To be on constant hunt for unalloyed perfection seems a misguided and ultimately futile investment of time to me. My experience has indicated that the best things in life, and so in metal, find you when you least expect them. But the more one pursues this quest for a metaphorical elixir of metal, the more one risks scrambling their internal quality-detecting radar. These first interceptions are invaluable and reveal much; though they might not be fool-proof, over time, our senses become more attuned and sure-footed about them. To dismiss them in favor of a pedantic, mechanical analysis that second-guesses itself at every turn is to destroy the visceral joy which is the first and foremost hallmark of heavy metal.
The lotus-metal crowd does not figure here because they remain far beneath our contempt; this is instead directed towards those who profess to have an understanding of metal as ideal. I’m obviously not suggesting a lowering of guard, but rather a leash or at the very least a sort of moratorium on cynical attitudes. A materialistic approach to hearing metal is one where each part is taken apart, agonized over, and finally assigned a positive or negative quotient, said quotients then adding up to form a cumulative endorsement or dismissal of the music at hand. There is a place for this kind of analysis, but an analysis is just what it is, and should be reserved for much later in the process of musical consumption.
What comes initially, however, is pure hearing, a primitive, liminal act that does not understand genres, techniques, or composition. That should not be misinterpreted as the anything-goes pose of hipsters; what I’m trying to say – what can be thought of in Kantian terms as a transcendental schema or a mold into which external impressions first register – is that the music appeals to us at first precisely because it is metal, or something which we can come to ascribe as metal in the future. That first acquaintance is pleasing to us, however, only because it is of an equitable proportion with our native personalities, with who we are and what we represent; in other words, you don’t find the music, the music finds you.
Originality is a whore of a word in metal circles and it confuses me no end when someone uses it and it alone to criticize a band for being copycats. What is even meant by originality in metal anymore? If we allow that metal is a conservative form of music, always mining the past for inspiration, then what originality do we speak of?
(this reminds me of an incident at a smoke-infested gig in Bombay in the early 00s. A death metal band called Exhumation was on stage, playing standard Cannibal Corpse-style music, but with real energy. A guy walked up to where we were standing. I asked him how he found Exhumation, and he replied,”Oh they were OK, man. Sort of derivative. Like two parts Cannibal Corpse+one part Vader+one part Nile”. I simply stood there and shook my head)
There is no doubt legitimate idiosyncrasy or individuality is a powerful tool in its own right. It draws back the veil from that which was originally obscured, bringing something wholly new into existence. There is an aspect of the supernatural in such an unveiling; in it we see the hand of a musical Prometheus who makes the mysteries of another dimension available to us.
But a unique voice with something substantial to say can undoubtedly exist whilst remaining firmly entrenched in metal tradition, too. To acknowledge it as such, however, requires that one fell in love with metal tradition on their gloried path to critical surliness, a prerequisite that I find altogether lacking in many of the contrarian opinions I read today. For all the quasi-mystical qualities commonly associated with metal, that these opinions tend to give honest, alive emotion – a formative part of the genre – such a wide berth is great irony.