Jun 23, 2013

Some Things Never Change...

Being in a truly unique band has always made for interesting reviews.  Not all of them have been positive, and sometimes you wonder why the reviewer ever thought they would like what you do.  Check this one out...

Confessor were nothing more than five guys having a blast writing and exploring music together.  We were completely into what we were doing and everything we did blew open a new door for us in the House that Metal Built.  We all came from the high school smoking court world of metal, but instead of following bands that spent most of their money on hair products and mascara we turned the other way and saddled up to the much more wide open world of underground metal.  The ugly side that preferred to swallow whole and crap out the likes of Poison and Whitesnake while burning out their bewildered, poo covered eyes with King Diamond riffs and Slayer's mean precision.  We definitely didn't care what anyone thought about our music because we wrote for ourselves.  We always said that we wrote the music we wanted to hear because no one else was writing it.  We never could have guessed that anyone would find our music polarizing.  I have always been flattered that people either love us or hate us.  To me, that means that we made a real impact with people.  Apparently we hit one reviewer so hard he held onto his contempt for what we do for twenty years.  Ya' gotta love that! 

The other night I came home to a series of e-mails from everyone else in Confessor commenting about this review in "Decibel" that appeared in 2011.  It took me right back to the period in my life during in which it seemed no one "got" whatever it was that Confessor were trying to do with our music.  Fortunately I never really take reviews too seriously, as personal opinions are just that... personal.  There are two types of people after all, if I may quote a John Waters movie;  "There are people like me, and there are assholes."  While I am always humbled by good reviews, I actually enjoy the bad ones a bit more.  It is a good reminder of the fact that different people like different things.  Take me for example; I have been into metal and in metal bands for thirty years.  However, I hate beer, I hate tattoos and body piercings, I hate black pants on men, and while I am a true admirer of the female form I have absolutely no use for bleach blondes in skin tight pants and push up bras.  Why then, do I spend any time in the seedy underground culture of metal?  Because it is, or is supposed to be, a completely open subculture in which musical ideas are unencumbered by strict rules and protocol.  Confessor would never have existed had it not been for that sense of adventure that metal inspired in all of us.  We sought avenues through which we could push our creativity and our ability to play our respective instruments, and nothing more.  Metal didn't have an upper echelon of silver backed elders passing down judgement from on high, or decreeing what could, or could not be done.  

Over the years Confessor have received some interesting judgements from our critics.  I remember once that a friend of mine said we would be a lot better if we did the following: Tune up to the standard "E" tuning, speed our tempos up, played more 4/4 riffs and get Scott to sing lower.  Basically, he was saying we should have been a different band.  At least my friend and I died laughing once we went back over his list of suggestions.  I read a review once that said our first record was the worst death metal album the critic had ever heard.  If we were actually a death metal band that observation may have stung a bit more. Slayer's "Reign In Blood" is the worst rockabilly album I have ever heard, but very few people realize that.  Pizzas make worthless screwdrivers, ice picks are terrible dildos and so on... The guy who wrote this review of "Condemned" expected us to sound like all of the other Earache bands at the time, but Earache was not the right label for us.  Don't get me wrong, we benefited from being on that label, but we also had to deal with most people expecting us to be something we were not.  The people who loved what we did were probably not overly impressed with many of the bands on Earache's roster and vice versa.  The guy who wrote this review for Decibel goes by "Chris D." and he did nail a few things at least.  We were unique then, and as he put it, we are still "singular" now.  Good or bad, it seems to be true.

So let's take a look at this review together.  I'm not going to be ugly, though in years past I would have chosen that route.  Believe me, it would be sooo easy!  I don't believe in putting out so much negative energy, at least not in such a public forum, but I was raised by a pack of wild smart asses and slicing people to shreds comes easily to me.  It's great for laughs, but as I grow older I choose not to coarsen the culture in any sort of traceable statement. We are already in the hand basket, and it's getting pretty warm, if you know what I mean. Thanks, Jerry Springer!  At least he admitted recently that he has a lot to do with how low rent pop culture has become.  Gee, ya' think?  Okay, put your nose plugs on... this one's a stinker!

The set up to the column claims that it is a place where albums perceived as seminal classics are exposed as being "overrated as fuck".  Ooooh... I think it moved a little bit when I read that!  I couldn't wait to read the rant this guy had been hanging onto for one fifth of a century.  I've hated bands for that long too, but those bands were huge... and evil.  I just don't see Confessor having that kind of influence on society.  I know I never slept with this guy's partner, male or female, so what gives?  If our t-shirts were ubiquitous and he could never escape our music, like the incessant thumping under the floor in "The Tell-Tale Heart", I could understand his rage.  So right away I knew this guy had put us on a pedestal a long time ago.  Aww, that's kind of cute.  Hey, at least we made an impression!  Onward, we march...

