If you have been following us for any length of time, you have likely caught on that we here at Heavy Blog are an opinionated bunch. Yes, we obviously have many many feelings when it comes to all sorts of music-related topics, but unsurprisingly this also carries itself well over into the realms of other forms of art, media, culture, sports, and, yes, politics. Hence how we have wound up with this, The Void Screameth, where on the internet, nobody can hear you scream, but we can at least pound the keyboard until something legible comes out and hope that one or two other people read it!
Things are still an abominable catastrophe in the US. We’re regularly setting new records for Covid infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. Saying it’s bad doesn’t even come close to capturing the absolute failure and abdication of leadership present. Our whiny baby bitch president long ago gave up on trying to do anything to mitigate the virus, and that’s only been doubly so since he lost in historic fashion (7 million votes down and counting). Instead he’s spent every waking moment trying to undertake the dumbest coup attempt ever by repeating the same few lies that the election was “rigged” and stolen from him.
All of this was predictable, and I actually spoke about it at length in a post from a few months ago. Honestly, though, I just don’t have the capacity to go in-depth on these topics, especially when this cancer is going to be removed from the executive branch in 6 weeks. I already have more than enough to worry and complain about when it comes to the next term, but at this very moment, I’m letting myself take it easy relatively. Thus, my entry for this month is not political at all.
In fact, we have four wonderful entries this month, and the closest we get to politics in them is mostly in passing of mentioning the usual nazism in metal bullshit. So consider that our holiday gift to you this month. As always, we welcome all feedback on these rants and raves in the comments or directly in our inbox ([email protected])!
I Love Sports Uniforms and Logos, and It Pisses Me Off That Some Teams Suck At This
I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a “sports guy,” at least maybe not in the same way some people do. I don’t watch every sport or any game on TV, but I’m fiercely loyal to a few teams and sports. My personal loves are college football (specifically the SEC, GO DAWGS) and hockey (GO AVS) with the occasional Atlanta Braves game thrown in along with any championship games. However, much of my sports focus these days is devoted to the National Hockey League.
I’m super focused on hockey right now because of the release of the new “Reverse Retro” uniforms. You can see them all here, and a lot of them are particularly eye-catching. But one thing always upsets me when these kinds of things get released: lazy design. Our capitalist market society requires teams to sell merch like hats and jerseys, and teams always hype the releases up. All the anticipation really gets to me, but I’ve learned how to keep my expectations low so I don’t lose my shit when something doesn’t meet my crazy high standards. Still, it’s pretty patently obvious when somebody phones it in, and it really pisses me off.
Before I get into the bullshit, I’ll offer that my standards for good and bad design are definitely not the norm, and I have no idea what I’m talking about when I say something like “good design.” With this group of new jerseys, I’m particularly partial to the Avalanche’s Quebec throwback (obvy); “my” southern team’s (Carolina Hurricanes) continued veneration of the Hartford Whalers (excellent use of negative space); the LA Kings’ combo references to the Gretzky era and the Lakers; and the ludicrously hideous/beautiful Anaheim Ducks’ “Wild Wing” sweater and Arizona’s “peyote coyote” jersey. Several others don’t do anything crazy but still look classy, simple, and perfect. I’ll get into those later.
Here’s my problem: several teams fucking phoned this shit the fuck in. Nothing makes me mad like professional laziness. Take pride in your work, people. At least act like you give a shit. Professional sports franchises and leagues have millions, if not billions, of dollars locked up in marketing and specifically merchandise. There are painstaking processes for creative design, production, approvals, and the myriad other things that go into massive changes like a new uniform. For Christ’s sake, millions of words were focused on the new Seattle Kraken’s colors and nickname for nearly 2 years. And with all of that bureaucracy behind it, it still looks like several teams might as well have taken a dump on a t-shirt and called it Picasso.
So back to the specific point: the New York Islanders. For reference, here is their current jersey.
This stupid waste of everyone’s time was what they released on Monday morning.
Did you notice even a single difference? Because 3 people had to tell me there was a darker shade of blue on one of them before I noticed it. We knew these jerseys were coming since the end of the hub playoffs, so you had at least 2 months to come up with something good. Hell, I know the Isles want to distance themselves from the Fish Sticks jersey, but the design is funky enough for a fun jersey! Just reverse the color scheme, throw the original Islanders logo on it, and you just won the jersey war. But they didn’t do that. They put absolutely no creativity behind what they were doing, and I find that offensive.
