Steel DruhmI wanna write for a magazine. I’m gonna be the best they’ve ever seen.”
Queensrÿche

This is due when? Not happening.”
Steel Druhm

Hey, sheeples, how about you all allow Uncle Steel to bend your ears on a topic near and dear to me: my job at AMG. You see, despite what you may think, writing about music is no walk in the park in a gorilla suit. Aside from the obvious fact that words can never adequately describe what music sounds like (I know, dancing about architecture would be hard too), I specialize in the most underground, kvlt musical genre of all: this thing we call “heavy metal.” That means it’s my job to discuss some album vomitted forth by a band only seven people ever heard of, and four of them are IN the band! It also requires explaining what an obscure Croatian black death doom band sounds like, though that means drawing tenuous parallels to an even more obscure band that broke up before my readers were even born (you guys don’t remember Big Jim Suede’s Doom Troupe of Evil? What rock have you been living under?). Are you starting to appreciate the perils I face daily? Welcome to the soap opera I call… The Power and the Promos.

But wait, there’s more! Take the difficulties above and add a hectic time-table which requires me to get intimately familiar with three or four albums a week (it’s not as sexy as I make it sound). Since we at AMG try to be fair to each band we review, it’s a rule of thumb that we listen to an album five or six times, if not more before attempting a review. Sometimes, the listening is a pleasure. As you can imagine though, quite often, it’s not. I’m sure you’ve all listened to something and thought to yourself, “that’s some worthless shit right there” (hello, St. Anger).  Now imagine playing it four or five more times, because you must! [And it’s impossible to unhear. – AMG]

Naturally, the enforced listening means my personal musical choices are relegated to a distant back-burner [You’ll notice that we don’t do “playlists” anymore, that’s ’cause our playlists are the reviews you’re reading. AMG]. No matter how much I want to hear some old timey Manowar, that steaming pile of Morbid Angel isn’t going to review itself. As another side effect of all this listening, judging and reviewing, I’ve found myself becoming cynical toward entire genres and styles. I’m sure some of my reviews read like 800 word eye-rolls, and I don’t necessarily intend that. It just happens.

What also happens is a frenzy of note scribbling. As I try to absorb this album or that, I’m constantly scratching notes and review ideas on every piece of paper in my reach. Sometimes it’s a notepad, other times it’s a pizza box, napkin or worse. I’m sure I look like a crazed Ted Kaczynski-like nutjob, frantically penning my megalomaniacal manifesto (that could be my new alias: Manny Festo, or maybe Billy Pulpit).

Then there are the promos with bleeps, sonic explosions and voice-overs to discourage pirating. How am I suppose to get into the flow of an album when there’s a jarring, high-pitched squeal at random intervals? At least when its black metal I usually don’t notice (eye roll). And don’t even get me started on the streaming promos I have to listen to at my computer like some kind of aural Prisoner of Zelda (too late, I’m pissed again), or the strict prohibition on the word “same-y.”

As if the job wasn’t challenging enough, there are the ever-present temptations that nip at the overworked reviewer’s heels like a rapid hyena. The main forbidden apple is simply phoning it in, i.e. listening to an album once, maybe twice, coming up with a surface reaction and just going with it. It’s so easy to tell yourself it doesn’t matter, but it sells the artist, reviewer and most importantly, you the reader short and defeats the whole purpose of what we are doing. Another temptation is to shorten the “getting familiar” process by reading whatever reviews may be out there before you start listening to an album. That’s bad for a whole host of reasons. It taints your perception as you go into a listening session and gives you preconceived expectations that aren’t yours. I consider that bad form and crappy trade-craft, but it’s always an enticing thought.

Lastly, there’s the formidable urge to review albums you know you’ll enjoy and skip the ones you’ll hate [The bane of all reviewers. I have to stop myself from doing this one, too. – AMG]. One can be forgiven for avoiding albums they suspect will be as enjoyable as a blow to the head with a war hammer dipped in dog poop (yes, I speak of the Poo Hammer™), but that’s bad trade-craft too. As AMG himself preaches (as he gleefully drops metal-core into my review bin), reviewing the bad stuff is just as useful as the good stuff, since it better informs the readers of your tastes and whether or not it tracks with theirs. That doesn’t make it any less painful though! Oh, the things Steel Druhm does for the good of mankind.

So now you have a small window into the daily struggles of the overworked and unpaid metal reviewer. It’s a dirty job for sure, but someone’s gotta do it. So if you see Steel Druhm on the train, in a bar or some urine-soaked, dark alley, listening to his iPod and furtively scrawling notes on toilet paper or discarded newspapers, he’s doing it for you! Don’t ask for autographs though; he’s really cranky when reviewing.

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  • AndrewRC

    I really honestly enjoyed reading this. But now I have that Queensryche song in my head.

    • It’s actually by Geoff Tate’s Queensryche starring Geoff Tate, the Original Voice®.

      • I thought it was The Geoff Tate Experience.

        • You forgot the ™. He’s such a fucking douchebag, and his version of Queensrÿche is crap. An embarrassment added to an already pretty embarrassing legacy at this point.

    • Sorry, Andrew….you’re collateral damage.

      • AndrewRC

        That’s alright I guess. This Geoff situation fuels my days with it’s zany entertainment quotient.

  • I would like an autograph, please!

    • Send me your favorite Naruto DVD and I’ll sign it…for a fee.

