Heavy Issues: Which Formative Band/Album Has Not Stood The Test Of Time?

We here at Heavy Blog like to ponder the big questions: Who are we? Why are we here? What were we thinking? You know, the big stuff. In order to

5 years ago

We here at Heavy Blog like to ponder the big questions: Who are we? Why are we here? What were we thinking? You know, the big stuff. In order to better address such pressing matters, we bring you Heavy Issues: a semi-regular column by which we plan to get to the bottom of things. Having taken a pleasant stroll down memory lane last round, we now turn our examination to the darker side of years gone by and as:

Which formative band/album has not stood the test of time for you?

Read our responses below and weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments.

Josh: System of a Down – Toxicity (2001)

I’m not saying Toxicity is a bad album.In fact, I think it’s quite a good album; a very good album even. Boy boy does it still sound like I’m sixteen every time I listen to it. Of all the classic metal acts of the early 2000s, System of a Down sound like they’re the most stuck in their era when I listen to them now. It’s odd to think that a band once considered so forward-thinking could sound so dated but, even with all the elements that make up System of a Down’s music, timelessness simply isn’t one of them.

Outside of Mesmerise (2005) – which has always been my favourite of theirs, and the only one I still go back to with any regularity – none of System of a Down’s albums have held up particularly well in my opinion, but Toxicity in particular sounds severely of its time. What was then revered as the true realization of System of a Down’s sound now feels distinctly middle-ground. The band’s sound feels far more developed and compositionally complete on Mesmerize, and Toxicity also lacks the rawness of the self-titled debut (1998) or the genuine weirdness of Steal this Album (2002). Once, Toxicity may have represented a balance between all these elements but, in retrospect, it fails to completely excel in any area, and largely falls flat as a result.

Compositions once lauded for their quirkiness now just sound sloppy; what once sounded unhinged now sounds simply goofy; and once-heralded political insights reveal themselves to consist far more of word association than revelation. Some of the standout tracks, like “Aerials” and “Psycho”, or the more direct and aggressive, like “Deer Dance” and “X” still hold up. But most of it just sounds inane to me now. “Chop Suey!” in particular, sounds ridiculous. I remember catching the video for that song up late on tv one night, when it first came out, and being genuinely terrified by the images of the band members contorting through each other’s bodies while singing about angels committing suicide and whatnot (I was ten, ok!). However, now the track’s been reduced to little more than a meme of yelling “grab a brush, put on a little make up” anytime anyone says the words “wake up”.

A lot of System of a Down’s lasting appeal appears to be based on nostalgia. The recent announcement that the band would be headlining festivals next year, despite having not released an album in almost fifteen years  (and showing no real intent to do so) while the headlining days of other more influential and ongoing bands of their era, such as Korn, Deftones, and Marilyn Manson, are long behind them, is a testament to their lasting appeal. It’s strange to think that such an odd band became the breakout mainstream act of their generation. Yet, while System of a Down are definitely weird, there isn’t anything particularly unique about their sound. They’re essentially Faith No More for the twenty-first century. Yet, while Faith no More’s influence can still be felt at large, whatever spin System of a Dawn put on it doesn’t seem to have had much of a lasting impact. Even such of-their-time albums as Disturbed‘s the Sickness (2000) sound more current, simply because their sound has continued and informed future generations. Derivative, subpar contemporaries like Psychostic and Maximum the Hormone are still out there doing their thing but, otherwise, System of a Down largely seem to have largely been a flash in the pan. The quartet’s “out-of-placeness” was once a major part of their appeal; now they feel more like relics, or an odd curiosity at best.

Further Considerations: Even as someone who still enjoys a large amount of nu metal, I can’t deny that a lot of it has aged terribly. Once-ridiculed acts like Limp Bizkit have somehow only grown finer with age, and even such obviously “of their time” efforts as Slipknot‘s self-titled (1999) still maintain their inherent appeal. Nevertheless, I struggle with the idea that there was ever a time – even as an early teen – when I considered albums like The Sickness, Coal Chamber‘s Chamber Music (1999), or The Union Underground‘s self-titled debut (2000) to be the pinnacle of sonic excellence.

Scott: AFI – The Art of Drowning (2000)

This prompt was challenging for me, mainly because of the parameters I put on myself. I could have easily answered this with any number of “-core” albums from my middle and high school years (deathcore, melodic metalcore, newer post-hardcore – anything revolving around breakdowns, mainly). But that seemed like a cop out since I rarely listen to these genres anymore, thus casting a blanket of disapproval on the whole scene. Instead, I racked my brain for a band from a genre I still enjoy that hasn’t maintained its reputation with me. The one name that kept resurfacing as a possibility? AFI.

