Jul 062012

I don’t know about you, but I’m usually very entertained when I read efforts by the more-or-less mainstream media to introduce the more-or-less mainstream population to extreme forms of metal.

To be clear, I like the idea in concept. Unlike some people I know, I’m all for opening up the music to new listeners. I’m not really worried that this will destroy the underground or ruin the fuck-you ethic of most bands, because I’m secure in the knowledge that no matter how much mainstream publicity extreme metal receives, the audience size is really never going to explode. The music just clashes too hard with the sensibilities of most music lovers. But there will be some converts, and that’s a good thing in my book.

Apart from welcoming the attention, I’m entertained for two other reasons: First, I enjoy seeing good writers grapple with the challenge of trying to describe the music in terms that people who have little if any previous exposure to it will comprehend, without causing them to immediately run for the hills — and I’m not talking about writers who have no real interest in educating their readers and instead just want to titillate them with some shock value.

Second, it’s fun thinking about the controversy that such educational pieces would generate if they were read by the kind of knowledgable, died-in-the-wool metalheads who are patrons of sites like this one. We all know that most metalheads are a quarrelsome, picky bunch who enjoy finding fault, even with each other, when it comes to things like genre classifications, the quality rating of a band’s music, and descriptions of albums.

I’m thinking about these topics because of an article by Jason Roche that appeared yesterday in the online version of LA Weekly under the headline, “Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Metal But Were Afraid To Ask”. And yes, that photo of Elena Vladi from some band named Demona Mortiss (photo credit: W.B. Fontenot) is what illustrated Jason’s article.

Now that photo is not exactly what I would have used to illustrate an article that’s (mostly) about extreme metal, but I can understand the rationale: Never underestimate the power of cleavage and a pretty face (not to mention shiny leather) to suck readers into a story. It would have been more authentic to use a pic of someone like Corpsegrinder or Nergal or Andy Synn, but Jason probably would have lost half his audience right off the bat.

Still, is it really doing our scene any favors to use someone who looks like she’d be more comfortable on stage with Lady Gaga as the face of metal?

I guess the same rationale applies to the headline. It’s an exaggeration, sure, but if the goal is to educate readers about something they probably know little about, you want to catch their interest.

And broadening horizons is indeed part of Jason’s job. Over the last year, he’s been amping up LA Weekly’s coverage of metal, and we’ve written about some of his other features at NCS (e.g., this one). It appears that he’s received requests from curious readers and internal staff to go into more detail about some of the terminology he’s been using in his articles. So, in this latest piece he sets out to define many of the genres and sub-genres of metal, and to give examples of notable bands within each classification.

I thought, overall, he did a good and faithful  job (not that anyone is asking my opinion), recognizing that he limited himself to only a sentence or two for each genre definition. But . . . and here’s where the metalhead nit-picking comes in . . . he wrote items such as this:

He includes this line in the description of black metal: “Elements of thrash and death metal lurk beneath, but the pace is even more manic and the production lends an ethereal air.” Undoubtedly true of some BM bands, but not exactly the description I’d use for most black metal, especially when the examples given are Mayhem, Immortal, and Burzum.

Of grindcore, he writes: “The guitar work often has a danceable groove”. Man, I think some of Jason’s readers are in for a big surprise, unless frenzied moshing counts as dance.

As an example of “djent”, he lists Meshuggah, which made me start to weep uncontrollably.

I don’t know if critiques like this really matter, when many of Jason’s readers probably don’t have the first clue about the music or the bands. What do you think?

And let me be clear: I think Jason is a good writer and he knows a thing or two about metal, and I applaud his efforts at LA Weekly to bring metal to the masses. Plus, I think he mostly got things right in this article — though I’m sure not holding myself out as an authority. If you think I’m an authority about anything, then you need to get out more.

So when I poke at some of Jason’s descriptions and examples, I’m kind of doing what he did with that pic of Elena Vladi: I’m trying to interest you in reading Jason’s piece, in the hope that you’ll do that and then come back here and leave some Comments, which I’m sure will be entertaining, because I’m all about entertaining myself.

What do you think of what Jason wrote? And more generally, do you think articles like this are good or bad for our scene?

Ready, set, GO! (THIS IS THE LINK to Jason’s article.)


  1. Well, the shittiest one he did must be the funeral doom examples. Paradise Lost? Anathema? They might be doomy, but they are not funeral doom. Skepticism, Esoteric, Ahab would have been better choices.

    But oh well…can’t get ’em all…

  2. I think the article would have been better served with an image of one of metal’s current icons…

    Like me.

  3. I thought it was a pretty good article, though strange that there were no links.

    But I’m gonna defend him on the “danceable” comment regarding grindcore. Grindcore ALWAYS makes me shake my booty. And my Furious Fist Full of unFellatiated Fuck Sticks.

