AMA is Heavy Blog’s monthly community Q&A column, where readers ask questions across the gamut, and we are legally required by the universal laws of “AMA” to answer them! These are edited and excerpted transcripts. To see full transcripts and participate in future conversations, join the Heavy Blog Facebook Community Group!
After a couple of months off, we’re back, and our community really brought their A-game with the questions! As is the norm, many questions were at least tangentially-related to the continued pandemic and the painstakingly slow return to anything resembling “normalcy.” There were a bunch of good ones I’m not including here just for the sake of brevity and space. Especially as we near one year strong into our community group being a thing, I feel as strongly as ever that it’s one of the best things we have ever done.
If you’re looking for a great place to share new music, talk with likeminded folks about all sorts of media, or just have a safe place to turn to for sharing things going on in your life, I really cannot recommend it enough. In the meantime, here are some of my favorite questions from our most recent AMA session!
James asks: Every so often a band comes along and does something different; maybe something big that spawns a new sub-genre or perhaps they just have a fresh sound that makes them stand out amongst their peers. What was the most recent band you guys have experienced that achieved something new or put a fresh slant on metal?
Nate Johnson: LICE – Wasteland: What Ails Our People is Clear. This has so much going on and is so hard to describe. Also, Full of Hell. They are hard to pigeonhole. Lastly, Gulch. Hardcore meets indie rock meets post rock?!
Karlo Doroc: In the last couple of years both Northlane and Code Orange have really set the bar for how to seamlessly interweave industrial influences into heavy music. It’s not that they’re original in doing so, but their execution was so flawless that it really stands out for me.
Scott Murphy: Imperial Triumphant is my favorite modern extreme metal band pushing the genre further. Dissonant black metal, skronky tech death, noir jazz, and general weirdness all rolled into one. From last year, Dawnwalker doubled down on their unique blend of folk, prog, black metal, and post-metal, and it’S still one of the most unique and best records I heard last year.
Eden Kupermintz: There’s a few candidates for this: Helfro. Their most recent album as certainly black metal, and very influenced by the second wave, but I haven’t heard this style sound so big and daunting before. Wilderun. I don’t think anything quite sounds like Veil of Imagination. It’s a very specific mix of melodic death metal, progressive death metal and progressive metal in general which just sounds super unique.
Jordan Jerabek: Also seconding Imperial Triumphant. Not only sonically, but visually, too, they really offer the whole package with their aesthetics and art direction. Serpent Column and Pyrrhon are honorable mentions, too. Not metal, but Bartees Strange does genre-spanning/merging in ways that I’ve never heard. Punk, folk, hip hop, indie, soul – sometimes all at once – and that voice? Dude is using cheat codes.
Josh Bulleid: Code Orange have copped a lot of flak—from myself included—for essentially being a ‘90s alt-metal pastiche. The criticism that they’ve just slapped hardcore and industrial together is a valid one. However, when I went looking for antecedents to their sound, when reviewing Underneath last year, I couldn’t really find any other bands that had truly melded those two songs together before them, which leaves me thinking that the reason their sound felt kind of tired in the lead up to their record was less it had been done before so much as all the bands ripping their sound off afterwards (see below).
By the same token, I don’t think Xibalba get nearly enough credit for blending super aggressive hardcore with full-on, genuine funeral doom. The addition of doom elements is very much in vogue right now (see below), but no hardcore band have gone as deep into the genre as Xibalba have. Even The Acacia Strain, whose approach to doom is already quite different, seem to borrow more of the tonalities of the genre than its actual aesthetics.
As far as truly “original” sounds go, I’m struggling to come up with anything really recent. Cattle Decapitation have done some cool things with grind, but nothing you’d call a true departure. Likewise, bands like Cult of Luna, The Armed and letlive. have each gone further with their respective genres without ever really breaking the mould. The new Ruins of Beverast album is very original sounding to me, but I don’t really have the knowledge of experimental black/goth/doom metal to really say so.
Maybe we just too deep in it at the moment to see the proverbial forest for the trees, but I have to go back over ten years, to about 2008–2009 to find something I consider truly original and revolutionary, with bands like Meshuggah, Bring Me the Horizon, Ulcerate and the Norwegian Shining all really setting the tone for the last decade of extreme music. It might sound route, but, while there have been plenty of influential albums in the interim, I think Obzen (2008) is probably the last, definitively game-changing record I can identify, until maybe (begrudgingly) Code Orange’s Forever. I’m sure everyone else will come up with better things that I’m overlooking.
