My canon-oriented, hierarchical attitude towards metal (indeed, most music) will run contrary to certain strains of modernist metal critique, and I will address that in subsequent posts. Today, I repeat the U.S. Navy’s refrain to keep it simple, stupid. If you don’t want to buy C.D.s that you will want to sell later, STICK TO THE GENIUSES. Some bands have one, some have two or more, quite a few have zero. Like my description of reading the tea leaves in a previous post, when enough people call something brilliant enough times, it is a good idea to at least investigate it and see if it resonates with you.
That said, I have sometimes fought the brilliance like my life depended on it.
Case Study: Grindcore
It was Phil Mucci’s video for “The Diplomat” that made me think about Pig Destroyer in the first place. I had previously dismissed P.D. long ago as “grindcore that isn’t Napalm Death -related”, and I personally only liked N.D. during their mid-90s death metal phase, because, well, I eat, drink, and piss death metal. Anyway, I was at work and the wind must have been blowing the right way, because I had data reception, and I streamed over an hour of non-stop Pig Destroyer. Afterwards I went to one of my deathcore-with-good-songs bands, and at that moment I confess that they sounded blandly predictable compared to Scott Hull’s demented riffs. Now, it’s unfair to compare your first full-blown encounter with genius to the 17th or so time you listened to an old stand-by, but the point is that I became a fan that day, not of grindcore generally, or even of Pig Destroyer if I think about it, but of Scott Hull.
The thing is, years ago, I spent nearly a whole day seething with rage because I saw “some grindcore retard” in a list of metal’s greatest guitarists.
You know, I just remembered, there was another factor that made me think of Pig Destroyer that fateful day last week. I had recently come upon Agoraphobic Nosebleed’s Agorapocalypse album in some music someone gave me a long time ago. That 2009 album, with its mid-paced “thrashcore” breakdowns, is probably the best gateway grindcore album of all time, like The Black Album of grindcore. When I learned that Scott Hull was the guitarist for both bands (he is now elevated in my book to “grindcore mastermind”), everything suddenly made sense.
Of course, the br00tal Tr00 Kvlt underground people will complain Agorapocalypse sheds the band’s essence of methed-out insanity. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t; that isn’t the point. If you actually want people to get into grindcore, they need to start somewhere. If you are a good person, you will point budding young metalheads in the right direction, not try to confuse them and make them hate metal so they cry and run back to Miley Cyrus. My friend had a mind flayer named Cyrus in our D&D campaign back in the early 90s, so we were way ahead of that shit (OP yes, but he got killed anyway).
Personally I’m not that into Cyrus, but sometimes I just feel like blasting some Ke$ha or Chief Keef because I can’t cope with the stupidity of the metal scene for one more day.
So Agorapocalypse. It’s catchy and it’s funny. Grindcore that doesn’t have a sense of humor is like an 80s action movie that isn’t funny. Perhaps ironically, by missing out on the comedy it’s missing out on the one thing that makes it “serious”. Be it rendered in a manner sympathetic, or callously indifferent, or mentally disturbed, or genuinely evil, the diversity of ways one may enunciate a mocking disdain for the boundary between life and death is only a reflection of how ripe the idea is for exploring. I would argue that if grindcore has any meaning, it is probably found there; the sort of cosmic absurdity and reckless abandon we associate with The Butthole Surfers crossed with the violence of Pantera or Slayer.
Pig Destroyer is humorous in a more abstract way; I would just stand slack-jawed and point at the twisted, dizzying riffs Scott Hull pours out. Feeling a swell of excitement at finally being in the mood for grindcore like, after an eternity (actually, for the first time ever), I next busted out an old Nasum C.D. I promptly felt bored as the clinical, straight-faced Swedes raged in my ears.
I’m sure it’s not easy being a genius. And alas, sometimes it is not all fun and games being exposed to genius either. Because after listening to the best music, it makes it kind of hard going back to the utilitarian stuff.
My subsequent disappointment with Nasum reminds me of a recurring theme. Breakthroughs in music taste occur because you are finally exposed to either the best band(s) of a genre, or at least a voice that speaks uniquely to you. Then most music nerds go nuts exploring the genre, trying, often unsuccessfully, to chase that first high. To me, this recurring experience is only support for the proposition that it’s the great artists that matter, regardless of style, even if most people have at least one favored genre that they spend most of their time in.
I’ll submit my nominee for musical genius of the decade in my next post.