Friday, June 22, 2018

The Conversation: Midway Through 2018

CHRIS C: Here we are again, at the midpoint of another year. It doesn't feel like it's been six months since we last gathered to survey the scenery, but time marches on whether we like it or not. It's been an eventful period, both in new music and in music news. Before we get to what we've seen from the music itself, let's get the biggest story of the year out of the way first.

Kudos to Slayer for knowing when to hang it up. We've been talking about this day since Jeff Hanneman first took his absence from the band, but it was still surprising to see it finally happen. We've been seeing more and more bands keep trotting themselves out for run after run long after they stopped being who we remembered them to be, so it's refreshing to Slayer do what so few others can. RATT just apparently fired their guitarist after years of feuding to get the name back, and are going to head out as a broken unit once more. Judas Priest is out there now without either of the guitar players who penned every single damn song fans care about. KISS is still talking about replacing everyone and having nameless scabs playing dates. Plus, there's that Ronnie James Dio sacrilege out there.

So to have Slayer (or Tom Araya, I'm guessing) actually retire before the crowds stop showing up is something revolutionary. The last few Slayer albums have been middling at best, so this retirement is mostly about touring. Slayer still puts on a ferocious show, but at what point does it get uncomfortable to watch guys pushing sixty playing a song like "Payback", with those literary lyrics, "I'm going to tear your fucking eyes out, Rip your fucking flesh off, Beat you till you're just a fucking lifeless carcass"? Metal was never designed for the middle aged and older crowd, so now that the big names are members of AARP, we have to reconsider how much cognitive dissonance we're willing to accept.

That's actually why I have always spoken out about certain varieties of metal lyrics. Songs that scream rebellion, or brag about how metal someone is, they just don't hold up when the voices behind them could be sponsored by Just For Men. If metal had grown up more over the years, and taken a more enlightened approach, maybe we wouldn't be facing this. There's a reason why Iron Maiden doesn't look or sound silly still playing their songs. They work no matter the age.

The other big news of the year, at least for us, is the return of Graveyard from what I guess was technically a breakup. That episode reminds us that bands are complex tangles of interpersonal relationships, and no matter how well things are going, it doesn't mean problems won't arise. But before I get too deep into that, and we explore whether Ghost is about to become the mainstream face of rock, I'll let you take the lead.

D.M: Cripes, is it June already?  I feel like I was just shoveling snow a week ago.  At any rate, before we dive too deeply into the matters at hand, let me begin by apologizing publicly to you, our friends in music promotion, and our dedicated army (not to overstate it,) of readers.  I think I have successfully reviewed one album so far this year, which is a God damn shame on my part.  I haven’t been nearly up to the level I would expect of myself.

I’m trying to write a book, make upgrades to house, deal with some personal stuff, and oh by the way still show up to work on time and do my job.  Sadly, this has caused my print musical participation to go down.  I’ll do better in the back half, I promise.

Anyway, to the points at hand.  Last thing first – Ghost, as much as you and I want them to be on top of the heap as aural world conquerors, and as much as they probably deserve it, it won’t happen.  I say that not to be contrarian or even to be pessimistic, but just because as someone who works in media, I’d like to think I have some sense of how this works.  Ghost’s ceiling comes from the double-edged sword they set themselves up with directly from the gate – their gimmick.  It’s not that a gimmick in and of itself can preclude you from that level of fame, but the nature of the gimmick can, and any band that openly touts themselves, even in jest, as affiliated with Satan or demonic imagery of any kind won’t ever see themselves playing on the daytime talk show circuit.

I hear some of you out there already – ‘but what about KISS?’ you’re saying.  And that’s fair, but if you really examine KISS, their affiliation with the devil came more from other people looking for it than from them talking about it.  Same for Alice Cooper and even Marilyn Manson.  Satan remains a taboo subject, and don’t get me wrong, Ghost can have a great career and make piles of money and be every bit as successful even as some of the top dogs like Iron Maiden, but they’ll never be Metallica.

