Heavy Blog Soapbox – Aggravating Review Comments

Before hopping onto my soapbox, I should clarify that our staff loves receiving comments on our posts. The purpose behind Heavy Blog is to provide our readers (that’s you) with recommendations of quality music as well as insight into genre and industry trends we find noteworthy. And whether you respond with positive or negative feedback, we appreciate you taking the time to read our opinions and provide thoughts of your own. But after reviewing music for the past several years, there are a few types of negative comments that have popped up on reviews my fellow contributors or I have written which do little to add to the discourse surrounding the album. While dissenting comments are something I encourage, the following collection of review comments either unfairly attack the reviewer instead of the review or attempt to define a review as something it’s not. I’ve attempted to remain as fair as possible, but of course, I welcome your disagreement in the comments.

“You’re not a musician, so your opinion doesn’t count.”

I’ve listed this one first because, frankly, it makes the least sense. Firstly, this type of comment is usually made as an assumption; unless a reviewer’s profile specifically states their lack of musical prowess, they could very well be both a musician and a reviewer. But more importantly, there’s no inherent correlation between being a musician and writing quality reviews. A reviewer’s abundant knowledge of compositional theory and technical musicianship doesn’t automatically mean they can write well or convey why a piece of music is worthwhile from the point of view of an average listener, who likely connects with a piece of music more for its emotional appeal than its numerous shifts in time signature. Additionally, what would actually constitute a musician “worthy” of reviewing music? Would making shitty beats on FL Studio count? Would the reviewer only be able to review music from the genre(s) they themselves play? Do these qualifiers seem as ridiculous to you as they do to me?

They should, because setting higher standards for the reviewer than the review itself is in itself ridiculous. If a restaurant served you a plate of  culinary garbage, it’d be ridiculous for the chef to tell you your opinion didn’t count because you’re not a chef. In the same way, a reviewer doesn’t need to be a seasoned musician to provide a well-reasoned critique of  whether or not an album is worth the reader’s time. Not everyone on staff plays music, but our musician and non-musician writers share both an avid love for music and ability to write about it in an interesting and quality manner.

“You didn’t listen to the album enough.”

Similar to the first comment, this opinion claims to know something that reviewers hardly ever reveal, and for good reason. Because what this comment essentially translates to is “You didn’t listen to the album enough (to enjoy it as much as I do).” And once this claim is made, almost no number offered by the reviewer would be accepted by the commenter as an adequate amount of listens. Personally, I’d argue that 3 to 5 listens is usually enough to compose a well-reasoned review, but this also depends on a number of factors. Anthony Fantano covers this point well on his video about this topic, pointing out that a reviewer’s familiarity with the band, genre or context surrounding the album dictates how many listens are necessary to be able to review the album effectively. Additionally, album length is a huge factor, as it takes less effort and focus to listen to a Nails record multiple times than any of Swans‘ latest albums.

But this also brings up the point of a review’s purpose. We regularly run pieces dedicated to extensive dissection of various albums, namely our *prognotes features. But while there’s nothing wrong with incorporating this into a review, this isn’t its primary function. A review is a formal assessment of an album’s quality and discussion of how the album fits into the genre, modern music landscape and band’s discography. Usually when someone comments that a reviewer “hasn’t listened to an album enough,” they’re talking about a release from one of their favorite bands that they’ve voluntarily spent more time with than they would with most other albums. And that’s an important distinction, because one listener’s deep, magnanimous opus is another’s boring slog of an album. Almost every album has enough depth to warrant several listens, but extensive listening for in-depth analysis takes far longer than figuring out why you do or don’t like something. Reviewers are heavy consumers of music as well, meaning that the handful of albums we have for review are tacked on to our regular rotation of leisure listening. It doesn’t take double-digit listens to figure out where you stand on an album, and forcing or demanding additional listens to “get” an album speaks more to confirmation bias than a lack of understanding.

“You don’t seem like a fan of [Band/Genre]; it doesn’t make sense for you to review this album.”

