Monday, February 19, 2018

A Woman's Place...

The joke goes like this:

"The only metal a woman knows is pots and pans."

Otep doesn't really help disprove this, of course.
 
In 2018, with the #metoo movement in full swing, it's harder to laugh at a statement like that. Mainly because one, it's demonstrably false. There's more tr00 female heshers than at any time I've ever been able to recall. And two, publicly laughing at that statement in 2018 means you're possibly taking a side in the cultural shitshow between cock-hating Third Wave Feminists and the human toilets that comprise the online communities of Mens Rights Activists, Incels, and Alt-Right cum stains to whom disparaging women isn't a laughing matter but a very real vocation in between their sessions of playing Call of Duty, eating Hot Pockets, and generally avoiding the sun.  

There really isn't a sadder more pathetic community on the internet than the Incels.
But as women in metal become more commonplace, periodically we see articles on the various blogs and forums on the topic of "female fronted" bands. Recently long terrible and thankfully long inactive nu-metal band Kittie opined that they shouldn't be thought of as a female fronted band. Quite ironic, given that when their record label first presented this Canadian embarrassment to music to an undeserving world, pretty much all of their hype centered around their gender and age. It was widely speculated shortly after their debut that at least some of the "musicians" in the band were even so inept that they couldn't competently tune their own instruments.

All these members. Yet so little interesting music.

It is a fair point, nevertheless. Should it really matter what the identities of a band's members happen to be? It seems like "female fronted" is a poor label to use to distinguish bands based on their sound. Arch Enemy, a band guilty of blatantly using an attractive female vocalist to gather attention in an otherwise over-saturated melodic deathmetal genre, sounds pretty goddamned different from Nightwish, purveyors of frilly froo foo symphonic powermetalish horseshit. My strong opinions about these artists notwithstanding, the only common denominator between artists in this manufactured "genre" is that the bands feature females as vocalists. It is pretty shitty to therefore isolate bands featuring female membership and to judge them not as bands on equal footing with the rest of the genre but only in comparison to other bands featuring prominent women. 

This is marketing, not creative brilliance.

Metal should be exclusionary. It's an outsider genre of music and a subculture for people that feel like outsiders. That said, I don't see why that label only fits white heterosexual men like myself. In fact, if any group of people in western society based on gender and ethnic identity are insiders, it's people like me. I see no reason why people with vaginas, or people of color, or people with various sexual, gender, ethnic, religious, or even political identities cannot identify with the alienation of feeling like an "outsider" and feel drawn to this type of music. 

Metal is not a goddamned pie. Just because more people decided they want to try it doesn't mean you get to have less.
At the same time, if a band wants to be judged on its merits and not the identity of its members, then that band needs to present itself that way. Kittie chose to market themselves as angry teenage girls and when they became thirty somethings and weren't getting respect as serious musicians outside of a dwindling fanbase, that's when they said "stop calling us a girl band." When Butcher Babies two front women put their tits all over everything and say "we're selling serious music", that's basically bullshit. There's nothing wrong with tits or pushing sexuality, but using sex appeal to get attention to sell shitty music doesn't make the music better. I've got no problem with someone being comfortable enough to push themselves that way, but you can't really complain that no one buys you as a musician when you're selling sex rather than music. (Though in the case of Butcher Babies, that's probably a smarter financial move.)

They could be selling basically anything here.
There's plenty of women involved in metal bands that are producing great music. Nervosa's entire lineup is female, and Haemhorrage, Eluveitie, Electric Wizard, Bolt Thrower, Abnormality, and My Dying Bride come to mind right off the top of my head as bands with female contributors. I don't think it matters if you've got a cock n' balls or a vag; if you're making good music then you're making good music. It's really not much more complicated than that.

An honest to goatlord decent solid thrash band.

In short, a woman's place is wherever she wants it to be. That includes within the metal scene. And women shouldn't have to leave their femininity at the entrance to the hall, either. But if women in metal bands use their gender to distinguish themselves from other bands in the genre, then it's hypocritical to then wonder why their bands aren't evaluated the same way as other bands. If you want to be accepted and fit in, then fit in.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

When Bands go "Cold Lake"...