  4. I don’t see Baby Metal anywhere in this dude’s article. What the hell?

  5. I both like and dislike articles like this. I think that articles like this will bring more people into the genre, but I think that it might educate the public to a level that they might understand us better, which is something I don’t want. I don’t want this for two reasons: 1, Sometimes I like to be a conundrum to people outside of the community, and 2, I think that misunderstanding is part of what really makes metal special to us, the fact that we all get together at violent concerts and listen to music talking about Satan and death… I don’t think that metal’s popularity will explode either, because it’s always going to be harsh music that takes time to get into–time people don’t feel like taking out of their day to let the style sink in.

  6. I will give credit that explaining very niche and developed abstract concepts to people to be a very hard task, although as a personal note I wouldn’t of included grind in a list of metal, not for purposes of elitism or arrogance only that its misleading since grindcore has much more in common and stronger roots in punk circles than metal, musically and ethically. Also I would disagree with his statement “sometimes with high-BPM drums”, 99% of grind is a blast beat parade. I would of also personally skipped pornogrind, since much of the grind circuit rejects it and as a subegenre it is dwarfed by other such subgenres deathgrind, mincecore, noisecore etc, also more often than not its death metal bands with sexual gore themes.

    • I viewed the inclusion of pornogrind as maybe one of those “titillation” references I referred to in the post. As you say, there are so many other subgenres that are more legit and were more deserving of recognition.

  7. Could someone point Elena Vladi in the direction of the nearest ladies room? I think she has to go.

  8. I can provide a much better definition of black metal: Trebly, with chords played in a technique that makes the notes run together and drums played at very high speeds. Vocals are shrieks, rasps, whispers, or otherwise strained and tortured sounds.

    He didn’t do a bad job, but including Meshuggah as a djent band is unforgiveable. Also, deathcore does not have “death metal riffage,” not that I’ve ever heard anyway. It’s just metalcore riffs down-tuned.

    He also obviously has no fucking clue what funeral doom is. The sludge/doom bands he includes are just sludge bands, really, and that’s not such a distinct subgenre to be worth including in his overview anyway. The guy really does not know his doom.

  9. I get what hes doing..and its the kind of thing that would have helped me when I was first getting into metal, so I do appreciate this article

    …but honestly, theres a lot to nitpick about here.

    Skater Thrash must be some kind of local term, because what hes talking about is Crossover or Crossover Thrash. Ive never even heard the term Skater Thrash..anyone else familiar with that term?

    It seems like hes confusing Death-N-Roll with D-beat. Entombed is the only real Death-N-Roll band on that list

    Death metal and Black metal have some techniques and lyrical content that crossover, maybe thats what he meant by death metal elements.

    Autopsy is NOT a goregrind band

    Like several people pointed out..he dosnt really know his doom metal. Funeral doom isnt exactly like Death/Doom and definitely isnt Gothic Doom

    • I remember hearing the term ‘skater metal’ or ‘skater punk’ on rare occasions, like specifically referring to Californian crossover thrash (I.e. Suicidal Tendencies), but not as a general term for crossover.

    • I haven’t heard “skater thrash” or “skater metal” used in about twenty years, though when it was it did indeed refer to crossover, at least in my experience.

    • I do know Skater Thrash as a term. As it was explained to me, it is/was virtually identical to crossover, albeit with more skank beats and two-steps per capita… maybe.

      Essentially it’s a more expanded version of crossover that would include, say, a few thrashcore and early screaming punk bands with metallic inlfuences.

  10. Did anyone read his “Top Ten Metal Albums for People Who Don’t Know Shit about Metal”? Actually a very solid list. In the commentary, he again tries to shoehorn Paradise Lost into funeral doom and Meshuggah into djent (unforgiveable, again), but otherwise, it’s a very good list.

    • Oh yeah, and he also says Meshuggah use weird time signatures, which isn’t exactly true, but close enough.

    • I’m not very familiar with either Meshuggah or djent, but the all-knowing Wikipedia seems to think that Meshuggah coined the term djent to refer to their own music… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Djent

      So just out of curiosity, what issue do you take with Meshuggah being labeled as djent?

      • I’m not even a Meshuggah fan, but I’d say the issue is that Meshuggah was around for about 20 years before anybody heard of “djent”, and that most of the newer bands who fall under that umbrella contain a lot of ambient and electronic influences and commonly employ clean singing, which isn’t Meshuggah’s thing. And now that djent is kind of a dirty word, it’s almost insulting to refer to Meshuggah that way.

        • Oh quit your whining.

          You could just as easily say Korn was around for years before the term “nu metal” was coined, and to lump them in with the scores of imitators that followed them is insulting.

