Angry Metal LisaI have heard it bandied about that the mp3 and the iPod killed the album. The line of thinking goes like this: mp3s encourage a pick and choose mentality in listeners. It is easier to put together lists of songs that a listener loves, which means that they think in terms of playlists rather than records, which has led to a degraded importance of the longplay album as an art form. It’s true that the “mix tape” was a lot harder than the playlist, and piracy certainly did open up a lot of doors when it came to the ability for listeners to grab what they desired from an album. But while there may be some truth to this diagnosis, I prefer to lay the responsibility for the death of the longplay record as an artform at the foot of a different format. The mp3 may have been the final nail in the coffin of the album, but it was the CD that killed the full length LP.

“What?” I hear you yelling in faux shock in order to propel my #slatepitch forward, “CDs brought around the death of the single! In fact, there was even more focus on the format when the CD came about!” This may be true, but it isn’t the change in attitudes towards the album that caused the downfall of the record. It was a change in the technology’s affordances which I see as clearly at fault. Every technology has possibilities but also constraints; these are called affordances. Telephones, for example, were revolutionary because they allowed people to communicate in essentially real time over large distances. However, the telephone could not send images meaningfully, and was terrible at sending digital information—as those of us who used a 56kbps modem certainly remember. The CD also has its affordances and from the perspective of what CDs are capable, it made them far superior to vinyl and cassette tapes (lol) for a variety of reasons. While I support vinyl for reasons of nostalgia (and purchase vinyl because labels refuse to release vinyl mixes digitally), there is nothing inherently superior about the format. In fact, until I can purchase HD lossless files of everything I want online, the CD is still the best format on the market in terms of sound quality and long-term storage.

But what the CD had that the vinyl record didn’t have wasn’t just better sound and durability. It had a lot more space. Suddenly, artists had a lot more room to experiment, and with revolutions in digital recording records began to bloat. Once upon a time you had to be Pink Floyd to release a double album. Bands would, therefore, go into the studio with eight to ten songs, and then they would have the job of squashing the whole of what they had written down to 45-52 minutes. And 52 minutes was pushing it, in the era of vinyl as the primary musical format, records like Master of Puppets were actually the exception. Most albums were roughly 42-47 minutes—with some even being shorter than that. It was a simple economic question for most bands: labels would not give the funding to do more than a single LP and that was that.

IRod Smallwood remember reading Rod Smallwood, Maiden‘s legendary manager, bragging about how Iron Maiden always gave listeners their money’s worth when they bought an LP. Specifically Maiden would work hard to make sure that they had enough material to fill up the format they were working with.  And still, in order, through No Prayer for the Dying the records were 41, 42, 41, 46, 51, 52, 44, and 45 minutes long, respectively. Fear of the Dark? 59 minutes long and incidentally the first Iron Maiden record that featured generally loose songwriting1. Not that Fear of the Dark doesn’t feature some great stuff! It just sags under the weight of filler because they didn’t have to edit.

Maiden was not alone in this, even if they are the best example. Bands began filling out their albums with orchestral introductions, and in non-metal music there was the era of the “sketch scenes” like on Dr. Dre‘s The Chronic or “only fun one time” trick like Type O Negative‘s “Bad Ground,” which starts off October Lust with a stupid joke that no one ever heard more than once. The idea that there was an economy of space gave way instead to looser expectations about the stringency with which songs should be written. And, who knows, it may be that the reason bands that I love, like Opeth, were able to do what they did was because they didn’t have the constraints of the LP-length 45 minutes and an editor/producer breathing down their neck to “cut it down to 3:05.” But I suspect that’s not the case, or if it is the case that it’s more exception than rule.

And today? This shit is out of hand. While I like some long albums, bands produce way too many of them. The success of bands that are good at epic sounds has spawned imitators who write hour long (or worse) albums, and who apparently receive no pushback. But it’s not just second rate imitators who produce albums that require heavy doses of Valium to sit through. Once mighty in their songcraft, Maiden is even worse than they were in 1992, with The Final Frontier clocking in at 77 minutes and without a single idea having been edited out of anything that Steve Harris brought in with him.

flowchartI commented in my Angra review that the best artistic production comes out of hardship, but I don’t think that’s entirely true. In fact, I’d argue that much of the best artistic production comes out of constraints. Constraints force artists to get creative, and they force artists—maybe even more importantly—to choose. Authors have editors who rip their manuscripts apart. Producers, once upon a time, played a similar role for bands. Every record contains an idea that isn’t as good as the others. Every record has moments that don’t pop like the others, but artists don’t want to “kill their darlings,” as the phrase goes. What the vinyl did for many musicians was to force choices into the production, because the purse was being held by someone else who simply cared about the bottom line. In an era of relatively cheap production, digital storage, and a format that allows upwards of 75 minutes, though, it’s tough to justify saying no to an artist who is unwilling to take no for an answer.

It is this very fact—an unwillingness to edit—that has killed the album. Instead of the longplay record offering up an artfully presented idea in a limited space, listeners today are bombarded with massive soundscapes of unfiltered, unedited songs that dribble out of bloated records. Already this year we’ve received two double LPs, and neither of them were worth the effort. Remember GnR‘s Use Your Illusion records? One great record if you pick out tracks from both—two mediocre ones otherwise. System of a Down‘s Hypnotize and Mesmerize? Same problem. Opeth‘s Deliverance and Damnation? Ayup. And I shouldn’t just use double LPs as examples. The new Blind Guardian is 15 minutes too long. Desolate Shrine? I love it, but it easily could lose 10 minutes without suffering. When someone releases a 60 minute record or, Dio forbid, an 80 minute one, it has to be a triumph of extraordinary skill or inventiveness to be successful. Records of that length simply drag down under their own weight. When records are so dauntingly expansive, I do just want to take the songs I like and throw them in a playlist, leaving the chaff to rot on my external drive.