Would you believe these guys once released "To Mega Therion"?
It's inevitable that almost every band will have a subpar effort in their catalog of albums. That many bands will take a swing and miss on a stylistic shift is a given and perhaps even a necessity. Not every artist is destined to be Motorhead or Cannibal Corpse and can regurgitate the same album over and over without diminished returns. Some bands need to take a left turn and explore a little uncharted territory before returning to what made them good. Paradise Lost is a wonderful example of that. Sometimes a band needs a lineup shift to rekindle their inspiration and get back on track with that they do best with a renewed energy. Amorphis is a great example of this. And sometimes bands just make inexplicably crap records that otherwise interrupt careers of strong output. Rotting Christ and My Dying Bride have both done this.

Even a band as badass as fucking Vader has occasionally released a forgettable album. See also: "The Beast".

And sometimes bands just go completely off the deep end and make enormous career shifts and decide to release awful records.

I'm inspired to rant about this because right now I'm listening to the new Machine Head album Catharsis, which sees the band abandoning a string of solid, groovy thrash records to revisit their unfortunate adventures in nu-metal. With online media blogs deciding that nu-metal's revival is now imminent I guess Robb Flynn decided to take one more stab at the "moronic-extra-chromosome-carrying-previously-disowned-yet-for-a-brief-time-commercially-viable" relative to proper metal. What is awful is new again, right? (For example, supposedly JNCOs are "back".) Not that it should surprise you, but yes, Catharsis sucks. It's muddy downtuned "grooves" and infantile lyricism is a sharp departure from the epic, intricate nature of The Blackening or even the classic metal influences that crept up since. 
I can't believe Robb Flynn thought revisiting THIS was a good idea.

One often wonders what leads to the decision making for an otherwise established band that seemingly has found its niche to make an abrupt shift in style. Clearly fan perception about whether such a shift has even taken place is one thing to consider. For example, how far a shift was Cryptopsy really making with The Unspoken King? While clearly globbing onto the deathcore wave of the late 2000's, it at least remained an "extreme" metal album, if only relative to what mainstream music happens to be. Fan outrage, as well as my own critique, was that Cryptopsy was an established institution that transcended trends in the metal underground and did not need to cater to the aesthetics of a passing moment. Nobody listens to Cryptopsy to hear clean vocals, excessive keyboards, or grooves. They want speed, hyperblasting drums, and acrobatically extreme vocals. The overwhelmingly negative backlash obviously didn't go unnoticed and after several lineup changes, Cryptopsy seemed to right the ship with their eponymous effort and the followup Book of Tomes EP.



In a sense, that's what Celtic Frost did in following up the colossally massive failure of Cold Lake. This was the bad record by which all other bad records are defined. Ironically, it was from one of the genre's most forward thinking and progressive bands during the 1980s, yet upon achieving wider success on their own terms, the band seemingly sabotaged themselves by releasing an utterly unlistenable glam rock album, complete with hairspray. Tom G. Warrior would later call it his biggest mistake ever, and attribute it to a combination of a happy love life and letting a new lineup determine the creative direction. Still, the band would "right" things by responding with the oft-ignored Vanity/Nemesis before returning from hiatus many years later, existing as though Cold Lake never happened.

Happy people make shitty music. Its just a fact.
Then there's the bands that spend years and several albums cultivating fanbases, just to make an abrupt shift and never turn back. Opeth is a great example of this. Always heavily inspired by 70's prog rock, Opeth delivered 9 albums of varying brilliance, seemlessly interweaving said prog with thunderous death metal to create somber, compelling music. Thriving off the support of a death metal scene all too willing to hype Opeth to non-metal peers as proof of metal's ability to be more than mindless noise, Opeth grew from a little band from Stockholm, Sweden into one of metal's most universally beloved darlings, seemingly incapable of doing wrong. Then they released Heritage, an album devoid of any of its metal trappings in favor of pure 70's prog-nerd worship. The album was completely polarizing (the music media loved it while older fans hated it), and objectively not as "good" as their previously death metal inspired albums. The response of the band has essentially been confusing; follow up releases The Pale Communion and Sorceress basically doubled down on the pedestrian sounding non-metal. Yet the band still includes songs from their previous back catalog in their live set, and have left open the possibility of returning to a heavier sound in the future. Essentially Opeth has made it clear they don't want to play death metal anymore, yet they want to lead fans on so they will continue to attend shows and buy each new record with a hope that just maybe the the glory days of the band will return.