It’s the difference between Ghost and Greta Van Fleet.  As derivative as GVF is (with all requisite apologies to my wife, who loves them,) their sound is catchy and well produced and they look the part and most importantly of all, they don’t offend.  Just wait, if they haven’t already, they’re gonna start appearing in car commercials any minute now.

At the risk of going too deep into the reeds, I believe there’s even some current socio-economic trends that hurt Ghost’s chance at mainstream superstardom, but what it boils down to is that right now, people aren’t in a mood to be shocked or challenged.  In the present state of media distribution, where it’s easy to ignore anything that affronts your affirmed values, that’s exactly what people are going to do with Ghost – ignore them.  It’s sad, really.

Now that I’ve flagellated that deceased equine into the dust, yay, Graveyard is back!  Now, everything I just talked about should work in favor of Graveyard, so I don’t know what’s holding them back.  All I can think of is that even after their ‘breakup,’ this new album “Peace,” which you and I love because it’s complex and beautiful and professional, doesn’t have the pop get up and go to make them a household name.  Graveyard’s music is soulful and fulfilling, which for audiophiles like us are the best possible qualities, but for the casual dude or dudette (do people still say dudette?  Did anyone ever really say it?) spinning their satellite radio dial might not stop for a Graveyard tune.

….is Slayer really done?

I want to believe they are, because as you said, both of us have been pulling for that for years now.  But we know how this works.  How many times has Ozzy been done?  Or KISS?  Or The Rolling Stones?  Judas Priest, Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails have all faked their own deaths.  Music is like comic books or soap operas – it’s hard to believe someone’s actually dead.

For my part, Slayer was done for me a few years ago when I saw them in 2014.  No Hanneman, no Lombardo.  What was left?  A bunch of talented dudes, but dudes going through the motions.  It was disappointing to say the least, sad to say the worst.  I haven’t turned an eye to Slayer’s farewell tour, one because I don’t think the bill is that great, and second, because I was lucky enough to see them when they were SLAYER, a few years before Jeff started having health problems.  What they are now is an imitation of what they were then.

I will take exception to one thing you said, which is the point about the juvenile lyrics.  Yeah, okay, they’re juvenile.  I’m not gonna argue that.  I’m not even gonna argue that they’re good lyrics, because they’re not.

What I will argue is maybe tangential to your point, but I think it’s important.  As a culture, not just musical culture but as a whole, we’re real big on the idea that people should act their age, or that certain emotions or states of being or whatever are best left to certain age groups.  I can’t abide that.  As we get older, don’t we bust our asses and strive as hard as we do so that we can realize the aspirations we had at a younger age?  Why then must we sacrifice those ideals to conform to a societal norm that shuns us for exercising the decision making we’ve gained.  I have never understood the people I encounter who say ‘well, I used to listen to metal, but I’m too old for it now.’ Why?  Says who?  Listen, I get it, tastes change, and that’s fine.  But if that’s the case, just say your tastes changed.  Don’t give me some line about how you feel you have to act your age.  As a great friend once told me, the only thing you’ve ever too old to do is drink illegally.

So I guess what I’m circling around is this – I believe Slayer should be done because that train has run out of steam, but I don’t think Araya or King or whoever should be told to stop just because they’re older than they used to be.  Now, I cede, they might be a bad example because they’re also individually out of new ideas, and thus out of steam, but if they teamed up and started a totally different band that played death metal covers of showtunes or even if they just started a new thrash band with just as obscene lyrics and called it “REYALS” or something, you do you, man.

I’m with you in that some media doesn’t age well (anybody read “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” lately?) but that doesn’t necessarily diminish its value as an artifact of its time if the artist wants to continue showing it to us.

Anyway, I feel like I was just real negative and contrarian for about twelve hundred words, which isn’t like me at all, and not necessarily how I wanted to kick this off.  My apologies.  Before I get too far down the rabbit hole, what else you got?