It’s time we admit to ourselves that editing is the problem, instead of blaming mp3s and iPods and Spotify for the downfall of the full length record. It seems clear to me, instead, that we can blame the fact that whole albums have gotten so fat on the technological affordances of digital media that musicians, producers and labels have forgotten Stephen King’s wisest words: “To write is human. To edit is divine.”

Show 1 footnote

  1. I know that people are really hard on No Prayer for the Dying, but if you can listen to the album from start to finish for the songs, you’ll notice that the songwriting is actually extremely tight and the music is good—on par with Maiden‘s earlier stuff. Bruce Dickinson single-handledly harpooned that album by singing from his scrotum instead of his diaphragm.

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  • Alexandre Barata

    As an album guy that is the reason why some albums, that contain a couple good or very good songs, get discarded. I don’t pick songs, so I have to go through the fillers, and that’s a pain. Long gone is the era when I would buy an album because I like one single, just to discover it was complete crap!
    To bring back editing as before we would have a decrease in records from day to night, as most bands don’t have those 45 minutes of worthy music. If that would be bad or good I can’t tell.

    • André Snyde Lopes

      Good. That’s what EPs are for.

  • Dean Hili

    Can’t help agreeing with you here although the Damnation/Deliverance comment couldn’t be further from the truth in my opinion. They both stand alone as very solid albums having a very different character.

    • I think Damnation is very good. I think Deliverance is really weak. For me it was the weakest Opeth pre-Watershed.

      • Darren

        But Damnation had Weakness at the end, which I think would definitely put the album in the ‘needs editing’ category.

      • Monsterth Goatom

        I don’t know. I just couldn’t get into Damnation, and I tried and tried. All the songs fell flat for me, and it wasn’t just because I was pissy about them doing an essentially non-metal album.

      • Wilhelm

        Finally, someone who agrees with me, I never got the hype about Deliverance.

  • tomasjacobi

    I have nothing to add.
    I just came here to state my complete agreement with AMG on this matter.

    • Hey, let’s pat each other’s backs!

      • tomasjacobi

        The sad thing is though: Too long albums and the Loudness War won’t go away no matter how much we bitch about it.

        • Ain’t that the truth. But I still can bitch about it. It’s what I’ve got. NO ONE CAN TAKE IT FROM ME!

          • Kim Sørensen

            Same here :)

        • No, I don’t think so. I think if you bitch enough, things will change. Everyone hates bitching.

          • tomasjacobi

            I love your positive outlook, but unfortunately I’m afflicted with the curse of realism so I know albums will forever be too long and too loud.
            Now if you’ll excuse me I’ll go drink my half empty cup of coffee.

  • RilesBell

    I have to agree. Although there are exceptions to the argument, more often than not, the bloated albums suck. Not sure I would include those SOAD or Opeth albums but the Final Frontier and modern Maiden in general are prime examples of how to fail.

    • André Snyde Lopes

      I don’t know, man, I’ve always felt like Mezmerize is (aside from a couple of songs) pretty mediocre compared to Hypnotize.

    • doom-erik

      Agree totally on SOAD. Mezmerize and Hypnotize are both very strong. Almost no weak tracks at all. I can never decide which of the two I like more (that might also be the reason I never remember which one is which…)

  • Guest

    About time you wrote on this.
    On a side note, I hate it when the hidden track ruins the final song -which can be stunningly beautiful at times- by adding 10 minutes on it.
    Repulsive.

  • Tarık Ay

    About time you wrote on this.
    On a side note, I hate it when the hidden track ruins the final song -which can be stunningly beautiful at times- by adding 10 minutes of silence on it. There is nothing more repulsive.

    • BaboonKing

      This, a thousand times.

    • kaeru92

      Can someone explain to me the reason why bands would do that ? I have many albums where a track is unusually long, with a lot of silence in it. I never understood why.

      • Monsterth Goatom

        Maybe they expect you to sit back and reflect on what you’ve heard? Bugs me too.

        • OzanCan

          That…actually kinda makes sense :o

      • Tarık Ay

        The thing I’m mentioning is the silence between the final & hidden track

        • Pacal

          The wait for the hidden track is definitely the worst part of Deliverance.

          • Grymm

            Or Acid Bath’s “Dead Girl”.

            Just… WHY?!

          • clarkey

            Use Foobar. Check the box that says Skip Silence.

    • ZEbyiUWvbe

      Yes, I hate that too. But I play all my music as digital files (ripped from bought CD’s and vinyl) so I just remove the silence with an audio editor.

      • Tarık Ay

        Of course, but imagine you didn’t have to bother.

      • clarkey

        Use Foobar. it has a skip silence option

  • BaboonKing

    Excellent write up, very insightful. Steel Druhm has also been decrying excessive album length on many of his reviews for a while. I think both of you hit the nail on the head.

    And Maiden is indeed a great example. People say it’s a matter of declining inspiration (and there’s some of that too, of course) but their records of the last two decades could have been much, much better with tighter editing. Their first works left you content, but wanting more; their new stuff feels completely overfilling.

    That said, one minor quibble: I would argue that the so called “death of the LP” doesn’t affect metal and other minoritary genres as harshly as it does the pop / mainstream markets. It is of course anecdotal evidence, but most metalheads I know still prefer listening to whole records.

    • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

      Pop hamstrings its albums by nature, as getting production done by sure-fire hitmakers like Max Martin, Zedd, or Dr. Luke costs a huge amount of money, allowing for one or two smashes per record. The other 12-13 songs? Produced by nobodies who will work for next to nothing and don’t have a handle on what makes a hit song tick, so they’re garbage. It doesn’t apply to all pop records, but for, say, Ariana Grande, there’s a reason you’ve only ever heard two songs from her latest, which is 15 songs long.

  • Jason Curtis

    I completely agree with this and have been thinking the same since I can remember, pushing this view on anyone who cared to listen.
    The Iron Maiden example was spot on. I tend to call it ‘Metallica syndrome’ (thinking …AJFA onwards), where too many songs or songs are unnecessarily long, and a spot of editing would result in a much fillerless memorable album.

    Some bands (Down for example) are embracing EP lengths now which I think is great and counters this problem at least a little. Just a few songs before leaving us wanting more, raising anticipation for the next batch of songs…

  • Steve

    “The new Blind Guardian is 15 minutes too long”

    No it isn’t.

    • Yes, yes it is.

      • Steve

        It passes me by in a flash every listen. Though i guess if you hire a few choirs and orchestras for your album you want to get your money’s worth.

        • It’s weird. I love the music (review coming soon) but I have two major complaints about it that make it tough for me to love it with all my heart.

          • Steve

            I have to wait for the actual disc to come but the production seems suspect. Though that’s a general problem with all their more recent albums.

          • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

            Fingers crossed one of those complaints doesn’t start with an H and end with an ansi…

          • BaboonKing

            If the single released on YouTube is anything to go by, I bet one of those two complains will be about the mastering…

            Anyway, really looking forward to that review!

          • Grymm

            That mastering job was horrific.

          • I’d say Grymm it’s more of the mix than the master.

          • Grymm

            That’s what I meant.

            Thank you, Alex.

        • Ernesto Aimar

          Yeah, I’m waiting for that BG review. After listening to it 10s of times I love it and I don’t think it’s 15 minutes too long. But I do agree the mix of the album have strong flaws.

          Still, I likled “At the Edge of Time” a lot better. IMO, it was the best BG record since “Nightfall…”

          We’ll have to complain about it in the proper comments section ;)

    • Ralph Plug

      Yes it is.

      It’s also not as brilliant as all the glowing reviews make it out to be. Problem for me is that it’s Blind Guardian PLUS all sorts of extra padding. And if there’s one band that doesn’t need that, it’s BG. New Orden Ogan is the winner for me out of those two, and I’m speaking as a long-time fan.

      • Ernesto Aimar

        Long time fan here too and agreed on Orden Ogan!

        Still, BG always gets me. It’s the only band I like 100% of their songs, some more, some less, but no BG song it’s crap to me.

  • André Snyde Lopes

    Yes to all. I have never listened to a double album that I liked 100% of. Ever.

    But to every rule there is an exception. The last Tribulation album was 75 min long and it’s one of the best albums I have listened to in recent years. Equilibirum’s Sagas was nearly 80 min and it’s goddamn amazing. Same for ORwarriOR. Unsurprisingly, all three came out in the last 10 years. Still, this is a very very VERY small minority of albums.

    Non-metal side-note: Hip-hop albums are by far the worst offenders of lack of editing. A lot of them run over an hour long and pretty much every single one has at least 3 or 4 songs that are lackluster or just plain suck, even if the rest of the album is awesome.

    • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

      Agree on the hip-hop comment. Wu-Tang Forever had some awesome stuff, but in no way did it justify a double album.

      • André Snyde Lopes

        Also, pretty much every Tech N9ne album. He just doesn’t know when to stop.

        • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

          Yeah, guy made a full 60-odd minute disc, and then made a bonus disc with another 60-plus minutes. Dude can spit, but the only thing he’s ever done worth listening to start to finish is that little EP produced by Ross Robinson a couple years back. I think it was called Therapy or something.

  • Austin Turner

    I disagree entirely. Anything under 45 minutes is an EP, in my opinion. If an album is under an hour, I’m usually not satisfied, and left wanting more. The Haarp Machine’s Disclosure is a great example of an album which had so much going for it, and then just cuts off and leaves me disappointed that there’s nothing more to hear. I love it when an artist feels the freedom to fully explore a music idea or concept, and hate it when they leave something unfinished, or when a song or album feels like it was constrained or not brought to fruition. And I never, never, listen to songs at random or in a playlist, I only listen to albums from start to finish. Some of my favorite albums ever are well over an hour, such as Moonsorrow’s Verisäkeet (70 mins), Arkona’s Goi Rode Goi (79 mins), Arkona’s Yav (69 mins), Ne Obliviscaris’ Portal of I (71 mins) or my #1 album of 2014, Son of Aurelius’ Under a Western Sun (75 mins, but the band claims they had over an hour more of music that they wanted to include). I listen to each of these from start to finish, and if a single second was cut from any of them, I feel like the album as a whole would suffer.

    Basically what I am saying is that I feel that if an artist is forced to cut off a part of what they have created then the product as a whole noticeably declines in quality. Music is at its best when it is explored, and every single idea is fleshed out and thought through to its completion. That’s real creativity, and that’s what I like to hear in the music that I listen to, especially in metal, which seems to be the only modern style which allows itself this freedom.

    Would Guernica be the same if someone was breathing down Picasso’s neck telling him to “Cut that guy reaching for the sky thing on the right out. We don’t want to have to pay for all the canvas it’s taking up”?

    • I know where your’e coming from, but even visual artists have a process of edition, most won’t just put in canvas everything that is in their minds at the moment, and even if they do, they will beforehand have a general idea of what size of medium they will have to work with.

