The YouTube video above is of Suffocation guitarist Guy Marchais buying his band’s recently released seventh album, Pinnacle of Bedlam, at his local FYE. I myself attempted to do the same thing last night, except FYE didn’t have it and even though Best Buy‘s website said they had it in stock, it was nowhere to be found when I got there, and none of the employees wanted to help me (I saw the clerk I approached for assistance say “fuck” under his breath as I walked towards him; your customer service technique leaves a lot to be desired there, Poindexter); I probably won’t be going back there for anything, ever (sadly these are the only two options for buying metal in Des Moines, the one independent record store we have doesn’t know what the fuck heavy metal is). On top of this, Nuclear Blast for whatever reason isn’t down to supply THKD with promos in spite of my best efforts to work with them (the Fleshgod Apocalypse interview HERE and a Lock Up interview that was never returned). So, in spite of this being what I consider to be a pretty major new metal release that should be available everywhere, it looks like I’ll be Amazon-ing it up to get my Suffo-fix.
Roughly 5 months ago, Brandon Duncan (whom you may know from The Sequence of Prime) contacted me with an idea; let’s start a new online metal zine. Typically I prefer to work alone, but Brandon’s enthusiasm is contagious and I’m proud to call him my friend, so there was absolutely no way I could refuse. Brandon gathered an ace design team while I hand-picked some of my favorite writers from internet metal land with the express purpose of creating something new and unique, to drag the old school metal zine into the future, come Hell or high water with an emphasis on good old-fashioned writing and design.
After 5 months of hard work, I’m proud to present to all of you the fruits of our labors in the form of Backlit #0; fifteen pages of mind-melting music, art and literature.
Backlit / 0
Now available at backlitzine.com
Cover Art by Dan Harding
Raping Angels in America #1 / Joshua Haun
Angry Old Men / Jordan Campbell
Helpless Child / Dan Obstkrieg
Fucking The Future / Joshua Haun
Libations in the Labyrinth Vol. 1 / Dan Obstkrieg
Words That Wound / Dan Obstkrieg
Doomsday Device / Joshua Haun
Interview With Jester King Brewery / The Dragon of M87
Interview With Ashencult / Jordan Campbell
Art & Fiction:
Succubus in the Attic / Nikki Guerlain
Dan Harding: The Fine Art of Horror / Brandon Duncan
The Dragon of M87
I hope that you will all enjoy reading the first issue of Backlit as much as we enjoyed crafting it. This is only the beginning!
A few weeks ago, I was sitting on my couch watching the Bad Religion episode of Guitar Center Sessions. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the show, it consists of the band playing their “hits” in an intimate setting interspersed with interview segments. As I watched Greg Graffin, Brett Gurewitz and Co. rip through “Generator” and “21st Century Digital Boy,” all I could think is “goddamn they look old.” The same thing occurred to me when I watched Animal Underworld, Henry Rollins’ new show on Nat Geo (which is fucking awesome, by the way). Sure, Rollins looks like he could still kick the living shit out of just about any mere mortal, but his hair is mostly grey and his face is showing the kinds of craggy lines that only come with advancing age. He definitely doesn’t look the same as when I started going apeshit over Rollins Band videos on MTV in junior high, or even when I saw him speak at my college.
When I was in college, it seemed like I had all the time in the world to just sit and listen to music. I would lay on the futon in my microscopic dorm room, blaring a wide array of metal, rock, hip hop, punk and classic country for seemingly hours on end. Sure, I was going to classes and working multiple jobs, but there was always at least a day or two where I could stay up until the wee hours listening, or find a long break between classes to relax with an album or two. I’d stare at the artwork, read the lyrics, the liner notes and sometimes even the thank yous while the music washed over me out of big-ass speakers, or pumped directly into my ears via headphones (until I accidentally crushed them in a drunken incident that needn’t be recounted here). I could lose myself totally in the worlds my favorite artists created, whether it was the mean streets and dope beats of Ice Cube’s The Predator or the reverbed-to-Hell midnight treble-scapes of Darkthrone’s Under a Funeral Moon.
I have no interest in reviewing Lou Reed and Metallica’s Lulu. As far as I’m concerned, the definitive takes on it have already been written by Chuck Klosterman and Alee Karim, so there’s no need for me to try and analyze it further or attempt to offer any clever insight. However, I do have a few things I’d like to get off my chest now that this turd record has been officially committed to plastic and unleashed upon the masses.
