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One rant for the road - 60%

UCTYKAH, December 24th, 2011

Being a reviewer is an ungrateful business in a way. You'd better be damn clear you are doing it for the love of music and some free CD's because this is as far as all of us will most likely ever get to in this particular walk of life. One of the writers jokingly (or could it be half-jokingly?) quipped recently that reviewers get the worst groupies of all (I guess it is something like totally spent, used and abused crack whores a few days away from their expiration date), after bands and their immediate circle of friends are done with them. I don't mean to be Mr. Cloudy Day, but since when being a reviewer guarantees an access to ANY kind of warm body that still has the ability to move and breed, well, sort of? The only person who made a name for himself reviewing metal online (as opposed to people who stuck with traditional printed word - Metalion, for example) is the certain S.R. Prozak (the man has his own Wikipedia entry, for Satan's sake) and his [anus.com], and not only because he's been at it since the mid-1990's and, thus, became some sort of a pioneer, but because he also wrote extensively on culture, philosophy and so on. As good of a writer and as knowledgeable as he is, and I do not mean to take anything away from his talent, perhaps it was also a tad easier for him back then because the scene was not quite as saturated as it is now.

I still envy people who are able to effortlessly review, say, an average death metal release and casually and precisely point out a lineage of bands the subject is influenced by; an exact concoction of something like MORBID ANGEL and CANNIBAL CORPSE, with a bit of IMMOLATION and early DEICIDE thrown in. Unfortunately, as our own staff members also lamented during discussions, most of the time this is exactly what they are relegated to doing. Those lucky few reviewers who manage to retain the passion and enthusiasm through thick and thin apply the tried and true theory, one that clearly states that if an album happens to be unoriginal but well done, then we'll take it and we'll love it. And by the way, the fact that metal fans are historically resistant to change does carry a considerably hefty bag of salt. Let's face it: the majority of metal musicians are not the most versatile bunch when it comes down to genre hopping. Often, way too often, when a band decides to expand its horizons and move on to new pastures, they end up either amidst the same mainstream metal was meant to oppose in the first place, or they pull off something utterly ridiculous and unpalatable. As such, "sticking with the devil that we know (and love)" approach sounds logical, even if for the lack of a better alternative. The only danger in this day and age, after quite a few years of non-stop metal (and as time goes by, I am afraid it will only become more and more apparent) is that such reviewers' impulsive drive will render their own rants more interesting than the actual subjects of their reviews. Things around us so often operate in cycles, so when the next generation will come about, will we be hearing exactly the same type of wordplay?

The nature of a band like PENTSIGN (a random choice really) does illustrate the dilemmas at hand. They are not bad, quite solid really, but not great or outstanding in any way, shape of form. They are utterly unoriginal, but nonetheless quite listenable (initially anyway, I wouldn't dare talk about longevity here). They are not poseurs and do afford a spark of credibility. They are inveterate followers, yes, but inveterate followers with convictions, yet that does not really infuse their music with any more palatability on purely listening level, thus, the longevity issue. Their storming black/death (with black metal variable being the predominating one, say 70/30 ratio) mixture is derived from [insert your favorite bands here], and without even hearing it, you can fairly easily decide a priori that sticking with your, for instance, BELPHEGOR albums would be just as good and well, and you'd be right. You could point out some differences, sure, but you'd still be missing the point.

It would be a bit awkward to blatantly blame the band, though. [And I do sincerely apologize to them for making them and their record a guinea pig.] They are one of many. If they get the blame, so should dozens (hundreds!) of others. However, writing about someone like that inevitably comes down to problems illustrated above. It is up to a reviewer to make it interesting before moving on to the next promo. If he is indeed up to it, then his creative impulse takes hold and, well, he comes up with some pro and con arguments and different ways of putting words together (it's the process of writing, after all). I am in this from head to toe, as much as the next guy, and I am not even good at writing those kinds of reviews anyway. But it's back to the cycle still, because the majority of those albums still receive mostly positive ratings, and even if we divide them up into all sorts of sub-categories, we end up with shitload of stuff and hordes of fans with ridiculously immense collections that they do not necessarily often listen to. The sheer numbers alone make it physically impossible to get through the stuff, much less come back to them. And, of course the meaning of the ratings themselves plunges as well.

The positive thing I see about the band such as PENTSIGN, along with other unnamed dozens (hundreds!), is their grass-roots nature, being the glue of the global metal scene, and, for the intents and purposes of this overview, of any given national scene. (I am speaking of those actually dedicated to metal, of course.) PENTSIGN might be a pretty faceless band, not to mention lagging in versatility, but, once again, solid. The quality of musicianship and production puts them on par with any Western group. To have a band like this within the Russian scene ten years ago would probably be unheard of. So they (the Russians) are catching up, which is already good. I am not speaking of some real (anti) spiritual message or a new aesthetic here, but in terms of just building a scene, it would require solid if monolithic bricks, or better yet - fibers, many solid fibers. And this is the impression that I got from many (not all) bands on Assault Records' roster. The label does not necessarily pick (perhaps they just have hard time finding even such groups, or most likely they are more concerned with the old school aesthetic) the most original bands but reliable ones in an old-school sense. And in so doing, they do contribute a great deal to the development of the Russian black metal scene. Not that erecting a scene infrastructure is what black metal was meant to be about, but that is a topic for another discussion.

How to develop a scene is a question of method, and attempting to turn quantity into quality may not be the worst bet. A Darwinian approach is very fitting here, which also goes oh-so-well with black metal aesthetic anyhow. Sprouting out the most obvious poseurs and really crappy bands while nurturing reliable foot soldiers would do at least some good for any scene. Perhaps it will even become less of a scene, but that might be a very long shot. As a part of such ongoing process, PENTSIGN do serve their admittedly minor but nevertheless important purpose. They are a working class, proletarian band to the more aristocratic elite of someone like, for example, STIELAS STORHETT. And to quote Frank Sinatra (the evil anathema that he was), much like love and marriage, nowadays (arguably) "you can't have one without the other".

(Originally published in Diabolical Conquest web-zine)