      I’m essentially on the fence of this whole debate. Personally i don’t believe that any album will generally sag if they are longer than a somewhat arbitrary cutoff, but I agree that there are a lot of albums that would benefit from some judicious editing.

      • 45 minutes is not the cutoff arbitrarily. The point is that it forced judicious editing. Showing up with 60 minutes? Doing away with 15 minutes does a record good. Sifts out the worst ideas.

        Showing up with 45 minutes? Not wrong to try to edit that down, too. My point is more structural.

  • jorge

    It’s a difficult topic that presents to all of us the mighty lord AMG this time. I really tend to think that this item with the long of an album is just important to the metal community and some other but specific musical trends (jazz… some indie perhaps) because for us, and I quote alexandre barata in the idea that I am an album guy, the metal albums are a unit, a whole idea that the bands develop in the duration time of the format you put your idea on the streets.
    Is there anyone who think that the followers of one direction listen to the whole album??? or think anything about how long ended up being that new album??? To me the answer is crystal clear… NO… because they pick the songs that they like and put on their shitty blender alongside with shakira+pharrel williams+snoop dog and a long list of NUMBER ONES.
    From my point of view and being a heavy metal lover for over 30 years I must recognize that after the 90’s bullshit I listen and enjoy even the songs that must people could consider a filler and enjoy, deep in my heart and risking of being banned from this website, even the super collider.
    Yes, yes, I said it.
    HORNS UP FROM CHILE

  • Monsterth Goatom

    As you observed in Stupid Metal Trends #1, soundscapes are often used by artists in an attempt to set the mood, create atmosphere, or some such shit. More often than not it’s the sound of a trickling stream or some guy tramping aimlessly through a forest in winter (or tramping on boxes as you said). If I wanted nature sounds, I’d go for a walk. You come for the metal, and suddenly you’re in one of those new-age nature sounds CDs they sell at bookstores.

    With that said, I do believe some non-musical interludes or soundscapes (short ones!) can be effective in creating a mood that helps draw you into an album. Though, arguably, that’s what the songs are supposed to do. The great Moonsorrow are guilty of long soundscapes, as is Panopticon, despite the brilliance of Roads to the North. Many artists just throw in extended soundscapes in an inherent belief that it’s somehow profound and because everyone else is doing it. Generally, I’m all for sensible album lengths. When an album ends, it should leave you hungry for more.

    Regarding stupid metal trends, I’d also throw in what I refer to as the “weeping woman”. I don’t know what’s so supposedly cool and evocative about having the sound of a woman crying in deep despair in the background. There are at least a handful of records where I’ve noticed this, but I don’t have the names on hand.

    • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

      Swedish Shining’s “Lat Oss and Other Swedish Words” has an entire bridge built around a woman crying and Kvarforth imitating The Muppets, and it’s strangely awesome. Also, Autopsy’s “Sadistic Gratification” has a woman crying bit that’s sorta creepy, but pretty unnecessary. You’re right though, there definitely is some other ones and they’re almost all needless.

  • Kronos

    One of the best albums in recent memory, Wormed’s “Exodromos”, clocks in at 33 minutes. I notice every time I listen to that album that it’s extremely well-paced and concise. They put exactly what was needed into the album and another song wouldn’t have added anything that they didn’t already do. On top of this, the songwriting is incredible: just take a look at “Tatuochrone” or “Stellar Depopulation” for incredibly engaging and well-structured songs that are very complex yet concise.

    • Monsterth Goatom

      Agree. I also felt the same way about Toxic Holocaust’s Chemistry of Consciousness (28 mins) and Skeletonwitch’s Serpents Unleashed (31 mins). However, I don’t listen with a stopwatch in hand. Those are just great albums, neither long nor short.

      • Reign in blood – 28:59
        Don’t Break the Oath – 43:11
        –That says it all.

        • Monsterth Goatom

          Since this is the Internet, I have to say “this”.

          • THIS!

          • Monsterth Goatom

            Hodor!

          • Grymm

            I, too, am Groot.

        • Hahaha, just said this.

      • Carlos Marrickvillian

        great comment

    • André Snyde Lopes

      I theorize that Wormed record their songs as if they are holding their breath and must finish recording as fast as possible so they don’t die of asphyxiation. It wouldn’t hurt them to breathe a little bit imo ;)

    • Reign in Blood, one of the best albums of all time, 29 minutes.

      • aaron bergman

        Even the expanded version is 34 minutes.

      • Carlos Marrickvillian

        I reckon theres a sweet spot…depending on a bands style, strength of musicianship and most importantly songs…
        Horrendous 44 minutes
        Artificial Brain 45min
        Dead Congregation 40min
        Behemoth 44min

        • FutureBeyondSatan

          You got that right, it was a horrendous 44 minutes ;)

          • Carlos Marrickvillian

            Horrendously good!

        • Kronos

          In my opinion, Artificial Brain could have cut down to below 40 and the record would have possibly been more effective.

          • Carlos Marrickvillian

            it’s beyond reproach…

  • Nicholas Zastrow

    This reminded me of the pop punk band Screeching Weasel’s song Compact Disc. Kinda the same argument with a catchy chorus.

  • robpal

    Nice read. I think it also has a lot to do with a genre; for example prog or jazz lovers will definitely appreciate a 1h long album, whereas pop fans will be fine with picking 2-3 catchiest songs and “nexting” the rest.

    Speaking of long recordings — check out the new Arcane (“Known/Learned”). This is how double albums should be made, over two hours of music but feels like 15 minutes. My album of January.

