Tokenism & Its Discontinuities
Conflicted feelings this week; I have something to say, but I avoid cynicism whenever possible. Can you bewail distressing general trends without sounding like a cynic? Can you do so without actually becoming one?
Not for long, I think. Nor does the prospect of standing off to one side and pointing fingers hold a whole lot of appeal for me. I started Last Plane to Jakarta to write about music I liked, and I've held fast to that ideal for several years now. What's more, the thing that got me started in this direction today actually was a record I like: Pig Destroyer's Terrifyer. I was listening to it while making one of Kurma's excellent rice dishes, and I was experiencing the same things I experience every time I hear it: astonishment. Wonder. Deep, lasting pleasure. An interior glow.
If I had succeeded in realizing my eternal Buddha nature, I'd be able to resist comparing one thing to another thing, but I haven't succeeded in that effort, largely because I'm not a Buddhist. So I got to thinking. Even my actual religious inclinations could have warned me against that, since a learned Vaisnava once remarked that the mind, when not engaged in contemplation of the absolute, is the conditioned soul's worst enemy. Where was I? Right, Pig Destroyer. OK. So I'm resembling the Buddha less and less as the disc spins in the boombox, because I'm comparing my experience of Terrifyer to the experience I had this morning, when, while monkeying around in the kitchen, I listened to Mastodon's Leviathan.
Now, Leviathan is one hell of an album. It repays repeated listenings by revealing new depths, and impressively witty song structures. It's played by musicians whose passion is equal to their chops, and, just as importantly for the sort of thing they're attempting, whose chops are equal to their passion. It's wonderful! And everybody knows it's wonderful, because not only has the metal press gone ga-ga detailing its excellence: the indie press has followed suit, offering its own sadly limited insights into what make Leviathan such a worthy listen. The mainstream press is not quite ready for all the bellowing that goes into a Mastodon album, so they are focusing on Isis instead.
What the indie press hasn't done, anyhow, is to even notice that Terrifyer exists. Which makes me wonder: what went into the choice to cover Mastodon, but not Pig Destroyer? What's the algebra that places one of these bands within the indie area of coverage and one without? Double-you, as they say over there in Tahiti, tee eff?
Ten minutes deep in Google found the props-deservin' Pop Matters alone among the usual indie suspects in giving virtual ink to the Wicked Wicked Pig-Destroyin' Krew. Meanwhile, everybody & his ringer-tee sportin' brother was holding forth Meerschaum-in-hand style as to why Leviathan is metal for our kinda people. Even the mainstream press tossed a bone or two down Leviathan's richly deserving maw. Well, good on 'em, I say again, to make sure we're clear on this - Leviathan's a masterpiece, no question! (Panopticon, on the other hand, the other metal-for-our-kinda-people soup du jour, is just kinda good, but I have neither space nor bile enough to spend too much time flogging that particular horse.) I am happy as a clam at high tide that such a kick-ass record is getting its due: it's about time!
But: where the fuck are you guys when a record like Terrifyer drops? I'll tell you where: standing around with your hands in your pockets, waiting for somebody else to say something first. Mastodon's buzz has been building steadily since the 2001 release of Lifesblood, their first EP; to not weigh in on Leviathan is to miss the wave. Everybody was gonna say something. You could just tell: it was time. You could feel the record's enormity from the second the pre-advance advance arrived in the mail, all you-gotta-hear-this-now & whatnot. Which! You did! Have to hear it now, I mean! Because it rules! And it comes at you with a fluid, cinematic grace that you hardly ever get to see these days! But! What! The Fuck! So does Terrifyer!
Terrifyer is every inch as complex, as emotional, as thought-through, and as worthy an album as Leviathan. There are oceans of difference between the two; Leviathan is essentially a celebration of hope, and strength, and passion, whereas Terrifyer only shows up at the kind of celebrations that later get analyzed by the prosection on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. Leviathan is epic in scope, and almost romantically emotional; Terrifyer is agoraphobic, and crass, and emetic. Leviathan's inspiration is Melville; Terrifyer's is William Burroughs. But inch for inch, they are comparable in depth, and the one is as great an accomplishment in metal this year as is the other.
So where is the love for our Pig Destroyer? I think I now know how Simon Reynolds and Jess Harvell must have felt when suddenly people who'd thought grime was something to be attacked with Lemon Pledge were all of a sudden waxing moonish about Dizzee's skills, or Wiley's, or pretending they knew the first thing about the Roll Deep Crew. On the one hand, it's unnecessarily cynical to begrudge latecomers their fun; it's no crime to show up at the party after the time printed on the invitation, especially if there was no invitation in the first place. But on the other hand, when somebody shows up at a party you've been actively participating in for ages, and they taste one of the many delicious cakes at the buffet table and then announce that this is surely the best cake that this particular party has seen to date or will ever see, for that matter...well, it gets to you. Especially when there's this other cake that's also really good, even if it does have some afterbirth in the frosting.
I don't know. As I say, one tries — I try — to resist cynicism. One hopes that the people who love Leviathan and Panopticon will start looking at bands like Radiation 4, or maybe God Forbid, who made my favorite metal album of 2004. But holding out hope against all the evidence of history is perhaps its own kind of cynicism. Who knows? Time, I suppose and somewhat fear, will tell.
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