There are many ways of building hype to your album release: interviews, trailers, artwork teases, social media games. Singles. Lots and lots of singles; some bands release as much as five or six before the album even hits. Take a look at Vektor for example. They released no less than five. Now, was it effective? Depends on who you ask. Some listeners found the ever increasing riffs train to be enticingly indicative of the next album, hinting at a magnificence that would only reveal itself with full release. Some others found it to rob a lot of the magic from the first listens, essentially making the album familiar before they ever pressed play on the full thing. There’s no real way to know which party outweights the other (or if that title belongs to a third, largely unphased by either option group) and so, labels and bands must guess, more or less, which approach is right for them.
However, some cases practically scream the methodology an album release should use. One of those cases is the cult classic, a band that takes underground as part of their identity and relies on a niche, limited group for their support. Thus, their momentum is based on educated obscurity, on people “in the know” and on ear to mouth methods of communicating. Need an example? How about Ion Dissonance? They’re a prime example in how to create a cult status (we’re of course not saying that this was planned on their end; just that they’re a good example of how these things happens. Any active voice in the following lines should be taken as a stylistic choice). First, you circulate a widely praised demo to labels, magazines and other trend setters. If it runs out of print, the better. Based on the hype created from that, go on tour with some of the biggest “You probably haven’t heard this band” names out there: The Dillinger Escape Plan, Every Time I Die and The Black Dahlia Murder (remember, this is 2002-2003) for example.
Then, create a career of great albums with long release intervals between them coupled with line up changes, stylistic changes and other drama that sends fans constantly speculating about your demise, intentions and status. After a few years like this, and several releases to your name (with different styles and approaches, remember), simply disappear. This is what Ion Dissonance did in 2010, after releasing Cursed. Now, here comes the tricky part: it’s time to plan your return. Many cult bands mess this part up. They either go on reunion tours, extensively hype a new album or just release it immediately, essentially making sure that either many of their fans won’t know of their return or be jaded by their constant teasing. Instead, here’s what you do: release a single from out of nowhere. It can have some demo before it to get the juices flowing, like in this case, but it needs to be mostly unannounced. This will have two effects: one, you’ll galvanize the hardcore fans that make up most of your audience and, two, you’ll introduce an inescapable aura of mystique around your upcoming release.
Take a look at “Treading On Thin Ice” from the above mentioned Ion Dissonance. Is this the best fucking track I’ve ever heard in my life? Probably not. I mean, it’s pretty damn good, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t deserve the close to twenty repeats that I’ve given it since it was posted. It doesn’t deserve the immediate email I sent out to my contacts, reading (I’m paraphrasing): “Holy shit, give me this album right now or I swear to god I will hunt you down like rabbits, I AM THE HAWK”. But that’s everything that it received, and more. Not only me but my close circle of, self-admittedly, “in the know” metal friends have been sharing this track and talking about like it’s the Second Coming. And, in the narrative which we constructed above, that’s exactly what it is, a beloved, powerful figure suddenly erupting into the world to bring back the message we had so missed.
Of course, the track itself also contributes to this power. It’s a compact, chaotic and aggressive piece of music that showcases an interesting return to form for Ion Dissonance. It is perhaps more reminiscent of their earlier, more complex works, something that should please plenty of fans. The guitars are thick and chunky but also have a wild, uncontained feeling to them which blends perfectly with the aggression of the vocals. All these elements are swept under the wings of the unannounced delivery and immediately amplified; those vocals for example hit you from nowhere, as you rush to pressing play on a track you’ve been waiting so long or. Their power, as well as the power of the rest of the music, is supercharged by the stealthy nature of the unannounced release.
So, am I saying that all bands should comport themselves in this fashion when releasing new music? Absolutely not. But those bands that cultivate a dedicated fanbase who live off of obscurity and the rigors of following small bands, should absolutely consider this “Plan A”. The unrestrained ripple-effect an unannounced, out of the blue single has on a dedicated fan is second to none; it will do most of your PR job for you, behind the scenes and on the stage of the “community”. Hey, I’m writing this article right now, aren’t I? I probably wouldn’t be if this single had been preceded by press releases, teasers and trailers. I’m writing it because, last night, Ion Dissonance dropped a bombshell on me and my close community and I need to get the hype out of my system.
Oh god, it didn’t work I’m still so hyped.