On November 21, 2009, I made the first post at this blog, which, with tongue partially in cheek, I had decided to name NO CLEAN SINGING. I started it on a lark. I had no training or experience as a music writer. I had only scattered bits of knowledge about the long history of metal, because until recently I had spent my decades of time on earth mainly listening to other kinds of music. What I did have was a burgeoning attraction to heavy music and a lot of curiosity. Back in those early days of the blogging phenomenon, you really didn’t need much more than that to start out. Probably still don’t.
Of course, the intensity of my own interest and the ease of starting up didn’t mean that anyone would pay attention to NCS — and I didn’t expect that or need it. NCS existed as a hobby, for want of a better word, that I hoped would be an enjoyable diversion for me from the grind of daily life. That was the sum total of my motivation. If you had told me back then that I’d still be doing it 11 years later, or that NCS would achieve a certain level of global notoriety, I would have laughed so hard that I’d have been left gasping for air.
On this milestone birthday, I’ve thought again, as I do every year, about why unexpectedly we’re still here, and what has changed from those earliest of days.
One big reason why we’re still here, and probably the most important one, is that I was eventually joined by a group of other writers who seemed to care about the music as much or more than I did, and who completely bought into the guiding principles that I had adopted in starting NCS, the most important of which was that we would spend our time recommending music we believed in, and would simply ignore the music that we didn’t like or that we thought wasn’t very good, rather than tearing it down or making fun of the people responsible for it.
Many writers have drifted in and out of our cadre over these 11 years, some of whom have gone on to write for other publications or to focus on family and careers, and have remained good friends. A few hardy souls have hung in there almost as long as I have, and have become particularly close friends. And so, as usual, I’ll call them out to take a bow.
Andy Synn’s first post was a review of Dimmu Borgir’s Abrahadabra on September 23, 2010. And DGR’s first post was a series of year-end lists on December 28, 2011. They are very fine people, and for me, my friendship with them and with others who eventually joined our ranks has become the most important blessing to me of all for having done this. Their steadfastness in continuing to write for NCS without pay and despite being buffeted by the usual vicissitudes of life over so many years is something I greatly admire, and for which I’m enormously thankful.
Another old-timer, TheMadIsraeli, still surfaces when life’s travails allow it, and he has again been subjected to recent travails that have made that difficult. I look forward to the day when he can get his head above water again and rejoin us. We miss you man.
As I look back over the last year, thanks are also in order for the contributions of many other fine folks who have also been helping us for years — among them Comrade Aleks, Wil Cifer, Vonlughlio, Todd Manning, and Karina Noctum. We also continue to benefit from the contributions of Gonzo, once of Seattle and now ensconced in Colorado, and the Atlanta-based metalhead whose nom de plume is Tör, as well as NCS newcomer DJ Jet, who has brought us some great interviews this year, and hopefully she will continue to be part of our cadre. Big thanks to them and to all other contributors who have shared their interviews and their musical recommendations at our site over the last year. Maybe next year many of these people will again be able to give us show reviews too. You remember shows, don’t you?
Another big reason why we’re still here is you, and others like you — people who find some value in our recommendations, people who enjoy the writing, and/or people who actually seem to care what we think about the releases that continue coming in a flood every week. Even though we make no effort to make any money from NCS, I think it’s fair to say that none of us would have continued to do this if no one cared, or paid attention, or gave us any feedback. It’s a lot of work, and we might all have concluded that it’s time better spent in other ways if we were just yelling into a great void. Perhaps needless to say, we have a special love for people who leave comments, even if infrequently.
Of course, we’re also still here because an ever-increasing stream of bands, labels, and publicists exhort us to give their music a shot, and because we still get a lot of joy out of the process of exploring new music, and a lot of satisfaction out of helping spread the word about what we find that gets us excited.
As for what has changed since the early days, well, a whole lot has changed. Music has changed significantly. Even though we continue to experience different kinds of old-school revivals, and even though a lot of bands who were strong 11 years ago are still going strong, creative fires have been burning hot all over the world, even in the midst of a pandemic, and today there are new formulations of extreme metal you would not have found 11 years ago. I think it’s fair to say that our tastes in music have changed too. I know mine have, pulling me deeper into more extreme forms of underground metal as the years have passed — but also still open to curveballs of the most extravagant kind.
We’ve also grown significantly, compared to 11 years ago, both in terms of readership and (I think) in terms of influence. With those changes has come a feeling of increased responsibility. At least in my case, it has driven me to do even more to try to search out deserving bands and to spread the word about as many of them as I can — and to be more careful about avoiding bands whose ideologies and associations are toxic to the health of humanity, and to its stumbling progress toward a life of decency and mutual respect.