Honestly, it was difficult to pick a specific album since the band’s career is so varied. They debuted with juvenile skate punk anthems like “I Wanna Get a Mohawk (But Mom Won’t Let Me Get One)” on Answer That and Stay Fashionable (1995) before beginning a gradual shift toward melodramatic alt-rock tinged with goth rock and post-punk. They peaked in the mid-2000s with Sing the Sorrow (2003) and Decemberunderground (2006), the latter of which is my personal favorite and an album I still consider genuinely well-written and executed. To me, it felt like they emerged as the band they’d always wanted to be, fully shedding their punk roots and embracing long held influences from The Cure.

Unfortunately, my thoughts on the rest of the band’s discography have soured over the years. I haven’t spent much time with their three most recent albums since they mostly contain benign Joy Division worship with a strong alt-rock slant. Not terrible, but largely forgettable. On the other hand, the band’s skate punk and melodic hardcore period produced some of my favorite albums in high school. More importantly, they helped me transition to enjoying hardcore punk staples like Black Flag, Minor Threat, and The Misfits (whom AFI also revered). I loved how AFI were able to pair the punk energy I loved with a darker approach to melody, which felt more “mature” than, say, Blink-182. I loved pop-punk and ska as well, but AFI just seemed like a more “serious” band that I would continue listening to past my teen years.

Well, that didn’t exactly pan out. My recent nostalgia-inspired listens to their back catalog have not produced the same positive feelings as their music did back in the day. While I could have picked any of their earlier work, I chose The Art of Drowning (2000) because it best encapsulates what I now dislike about their brand of punk. For starters, let’s start with just that – the “punk.” The chord progressions on AFI’s earlier records are extremely generic and unmemorable, exacerbated by the sheer volume of tracks. Nearly every chord progression feels like it was written last minute in the studio before hitting record.

This issue is a bit more refined on The Art of Drowning, but it still remains, and worse yet, it’s now joined by the band’s indecisiveness about their sound. Their preceding albums, Shut Your Mouth and Open Your Eyes (1997) and Black Sails in the Sunset (1999), hinted towards this dilemma, but Art of Drowning is the clearest moment of the band grappling with what they’ve always been (Cali punks) with what they’ve always wanted to be (The Cure 2.0). Instead of choosing a side, AFI produced an album that can’t settle on an identity. It’s a collection of songs that are either too aggressive or awkwardly melodic.

And on top of it all is Davey Havok, whose vocals never bothered me as much as they do now. Granted, I never thought he was an incredible singer or “screamer” (shouter?) at any point in the band’s career. But on The Art of Drowning, he often tries to do a marriage of both, which creates the same sonic dissonance as the music itself. And frankly, his punk yelling is just plain obnoxious. It becomes a chore to listen to as the album progresses.

I could have never predicted I’d feel this way about what was once my favorite band. No joke, I once based an art project in high school on all their album art up through Decemberunderground. But while I still enjoy punk and hardcore almost over a decade later, AFI’s music mostly just sounds uninteresting at best and grating at worst.

Further Considerations: As I mentioned above, there are a ton of “-core” releases I could have gone with for this column. The album I gave the strongest consideration to was Someday Came Suddenly (2008) by Attack Attack!, as well as their 2011 self-titled album. I couldn’t get enough of it when it first came out, and in hindsight, I can see what I enjoyed so much about it. There was certainly an appeal to the band’s fun, synth-heavy take on mid-2000s breakdown-core. But holy shit does it sound like one big gawdy gimmick now.

Eden: Iron Maiden – Iron Maiden (1980)

Look, I love Iron Maiden. I’ve written about my love for them before on the blog. They’re one of the bands that have been playing in my ears the longest, from around 2003 when I first fell in love with them and until this very day (I still spin Brave New World (2000) and assorted greatest hits on  a regular basis). Not only that, but Iron Maiden’s self titled debut is the definition of a classic, trend-setting, genre-defining album. There’s a reason Metallica covered “Remember Tomorrow” (still the best song on the album). The album helped usher in a whole generation of musicians from genres as diverse as power metal, thrash metal, progressive metal, you name it.

However, as if often the case with “proto” albums, it’s also aged quite poorly. Or is it me that’s aged? Have I forgotten how to enjoy the more straightforward, heavy rock infused sound of Iron Maiden’s debut? Possibly. Don’t get me wrong, some parts of it are still great. The aforementioned “Remember Tomorrow” still moves me every time; the solos on “Sanctuary” are amazing; “Running Free” is still one of Iron Maiden’s most important track; Steve Harris’s loudness on this album still thrills me. But then there’s “Charlotte the Harlot”. And the album’s opening lyrics (“walking through the city / feeling oh so pretty”). And the last track.