    • Tanuki

      I was thinking this too. 79min in punk for instance would be crazy, but it’s pretty normal in prog. I think in general though metal albums have been getting longer and longer. I’m not sure this is the case for most other genres though…

  • Siege Bantayan

    As others have mentioned, I think album length versus quality really depends on genre. An advantage I can think of to overly long albums (I agree with your article, I must say) is that for guys like me with Angry Metal Attention Deficit Disorder™, it’s an exercise in focus because before picking out the songs I like, I force myself to listen to an album several times.

  • I won’t go on to list my favorite +50min. albums because that would be fallacious at best, but I think that as someone mentioned below, there is something to be said about the artist’s vision. I will agree though than more often than not this vision should be way more succinct and play to their strengths instead of recording everything they can just because the medium allows it.

    In an industry that is suffering from multiple generational gaps most of them related to the accelerated technological progress, I believe this trend could be a little more complex to address than just establishing a couple of “truisms” like “Hey you’re not Opeth nor Pink Floyd so cut that shit to 45 min. or begone!” otherwise how we’re gonna get the next Opeth if every artist is afraid of pushing those constraints so to speak.

    • André Snyde Lopes

      The point of the article is not about cutting anyone’s wings. It’s about cutting the fat so they can soar higher.

      That was unexpectedly poetic…

      • Carlos Marrickvillian

        You are the vindaloo beneath my wings

      • Hey I agree that the long record shouldn’t be a standard, But the thing is, the medium’s there, the current CD red book standard has been around for 16 years (!) and if the big media conglomerates have their way, there is probably an incoming trend that could very easily increase the possible playback times in an exponential manner. And digital distribution isn’t going anywhere.

        If we as listeners are limiting our attention span to whatever period of time our commute takes, should that be held as the optimal standard for any artist that wishes a favorable critic all around?

        • André Snyde Lopes

          That is definitely a good point but do you really trust bands to make, say, 2 hours of consistently great material, so much so that it becomes a standard in the industry? Seeing as we are currently complaining about 60 minute records, I doubt it. Sure, some bands will pull it off, as they do with 70+ minutes now but as I said before, this is a very small minority.

          The favorable critic argument is, to me, a moot one. If your album is too long (i.e. longer than it needs to be) it should get points knocked off for it. If the songwriting, musicianship, etc, etc is top notch from beginning to end, it should get a positive score, be it a 20 minute EP or a 100 minute double LP. The key here is the latter are extremely rare.

          • Trust is the operative word I guess. The listener/artist relationship is a weird one I guess. There’s this commercial relation that has me wanting as many bangs for my bucks as humanly possible. But there’s also this artistic relation that at its most basic tells me that art shouldn’t be treated as a commodity. Sure I may feel that a 24 hour drone recording is anything but necessary (look up Lawrence Chandler’s The Tuning of The World), but then again, is every other art piece truly necessary?

      • You are the wind beneath my steely wings.

        • André Snyde Lopes

          All I see is a missed opportunity at a Frequent Wind joke.

          • I thought about it, but had to let it pass.

  • Ernesto Aimar

    Interesting. I agree that since “Fear of the Dark” Maiden’s been releasing very long records that have many fillers (except for “Brave New World”). “Dance of Death” and “A Matter of…” could have easily been combined into one massive record.

    Can’t agree with Opeth though. I think “Deliverance” and “Damnation” are both masterpieces with not even one single second to spare, specially the latter one.

    In spanish language we have a saying that goes something like “The good stuff, when short,becomes twice as good”. It may be applied to many records, but I still find many records longer than 50 minutes that are absolute masterpieces. Let’s take the last Moonsorrow for example…it clocks near 60 minutes, I can’t remember precisely, but I don’t think it would have been better if they had released it shorter. One may say the atmospheric sounds and the links between songs could have been removed, but it would have certainly damaged the whole atmosphere of the album.

    Green Carnation’s “Light of day…”: 1 song, 1 hour. Astonishing, overwhelming.

    And I could name many more, as well as many long boredoms (CoF’s “Damnation…” Oh The Humanity!).

    It might be true that due to the fact that CDs can storage more music than vinyls can bands started not to care If one song was awesome and the other just “meh”. But then the problem it’s not the CD, it’s the mentallity and soul of those artists.

    • Ralph Plug

      A Matter of Life and Death is the best album Maiden has released since Seventh Son. I’ve said that before, and I’ll keep saying it, and I even wrote a glowing 100/100 review when it came out. Absolutely inspired stuff from a band finally sounding like a cohesive group of musicians who are, for once, all on the same page. Utterly brilliant, and any song you would bring from Dance of Death onto Matter, other than perhaps Paschendale, would ruin the mood and the flow of that album.

      • A Matter of Life and Death is an absolutely brilliant record. Best post-SSoaSS record (and I like TXF a lot).

  • Josh R.

    Well said, AMG.

  • Wilhelm

    Weekend Warrior was the only filler on Fear of the Dark, an otherwise amazing album. The Final Frontier really pissed me off for the reason you described, it’s way too long – just bruce singing the chorus 10 times in a row, resulting in 8+ minute songs…it’s kind of a joke really.

    • cirkus-lizard

      From Here to Eternity is the worst song Maiden has ever released. A bunch of other duds mixed in with some great songs on that album.

      • Wilhelm

        Worse than Holy Smoke? can’t be!

        • tomasjacobi

          Holy Smoke is not the greatest song in all history, but compared to Chains of Misery, Fear is the Key and The Apparition it’s quite decent.

      • Grymm

        “Bring Your Daughter… to the Slaughter” would like to have some words with you…

    • tomasjacobi

      Fear of the Dark is nothing but filler. It always baffles me when people defend that album. It’s BY FAR the weakest Maiden album. No wonder Bruce left the band. You can just feel the lack of inspiration. It’s the sound of a band making an album because they have to, not because they want to.

