Steel Druhm Comments: On the Trials, Tribulations and Temptations of the Metal Music Reviewer

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

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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