Maybe this nerd is just as confused about Opeth's direction as the rest of us.
Meanwhile, there's In Flames. In the year 2000, In Flames was at their peak. Their catchy formula of melodic death metal, extra heavy on syrupy sweet melodic guitar harmonies, was at once tremendously enjoyable and it seemed palatable enough for mainstream ears for In Flames to be the underground metal band that was going "make the leap." They so thoroughly outdrew Earth Crisis on a co-headlining tour that Earth Crisis actually broke up midtour. I personally witnessed an incredible performance on a tour they headlined with Nevermore and Shadow's Fall in a sold out club. It seemed like bigger venues and Ozzfests were in their future. And in some respects it was, just not how long time fans had envisioned. See, In Flames had dropped hints all along; expressing fandom for artists like Britney Spears and Limp Bizkit. And sure enough, just as their light was shining at its brightest, the band abandoned its Gothenburg-style roots for downtuned nu-metal, emo lyricism, and borderline whiny vocals on 2002's Reroute To Remain. And for the period of the last days of nu-metal's viability, In Flames was able to reach Ozzfest, and get picked up on bigger package tours. Yet it really seems like they basically swapped one fan base for another, and with the passing of nu-metal's wave, they just release albums in their adopted style every few years to a chorus of metal fans who remind them of how much better they used to be.  

Basically how In Flames feels about their old fans. But hey, matching jumpsuits.
I guess bands could reach the point of releasing a Cold Lake in a variety of ways. Desire for commercial success. Boredom with a style they've played for multiple albums. Internal discord within the band. Using Metallica's post-black album career as an example, perhaps a paranoid desire to stay relevant. How bands respond to it seems to vary as well. Some rebound, some double down, some hedge their bets on their new sound, and some, like Metallica, swing wildly for the fences again and again, hoping to stumble on the right formula; in their case it seems to be to settle down into a mediocre, watered down version of their past glory with Hardwired To Self Destruct.
Boredom can be dangerous.

So how does a fan "cope" with this? As a long time metalhead who has seen this play out multiple times, I've learned to not take it personally as 16 year old kid the first time their favorite band "sells out." I think it involves understanding that bands are made up of human beings, who evolve and change over time. Who develop new interests and become bored of old ones. I think more than anything, a band should always make "honest art", which is to say that they should follow whatever is in their collective heart in a creative sense. If you make a shitty record for the right reason, who cares? Hell, if you make it for the wrong reason, is it really that big a deal? Those old Opeth and In Flames records haven't gone anywhere. I can still listen to My Arms Your Hearse or Whoracle and those records are just as amazing today as they were when they were originally released. The fact that both bands made abrupt decisions to turn to shit doesn't change that. The fact that Machine Head has just released an absolute turd sandwich of an album and are whiny bitches about the fact most of their fans hate it doesn't make Burn My Eyes or The More Things Change... less crushing.

Still one of metal's greatest albums.


As a younger fan, I probably would develop some sort of irrational animosity towards a band and its entire catalog because of a Cold Lake-moment. But in 2018, with so many streaming services and torrents of so many other bands it just seems silly. I'm not suggesting bands should get a pass for releasing a bad record. I still haven't "forgiven" Hypocrisy for releasing Catch 22 and attempting to cash in on ripping off Slipknot. But I am thankful I haven't disregarded the band since; albums like End of Disclosure and A Taste of Extreme Divinity are worthy additions to the band's legacy and have deserved their repeated listens.

