overground scene


Heavy metal news websites: why is “Ratt” newsworthy?

A similar question to the one in the title of this post, is one I used to ask myself quite often when I first started reading Blabbermouth many years ago. Why are news-feeds full of news stories about completely irrelevant bands? Why do hasbeens from the 1980s still populate Heavy metal news? The aim of this post is to reflect critically upon the character of mainstream Heavy metal journalism as exemplified by news websites such as Blabbermouth and MetalSucks.

In my opinion, there are three factors that need to be taken into account when thinking about the content of Heavy metal news websites: First, the imperative of profit in journalism, second, the effects of digitisation on journalism, and, third, the relative power of bands and record companies to act as news sources.

Mainstream Heavy metal websites such as Blabbermouth and MetalSucks aim to generate revenue through selling audiences to brands. Blabbermouth commands the attention of a wide audience around the world, and that is its selling point. The text that follows is taken from Blabbermouth’s “ADVERTISE” page:

Get backstage access to millions of hard rock & heavy metal fans from around the world via a broad range of campaign options; display, video, social, custom executions, and more.

Request the Blabbermouth.net Media Kit to learn more about available campaign bundles, demographics, and pricing. Or simply touch base directly to receive a customized proposal based on your objectives, budget, and timeline. (Source: Advertise – Blabbermouth)

A similar text can be found in the “Advertising” page of MetalSucks (see below). A further enquiry into Blastbeat, the company that manages – among others – MetalSucks’s advertising strategy, provides further information on the variety of brands to which heavy metal fan audiences are sold as commodities (these brands include 20th Century Fox, Orange, Peavy, Epic, Nuclear Blast, Relapse, and many more).

MetalSucks is represented for advertising by the Blast Beat Network of heavy metal sites, which also includes Metal Injection, Lambgoat, The PRP, Decibel and several other of the world’s top metal properties and reaches 14 million unique viewers monthly.

Blast Beat has worked with both Fortune 500 companies and unsigned bands; no advertising request is too big or too small. We have a variety of ad placements available to suit your needs, whatever they may be. (Source: Advertise on MetalSucks)

Heavy metal fans who read Blabbermouth and MetalSucks are exposed to various music and non-music related products that advertisers pay Blabbermouth to promote. Of course, the brands that are most likely to benefit from appearing on a music news website are bands. So, it would not be far-fetched to hypothesise that the readers of Blabbermouth are also packaged as an audience commodity (Fuchs 2014) and sold to the bands themselves. Because of Blabbermouth’s imperative to make profit, it treats its audience (the heavy metal fans) as a commodity that is sold to brands and bands from around the world.

The second factor I want to explore is the effects of digitisation on heavy metal journalism. News websites differ from traditional news media in that they are not static. Websites are dynamic, news are constantly updated, and new stories can be reported in almost real-time. This affordance of web 2.0 (see, Flew 2002) defines the rules of competition in online journalism, which can be summarised in the expression “you snooze, you lose”. If a news website wants to maintain the attention of its audience it has to generate news constantly, or else the audience will switch to a competing website. If a news website loses its audience it also loses its source of revenue, because it no longer has something to offer to advertisers (various brands, as well as record companies). Blabbermouth and MetalSucks need to churn out news stories constantly. This creates the following problem: how do we keep the flow of content (almost) uninterrupted? This problem can be addressed in two ways. First, the website could employ many journalists that investigate and produce new stories. This option is costly. Second, the website could rely primarily on stories generated by others. Which brings me to my next point.

If Heavy metal news websites depend on existing stories to populate their news-feed, then the relative power of bands and record companies to act as news sources should also be considered. Record companies act as news sources by publishing press releases (on the relationship between news and public relations, see Cottle 2003; McCullagh 2002; Reich 2010) or arranging interviews with bands.  A press release is a very convenient source of news for a website like Blabbermouth or MetalSucks, because it is written by someone else, it is easily accessible, and it is easily reproducible. It is a practice that serves the record company (which advertises its bands indirectly without having to pay proper advertising fees) and the news website alike (which has access to content for “free”). It follows that the record companies and musicians that are more capable of constantly generating press releases, are those more likely to end up dominating attention on websites like Blabbermouth and MetalSucks.

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Sensational news on Blabbermouth and MetalSucks.