CHRIS C: The reason I'm higher on Ghost's chances than you are is because the bar for what I'm claiming has been lowered so, so far. Think about it; what is success for a rock band these days? There aren't any rock bands at all that are able to cross over into the 'mainstream' mainstream. None are generating hit singles on the real charts. Rock now exists completely within itself. Foo Fighters would be the current biggest rock band, but none of their singles form the last couple records made it to Top 40 radio. They've become too old and tired for that format. Nickelback has fizzled out, and they haven't had a hit in a while either. Even someone as massive as U2 hasn't had a true hit in a couple of album cycles. The only band that can qualify is Maroon 5, but they're not a rock band anymore, if they ever were.

Among rock fans, I think Ghost hits enough marks to be able to appeal to a wide array of us. They're heavy enough, they're dark enough, but they're also fun. They are the one band in rock that a fan could conceivably drag an unsuspecting friend to a show and have them enjoy the heck out of it. As evidenced by the video for "Dance Macabre", Ghost has become the pop outlet for a lot of metal people too. So no, Ghost will never be Metallica, but we're judging them against the rock bands of their own time. Compared to them, I could see Ghost reaching the top.

Greta Van Fleet is way too early to say anything about, since they haven't even recorded a damn album yet. Right now, I think a lot of their 'success' is about nothing but their Zeppelin similarities. I've had their music sitting in front of me for a while, and I can't actually tell you the last time I played it. Like Ghost, right now GVF is a gimmick, and I'm going to have to wait and see if they can overcome that. If their eventual album sounds just like Zeppelin, it might do well, but it will be the start of their downfall. They can only be a clone for so long before people get tired of it. How many AC/DC clones have there been over the years? I can't even count, but every single one of them faded from memory when it became clear there was never going to be anything original to them. Remember the band Jet? They had a true breakout, mainstream hit, and they disappeared right after that because everyone realized all they could do was copy what we've already heard. GVF has a lot of growing to do, and not much time to do it.

Graveyard suffers that same problem, actually. Forget about crossing over to the mainstream because of a lack of 'pop get up and go'. They haven't even risen in the rock world, and largely because of their old-school flair. The music communities I travel in don't get Graveyard at all. It's the old story of a retro band having trouble appealing to a modern audience. We both love Graveyard dearly, and would assume rock fans of all stripes would hear what we hear, but they don't. I don't know what it is rock fans are after, but apparently it isn't this.

We briefly discussed this on our own, but our shared love of Graveyard is odd, considering our very different takes on their career. I feel they came out of the gate swinging, and have been fighting to keep it up, while you find they stumbled a bit earlier and are currently at the height of their powers. What's remarkable, to me, is the floor is so high for them that we both agree even their lesser albums are still better than most other rock out there. I don't know if there's any other band we share an affinity for where our rankings are quite so different. Maybe Iron Maiden.

I do find it funny you use the word 'audiophile', though. One thing I would say about "Peace" is the recording is a bit fuzzy for my taste. I miss some of the bluesy 'thump' the guitars used to have.

Maybe I didn't use the best words for what I mean about Slayer. It isn't just that their lyrics are juvenile and sound odd coming out of men who are deciding at what age to start collecting Social Security, it's that Slayer is a band that suffers from Homer Simpson disease; they have gotten dumber as time passes. Slayer's early material was evil and controversial, and most of it actually holds up extremely well. But somewhere in the 90s, Kerry got lazy, and with each passing album the lyrics became more and more about cursing, instead of actually saying something. It peaked on "God Hates Us All", but all their modern albums have been so ham-fisted in their delivery there's no point to it anymore. What's clear is what you said, that Slayer is out of ideas. What started out as a critique of religion became anger at it, which then became saying "fuck religion". In trying to say the same thing album after album, they found the only way to continue sounding the way Slayer is supposed to sound was by growing more coarse. Many of Kerry's songs today are the sort of things that get a pass from a youngster, under the guise of "they don't know any better yet". Slayer sure as hell does by now, and that's the problem. Or was, to be more accurate. But then again, I'm a bitter former intellectual, so I don't speak for most metal fans.