I guess the overarching theme of what I'm getting at is that the longer a band exists, the more likely they're gonna do a shitty record. And the more likely they're gonna shift styles at some point. The confluence of diminished inspiration and style shift is what creates a Cold Lake. It's bound to happen yet rather than spending a ton of time upset about it, just remember that we live in a time when there's constantly more new records coming out that are going to be up your alley if you just take the time to look.
 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Best of 2017


It's that time of year again. Music nerds compile their lists of the records they think were the best; I've been posting mine on this dimly lit corner of the web for several years now. 2017 has been a good year, personally I've had some fun adventures in Texas, Kentucky, and Quebec with M. I got to see fucking Akercocke live at the Maryland Deathfest which was certainly a bucketlist sort of thing for me. I think I've survived year one of the Orange Goblin as my president, despite his attempts to draw our planet into a nuclear war. After using 2017 to take a deep breath and relax from the hellish marathon that was earning my degrees, I think 2018 will once again be a year for self improvement, mostly because I'm restless otherwise.

It's also a year that I heard a LOT of really good records. Between old guard bands and the new kids, there's a very vibrant if deeply underground metal scene right now. Festivals might not be drawing as large of turnouts, and sales are mostly in the shitter now that we're deep into the age of Spotify and YouTube, but artistically there's a ton of killer shit to get excited about. It's a good time to be alive as a fan of metal music.

At least until the new FCC rules kill Net Neutrality and it becomes much harder to scour the web to discover obscure bands. 

Biggest Disappointment

Pathology Pathology

Over the last 10 years, Pathology has been known to deliver the caveman slam death goods. Sick ultraguttural vocals, headbanging groves and slams, ferocious percussion. This time around, they just halfassed it. Matti Way is just gurgling...there's not even an attempt to pronounce lyrics; I've heard his work in other bands like Disgorge and Abominable Putridity to know when he's putting effort into it. Musically it almost sounds like they just chopped up the less inspiring parts of their previous albums and put them together here and called it a new "album." I don't listen to this style expecting originality but it's a style that doesn't really spare room for mediocrity; either it's gonna be excellent or not so good and there's not gonna be much room in between. I'm surprised that this made it past the normally astute quality control of Comatose Music.



Honorable Mentions



All Pigs Must Die Hostage Animal
Arkaik Nementhia
Broken Hope Mutilated And Assimilated 
Cannibal Corpse Red Before Black
Converge The Dusk In Us
Cytotoxin Gammageddon
Dead Cross Dead Cross
Der Weg Einer Freiheit Finisterre
Desolate Shrine Deliverance From The Godless Void 
Dodecahedron Kwintessins 
Enslaved E 
Father Befouled Desolate Gods 
Hanging Garden I Am Become  
Hideous Divinity Adveniens 
Hour Of Penance Cast The First Stone 
Immolation Atonement 
Incantation Profane Nexus 
Necrot Blood Offerings 
Phrenelith Desolate Endscape
Ulsect Ulsect
Solstafir Berdreyminn

10.) Desecrate The Faith Unholy Infestation

This is the second album that I'm aware of by this relatively obscure Texas brutal death metal act, and Unholy Infestation delivers a really solid, listenable slab of infectiously catchy death metal. This record is everything that this year's Pathology album was not.


9.) Sunlight's Bane The Blackest Volume: Like All Of The Earth Was Buried

If I were to attempt use other bands as a frame of reference to describe Sunlight's Bane on this, their debut album, I'd be pulling from artists as varied as Converge and Rune. Maybe Nails meets Anaal Nathrakh? If I were writing for some metal 'zine I'd make up a bullshit subgenre like "apocalyptic blackened crustgrind"  or something. Here's what you need to know. This is massively pissed off, at times epic, at times just furious, and it straddles the line between extreme metal and hardcore. I bought this record on a whim while in Texas and was quite pleased by my discovery.




8.) Akercocke Renaissance In Extremis
 
This band's reformation was one of the best things to come out of 2017; Akercocke has always been one of the more creative and innovative bands in metal, taking elements of black metal, death metal, progressive rock, and electronica to forge their odes to the goatlord. This time around saw the band shed the tailored suits and over the top Satanic imagery for a more subdued, progressively influenced sound and while it may not have been the Akercocke I was expecting when they announced their new record, this album is excellent and satisfying all the same.