          I see no difference whatsoever between Meshuggah and the rest of the djent scene, and I’ve never heard a compelling argument that shows there being any difference.

          • If you literally see no difference between Meshuggah and, say, Periphery, you’re probably not listening very closely. But if people want to consider Meshuggah a part of the djent movement, that’s fine by me. I was just explaining what I think people’s hang ups are with doing that.

      • I was going to say pretty much what Kazz said up above. Meshuggah pre-dated the djent “movement”, and I guess they really gave birth to it in the sense that djent bands picked up on some of the signature elements of Meshuggah’s music. But calling them a djent band seems to lump them in with a horde of bands who aren’t in their league by a long shot and who include lots of other add-ons that are foreign to Meshuggah’s music.

        • Makes sense. Kinda like how Venom really helped to give birth to black metal, but aren’t really part of the scene at all.

          • But would people be so vocally angry, if some non-metal publication wrote a brief overview of black metal, and referred to “Venom, Bathory, Mayhem, Burzum, Wolves in the Throne Room” as examples of bands in that genre?

            Is the dictionary definition of djent “music that tries to duplicate Meshuggah’s sound, occasionally changing or tweaking it slightly, but which is definitely not specifically Meshuggah’s music”?

          • Last time I checked Venom is considered part of the 1st wave of black metal along with Bathory, Hell Hammer and a few others..so depending on who you ask they actually are part of the sene

  11. That is NOT a pretty face. Maybe at the back of the trailer park, but y’know, everything’s fair game back there.

  12. A picture of Doris Yeh would have been better. Cute and petite Asian girls will tingle almost anyone’s knobs.

  13. Alright, mother fucker….for the LAST god damn time, DJENT IS THE DUMBEST DUMBEST DUMBEST METEAL TERM…….EEEEEEEVVVVVVVVVVEEEEEEEER! But if you must classify it, Meshuggah is the blue print for the entire fucking genre. If you deny this fact, you are an asshole and I hope you die slowly by asphyxiation.

  14. Just dropping by and saying thanks to everyone for checking out the article, whether you agree with some things I said or think I’m full of shit.

    Islander, I definitely think you wrote a fair article up above. Writing about metal for a larger more mainstream publication is always a dicey proposition, as I do have to balance enthusiasm for the genre and hopefully turning someone who is into metal to a new band that’s worth their time with trying to entice those who are curious about metal but not necessarily a superfan, and just making for an entertaining read for all of our readers.

    For the record, I did not select the photos for this one.

    Regarding the Meshuggah “djent” discussion, they are name-checked as an influence by many of the modern bands lumped into that movement today and there is definitely a strong Meshuggah-influence to some of the song structures. I think there is some legitimacy in grouping them in with that, even though the name was born a decade or two after their formation. But I also stand by my assertion in a previous article that “All of these bands are inspired by (but not as good as) Meshuggah.” That said, I do not think you are an asshole that is deserving of death by asphyxiation (or death in general).

    Another funny note, my editor asked me “What about Mastodon?” My response was simply “Mastodon = the genre of Mastodon”.

    In the end though, I just want to turn people onto some cool bands more than anything. If someone reads this article and has never heard Black Breath, Agoraphobic Nosebleed, or Midnight Odyssey, and decides to check them out, then that’s enough satisfaction for me.

    • Thank you for stopping by Jason, and thank you for not being pissed at me for using your post as a lightening rod for discussion. And most of all, thank you for trying to bring the more extreme forms of metal to the attention of a broader audience. As you say, if you succeed in creating new fans for deserving metal bands, that’s a very satisfying accomplishment.

      • Who are either of you to decide who/which bands are deserving? That’s rather arrogant, no?

        • Not at all!

          Any music that is heard by any person, and enjoyed by that person, probably will be enjoyed by some other person somewhere. Therefore whoever created that music deserves to have it shared, in the hopes that whoever else out there might enjoy it, will also have a chance to experience it.

          By that line of thought, practically every band who has ever created any music, would deserve more recognition and exposure. The person who hears the music and likes it, decides whether or not to share with others, based upon how much he or she liked it. That isn’t a statement about the value or worth of the band — but just about one’s personal taste and opinions. What’s arrogant about that?

        • To put it another way — from the perspective of a music writer, who is literally in the middle of listening to an album and writing a review of it, as I write this response…

          If I went through my CD collection, my hard drive, and my list of Facebook “likes”, I could probably come up with well over a thousand different bands, all of whom 100% deserve for me to write about them in hopes of spreading their work to a broader audience. So why haven’t I done so? Why am I currently writing about THIS particular album by THIS particular band? Do they deserve it more? Do the others deserve it less?

          It’s a function of time — how much I have available for writing — as well as whatever happens to cross my ears at a particular moment, and a zillion other factors. Do you think that sounds arrogant?

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