A final point I want to make, related to attracting audiences, is the journalistic practice of creating sensational news stories. If a news story is sensational it is expected to attract more attention. To understand why “the sensational” sells, we should consider the sad reality of alienation in capitalist societies and people’s fascination with idle talk (Gunkel and Taylor 2014, p. 39). Sites like Blabbermouth and MetalSucks excel in constructing sensational stories. Even if a news story is not essentially sensational, these websites often deploy practices in order to give stories a scandalous appearance. One practice is the generation of misleading and evasive titles known as clickbait. Another practice is the framing of stories through selecting and emphasising aspects of a story that are more sensational than others (De Vreese 2005).

So, maybe the reason why we are constantly exposed to news stories about bands like Skid Row, and Ratt, and Motley Crue, and a bunch of other hasbeens and their embarrassing intrigues and sad lives, is that websites like Blabbermouth and MetalSucks need to link audiences to advertisers, and in order to do that they need to attract and maintain the attention of audiences by providing a constant stream of news stories. Bands that are more likely to afford constantly generating (sensational) news stories are those posers that became millionaires during the 1980s as well as contemporary posers and hipsters who are already famous, or whose record companies and themselves aspire to become famous.

In any case I think it would be interesting if the hypotheses I put forward in this post were tested more rigorously. It would be interesting to measure, for example, the presence on Blabbermouth of successful record companies like Nuclear Blast compared to that of smaller companies. Maybe I’ll do that when I find the time. For the time being enjoy a song dedicated to all those posers that dominate our attention on Heavy metal news-sites.

References

Cottle, S. (ed) (2003) News, public relations and power. London: Sage.

De Vreese, C.H. (2005) ‘News framing: theory and typology’, Information design journal and document design, 13 (1) pp. 51-62. 

Flew, T. (2002) New media: an introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fuchs, C. (2014) Social media: a critical introduction. London: Sage.

Gunkel, D.J. and Taylor, P.A. (2014) Heidegger and the media. UK: Polity.

McCullagh, C. (2002) Media power: a sociological introduction. London: Palgrave.

Reich, Z. (2010) ‘Measuring the impact of PR on published news in increasingly fragmented news environment: a multifaceted approach’, Journalism Studies, 11(6) pp. 799-816.

 



An imagined open letter from Trey Azagthoth

I understand that I do not represent the average Metal music-fan because such a thing does not exist. This is a statement whose truth would be challenged by most people on online fora such as Blabbermouth, who talk with authority as if music taste is the most objective thing on earth. And with this certainty comes the conviction that we Metal music fans value the same things and generally should know what is good and what not. And that extends to other types of music too.

The average metal music fan does not exist because each person builds their own reality. This reality is shaped by our various subjective experiences and it helps us make sense of the world. For too long, and with great persistence, the image of Death Metal that I formed was associated with notions such as freedom, innovativeness, art and resistance. The notions of commercialism, conformity and work could not exist on the same page as Death Metal.

One of the unfortunate results of the internet is the opportunity to look into artists’ lives. That has led to the slow crumbling of the noble idea of death metal (and metal) I used to have. Through the internet the rock star attitudes and the petty views of musicians are exposed. I will use this post first and foremost to say what death metal means to me and, secondly, to once again defend Morbid Angel‘s latest work. This is what I would want Trey Azagthoth to say to all those saying that they sold out, that they don’t play death metal, that they released the worst death metal album of all time, etc. I have no idea if any of the following are real, but I would sure like them to be.

“Dear people who had something to say about the new album and Morbid Angel,

I would like to start by saying that I am an artist. This means that I use the means available to me, such as my music skills, to express what I feel inside me. This is my motivation. To take parts of my reality and translate them into music. I appreciate that throughout all these years some of you have appreciated this personal journey that I set out to make and supported me. However, I did not do it for you. You just happened to like it for one reason or the other. I may have not put too much thought on how the music industry may appropriate this journey to make money because I am mainly interested in art. Of course, my involvement in the music industry has allowed me to live a decent life through playng music. Rather than wasting my money, like the Rock stars whose attitude I opposed all these years since I started my journey, I used them with prudence. So today I am in the pleasant position to continue creating what I like without caring what others think.