A theme that is popping up here is nostalgia, whether for the sound of a time period, or for bands from our younger days. I wonder how much of that is involved in my love for one of my picks for the best releases so far this year. I wrote about this before, but when I was first truly getting into metal (which you helped with), the biggest name from this side of the pond pulling me in was Killswitch Engage. Regardless of how those albums hold up to modern listeners, they hold tremendous nostalgic appeal for me, so I'm left pondering if memories of first hearing Howard Jones are the catalyst for how I feel regarding his new band. Since I didn't like the band that came in-between, I'm inclined to give myself the benefit of the objective doubt, but it does bring up issues regarding how we can ever escape the gravitational pull of the past. Whether it's bands from long ago we come back to long after they have had their day, or new bands that are aping old sounds, it feels like half of our musical lives are spent looking backward.

It's why I have a bit of trouble with bands like The Night Flight Orchestra, or Greta Van Fleet, etc. While I will never deny their talents, I don't quite see the need to recreate what has already been. Especially in the case of all the bands that are bringing back the synths and reverb of the 80s. Didn't rock fans spend an entire generation bitching about that stuff? Now we want it back? That's what's great about Graveyard. While their production sounds like the 70s, name me a classic rock band that sounds like them. I can't think of any who write and play the same way they do. They bring something unique to an old sound, which is how to properly do nostalgia. You prime the pump with something familiar, but quench us with something new.

I suppose we could talk about the effects of the #MeToo movement on bands, but I'd rather stay on less depressing subjects. So instead I'll ask, has anything about 2018 been truly memorable? That's a question I'm struggling with.

D.M: You know, can we step back a second and examine something?  It struck me when you started talking about the Foo Fighters and U2 and others massive rock bands who may never again strike at the popularity they used to enjoy.  (Real quick, let me add Muse and maybe *shrug* Coldplay to your list of uber-popular current mainstream rock bands.  Also, if they ever came back again, which looks increasingly unlikely, The White Stripes.)

That’s when it hit me.  How do we explain Radiohead?  I’ve never been a fan, but I have to admit, they are a phenomenon, and they still seem to be able to sell out any arena they want on any given night in any city on earth.  I thought their star had faded when it seems like their hiatus would be ongoing, but then a couple years ago, “A Moon Shaped Pool,” and bam!  They’re selling out three nights at MSG again.

I’ve never been able to figure out how they do it.  The band has little in the way of a public promotional vehicle, has enjoyed virtually no radio play outside of college campuses, and doesn’t make a ton of statements or public appearances.  Somehow, for twenty years, they’ve probably been one of the top six or seven rock acts in the world, and the average person on the street might be only dimly aware of them.  I don’t get it.  They’re clearly the outlier, but how did they even get to that point?

In answer to what you say about Ghost though, I would argue they’ve already attained the level you’re talking about.  Or at the very least, they don’t have far to go.  Outside of obtuse metal fans who refuse to enjoy the band on some point of twisted principle, I think they’ve already reached several market segments that a common popular metal band can’t boast.

Which begs the question…deep breath…is Ghost a metal band?  And listen, let me add that it doesn’t really matter if they are or aren’t, and I don’t especially care, but we live in a society of classification and neat genre definitions, and it’s a fun conversation.

I do remember Jet!  I saw them live in concert, twice!  I also remember Airbourne.  They’ve carved out a decent career for themselves, but never gotten out of the shadow of being, to your point, a younger AC/DC.

Totally with you on GVF – every time I hear them, I think to myself ‘but I already own “Physical Graffiti.”

And yes, while we love Graveyard and Iron Maiden for different reasons, let’s have a moment of solidarity!  We both agree that Anthrax should have stuck with John Bush.  Or at the very, dead least, should acknowledge that John Bush happened.  It’s an ongoing shame!

The worst thing that ever happened to Slayer (okay, second worst thing – I assume Hanneman’s passing was the worst thing,) is that they let Kerry King start writing the majority of the songs, both lyrically and musically.  (This comes with a giant ‘but’ – King also wrote the music and lyrics for “Temptation,” which I personally think is the best song Slayer ever wrote.)  King didn’t, and doesn’t, have the nuance, if it can be called that, that makes up the best Slayer songs.  Everything he writes is damn-the-torpedoes-full-speed-ahead, with no room for great riffs or breathing space, which is numbing after a while.  And, as you pointed out, he’s a…subpar…lyricist.  The cruelest joke of all of this is that Slayer wasn’t even nominated for a single Grammy until after King takes over the lion’s share of the writing duties.  What are we doing?

