by: T. DePalma

Taking note not only of the output of records in various genres but the responses to them, there is a noticeable divide among fans and musicians regarding the course of any new musical content. It's worth looking further at this division, not because it's new, but because it's so persistent.

On the one hand are fans that seem easily satisfied with metal so long as it meets certain criteria and beyond that requires nothing. (*) These are the common purists and there is a wealth of musicians prone enough to affectation or an easy way onto a label that are happy to oblige in this manner. But there can also be slight unrest, and a vacant call to deliver the goods, this time in the misguided context that a band "returns to their roots". The first question to ask is in what case has this brilliant ploy (it will almost always cause its intended stir given enough time) turned up something other than a watered down version of the last truly inspired album?

On the other hand are people who are a little more selective when judging the worth of music, even if they find it superficially enjoyable. These kill-joys, critics and carpers, whether they're fans or musicians, represent in a sense the uncommon purist, recognizing that the essence of a thing can become eclipsed by its reliance on a singular form throughout time, thus obscured and eventually becoming meaningless.

In between there are the "It's just music" folks who will consume anything and the crowd that think Mastadon is a revelation. It's the first group that is symptomatic of the wind blowing today; the underlying indolence skirting the remains of promise into the noisy streets, tossing in circles till that grainy remnant of creativity spills over the edge into oblivion.

(*) Sure, there's some current true metal and "old school" bands that crush, but why fetishsize it? As in everything else, the majority sucks; there's a few standouts and and the rest is pleasing, but ultimately junk food. Besides, there's a shitload of rare acts, still unheard of or forgotten, that have already been there and done that. Who deserves your time more?


There is something that occurs frequently in conversation and the general body of reviews today. It's an inevitable phenomena really, and as it happens this thing, the utterance of which I'm about to evoke, is solely directed towards that group of artists and musicians who have at one point in their careers, delivered some kind of milestone. I'm sure you've encountered it before. Maybe you've even employed it during the flow of your own thoughts aloud. It goes something like this:

"The new album sounds cool, but it's no ___"


"I've given up waiting for them to release another ___"

You can fill in the blanks with any album from _Altars of Madness_ to _Transylvanian Hunger_, provided the consensus shows it to be a masterpiece. While it's possible to offer the phrase in the context of saying such and such album is not on par with a previous work, the majority who voice this complaint seem to be addressing an issue of nostalgia and longing not for a work on equal footing in terms of its potential impact and discovery, rather they wish to be served with something in the closest proximity of that (past) sound as possible. I wonder if the authors of such sentiment understand what it is they're implying in thinking that another _whatever_ is a good idea.

An example: type the words "another Reign in Blood" into Google and browse the results. It's also interesting to note the very particular choice of albums that this expression runs with, as they can also betray a sort of sheepishness in the listener; despite its excellent writing, which can be fairly placed next to _Reign in Blood_ and also compared in influence, I've seldom seen anyone moan about there being a shortage of _Hell Awaits_ in the world.

The above is not an argument for the quality of albums today, instead I want to make the case for becoming more discerning not only when it comes to new items in the catalog but in viewing the progression of music itself. In this period of unfocussed productivity it becomes more interesting to determine in hindsight exactly when certain bands should have quit, rather than wonder what they will do next; as bands continue on, they would be wise not to emphasize merely replicating prior glories (when attempted the result remains grasping or at worst, embarrassing -- Slayer, Deicide) but searching for different pathways, even at the cost of annihilating the boundaries of genre or, peering more directly into the matter, a brand name.


The gravest consequence of modern music, particularly the birth of rock 'n' roll, is that it tends to transform art into a franchise. The musicians themselves are at the heart of this, and it's not limited to the metal genre any more than it is to the average pop group. The modern band exists in insulation, expending all the knowledge that four or five individuals can pass between one another until all becomes sterile careerism.

I wrote in a recent concert review that I hope Morbid Angel does not record another album under their current touring line-up. This doesn't mean that I never want to hear Trey Azagthoth play guitar again, etc.; but the core combination of these artists yields little to me, and I think, nil in context of what they were. After over a decade, is it not possible that they have nothing more to learn from each other and might benefit from collaborating with other musicians in other projects? By extension I regard the "comeback" itself as a refuge more suited for entertainers, not artists.

It's not possible for everyone to be able to continue outside of their current fortune, nor that everyone can or should jump into a completely foreign world. This suggests that musicians abandon their carefully honed techniques and attempt something else on the basis of experimentation only. That vague open-mindedness seems equally disastrous and leading toward transient novelty. However, it's worth noting that there are individuals who, having seen the end in sight expanded before finally moving on, even in what seemed the most rigid of genres (Beherit).


While there is some truth that the Nineties brought a pinnacle in extreme music, producing the modern forms of black metal, it’s fatalistic and dull to consider that as the end rather than the fiery ellipsis still waiting. To be content with all else conforming to its peak in this superficial sense is, furthermore, hardly in the spirit of what truly underlined the entire boom. Darkthrone becomes an invaluable example of the contradiction at hand, based on the number of clones they have spawned. Do people actually believe that another _Transylvanian Hunger_ would really stand out among the throng that has followed in their wake since 1993? (**)

The notion not only advocates an unchallenging, sterile view of music, but is subtly insulting to the very works that satisfy the listener. It says: "I don't care about improvement or imagination. Just give me that warm fuzzy feeling I remember." The average metal fan is still a consumer at heart and adheres to the same tenants of comfort and reliability in art as with any other product on the shelf. In this line of thinking, the logic escapes some that the very reason, say, a _De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas_ or _Altars of Madness_ stood out and still stands strong with time is because they were not just another _Hell Awaits_ or _Black Metal_. That the magic within these works was as much a gift to these musicians, given by their environment at that time, as it was translated by the artists themselves.

It follows then that any meaningful change, whenever it comes next, will be in reaction to the current surroundings, now defined by a saturation of similar "raw" and unimpressive black metal bands as well as technical death metal -- a lot of which replaces substance with pretentious code. To blandly replicate the zeitgeist is to misunderstand the very concept it hoped to express. Those with even some minor sympathy towards the idea would do well to divorce themselves from such sentiment. It is too much the pathology of those who still treat metal as a big brother during their own boring trials of alienation.

(**) There is also the question of whether these proceeding acts have gained some parity from a musical standpoint with these influential releases. To me this would require that these off sprung groups make some essential improvement on the original formula; they haven't. It's impossible, for me at least, to sever all contexts and regard as equal, albums that are merely composed of riffs that somehow escaped their progenitors.


The next _insert beloved record here_ to come may bear only a passing resemblance or none at all to what has come before, but if genuine, it will contain the numenous character that burns at the heart of all that stands the test, remaining concealed for a time from those still searching in the wrong places.

(article submitted 26/4/2005)

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