I feel I have learned an incredible amount about this peculiar little genre over the past few years, despite having entered the metal sphere a little later than most on this site. The eight years since discovering it at the tender age of thirteen have been a whirlwind ride of stumbling over and upon new and established bands, and diving haphazardly into genres without a clue where to look. I still very much feel like a student of metal, and I imagine I will for the rest of my life – such is the spectrum – but if you’re reading this, chances are you already know that.
Even before turning to the musical dark side, my life was full of music. My parents’ attempts to instill their own tastes (my father’s love of classical/world and mother’s eclectic mix of varying decades of pop) left a slight yet indelible mark, although most of my music taste has come from research. I never was particularly interested in radio music, preferring to seek for myself via internet fora and friends’ recommendations. This led to my discovery of rap at a young age, and a love of lyricism that reflected in literature as well. Like most of the 90s-born teenagers who didn’t subscribe to jock syndrome, I dabbled in creative writing, although that dried up by the time school education ended.
By this point, without poetry and fiction to fill up my creative streak, my attention turned to music. I’d started noticing my improvement in recommending bands and albums to my friends, and so I started looking analytically at my music taste – although with a very potholed knowledge of the genres. I wrote a couple of reviews of favorite albums which I put up on my site, a site consigned to the top of a very long pile of average-to-mediocre ‘review’ sites (the less said about those reviews the better) – but I learned from my mistakes and improved my writing style with very helpful critique from friends and fellow writers.
Many people claim the greats of metal persuaded them to join the cause. They cite names like Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Metallica as the clinchers for their conversion. My discovery happened when a friend passed me Linkin Park‘s Meteora and Hybrid Theory while I was in my rap phase. Like many angsty teenagers, I was drawn to the darker atmosphere and (at the time I thought) lyrical qualities, but there was something under that. There was a driving energy which I had hitherto not experienced in my dalliances with rock. I realize that many on this site do not consider Linkin Park as metal, and in certain moods I may agree, but they are undeniably a gateway band to harder substances. Now, you’d expect me to describe to a typical route after Linkin Park, jumping through Avenged Sevenfold and Disturbed, other bands under the alt-metal banner. Instead, I found Scandinavian melodic death metal bands such as Insomnium and Arch Enemy, power metal such as Persuader and Kamelot, and a host of other samples from other genres. I’ve been filling the gaps in ever since.
I took my love of words to university with me, and enrolled in a joint honors course of German and ab initio Russian. This wasn’t with any particular goal in mind, mostly furthering my interest in the cultures and histories of these two languages, but it ended up opening up some very cool opportunities down the line. While at uni, I’ve also been involved in the theater society; not something I was expecting after mediocre acting in the standard school plays, but I found the workshops a great lot of fun and ended up acting in a couple of plays. A more key influence that university brought was joining the contributor team for the uni newspaper, which forced me to up my game in writing features for the ents section, and made me more accustomed to deadlines in journalism work. While doing a placement year in Austria and Russia, connections with Death Metal Baboon gave me a taster of live interviews, and Metalrecusants enabled to report on Metalfest Austria, all of which were wonderful experiences. Currently in my final year, I’m about to feel the crunch that university can bring, which brings ambivalent feelings, but one method I can rely on to aid unwinding is sitting down with albums to review.
My current listening habits tend to go through phases, with a few bands and albums that I find myself returning to along the way (a list of examples are at the bottom). Most of what I like requires some form of melody, either in the vocals or musicianship, but that is fairly open to interpretation. I definitely do not attempt to pin down my taste to even a handful of genres, but I admit that extreme metal has taken my fancy of late. Although searching for genres or combinations thereof is entertaining when coming across new music, ultimately the old maxim of “there are only two kinds of music: good and bad” comes back to haunt, and I never intend to write off a style of metal, even if many of the bands on offer may not appeal. Every genre has its gems.
When it comes to writing reviews, I tend to avoid exuding a fanboyish exuberance, even when the release in question does excite me. Taking a more reserved standpoint that points out the pros and cons gives a better overall picture, and my personal opinion should emerge based on the adjectives and tone used rather than capslock and exclamation marks. When heavier releases are concerned, I am not too keen on an excessive use of pain- or destruction-related metaphors to describe the music; generally I read reviews to judge the quality of an album, not the remnants of the writer’s shattered corpse or razed surroundings. I also discourage unjustified criticism and name-calling in reviews*, as all that achieves is irritating all involved. That said, I’m not averse to a bit of light humor/wordplay, although preferably not at the musicians’ expense. Finally, I’m a stickler for grammar and spelling (despite my Americanized upbringing, bear with me), and consider typos as tarnishing writing pieces. As such, if you spot a typo in my review, please bring it to my attention swiftly.
Finally, I would like to highlight just why I do this metal-related journalism malarky. Obviously, there are perks to it: you get to hear great music you may not otherwise be exposed to, meet and work with amiable individuals, and promote a burgeoning scene that deserves more exposure – but there’s more to it than that. There is something heartening about receiving an appreciative response from a band about your review, regardless of whether it was positive or not, and knowing that due to globalisation and human curiosity, someone out there will buy a release as a direct result of your input. Despite what some claim, metal still requires its journalists to sift through the multitudinous Facebook pages and highlight the music that’s worth listening to, irrespective of the number of ‘likes’ achieved. Ultimately, that glow that I mentioned is the motivating force that draws me in further into this crazy world. It’s been eight years now, and there’s still a long way to go.
* A direct address to those who use “gay” as a derogatory term: please consult Messrs. Halford and Espedal for their opinion on the subject.
As far as favourites go, perhaps a list is the most economical way to inform you of my specific tastes. They go a little something like this:
The Black Dahlia Murder
Heaven Shall Burn
Scar Symmetry (older)
System Of A Down
As far as my song of the year so far, I’ll have to go with Svartalvheim – If The Gods Cannot Stop Me