Listen, it’s not just you.  We’re all products of our high school self, right?  We can grow and change, and I’m certainly not the same person I was then in many ways, but when I pop in Soundgarden’s “Superunknown,” it rings certain bells that no matter how dusty they get, remain part of my mental firmament.  And there’s no question that that colors how I view the music I hear now.

Somebody recently read me a statistic (for whatever that’s worth,) that said that most people stop aggregating new music after they turn thirty-five.  While that’s less than two weeks away for me (I won’t be able to check the ‘18-34’ box anymore, which means I’ve officially hit the age where advertising agencies no longer care about me,) I’d like to think that I’ll keep collecting and finding new avenues that I enjoy.  But I can’t lie – I feel like I have a pretty solid musical identity at this point, and the things I enjoy in the future will most likely fit within my already established paradigm.

Which dovetails into your larger point.  There’s plenty of bands I’ve heard this year who show some promise, but I ultimately shrug and resolve myself to the fact that I’ve heard it before, somewhere else, probably better.  Black Sabbath clones are the most obvious example in my line of musical ingest, but there are an awful lot of Deep Purples and would-be Overkills and stuff I feel like I already know.

2018 has been notable for me in a couple areas – first and saddest, it saw the release of another mediocre album by The Sword.  Stop it.  Please.  Listen, I can’t tell them what to do and how to express themselves as artists, but I can tell them that they’re more talented that what they’ve chosen to do.

Second, not that any of these bands have necessarily blown my socks off or anything, but I have heard a very scant handful of acts dip their toe into the shallowest edges of the rap metal pool.  Which had been so summarily polluted during its heyday that it was declared a brownfield and left for figurative dead.  I am happy to see it has healed a little, just enough to be interesting, because while rap metal became the most annoying genre you can imagine, it also gave us Rage Against the Machine, and so while it may never come to prominence again, so long as the bad memories persist, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t experiment a little to see what the fringes look like.  I’m into it.


CHRIS C: The way I want to explain Radiohead is rather disrespectful, both to the band and their fans, so I'll try to soften what I'm thinking. The thrust of it is that Radiohead is to rock what Phish is to whatever genre they play. Radiohead's trippy electronics and emphasis on doodly atmosphere is the perfect setting for listening while high. Certainly, I have never listened to a Radiohead song and come away with a firm memory in my mind. The other aspect would be that "OK Computer" was far better at expanding out beyond the confines of rock than I had ever expected. I would venture there are a fair number of Radiohead fans who don't actually like rock, and don't listen to any other rock bands. In that way, what they've done is genius, even if I don't care at all about it.

Is Ghost a metal band? No, they aren't, and I don't think they ever were. Even on their first album, they were only taking cues from proto-metal. They never had the heaviness of a 'real' metal band, and they have always loved their sing-along melodies more than most self-respecting metal fans would be able to handle. From day one, I've thought they were a rock band. That puts them nicely into the category with people like Alice Cooper, with whom they obviously share roots. "Meliroa" had its heavy moments, but even that record lacked the aggression of metal. There are hints at metal in their sound, but that's about it.

That does bring up the question of what exactly metal is. Over the years, as metal has expanded into heavier and heavier areas, has the window of acceptably metal metal moved that way in tandem? Are the fringe metal bands of the past now explicitly rock bands today? Maybe in 1979 Ghost would have been a metal band, but not today. That leads us into why Eddie Trunk is a moron, since he doesn't understand why so many metal musicians and fans love Ghost. The answer is simple; metal fans can like things that aren't metal, you twit!

