overground scene


On reviewing albums

Getting angry at album reviews has been a past-time activity since my early teenage years. It is almost a masochistic fascination. I remember looking forward to reading the album reviews section on the Greek Metal Hammer, even though I knew that I was going to be pissed off. Over the years it became obvious to me that musical tastes are to a large extent subjective. Still that realisation did not stop me from getting angry at those reviewers who had a different opinion to mine. I eventually realised that the reason I would get angry was twofold. Firstly, I was angry with the fact that reviewers with a different opinion to mine received exposure by virtue of being in a mainstream magazine, which endowed them with the power to shape tastes. Secondly, I was angry because of the language they used. They would talk as if they stated an indisputable, objective fact, rather than a subjective opinion.

The times of print magazines and their monopoly in shaping public opinion are over. But the practice of authoritatively expressing opinions as if they were facts persists. The Metal Archives, also known as Encyclopaedia Metallum, is an amazing initiative and one I resort to almost daily. I mainly use it to look up connections between bands and information on discographies. But another feature of this resource is its album reviews written by registered users of the website. I almost never read those reviews, given that I know that I will disagree with the reviewers anyway. But from time to time I will come across an album rating (the average of all the ratings given by reviewers) that I will find so surprising that will make me want to read the reviewers’ rationale.

Recently I came across some terrible disparaging reviews of albums that I adore. Some of those reviewers are so deluded that they somehow think that they have cultural authority to judge what is good and what is bad. One of them had the nerve of telling the audience not to buy an album that the reviewer disliked! Here are five albums that I love but were reviewed in extremely unfair and ridiculous ways. As opposed to what I usually do, which is only giving my opinion on albums that I have carefully evaluated and discovered positive things about, I will respond to those reviews using their own disparaging language.

1. Scanner – Mental reservation (62% on Metal Archives)

One of the most obnoxious cases is Scanner’s absolute masterpiece from 1995, Mental reservation. This is an album that is clearly different from their first two albums. The latter were your average 1980s power metal albums, with awkward singers, and straightforward song structures sticking for most of the time to the popular music canon. I still like those albums, but comparing them to masterpieces like Mental reservation or Ball of the damned (1997) would be a crime. The album in question is amongst the best albums ever recorded. Leo Szpigiel is one of the most exciting singers in the German power metal scene, a truly genius singer and composer. The song structures are rarely straightforward. Each song has mood changes, beautiful chord progressions as well as verse-bridge-chorus progressions, musical intervals, perfect and more riffs that entire albums by other bands. Axel’s riffing is on an all time high on this album (listen to the mouth-watering verse-riff on “Upright liar“, or the triplet goodness of “Rubberman“). Each song has an awesomely crafted and memorable chorus. The lyrics and the story are beautiful. I cannot believe how anyone could listen to this album and not fall in love with it. There’s no point picking out favorite songs because each single song is a remarkable masterpiece. 100%

2. Sinister – Savage or grace (55% on Metal Archives)

The problem with some ratings on Metal Archives is that even if certain reviewers have actually made an effort to do a decent review of an album, a number (I’m using the word “number” here as in “I am not a number, I’m a free man”) might come along and destroy the overall rating. This is the case with Sinister’s Savage or grace. The horrid 55% rating is due to one reviewer who gave the album a 5%. Now, this reviewer admits that this was the first Sinister album they had ever heard. If that is the case why rush to publish an utterly rubbish review? Why judge a band whose history or style you are completely unaware of? I think it would be much more interesting if people shared their opinions about albums they make an effort to understand. I would not review a recent Arch Enemy album because I stopped following them 20 years ago, and I know that they play a type of music I haven’t made an effort to understand. I would not review a Nightwish album either, because they play a type of music I haven’t bothered with, so it is likely that I will not appreciate what they have to offer. So, the reviewer of Savage or grace should not have bothered writing a bunch of crap about Aad, Rachel, and one of the most genius guitarists in the planet, Ron van de Polder, who composed this album. An album that indeed suffers from a poor production, but every single song is a small orgasmic masterpiece. More vile reviews have been written about two other masterpieces by Sinister, Aggressive measures (1998) and Creative killings (2001), but I’ll get to that another time. 94%

3. Gamma Ray – Sign no more (63% on Metal Archives)

Gamma Ray’s Sigh no more might be my all-time favourite album by them. It is their last album featuring genius (and greatly missed from other GR releases) bassist Uwe Wessel, who wrote or co-wrote some of the best songs in Gamma Ray’s career, including “Changes“, “Start running” and “The spirit“. It is also the only album featuring the talents of Uli Kusch, a truly awesome drummer and arranger (listen to some awesome chops on “As time goes by“). This is one of the last power metal albums where the genre was going forward with new fresh ideas. Scheepers is giving some of his best performances ever. The first reviewer on top at least explicitly mentions her/his standpoint; s/he learned about Gamma Ray through No world order, an album I cannot listen to even if someone paid me. It makes sense if someone likes that version of Gamma Ray to not necessarily like the old Gamma Ray. But don’t fucking characterise their old masterpieces as “weak and overblown” for fucks sake! Another heavy metal authority who also likes No world order (my condolences) gave the album a 15%. Another reviewer who gave the album a 34% has some extremely laughable opinions (presented as facts) about the album’s “constant rock beat”, “laughable lyrics” and, last but not least, the profound “there is little value whatsoever here”. To use the same kind of eloquent language, this album is fucken awesome! 93%

4. Slayer – Repentless (48% on Metal Archives)

Slayer is a band famous for many things, including having some of the most fanatic and committed non-admirers. I can understand why someone might feel the need to slag off a band that is almost universally admired and recognised for its contributions to popular music. A band held to such high regard might be a bit too much for someone who does not agree with this recognition, who thinks that the band in question does not deserve it. Of course, that does not make the person in question any less a whinny little brat. If you don’t like a band just do what the rest of us do and don’t listen to it. The second reviewer gave the album a 30% had the nerve of admitting that s/he “listened to this thing twice full though”. An album that has taken a band ages to put together can surely be appreciated after two “full through” listens. What a number. Anyway, I am not going to repeat how much and why I liked this album, you can read my review here. Slayer are gods, they have over the years mastered the art of song-writing, and they became famous for their ability to compose songs like they do. In this album, Jeff or no Jeff, they did the same. 92%

5. Rage – Seasons of the black (69% on Metal Archives)

Rage’s new album is a great example of what is wrong with some of these reviews. The album just came out, yet a bunch of people, without taking some time to listen to the album a few times, re-evaluate their initial response, allow themselves to discover new things, rushed into making a negative judgement in a public platform. What gets to me is how some people, with regard to Rage, seem to completely ignore the band’s rich history and take as a given that Smolski was the best thing that happened to Rage. To these people I have to say that there was a worldwide following in the late 1980s and 1990s that loved Rage and who don’t give a shit about Smolski and his self-involved guitar playing and deaf-tone “melodies”. With regard to Rage’s new album, which I’ve been listening to non-stop for a month now, I have to say that it is almost perfect. Beautiful choruses, awesome riffs, awesome drumming, mindbogglingly beautiful melodies and song-structures. It’s an album full of catchy, inventive songs, and this is what old-school Rage fans like. 90%