When put together, Iron Maiden’s debut release just feels incredibly immature and under-developed these days. This is before the more fleshed out lyrics were introduced (depending on which canon you want to read from, possibly by Bruce Dickinson). Before the aural assault of the guitars was fully developed. The bass, even though I like it’s presence in the mix, sometimes feels super disjointed from the music. To tie things off, the whole album suffers from the disconnect between the more “serious” tracks and the more “wild” ones – a thematic refusal to embrace either end of the spectrum that makes the album feel off balance.

All in all, there are still tracks worth saving from this album but there’s no real reason to listen to it today when the rest of Maiden’s discography exists. This might seem like an obvious thing to say; I’m certainly not claiming that this entry is “brave” or original. However, it took me a long while to face these facts and let go of what was one of the first metal albums I ever heard and loved. And that’s good; growth is good. It doesn’t mean this album is bad just that it’s bad for modern day Eden and, perhaps, listeners at large.

Pete – Pantera

Most folks are talking about a particular album and its influence on some genre, but I’d like to take a 10,000 foot view of Pantera at large. Sure, a lot of records from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s didn’t age well simply because they didn’t have the recording technology or a “worldly” sound due to other limitations, but what we need to think about more is imagery and philosophies. A lot of musical ideas or song lyrics prove to be problematic in the world of 2019, but I would argue that the most problematic is Pantera.

Before digging into this deeper, I want to impress upon you all that I still think Pantera’s music is incredible. They more or less started a new subgenre of metal after years of developing their own unique voice. Dimebag Darrell’s guitar work is possibly the most original style in modern guitar. The records present a wholly new sound in metal, and every year I seem to “rediscover” the band and remember that their work was necessary for metal to be in the place it is today.

However, much of what the band represents is incredibly problematic. Some of their tracks evoke images of sexism, like violence against women or objectification generally speaking. But I think the worst of it is their embracing of racist imagery and ideas. Part of Pantera’s “charm” was the fact that they presented themselves as a group of fun-loving rednecks. As a southerner myself, I can certainly appreciate that and know a lot of folks who would also describe themselves as such. However, that also means they try to pave over white supremacist ideas by claiming ignorance or embracing their “heritage”.

The least of these is the band’s affinity for the Confederate flag. Google “Pantera confederate flag” and look at all the merch. T-shirts, hats, patches, you name it. If it’s Pantera merch, there’s a very good chance it will feature a Confederate flag. Dimebag even had multiple Dean and Washburn guitars with Confederate graphics on them. As a southerner and a white person, I have a huge problem with that, as do a lot of people in 2019. That flag is a symbol of white supremacy and embraces a bygone era where non-white people were viewed as lesser-thans at best and property at worst. It represents a period of the United States that should be remembered the same way that Germans remember the Nazis. The Confederate flag represents a personal shame to my people and a cross to bear. It should not be celebrated at all.

The worst of these things is Phil Anselmo. Anselmo has done a lot to try to normalize white supremacy over the years, and he makes the same kinds of statements when presented with his behavior. In 1993, he tried to mock a shirt that said “Stop Black on Black Crime” as racist because it didn’t account for crime against white people. When MTV’s Kurt Loder presented him with the idea that what he said was racist, Anselmo claimed that he didn’t know what the shirt was about (Writer’s note – so why talk about it?). In 2016, Anselmo threw up a Nazi salute and shouted “white power” during a Dimebag Darrell tribute concert. He later apologized by saying that he was humiliated by his own actions. While that was a seemingly sincere apology, he has since refused to comment on the action or further apologize for his behavior. While I would certainly agree that a sincere apology and proof of learning from one’s mistakes should allow someone to move on with their life, the defiance in the refusals is proof to me that there’s something else there Anselmo doesn’t want to publicly acknowledge. These two incidents would be on their own if it weren’t for the numerous anecdotes of Anselmo’s troubling inner thoughts.

I completely anticipate the negative feedback I’m going to get from this. I’m awaiting the bad faith arguments from the armchair culture warriors, like such chestnuts as “It’s heritage, not hate,” “I won’t apologize for being white,” and the increasingly classic line of “He’s just saying what everyone else is thinking.” Consider this though: no one’s asking you to apologize for the color of your skin, just that you acknowledge the tragic decisions of your ancestors and vow to build a better world. While the music is and will always be great, it’s 2019 and Pantera desperately needs a fundamental makeover.

. . .

That’s it for us, but we want to know: which formative band/album has not stood the test of time for you? Let us know in the comments, and if you have any questions or topics you’d like the Heavy Blog crew to cover, suggest away and we may use it in a future installment!

Joshua Bulleid

Published 5 years ago