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On reviewing albums #2: caught between the dunderhead and the elitist prick

This is the second installment (read the first installment here) in the series of posts that I write to let off steam and make fun of Encyclopaedia Metallum reviewers. I like to think that all different kinds of music have the potential to give pleasure to people, and that whether one enjoys a certain band/artist or not depends on their personal tastes and their desire and capacity to invest time understanding said band/artist. In this blog, I avoid talking about bands I haven’t invested time listening to or trying to understand, or bands that I haven’t found something nice to say about. Even when I acknowledge that a band or an album disappointed me, I make it very clear that it is a subjective opinion rather than a “fact”. One of the things I hate is when album reviewers talk about albums as if they express an “objective fact” or feel that their opinions are representative of audiences’ opinions.

Before I continue, I would like to explain that the reason why I choose to ridicule reviews written by “common fans”, as opposed to more “professional” critics that write for publications such as Metal Hammer, Metal Sucks, All Music, and so on, is not because I think that the latter do not deserve ridicule. If anything all those publications have set the standard in terrible reviewing. And most certainly I do not want to insinuate that because someone’s review has the seal of approval of an official publication it automatically has value. The reason I focus on the reviews of Encyclopaedia Metallum users is simply because I no longer read, and for a long time have not been reading, the reviews of any of the aforementioned publications.

In this post, as opposed to my previous post on reviewing albums, I will not talk about albums that have an overall terrible rating, but rather infuriatingly ridiculous reviews I accidentally came across about albums I consider brilliant. As I demonstrate in the three reviews that follow, through my brief “research” on Encyclopaedia Metallum‘s reviews section, I identify two types of annoying reviewers: the dunderhead, and the elitist prick. Of course, one could always assume that some reviewers are simply trolls, in which case they do their job pretty well!

1. Kataklysm – Temple of knowledge (72% on Encyclopaedia Metallum)

This album is a masterpiece, and my favourite death metal album to have ever come out of Canada. Listening to it makes my skin crawl. Although strictly in a musical sense this album is by no means revolutionary, the execution, lyrical themes, and vocals make it an extraordinary death metal artifact. The intensity and absurdity of the pace of the music and vocal performance elevates this album to a league of its own. The music, although overall simplistic, is quite impressive, most musical sentences are extremely inventive (e.g. beginning of “Fathers from the suns”), and the way the band keeps pushing itself to new extremes is unprecedented. Now, on Encyclopaedia Metallum one person gave it a 10% and another 42%. These two reviews are very much representative of the kinds of people who tend to give bad reviews: one, the complete dunderhead with surprising self-confidence, and, two, the elitist prick who makes us feel thankful (or, at least, hopeful) that his/her influence is limited to Encyclopaedia Metallum and not in more significant social fields (education, government, mass media). In this case the dunderhead gave it a 10%, but commenting on that would be taking a cheap shot. So, I move on to the elitist prick who gave it a 42%. His review is laden with the usual elitist tantrums about pseudo-individualisation that would make Theodor Adorno blush, and “profound” insights on the thought processes of audiences (who apparently listen to music in the exact same way as he does). It is indeed ironic how this person, who clearly holds himself and his tastes in extremely high regard, at the same time without a shadow of a doubt proves himself completely ignorant by assuming that everyone engages with culture in a uniform way. He should do the world a favour and hurl himself off the top of the temple of knowledge on which he thinks he is sitting. My rating: 97%

2. At The Gates – Slaughter of the soul (71% on Encyclopaedia Metallum)

In the case of ATG’s most popular album we can see the usual suspects spewing diarrhea in written form. Six out of 25 reviews give the album a bad rating. I will not dwell on all of them, instead I will focus on the one reviewer who gave it a 0% and clearly has never experienced joy in his life. I pity the fool. I would go out on a limb and argue that this person is either an arts student or cultural studies student who has done a very basic and uncritical reading of the Frankfurt School’s critiques of mass culture, or some poor soul who has made the phrase “you are what you consume” his modus operandi, and thinks that by consuming culture that is socially legitimated as high he will automatically occupy a much-desired high position in society. Once again we have a review of utter elitist drivel about what is high and what is low art, full of token aphorisms of mass-produced culture, McDonaldisation, and so forth. Maybe by the end of his degree he changed his mind, although if this review is representative of his student work then there’s not much promise for the future. His comment on LaRocque’s astonishing solo on “Cold” is pure blasphemy. If he listened to SOTS, an album that is the result of unbelievable effort and talent, the embodiment of years of experience, and which has had an enduring impact on popular music, and the only thing he had to say is that it is worth nothing, then the only thing I have to say about him is the above. My rating: 100%