My commentary is from someone who has extremely limited stake as a listener, but Anthrax has ceased to be a credible recording unit since John Bush got shown the door. They might be selling more concert tickets with fans who still wish they were as thin and had as much hair as they did in the 80s, Anthrax has been so calculating in the machinations that they've rendered their own career a business decision. I don't know how to listen to their natural evolution, followed by the immediate snap back to the past as though the 90s never existed, as anything other than a cynical ploy to make money. We know the music they're making right now isn't the music they'd be making if Bush had remained with them. It's hard to then take them seriously. They're literally just giving us what they think we want. While music is both art and business, I prefer it when the art at least gets to pretend to matter more.

I think you're half right. Kerry taking the reigns of Slayer was surely a bad thing, but their fall began with "Diabolous In Musica", which was almost all Jeff's baby. The problem they had was once they reached a certain level of success, they went their separate ways. It happens all the time, most famously with Lennon and McCartney. Instead of banging out songs together, they were writing everything at home, even admitting they rarely spoke when there wasn't band business to attend to. Neither one of them had the sounding board to wipe the shit off their songs, so Slayer became two different bands that shared a singer and space on albums. Being able to so obviously tell whose songs were whose never struck me as a good thing. The one thing that would have saved Slayer is if Tom had been more assertive. If he took leadership, and served as an editor for both of the others, I think we would have gotten albums that hung together better, and that didn't insult our intelligence the same way.

I'm not far behind in joining you outside the target ad demo. I would like to think I'm far from the end of my time searching and discovering new music. I get many of the same feelings you do, where everything feels tired and done before, and those stretches of time are tough. I've grown tired of trying to find new ways to describe the music of Generic Band #512. But then there will occasionally be that one thing that is just unique enough, or just flat out great at something established, to make it all worthwhile. I have the kind of mindset that will hate myself if I know that gem is out there and I missed it. A bit of OCD will probably keep me going even after I feel my shelves have enough music I love on them.

There's a side-effect of this job. Because of how much new music there is to sort through, and how often a new release needs to be listened to to really sink in as a favorite, there never seems to be time to go back and listen to all the great records from before. I hate realizing how long it's been since I've spun some of my favorites, but there's only so much time in the day.

As for me, there has really only been one thing of note; there is an absolute leader now for my favorite 'new' band. That would happen to be The Spider Accomplice, who released the third and final installment of their concept record, "Los Angeles" recently. What I love about them isn't just that they make great alternative/pop/rock, it's that each release has given us something new and different, while still sounding like them. When we keep talking about bands rehashing and rehashing, this is precisely the antidote to that. All three of their EPs are great in their own way. Most bands don't take long to disappoint me in some fashion, so getting three releases in where I'm still raving means something big is going on. As I mentioned to you before, I'm the sort of person for whom it's rare for me to find a band where I like more than one or two of their releases passionately. So me saying this already about this group is impressive.

Ok, I'm slightly lying. There is one other thing of note. I firmly believe that as of now, Machine Head is a shoo-in for the worst record of the year. If I can drop the pretense of being fair for a moment, I'll describe it as a garbage big filled with dirty diapers that were left in a compost pile during a sunny heat wave.

Care to top that?

D.M: What strikes me as the most odd in your assertion of Eddie Trunk's idiocy is that he is (or was) the most vocal proponent of Greta Van Fleet, so he's clearly maintaining a double standard in the 'old is new again' department.

Speaking of, not to drag the conversation back to GVF, but I just had a sobering thought: do they even need to release an album?  Could we be seeing the advent of a new business model, where bands only release a new single every three to four months?  I don't mean to assume or insult, but they hardly seem like the kind of band who's going to release the next great concept album, so why would they release a whole bunch of music at once?  As much as a trickle of single releases sounds like anathema to me, I can see some obvious advantages.  How often, as music reviewers, have we said "there are good singles, but the album as a whole isn't that great"?  If you're a band, why not concentrate on making one song at a time great, and then generate additional buzz by releasing them over time?  Oh man.  I hope I haven't just given someone an idea.