I can totally relate to the disappointment this critic felt when he realized we were not what he had hoped for.  I had a theory once that any metal album that used red and black for the predominant colors on its cover would be good.  You just couldn't argue with logic like that. One afternoon I went out with that in mind and I came home with, among other things, the first Bitch record, an Armored Saint record ( I think ), something that was so bad I have never been able to recall the title, and the first Metallica record.  Bitch blew my theory right out of the water!  Not such a great album.  In fact, I just became more and more deflated with each slab of vinyl until Kill 'Em All gave me a reason to smile.  There were three albums in my wastebasket that day, but I did cement my love for metal with Metallica, so it wasn't a complete wash.  Poor Mr. D. thought that because we were on the same label as Godflesh, Bolt Thrower, Carcass and Napalm Death, we would be just like them.  Earache definitely had a reputation for signing bands like that.  We really were an odd fit for that label.  While Godflesh became my favorite band later on they were absolutely not amazing in 1992.  It took playing with Carcass several times for me to acknowledge their genius.  They were ten times better live.  One of the bands he listed as an Earache gem flat out sucked, and they even ragged on us in an interview years ago.  It's clear he was inspired by the kinds of things we tried so desperately to avoid in music.  It's all good.  Music is music.  There is a place on earth for every band, but I don't think I'd be very impressed with this guy's collection. My standards are very different.  Not better, just different.

Our biggest fan ever went through the album song by song, which is a great way to slice up an album for a column dedicated to explaining why someone hates something other people love.  I do appreciate the concept.  I may even be inspired to do something similar here at The Poundry.  "Alone" was our first track, and though he never pointed out any specifics about the song he did point out one fundamental difference between the metal he liked, and really good metal.  He grew up with thrash metal.  When underground metal was still a new thing, thrash was most of what was out there.  I never cared for it so much.  It was like metal kids trying to set themselves apart from their annoying and whiny conjoined twin, punk rock. There were some good thrash bands, don't get me wrong... but the genre as a whole offered very little to a guy like me.  It hadn't evolved so much that it really stood out from punk rock yet.  Later it did, but in its infancy it was loose and jangley without any real emotion.  There were bands that did some pretty interesting things as they began to evolve away from thrash that I liked a lot, but straight up thrash in its purest form is as boring to me as underground metal gets.  I'll take Bon Scott era AC/DC any day over your run of the mill thrash band. Thrash wanted to be mean, but it was all for show and rarely worked.  AC/DC were mean without even trying.  

The second song on our first album is "Prepare Yourself", and in my own humble opinion it's one of the more solid tracks on the record.  Chris likened it to Metallica's "...And Justice For All".  Hmm, I can't hear it.  There are other places on the record where I think the comparison fits, just not here.  I never owned "...And Justice For All".  There are some great moments on the record, but they were already sliding downhill by then.  Brian stuck with them for awhile so I can't completely discount Chris' observation.  I had already written them off by then.  He writes that the middle and end sections of "Prepare Yourself" are the most awkward moments on the album which strikes me as odd because I think of this song as the most straightforward track we had back then.  We tweaked the song a little bit, but it was one the band wrote before I joined them.  There is a pattern in his critique of the album that is beginning to emerge by now, which I'll highlight later.  Normally "stupendous" is a word that one reserves for things that are super kick-ass, not a casual reference in the middle of a slash and burn style dismantling of a song that you claim not to like. 

The next two songs up for debate are "Collapse Into Despair" and "Defining Happiness".  I think Chris is dead on here when he pulls out the Metallica reference.  I have always heard a little "Master of Puppets" during the main riff in "Collapse" and that's a pretty damned good album to draw inspiration from.  A dirty little secret... I don't own even one Metallica cd, and I never have.  I had the first three albums on vinyl but I never felt the need to buy them again on cd, though I would like to hear "Ride the Lightning" again.  That one crunchy riff in "For Whom the Bell Tolls" was the first time I ever laughed out loud because of how heavy a part was.  I have heard a few stories of people having that exact same reaction to both Confessor and Loincloth songs.   It doesn't get much more flattering than that!  I don't think this guy was laughing very much though.  As I read his complaint regarding the stops and starts in our music I realized there is no scenario in which he would ever appreciate the very essence of Confessor.  If musical abstractions and abrupt stops turn him off, it's a shame he didn't know more about us before he bought our album.  Thrash bands tend to use one generic riff to transition into another, not unlike most metal bands regardless of sub-genre classification. They rarely use anything other than 4/4 timing and the tempos never changed that much. Neither did the vocals.  Except for the stand out bands, once you heard one thrash band you had heard everything there was to offer in that realm.  Another thing he nailed. "Defining Happiness" was the song we wished we didn't have to put on the record.  Scott changed the lyrics and vocals just before we went into the studio and saved the track.  Without a doubt it is the most boring song on the record, so it's no surprise he almost liked it.  I do have to wonder though, if Mr. D. hated everything about our approach to songwriting why would he describe this song as being "neutered by its own restraint"?  He probably wanted more "thrashing".  Oops, wrong band.  Sorry!