 
7.) Belphegor Totenritual

The last album by Belphegor, 2014's Conjuring the Dead, was a slight letdown compared to their usual standard of outstanding and sometimes grandiose combination of black and death metal. While I appreciated the more deathly orientation the band has taken, Conjuring... suffered from a awkward and distracting kick drum sound that hurt the songs. Hey, sometimes even Eric Rutan doesn't get it right. Just consider the new Morbid Angel record as an example. That said, Belphegor most certainly got it right on Totenritual, delivering several pulverizing little ditties about the devil, demons, and evil. Standard fare. Hell, dare I say that this sounded more like the record I wish Morbid Angel released at times than the one they actually did. When Belphegor is at their peak, they're damn near untouchable.
 


6.) The Obsessed Sacred

The last time I recalled Wino, he was with Saint Vitus, who were busted in Norway for possession of meth, cocaine, and a cocktail of other illicit self medications. Which is pretty fucking doom metal, I must say. Apparently he's all aboard the Infowars crazy train too, which I guess isn't surprising if you read the lyrics from his The Hidden Hand project. I could be wrong about that. I really hope I am wrong about that and that he's not all in with the Dave Mustaine/Alex Jones shit. That would be majorly disappointing if it's actually true. Regardless, he avoids that shit with The Obsessed, thematically focusing on more relatable personal tales of sorrow. This is really heavy, not in the same way that other bands on this list so far are, but in an earthy, bluesy sort of way. Lots of repeat listens from this one.


 
  

5.) Devangelic Phlegethon
 
There's been a ton of great death metal coming from Italy this year, and interestingly bands like Antropofagus and Logic of Denial downplayed their more technical leanings in favor of straight on brutality. That said, Devangelic celebrated full on American styled brutality from the beginning, and in 2017 they're the grand champions of Italian death metal. To these ears, Resurrection Denied was a bit groovier than Phlegethon, which is more aggressive but still has its head nodding chugs amongst the blasts and even a bit of trash can snare. Supersick low vocals. Okay, so maybe it's not the most "original" release and it's a style that many bands attempt, but there's some really exceptional stuff and lots of quality here for fans of say, Cannibal Corpse or Disavowed.



4.) Gods Forsaken In A Pitch Black Grave

Another one of those not so original acts; Gods Forsaken only formed in 2016 by a few fellows who had spent time in various Swedish death metal bands including Blood Mortized, Wombbath, a whole bunch of Rogga Johanson's bands, even a cup of coffee in Amon Amarth. Do you like Dismember or Entombed or Grave? You think that Entrails is perfectly serviceable but just lacks a little something extra? I can't recommend In A Pitch Black Grave enough to you. The vocals are pretty low but gritty, the guitars buzz and crush with the occasional haunting melody, the drums sound like they were recorded at Sunlight Studios. Above all else, these are really catchy well constructed SONGS. You hear this and it's familiar in a comforting sort of way, yet you want to reach for it again and again. This record has lived in my car ever since I took a chance on it.





 
3.) Full of Hell Trumpeting Ecstasy

I think this is one of those darlings of the nerd metal class who buy everything Profound Lore or Dark Descent releases in 3 different colors of vinyl, which in turn pisses off the elitists who disregard them completely. "They made a noise record with Merzbow once so they're fucking hipsters." Hell, Encylcopedia Metallum can't be bothered to review any of their releases. I say fuck them. Trumpeting Ecstasy is outstanding. This is utterly ferocious and relentless deathgrind done in the style of many releases on Willowtip Records. In fact, if you told me these guys took heavy influence from say, Commit Suicide or Circle of Dead Children, I wouldn't be surprised in the least. After decades of listening to extreme music, I think it's fucking fantastic that I can still hear bands that play with energy, passion, and who just fucking go for it. Do they reinvent the wheel or break any ground with Trumpeting Ecstasy? Absolutely not. But bands like Full of Hell who convey a sense of conviction in their malice are why I still get excited by this genre of cookie monster nonsense. 



