overground scene

Guilty displeasures

There are bands and albums that are widely considered embarrassing in specific subcultural fields, making the music fan of such bands and albums inherit their embarrassing quality within those fields. I would imagine that the more senior one gets in any given fan-subculture and, accordingly, more confident in their fan-credentials, the easier it gets to admit those guilty pleasures. For example, it would be quite hard for a young metalhead to openly admit among his or her peers that he or she likes St Anger by Metallica, or Illud divinum insanus by Morbid Angel. Similarly, it would be hard for a young death-metal fan participating in a Facebook Old-School Death Metal group to express his or her admiration of Children of Bodom or Insomnium.

In a similar fashion, there are bands and albums that have achieved legendary status, to such an extent that is embarrassing for fans to admit that they haven’t listened to them (guilty omissions), or that they dislike them. The latter are guilty displeasures; distastes that would be embarrassing to admit within a specific subcultural field. In this post I will talk about two of my guilty displeasures; records considered legendary that I don’t like, and whose extraordinary status has pushed me to make an extra effort to try to like them, to no avail.

emper1. Emperor – In the Nightside Eclipse (1994)

An album I wouldn’t easily admit in public that I disliked – in the past – was Emperor’s debut. I listened to it back in the late 1990s and I have tried to listen to it again a few times since. I have always had the same reaction after listening to it: what is the big deal?! I have always found it long-winded, boring, and the vocals pissed me off. With the exception of some riffs and arrangements in the beginning of each song, I found the rest of the music unexciting. I still think that the vocal patterns are completely boring. I do get that it probably was an innovative album whose majestic and symphonic character influenced the genre a lot, but I cannot for the life of me listen to it back to back. An album that I did love and still like today by Emperor was their final one.

peacesells2. Megadeth – Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying (1986)

Megadeth’s second album is an album that have always eluded me. I bought it back in 1995, right after I bought Megadeth’s absolute masterpiece titled Rust in peace (1990). After a few listens, however, I got rid of it. That was difficult to do, because I loved the album cover. I listened to it again after a few years and I again failed to be impressed by it. I thought that Mustaine’s voice was annoying, and that the songs were boring. A few years ago I listened to it again and I did discover some things that I like. Some of the arrangements are pretty cool, and I can appreciate that they were probably quite impressive at the time the album was released, and I like a few songs, like “My last words” and “Black Friday”. I still think that it lacks the catchy riffs, hooks, choruses, and melodies that make RIP such an important album, and the intensity and riffs of their debut. Moreover, did Megadeth really take the genre much farther musically than Mercyful Fate and Satan had by that time? I doubt it. So, even today I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I particularly like it.

Guilty pleasures #1

What is the definition of a guilty pleasure? I would say that a guilty pleasure has two parameters: firstly, it is when one derives pleasure from something which contradicts or is inconsistent with one’s tastes, and, secondly, it is when this inconsistency causes one to feel both personal (the “I” of the self) or/and social (the “me” of the self) embarrassment. A guilty pleasure implies that we have particular aesthetic standards that exclude the derivation of pleasure from cultural artifacts that fall outside these aesthetic standards. However, if we actually like something that falls outside of these standards doesn’t it mean that they were wider than we thought, to begin with, and that we should re-evaluate them? That would not make it a guilty pleasure though; it would just make it a surprising pleasure, at first, followed by the cognitive stage of being accepted as a new pleasure in line with our newly reconsidered aesthetic standards. That rarely happens though; the pleasure inconsistent with the aesthetic standards with which we want to identify remains a guilty pleasure. The reason behind our unwillingness to admit to different aesthetic standards – where embarrassment lies – can be found in the meanings that are attached to different aesthetics as well as in the degree to which our identity is depended on our cultural tastes.

When I was younger, back in Greece, I was part of a small group of friends whose cultural practices revolved around metal music. Therein, I felt the peer pressure to some degree to conform to what the group considered “true” or “serious” metal. As I have described in a previous post, what constituted true metal was the result of interaction and negotiation with the Greek metal press, older well-respected metalheads from around our town, and each other. So, people whom we admired lent legitimacy to the bands that they listened to. People whom we did not know, however, and we did not know whether they were “true”, were judged on the basis of our already held perceptions of what “serious” is. Our group set some blurry subcultural boundaries early on, that somewhat determined the parameters of negotiation. These boundaries reflected the typical heteronormative hegemonic masculinity that we all performed. An appearance that signified femininity was frowned upon, so hair-metal bands were doomed from the start. Bands with fantasy lyrics were also frowned upon, because they were admired by people whom we considered nerds. High-pitched vocals were accepted on the condition that the music and overall style was serious, usually meaning being devoid of happy melodies and major chord progressions. After a certain point all power metal bands were made fun of.

Sarcofago on the back-cover of the inimitable The laws of scourge

Sarcofago on the back-cover of the inimitable The laws of scourge

Still, bands like Crimson Glory were initially accepted, although we would make our disapproval of their looks known by calling them “Crimson Floroi” (i.e. Crimson sissies). Sarcofago, a band we always admired, was also made fun of due to the BDSM aesthetics they had during the Laws of scourge period. Another classic negotiation would concern bands like Manowar. Manowar was considered a ridiculous band among the people in the group, yet because we could not resist the brilliance of songs like “Black wind, fire and steel”, “Carry on”, “Heart of steel” and “Kingdom come”, we would still listen to them among ourselves but we would never admit to liking Manowar outside our group. A public admittance would position us – or so we thought because we imposed our interpretation of what serious metal is to the gaze of others – to the “poser” category.

This is aimed as the introduction to a series of posts in which I will discuss my guilty musical pleasures. In future posts I will demonstrate, using personal experiences, how guilty pleasures do not exist independently of the social situation in which one finds themselves and the position one occupies in such a social situation.