Angry Metal Guy Speaks: On Negativity

Angry Metal LisaEvery now and again—namely, most every time we post a negative review of a popular band—some reader will comment on how it seems like we’re always trashing major label releases. They argue that we’re not being fair and that we underrate records. They explain that records have received universal acclaim and that we’re just being contrarian (even jokingly referring to me as Contrarian Metal Guy). They accuse us of being elitists who are just bashing popular bands because we want to be trve or kvlt (I gave a 5/5 to fucking [Luca Turilli’s] Rhapsody [of Fire]. lol.). I don’t think these are particularly good representations of what we do here or that these comments are reflective of why it is that negative reviews get posted. And I’m sure it’s frustrating and a bit of a shock because, of course, it’s true that we tend to rate things differently than other sites do. I have, frankly, even considered doing away with ratings altogether, because people get so obsessively focused on them.1 I have never openly responded to these accusations, because I don’t want to waste the time and energy. However, there is one complaint which deserves a rebuttal because it’s just flat out wrong and I want to set the record straight publicly.

We here at Angry Metal Guy never (never, ever) write contrarian reviews for the purpose of gaining website views. We are not the Slate of the heavy metal world, launching out #slatepitch bombs at an unsuspecting metal world as some sort of crazy clickbait strategy. We are not intentionally being risqué to get clicks. Anyone who thinks that this is the case has an incorrect understanding of the payoff structures of the very special endeavor of reviewing music and the music industry as a whole. I’ve covered these grounds previously, but they simply bear repeating, since I see this nonsense on an all too frequent basis.

Music reviewing is predicated on the good grace of the industry on which we are dependent. We do not review records that we have not received as promo, which means that we are dependent upon labels to give us access to promotional materials pre-release. This has led to conflicts between me and the people who do promo for different labels, which I have written about rather angrily before. In the past few years, the distance between release date and the release of promos has simply become more minimal and the reason for that is because the day the new Slayer leaks is also the day that all the bloggers get the new promo.2 These details are relevant, however, to make a point: if at any point a blogger or a music writer crosses the line, labels can exert pressure on them by removing their access or by downgrading them. That I receive such ridiculously spotty promotional materials from Nuclear Blast has to do with the fact that I pissed off my promo guy. He doesn’t respond to my e-mails anymore, plain and simple. I sent him a review link a while back, to which he responded with something like “Oh yeah, I heard about that one.” This might be ‘inside baseball,’ but it’s important to get this across: we are dependent upon labels for access, which means that labels have the ultimate leverage over if we want to be able to make this site run and to be able to review big releases. I am, for example, certain that I will never receive any promotional material from Iron Maiden again after my review. My footnote about the matter was not tongue-in-cheek. That’s not paranoia; that’s experience.

whatifyourerightThe second important point to keep in mind is that reviews aren’t big hits from a viral perspective. We focus specifically on reviews, for the most part, and that leads to a situation where we are dependent upon momentary spikes in traffic that are tied to a release date. This is a bad business model, which is why the most successful metal blogs produce tons of tiny news posts, opinion pieces, and give zero shits about meaningful reviews of records. Only high-profile releases like Pale CommunionThe Book of Souls, etc., are things that have long shelf-lives; my Record o’ the Month posts do way better than any individual review every month. Furthermore, no one cares about reviews we wrote three years ago except us. Someone might Google their way in to it, but most of our traffic is dependent upon that one, single spike in traffic. Why is this important? When Amon Amarth shares your unnecessarily gushy review, it breaks your website. If Opeth had deigned to share my review, it would have been a billion hits in a day. If Nile or In Vain or The Black Dahlia Murder doesn’t share our reviews, then it is site regulars and those who are out actively looking for reviews that see our stuff. Now, our site regulars are a much bigger pool than the industry is probably comfortable with these days, but our readership would be even larger if we had gotten the kind of reach you get from posting about how a band just released their best record EVER and omfg it’s dark and so heavy and the greatest!11! When we gush, fans and bands share the material, labels pimp it, our reviews get blurbed and that’s great visibility for us. That moment is super important. It was my gushy review of Amorphis‘s Skyforger that got this website established to begin with, because the band shared that review.3 And every time we review a record that is a 2.5 or a 1.5 for a big band, we are nipping viewership in the bud.

Why, then, do we write negative reviews? Well it started out like this: I wrote a review of everything I listened to. It’s just that simple; why should I waste my time listening to an album I’m not going to review? I am always in the business of trying to find new music to listen to which meant that when I would get new promos I’d pop ’em in. And as soon as I was listening to something, I figured I should review it. These days, things work a little differently. Our reviewers, for the most part, choose things to review based on the expectation that they’re going to like it. Aside from trying to maintain continuity between the first person who reviewed something and the current reviewer,4 people look at things that they should like and choose it. But once you’ve dibbed a record, you review it.5 I think this serves a couple of purposes, neither of which were intentional. First, it gives us a broader spectrum of reviews. Second, it helps to give a complete picture of what we here at Angry Metal Guy like and don’t. If you had me pegged as a power metal guy, you might be surprised to know what I think of Anubis Gate. Or, you might know that I’ve been a longtime Iron Maiden fan, so surely my opinion on the new album gives you a sense of what it is about Maiden I like. This attitude is similar to why we should force negative studies to be published in medical testing. Why on earth would we only accept the positive views as somehow painting a complete picture of what works and/or doesn’t? And why should I trust a reviewer who only ever says nice things about the music they review?

Yes, we write negative reviews. But while we write negative reviews, we don’t do it to be intentionally contrarian and even if we are doing it to be contrarian, it’s not a disingenuous attempt to create clickbait—because that would be fucking stupid. Most people read our reviews in order to confirm their cognitive biases about records, and labels share our reviews because the sheen of independence makes our reviews valuable (and very, very cheap) advertising. It is therefore always in our interests to be positive. It would also make my life a lot easier if my promo guy actually bothered to respond to my e-mails or get me records in time so that we could review things before they leaked. But, alas, we’re far too stubborn and stupid to simply kowtow to an industry that simply wants to use us as an advertising medium. You don’t have to like our reviews and you don’t have to like our opinions. But you really should stop accusing us of doing this to be edgy or to drive site views, because that just shows that you don’t have a clue how this whole thing works.  

Show 5 footnotes

  1. I wrote an in-depth review of In Vain‘s last album, which I said was very good and was quite laudatory throughout. I rated it 3.5 and when they never shared the link on their Facebook I asked why and I was told that the rating was too low. Recently the producer of the new Riverside record came through and looked at my review and my critiques and basically implied that I had panned the album. And watching individuals in our comment sections say that they completely agree with my critiques of the new Iron Maiden record and then saying “But it’s still a 3.5 or 4,” is absolutely mind-blowing for me. Ratings are so subjective I can hardly cope, and they cause us more headaches than most anything else.
  2. This is not always true, of course, and suggesting it’s only bloggers would feed directly into the quite unfair treatment that labels have of bloggers. Even embargoed records leak, such as the last two Nightwish records; neither of which was received as promo until after release date, despite them having been on torrent sites for a couple of weeks prior.
  3. They didn’t share my recent gushy one on Facebook as, I suspect, the score wasn’t high enough.
  4. Also, I can steal anyone’s review at any time because I’m Angry Fucking Metal Guy.
  5. Again, unless you’re me. At which point I make someone else review the shit I don’t want to review.
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