album review

Tankard has always been the bridesmaid of German thrash. Part of the vanguard during Germany’s answer to America’s Big 4, Tankard has seen thirty years go by without a single interruption in productivity or scandalous episode. Yet, they’ve never been escorted down the aisle or asked for their hand in marriage; the tenets of super-popularity elude them.

Stoner metal has always lived in the underground, which is not a surprise, given that fame and acclaim don't mesh with the typical mindset the music carries. The drawn-out compositions, sludgy productions, and emphasis on everything other than making catchy music sentenced stoner metal to live in the shadows, a place not unfamiliar to the people making the music. But in recent years, as many stoner bands have softened their sound, and as the musical landscape has continued to fracture, stoner bands have entered a period in which they can achieve more than previously thought.

The internet has been a double-edged sword for bands. On the one hand, it has made it easy for any band to be heard. Even the smallest artists are able to get their music out to be heard by people in the furthest corners of the world. It has been a godsend. On the other hand, the flood of music that washes over listeners each and every day makes it nearly impossible for new bands to make the kind of impact they would have expected years ago, even when they have the industry pushing them forward.

There's a phenomenon in sports where once great athletes, on the verge of the end, return to the teams they made their legends with on one-day contracts, giving themselves a sense of closure as they fade away into the land of archive footage forevermore. Musicians rarely get that kind of self-serving charade. Bands who reunite after years or even decades seldom manage to live up to the standards we remember of them, and members who return to the fold after time in exile often fail to grasp the passage of time that has altered the group they disappeared from.

One of the benefits of discovering a band in its infancy is being able to watch them grow and develop as the years pass. The bands that shift their sound between records, never treading the exact same ground twice, are the ones that make for the most rewarding relationships between band and fan. In the over-saturated metal market, finding bands at the genesis of their sound is not easy, and many escape our vision until it's too late to enjoy the process of maturation.

Metal in this millennium has become so fractured that it's impossible to keep all the developments straight. Each genre of metal continues to further subdivide itself, and each of those new scenes spawns its legion of imitator bands, to the point that there are so many bands playing so many forms of metal that assembling them into some form of coherent knowledge of what metal is today feels much like the proverbial story of putting Humpty Dumpty back together again.

It is interesting to me to see the renaissance of an old aesthetic, the sounds of yesteryear becoming not only popular once again, but in many ways a trend as well. In the world of progressive rock, there is a conscious shift occurring, bringing back many of the feelings and sounds that made the heyday of the genre the influential force it has been.

Every so often I get the chance to hear something that catches me off-guard. I enjoy those moments, not just because they're rare, but because they usually end up being some of the more memorable experiences I have with music. It's not always the case, and many times it's with records I would rather never hear again, but the old adage about any publicity being good publicity does come to mind. Whether good or bad, the ability to stand out from the throngs of music I've ingested is one of those things that shouldn't be taken for granted.

There may be no word scarier to the traditional metal fan than 'metalcore'. Merely mentioning the term stirs up feelings of angst and unease, as though the music is a deadly infection that threatens to wipe out earlier strains of heavy metal. Perhaps there was a time for such concern, when it looked as though metalcore was going to grow beyond being the next big thing, and would instead come to dominate the scene at large. Like always, those fears were overblown, and have since been tossed into the pile of absurd predictions that is always fun to dig through for a laugh.

When an album comes across my desk with a press release bearing words like 'sodomy', 'filth', and 'vile', a small part of me has already started writing my opinion before I ever hear a note of the music. It's a lousy form of jurisprudence, but it's one I won't pretend to ignore. They say you can't judge a book by its cover, but we all know that it happens all the time. There are plenty of reasons why we should know better, why we should try to be more enlightened, but in the end, it's difficult to fight our baser tendencies.