It’s time for some real talk: Heavy Blog occupies a very specific niche within the online metal community, whatever that even means. Among the bigger websites out there, and we won’t name names but you know who we’re talking about, we tend towards a more exploratory approach. That is, we are less concerned with “he said, she said” and more about the damn music; listening to it, writing about it, getting it to you. The modern age is filled with an immense amount of information and music is, after all, information. And so, our dedicated staff sift through the dust and ashes of mediocrity to bring you, our faithful readers, the nuggets of verve, originality, power and, in short, damn good music. In the process, and this is inevitable, a horrible, disfigured, atrocious thing called “an opinion” forms. We all have them and we all strut them. It’s a basic part of human nature.
However, we here at Heavy Blog strive for something more, as much as that can be achieved. We adhere strictly to impersonal nouns in our reviews and attempt to think “what will other people hear here?” when we sit down to reviw albums. We screen our staff accordingly, making sure we bring on people who can take that step out of themselves before we hand them the blackened quill. Now for the shocker: a main part of achieving that semi-objectivity (for full objectivity doesn’t really exist) is intellectual analysis. Yes, that great Killer of Fun, the Internet Metal Nerd’s go to card, the dreadful consideration of things from an intellectual view point. Now, let’s make something clear: this doesn’t make us smarter, better or more correct than any single person with an opinion. Opinions are absolutely fine; as we like to say “it’s OK to like thing”. However, if the conversation stays on that level, that all opinions are completely equal, then there the conversation ends. There is no dialogue, no progress to be made from that point. All there is this bland, shapeless agreement that everything is just fine, return to your townships and await further instructions.
And that’s not what we want. What we want is to dive deep into the music we love. What we want is to break it apart, to understand where its strength comes from and where its weakness lies. We want, nay need, to compare it to itself, to contradict and argue. And the only way to do that and expect some sort of result is via analysis. By breaking something to its parts, whether they are musical, lyrical or otherwise, allows us to peer behind that surface layer of opinion and towards something more objective. However, the journey into the depth of the music is not enough; articulation is necessary in order to truly crystallize conclusions. This is an important point: when we communicate our ideas, we’re not just displaying them as completed projects. That very communication is the final and crucial step in formalizing them, structuring them and understanding them.
So, the online community becomes a powerful tool in which to develop your ideas. Never before have we had the ability to expose so many people so quickly to our ideas. We can use that platform to further connect to the things we love and make no mistake, we love them deeply. No one spends hours of his time, without pay, analyzing, picking apart and breaking open something which he doesn’t love.
However, whenever there’s criticism, there’s push-back. Pretty much every piece of music out there will have its fans. And people who are emotionally (or otherwise) invested in something, sometimes get defensive when it is criticized. Now, to be fair, not all criticism is equal. Someone could say “that song sucks ass”, and that’s just bad criticism. It does not stand on any argument, any analysis, or any critical thought. It’s just vitriolic and is an oversimplification. To top all of that, it’s also rather subjective. One man’s treasure is another man’s trash, and unless you quantify why the piece in question “sucks ass”, then your opinion is of little worth. That type of “criticism” could very easily lead to an emotional response from the people invested into the music, because it’s not meaningful criticism, it’s just an insult.
This is why we need analysis. With analysis, we can deconstruct works, compare them to their peers and discover what makes them click (or not click). “That song is poorly produced, has juvenile lyrics and uses a tired chord progression” – now that would be more meaningful criticism. First of all, it breaks the song down into components, gives a frame of reference for them, and presents those components to the listener. And none of those criticism are necessarily negatives – sometimes poor production is appropriate (black metal), sometimes juvenile lyrics are appropriate (angsty music to throw down to) and sometimes tired chord progressions are appropriate (music designed to be memorable and accessible) – they’re just pointing out facts. If a listener doesn’t mind those negatives, all the power to them. It’s perfectly plausible to recognize the flaws in what you love and still love it. Not only that, but sometimes you come to love it even more. Now you know why you love it, when to listen to it and in what mindset.
But then we get to the push-back part. Maybe due to being conditioned by bad criticism for years, maybe due to an inherent defensiveness and inability to accept flaws in things they like (everything has flaws! Again, it’s OK to embrace the flaws of things you love, that’s healthy!), some people get very upset when things are criticized. They decry criticism, paint it as unnecessary cynicism. The main flag that’s raised in the opposition of criticism is “fun”. What a sad fact; that fun is seen as the opposite of getting to the bottom of things, that thinking about the things you love is somehow tired, old or stale. In the face of the astute criticism, in contrary to the well thought out analysis, people often say: “Why can’t you have any fun? Why do you have to leech all joy and happiness out of anything by analyzing it?”.
To that, there is not much you can say. There’s no real disagreement to be had here, since the very discussion you are part of is now non-legitimate, deprived of the very basis on which conversation stands. Instead, the push-back would do just that: push you back, away, into separate directions. You love what you love and I love what I love and that’s that. The proponents of fun would have us split off into groups, each one listening to whatever makes their head bob or body groove. And you know what? They’re winning. As time goes on, there are more and more genres, more classifications, and the boundaries between them often seem harsh and aggressive.
Classifications are great, don’t get us wrong. But they’re tools and should be discarded when they’ve outgrown their usefulness. Instead of clinging to them (“why the fuck are you reviewing a hardcore album, you poser?”) we should use them as new ways to think about other genres, about influences and about music. You know what, this piece is getting long and although it’s not our intention to close it off with some bombastic, summarizing paragraph, let us get to the point: stop using “fun” as a means to silence criticism. Instead, learn to love the things you love strongly enough so that you can love them with their flaws. Revel in discussion, live in constant analysis.
Or don’t. But we intend to. That’s what this blog has always been about, a place to tear apart the music we love and the music we don’t love. To meet differing opinions on touchy subjects and to grow from the conflict and disagreement. We like for you to join us, so please: when we say you should sound off in the comments of a post or a review, it’s not because of SEO or “engagement numbers”. It’s because we love discussion and the more people that are having it, the better. Being an Internet Metal Nerd is good, in moderation. Let’s be nerds together. Let’s pick apart the things we love, so we can love them even more.
-EK & NT