NCS writer Andy Synn delivers a rant. Discuss!
Have you ever noticed that some people just have better taste, and better opinions, than you do?
And no, I’m not just talking about the stunningly sexy, intellectually gifted übermensches who write for NCS.
I’m talking about that guy. You know that guy. No matter what you’re saying, or doing, or talking about, he’s always there, ready to jump in and tell you – in no uncertain terms – why your opinion, (cute though it is) is fundamentally wrong.
Now that guy comes in a lot of forms (the sniggering, puerile troll, the condescending “teacher”, the offensively arrogant “comic book guy”), but one thing’s always the same — he knows better than you do, he’s more “real”, and he knows a “sell-out” when he sees one!
What inspired this little look into the deep dark corners of the elitist mind? Well, a number of things, but the tipping point was a trend I’ve seen for people contrasting, comparing, and choosing sides, between the most recent Watain and Behemoth albums.
Now while I personally don’t really see much sonically/artistically to compare between the two, beyond some very general similarities (without criticising either I would say that one seems like a conscious move toward bigger, more mainstream horizons, while the other seems like a conscious step back into more underground, arty fare), the fact is that both are/were underground heroes who have — over the past several years — really started to break big.
There’s a few reasons for this, not least the fact that the metal scene has started to grab a (relatively) bigger slice of the pie as record sales in general decline, meaning that certain of “our” artists seem bigger by comparison than they were previously (Behemoth’s recently revealed chart position is a perfect example – it’s fantastic that the album has sold so many copies, and in no way indicates “selling out” or “dumbing down”, but not so long ago that number of albums wouldn’t even have grazed the lower echelons of the charts).
What I will say though, before going further, is that this idea that “selling more records = selling out” holds no water with me. There might… might… be a correlation in many cases, but that definitely doesn’t imply causation. You only have to look at some of the surprisingly extreme and/or difficult records that have sold well over the years to be able to refute that argument.
I have, however, seen a lot of people decrying Watain’s new direction. I’m not one of them, even though I didn’t really like The Wild Hunt as much as I’d hoped to. To me, the branching out (which, let’s face it, began on Lawless Darkness) into a more Black Album-esque sound works impeccably well a lot of the time. My problem with it is how safe and lifeless the “stock” Watain songs sound in comparison. In many ways I’d have preferred a more varied (and yes, possibly even more consciously mainstream) record from the band. But don’t listen to me. I like Reinkaos…
In all seriousness though, one particular accusation I’ve seen flying around pretty frequently (and it’s not exactly a new one) is that the band are, in some way, “posers” (always an amusing word to see thrown around on metal forums and comment threads… what exactly are they posing as, exactly?)
Calling someone a “poser” is one quick way to identify yourself as that guy. Calling someone a “poser” immediately implies that you know what “real” metal is (and, by coincidence, “real metal” just happens to be every band you like…) and that the artist in question has failed to live up to your lofty standards. It really is a very amusing word to see being thrown around wildly on metal forums and in comment threads… what exactly are they posing as, exactly?
You’ll often find that those quickest to throw around the “poser” accusation are the ones who cling tightest to the established “rules” and clichés of “being a metalhead” (with no awareness of the irony that entails). Nothing can be allowed to threaten the assumed, and homogenous, identity that they’ve adopted. And of course the best way to define yourself is by opposition to things that are “uncool” (or, of course, “too cool”… case law is still pretty unclear whether underground metal bands suffer most from being “uncool” or “too cool”…).
Here’s where things get interesting though.
The other common thread I’ve seen continuously popping up is one in which people have been saying things like “The Satanist was the record Watain wanted to make!” or something else to that effect. Ignoring the fact that the two records are sonically and stylistically dissimilar, and have clearly different goals in mind, it’s still funny to watch people desperately trying to choose a side. It may not even be their fight, but goddammit, they’re going to win!
Now that’s not a new thing, but what made it particularly amusing (and apropos for this little piece of pseudo-intellectual dead-horse-beating I’m doing) was that on the same day I saw a particular comment by that guy condescendingly referring to Behemoth as “pop metal”.
Just let that sink in for a moment.
Now referring to Behemoth as “pop metal” made me laugh (out loud) to myself, truth be told. It was just the sort of superior, snobby statement that those sort of self-proclaimed “elitists” always come out with, as if reading from a list of specifically approved phrases. It was clear from both the words and the context that the guy in question had never really bothered to give the band a fair hearing, or if he had, it had been “just to know what’s so bad about it”. Confirmation bias in action folks.
Calling something “pop metal” is akin to admitting you have no real way of backing up what you’re saying. It’s a purposeful attempt to characterise something a certain way in order to skew people’s perceptions and prove your own “argument” (and I use that term loosely here). It’s exactly the same as how people used to (and still do) throw around the terms “nu-metal” and “metalcore” toward anything that didn’t fit their narrow perception of what “real” metal was allowed to be.
The words became derisory terms hurled around by the metal “elite” to characterise anything they felt was beneath them – regardless of whether there was anything remotely “nu-metal” or “metalcore” about it. Heck, you see it just as much these days with the terms “djent” and “deathcore”. If a band doesn’t fit into one of the “approved” styles, they must be “posers”, “sell-outs”, “hipsters”, etc.
Seriously, how often have you seen an album you like referred to disparagingly as “metalcore” by someone with no real knowledge of either the band in question, or what “metalcore” actually entails? How many new death metal bands have you seen get tagged as “Deathcore” by snobby elitists who think that music which doesn’t sound like Nile isn’t “real” death metal?
I mean, come on guys. I’m all for differing opinions, but at least try and provide a valid argument, it can’t be that hard!
Behemoth, for all their exposure, can hardly be called “pop metal”. They’re a Blackened Death Metal band ffs. Oh, they might be wilfully pompous and bombastic at times, and their profile might be “too big” for them to be considered underground or “cool” anymore, but these guys deal in riffs and blast beats and screaming, growling vocals that positively seethe with righteous, Satanic fury. They’re not “poppy” and they’re certainly not “posers”.
You don’t have to like it, but please, cut the bullshit.
So what to do? Ultimately the thing is, no matter what you like, there’s always going to be someone who (thinks he) knows better than you do, and – with his objectively superior opinions and higher standards – is willing to tell you why Band A is cooler/better/more “real” than Band B. Hell, I’ve been him myself more times than I’m happy to admit.
But, thank God/Buddha/Satan/The Flying Spaghetti Monster, it’s getting easier and easier to spot that guy and his bullshit superiority complex a mile away.
You’ll often be able to identify that guy and his ill-bred ilk by the condescending tone they take – superciliously arrogant, but with enough ground available for back-pedalling. They start their sentences with things like “It may be just me, but I’ve always thought of x as…” and somehow always manage to convey their own opinion with something of a sneering disregard for anyone who disagrees. They’re speaking from a position of assumed superiority – they know they’re right after all, so why shouldn’t everyone know that?
Truth be told, I often think of that guy as a confused rebel. A reactionary. He’s in an extreme music world, but he doesn’t know what the right sort of extreme is. In fact, he’s not even sure what he’s rebelling against… so he goes for the biggest, easiest target… and that, more than anything, is just lazy. It engenders a self-fulfilling, self-perpetuating cycle where that guy’s opinion (so vehemently defended) always seems to have come second or third hand from somewhere else – he’s heard that so-and-so are posers, metalcore, deathcore, etc, after all… so why bother even listening to them?
So next time you find yourself up in arms about a band, or an album, that seems to be getting what you consider unjustified praise, take a second to consider your argument, and where it comes from. A reasoned argument is worth a thousand apoplectic rants.
Because no person in their right mind wants to be that guy.