorant of, feeling as though they are simply entitled to whatever they can access most easily. Lots of kids don’t thank the artists anymore, they simply ask “what have you done for me lately?”.

    • Oh my god, that was the longest comment ever. My apologies.

    • Well… That was oddly depressing. One feels like shooting oneself now out of guilt for having held such a “what have you done for me lately?” attitude. Alternatively, one might attempt to thank artists by buying their music CD’s and notifying them through annoying emails. [Anybody had any luck finding a distributor of CD’s of “Roka Hasa Radio” by Thy Catafalque?]

      But, one WAS wondering about the existence of the instrumental version of “Ever Forthright” (or even “Source of Isolation” by Friend for a Foe for that matter). One doubts those songs were conceived in the same manner as the majority of the songs as those on “Periphery”. Putting out an instrumental version of that album made a little sense since those songs were first instrumentals [right?].

    • I’m not suggesting that bands should cater solely to their audience’s demands (a.k.a. “Freebird Syndrome”) but to suggest that an artist creates art into a void and that any perceived failure of the artist’s work (whether commercial or critical) rests solely on the audience is, I think, fallacy, and a danger akin to what you describe in that you then begin catering to the artist and THEIR sense of self-importance. If a band rehearses for a year and plays 20 shows, and in all 20 shows is booed off the stage, it’s easy to say that it’s just because the audience is all sheeple who don’t “get” the band’s artistic vision. It’s also the height of arrogance, and lazy to boot – it suggests that you as an artist aren’t to be held responsible for producing shit, because it’s your gods-damned art and it’s not your fault that people don’t understand it. No one plays music fervently hoping that it will never be heard. People create art because they have something they want to share, whether it’s merely a pleasing arrangement of notes or a soul-searing nihilistic hatred of all mankind.

      I also disagree that art must challenge you all the time. Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” doesn’t have to make you question the meaning of life – it simply evokes pleasant memories. I do however agree that to experience art you must either create it or support it – because again, art doesn’t exist in a void. There has to be communication between the producer of the art and the consumer, otherwise it’s just so much mental masturbation. To use writing as an analogy, there is a word for a piece of literature written solely for its own merit with no consideration for a potential audience – it’s called a diary. I personally don’t want to read every little self-indulgent thought that flits through the mind of some self-absorbed little twat with nothing better to do than doodle pictures of themselves in the margins with different hairstyles, and I don’t think I should have to put up with that in the music I listen to either.

      • I don’t think I was trying to make either of those points that you picked up on. Apologies if it came across as though I did.

        For your first point, I actually said that an artist should always be thankful that their art has made some connection. I believe art CAN be made for yourself and/or in a void (although I also agree that art is influenced by both its medium and potential delivery), not that it always is mind you, but that quality is always subjective.

        As you said, you might be convinced you’ve made a life-changing album that’s totally rad and deep and people just don’t “get” it (*cough* Liturgy *cough*) but in reality it might just be a piece of self-indulgent twaddle. However you’ve made the unfortunate assumption that NOT pandering to your audience is the same as being a self-righteous prick. It’s not. The importance is balance, don’t serve your audience like you’re a god-damn McDonald’s wage slave, but equally don’t expect to be hailed as the second coming of Jimmy Hendrix just because you managed to record something. You put your art out there and what happens, happens. Accept it. There’s just a difference between writing something FOR an audience, and writing something that is then presented to an audience.

        Following on from that last bit, I disagree with the diary analogy; a diary isn’t literature. Whereas there’s definitely a place for those who write a story which is inside them, for an outside audience. But again, this isn’t the same as writing a story FOR an audience.

    • Excellent discourse!
      I just gave Oxbow $100 to assist in the funding for a Musical performance DVD. I can’t quite explain it, but this feels substantially different from clicking a donate button or spotting the band an extra 10

    • Excellent discourse!

      I just gave Oxbow $100 to assist in the funding for a Musical performance DVD. I can’t quite explain it, but systems like this (kickstarter) feels substantially different from a handout like clicking a donate button or spotting the band an extra ten fbucks I buy merch from them. I have no musical experience whatsoever, but I have directly contributed in making a piece of art I would like to enjoy and to be shared by others. That is a fantastic power opened up to all of us by the internet that we never could have had before.

      Of course, there’s still a bit of honor system at play as you can never fully be sure of where that money is going (hookers and blow.) That said, Eugene Robinson does NOT look like the kind of cunt who would piss away money/trust on trivial matters. And to the point about the value of music as art vs.commodity; well if theres any band on this planet that could lay claim to being legitimate art its them. I’m glad i have the opportunity to tell this band “here is this money, use it to record whatever it is you do and send me a copy in the mail”.

      If anything, I think that while digitization may certainly have devalued the end product itself, I think it has exponentially strengthened the community, not weakened it. I am New Yorker responding to a Brit on a site made by a guy on the west coast where I wrote stories about metal in Asia that someone in South America can read and relate to. It feels mundane now, but that is some seriously powerful shit going on on a daily basis that would have been next to impossible so many years ago. To me these experiences far out weigh the “plight” of having too much music be disposable.

      …Oh. and hearing white kids from Long Island shot about “bringing it back to the streets” is amusing to no end.

      • I’ve done the same thing — given money to several bands through kickstarter. It made me feel good in a way that transcends how I feel when I buy an album or merch — a sense that I’ve directly helped a band record new music. It’s definitely an honor system, and I’ll never know exactly how the bands used the money, but I hope I never get so suspicious and cynical that I stop trying to help.

        Also, THIS is awesome: “I am New Yorker responding to a Brit on a site made by a guy on the west coast where I wrote stories about metal in Asia that someone in South America can read and relate to. It feels mundane now, but that is some seriously powerful shit going on on a daily basis that would have been next to impossible so many years ago.”

    • I feel that much of this is a rehash of previous discussions, so I’ll leave it be, what I really wanted to get at is your last point which I feel is important, yes the ace band from the middle of nowhere with no local support will have a hard time, but where they really any better off before? If we assume they live in a backwards place with no metal fan base then now at least they’re selling albums online, they manage to spread their music, back in the day unless they got lucky enough and their record found itself in the correct pile in the correct office being listened to by the right person in the right mood they’d just ended up in the trash. I guess if you want to be the next big thing selling 10 albums online or selling zero makes no difference, but if you actually care about your music the fact that there are at least ten other people out there who bought your album (not to mention the potentially hundreds who just downloaded it for free) should mean something to you.

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