This is in the same wheelhouse as the last comment, but its worth distinguishing in order to illuminate how we operate as a blog. We currently have a staff of about 20 members who write for the blog as a hobby and bring with them unique tastes and musical experiences. With this being the case, it wouldn’t make sense for someone to take an album for review if they aren’t at least a fan of the genre the band plays in. Not only would it be a waste of their free time to listen to an album from a genre they dislike, it wouldn’t be in the best interest of the blog either. I openly admit that power metal is my least favorite metal subgenre, which is why – for example – I’d never volunteer to review the newest Blind Guardian album. Not only would it require me to spend the little non-work time I have listening to something I’d never choose to listen to on my own, the review I’d end up writing would be inherently flawed an useless. I have no background or interest in power metal or Blind Guardian, so I wouldn’t be able to provide nearly as much insight or as educated of an opinion as someone on staff who’s actually a fan. Again, this is just another way of saying “You don’t agree with me, so you’re wrong,” which isn’t a worthwhile argument to make. And honestly, if someone says they enjoy every band in any given genre, they’re either lying or poorly-versed in that style of music.

“Your score is too high and/or low.”

I’ve saved this comment for last because it aggravates me the most. This point is deserving of it’s own post, but I’ll briefly go over it here. Here’s the issue: scores are by far the least important part of a review. Their sole purpose is to succinctly summarize a review’s general verdict in an easily understandable numeric system. Yet, the numerous issues with this system reveal just how problematic it is, and why levying this claim is so meaningless. First, no matter how hard a universal standard for scoring is sought after, no reviewer will ever score exactly the same. This goes beyond reviewers disagreeing about whether or not an album deserves a “5,” but rather, what actually constitutes an album deserving of that score. A numerical score only tells you what general grade that specific reviewer felt the album deserved, and not much else. And this is a key point: scores say infinitely less than the actual review. If your professor graded your paper but didn’t provide a single comment, you’d find it unfair and demand they justify your grade. In the same way, a scoreless review helps a reader understand an album quite a bit more than a reviewless score. Comments like these latch onto the easy target of a number without actually engaging with what the review has to say. Scores are overall just a massive waste of time; they’re the epitome of judging a book (or a review, in this case) by its cover.


Phew…it’s always a relief to vent. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, these are the most prevalent, aggravating things writers hate to uncover when they see their review has a comment. Again, none of this is meant to insinuate that we discourage negative comments; to the contrary, they’re arguably more important to a writer and the discussion of the album than positive remarks. We may appreciate “Great review!” more than “I disagree with you, because…”, but the latter type of comment opens up the conversation and ensures our reviews and comment sections don’t create an echo chamber. As long as you have a thoughtful opinion in hand, we look forward to seeing you in the comments.

"In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there's something stronger - something better - pushing right back." - Albert Camus






Comments

    1. But seriously I’ve discovered too many great albums from this site to ever be that salty about a review. Over the years I have noticed some spelling errors and thesaurus-heavy writing when it comes to adjectives however.

      1. Eden says:

        We’re never perfect. Spelling errors happen and will continue to happen; we do our best to catch them on a volunteer’s schedule :) As for thesaurus-heavy writing, why is that a bad thing? Vocabulary and variation are both important things.

        Thanks for the comment!

        1. Yes using proper vocabulary and varying your words are important. However I personally prefer writing that is as direct and concise as possible. That means using a simple word over a complex word if the same meaning can be achieved, and generally trying to use the least amount of words possible. I’m just saying *sometimes* HBIH writing seems to meander or throw in overly-complex word choices for the sake of it. This is definitely nitpicking. I know describing music can be really difficult sometimes, but I also know you guys are always trying to improve so I figured you would appreciate the feedback.

          1. karlo says:

            haha it’s great to see another perspective on it. i completely understand your point of view, and there is value to be had in something that is succinct and concise, where you just get the info you need and then get on with your day.

            in saying that, as someone keenly interested in literature, i read almost for two reasons: to see what they have to say, and to analyse how they say it. i cringe when i hear ‘brutal’ being used for the 3rd time or more, and really appreciate different ways of saying the same thing as it helps keep it more interesting for me.

            in saying that, thesaurus-heavy writing can definitely become a problem when the writer doesnt actually know the full definitions of the synonyms they’re using, as they may be a similar word, but one that is still out of place in the given context

            as Eden said, love the feedback!

          2. Eden says:

            Definitely appreciate the feedback! Just trying to understand it fully before replying :)

            I see what you mean, completely. I think you hit the nail on the head when you referred to the challenges of describing music. I think that that challenge often drives us to vary our words, as many adjectives just feel…wrong for music. There’s some sort of uncommunicable quality to music and that moment when your tongue twists around something that you like drives you to look for new words.

            Rest assured, we never use words just for the sake of using complicated words. We use them when we feel we need a new way to describe something. It’s never a goal in its own right, just a tool that sometimes can get out of hand. I agree with you that when it does, writing can become stifled and stuffy. We try to avoid that as much as we can!