Tommy asks: Hi first time caller long-time listener
1) How has the pandemic changed your listening patterns (if at all)?
2) What genre(s) have you not given enough attention to?
3) Who is the nicest person in metal?
Noyan: 1. yes, a lot of my listening happened during my commute or during any sort of downtime that involves me not working or doing other stuff. There is no such time now
2. I don’t know how to answer this question. The genres I don’t give attention to are usually ones I don’t care to give attention to. There’s a lot of genres out there I just don’t care about!
3. I feel like this question is pretty easily milkshake duckable so I fear to answer it. But Matt Heafy seems like a pretty easy pick.
Nate Johnson: 1. Not a ton for the most part. My job is working on the front line so it’s all in a days work.
2. Hmmm, Hip Hop I guess?
3. Justine from Employed to Serve and Church Road Records.
Karlo Doroc: 1. I’ve gravitated away from abrasive and/or challenging records that require a lot of listens to ‘click’ and towards more immediate and melodic records that don’t require effort.
2. Probably hip hop – I like it, but I don’t look for it
Scott Murphy: 1. Since the start of the pandemic, when I started working from home, the amount of music I’m able to listen to skyrocketed. No random interruptions in the office anymore. I also started listening to a lot more podcasts, for the same reason. A bit of a silver lining to this whole ordeal.
2. I’ve made a concerted effort to listen to more non-Western music, i.e. outside the US, UK, Canada, and Europe. Unfortunately, a lot of my sources for new music are Western-focused, so it’s been a challenge.
3. Dreadnought were awesome when I met them in MA.
Nick Cusworth: 1. Strangely enough my listening has increased a lot since the pandemic due to working from home in my basement office. Due to the nature of the work I do (video editing) I have to go through cycles where sometimes I simply can’t listen to much for a while, but there are plenty of times where I can. And not having to wear headphones and not wasting 2-3 hours in the car (which I spent listening to podcasts) has freed up more time for music.
2. Hmm, tough question…I don’t know if there’s any particular genre I feel that way about. I still do my best to keep an open mind about everything I listen to, but at this point I pretty much know what I like and don’t like, and if I like only pretty specific aspects of a genre (hip-hop in particular) I’m less likely to actively seek it out as opposed to listen to stuff recommended by other folks whose opinion I trust.
3. Honestly, pretty much every person and band I’ve had the privilege to talk to and meet through this site have been some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Bent Knee, Dreadnought, and a ton of people from the American post- scene (Holy Fawn, Circus Trees, Pillars, Ranges, Wander, and so on) are all comprised of genuinely good folks. I’m sure if I interacted with more large and well-established bands my opinion would change some, but really I can’t say enough about the people I’ve gotten to know and claim as peers and friends through Heavy Blog.
Eden Kupermintz: 1. Yeah, I listen to way more music because I work from home. Even when I had headphones in the office, it’s not as acceptable to have them on at all times + it’s kinda weird to listen to super caustic black metal or weird breakcore in an office. Now, I have my headphones on pretty much all day (thank god for the PXC 550 and how comfortable they are) so I’m listening to music all day long and I can listen to whatever genre my heart desires.
2. Jazz. I know there has to be some sub-genre or style that’s for me, and I’ve found a few bands to my liking in the last few years, but I’ve yet to take the time to fully process the style and decode it for my ears.
3. So many to choose from, people in the sub-scenes we hang out in are the nicest people. But I’m probably going to go with Devin Townsend because the gap of how famous he is versus how nice he is is amazing. I got to interview him (but never posted the interview, oops) and he was just so humble and compassionate.
Jordan Jerabek: 1. Fewer listening contexts. I think there’s something to enjoying an album on a bike commute to work or a longer road trip; I really miss those additional experiences.
2. I always say I’m going to listen to more thrash but it rarely happens.
3. Rob Halford’s Instagram makes him seem like a pretty nice guy.
Josh Bulleid: 1. I wrote a bit about this in our last The Void Screameth column but, over the last year or so I’ve found myself gravitating more and more toward pop music and more escapist artists.