3. Atheist – Jupiter (72% on Encyclopaedia Metallum)

Atheist’s Jupiter was my favourite album of 2010, alongside Imperial State Electric’s, Desultory’s and Blind Guardian’s albums of that year. Again here I will focus on the prodigy who gave this album a 0%. The person who wrote the review in question informs his readers from the outset that Atheist is “one of [his] first death metal bands”, in a pathetic attempt to invest his opinion with credibility. I wouldn’t be surprised if he started listening to death metal a month before he typed this review, and, truthful to his claim, at the beginning of that month he listened to Atheist. He goes on and on about how terrible the production is and how this is the major flaw of this album; jeeesus faux-king christ, some albums happen to be badly produced, or one might dislike the production; it happens all the time, get over it and listen to the faux-king album. What about Piece of time (1989) where the kick-drum almost completely drowns out the snare drum in all the fast songs?! After that he gets obsessed with the technicality of the album. I don’t believe I have read “tech” so many times in my life in one piece of writing. Of course, every single word he writes is completely subjective. He simply does not like the album, end of story. Along the way he references a bunch of contemporary bands (The faceless, Suicide silence, Mudvayne) which he implies are shit, but at the same time possesses suspicious reserves of knowledge about them as he compares specific bits of Jupiter to those bands. It’s almost as if he listens to those shitty bands. Almost as if he likes them. Interesting… Anyway, through his review he also plugs a website he is writing for, although this review is hardly an advertisement. This album is brilliant and from the day it came out ’till this very day I worship it (as much as I worship the first and second Atheist albums). If I have one problem with this album is that it is so brilliant that when it ends I’m sad. My rating: 96%



Now I sleep, the city weeps, hush: monumental song endings

One of the characteristics of old school death metal is that it is dramatic. It is a captivating type of music that commands the full attention of the listener. Old school death metal was never meant to be background music. It is full of twists and turns and every song has a rich narrative music-wise, independently of the lyrical content. Because most songs are complex musical stories, at any point of the song something new and interesting is bound to happen.

I think that in popular music performers are aiming to capture an audience with the opening notes of a song. In this post I will focus on the very last few seconds of songs. I will present songs that manage to excite me not with their intro, their chorus or an impressive guitar solo, but with their ending. This post will be an open one, meaning that every time I think of another song with a brilliant ending I will add it to the list. In this first version of the post I present five brilliant death metal songs, and I also throw in an awesome thrash song which would be a crime to ignore.

1. Benediction – Jumping at shadows

benedictionBenediction’s unholy trinity, namely The grand leveler (1991) – Transcend the Rubicon(1993) – The dreams you dread (1995), will always be among my all time favourite albums. From the beginning what set Benediction apart from their peers was the swampy, claustrophobic atmosphere, laden with murderous intent. Their obsession with serial killers combined with the murky musicality produced a chilling effect in all these releases. “Jumping at shadows” in paradigmatic of the terrifying atmosphere that only Benediction are capable of producing. The song describes the activities of David Berkowitz, a serial killer in the US who coined for himself the title “Son of Sam”, and the lyrics themselves have been paraphrased from letters sent by Berkowitz. The ending of the song sends chills down my spine: “now I sleep…the city weeps…hush”.

2. Suffocation – Surgery of impalement

Suffocation1Only a few bands can make one want to jump out of their body, and Suffocation is definitely one of them. Suffocation defined heaviness and brutality with their first album, an album that inadvertently paved the way for brutal music, with its razor-sharp triplet riffs, monolithic breakdowns and deep guttural vocals. Suffocation took a break for a few years after 1998 and returned in 2004 with a beast of an album titled Souls to deny. It is an offering that, in my ears, competes with any of their old albums for the title of the best Suffocation album. “Surgery of impalement” comes from this monumental comeback album. Its ending is pure brutality.

3. Carcass – Cadaver pouch conveyor system

Carcass-BandIt takes a unique musical chemistry to manage to offer something awesome after having already contributed some of the most innovative and genre-defining music in the world. Carcass did that with their comeback album Surgical steel (2013). If there’s one thing missing from contemporary brutal death metal is the sense of groove, not only in riffing but also in singing. Contemporary brutal death bands might be able to play a thousand notes per minute but the lack in ability – or are not interested – in composing clever musical phrases and rhythms that can hook the listener. The main riff of this song, the drum beat, Jeff’s performance and the perfectly applied guttural vocals – courtesy of Bill Steer – at the end of this song manage to do exactly that.

4. Kataklysm – Exode of evils

k3Sylvain Houde will always be one of the most creative singers that have ever passed through the infernal gates of death metal. Only a few singers have sung with such passion. Sylvain’s passion denotes an insanity which does not come across as fake, as a gimmick of death metal conventions. His insanity is 100% credible! Temple of knowledge (1996) is a monumental, absolutely unique album. Sylvain’s insane performance grants it uniqueness. In the end of “Exode of evils” the listener that has survived the relentless attack finds themselves faced with an infernal chant that can only mean that the worst is yet to come.

5. Malevolent Creation – Monster

retributRetribution has always been my favourite Malevolent Creation album and one of my favorite death metal albums from the US. The chemistry in this album, and especially the presence of the impeccable Alex Marquez, is unmatched and the band is on fire offering some of the most aggressive death metal ever recorded. Special reference should be made to the unique Scott Burns who applied his magic to this recording and brought the best out of the band. “Monster”, from beginning to end, is pure violence.

6. Slayer – Beauty through order

slayer-pr2-smallIn their heyday, Slayer have still been capable of producing earth-shattering musical attacks. World painted blood is an excellent album and a sad example of how a bad producer can fuck up awesome music. “Beauty through order”, my favourite song off this album, showcases an amazing chemistry that unfortunately will never be captured again; Jeff’s compositional prowess, Araya’s manic vocal performance and Lombardo’s genius drumming (here placing in the most appropriately genius way a devastating double bass drum attack) create one of the best endings I have heard in my life!