The question of the moving metal goalpost is an interesting one, because you're right, Ghost may not be a metal band (and no one is saying they need to be,) and yet they would have easily crossed that threshold back in the day.  I find that gratifying in that clearly we've at least reached a point where 'metal' is determined based on sound rather than something as subjective as content.  By that I mean that Ghost, as a band whose act is based around demonic imagery, would have been branded as the scariest metal band on Earth just by their mere being, where now their sound excludes them from that same group (to some.)  But, the caveat here, as it always is, is the force of nostalgia.  I was listening to the first Danzig record the other day, which is widely regarded as part of the bible of metal (contradictory though that term sounds,) and really, it's not a metal album by the modern definition.  Neither are any of Ozzy's early works, and some luminaries like Judas Priest's "British Steel" might not be, either.  Yet, because they were metal 'then,' they are metal 'now,' solely because we want to remember them that way.

I also have difficulty with the concept of defining what metal is, because by its very nature, metal is meant to rebellious, and therefore should be resistant to classification in the first place.  There comes a reflexive point where to not be metal might be the most metal thing of all.  And therefore, maybe Ghost is metal after all?

I can only offer this, and it's a lame cop-out, I admit.  I know metal when I hear it.

See, what you bring up in reference to the drive to find new music is something I think about a lot.  I also don't like to feel like I'm being left in the lurch, and I also tire of the slog of saying the same thing over and over again, but like you, sometimes somebody is just new enough, or just different enough.  As I reflect on two of my favorite bands of the moment, they reflect each side of this dichotomy - Destrage is something new, a whole new universe of sound and musical blending that I've never experienced to such an accomplished degree before.  Graveyard is something old made new again.  So I am both in and out of my comfort zone.

I hate to admit this, because it makes me sound incredibly lazy, but I didn't even listen to Machine Head's album.  I have long since written them off as a band who 'I know what they sound like.'  I apparently should be glad I missed it.

Sigh, I can't top what you've put down, only because it means fifteen more minutes of me scratching my head and crying about The Sword.  Nobody wants that.

What's got you excited for the second half of the year?

CHRIS C: What you're suggesting has already started to happen, and it makes me sad. There are many bands out there now who have already scrapped albums in favor of EPs, and soon will scrap EPs in favor of singles. There is nothing wrong with singles, or EPs (I've liked many of them recently quite a lot), but I do come from the old school that appreciates being able to sit down and listen to a band for a solid length of time when I'm in the mood to hear them. Plus, it saddens me if there are great singles that never get included in a larger release, because they tend to slip out of the consciousness more easily. I'm probably too analog for the currently digital world, however.

My bigger issue with the practice is how it doesn't make sense if a band wants to grow, and pursue music as a career. It's difficult to have the conversation telling someone about a great new band you've found, and you can only point them to two songs that exist. Or, you have a band like Greta Van Fleet who can be headlining tours, but they barely have half an hour of original music to their name. How are they supposed to give a show that isn't a rip-off if they don't have enough music to fill the set?

Maybe I'm weird, but if I have forty-five minutes or so to sit down and listen to music, I almost exclusively want to listen to one band and one style over that time. I don't want to have to sort through a list of thousands of songs and dart between a hundred different styles. I don't find that enjoyable. While there is something to be said for releasing only as much music as you can make great, I would also say it's harder to love a band if you are only getting fun-sized pieces from them. As much as we rag on Springsteen (got it in!), he's written a few great songs. If he had only released singles, and they were the ones, I could be led to think he's amazing, when in fact I actually don't care for 90% or more of everything he's ever done. It can distort our perception.

You're totally right about those Danzig records. They aren't metal at all, according to today's thought. I would say that the first Black Sabbath album, despite its status as the beginning, probably isn't one either. It's confusing to look back at metal's history and have to do this kind of retroactive brain surgery. We can hold two records in our hands that are nearly identical, and because one was made three decades earlier, they wind up on either side of the metal debate. It's stupid, but I don't feel anyone has the desire (or the courage, for that matter) to go back and re-categorize all of those albums. Who wants to say Metallica was really only a thrash band for one album? Or that Priest has gone back and forth from rock to metal and back a few times?