2.) Paradise Lost Medusa

It's kinda weird yet entirely welcome to see this band come full circle. Yet over the last several years, as they've returned to playing miserable doom metal it's clear they benefited from their time experimenting with electronics and otherwise exploring other ways to be dreary. I can't escape the thought that if they hadn't gone thru that period between One Second and Symbol of Life and went straight from Draconian Times to their self titled, maybe it's just not as good. Maybe it's a bit stale by now. Instead, songs like "The Longest Winter" sound vibrant and exciting and gripping. This was another record that stayed in my car for a long time this year, though oddly it was one of the bonus tracks, "Shrines", that's my favorite from Medusa




1.) Pallbearer Heartless

Bleak, dreary, defeated. Humbled, crushed, hopeless. These are the sorts of words I think of when I hear Pallbearer, who have in very short order over 3 albums become one of my absolute favorite bands in the world. Like the record by The Obsessed, this isn't the same type of heavy, but the despair conveyed by the harmonized vocals and the sludgy riffs hit harder than blastbeats and gutturals. Let me be clear, I love all kinds of heavy, and some of the riffs contained on Heartless make me think of Rwake or even Morgion. In a year with a lot of great releases by a lot of great bands, this album from back in February(?) is the one that stood out the most all year long for me. I think the first track, "I Saw The End", with it's melodic leads and classic rock sensibility, hints at an intriguing and exciting future for Pallbearer.








Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Portrait of a Shitty Band?

Over the last couple of months there's been a lot of articles that have crossed my eyes on social media regarding nu-metal. I thought this one posted on Invisible Oranges was really interesting as the author attempted to articulate the environment and social landscape of the 1990's that led to the emergence of nu metal as a genre.

He's in there, somewhere.
 Also in the news sphere online was reporting that former Marilyn Manson guitarist Scott Putesky aka "Daisy Berkowitz" died from a 4 year battle with colon cancer. Though Marilyn Manson wasn't really mentioned in the Invisible Oranges article, they certainly had a significant appeal to the nu-metal demographic. So when M and I were talking about exactly what Marilyn Manson was and how it fit into the musical landscape of the 1990's and perhaps even today, I felt compelled to try to articulate my relationship with Manson's music.

The first time I heard Marilyn Manson was on Beavis and Butthead so internet usage wasn't widespread, it was mostly limited to message boards and IRC and if you didn't know people who were into the extreme underground metal of the time, what you were exposed to was pretty limited, especially as a teenager living in bumfuck redneck Central Virginia. Which is to say that while bands like Cannibal Corpse or more likely Pantera were much heavier and much more likely to feature on a mixtape cassette that I'd be listening to at the time, Marilyn Manson was intriguing for a pair of reasons.

The first and most obvious was that their first album followed in the wake of Nine Inch Nails' "The Downward Spiral", which for most younger rock fans at the time was the first real exposure to industrial influenced music with heavy doses of samples, drum treatments, and just awkward unconventional music that was a challenge to listen to. (This is still a great record, btw.) Hearing Manson's first album "Portrait of an American Family", its not really surprising that NIN mastermind Trent Reznor was quite involved in the band's music from a purely aural aspect.

The other reason was that in terms of aesthetic and lyrical content there was no other commercially viable artist who was so transgressive or anti-establishment. In retrospect, its very easy to see how the band had an image cobbled together from Alice Cooper, Ziggy Stardust, and Gwar. At the same time, thinking back to the Invisible Oranges article, it's not hard to see how the content of the band in those early years was very much a product of their environment, which just happened to be Florida. Land of retirees living in cookie cutter suburbs, Disney World, and untold numbers of creepy evangelicals.

You know, you are a product of your environment.
 So upon first exposure, a rock band that engages in simulated sex acts on stage, burns bibles, and literally threatens every aspect of the accepted social norms in the United States during the 1990's would clearly have an appeal to disaffected teenagers. Especially disaffected teenagers who had in their recent memory saw Kurt Cobain kill himself. I'm not gonna front otherwise, the first 2 Marilyn Manson records caught my attention too. Especially when they ripped off the chord progression to Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" for their breakout single, a cover of the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams."

(Interesting observation; At The Gates basically ripped off the same chord progression as performed by Marilyn Manson for the main guitar harmony for "Blinded by Fear" and nobody hardly says a word.)

So why did it lose appeal to me and why do I think he generally fell off?

For starters, Marilyn Manson musically suffered greatly after those first 2 albums when they disassociated with Trent Reznor. The band tried to go for a more creepy, kitschy industrial aesthetic. It simply sucked if your musical inclination was metal rather than "alternative." From a shock rock perspective, given how extreme Manson's imagery and theatrics were, it didn't really leave many boundaries left to cross. Well, unless you were GG Allin and willing to mutilate yourself and defecate on stage. At that point I'm not sure it's shocking or just kinda gross for most fans. Manson's act, so dependent on shock value, basically played all of their cards at the beginning. Once it wasn't shocking anymore, what's left?