I understand that you feel disappointed with our current choices of artistic expression, some of you would not even call art. However, there is nothing I can do about it. I would certainly not consider doing anything that is against my artistic vision just to please someone else. Also, some of you argue that if I want to stop playing pure death metal I should do it under a different name, not Morbid Angel. Again this is an unreasonable request. Morbid Angel represents my artistic vision and one’s artistic vision is by definition dynamic. Your vision may be one thing one day and something completely different the next one because you see things differently every day. So, the idea that a band name should be associated with a specific recipee is wrong to begin with and should be discarded.

Finally, if the new record sets the foundations for our fan-base to become smaller or to be reconfigured, I will welcome this change. Death metal was never meant to be a music for the masses, because the masses are too alienated. Today’s death metal is for the masses and I would prefer not to be a part of it. The fact that death metal is successful today says something about the state of this type of music.”



Nuclear Blast is back in the game? Wake up and smell the carcass!

The fact that death metal is as mainstream as ever is validated everyday by various events. It is quite difficult to interpret why death metal became mainstream. Why a style of music that in the past people who listened to it were ridiculed and considered to be freaks is now respected by, god forbid, serious musicians. Nowadays death metal drummers are respected and even studied at music schools. And the most annoying thing, is that what now is all of a sudden viewed as musically notable, is exactly the same thing that existed in the late 80s-early 90s! Don’t kid ourselves. What Mike Smith (Suffocation) played back then he plays now… What Pete Sandoval (Terrorizer/Morbid Angel) played back then is copied by thousands today. Did anyone notice Doc’s (Vader) amazing performance back in 1995? Of course not! Don’t let me start about the music! There has not been one single innovation in death metal since the mid-90s. Whoever says that Nile is novel then they really have not heard of Immolation or Incantation. Whoever says that Necrophagist constitute innovation, they probably have not heard not only classic death metal (e.g. Death of the Individual thought patterns or Symbolic era) but also some classic Thrash bands like Annihilator! Go listen to Never neverland and you may discover some riffs (listen to “sixes and sevens”) that Necrophagist have stolen and more that they will never be able to replicate! So why today this success?

For one thing, I personally am ashamed that death metal is being accepted as a “serious” music. That thing takes away all the energy and rebeliousness from it. The effects from this phenomenon are already visible. Kids are studying to play death metal! What is that about? People in the 80s did not study how “blast beats” should sound. Most importantly, they did not study how MUSIC was supposed to sound. It just came naturally! That is why there was so much variety! Now everything sounds the same! A young brutal band from Australia can sound exactly the same as one from New York, the UK, Sweden or Greece. Before I try to approach the question, why today this success, I will turn to some of the current events which indicate that death metal is more mainstream than ever.

First of all, lets all agree that grind exists since the mid-80s! Septic Death, Repulsion, Cryptic Slaughter, Napalm Death, etc. And then you have Dave Lombardo waking up and saying that he wants to follow the developments, so he added a few blastbeats to Slayer songs. Of course, to be perfectly honest, he did that before with Testament on their Gathering album (which by the way is monumental). In any case, the blast beat is officially recognised as a novelty now that it sells! Secondly, while death metal back in the day accounted for a small percentage of the metal scene, now it accounts for a huge part of it. I have not done a proper research to say that, but if you take a look at any 20 sequential cd reviews in Blabbermouth you would notice that more than 85% are extreme metal and around 50% of those death/death-hybrid metal. Thirdly, and most importantly, Nuclear Blast is interested in death metal again!!! That is the most crucial indication of death metal’s mainstream success. For those who don’t know Nuclear Blast was the german record company that helped in the emergence of death metal and had some of the most amazing bands ever, master, benediction, dismember, incantation, hypocrisy, pungent stench, revenant, sinister, and others. However, it either shed them or just stopped being supportive of them by the mid-late 90s, when death metal was in a stalemate both creatively and commercially.  That was the time when melodic black metal was on the rise and power metal like Hammerfall. Grim times… It has been widely accepted since, that Nuclear Blast did what all companies who respect themselves should do, i.e. do it all for the money! And today we have Nuclear Blast (a major label) becoming interested in death metal once more… Newest additions include Suffocation, Immolation and Nile and I’m pretty sure more that I’m not aware of. What pisses me off is that this fucking company (I hate nuclear blast) has the highest vinyl prices in the market. I still have not bought the latest Suffocation and Hypocrisy vinyls because they are ridiculously expensive. When I first started buying vinyl records I did it because back in the day they were cheaper than cds. Now they are twice the price of the cd or more.

