Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Preemptively Answered Questions

What is this?


This is a website dedicated to the thorough critical examination of one hundred Heavy Metal albums that have had a lasting positive influence in my life as well as the assorted general musings that they may inspire. We must test the things we love in this life.


And who are you?



You'll know more that matters about me after reading through this site than you'd ever from a couple of paragraphs worth of a bio. My name is Telemachus Stavropoulos. I am Greek, 26 years old. On the Internet I go by the handle 'Helm'.


So this is a review site?


Yes and no. There will be in-depth examination of certain albums. Their sound design will be described in some detail and some theories on their social context and possible impact at large might be offered. The gist of it will have to do with my personal experiences with the material, which are unashamedly subjective. All these qualities are often encountered in various mixes in music review sites. However there is baggage that comes with the term 'review' I wish to avoid. This is not intended as a buyer's guide. Nor do I write to enjoy the status of the tastemaker. The music discussed, offspring of an already fringe permutation of rock and roll, is irrelevant to the world at large. But it's important to me. Important enough that I approach it slowly and draw my conclusions slower still. There will be no attempt to keep current with the various metal trends on display in 2010 and the purpose of this site is not to support itself indefinitely.


So why are you doing this?


Self-expression is an end in itself. I seek to engage in meaningful dialog with readers over the subject of Heavy Metal, secondarily. As I have internalized these select pieces of music for a long time, I feel there comes a time when externalization is not only therapeutic but also makes for the foundations of dialog of a certain caliber that the usual chit-chat over ephemeral pop culture artifacts doesn't reach for. Metal music especially seldom enjoys such dialog. It is instead serviced by fanciful writing by professional tastemakers whose brief infatuations with whatever is new this week may divert from a more in-depth assessment of what this music means for lifelong lovers of this art. I don't begrudge them their role but I am not serviced by it so here we are.


It's worth mentioning that English is my second language. When one borrows a language, they adopt a host of cliches along with it. This is the nature of imitation (and will be a recurring topic when discussing the history of metal elsewhere on this site). Though I've been trying to prune my English from this unfortunate effect, that it is my second language guarantees I'll never get them all because I cannot spot the cultural baggage of each and every expression that comes to me. This, combined with various grammar or syntax errors, means I do not classify as a good writer. The dubious upside is that you will not find 'beautiful writing about beautiful writing' here. The envelope is not the message.


So this is about metal, right?


Not exactly. Metal music is pretty bad. I've listened to a lot of it and the vast majority of it I'm sad to say is completely beneath notice, like with the products of any other pop cultural stream. When one is neck-deep in metal however, they begin to find positive aspects to largely throwaway records. And the reviewer especially is prone to talking about the little they find that is worthwhile for as long as they can milk it. That is called, I understand, a career in music journalism. This website stands in opposition to that effect of media oversaturation and instead seeks to underline only the necessary and essential in this music. To take from the 'metal' only the Heavy Metal.


What?


For as long as I've been discussing with other metalheads on the internet about our shared interest, I've had to play an allegorical game of tug-of-war with them over the definition of metal music. The problem, I realized, was not that we disagreed on the dry description of the metal sonics, it was instead in what implied meaning either party prescribed as necessary to the art before it could be called such. My point of view often was that for music to deserve to be called metal (note the prescriptive categorical), riffs and catchy melodies would not be enough. It would have to engage with the listener on a higher aesthetic and philosophical level, and there it would strike romanticist cords. It would have to deal with the existentialist question of death, of the draws of of lust and desire, of the horror and hope of sentience, of the struggle between the internal and the external, of the violence between individual and society. Others often found such restrictions before the word 'metal' could be uttered, needlessly narrow.


