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Internet, the musical Monsanto - 96%

Napero, April 2nd, 2012

A.R.G., nowadays know as the backronym for Ancient Rotten Graveguards, but originally standing for Aku Raaska Group, was one of the bands in the first wave of Finnish thrash metal in the latter half of the 80s. Their origin in the northern parts of Finland was nothing unusual, and thrash, with the exception of Airdash, and the grand masters of Finnish thrash, Stone, were mostly from rural areas far from Helsinki, the nation's capital. A.R.G., N.N.S., Sacred Crucifix, Charged... the main body of Finnish 80s thrash was all over the country, but taking into account the geographical distribution of the people in the country, the North led and the South followed.

A.R.G.'s brand of thrash is quite aggressive and violent. In the greater view of the fields of thrash, their output is definitely more in the German vein of things than in the US-styled Bay Area way of doing things or the New York thrash scene. The music is angry, almost approaching death metal in its grumpy attitude, and as far from melodic as thrash ever got. Yup, this stuff is not for fans of easy-listening brands of thrash, and has some qualities almost approaching the South American gritty and dirty styles in it. It was on par with the most aggressive German bands of the time, but with an original "reindeer metal" take on things. Nothing really sounded like A.R.G. for a long time, and even if they never made it even on Stone's modest level in the bigger scenes, they certainly left their imprint on the minds of a generation of thrash fans in Finland.

The riffing is complimented by a very bass-heavy production, drumming that sounds a bit musty, and grunted vocals. It's dirty thrash. And that's pretty much it, there's not much else to say... but it still sounds like itself.

Entrance was only available as ancient vinyls until early 2012, and the re-release on CD is already among the most welcome Finnish cultural heroics during the year 2012. The re-release contains five extra tracks from two different singles, and those are welcome as well. But the main course here is an 11-track full-length album that has been missed by many for two full decades. And wouldn't you know, the band itself is again active! Whoooo! Back to the Stone Age, people! The Finnish 80s thrash scene, with its own idiosyncrocies, is active again, with just a handful of bands still officially split up and buried. And it does have a spirit of its own; A.R.G. is recognizable, and still shares that something with its peers that makes it sound like 80s Finnish thrash.

But to take a longer detour once again... Why is such a creative originality so damn rare nowadays? Why do bands of the allegedly vibrant scenes simply turn out to be copies of each other? Why does every single metalcore and deathcore band sound the same, with similar sentence fragment names, logos probably created with a software called "Deathcore Logo Generator v2.7", and an image that never has anything original in it, save an unique belt colour and an accessory purse held by the drummer that's completely gay in a completely new way? Why do the "hip" scenes seem so sterile and xeroxed to the outside world? As most of us know, there's an enormous difference between "metalcore" and "crossover", despite the fact that both are essentially approximately 60/40 mixtures of metal and hardcore. And the difference is striking, and not only due to the qualitative gap that separates the beer-stained thrashiness of the late 80s crossover from the whiny and pseudo-angry teenage angst of the 21st century: there's also the fact that crossover bands do not all sound like cloned dorks with similar production, the same riffs and the same plastic breakdowns. No, it's trivial to tell M.O.D., S.O.D. and D.R.I. apart, but try doing the same for Repossess the Turd, Breaking After the Wind, and Her Umblical Knot; see how well you'll do. It's all the same, it's all synthetic.

We are about to dive into the cesspool of lengthy ex post facto analysis, so if you have something more worthwhile to do, say, the dishes, walking the dog or the tortoise, watching grass grow, or perhaps a a long overdue session of picking your nose, and you don't feel like reading a geezers ramblings, go ahead and do your chores instead. But there is something wrong in the world of metal, and music in general, today, and here's a hypothesis that takes us to the exciting world of patented genetics... thrilled? Didn't think so.