So we have thousands of death metal bands aspiring to make a lot of money and fame by playing brutal death metal. But why? What made death metal widely respectable and a wise career move? Someone could argue that it just happened that some people finally realised what an inspired music and how talented musicians death metalers are. With all the new communication technologies available opinions move around easily, some people in high places (music magazines) get influenced eventually who in turn influence the kids around the globe. However, if you notice  today’s death scene and the early death scene you’ll notice differences that are much more than just a high degree of contemporary uniformity in relation to the past. You will also notice that everything today is polished. The kids playing death today are well dressed with nice haircuts and an attitude that even Manowar would envy. Still instead of getting to the bottom of it, things become more complicated. Causality is uncertain and every claim points to endogeneity.

Is it that mainstream looking kids became interested in death metal, or is it that companies manufacture death metallers like that in order to be more mainstream? I think that there is a strong case for the former, with some elements of the latter. At this point I want to stress one crucial event that happened circa 2001. That is the huge success of System of a Down, a mainstream band, with a mainstream sound, with a definetely mainstream look. And guess what!? In a couple of the songs there is some grind, or what others call a blast-beat! This is what I think one of the definitive moments in the development of modern death metal and the widespread use of blastbeats. It was that, since a cool band does something, then it has to be cool. Many of the kids that listened to that beat thought that it was cool, because it was in the context of an ear-friendly music and not in the context of World downfall or From enslavement to obliteration! That also could have an effect of making people interested in the origins of this sound. That would eventually lead to the exhumation of death metal. Now where I think the record companies have meddled in is the image. I think that companies learned that what death metal was missing was support from the young female population (that can be easily explained by the fact that it is a musical movement started by empowered young men and reflects all the things that men are taught to like, violence and aggression). Therefore they used methods of marketing ubiguitous in the rest of the music industry. That is to make extreme metal musicians look fuckable, instead of the dirtbags that they were in the past. So they combined that which starts to become cool (extremity in music), with a cool appearance. That is not against the interests of the musicians themselves of course.

In my eyes, today’s popular death metal is the death metal of rules, where everything is counted and balanced and make sense. It is not the death metal that goes out of hand, that is unreasonable and that it does not take a thousand notes per minute to be appreciated. The death metal where two chords, a brutal and sincerely pissed-off voice, and passion in performance can make the skin crawl. Many people, among which some expert musicians, might be able to listen to the hyperbrutal New Wave Of Brutal Death Metal and even like it, but will never be able to understand the beauty of songs like Shadows in the Deep (unleashed), Life shatters (desultory), across the fields of forever (Edge of sanity) and It awaits (Asphyx). Why? Because it wouldn’t make sense. Why listen to them? They are not goodlooking (so I am either not attracted to them or I cannot use them as role models or I will feel ashamed if my friends find out I listen to these “funny looking” people), they are not technical (so I cannot prove smt to my parents, my friends or my music teacher) and they are noisy! Good stuff!

p.s. all those people who claim that cannibal corpse are creatively in their best period are wankers! Cannibal corpse have stopped being innovative and threatening to any musical conventions since 1996. Today cannibal corpse are the epitome of boredom and routine.

p.s.2. Nile’s last good album was Black seeds of vengeance. After that there has been a constant recycling.

p.s.3. Whoever says that the latest Asphyx album is good, has no idea about death metal or about what Asphyx used to stand for. The Asphyx wannabes try to capitulate on the rise of death metal and they probably achieve that. But the album is so uninspired that Theo Loomans turns in his grave.

p.s.4 I’ve been reading lately (again) the most outrageous things about slayer’s new album. People saying that Americon is an uninspired song (Blabbermouth), people saying that playing with dolls explores new paths of melody (some wank on Amazon) etc. First of all, it is clear that people still cannot grasp the genious that Kerry King is. I’m pretty sure that if skeletons of society, or temptation were released today instead of 20 years ago people would still say the same stupid things… Sucks to be them. Secondly, slayer have been writing songs like playing with dolls since seasons (dead skin mask, in divine intervention 213, and others). So before you share your uninformed bullshit with other people go listen to the old albums.