2. I’ve also realised that I’ve more or lost interest in grindcore. I used to love that genre but now, even the bigger releases, like the Pig Destroyer EP or the Napalm Death album from last year, I’ll give them a couple of cursory listens, which I’ll enjoy, but I’ll never go back to any of them. Most of my music listening is while I’m working or reading, or just trying to relax, so there’s not really a place in my life for grindcore at the moment, and what I have heard from the genre isn’t really grabbing my interest. The genre also seems kind of stagnant at the moment. I still enjoy it when I hear it, but I haven’t heard a grind album that’s really piqued my interest for a long while now.
3. Eden has a band, and he’s pretty nice (Damn it Josh, I need to maintain my dark, scary façade -EK)
Ian asks: Favorite and least favorite current trends in music?
Noyan: Favorite new trend is more and more avenues for the new generation to get into heavier music (MGK, Jeris Johnson etc). Least favorite trend is tunnel throat vocals on every goddamn deathcore album. They sound so stale and monotone.
Nate Johnson: Favorite: the 2000’s metallic hardcore sound coming back that was championed by labels such as Trustkill and Ferret. Least favorite: Every single indie rock band deciding that we all need 1000 Smashing Pumpkins clones.
Scott Murphy: Favorite: Pretty niche, but I’ve been really interested in the new wave of American primitivism, aka folk/Americana driven by finger-style guitar. Just love that style of playing, and the surrounding music is really beautiful and compelling. Yasmin Williams released one of my favorite albums of the year in this vein, and recently there have been great releases from Ryley Walker and William Tyler. Something I want to dig into more.
Least Favorite: How much ethereal, reverb-heavy blandness has contemporary indie folk/rock. There are a lot of albums I see recommended by the indie blogosphere that just have the same airy, nondescript vocals and “a t m o s p h e r i c” instrumentation (i.e. wicked simple songs covered by effects and, you guess it, reverb for days).
Eden Kupermintz: Favorite: super massive black metal with huge drums and loud bass (Helfro, Ferriterium, Sinistral King). Least favorite: this has been true for years but the whole move of “oh this is our third album so it’s time to not be heavy and make indie-adjacent music while calling ourselves mature”
Josh Bulleid: Thrash metal has been on a real hot-streak these last couple of years, so I’d love for that to continue. As far as trends I don’t like: everyone just ripping off Code Orange was really starting to shit me for a while there, although that seems to have died down somewhat, especially after they threw down the gauntlet with Underneath. Doom seems to be the new thing, which is cool, but I’m very ready for bands to move beyond just throwing a random doom song on the ends of their albums and start actually integrating into their sound.
Brad asks: Have you had funks with music where you just struggle to enjoy anything? If so what did you do to get out of it…
Noyan: Yes, especially with the lockdown and all. I’ve basically gone back and rediscovered older stuff which gives me more of a comfort zone. I find that easier to listen to which opens me up for more listening.
Eden Kupermintz: All of the workflows that I’ve posted in this group in the past are geared towards fighting this so yes, it’s definitely a problem. Like Noyan said, a good tool is to go back to stuff you have an emotional connection to and then using that as a springboard to get back into music. An inbox with hundreds of emails per day screaming at you to listen to new music also helps but is not recommended from a mental health perspective.
Jordan Jerabek: Mixing it up and switching genres is usually enough to keep me on my toes. I just need a change of scenery most of the time, but when that doesn’t work, I dig out an old favorite like Beastie Boys’ Hello Nasty, Oasis’ Definitely Maybe, or Beck’s Odelay – something fun where I know all the words.
Josh Bulleid: I went through a Big Fat Depression™ at the start of 2019 where I really struggled to get into or even enjoy listening to music. Weirdly, I still mostly enjoyed thrash metal, but everything else was leaving me pretty cold. It also coincided with what I believe is a pretty lacklustre year for music—especially heavy music—overall, which probably didn’t help.
What pulled me out of it, actually, was making an impromptu day-trip to the Good Things festival in Brisbane, while my partner was up there for a conference, and just having a really good day by myself, watching all the bands and watching bands like Trivium, Karnivool and Parkway Drive absolutely kill it, which was pretty inspiring. I think I listened to Killing With A Smile every day for about six-months or so after that, which is kind of weird, since they never play anything off it anymore.