Another perfect example: the Dallas Stars. (Writer’s note: I hate the Dallas Stars almost as much as I hate the Florida Gators. Almost.) Now Dallas actually did try to come up with something cool with the 90s throwback jersey, which I think is one of the best jerseys in the league ever. But then somebody hit Undo on all of the colors. The reverse retro jersey for Dallas looks like they colored it in with chalk and wore it in the shower. It looks all washed out and stupid. And furthermore, stains! One wrong drop of ketchup on it and you may as well throw it in the trash.
“But, Pete!” you might be saying, “some of these other uniforms aren’t that exciting. What’s wrong with them?” Nothing. They’re perfectly fine! Florida’s 90s references aren’t setting the world on fire, but it’s not ugly and don’t fix what ain’t broke. Montreal (I think) has never had a blue uniform at all, so a simple reverse of their classic sweater is perfect. Most people would hate seeing red and green together, but it’s a great throwback reference for New Jersey where the retro look is still pretty popular. On top of that, the simplicity of jerseys from Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, New York Rangers, and several others is just what the doctor ordered.
Then there are the others that are dumb but not offensively so. Minnesota’s jersey looks like the Game Boy color palette and should’ve referenced the North Stars more. Winnipeg decided to simplify their color palette from checks notes light blue, dark blue and white to multiple shades of grey. HOW EXCITING (heavy sarcasm)! And Detroit has the audacity to charge $200 for a jersey that looks more like a white long sleeve t-shirt.
On the whole, this rollout was brilliant. The majority of these jerseys are awesome, and I can’t wait to see them on the ice. Others of them, not so much. They look half-assed at best, and that’s what makes me mad. We all slack off at work occasionally, can’t fault anybody for that. But few people would phone in an entire work project. It’s unprofessional and disrespectful to others. If you’re gonna build this up, at least follow through.
Why Can’t the Metal Community Agree That Child Prography Is Bad?
That’s truly not meant to be an incendiary, clickbait-worthy headline. I’m genuinely curious how, in the year 20-fucking-20, we’re seeing actual debates in the metal community about whether or not to support bands with ties to child abuse.
Ok, time for a quick refresher. WAY back in *checks calendar* 2018, veteran black metal band Inquisition were dropped by Season of Mist for undisclosed reasons. Shortly after the announcement, Metalsucks published an article detailing how frontman Jason “Dagon” Weirbach plead guilty to child pornography-related charges a decade earlier. Yikes.
This revelation surfaced a few years after a more unsurprising series of accusations against the band alleging they were (at best) Nazi sympathizers. Following a post from Shamelessnavelgazing, Decibel ran an interview with Dagon (re–uploaded in 2015), giving him a platform to defend himself and make tired claims like, “black metal has always been about being controversial and being strong and being, for some people, offensive.”
Metalsucks then ran their own analysis (then a follow-up piece) which further dug into evidence of the band’s Nazi ties. This includes a photo of the band standing in front of a Nazi flag and details about Dagon’s side project 88MM, which references Nazi symbolism a bit too much for someone who’s definitely not a Nazi. I mean, maybe it’s a coincidence he made a song called “14 Showerheads, 1 Gas Tight Door,” which just so happens to be the exact same language found on a gas chamber blueprint at Auschwitz. I guess we’ll never know.
While it would have been nice to see SoM drop Inquisition for their apparent Nazi connections, the metal community’s indifference or embrace of this ideology has been pervasive for years, especially when it comes to black metal. But even though one of the worst ideologies created by humanity isn’t reason to send a band packing, at least there’s consensus in the metal community that we should draw the line at child pornography. Right?
Nope! Don’t be ridiculous! This whole controversy fired back up again in late November when Agonia Records announced the surprise release of Inquisition’s latest album, Black Mass for a Mass Grave. (Sidenote: Seeing “mass grave” after typing about the band’s Nazi ties made me shudder). Speaking of surprises, Agonia was seemingly unprepared for the backlash on Facebook and Twitter. Thankfully, they handled the whole situation really well:
Pro tip: if your response to anything related to child abuse is, “the only person that got hurt in [the] process is [the accused],” then you should probably recalibrate your moral compass.
Oh, and remember that statement from SoM?
Yeah, about that:
I guess “[we] are no longer working with Inquisition” meant “we’re going to wait until this blows over and quietly resume business as usual.” They didn’t even really stop working with the band in the last two years, considering SoM distributed Inquisition’s last album Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith (2016) and the band has only released a couple of live albums until now.
