As I leave the dreary industrial pit of a city that I work in, I sometimes pick up a metal mag, my sweaty fingers gripping the pages as I rush to the ole train, heart pounding with anticipation (now in all fairness, it must be said that I am currently fighting the weight gain we may as well call the “married fifty”, hence the sweaty sausage fingers; meanwhile, the pulse must be measured relative to my workaday state, which is clinically comatose/deceased).
My favorite part of any metal magazine is the reviews; why, I adore Metal Hammer, which contains so many neat little paragraphs of clever lyricism disguised as music criticism that I could gape in slack-jawed amazement for hours (or is it the other way around? I don’t know). Of course there are always one or two reviews that are highly germane to my interests; should one of those reviews fail to make me blow a fuse and thence hurl the rag under the sparking tracks of the great steam locomotive, hoping it (the magazine) to be permanently destroyed, I will then proceed to read all the reviews. Frankly, when I read all those other reviews, I rarely gain even the faintest inclination to check out the subject band.
Instead, after my slow ride on the trundling iron horse comes to a stop, I hop along like Gollum to my man cave, and thereupon study the remaining reviews like they are tea leaves waiting to be deciphered. In more metal-friendly imagery, they are splattered entrails that graph hidden mysteries. Did you know that another archaic form of divination is Scapulimancy, which is observing how an animal’s scapula cracks when heated by fire?
Egad, back on track I must take us. As I was saying, by making connections between the different reviews, and by noting which bands are cited most often as influential, I gain a Gestalt view of the metal landscape, like Adrian Veidt from Watchmen monitoring geopolitics from his secret lair, or like a BMW-driving analyst poring over shifting stock and commodity prices as if his favorite band, BFMV, depended on it. This has been my practice for well over sixteen years now.
Speaking of commodities, how many albums are you going to invest in, any given month? I can only afford a couple C.D.s. a month, so all the better if they are not the sonic equivalent of snake oil. Even in this era of free music streaming I have been known once and again to buy a shitty C.D. from these musical mountebanks and charlatans. For, by some unlikely alignment of environment, temperament, and bodily humors, I will be hopelessly seduced by a cutting-edge sound. At such times, I may very well decide to make a purchase without fully thinking out all the implications. Come to think of it, it reminds me of this girlfriend who used to get me drunk and then take me out shopping for her.
Here’s the thing about our music critics. Professional music critics are paid to listen to music. You better believe that affects their judgment. They probably don’t earn much, but that doesn’t change the fact that they must, to ply their trade, have an excess of open-mindedness. For how else could they plow through so much mediocre music?
How, you ask, can one have too much open-mindedness? Easy. Imagine you had to buy vinyl and not steal music. You would have to learn to be discriminating or go broke.
Likewise, when an editorial says a band “continues to defy categorization”, I honestly tend to tune out. Valuing experimentation is nice, of course, unless you prize it over songcraft. Consider the source when you see an editorial about an “experimental” band. Again, music critics have to listen to a ton of music. They might not have time to listen to an album twice to enable all the songs and hooks to sink in. Instead, physically and emotionally drained, staring down the barrel of a deadline, another critic succumbs to the siren song of some “new” sound that tantalizes on first listen. The result is a critical scene that values form over substance, style over song, and it does the world no favors.
Regardless of music politics and economics, my dear friend, you are a mortal, and will only live so long. That means you have a finite amount of time to listen to music, and while it is great to support your local bands, a true metal elitist will burn most of his/her time and brain cells listening to the maestros.