I believe this particular music critic's sphincter might have shot out a mud bullet when Scott's most extreme vocals peeled his ears back at the beginning of "Uncontrolled".  It is abundantly clear that Chris D. would rather anyone else on the planet sing for Confessor than our beloved Scott Jeffreys, and that's okay.  I have always felt that the two signature elements of the band, or should I say the two most obvious breaks from traditional head banging metal, namely Scott and myself, were the two things that kept us from being palatable to most people.  There are people who have actually been angry because of the way I approach drums.  Wow!  That's impressive!  Drums are usually the last instrument people think of if they aren't musicians.  I'm just happy to stand out!  Since it's obvious that Scott's vocal style was a real turn off for this critic, the fact that he sullied his underwear during "Uncontrolled" is kind of a no-brainer.  He gets a pass for his comments for this song.

Next up, the title track.  Miracle of miracles, we wrote a song this guy can almost stomach from first note 'til last!  Hell, he even called Scott's vocals "moderately tolerable"!  I think I'll leave well enough alone here.  I must say though, he is wrong about Earache making the obvious choice when deciding to make this song the single and the video.  Earache was not at all happy about our decision to use this song for the video.  We had to fight them over this one.  However, if you look at the kinds of bands they signed and then think about the fact that Chris D. loved so many of them while despising our music, it makes sense that Earache would not be into our preferences either.  They wanted predictable, angry sounding thrashy metal just like Chris.  We aren't a headbanger band, and we hate contrived angst.  Being on Earache was a double edged sword.  Yes, they got our name out there and we got to be part of the Gods of Grind tour, which was transformative for many people, but that audience was not our audience.  We freaked some people out in a positive way, but most of those kids were there to get their headbanging rage on.

The slowest and most rock-like song on "Condemned" is "Eve of Salvation".  Chris resentfully acknowledges that it's a heavy track, but he seems to think the Trouble vibe we went for might be what other bands point to as being inspirational.  I would argue that there are a handful of bands that did that kind of heavy well, though none as intuitively and almost accidentally as Trouble themselves.  The fact that Trouble became a boring rock band later on tells me they had no idea what made them special, and I get the distinct impression that Chris D. has no idea what other people thought made us special.  That's not a crime, we just weren't for him.  We probably could have looked a little more pissed off in our band photos and lifted our image in his eyes.  Maybe some interesting facial hair would have helped, too. If we had abandoned everything that made us unique he could have sat around with that friend of mine and talked about how we kicked ass in the exact same way fifty other bands kicked ass.  We didn't inspire anything in other bands because of a song like "Eve of Salvation".  It was precisely what Chris hated about us that made other people flock to us as a source of unique inspiration.  No worries though, there are far more bands out there to satisfy what he looks for in metal than there will ever be to satisfy what I look for in what could, and should be the most uninhibited form of music out there.  

Two more songs to go and our friend Chris has got to be counting the minutes until he can feast on some completely bland frozen dinner while he watches That Metal Show.  With his sweat pants loosened enough to flick at himself, he no doubt looks forward the the program's sluttier version of Vanna White coming out to show off her talent at shuffling utterly mundane entries in this week's "Five Most Tedious Thrash Bands No One Can Distinguish From The Other" list.  Hey, at least those bands are getting mentioned on TV twenty years later, right? You won't ever see Confessor on a list of quirkiest bands from 90's normal people never heard of.  So "The Stain" didn't do it for him either.  I'm sure that in his mind "Condemned" had become a broken record in the truest sense of the word.  Speaking of broken records, we received our third comparison to Metallica in his criticism of this song.  Did I miss something so obvious in my own band for over twenty years, or is this music critic's metal library so devoid of interesting bands that Metallica is the default comparison he always throws out when something confounds his senses?  As was the case with his reference in "Prepare Yourself", I just don't hear Metallica in this song either.  He never once calls out any of our true inspirations, which tells me he has no idea of their existence.  A pity.  He suggests that at this point we had run out of ideas, but I think we had used the one or two ideas he could relate to in "Defining Happiness" and "Condemned".  I don't want to suggest that he was in over his head.  Despite how creating a blog about your own bands may seem, I'm not that arrogant.  I will suggest that he jumped into a pond as though he were amphibious when he should really stay as far away from water as humanly possible.  Don't bitch about a roller coaster if you get nauseous going over speed bumps!  "The Stain" is pretty damned full of ideas, to be completely honest.  We pulled out more than a few stops to write this song. It was one of the biggest challenges for me as a drummer back then. There, I just threw our friend a hanging curve ball.  Let's see if he knows how to hit it out of the park.