Way more extreme than basically anyone who ever live could hope to be.

At the same time, in 2 short years my own musical experiences had expanded greatly as I discovered internet forums, met upperclassmen, and discovered black metal. Like Manson, 2nd wave black metal was highly theatrical and demonstrative. It challenged social norms. More importantly, for many of the musicians involved, black metal was no act. Churches were burned. People were murdered. No fucks were given. Musically, though the bands had similar aural elements, there were many of them releasing new and exciting albums on a regular basis. Going to the local Plan 9 Records and buying Rotting Christ's "Thy Might Contract" one month, then Emperor's "Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk" the next, before discovering Satyricon's "Nemesis Divina" a week later...reading about the mythology behind Mayhem and Dissection. It felt more serious, more "real." Some dude in a thong groaning to a programmed beat just wasn't nearly as interesting.

That wss actually how Norwegian black metal bands did their photo shoots. Their vocalists blow their brains out. Sorry for the mess.

So where does Marilyn Manson fit into metal history and into the scene today? I think that despite the band's commercial success, they are a relatively minor footnote most remembered for the fact that the two dorks that shot up Columbine High School in 1999 were perceived to be fans of the band. Perhaps also remembered for breaking down the last taboos in theatrical musical performance. I don't think anything from "Mechanical Animals" onward is really remembered; perhaps for Manson's androgynous appearance but not for the music. The band continues to release music that's mostly forgotten after it comes out, and tours large clubs to perform to 30 somethings that want to reconnect with a part of their teenage years by hearing songs from the first 2 albums.

Marilyn Manson has basically become like Tom Petty (except for the being dead part); soulless bland dad rock for adults who grew up as poorly adjusted teenagers in the 1990's.

While typing this up, I went on YouTube and revisited some of Marilyn Manson's music to see if any of it at all still had a hook or caught my ear. Truth is, very little of it does. But the song "Lunchbox" is kinda revealing in retrospect. It's refrain "I want to be a rock n' roll star so nobody fucks with me" pretty much says what it was all about. It was never about creating music. It was always about rock stardom for Marilyn Manson, so while the band certainly consumed a lot of drugs and engaged in debacherous sexual behavior and made a pile of money off of their antics, when you pick at the corpse of the music they left behind, there's not a lot of meat there. There never was.


A Pre-mature Post-Mortem for Century Media?


There was a time when Century Media Records was the beating heart of the metal underground. Between bands that were on their early roster (such as Grave and Asphyx) and bands they distributed in North America (think of those Candlelight bands like Emperor and Opeth which got released under the Century Black imprint) the label was basically in the center of what was going on in the 1990's; especially during the 'dark' days when metal was supposedly "dead" yet CM was releasing landmark albums by Strapping Young Lad and Nevermore. Yes, they released crap like Stuck Mojo and Mucky Pup as well, but this was offset by offerings by bands like Morgoth and Arch Enemy, among others. It was a label with a diverse and compelling roster of bands.

So what happened and how did we get to a point where not only has the label been bought by Sony Music, but its back catalog is effectively been peddled to a third party two years later (most likely for pennies on the dollar)?

In my opinion, Metalcore was the downfall of the label. Specifically the signing of Shadow's Fall. Century Media had always dabbled in the old school Metalcore of the 1990's such as Turmoil and 454 Big Block but I think it was the unexpected success of Shadow's Fall and then the even greater success of Lacuna Coil (on the ironic coattails of Evanescence) that followed which shifted the label's priorities. They became a victim of their own success. The elevation of these bands, as well as the respective successes of artists like Arch Enemy (following the addition of Angela Gossow; the music may not have been as good but commercially it was a huge success), SYL, and God Forbid meant that CM had reached the level of the now defunct Roadrunner Records and were no longer the obscure label that released "Something Wicked This Way Comes" by Iced Earth or "Wildhoney" by Tiamat. With the Metalcore wave, the label went all in. Their bands were getting booked on Ozzfest and headlining the New England Metal and Hardcore Fest. They didn't really sign other new or up and coming bands unless they were part of the Metalcore wave. Sure, "legacy" acts like Immolation and Napalm Death were releasing fantastic albums on the Century Media imprint, but they weren't treated like the focus of the label.