Over the last few years I've became slowly aware that most people that are, let's say, philosophically allergic to romanticism yet still listen to loud music for other reasons, would tend to strip Heavy Metal, of its adjective. It is my understanding that the common implication to doing so has nothing to do with brevity and everything to do with modernization of the concept. Heavy Metal is old and banal and metal is the music of the now. The reasons for this line of thinking are many and will be discussed indirectly many times. What followed this realization however, was my aversion to the idea that (post)modernity has anything to offer to Heavy Metal by stripping it of its qualifiers, leaving it vague and open-ended. Regardless of the intellectual validity of that stance, “Some metals are weak” I theorized half-jokingly, and regressed to qualifying all 'metal', with 'heavy', antagonistically. I would go on to quarrel with many about romanticism versus post-modernism using the symbols of metal versus Heavy Metal, all the while unaware that we could disentangle our thoughts by segregating our contrasting definitions. As is often the case, no-one is right, which is to say, everyone is wrong; Words are only as useful as we can agree they are and in this spirit I've adopted the following terminology when discussing this music:


Metal, or 'metal music', belongs to everybody. It can mean whatever anyone wants it to mean and most often when discussed on this level it means 'loud guitar music, lots of distortion and pummeling drums, shouts or growls, extended guitar solos'. Any statement I make on 'metal' will be most often descriptive, such as “metal music came into prominence during the early seventies”. I do not pretend such statements are facts, but they are intended as neutral and descriptive and they are grounded in commonly accepted history to the best of my knowledge. There is no ideology implied nor is the term secretly pejorative. I've become desensitized to that everyone can say anything and there's no point to argue about it over the internet. There's lots of merit in discussing about it, however, hence the value judgment-free term offered here.


Heavy Metal, in full-form and capitalized, talks of something close to my heart instead. Though I am open to the possibility that there are others with a similar sense of Heavy Metal in their hearts (I think I've met some of them over the years), I doubt such strongly internalized symbols are ever the exact same. Therefore when I talk of Heavy Metal here, most often my statements will be self-aware in their prescriptive qualities. In a sense I am not talking about something outer, I am talking about something strongly ingressive, and as such I am not afraid to attempt to capture it with strong words. It is, of course, safe from my attempts because human feelings are much more potent than the ideas that are inspired by them. It is exactly because I do not think the Heavy Metal in my heart has anything to fear from all my rationalizations that I regularly test it with words. We must test the things we love.


A statement like “Heavy Metal is about the glory of the continued structured existence against the natural state of the world, that of senselessness and chaos” or perhaps “Heavy Metal is about the celebration of inner chaos and senselessness against the external forces of social stabilization” will be found often in this website. Where between statements one finds contradiction they will in time see juxtaposition and hopefully in the end, uniting order.


There will be no clean-cut definition of Heavy Metal here, because this life is difficult and I am not here to make it any easier. If one wants to know what Heavy Metal means they'll have to read the whole project. If they want a simple answer instead what I take from that is that they don't want an answer that means anything after all. Anything that is worth exploring, is worth exploring to some extreme.


However I write this so the sensitive reader can rest assured, every time I rant on how their favorite metal bands are “not Heavy Metal”, I am not denying them their right to self-identify as being metal, whatever that might be. I am only presenting a dialectic between the 'whatever it may be' and my inner certainties, with which the reader may become aquainted over reading this site. Light casts shadows and shapes can thus be traced. It is irrelevant (though not insignificant – I'd appreciate to hear from you) if the reader agrees with me in my axioms to enjoy the process.


Is this intended for metal buffs?



It is not strictly intended, but I expect it will find an audience amongst them. After all people tend to read about what they already like because otherwise they're taking a big risk. Investing time into strange things often doesn't pay out. Perhaps it's worth mentioning that the texts will be written with the 'metal-curious' also in mind. Those that feel some attraction to their idea of what Heavy Metal could be but have been thus far reticent to check things out. Or more often for those that have listened to some music peers told them were good examples of metal and were unimpressed.


In any case, I expect the interested reader will be proactive. My descriptions of the sonic qualities of the records will be brief, where I will linger is on what I've learned from these records on an aesthetic, compositional or philosophical level. It is implied that the reader either has prior familiarization with the music or can go find it and experience it for themselves before continuing with the texts. This process is easy on the internet. It will pay for the reader to consider this project as being more akin to literary critique (minus the academic background, though) and less like brief record reviews meant to entice a sale. This is if anything, the opposite of brief and a lot of the items are out of print.