      I have tried giving it another chance many times over the years. Every time I find that it’s worse than I remember.
      Their recent albums may not be perfect (and they’re too long all of them) but they’re masterpieces compared to FotD.

      • Ralph Plug

        Hear, hear.

        I love me some Iron Maiden, but both Prayer and Fear were lacklustre at best. Personally, I felt Steve & co. were more inspired on X-Factor and Virtual XI than on those two albums.

      • Wilhelm

        I really have to 100% disagree, I think it sounds incredibly inspired, it was a dark time for maiden and you can see that reflected in the lyrics and mood, but it was by no means filler material. However, I’ve seen this argument before. For me, No Prayer for the Dying was the weakest Maiden (of the albums before Bruce left).

        • tomasjacobi

          Well, let’s agree to disagree then :-)
          I much prefer “No Prayer…” of the two

  • Wilhelm

    I like your flowchart; it should be a requirement.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Well said AMG. I agree totally, at some point we went from making albums to filling up CDS.

    Panopticon’s Road to the North is a really good example of this. I’d say as it is, it’s a nearly perfect record. But falls short (pun intended) by being overly long. At an hour 13 minutes it’s difficult to have the time to absorb the work in its entirety and stay focused for it’s full length.

    The instrumental parts in RtN perfectly locate the music in a physical and psychic landscape and add intensity to the more pummelling moments. Over all though, there is just a bit too much atmosphere and musical wandering the record starts with nearly a minute of footsteps and wind.
    If Austin had had to deal with 45-50m on a vinyl release the forced editing would have made it a 10/10 record for me. The Long Roads parts 1-3 at 25min could have been cut and released separately or edited to under ten minutes.

    • Well, the bandcamp release was first distributed without Norwegian Nights, and Lunn himself in the apology e-mail said the album didn’t made much sense without it.

      I know it’s not the same as proper editing. And yes we may have our own opinions and preferences on album and track length, but how are we to take the last call from the artists themselves?

      Full disclosure: Roads to the North was my #1 album of the year.

      • Carlos Marrickvillian

        Oh yeah it’s right up there for me too, A masterwork i’ll be listening to it for years so I don’t want to come across as too critical.
        I hadn’t heard that story, It kind of explains the record feeling too long.
        I can’t imagine the record without Norwegian Nights, Its the center that the epic beginning and end hang from. Along with ‘where the mountain pierces the sky that song totally places the listener in the Kentucky landscape (or at least whatever you imagine it to be).
        The bluegrass instrumental Long Road Part 1 seems a bit redundant to me, I tend to skip it as soon as it comes on.
        Que up the album without Long Road Parts 1 and 3 and see what you think…

        • But…but I love Long Roads part 3, probably my favorite track of the whole :P.

          There was a reviewer that shall go unnamed that decried the album as overly timid because Lunn didn’t release the lyrics. I remember reading elsewhere that he didn’t do it because this time they were particularly personal and I find that hard to reproach from an artist’s perspective.

          I guess my point is, yes we may critique every part of any particular artistic endeavor, But every part of it should be taken as is. As an artist, once you decide to create something like that and release it, it’s out of your hands. And you let everyone else make what they will of it. Sure, the overwhelming majority may dislike long and double albums and think they are unnecessary or inconsistent, but we are still talking about an artistic statement, that probably shouldn’t be held to those “Are this 10 minutes of bluegrass really necessary?” arguments. As a listener you may, of course, voice your opinion on it, and say that the album would be better without it, as an artist perhaps you may think that you really have no choice. An artist may not have a good idea of were to cut, but also as an artist, you may think that you don’t *have* to.

    • ZEbyiUWvbe

      A rather large problem with Roads to the North is that the bluegrass parts are painfully out of tune. Maybe that is by design, in which case it is not working for me.

      • Carlos Marrickvillian

        I wouldn’t say the bluegrass parts are a big problem for me as I still really love the album but Long Road Home Part 1 just feels totally unnecessary. I doubt you’d hear a good Bluegrass band put out a 6 min instrumental like that.

    • El_Cuervo

      Worthy of a mention since it is a similar style to Panopticon: my principle issue with Saor’s release last year was its length. Like 4 out of 5 tracks were about 3 minutes too long, when it would have been way more effective without those additional 12 minutes.

      Saying that, I think The Long Roads are amazing, and of everything on that record, they should not be cut!

  • Our Fortress Is Burning

    The flowchart should be helpful for many bands.

  • LordEggShan

    In the 90’s and early 2000’s, your article would be astute and valid, but this is really antiquated and can be hugely discredited given current music sales and trends and what people want. Especially in METAL, you could be more wrong. Go back to the ivory tower bubble you live in and ponder on other useless ideas to write about.

    • Carlos Marrickvillian

      People want long boring albums?

    • BranMakMorn

      AMG, what are rents like for Ivory Tower Bubbles nowadays? Sounds like an awesome place to live.

      • Darren

        I’m trying to imagine a bubble that’s also a tower. I’m not sure physics would allow it.

    • Tower Bubble is my new favorite band name. You are a cheeky fellow.

      • Carlos Marrickvillian

        Either a christian gangsta metal band or a big band jazz crooner.

    • What? That doesn’t even make any sense.

      • Well, technically he’s right, you *could* be more wrong ;)

    • Grymm

      I would totally watch The Boy In the Ivory Tower Bubble and the role of AMG was given to John Travolta.

      Or Jake Gyllenhaal. I ain’t picky.

