Oh boy a lot has happened since my last post. Alas, I feel I must finish coughing up the last several years’ sundry thoughts that have accumulated, like so many dust mites in a pillow– for only then might I finally cleanse myself of bygones and be ready to tackle the true Zeitgeist. So let’s finish kicking up the mummy dust and sweep away the blown grit so we can get down to finding the real secrets.
As I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog, I often place palatable rock & roll above metal in my personal hierarchy of needs. To me, “palatable” in rock usually means it has some reek of the forgotten, cobwebbed corridors of the subconscious– the kind of thing that 20 years ago, I would have listened to stoned, and which at that time awoke visions of surreal twilit vistas and archetypal shapes from my dreams (“dream fragments falling across the sky of my consciousness like shooting stars” I once so described them; “cool memories” from another life). Nirvana, Alice In Chains, Smashing Pumpkins, Danzig, and TOOL, in a nutshell. If you can hear “Come As You Are” and not get what I mean about the dream-thing, we are not speaking the same language (one friend from high school simply described Nirvana as, I paraphrase, “music that sounds like you are stoned”). And if you don’t see how the aforementioned bands are different from Stone Temple Pilots (they would be on the glam side, which is okay but different) and Pearl Jam (on the meat & potatoes, bar rock side, like an alternative Chicago or Journey, which is okay but different), you also don’t get it.
Today, the same indelible recordings serve as my drinking music when the best experience I can muster up is to sit home drunk alone and wax sentimental for a more romantic time. That’s not a dig on music or myself– sentimentality is wonderful.
I’ve long thought that a memory is at its sweetest when fermented, for which the optimal time has varied over the years, but which for me usually is a period of around 1-4 years. Too new a memory hasn’t been distilled through the filter of nostalgia. And after too many years, a memory begins to gather dust and lose potency.
When my own Glory Days began to fade into obscurity in the mid 00s, I listened to a lot of crappy music (or for a more positive spin, you can say I explored more electronic and urban music). But I got lucky– I managed to pull a Glory Days II in my late 20s, and of course, subsequently enjoyed a resurgence of nostalgia in the years that followed. The second Glory Days where marked by a sequence of more hipster-ish girls who brought some indie rock to the table. Many of those bands have wonderful one hit wonders (some day I’ll make you a playlist on spotty-potty and prove it to you). But for “album” experiences, I still turned to my old favorites, and then found a gold mine of classic metal that at that point I hadn’t thoroughly rummaged through (Judas Priest et al.). My second run of glory years covered approximately ’06 – ’10 and you better believe I utilized Screaming for Vengeance and all that classic metal I skipped past in the 90s.
Now, to help focus on the problem of music from the 00s, let me ask you a question. Do you know a metalhead who has really random taste in non-metal music? So do I. Ask me who the best rock bands of that 00s decade are. Easy man. Avenged Sevenfold and Franz Ferdinand get my vote. (Note, that decision was made even easier because I unilaterally opted to categorize Audioslave and QOTSA as continuations from the 90s; that methodology is certainly up for critical evaluation.)
Don’t like my picks? Hmm. Now look, I know a lot of metalheads have really corny taste in rock & roll. For example, see my best buddy from high school, who at one point in time only professed a love for two classic rock artists– John Fogerty, and then the band America (“Horse with no Name”). I love John Fogerty and CCR (I have seen the former in concert), and like my buddy, I have always had a sweet spot for “Horse With No Name”. BUT WHY THOSE TWO BANDS AND ONLY THEM?! LOLZ. No really. Seriously, so random. In the 00s, that same guy’s brother (the guitarist in their band– my buddy was the lead singer), insisted that Modest Mouse was the best 00s rock band. Again– LOLZ! Not because there is anything wrong with Modest Mouse (I own one of their albums and have seen them in concert a couple times, so there), but because JESUS. How arbitrary can you be? Then there’s Lars Ulrich inviting the Arctic Monkeys to play. Don’t get me wrong, great band. But still. Random.
