I first started covering the resurgence of the cassette tape early last year with a review of Blut Der Nacht’s demo and a mammoth piece on the various wares of the infamous Crepusculo Negro and Rhinocervs labels. I instantly fell back in love with the format that had enchanted me in my younger years; I was once the proud owner of a big brown Fisher Price tape recorder which I would use to listen to music, interview family members and record skits with friends, eventually graduating to a boom box when I got older. Some of the first metal music I ever owned was on cassette (specifically a single of Metallica’s “One,” aka the song that kick-started this over two decade long love affair with all things heavy). Granted, the ultra-corrosive black metal of a band like Blut Der Nacht was pretty far removed from jamming Michael Jackson’s Thriller on the Fisher Price in my youth, but I was still reminded of how my initial interest in music was sparked by cassettes.
Yes, part of my appreciation of cassettes was rooted in pure nostalgia for simpler times, but beyond that, the format seemed perfectly suited to underground black metal; a deliberately lo-fi, archaic vessel for deliberately lo-fi, archaic music. Most important of all, the music I was hearing, especially the aforementioned Rhinocervs and Crepusculo Negro stuff, was some of the most unique and innovative black metal I’d heard in the last ten years.
Some might argue that bands like Volahn, Arizmenda and Odz Manouk deserved better than being released on cassette, but the aesthetic brought a mystique to the genre that had been missing since the nineties. Many scoffed, but to me it all made sense. Black metal began as a clandestine affair, and a new generation of bands releasing music on cassette seemed like legitimate attempt to take the genre back underground, a great big flaming fuck you to the modern metal scene that had watered down, sanitized and popularized it.
But then something happened. Cassettes actually caught on. Big metal labels, smelling a trend and an opportunity to cash in on nostalgia, started putting releases on tape; big league bands like Pig Destroyer, Old Man Gloom and Witchcraft have all had their latest albums released on everyone’s favorite dead format. Even Carcass’ highly touted comeback album Surgical Steel will be released on cassette.
I understand that it’s a record label’s job to sniff out trends and attempt to capitalize on them, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’ve missed the point of the cassette revival completely. I’m sure Relapse and Nuclear Blast will move a few tapes, but what they don’t seem to understand is that releasing music on cassette makes sense for nasty-ass black metal and noise bands who probably recorded their shit in some dimly lit basement or ramshackle garage. The deliberately abrasive, poorly-recorded nature of the music works with a format that’s going to give you equally poor sound quality. It doesn’t make any fucking sense whatsoever to release an album that was recorded/mixed/mastered in a state-of-the-art professional studio and cost thousands of dollars to make on an inferior format. When I listen to Carcass, I don’t want to hear fucking tape hiss, I want to hear every minute detail of Bill Steer’s riffs and Colin Richardson and Andy Sneap’s accompanying sonic architecture.
As if big labels attempting to cash in by suckering people into buying janky versions of their marquee releases wasn’t enough, many smaller labels and bands have started to believe the tape revival hype. Hey, I realize that they’re kind of a hot item right now, but I’ll be goddamned if I’m going to pay $9.00+ for your band’s album on cassette, especially when I can get brand new CDs for $5.00 – $8.00… what the fuck are you, high? And no, I don’t give a fuck if it comes in a wooden box you bought at Hobby Lobby and burned the band’s logo into, or if it comes in a gunny sack with some twigs and animal bones ‘n’ shit you found in your parents’ backyard. This is heavy metal, not the fucking craft fair your mom and grandma go to every year (I’m sure they’d be happy to do some macrame or whittle some wood with you or something, if you still really need to scratch that itch). The initial appeal of cassettes was that they were a cheap, no-frills way to pick up on new and interesting music, and unfortunately that’s starting to get lost in an avalanche of greed, pretentiousness and gimmickry.
As with anything in metal, there are a handful of labels and bands that are still getting it right (check my past reviews for specifics), but more and more the cassette craze is largely starting to feel like a bad joke. I’m curious to know reader opinions on this. Has the the tape revival already gone to shit? Are you willing to shell out ten bucks or more for one? Do you care if the tape comes in a burlap bag with a vial of the band’s blood and some dried up leaves? Let ‘er rip in the comments.