That all died around 2010 or so, when the Metalcore wave ended. Instead of returning to what had worked for the label before, they seemed only interested in either signing established bands (such as the signing of Insomnium) or desperately trying to discover the "next" new thing. Unfortunately for the label's commercial aspirations, neither Deathcore, Djent, nor "Occult Rock" managed to find the same lucrative success in the current decade that Metalcore did in the 2000's. Of course, this happened in the backdrop of the music industry at large being savaged by downloading and the inability to date of artists and labels to monetize streaming or YouTube clicks. Perhaps seeing the future, founder Robert Kampf sold his creation to major label Sony in 2015, presumably for the rights to the back catalog and roster of established bands that wouldn't require an enormous investment to get a return on (how hard is it to promote a Body Count or At The Gates album really?)

Let's be real, Ice T basically promotes himself.

As a fan and observer of the genre, I find it fascinating and perhaps informative. I wouldn't have guessed that Relapse or Metal Blade would outlast Century Media; yet here we are. While Metal Blade is definitely most famous for it's legacy acts like Cannibal Corpse and Amon Amarth, there's no shortage of young, up and coming artists getting their albums released (albeit with little promotion) thru the label. Somehow, I think that label will continue as long as Brian Slagel has the heart and energy to keep it going. (If it goes the way Peaceville did after Hammy gave it up is another matter...)

Meanwhile, the labels that seem to have the energy and spirit of what Century Media was, such as Profound Lore, Dark Descent, and Hell's Headbangers, seem to be thriving if on a smaller scale. The death metal underground remains as it always has been, with labels like Comatose, Sevared, Unique Leader, and Willowtip still serving their subgenres faithfully. Hell, there's now even the emergence of smaller international labels like Everlasting Spew in Italy, Transcending Obscurity from India, and Disembowl Records from Indonesia which are releasing top notch, top quality artists that, in the age of Facebook and social media are receiving acclaim.and deserving notice.

Perhaps the label that needs to pay attention next is Nuclear Blast. The label shares a similar origin with Century Media (late 80's, Germany) and even at one point had a partnership together. They have become essentially the new Roadrunner in recent years (not mere coincidence, as the former label boss Monte Conner now works for them) as they seek to focus primarily on legacy acts such as Slayer, Testament, and Machine Head or whatever the latest metal "trend" is.

Same number of original members as KISS.

The thing with trends it that they're hard to predict and rarely have much staying power (see: deathcore, djent) and some of the legacy acts that tours and labels depend on to draw are getting long in the tooth. Suffocation's vocalist doesn't tour with the band anymore because of real life. And none of this considers that the majority of the people that are or were fans of these legacy artists are themselves getting up in age. I'm 37; I've got student loans, car payments, and a plethora of real life responsibilities and life ambitions that dip into the amount of money and attention that even I, as a devoted fan, can spend keeping up with the artists in this scene (for example, I update this blog exactly what? 2 or 3 times a year?) The kids themselves? They're the ones keeping the niche labels alive or they're not even into metal at all; instead they listen to Imagine Dragons or Taylor Swift or that "Cash Me Outside How Bout Dah" girl.

I guess to try to wrap a bow around this and to give my "hot take", I think that niche labels run by passionate fans who are lucky to break even and feel compelled to promote heavy music as a labor of love are going to be okay. Between Facebook, YouTube, and Bandcamp it's cheaper than ever to promote good bands (as well as a whole lot of bad ones...) On the other hand, I see the disintegration of Century Media as a sign of what will be to come for the larger metal labels that overextend themselves. I don't see Metal Blade surviving Brian Slagel's retirement. Relapse has always kinda been a gateway between the bigger labels and the niche and I think they'll do okay. But Earache will eventually run out of ways to monetize their back catalog (how many times can you reissue Entombed's "Left Hand Path" anyhow?) and I think Nuclear Blast may eventually go the way of Century Media.