Then you have little old me loving Franz Ferdinand, especially their third album. I hope that my love for Franz Ferdinand will be rewarded by the gods of objectivity in some glass-walled heaven of rational thought, but perhaps it won’t. It’s no secret there has been a worldwide “failure” of consensus on rock since the glory days of grunge waned.
I probably sound like an old marm from the 90s complaining how bad the music from the 80s was. That said, my Franz Ferdinand and A7X fandom presents two irksome conflicts. A first world problem called cognitive dissonance.
The first is that Franz Ferdinand clearly doesn’t fit nicely into my preexisting framework for rock & roll excellence. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love Talking Heads and Eurythmics. But the whole disco rock genre is so different to my ideal of hard rock– the gritty and at once otherworldly kind that effortlessly bounds between angst and ecstasy– i.e. rock from Zeppelin to Nirvana.
Okay, I got this one. I get over that aforesaid conflict by remembering that there were a lot of things we called “rock” and loved in the 90s that didn’t fit a mold, too: say, Sublime (reggae influences), Tori Amos (singer-songwriter, folk influences), Tricky (trip-hop), Pulp (disco rock), and Godflesh (industrial). And then just saying “fuck you” to the need for a mold.
The other irksome dichotomy (if you will allow me to abuse that term) is that A7X, like the NWOBHM classics, is a metal band that, by virtue of its energy and passion, “transcends metal” to become a rock & roll band also. It’s adrenalized music for the highway, or for going to a strip club in the Quad Cities with the boys. A7X doesn’t fit my mold for the surrealist dream merchant a la Nirvana any better than Franz Ferdinand does. Simultaneously, A7X don’t fit in with the brutal metal gang a la Pantera and Cannibal Corpse. But you know what? That too is okay. No firing squad needed here. BREAK THE MOLD!!
But seriously, only two bands, some indie-pop playlists, and some really heavy metal like Slipknot and deathcore that is definitively not rock? That’s all I got from the 00s? Well maybe the new decade will be better (yeah, this decade is new to me. Maybe I am a brain-damaged amnesiac. Maybe half this was written five years ago. Don’t judge).
The “New” Decade
The dichotomies from the 00s that I just described have in some ways been resolved in the current decade. Say hello to the The Hard Occult Rock Revolution (THORR!). This thing is as big as The Beatles and has revitalized a stagnant music industry (see John Darnielle‘s South Pole Dispatch from the back end of Decibel #145 for proof– that guy writes like a metal Harlan Ellison).
Of course, fewer of the metal hipsters favor Ghost these days, not only because the band has achieved unprecedented popularity for a 21st century metal band (it took me five years to stop hating on them), but also because they continue to carry the retro 70s tag, which itself is losing currency with the hipsters (but for the amaranthine “doom” fetish). Now there are retro bands, who try to capitalize on someone else’s sound for lack of any good ideas and songs of their own. But when you use the tag “retro” to mean any “rock & roll”, you’re just a damn fool and are misusing the word. Hard rock is not itself “retro”– some of us even cling to a desperate belief that it will someday enjoy a resurgence.
Or maybe, just maybe, that has already happened!!
The current decade sees The Return of the Melody, with Ghost leading the pack in popularity. Like Blood Ceremony, Ghost is a rock band, and only “metal” in spirit. That they have “retro” inspiration only means that they draw from a wide palette of classic metal and rock influences. Blood Ceremony and Ghost, like Huntress and Uncle Acid, are perfectly aligned with the occult rock Zeitgeist– and as such, completely of this time, i.e. “modern.”
At one time in the late 70s, The Clash may have been “the only band that matters”. For me in high school, Pantera was the only thing I wanted to listen to. During my stoner years all I wanted to do was to find one more Alice in Chains or Nirvana (a quixotic mission). But for most of the last 20 years, rarely has there been a time when it even made sense to elect one (or even two or three) band(s) to truly rule over them all. In 2017 we again have a case where there is a handful of perfectly primed bands; bands that are so far ahead of the competition that they redefine what good rock music is.
Who do you think that band is? Huntress? Ghost? Some tinkly indie pop band? A new brutal death outfit? In my next post I will further my exposition on what I believe is the answer.