  • I want an autograph too. I appreciate what you and the other reviewers have been doing, it’s hard but I thank you guys for doing all this and for free. Never quit, do it for the metal! :)

  • Madam__X

    This was a brilliant read! I can absolutely relate to being surrounded by pieces of paper and and and with what appear to be the insane, hastily made scrawlings of a woman madder than a freaking hatter! Haven’t yet found myself in the dark alley you mention – should that be something I should ‘look forward to’ down the line? *insert nervous maniacal laugh here*.
    Take heart Mr Steel Druhm, you’ve inspired, I’m very sure, many a writer and listener with your reviews :)

  • Yeah… I can relate somewhat….my problem is getting burned out writing when doing nothing but reviews. As you said, there’s only so many different ways you can describe a guitar solo or use the term “epic” to talk about the middle section or bridge or outro, etc. And yeah it is easier to write reviews about albums you find yourself enjoying or loving because you’re so full to bursting of things you want to point out, you have to practically reign yourself in (as I’ve learned). Doing negative reviews however does serve its purpose in that I think it makes me improve as a writer. But yeah I don’t know how you guys are able to put up so many new reviews so fast without wanting to stop writing. I have to keep it mixed up.

    • I cope by drinking a lot of antifreeze and coffee.

    • It’s hard, man. Everyone I’ve talked to goes through burnout. And writing by yourself is essentially impossible: hence all the new blood. Between Steel Druhm and myself we can maybe – maybe – do 5 days a week.

  • Kalsten

    Since I learn about AMG I have to say that this webpage has become my favourite for metal-subjects. I have learn about so many new bands that I know I will never know about my myself, that I am really looking forward everyday for new reviews.

    However, from some time to nowadays, I have detected a tendency on increasing the grades on the reviews. That would be nice if the quality of the overall metal music was increasing, but I don’t think so. Time ago, I knew that a 4, a 4.5 or a 5, even in styles I dont like, would mean albums that I will enjoy. But nowadays I have seen albums with 4 and higher that, when listened, is like “how the hell this can have a high grade?”.

    But even with that, I really love AMG. Although I miss the people complaining about “you only review death metal here” xD

    • We worry about grade inflation here and we try to tamp it down when we detect it. However, that was easier when it was just AMG and myself and we could yell at each other about it (read as: AMG yelling at me). With a bunch of writers, it becomes more challenging to align everyone’s tastes and rating standards. The struggle continues though.

      • It is probably one of the most difficult things to keep in line. I feel like it’s rude to drop other people’s scores, too, ’cause obviously that’s their choice… but grade inflation gets in the way.

        • hubcapiv

          I’ve also noticed the grade inflation. One thing I dig about AMG is that I know to take note when you guys give out a 4.5 or (heaven forbid) a 5. Because you don’t do that often. So I notice when those high scores are given out a little too often.

          (Which is another way of saying, “IMO the new Gojira is a 4.”)

          I listen to a ton of music and because I am a forgetful dork I like to keep track of what I liked and what I didn’t like. Nobody asked me, but here are my guidelines for rating stuff:
          5 stars: I think I’ll be listening to this in 5 years.
          4 stars: I liked this so much I’ll seek out other stuff by this band.
          3 stars: I liked this CD fine, but I don’t feel the urge to listen to other music by the band.
          2 stars: I had a hard time getting through this CD more than a couple of times.
          1 star: I don’t get too many one stars because I try not to buy stuff I will hate…

          I find that this clarifies my thoughts, especially about the highwe rankings. I mean, look back at what you were listening to in 2007, and then look at what’s in your playlist today. I bet it’s less than 10 albums. IMO that’s a pretty good gauge of “five star.”

          I also like this because it adds a little more objectivity to ratings while still allowing for taste. Your “five star” won’t be my “five star”, and that’s cool. But at least our “five stars” will mean similar things – I’m not giving out 33 a year while you give out four.

          • Yeah, I’m working on this. I’ve noticed it, as well.

          • Colin Stuart

            That’s a really great breakdown of your interpretation of scores, thanks!

          • I should mention that I have incorporated some of this into my own new revised ratings. I’ll be pumping out some fluff about them soon. ;)

          • hubcapiv

            Nice! Glad to help. It’s all for the best, nobody likes looking back at a trail of “good lord, I loved THAT?” a year down the road…

          • It’s interesting, too, because sometimes you really do just overrate shit based on the pure adrenaline of it. It’s crappy. But I always feel good looking at a record I gave a 3.5 at the time that has since grown into a 4.5 or 5.0 for me like Crimfall’s first or the Guilt Machine record.

  • QUIT YOUR WHINING AND GET BACK TO WORK!

    • I’m working, you musical sweatshop owner, you!!

  • I had commented on the last post that it was a letdown (Angry Metal Guy Speaks: On Genres as Pejoratives).This one was very enjoyable. Please don’t ask reasons and explanation. Just keep writing :)

    • We’ll keep writing, but I think it’s lame to say that it was a letdown without motivating your response.

      • Sorry Angry metal Guy, I did write a lengthy response and then something happened to my laptop and it disappeared. I didn’t have energy to type it again.

  • HarpoonedFace

    When you’re writing down all of your notes do you find yourself listing all the same words like “brutal”, “monster”, “playful or whatever?

    How do you try and avoid that and try not to re-hash the same old adjectives all of the time?

    • I don’t. Normally someone will point it out if I get repetitive and then I stop.

      • I try to keep a mental list of words I use and avoid them for periods of time. It doesn’t always work but there are only so many ways to describe a riff…