Kyle asks: What are some bands that have come out in the last 5-10 years or so that would be played on “rock radio” if you were in charge of curating “rock radio”? I love finding bands that have solid hooks and catchy choruses but still have #riffs. Some examples for me are Chronus or All Hail the Yeti
Eden Kupermintz: Abrams – Modern Ways. Made for radio play basically, it’s really good
Karlo Doroc: Don broco – technology. Absolute bangers
Nick Cusworth: I think a lot of what gets called “progressive stoner” would fit the bill. Stuff like Elder, Anciients, Elden, Lizzard, etc. all have tons of big riffs and hooks that make them more immediate and a songwriting sensibility not too far removed from classic grunge and alt-rock but with more depth and substance behind them.
Swan-core bands (progressive-leaning melodic post-hardcore) like Eidola, Stolas, and the like also would fit the bill for rock radio I think.
Jordan Jerabek: Funny you bring this up because I’ve been indulging in quite a bit of catchy as of late. Netherlands, The Bronx (V is underrated), Dope Body, ‘68, Trillionaire, Lo-Pan, TrYangle, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard
Josh Bulleid: All Hail the Yeti is a great shout! I’d add SixForNine, Zeta, Puppy, Gold Key, Marmozets and Vanisher, and just—generally—more Clutch. Always more Clutch.
Ian asks: Is it possible for any music to truly be objectively good or bad, or is it, and all art, inherently subjective?
Karlo Doroc: I believe in both, to an extent. I believe music can be objectively good or bad, but people’s tastes are subjective – there may be objectively good music i dislike and objectively bad music i like.
As an extreme pair of examples: the ‘music’ a child plays when given an instrument for the first time is objectively bad, but maybe a free jazz listener loves aspects of it; conversely, maybe there is a new record that is widely hailed as a standout of its genre and is considered objectively good, but it’s not a genre i enjoy and i may not personally enjoy listening to it.
fwiw i’d probably consider any album released by a group of people that invested a lot of time becoming competent at their instruments as objectively ‘good enough’ – and how people perceive it is when the subjectivity comes in.
Scott Murphy: I think it’s a tougher question than either side will admit. On the one hand, it’s pretty much impossible to define universal standards of quality with music, or even what music is. The best definition is “a purposeful organization of sound intended to be heard,” but even then you get into things like lowercase music that stretch that definition. So if you’re trying to say “good music must sound like this,” or “this music is objectively bad,” what factual basis do you have to make that argument? BUT, on the other hand, would anyone seriously agree with someone who thought 6ix9ine makes objectively better music than Beethoven? Sure, that’s their opinion, but there are certain agreed cultural principles about composition and quality that would make most people disagree with them. So…honestly, I think it’s a little bit of both?
Nick Cusworth: There’s a lot of music I can recognize has interesting and worthwhile, well-produced, or well-written things going on in it that I also know is just decidedly not for me, especially in pop. I don’t consider most of it “bad,” though I do find plenty of it bland or overhyped.
There is also plenty of music that I can just tell from a writing or production standard is just not at all executed well and completely misses the mark of what it’s trying to achieve. I think that’s the closest I can come to saying anything is “objectively” not good.
Simon Clark: I’ve definitely encountered reviewers who believe that they review objectively. They’re always wrong, and – more often than not – not especially engaging. I tend to think that when people talk about judging music objectively, what they’re really wanting to do is to promote their opinions to facts.
Eden Kupermintz: No, there isn’t, because there’s not a single objective truth out there in life in general. The real is unknowable and god and science are buried in the same grave.
James asks: I have another question! Since the pandemic turned the industry on its head and forced everyone to pursue other ways to engage with fans we’ve seen a lot of bands, labels and festivals going down the route of livestreams, packaged performances and virtual events (Arc’Tan’Gent 2020 is probably my favourite example).
Given the success of these, do you think they’ll become a permanent fixture in live music with a virtual element becoming an accepted part of live gigs? That could take the form of just an accompanying livestream or something more grandiose like the Zoom audience on BBC’s Graham Norton Show on a video wall for the bands to actually interact with. That leads onto my next question; would Heavy Blog ever be interested into getting into this and curating virtual events, perhaps made available as a Patreon perk to help cover time and costs?