In the world of agriculture, the most evil corporation ever tries not to be noticed by the layman. Monsanto. The huge corporation is specialized in providing infamously genetically modified seeds of various crops, herbicides and other more or less useful items to farmers, but they still seem to always have something wicked about them; they could have been modified to turn infertile after the first crops, forcing the farmer to buy new seed every year; the use and secondary effects of growth hormones are being brushed under the carpet, or the company might even make legal attacks against dairy and beef producers who advertise the fact that they do not use growth hormones; the company's employees might simply claim that someone, somewhere, is using their genes in farming, and the corporation might sue a single farmer, using its enormous legal muscle to crush individuals for nothing but fun. Yup, it's a company run by a board consisting of Dr Evil, Mr Gru, the preseved head of Hitler in a can, and possibly S.P.E.C.T.R.E.. Google it, and fear for your future.

Now, it could easily be claimed, with plenty of truth in the claim, that GM foods are a way to feed the world, increase profits, survive, and whatever. And that it has nothing to do with music. And it indeed has nothing to do with music, we are aiming at an analogy here. Patience.

One of Monsanto's really crappy sides is the fact that they do not give a shit about the original ancient genetics of such common staple foods as, say, wheat. Nope, their GM wheat is being planted everywhere with recless abandon, and being more resistant to a lot of things, especially Monsanto-produced herbicides, they tend to fare quite a bit better than the older varieties. And the funny thing about wheat is that it simply releases its pollen to the winds. In enormous quantities. And that pollen can remain airborne for a long time, reaching all corners of the world, thus contaminating even the non-GM wheat everywhere. And Monsanto's board, in its meeting room in an extinct genetically modified volcano, engages in the famous Evil Laugh [TM] (c) Monsanto, and plots to sue every farmer in the world for using their precious genes in feeding someone, even if it's the poor farmer's own family. Because it's theirs, no matter if the farmer ever had any way to choose which pollen his crops received from the winds.

Now, in the world of music, there is no Monsanto, or even a corporate equivalent. But there is the Internet. And the Internet does the same things for it's chosen musical genetics, releasing the abominations and occasional gems to the winds, and contaminating everything. Everything. Of course, the Internet itself never sues anyone, but the damage it does is equal to the destruction of the original regional varieties of basic crops, because it infects 90% of the bands in the world with something, and that something is NEVER original. And there's the real reason why the old days were better...

The world is a global community now, and the Internet has brought a lot of good things to all of us: stupid people have been herded to the Facebook and won't disturb the lives of the better folks, there are several places to get CDs cheaply and plenty of stuff to browse when one feels lazy, online emulations of 80s computer games, and the fact that bands can get their music heard without much effort. There are the meaningless, mediocre things, of course: Facebook, Kony 2012 and other online petitions, cats that want to eat junk food with broken grammar, and the fact that bands can get their music heard without much effort. And there are the utterly rotten aspects of the Internet: Facebook, megatons of extremely idiotic memes, databases with hundreds of thousands of .gifs of people hurting their nuts, and the fact that bands can get their music heard without much effort. And herein lies a big part of the problem.

Back in the 80s and early 90s, in the days when Entrance was being made, there were regional scenes. In thrash, there was the Bay Area thrash scene, with it's less than serious attitude, the New York scene with its endearing hardcore influence and crossover spirit, and the German thrash scene that embodied the old maxim "German sense of humour is not a laughing matter" in its angry seriousness. And there were local scenes; Finland was one of those, and it's easy to see that while the basic thrash ideology and music were not too far from the bigger juggernauts of the real world, there was a fully developed but lamentably short-lived scene of our own here. Stone, Airdash, Prestige, National Napalm Syndicate, A.R.G., you name it. They had something in common, just like the NY thrash scene had something of its own in the music, public image, and attitude.

The old days, to many, are characterized by the mysterious, legendary days of tape trading. That was the main method of getting demos out in those times, and the only feasible way to spread the message before the first dial-ups with the mythical IP access appeared, unless the band had enough name or knew someone powerful enough to get air time two times in a year in one of the metal shows on the radio. But the essence of the tape trading circles was not, in hindsight, the trading itself, or the difficulty of getting those precious tapes that had been dubbed with one of those clumsy two-cassette boomboxes seventeen times, until the music was barely audible, and the cover art xeroxed to a grey blot; yes, that is probably a part of the nostalgic memories of a lot of people who lived through those times, just like real photocopied fanzines and hand-made metal kutte vests were. But the reason why those times were so fertile was connected to the basic problems of tape trading itself: music, on demo level, never reached very many people, and the local scenes were shaped by the networks of those traders, perhaps with certain zines and other people worth mentioning functioning as hubs and nexuses in those circles. And those tapes and zines were the valuable seeds that were sown without any danger of harmful cross-pollination from contaminated sources.