So…what to take away from all this? This is obviously a bad look for Agonia and SoM, but unfortunately, there is an uncomfortably large group of people in the metal community who are indifferent to or defensive of the argument anyone did something wrong in this situation. If you look at the comments on Agonia’s original post, there are plenty of people praising the band and eager to buy the album. Then there are the typical excuses of “personal growth” and whatnot, as if there’s a time limit on how long we can be upset about an adult committing a sex crime. All of this was exacerbated by the fact that Bandcamp is seemingly refusing to complete orders for the new album, which is such a GOAT move.
In general, I think people framing these situations as “cancelling” someone is woefully misleading, just like the comments of “fascism” and “censorship.” If the government rounded up and destroyed all existing physical copies of Inquisition’s music, that would be a great deal closer to fascism than what’s actually happening. Tell me, how exactly is it fascism for people to publicly claim their distaste for Agonia’s decision and Dagon’s actions, and for a private company to decide against carrying Inquisition’s music? It amazes me how the offenders in these situations somehow deserve total sympathy and defense for their “rights,” but somehow the offended is discouraged from exercising their rights to provide a dissenting opinion. I guess the first amendment doesn’t work both ways.
Just translate this into real life. If you found out a friend of yours was charged with possession and/or distribution of child pornography, would you still want to keep that relationship? Even if down the line you decide they’ve worked on themselves and showed true remorse for their actions, would you blame other people in your friend group for not wanting to give them a second chance?
This situation actually happened to me growing up. I was involved in a group organization in our town, and one of the kids’ parents was arrested for possession and distribution of child pornography. Unsurprisingly, other parents with school age children weren’t exactly thrilled at the prospect of welcoming him back into the fold even after he was released from prison. Was it unfortunate for the kid and the rest of his family? Of course. But can you blame the parents in my town for not wanting to associate with someone who engaged in the exploitation of children? I’d hope not.
Why would you hold a musician you’ve never met to a different standard, especially when he plays music in a genre with literally thousands of bands? Seriously, is it worth turning an eye to Nazism and child porn just to enjoy some riffs?
All of this proves that we’re a long way from squashing problematic ideologies in the metal community. Bands, fans, and labels alike will either turn a blind eye or actively defend even the most heinous, seemingly indefensible actions. The main question I have is: why? I enjoyed Inquisition’s music like many black metal fans before these accusations arose, but I also have countless other bands from the genre I can listen to instead, including many that approach the genre in a relatively similar way. And if we still can’t draw the line at Nazism, can we please (please) agree that child porn is a bridge too far? If not, then I’ll just continue feeling worse about identifying as a metalhead.
The Undoing, or the limits of elite white POV storytelling
The combination of Covid and my wife and I working from home full-time has had the predictable effect of us watching more TV. I don’t generally keep up with most of the buzzworthy, premium cable shows, but after seeing so much rapturous attention given to HBO’s recent miniseries The Undoing, we decided to give it a try. I haven’t watched Big Little Lies, which the series has been often compared to, and after watching through this one I don’t have much more interest in seeing it than I did prior.
Note: minor spoilers for the show are ahead
The Undoing was probably one of the most frustrating viewing experiences I’ve had in a long time, in large part because fundamentally the series’s main hook – a murder mystery in which a woman (Nicole Kidman) must decide whether her pediatric oncologist husband (Hugh Grant) is capable of the murder he’s been accused of – is extremely alluring. Also alluring visually is the wealthy, upper east side NYC lifestyle that they, their family, and their friends all live in. The Undoing is a cinematic feast of lush penthouse apartments and incredible dresses and coats that Kidman rotates out of constantly throughout the series. It all goes down very easily, and as every bit of new information comes to light and every twist unfolds, it’s easy to find yourself trapped inside its narrative.
The problem though is that beyond the glitzy exterior, the show’s core is fundamentally as hollow as Grace and Jonathan’s personalities. There is simply nothing there to create a compelling connection to the story’s main characters. It’s obvious from the start that Hugh Grant’s Jonathan Sachs is a slimeball who is hiding a ton of secrets, just as it’s obvious that Kidman’s Grace Fraser is a highly-knowledgeable psychologist with a gigantic blind spot to herself, her family, and her status in society. From there it’s just a matter of setting the characters into motion and letting them predictably spin out of control.
More troubling, however, is the show’s fundamental decision to place its narrative point of view on these characters and have them in opposition to the immigrant, working-class family who they’ve become entangled with. Elena Alves, a mother of a child who attends the same elite private school that Grace’s child does, is the murder victim in the story. The first episode spends a lot of time establishing Elena as an exotic, sexual, and mysterious presence as she displays a strange attachment and attention to Grace, who barely knows her. After her death the only additional info we get about Elena comes through Jonathan, who is revealed to have had a long-standing affair with her, and Elena’s widower Fernando, who is offered even less perspective and agency in the story.