            Thanks again for your comment and feedback, we really do appreciate it. That’s why we do this.

        2. Eliza says:

          Please never stop the “thesaurus-heavy writing”! It’s a great help in improving my English skills.

          1. karlo says:

            have no fear, eden is both a thesaurus and a dictionary amongst other things

          2. Eden says:

            At birth, I was dropped into a vat of radioactive words.

          3. Eliza says:

            That’s good to know.

  1. karlo says:

    completely agree on the first two points.

    with point 3, i agree with what you’re saying in that generally staff review genres they like. i also feel though that saying you need to be a fan of the genre in order to review it well is a bit of an oversimplification. so long as you understand the core tenets of the genre itself, and you have an understanding of why some records in that genre are received well and others aren’t, then you should be fine. to give you an example, i wouldnt consider myself to be a fan of metalcore, and in a black and white world i would say i dislike it. but there are a handful of metalcore bands that i do like, and having engaged with the wider metal community i have a reasonable understanding of which bands are well received, which arent, and why – and so i would still consider myself to be in a reasonably good position to review a metalcore album. what i will agree with though is that if there is a genre where you cant appreciate a single band, then steer clear

    surprisingly, i disagree with you on point 4. i think it is possible for somebody to score an album poorly, and that this can be a valid criticism. i completely agree that scoring is the least important aspect of a review, that it is impossible to standardise and scale, and that the review itself is far more important. but if a review is positive throughout, without mentioning a single flaw, then i would expect them to give it a 5/5. in that case, either it has been scored wrong, or the review is missing something, because if there is nothing wrong with it, then why isn’t it perfect? so i think a criticism of scoring can come from two perspectives: one in which you disagree with what the reviewer thinks, in which case we’re dealing with something subjective and simple differences of opinion. alternatively, the score may not accurately reflect the content of the review itself, in which case there could be a problem

    1. Yeah it can sometimes be confusing when an album gets an absolutely glowing review and then gets a 4.5. If there isn’t a small aside that explains where the minor flaws are then the reader is left wondering.

      1. Alexandre Barata says:

        In my opinion a 4.5 album doesn’t have any minor flaws. It’s a all the way perfect album, BUT, for an album to be an hard 5/5 it should not only be perfect, but also an album that after 20 years you’ll see many bands influenced by it, or even trying to copycat it. For me, come immediately to mind 2 perfect 5/5 albuns: Sabbath’s “Paranoid” and Beatles’ “Sgt. Peppers”.
        So in other words, a 4.5 album is a perfect album that lacks the immortality and the substance to change the music world.

    2. VioletDaedalus says:

      Hey man,

      Thanks for taking the time to respond; I always appreciate your in-depth responses to things we post.

      I see where you’re coming from about scoring, but I think matching a review to a score is part of the problem I have with scoring in general. Personally, I’ve found myself writing out exactly how I feel about an album, only to come to the score and give my best guess as to what number sums up what I just wrote. I like to think I score fairly and in-line with my reviews, and I agree with you that some reviewers totally mis-score their reviews or don’t justify their scores. But my point is that what my review says is much more nuanced and clear cut than a number could ever be, along with the fact that someone could genuinely think their review deserves a certain “undeserved” score because of their own perception of how to score things.

      Ultimately, I agree with you. I do think that can be an ok criticism of a review, especially if they trash an album and score it highly or vice-versa. But doing so doesn’t engage with the text of the review, which is the ultimate theme of all four of my examples. “Your score doesn’t match your review” is a pretty unsubstantial argument to make, whereas “I disagree with what you wrote because…” is, to me, the basis of the best, fairest comments I’ve received on my reviews.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. :)

      -Scott

      1. karlo says:

        yeah i agree with that, and also think that down the track a separate post exclusively looking at scoring would be worthwhile and interesting

  2. Eliza says:

    Dumb comments can be anywhere on the Internet. Don’t pay much attention to them, because that’s exactly what the people who made them want. I like reading reviews to find out what somebody else’s opinion is on something. If they had the exact same opinion as me all the time, what would be the point?

  3. Gaia says:

    Perhaps we should make a list of the review criticism we’d prefer to see?

    – Your writing voice is homogeneous, at best sounding like The Guardian’s comment section.
    – Cliches should remain in the wheelhouse of poor lyricists and teenage poets.
    – The ‘don’t seem a fan of’ paragraph is utter padding, where you qualify every little thing. Normally we state something when we actually have something to follow.
    – And, A, But, Firstly, And, A, But, Firstly, And, A, But, Firstly.