I will make a concerned effort to minimize the 'metal jargon' when discussing these records so the initiate or even distanced layman can follow. There will be a minimal amount of cross-referencing (“x band sounds like y band”) because I tend to think it contributes little to the discussion and the merits of the individual work. Most metal bands directly reference Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden anyway. They will mostly (that is, aside of any talk of cultural context and lasting influence) be examined on their own merit. Every record will be approached as if it's the only record that has ever existed and deserves to exist because that's what it makes me feel when I listen to it. This approach has two-pronged intent: on one hand I want to disassociate my effort from the endless 'insider talk' of metalheads, who spend so many words to say what basically amounts to “I like this, you like this, other people don't get it, we're awesome!”. On the other, I sincerely believe that one doesn't need to know the whole story to appreciate great Heavy Metal. They don't need to have listened to four thousand awful records to appreciate the hundred gems I'll be talking about here. They just need to have a general evolutionary outline in mind and the rest is just... music, very immediate and striking. I can provide the basic vantage through the writing, in fact, that may be my only obligation to the reader.


How will you do this?


Methodically. I've assembled a list of hundred records out of many thousands I've been exposed to. I'll be going through them alphabetically. There will be no rating or grade system involved in this process at all as it is already implied these records are worthwhile by the premise of the project. Also worth mentioning is that such rating systems make a travesty of critique and only serve as a communicative crutch for 'buyer's guide' type of reviews at best, or a point for fan-boys to rant and rave for or against at worst. They sabotage any merit the text itself could have, perhaps not fatally so, but I'd rather not confuse the issue with mixed signals here. No numbers, only words.


A historic approach would be to tackle these by order of release, but I make no pretensions of this being anything but a strictly personal recount of my time with Heavy Metal. Instead perhaps I should tackle this list by order of exposure, but I no longer remember clearly when I've heard this record or that and which one comes first. Indeed it feels like I've been listening to most of these my whole life, which is sort of the point.


So what is left is the cruel alphabet. It offers me the chance to just jump in and explain as I go.


That's it?


Basically. I will be amending this post as more explanations are deemed required.


Listen here mister!


If you've got a question or statement, comment. Worthwhile exchanges will be made into posts in themselves.


If you're given to phrase statements as questions, don't expect me to answer. And if you consider double-talk, sarcasm and mockery as your main weapons in discourse, don't expect your comments to make it on the site at all. Seek that type of entertainment elsewhere.

9 comments:

  1. Subscribed. I enjoy your comments at IO, and welcome this new blog.

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  2. Καλοτάξιδο Τηλέμαχε!

    You should have done this a long time ago. Also, I am very happy you started this.

    I've already checked the 3rd and the Mortal review but I'll bug you when you discuss an album I've already internalized, so that any discussion on the communicative function of art and a heavy metal aesthetic takes place on common ground (this means that I find your points about the romantic aesthetic in heavy metal very interesting and I think I have a few of my own I'd like to throw in the arena)

    I'll be following this new effort of yours very closely.

    So.... Onwards! :-)

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  3. Stoked that you're doing this!

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  4. Well, well, well...

    Only a glimpse on the Master List, and I am pretty much convinced that this blog will provide some interesting reading material.

    You, sir, have just found yourself a reader!

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  5. Oh what, I have received comments? I just realized. Blogspot blogs default to open commentary so I didn't get any e-mail mentions of these comments. So, sorry for not acknowledging them earlier.

    Thank you for the kind words, Thano, Todd and George.

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  6. Thank you for sharing this on IO. I've been waiting for you do something like this for a while.

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  7. Thank you for your continued interest. I shall reply to your other comments now.

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  8. hm, this strikes me as a fairly interesting and appealing project, both on its own merits (your more or less expert opinion, basically), and as a tour of one's memories, emotions, and general experiences, re: "metal" listening (whatsoever objective value that may hold for any given individual engaging a somewhat fractured and divisive community). what most fascinates me about such endeavors, however, is their apparent quest for relevance--if not significance--in a world that systematically denies them just that. (also, whether or not the chosen artifacts at hand will fully measure up to personal memory and/or expectation.)

    good luck to you,

    Ioannis

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  9. Ioannis,

    thank you for your insightful message.

    ReplyDelete