There are many accusations of mental illness and “craziness” thrown at both Elena and Fernando, as both are shown through testimony and flashbacks to have received treatment for mental health issues, as well as being prone to outbursts of extreme anger. But none of that is explored beyond hearsay from the main characters. Thus I finished the show feeling utterly unsatisfied that I just watched 6 hours centered around these boilerplate rich white psychopaths when what I really wanted was to learn the stories and motivations behind Elena, Fernando, and their son Miguel. There is so much more to mine there in a story about a decidedly middle class family living in NYC being forced to adapt to the upper class lifestyles of the families who send their children to the same private school, especially one who appears to be relatively open about struggling with mental health issues. They deserved so much more than being simple plot devices, foils, and red herrings.
My entire life has been seeing stories from the perspectives of people like Grace and Jonathan. As someone who grew up in an upper-middle class white family with upper-middle class to upper class relatives in NYC, I am intimately familiar with the signposts of these characters. Despite people’s continual fascination with people like them for stories, the fact is that by-and-large they’re not actually all that interesting! The kind of internal and external conflicts they deal with are generally alleviated to an extent by their privilege and wealth, not made more compelling or complex by it.
Ultimately I suspect that the show’s creator, David E Kelley, went in this direction in large part because it was the direction they felt comfortable focusing on and writing about. I don’t know if this particular show would have been any better with a perspective shift from Grace/Jonathan to Elena/Fernando as I don’t have a ton of faith in white elites doing justice to stories about people not like them (see, or honestly don’t see, Hillbilly Elegy as a case in point). But that doesn’t mean I still don’t wish for a version of The Undoing or an Undoing-like story centered around characters like them produced and written by people who could do them justice.
Against the Album Sampler
OK, try and picture this: you have an album coming up. You’ve recorded it, more or less, and it’s ready to be pushed out to people. Your goal: get as many people to listen to your music as possible, so they know what you’re about before the album drops. So, you need a tool, you want some snippet from your album that tells people what it’s about. Most people would just choose the tried and true single, and with good reason; a well selected single can do wonders in getting people (“normal” listeners and journalists both) excited about the release. Instead of telling people about your sound, they can just listen for themselves and make up their own mind, without investing the time needed in listening to a full album.
But, you see, we live in 2020, otherwise known as The Accelerating, Out of Control, Whirlwind Death Spiral of Capitalism and time, or rather attention, is a rare resource that most people don’t have. And so, the single is perceived to have become too much work, apparently, and more and more bands are turning towards the “album sampler”. Look, I don’t have research or solid numbers to support that statement but I do have an inbox piling up with more and more of these things. And that’s bad. Which is why I’m screaming into the void about it.
What’s bad about an album sampler? Well, all of it! The whole thing. At its basis, an album sampler is made up of snippets from multiple songs on the album, haphazardly cobbled together to provide some sort of teaser of how the album might sound. Just like a single but even shorter and more condensed. The thing is though, even if it’s not haphazardly done and there’s thought behind it, an album sampler inherently fucks up one of the most important aspects of music: flow. For crying out loud, music is not just snippets of melody strung together. Harmony is not just about this note and then that note together and songs aren’t just this riff plus that riff one after each other. Here’s the other thing: there are many, many people who can write a cool lick, riff, vocal line, or drum roll. There are many people who can write great musical ideas but there aren’t a lot of people who can write great music. The real talent is in writing songs, albums, the real talent is in writing progressions. That’s what I want to see, not “oh this guitar line is cool” but rather “man, this guitar line grows in really interesting ways”.
When you boil it down, there’s no way to conserve the cohesion, structure, and flow of the album into a sampler. The end result is a mess of ideas, parts of the album’s sound that are somehow supposed to grab your attention? That’s the most ironic part, for me; in the race to capture the fractured and beleaguered attention span of listeners, a frenetic and restless device is implemented. This creates even more confusion and ends up being just a forgettable tidbit that gets lost in the wider stream of content that is constantly assaulting us.
Instead, I would like to suggest that we don’t change a winning horse mid-race and revisit the art of the single. Yes, the art. Just choosing a track from the album is not good enough and we could write a whole post just on which track to choose when promoting your album (and we just might yet, you can’t stop us). But, for now, try to stop and ask yourself: when I’m sending this email to promote my album, what is my goal here? Is it to confuse the person listening, leaving them with maybe one or two cool ideas that never got developed? Or do you want them to get a solid idea of what you’re about and how you weave pieces of music together? It’s definitely the latter and, for that, the album sampler is useless. Stop using it!