Ahhh... bless his little heart, the microwave is about to go 'ding' to let Chris know that the other forty five year olds who still wear all black are about to relive their youth as That Metal Show calls them into battle.  Let no sofa be spared the pot bellied, sweat panted fury of sexual repression as a bunch of rockers who "never could" talk shit about those who "did". First, our final track... "Suffer".  I knew when I named this song that it wrote its own criticism with the title alone.  Comic book fans might appreciate knowing that I copped the name from a Brian Bolland ( or was it Mike Bisley? ) illustration.  A stone mallet with the word "suffer" carved into its side seemed awfully heavy to me at the time.  I too, could have ended up as a scrotum rubbing sweat pants sofa warrior had music not changed my life's trajectory.  To be sure, it was a lateral adjustment and not an upward shift.  But I digress.  Confessor has a few tracks that really encapsulate our approach to metal.  "Suffer" is absolutely unique to us, and there is no way in hell any other group of people would ever have written the song.  In the same way Chris D. grew weary from having to endure our off kilter offering to metal for forty five minutes, I have grown weary myself watching him miss the point entirely.  I am in no way suggesting that any form of music is better than another.  No matter how much I hate terrible bands, there are people whose lives have been enriched by them, and that can be nothing other than positive.  I believe Chris' own life has been greatly fulfilled by metal bands that do absolutely nothing for me personally, but I'm just happy to know that metal has another life long fan.  But would someone please show Chris that the square block goes into the square hole and the star shaped block goes into the star shaped hole before he breaks the whole damned contraption?!?!?!  There are other kids who want to give it a whirl!  Thank you!  

So the thing I couldn't help but notice in Chris' critique is that while he ripped the album pretty thoroughly, he did let a few positive things slip through.  That makes me wonder if his initial impression of the album was that it sucked beyond belief and that maybe after the passing of many years, the edge of his contempt for what we did has been dulled.  Did he finally see kind of, maybe, possibly what people liked about us?  If there were moments on the record he described as stupendous, could he really hate us that much?  Maybe it's the kind of hate, or better yet, resentment that comes with believing that an artist has completely missed what they could have done brilliantly.  I know that frustration.  I already described Trouble's error in judgement, and they were my favorite band for years.  Or maybe it's the kind of self doubt that occurs when people you look up to like something, but you can't for the life of you figure out why.  The thing that I usually take away from critique's like Chris' is this:  Someone who loves creamy peanut butter but hates chunky peanut butter is wasting their time being pissed off about the nuts.  There's plenty for everyone.  It's a little twist on what they love that is meant for people who want something a little different.  I thought we were all supposed to celebrate diversity.  Chunky peanut butter will always have nuts whether the smooth peanut butter fan likes it or not.  To expect chunky peanut butter to be good even though you hate nuts is not realistic.  They both suck anyway, so what?
In closing, I would like to thank Chris D. of Decibel for hating us so intensely that he jumped at the opportunity to decimate the album that put us as a band, and me as a musician on the map.  What I take from that is that we made one hell of an impression on him, and I'll take that over being one of the countless bands whose name you can't quite recall five presidential terms after their first record came out.  Confessor were not for everyone by anyone's measure of musical compatibility.  Opinions are as varied as anything in life can be, and his opinion is no more or less valid than mine, or yours.  I really am just glad that he loves music, and that metal seems to be his favorite form of music is even better.  I do wonder what he might have thought about our second record, as it is much more timid than "Condemned" and the vocals aren't as out there.  If he shot out a kernel of corn when he heard "Uncontrolled" he would have broken his tailbone if he ever heard Scott before I joined the band.  Chris' review of "Condemned" reminded me of a an exchange I had last year with the people who put out the Fly Machine demo we recorded once we decided to let Confessor sleep for awhile.  They needed suggestions for bands to compare our music to for the label on the plastic wrapper.  Since they couldn't really write "For Fans of Beer and Pot" they asked me to give them some ideas.  They ended up describing the cd as being for fans of Confessor, Loincloth and Trouble.  That's a pretty narrow field of interest.  While Chris D. might like Trouble, I think it's pretty clear what he thinks about Confessor, and I'm pretty sure I know what he might think about Loincloth, too.  He has many people who would back him up in a debate about our music.  I imagine a sea of black t-shirts, black baseball hats and black jeans.  They might all say that we made a mockery of what they love about metal.  Our side would have a lot of people dressed the same way, but there would be a lot more people who have no need or desire to don a uniform.  We have no rules that can be broken, and certainly none that could be broken by trying to expand horizons.  Here's hoping Chris is a good sport.  From one metal fan to another, cheers!  Oh, I think his show is about to start... 

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