Thanks to the internet, anyone can be a metal journalist. But just because they can, it doesn’t mean they should. Just as the metal scene is clogged with a deluge of ineptitude in the band department (thanks for fucking nothing, MySpace), so too is it clogged with so-called journalists and reviewers who should be barred from coming within 100 feet of a keyboard… or have their hands cut off, whichever is easier.
The most galling problem is an overall lack of standards. In the world of metal, the basic fundamentals of journalism, such as copy editing, proofreading and fact checking are completely optional. Certain “prominent” (I use the term loosely) writers crank out reviews like a fucking assembly line cranking out widgets, but without anything even remotely resembling quality control. Since when does being able to crank out 15 reviews a week that are rife with spelling errors, incorrect punctuation, awkward sentence structure and factual errors equal talent? I can’t believe how many websites allow reviews to be posted with incorrect information and poor writing. Where the hell are the editors? If you can’t even be bothered to correctly determine what state the band you’re reviewing hails from, properly spell the album title or break up a run-on sentence, you shouldn’t be writing, period.
Second is an over-reliance on profanity and “shock journalism”. Yes, this is extreme music that we’re writing about and to an extent I agree that the writing should be extreme to match. But too many “fucks” and “shits” doesn’t make your writing extreme or edgy, it makes you sound like an ignoramus. Using too much profanity in a review is like a band using too many blast beats. At first it is brutal, but after a while it completely loses any sort of impact. The same goes for relying on shock value in your descriptions of the music. Saying things like “the guitars sound like nuns being tied up and ass-raped in a cum-encrusted sex dungeon” is not only absurd, it also shows you have nothing smart or insightful to say about the album and therefore shouldn’t bother writing about it. Again, a little of this sort of writing is okay, but a little goes a very, very long way. It should be used sparingly.
Lastly is the belief among writers/reviewers that every single sentence they write is pure gold. When I was talking with Invisible Oranges mainman Cosmo Lee over e-mail, he gave me a great piece of advice: “If something can be cut, it should be cut.” This is probably the most common issue with the bulk of the metal websites out there. Everyone seems to think that others have nothing better to do than read their 1,000 word dissertation on the merits of a single album. Sorry fellas, but anything more than 500 words is pushing it. At about 400 words is probably where the average reader starts to lose interest in what you have to say. If you’re writing a column/editorial/feature you’ve got a little more leeway, but a review should never be competing with War & Peace in the word count department. Writing long-winded reviews isn’t being “in-depth”, it is being self-indulgent and shows a real lack of interest in serving your readership with thoughtful and concise writing. Cut the shit and get to the point, your readers will thank you for it.
I’m not saying my writing is perfect, in fact far from it. I’m guilty at one time or another of just about every single flaw I’ve brought up here. Hell, some of my early reviews for my college newspaper were downright atrocious, go look them up for yourself. Have a laugh at my expense. I still to this day have trouble with self-editing. I think my interviewing skills leave a lot to be desired. I’m never 100% satisfied with anything I write. But I’m constantly learning from my shortcomings and striving to improve as a writer with each and every piece I publish. I’d rather write five excellent reviews or interviews than fifteen mediocre or subpar ones.
I guess this all boils down to the real issue I have. I see a hell of a lot of love for metal across the internet, but not a whole lot of love for the craft of writing or good, solid journalism. There is a lot to be said for enthusiasm and having your heart in the right place, but you should also have a desire to improve and learn from others. Just because you aren’t getting paid to do something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to be the best there is at what you’re doing.
People who followed me during my Sonic Frontiers days know that I’m not a big fan of negativity, but some things are just starting to rub me the wrong way. Something has to be said. I love metal and I love writing in equal measure, and when I read poorly written reviews or see shit like ex-porn stars with half a brain cell interviewing a legend like Cronos or David Vincent, man it breaks my fucking heart. It shows that the people behind these sites have zero regard for their audience and have no problem with insulting their readers’ intelligence. They should be ashamed of themselves.
It isn’t all bad though, not by a long shot. If you sift through the mire for a while you’ll find some great sites like Invisible Oranges (and I’m not just saying that because I write for them occasionally), Deaf Sparrow, Erebus Magazine, Spinal Tapdance and Metal Inquisition (all of these and others can be found on the links section of this site), just to name a few. Just like sifting through a million crappy bands in order to find the one amazing one that strikes a chord with you, there are a million two-bit blogs and review sites out there on the way to finding the great ones. There is some downright brilliant writing going on out there, you just have to know where to look.