Underated Extreme Metal Albums #1

Even though I think that I should first write a post about my ideas in regards to how taste in music is shaped, and about the extend to which our preferences are really ours, I will refer to some of the most underated metal albums of all time. Even though my experience is from Greece, I have recently come across many online zines (Blabbermouth, Chronicles of Chaos), from where I have diagnosed shockingly similar opinions.

I admit that it is really difficult to provide concrete evidence that these albums have been considered, by the greek press and audience, to be bad. The dominant metal magazine for almost thirty years in Greece is Metal Hammer, and for some years its monopoly in metal music was questioned by the short-lived Metal Invader (for some years now I think there are a couple of other zines which I have never read). I personally have bought Metal Hammer around ten times in my life and once or twice Metal Invader. The reasons why I would buy them usually was because they had interviews by bands like Dismember or Entombed. However, I have to confess that I always enjoyed the album reviews section and every time some of my friends would buy them I I would gladly go through it. Another interesting section, and from where someone can get an idea of what people think about bands, was the readers’ letters section. Occasionally, there had been polls where readers and/or the authors of the zine would vote for their best or worst albums.

I have to specify that I refer to more or less famous bands and not the less famous because then I would have possibly gone on forever. Metal Hammer writers back in ’93, were giving “tomb of the mutilated” 2 out of 10, or “osculum obscenum” a 3/10, and in general extreme metal was frowned upon. I will refer to two albums now and will come back to it in the future…

1. Slayer – Divine Intervention (1994)

The reason why this is my first choice is because I have heard people saying that it is a weak album, and because I remember a poll many years ago either on Metal hammer or metal invader with the worst metal albums ever, in which the people had voted for it. Even though I was certain back then that it had something to do with the fact that Greek metal fans were idiots, I recently discovered that other people from other countries have similar views. I think it was blabbermouth in which I read that Slayer had not done anything decent since “seasons…”. I even saw somewhere that someone considered “Diabolus in Musica” interesting compared to “Divine…”. Someone else, or maybe the same person, questioned Kerry King’s ability to compose songs (since many songs in that record are written by him)! In the greek magazine’s poll, the critique was that Araya was screaming like an idiot and that Bostaph was using tupperware instead of drums. Let’s get one thing straight: Bostaph is God! Way more intense than Lombardo. In the new album that Lombardo returned it is obvious that the man has lost his interest in that kind of music. I have never heard such a boring performance. On divine intervention Bostaph rules. Furthermore, the lyrics are super cool in most of the songs and there is big variety in song writing. Songs like “circle of beliefs“, “fictional reality”, “serenity in murder” are not only phenomenal but also innovative and progressive, that no other band has ever even tried to copy (in contrast to older slayer songs,e.g. dead skin mask, angel of death, raining blood, which have been copied thousands of times). The atmosphere of hymns like “213” or “divine intervention” is comparable to “dead skin mask” or “south of heaven” and even better! I cannot begin to describe the fury of “dittohead” and “sex.murder.art“. All in all a perfect and all time favorite album, which I listen to for 13 years and have not changed my mind a bit.

2. Deicide – Serpents of the Light (1997)

I was shocked to find out that there are people listening to death metal and don’t like this album. I can remember that the Greek metal hammer gave it an 8 or 9 out of 10 which was pretty good, but a couple of times I have heard people saying that this album is bad. Recently I have been reading stuff around deicide and their new album, which is by the way quite good, on Blabbermouth. First of all, I have to say that deicide have turned into a caricature of a death metal band and are now metal celebrities. Asheim is well known for his pro-war opinions and weapon obsessions, Benton for his personal problems and divorces! Furthermore they seem to have fired the other two members of the band with which they were together for almost 20 years over royalties issues. But these all are unrelated to how perfect “serpents…” is! I have read many times that serpents is awful, is a shame, is even worse than “insineratehymn”, or that it is among their records showing signs of decline! First of all, this album has awesome lyrics! On this album Benton’s vocals are perfect! They are the angriest vocals he has ever made and you can actually hear the lyrics. Moreover each song is coherent, with amazing continuity between melodies and riffs, not just riffs glued together like ALL new death metal groups. Finally each song has a perfect chorus. I personally think that Deicide will never write again songs as perfect as “Believe the lie“, “Serpents of the light“, “Father baker’s”, “This is hell we’re in”.