  • dritt

    Though I understand your point (indeed, there’s a lot of performers who fill their albums with a bunch of unlistenable tracks just to ask the price of an LP) basically I disagree. An album is a piece of art with which the artist has to have a vision and a message to deliver. Editing should be subordinated totally to turn this vision into reality and to transmit the idea and not to follow some rule which says don’t go over 42 mins. The album length should depend on the vision, some albums have to be short and aggressive others have to be more detailed and longer. It’s like saying the perfect length for a feature film is 80 minutes and every movie exceeding this is boring and you have to cut out your favorite scenes and put them one after the other to enjoy it. Or like saying to a writer don’t bother with description parts, monologues and detailed characterization ’cause you’ll go over 300 pages and a book of more than 300 pages sucks by definition.

    • Carlos Marrickvillian

      I don’t believe AMG is saying that albums should be 42mins. More that in times past the constraints of a vinyl release not only in overall length but in sides A and B forced artists and their labels to take a hard look at the material. Once that pressure was off a certain amount of artistic indulgence crept into the process of putting a record together. That genie is out of the bottle still and releases happen that would never have previously been considered. The other thing is point of sale. For the same price do you buy the Metallica CD with 12 songs or the Soundgarden with 11?
      The digital age is here and it’s all about attention span how long can an artist hold someones attention. I love Revocation and Motorhead, but do I want to listen to 2hr albums full of Ziltoid thought bubbles….no is the answer to that question.

      • dritt

        I say the quality of an album has nothing to do with its length. The quality depends on vision and performance. There are good long albums as many as bad short ones. If an album feels to be too long or it’s too short it means the editing didn’t serve the vision properly. Besides, the technology of vinyl records also evolved a lot in the past century, consider LP sizes, grooving and stuff like that which all affected the possible length of a record. If you want to be that old school you could criticise even the 12″/33,3/45min LP format and cry for the Shellac era. And if you make statistics about the length of your favorite albums and turns out you tend to like the short ones more it’s just personal and it’s indifferent.

        • Carlos Marrickvillian

          To your first point I 100% agree with you…but I think and what I believe AMG is saying is that quality is affected by artists not being able to stop, or losing the pressure to edit and thats what happened with CDs. Nothing to do with being old school or true at all
          Unedited books, uncut movies are crap (usually).
          Not every idea a muso regardless of who will be good.
          Theres a magic to a short album, where you’re left wanting more. Theres not much magical about a release with 40 mins of great music and 30 mins of the other stuff they were jamming on…

          • dritt

            Yeah, pointless improvisations, hidden tracks, demo versions, poor live recordings and previously unreleased tracks for a reason put to the end of an album just to create an “exclusive” release in most cases are very annoying. I hate that too.

    • In principle I agree with you. In practice, I don’t agree entirely. We never question the editing process of books at all. But the editing process is there, and it’s honed to make books easier to read, better paced, and so forth. I think the problem with long albums isn’t that they’re long as a matter of course. Like I said, I like a lot of long records. ORwarriOR is like 70 minutes and I adore it. Pink Floyd’s The Wall is one of the best records ever made and it’s a double album. I’m a huge fan of Ayreon’s last record and it’s a double LP.

      My issue is that when a pretty good record is 60 minutes long it often goes from being pretty good to being OK because it drags on. In a time before the CD that record would have been compressed down to a shorter running time, and often that means that the best parts would have been kept and the worst parts dropped. You know those B-Sides on old singles that aren’t good and that you are glad weren’t on the album? Those are on albums now. And songs that we’re once godawfully long likely got edited down. Come in with 8 songs and like them all, but it runs too long? Well, take off the first two minutes of moody bass solo and you’ve freed up some time.. right?

      Editing likely interferes with artistic vision, but what the editing of books shows (and it really does show this if you ever read biographies of great authors) is that the style and prose of the author is often best presented when combined with an excellent editor. The same is true of musicians. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Opeth’s best material comes when Steven Wilson is at the mixing board, for example.

      • I don’t see big disagreements here, you brought good examples to support your point so let me bring some that will show editing is often used in an excessive manner to support mine. Basically I see that if the editing process goes in mutual consent with the artist himself/herself then the editing has a good effect on the final product and puts the focuses on the right places.

        However usually the person who’s in charge in this process is payed by the publisher who wants every project to be profitable (sure thing) but with taking minimal risks. That’s why in a lot of cases editing isn’t serving the original artistic vision but to revamp the product to be more commercial. Sometimes with good intentions, sometimes in an arbitrary manner. For eg: At first nobody wanted Queen’s single, Bohemian Rhapsody, because it was 6 minutes long. I think we can clearly see now who was right. Or watch Fincher’s Alien the standard edition then the director’s cut. The first one is barely watchable, the other is the best in the Alien series imo. Books: I don’t know how much familiar are you with 20th century literature coming from the socialist era behind the iron curtain, but there are tones of examples when the editor served the ideology and cut all the parts considered to be dangerous to the regime (They did this even with classics like Faulkner, Karl May or Victor Hugo. Banned the originals then rereleased the edited versions). This seems a bit off the topic but think about it, this type of censorship can be detected even now and almost every bigger publishing company. Only the ideologies and the intentions are different. They’re not censoring to serve a regime but to make easy money, or they’re not censoring for eg. political extremists because they care but because the envisioned receptive audience is rejecting that and probably reflects badly on the company too.

        I just wanted to say with all of this that of course editing is a necessary thing but over-editing can strongly impair the artistic vision too. All in all: I think the possible length of 70-80 minutes of a CD gives bigger freedom. Some can live with the opportunity others just can’t use it wisely.

    • tomasjacobi

      “It’s like you’re saying the perfect length for a feature film is 80 minutes”

      I definitely think that films suffer from being too long also. Most films used to be around 90 minutes, now the standard length for a Hollywood blockbuster is between 2 hours and 2:20. Most of those films could easily loose 20-30 minutes.