At a time when the worst aspects of human nature have been given bullhorns, ratified, and encouraged in the halls of power like never before in generations, even our own tiny contribution to social life and culture at NCS must avoid these racist and fascist poisons like the plague, and that will remain one of our important commitments as we begin our 12th year.
Speaking of plagues, what the hell has happened to the world since our 10th birthday? From small beginnings, the virus has visited disease and death on a global scale, along with economic disasters and radical alterations in the way we all live. Against that nightmare, too many people have proven that they just can’t be bothered to do the small things that collectively could bring this rampage under control, or actually think that defying practices which are proven to save lives is an exercise in “freedom”.
And so here we are, looking at a winter that is likely to be the worst of the scourge since the beginning. If you believe recent pronouncements by Dr. Fauci in the U.S., we won’t “approach” a return to normalcy until the third or fourth quarter of next year — and that’s only IF safe and effective vaccines are made available on a massive scale and used by the great majority of our populations. Which, to me, means that next year will be a bust too.
This isn’t the place to discuss what that will mean to our ability to enjoy live music again. The challenges, at least in the U.S., will be enormous, not only because of the virus risks but because of the mass death of metal venues that has been occurring and will continue to occur. But as Jeff Goldblum famously pronounced, “Life Finds A Way”. And so it has been exhilarating, even “life affirming” (to use a cliched phrase), to see that not even a deadly disease coupled with economic calamity can’t keep creative people from creating.
We continue to be blessed, after all these horrible months, with a continuing flood-tide of metal, and so much of it so very good. In different ways, we all try to fight against what has happened to our lives, and we mourn those who are less able to fight — mentally, emotionally, physically, or for the sheer lack of economic resources — and those who have succumbed. For musicians, that need to fight can create music, and we are grateful for that. What they do can give us aid in our own struggles.
So, a lot of things have changed in 11 years — and it seems in some ways that the changes brought by the last year make the previous 10 seem like ancient history. But the fundamentals of NCS haven’t changed: We still only write about music we enjoy and honestly want to recommend; we still don’t take money from anyone for anything; we still don’t take ourselves too seriously; and we still have a knowledgable, respectful, and almost completely troll-free community of readers and commenters whom we cherish.
And now for the annual round-up of boring statistics!
Since we launched NCS eleven years ago, we’ve published 12,350 posts, including this one — and 992 of those have appeared in the 12 months since our last birthday, which is a somewhat larger number than we posted in our tenth year of existence and averages out to 2.87 posts a day, including weekends.
At this writing, we’ve received 85,413 comments since NCS began on this day in 2009, not counting spam and not counting the very, very few I’ve deleted because their toxicity exceeded even my usual hands-off attitude about comments. I still don’t reply to comments as often as I used to, but I read every one of them, and continue to be grateful for the insights, the recommendations, the humor, and the support — and for the fact that our commenters have almost always been civil to us and to each other, which continues to be a relative rarity in the realm of metal blogdom.
According to Google Analytics, as of yesterday we’ve had 362,635 individual users over the last 12 months from all over the world. In keeping with data from past years, over the last 12 months less than half of those users (41.33%) live in the U.S., even though NCS is based in the U.S., with 6.37% coming from the UK, 5.15% from Canada, and the balance from more than 100 other countries around the world, with Germany, France, Australia, Italy, Sweden, Netherlands, and Poland rounding out the top 10, in that order over the last 12 months (which coincidentally is the same order as the last time I reported these stats a year ago).
Since this time last year we’ve had 1,491,487 page views, which is a slight decrease from last year, and perhaps at least partially a result of Facebook continuing to tweak their algorithm so that a miniscule percentage of our FB followers see the posts we make about new articles appearing on the site, or perhaps because a few more people have decided that we suck.
Speaking of Facebook, the number of “likes” for our Facebook page has grown from 40,535 at this time last year to 42,598 today, which is an increase of 2,063 — compared to an increase of 1,984 in the preceding year. Like the continuing reduction in the organic reach of our FB posts, this modest growth rate is most likely the result of Facebook’s continuing efforts to squeeze Pages for advertising dollars, still not having figured out that in our case it’s like trying to get blood from a stone. I guess they continue to think we’re a business instead of what we really are — a labor of love that only costs me money and whose rewards to myself and my comrades can’t be counted in currency.
As we now begin our glorious 12th year of survival, I’ll once again paraphrase Blade Runner: I don’t know how long we’ll have together… Who does? I hope we’ll still be here at this time next year to celebrate the end of our 12th year, with the virus vanquished and shows to go to again, and I hope you’ll still be here with us. It’s been a hell of a trip so far, and all of us here at NCS are excited about continuing the ride.
Stay safe, and don’t let the bastards get you down.