overground scene

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%

My 10 favourite album openings

The way in which an album begins can set the mood for the album, and determine whether the listener will become excited about it or not. For many recording artists, an album is not merely a collection of songs, but also a narrative that has a beginning and an end. As such, the song that will open the album has particular significance. Moreover, musicians and record company executives will make decisions regarding the order of the songs, with considerations concerning the satisfaction of the listener (driven, of course, by maximisation of profit concerns). Songs that are considered to be “fillers”, meaning that their role is to bring the album up to a number of songs or duration that agrees with the music industry’s standards, are more likely to be placed in the middle or the end of an album. Songs that are considered to be “hits” are positioned usually in the beginning of the album, in order to hook the listeners and to grab their attention. The following are album openings that I consider fascinating.

cover_andjusticeforall_lg1. And Justice for all – Metallica (1988)

By far what I consider to be the best album opening of all times. One of the best melodies I have ever heard, slowly fading in, culminating in one of the best riffs ever written. It appropriately sets the mood – severe, melancholic, powerful – for one of the most important, innovative and influential thrash albums of all time (and my favourite Metallica album). Almost twenty years since I first heard it and it still sends chills down my spine, and makes me think about all the different ways in which Metallica have been innovators. Click here for a video of someone who demonstrates how to play this song, and admire the perfection of this intro.

Black_Sabbath_-_Black_Sabbath2. Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath (1970)

Members of Black Sabbath have been quoted saying that at the time the debut album was written, the band wanted to create horror-film music. The way in which the album opens is indeed chilling. Rain, thunder, the chime of a church bell, and then the three notes of the Tritone (the Devil’s chord) accompanied by an ultra-heavy rhythm section resulted in a style that was bound to be revered by people who would take it and shape it into what we call today heavy metal. Combined with the terrifying album cover this introduction is pure horror. Although the band itself hadn’t settled on this specific style at the time, and the songs on this album are quite varied, this song embodies the true essence of heavy metal.

athega3. Slaughter of the soul – At the gates (1995)

No one in their right minds who have listened to this album have not gone berserk listening to this absolutely perfect introduction. For me, being one of the very first death metal albums I ever listened to, it defined what a death metal opening should sound like. It begins with industrial sounds that bring into mind decadence, coldness, and the non-human. Slashing sounds tear the soul apart (a lyric on the eponymous song) and bring the smothered words, “We are blind, to the world within us, waiting to be born”, into surface, culminating in one of the most perfect and recognisable riffs of all time. Pure genius!

blin4. Somewhere far beyond – Blind Guardian (1992)

Many metal bands over the years (including Metallica, Kreator, Sepultura, Unleashed, and Sinister) have decided to open their albums with a clean guitar intro, but never, in my opinion, has a band done it so perfectly as Blind Guardian did in this album. The mysterious-sounding chords played in the beginning of “Time what is time” are accompanied by a uniquely soulful and stellarly executed clean guitar solo, culminating in a powerful and extra-heavy, palm-muted triplet riff that denotes that this album will be a highly rewarding journey for the listener, full of imagination, aggression and lyricism.

altar5. Youth against Christ – Altar (1994)

Some of the most important death metal bands of all time have come from Holland, including Pestilence, Asphyx, Gorefest, and Altar. Altar never became popular and are often compared to Deicide due to their anti-christian lyrics and inhuman style of music. They still remain one of my all-time favourite bands, and albums like this one and Ego art are treasured. Youth against Christ starts off with a monologue by what appears to be a tele-evangelist preaching damnation to the masses. His hateful speech is suddenly interrupted by a brutal attack consisting of a super-tight heavy riff on top of crushing blastbeats, symbolically crashing christian discourse violently to the ground.

Blind_guardian_tales6. Tales from the twilight world – Blind Guardian (1990)

No album opening can better define the word “Epic” than Tales from the twilight world. A band known for its admiration of science fiction literature and epic music, Blind Guardian again give lessons of how to hook the listener and, at the same time, summarise the mood of the entire album in the first seconds of the album’s opening track (“Traveler in time”). There’s no real fan of metal music that does not know the words, “The morning sun of Dune”, or does not get goosebumps thinking about them. A truly astounding opening that perfectly describes the Bravado of heavy metal music. God I love Blind Guardian so fucking much.

brok7. Loathing – Broken hope (1997)

The distorted words of Marlon Brando (as heard in the movie Apocalypse now), “Horror, and mortal terror are your friends” echo with disgust as the single note of the first riff of “Siamese screams” and the late Joe Ptacek’s super-brutal vocals kick in, to mark one of the most brutal beginnings in the history of death metal. I listened to this album when it first came out in Metal Era, one of Athens’ most iconic heavy metal record stores (used to be owned and run by Jim, the bassist of Rotting Christ), and, being a fan of more traditional death metal at the time (Death, Dismember, Unleashed, etc.), shook me to my very core.

carcs8. Symphonies of sickness – Carcass (1989)

I think that this introduction is indicative of Black Sabbath’s significant influence on brutal death metal. Carcass took the logic of heaviness and doom of Black Sabbath, and let it rot. The claustrophobic intro to Symphonies of sickness, a chaotic syncopated riff followed by distorted synthesiser sounds accompanied by the maggot-infested Black Sabbathy riff of “Reek of putrefaction” and Jeff’s disgusting growl, is definitive of brutal death metal. Although “Genital grinder”, the song that opens their debut album, is also magnificent, I decided that I prefer this opening because it is so much spookier and sick.

ali9. Alice in hell – Annihilator (1989)

Alice in hell begins with “Crystal Ann”, one of the most beautiful instrumental pieces I have ever heard, regardless of music genre. Jeff Waters is a widely celebrated guitar genius and the introduction of this album is a testament to that. I personally never skip this intro when I listen to this album. What’s even more impressive is the way in which the instrumental song leads into “Alison hell”, which takes the serene and calm mood of “Crystal Ann” and transforms it into caution and a sense of looming threat, building up to some of the most awesome riffs ever written. This is art.

bene10. Transcend the Rubicon – Benediction (1993)

On the cover of the vinyl version of the album there’s a sticker that says “If brutality was crime, Benediction would have been sentenced to death”. The quote alludes to the fact that Transcend the Rubicon is a masterpiece of brutal death metal. After the swampy, claustrophobic openings of the previous two albums, Subconscious terror and The grande leveler, Benediction choose to cut to the chase and make a strong statement from the get go. The opening of this album perfectly sets the mood for what the listener is about to experience: super heavy, hardcore-charged British death metal.