That didn't create a vibrant scene in itself; it created isolation. The bands in the different regions had trouble hearing the products of the other areas until the bands were signed and a coveted vinyl of one of them appeared in record stores. As a consequence, the regions that had little tape flow between them, such as accross the Atlantic, formed into individual entities, and shaped their own identities and styles. Compare it to genetics: the island population, with no gene flow from the mainland or the other islands, will drift away from the original species, and eventually turn into a new kind of beast. That happened to thrash and other scenes, too. The isolated scenes were not clones of each other, and each one of them developed the common origins into something of their own.

Enter Monsanto. Or the Internet, as it is in this case. With Napster, everything was suddenly available, and it was available very quickly after being released. And it has never gone the other way since. Bands put their demos on MySpace, people upload everything in their precious collections to some online box with LED blinkenlights on it, and suddenly everything is available to everybody immediately. The wind carries the pollen, the DNA, and the genes written in it everywhere simultaneously, and some sort of vaguely Monsanto-like entity somewhere decides what metalcore should sound like; 1000 bands start copying the first tentative steps taken by one of the bands who came up with the idea, put their works online, and maybe some record company even signs a few of those bands, and forces them onto festival rosters to boost MP3 sales. And suddenly, overnight, the whole scene is saturated, flooded with mediocrity, and the water turns red when the bands copying each other and the two original ideas fight for some perceived fame. While there might be innovation somewhere in there, it gets drowned in a sea of drooling lame-minded copy-catting, and everybody suffers. It's the Internet's fault, in other words. Damn you, Monsanto, and your RoundUp [TM] resistant genetics!

It's not this simple in the real world, of course, but the point is that in the absence of isolation, there can never again be anything truly local, and we are enjoying the mediocre fruits of a global musical village now. Yes, the houses are made with metal finishes, and there's a steel skeleton inside them, but it's still a part of the same village, just a darker corner. Back in the day, the villages were on different islands, separated by seas, and the local tribes had to come up with their own rituals and formulas. And that was fertile. But now we all enjoy the opportunities and ease of the Internet, and not counting a few token attempts to emulate the old times and the DYI punk scene, there's little left of what used to be the natural surroundings that drove the tree to sprout new branches every now and then, here and there.

And it definitely is not all bad. It's of course quite nice to be able to dig out the good ol' Reign of Terror by Wild Dogs from the depths of YouTube whenever one feels like returning to the past, and to hear what a friend's vinyl player blasted 24 years ago. But it's not the same, and has led to a few bad things: there's the unavoidable deluge of mediocrity, of course. But compared to the times a quarter of a century ago, there's also the more sinister and mostly unintentional "fast food" culture in music and especially metal: things get downloaded, listened to once or twice, and the value of a lot of things gets missed in the process. MP3 "collections" with 50000 items in them are the trophies of 14-year-olds, and people download stuff faster than they can listen to it. It leads to depreciation of the value of music, and it turns from something with a meaning into something like a crappy snack.

Someone might think that the late middle ages were better. But it's not that easy to judge. The Metal Archives themselves are a product of the same opportunities, and maybe the new technological marvels sometimes help people produce something of worth that would not have been born in the pre-internet days. But it's obvious that with the exception of local gigs and the societies of people that arrange them, there will never again be true, original, isolated and fertile local scenes that differentiate from each other over time. The genes are in the wind, and the pollen will find its way to every village, and they all will play the same tunes, or at least share the same ideas, until everything tastes the same.

Yup, Entrance is a sample of the Finnish scene from the late 80s. It's from the darkest end of the spectrum, and a damn fine piece of thrash with a few emerging death metal stylings. It's also something the global retro-thrash movement will no doubt gobble up and copy to an extent next week.

Let us toast the pure-bred species! The last ones went extinct a while ago!