The art of writing a metal review

Epicus Moronicus describes the glorious (non) art of writing a heavy metal review, and takes some wicked shots at this blog and others while doing so.

loudspeaker

The people this article concerns itself with fall under one of three categories:

  1. Doers –  The ones doing stuff.
  2. Critics – Includes those who find the actions of the doers laudable and also those who find it abhorrent.
  3. Followers – This is the mass, the ones who follow, and the ones who consume the output generated by the doers and the critics.

A look at the above categorization brings to light that there is an inherent hierarchy associated within these groups, with a sense of importance attributed to those in the doers category, and an exponential reduction in the sense of ego/self as we move down the so called ladder. Statistically, the minority would be the doers, a slightly larger majority the critic, and the vast majority the followers. The impression it conveys is that the followers are ones whose only contribution is the art of consumption.

religion

This holds true for various fields of human endeavour. Religion for example, includes a small minority, which contains the gods and the prophets. The critics would include the preachers who extol the virtues of their chosen gods and prophets, and others who denounce them. And then the majority, the followers, who do as told without dissent.

swami

It is clearly better to be the prophet than the priest, and far more profitable to be either than being amongst those who follow.

While on casual inspection this might hold true, this clearly overlooks an important aspect of religion, which is that it is a personal relationship with one’s god. One of the redeeming features of religion is not the miracles of the god/prophet nor the preachings of the preacher, but the simple virtues of men that allow them to live with a modicum of self respect, knowing that their lives are lived according to a strict moral code.

How does any of this apply to heavy metal?

bathory

Just as religion is a personal relationship between man and the divine, aimed at instilling a set of values in society, so it is that for a select group of people, heavy metal describes a set of ideals that can be constantly strived for. It is as the river Nile was to the ancient Egyptians, a life giving force around whose ebb and flow our lives revolve, until every aspect of our very being is commingled with it, so that it becomes hard to separate the man from the metal, and the metal from the man.

Of course, as doe-eyed innocents,  all of us have wanted to start our own band at one time or another so that we can contribute our bit towards achieving this fleeting ideal. But not everyone knows how to play an instrument, find other like minded individuals, and work towards a common goal. So what are they to do??? Well if you can’t create, the next best thing to do is to either preach or critique and that is what the rest of us strive to do. It is so much better than being the bottom feeding consumer, who though willing to partake of the fruit of someone else’s labour, is willing to give nothing back.

So, since it is hard to compose music, the next best thing to do is compose reviews, and put forth your two pennies worth. But what are the prerequisites to being a reviewer? Perhaps the most important quality a reviewer must possess is the ability to articulate. Can an idea be of critical importance to others if it can’t be communicated clearly? What all good reviewers possess is the gift of words, the ability to analyze a phenomena and form an opinion which can be communicated to the masses. In an ideal world, objectivity would also form a key component of this process, but alas, we happen to be creatures driven by emotions, and as long as there exists within us an iota of I, reviews will be nothing more than a subjective interpretation of an event.

But due to heavy metal’s ineffable nature, the art of describing why you like an album becomes a tough job indeed, with us finally resorting to expressing our ideas in terminology that don’t lend itself to further scrutiny, by saying things like “I just feel it in my gut, man!”. The development of consciousness is relatively recent, while our primal reptile brain has been evolving for millions of years. The latter keeps itself busy with the basic needs of the human body, while the newly evolved but higher brain functions do things like analysis of all things including the art of writing of heavy metal reviews.

If we were to use this reptilian brain to write heavy metal reviews, words would be completely moot, and a review could be accomplished with a bare minimum of words, something akin to “AWESOME HURRHURRHURR!”. But we are all conscious beings, in possession of an analytical brain (or so I would like to assume) and hence there is manifest in us a desire to paint a pretty picture, to better explain our emotions, to conjure up mythical castles in the air, and for all this we need words, and more importantly, a certain way with words.

But it is a strange mixture of words and the intent behind them that makes a good review. Words are comparable to skill with instruments. You can have a great album which is not very skilfully played, but just contains such passion that you form an instant connection with it. On the other hand, the more skilled you are with your instrument, the more options you have in terms of bringing to reality the vision that you have for your music but without the underlying passion it would mean precious little.

So far, so good, and heavy metal literature would indeed be in rude health if reviewers adhered diligently to these standards. Unfortunately, ubiquity of the internet creates a proportional lack of internal quality control. The folly of modern thinking is two-fold:

1. You can be anything you want to be

identity theft

This is absolutely NOT true. You can’t be anything you want to be. To persist in this pipe dream can only result in a misguided sense of entitlement and a lifetime supply of misery. If I were to compare the progress one makes in one’s life by following one’s dreams as an ability to jump forward, then different human beings have different capacities to jump. Some can barely jump a few feet, while there are others who so seldom touch the ground that they give the illusion of flight. Not everyone who has a tough beginning can glide their way to success, in the same manner that not everyone who’s born with a silver spoon is meant to exchange it for a golden one. Reality or life is something that we can’t control, and anyone who believes otherwise is living a delusion.