Noyan: They should be, but we’ll see if labels continue to allow them. I always think that bands could benefit a lot by putting out a live album like every year, and this is an even lower effort way of achieving that. But seeing how some bands are way overprotective of their live streams (like some bands did one live stream and the VOD expired in 48 hours and they periodically keep re broadcasting it) it will probably be annoyingly handled.
Nick Cusworth: I think I’ve talked about this a bit elsewhere, but I am of the opinion that most of the ways bands have adapted to playing “live” during the pandemic should absolutely stick around after. I think there could be a huge benefit to everyone if a band produced a really high-quality stream of a live show that anyone could pay to see and could act as kind of the “definitive” version of that tour’s show, performed and produced under ideal and controlled conditions. The band could still then take that show on a conventional tour to wherever, but at least then fans who don’t live in places where the band is touring or can’t make the show still have an opportunity to see a high-quality version of the performance.
As for your second question, we’ve thrown around ideas like this for a while now and haven’t really landed on anything that would be super doable for us at that moment, but it’s certainly something we’re still absolutely interested in down the road.
Noyan: I think bands/labels have a “fear” that high quality live recordings would decrease turnout to live shows and that’s the most profitable avenue for them, so they want to reduce that. But I don’t think that’s actually true. If anything, the pandemic has shown that live audio is no replacement for the live experience and it only acts as further advertisement (assuming your band is good). Even bands with live albums where they sound terrible (PTH, ABR) still drive turnout to their shows.
Jordan Jerabek: So much of the allure of live shows for me is the communal, physical experience, I’d hate to see it de-emphasized. I think it’s a cool idea for festivals and other one-off, exclusive performances, though.
Rowan asks: I was curious if the pandemic has changed your relationship with the outdoors for better or worse. One of the silver linings for me in the pandemic was reminding my love of bicycling on and off roads.
Nick Cusworth: I love this question. I would say it mostly hasn’t but only because I already placed a pretty good premium on certain outdoor activities when all this started. However, last spring was the second planting season I’ve had since living in my current home, and I really went fully gung-ho on gardening and completely fell in love with it. It just feels remarkably good to be outside, dig up stuff, plant things, and physically transform the earth around you. It’s one of the few things I have where I know the labor I put into something will directly lead to results, and I can measure and observe those results pretty much daily.
I grew up loving winter because the cold doesn’t bother me much and I ski, but this winter in particular has been rough for me. We’ve gotten a fair amount of snow, which has actually been a nice change because the previous few winters have been duds, but I haven’t even tried to go skiing or do anything outside because I’m terrified of covid stuff. So it’s been really frustrating in that sense. At this point I just kind of want it to be over and for spring to come so I can go out and garden again safely.
Eden Kupermintz: Very good question. On one hand, it definitely made me appreciate the outdoors more, especially urban nature. I’ve gone on more hikes to green places in my city than I ever have before. And riding my bike has become more than “just” a way for me to stay in shape but also as a means of alleviating the pressures of lockdown.
but on the other hand, I’m also more concerned about being around other people, even if the outdoors is very safe. Not all people wear masks, even outside the US, so it can be very disconcerting, even if the chances for actual infection are low.
Trent Bos: My partner and I have spent more time in urban green spaces and local conservation areas than ever before, and it’s made me appreciate the value of those spaces even more. I think part of it is the lack of alternative things to do (going to the movies, the gym, shopping, dining in restaurants, going to shows etc.) but even when these things become available again I think we’ll likely still seek out these spaces more than we did previously. As a token-Canadian this winter I’ve had to seek out frozen ponds to skate and play hockey on as all recreational indoor-hockey leagues have been suspended.
One side-effect however, is that these conservation areas have arguably become over-populated by everyone else having the same ideas and fleeing there for something to do – potentially putting a burden on the wildlife in these areas and increasing pollution.
Simon Clark: Given how limited our movements are, I am basically confined to Tottenham, North London. Which isn’t exactly renowned for its rolling green hills and lush meadows.
So all I can really do is walk around the streets to get a bit of daily exercise. Over the course of the year, I’ve built a pretty good mental map of roughly where all the bombs dropped around here during the war, thanks to all the 1950s buildings nestled into Victorian terraces.
Jordan Jerabek: Totes. Last year, my wife and I visited 20 or so state parks for the first time. There’s a lot of beauty and interesting history out there – usually within a couple hours’ drive.