I'm actually more comfortable with Ghost being a rock band than a metal one, because not having the weight of metal's expectations on them allows the music to take in new influences all the time. They're getting away with "Dance Macabre" (which I think it awesome, by the way) because it's a dancy rock song from a rock band. If they were truly a metal band, people would be shouting "heresy!" That would be ludicrous, but metal fans can often be a small-minded lot.

I don't blame you. Machine Head has had more than enough chances to show us they're something other than trend-chasing has-beens. I only gave them the time of day because I heard rumors of how bad it was going to be, and I'm often curious about train wrecks. I think if there's one person in the metal world who is a complete and utter poser, it's Robb Flynn. His entire career seems to be one long attempt to not be one album behind whatever's popular at the moment.

As for the rest of the year, I'm not sure if the news just slips out of my mind because of the pace of life, but I can't think of much I'm 'excited' about. I'm always interested to hear what Halestorm is up to, even if I think they've completely lost their way. There are supposed to be new albums from Forever Still and Jasmine Cain on the way that are following up records I really liked. And there are a couple of progressive metal albums coming from Redemption and Seventh Wonder that could be very good. Otherwise, I'm in wait-and-see mode until next year, when we get new Avantasia music. Oh, and Tool too, but I don't care very much about that.

What does your crystal ball show?

D.M: You know, I'm loathe to even bring this up, but while we sit here and ruminate on why Ghost may or may not get acceptance from the metal commuity at large (not that they need it, as we've determined,) it strikes me that I don't remember any acrimony of this magnitude over HIM.  Now, there's a bunch of mitigating factors there, not the least of which is that HIM a) sucks, and b) appealed to, I think, young women, as opposed to Ghost's broader audience (and there's nothing wrong with appealing to young women, it works for HIM, it's just a difference.)  Even so though, I don't remember anyone in particular complaining about HIM's brand of metal - so-called 'Love Metal' - at least not to the degree that Ghost receives criticism.  What am I missing here?  Did I just block out a whole conversation that happened eight years ago?  Or did not enough people give a crap about HIM?  Secondarily, the heartagram was everywhere for a couple years, is it even possible that Ville Valo helped ready the world for Ghost?  I shudder to even type that.

As for my crystal ball, some enticing options in the nearish future.  Children of Bodom and Powerwolf both have upcoming records.  I'm always a little cautious with CoB because they do have a couple duds in their history, but they also released "Relentless, Reckless Forever," which is a personal top ten album for me all time.  Powerwolf tends to deliver a consistent product, so less suspense there, but that doesn't mean I'm not looking forward to it.  As a matter of fact, they may be the only power metal band that really holds my attention these days - I find the genre has stagnated.

As ever, I continue my campaign for the release of the last Blackguard album, "Storm," but that's here more as a token than as a legit wish.  Hope always springs eternal that I will find some new, hidden gem out in the ether, and the early summer has had several promising releases so far.

And I actually have a bunch of good concerts coming up this summer, including but not limited to Arch Enemy, Red Fang and Life of Agony, so a full summer lies ahead!

That's all I got, take us home.

CHRIS C: I think the difference between HIM and Ghost is that while they are/were both bands that blended dark imagery with pop melodies, HIM's success was mostly exclusive to the mainstream. They were big at their height (I remember hearing "Wings Of A Butterfly" all the time), but you didn't have members of Metallica and the like participating in their videos, and taking them on tour. For whatever reason, Ghost has more of a foothold with purely metal people than other more melodic bands ever have. It's probably because the imagery gives them an excuse to claim they aren't being 'weak' or 'soft'. That line of thinking is absurd, but let's not kid ourselves. The kinds of people who think carving Slayer's name into their flesh is a good idea are never going to admit they like other kinds of music.

That's precisely why I've never called myself a metalhead. It's a loaded term.

With all of that being said, we've reached the end of another one of these conversations. I think what we've proven is that there is an intellectual level at which this music exists, even if the artists don't know it. Music isn't simply a series of pleasant sounding notes our brain glitches and gets stuck with. Music is a reflection of culture and humanity, for better and for worse. At least this time, it seems the first half of 2018 has given us a bit more of the former than the latter.

Onward to the second half of the year!

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