2. Follow your dreams.

Follow-your-Dreams

While it is no bad thing to have a dream, I also understand that it is not possible for the entire world to make their career out of following their dreams. If such were the case we’d still be living in caves, listening to rock music. For the vast majority of the world, following your dreams is not an option, as the number of fun jobs in the world are limited, and simple rules of mathematics help us deduce that even after fulfilling all those dream jobs,  there would be a vast majority of crappy jobs that remain to be done. Once again pragmatism comes to the rescue, telling us that if we are unable to follow our dreams with our careers, have a hobby and live it to the best of your abilities. This is something I respect. But it also means that the following thought process runs through the minds of the vast majority:

  •   I love music
  •   I wish I could be a musician
  •   Too risky…. I can’t play instruments
  •   I still want to be associated with music
  •   Listening is not enough. I want more
  •   People say I have good taste in music
  •   I will write about music. Yes that is a fantastic idea

And so our intrepid reviewer begins his journey using the following four commandments as the guiding lights of his career:

1. Thou shalt rely on an over abundance of blasphemy and profanity

Metal is irreverent, treads dangerous waters, pays homage to the unholy, is a synonym for the inner rebel,  and all in all a rather bloody affair. With such scope for exaggeration, and everyone listening to metal imagining themselves to be a warrior fighting demonic hordes, laying waste to cities, laying siege to heaven, or indulging in absolutely debauched behaviour, how can the review itself be a timid affair? So people start using over abused comparisons, and when that becomes hard to conjure, they go for the simplest trick in the book, profanity. A few examples of this would include thanking the devil for the music composed, taking the name of the lord in vain, comparison with elemental forces, talking about the loosening of bowels, or just about any other violent and repulsive deed that can be performed.

2. Thou shalt make comparisons to other similar bands if thou runneth out of ideas

The originators are few, the imitators are many, which means that more often than not, it is easy to compare a band with another band, but a few take this to extreme ends where in a band is reduced to a mathematical equation, which conforms to the BODMAS theory that we learned in our schools.

Metal as a genre is, or  used to be, an underground phenomena where bands rather than being easily discovered are divulged through arduous hard work. In a genre where the world “cult” is often used as a synonym for both the obscure and the amateur, where your personal metal quotient is defined by the number of obscure bands that can be named, it is easy to understand why it’s a good idea for a review to contain a number of references to other bands.

The references must be created like a nutella and peanut butter mix, with a healthy mention of classic giants in the metal world, giving the impression that they are well versed in its history, as well as throwing a generous mix of “cult” bands, thereby importuning others to stand in awe of your massive knowledge of the genre.

3. Thou shalt abolish all attempts at objectivity

Make no attempt at providing a cogent article on why this music is good or bad, but instead hope to confuse the audience. The best way to confuse the audience is also to provide  a rating and call it objective. Also give no rationale as to what prompted that rating, and try to make the number as irrational as possible.

4. Thou shalt bond with thy audience

People must know how swell a guy you are while the review is being read, so don’t hesitate to share a few tid bits about your personal life.  For e.g. this usually gets expressed by what the reviewer was doing while listening to the music, what other events transpired in their getting their hands on the CD, how their mother and father went on a first date, how they are extremely gifted south of heaven, or just about any other thing that you want to share with the world. The trick to remember is that everyone out there wants to read everything that you’ve ever written. Every child growing, at some point or the other, wonders what happens to people when they no longer are around them? Do they cease to exist, or just enter a state of hibernation? But then how come when they meet you again their lifestory seems to have evolved since you last met them? Someone who writes the screenplay of their lives must have just turned a few pages and introduced new plot lines. ALL THAT IS TRUE. You indeed are the centre of the universe, and the world exist solely for your pleasure, so don’t feel shy strutting around. Remember, when people are not reading this, they don’t EXIST.

Throw all these into a blender and we have a review that looks something like this:

Rebaelliun – Annihilation

annihilation

PROFANITY / BLASPHEMY
This music is so extreme it will make you shit yourself. It is the sound of the battle that rages on between the forces of good and evil. It is a maelstrom of emotions….

COMPARISON
The music here is exactly like Krisiun, but just played a bit faster. It is as if they had written an album that was 50 min long, but were given only 40 min to record it, and this was the result….

DEATH OF OBJECTIVITY
This is the most amazing piece of music I have ever heard in a long long time. I can’t imagine not listening to this music every single day of my life.

BONDING
I remember being 22 and getting my hand on this cd. It was an absolute hunch on which I purchased this cd, and boy were the metal gods kind to me. The happiness I felt upon listening to this music, far exceeded any other kind of happiness that I had experienced until then.

DEATH OF OBJECTIVITY CONTINUES: THE RATING
I give it a rating of 81 out of 100.

SOME MORE PROFANITY / BLASPHEMY
If you know what’s good for you, you fuckers will go out there and immediately get this. Then you can sit back and luxuriate in aural heaven while your bowels are being slowly being loosened for release.

 

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