  • lacsativ

    The Opeth fanboy inside me is going to cry, but my favorite album of 2014 is definitely The Satanist by Behemoth. And it’s only a 44 minute album. I get energic whenever I fire it up. It was the first time in years I felt like headbanging. This album addresses, in my opinion, everything that Behemoth lacked. And he yes, it does have that “rock ‘n’ roll” feeling that Nergal was talking about.

    • De2013

      100% True. Playing right now!

  • Grymm

    There are exceptions to every rule such as ORWarriOR or, most recently, Voice’s monstrous London, but overall more can be said with less.

    Sometimes, a LOT less.

    • Ralph Plug

      I thought ORWarriOR dragged on a bit, especially compared to Mabool, which I think is a ridiculously tight album.

      • I love ORWarriOR but I can understand this critique. For me it floooows, but a lot of people had a similar bone to pick with it.

        • Ernesto Aimar

          The thing is I’m not sure they are exceptions…how many long records are awesome? maybe as much as short ones!

          We need…stadistics :)

      • Grymm

        I *love* Mabool.

  • Wow, 110 comments already! I agree with this completely. In addition to the facts in the original article, I find myself getting bored with an album (even good ones) when they exceed an hour. I’ve found that when I listen to an album in the 40-50 minute range, by the time its done, I look forward to the next time I hear it. But when theres a 65-80 minute album, my attention starts to wander off towards the end, and no matter how good parts of that album were, I end it with a thought of boredom or distraction, and Im left with a less than stellar opinion of the album. 45 minute albums allow you to leave it still attentive and excited. 70 minute albums leave your focus elsewhere, and you’re less likely to want to come back to it.

  • Greg Hasbrouck

    The notion that something is an “art form”, suggests it’s an “undertaking or activity enhanced by a high level of skill or refinement”. So wouldn’t it be more logical to argue that delivering a concise, well-edited release is
    more of an art form in the era of the CD and not that the CD destroyed the “art form”?

    Delivering something concise in the age when vinyl was the dominant format was less an art form and more a requirement. And while you can
    find examples of records that would have been better if edited down, it’s also easy to cite examples where the 22 minute per side limitation of vinyl would have cost us great music. Operation: Mindcrime is nearly 60 minutes. I wouldn’t give back a second of that record. Opeth’s Still Life is 62+ minutes. I wouldn’t want to forgo any of those tracks. Obviously I could list a great number of records whose greatness extends beyond the 44 minute limitation of vinyl. Giving an artist the room to express his or her vision is not the issue. It’s simply incumbent on the artist to not to overreach, which is where the true art form lies.

  • Darren

    Just heard that the new Nightwish album is 80 minutes long…

  • Tekidek

    Great post. It’s something I’ve always thought and that you occasionally adress in yours post: records that overstay. Cut down some things here and there and the disc would be awesome, but nooo, let’s make a CD with 16+ tracks (Disturbed, anyone?) or double (The Use Your Illusion example was perfect, I’ve always felt that about the album).

    When I think of a metal band with lenghty records that actually works, it’s Dr. Sin.

  • Martijn Brugman

    56 kbps modem? Phah! I had a 14.4 kbps one!

  • flaming_froghurt

    Huh. You could take the article and replace every instance of “album length” with “movie VFX”. It’s exactly the same. Compare 80’s Star Wars with 00’s Star Wars…

  • madhare

    The editing problem can be found in all arts. So no point claiming that editing music would be “restricting the artist” (as some have commented).

    When artists get famous, they tend to get more independence from the editing process, and this can actually be a bad thing. We get former brilliant authors spewing thousands of pages irrelevant shit (e.g. Stephen King and others). Or like movie directors who we considered geniuses, turn out to be complete asshole-losers when they have no restrictions or even input from anyone else (e.g. Lucas, Ridley Scott, Tarantino…)

    Also most painters in history have been constrained by general commercial factors and usually even direct orders from their patrons. And even today they are restricted by the natural affordances of their media, size of the canvas, the properties of the paint, etc.

    I agree that CD was the thing which started the trouble, but in general it is simply the first of expanded digital formats. So we see exactly the same problems in movies, for example. Remember all those idiots trying to sell us interactive movies with alternative endings? Or ourselves still falling for the endless “directors cuts / “even-more-extended-cuts” / “truu-kvlt-cults”?

    If I want to make choices in enjoying my media, I will play a game or something. But from a movie, music, book, theatre, or a painting, I want the artist to give me THEIR VISION. Not some trough of “you might like this version, or perhaps this, or this version, oh, I don’t really know”. (This is why even a die-hard Blind Guardian fan like me cannot stand their albums with alternative versions.)

    We appreciate in artists generally, what many women appreciate in men: Doing something really well and with confidence. They can’t be either too timid or too arrogant.

    Having too many songs can be a sign of timidness, i.e. not having the courage to edit anything; “I’m just glad I got it all out without failing completely”. Or of arrogance; “all my stuff is soooo fucking great, I’ll just go and masturbate to myself now”. Either extreme is bad.

    Good editor will be able to help the artist to find that golden zone between the extremes.

  • Nahuel Benvenuto

    did you seriously used GnR as a example of a banda that makes “great” records, when is always been a totally commercial and bad band? and speak bad about Hypnotize and Mesmerize which is a masterpiece?

  • Dead1

    Great article.
    The 90s were terrible for long albums and the first step down the current path of quantity over quality.

  • Mordhechai

    and the worst offender of all: Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by I Pump Smashkins… even the title is bloated. This is essentially a quadruple album, being 2 CDs filled to the brim. It would’ve made a killer single CD album.