Technical Tuesday

Technical Tuesday – The Curse of the Great

The online metal community is not a very forgiving one. A band changes directions, and with the release of the first single “fans” start bashing how terrible the band has become. And by bashing I mean spitting as much hate as possible, with as many vulgarities as they can not-so-creatively come up with.

So, let’s say for argument’s sake, that Gorezombiephobiatopsy puts out your favorite album ever, Deader Than Dead Times A Million Deads. This is your favorite brutal post blackened atmospheric deathgaze  metal album of all time. Later, said favorite band puts out a new album, with a new progressive vibe. Inevitably you will compare it to the old one, RIGHT? And if the old album is really your favorite, then the new album, no matter how good, may NEVER live up to that original one! This is what I call the “Curse of the Great.”

Hence, I raise the question – is it possible to listen to a new album by a band that has a classic album and NOT be influenced by the band’s previous work?

For my first example, I submit Carnival is Forever (2011) by Decapitated. As I was listening to this album (which I purchased on the day of its release last year)  I couldn’t get past how different it sounded than Nihility (2002). I simply could not get it into my head that the lineup had changed (R.I.P. Witold “Vitek” Kieltyka, and a speedy recovery to Covan) and that this album was not meant to sound the same as something from 2002. I thought to myself, “The musicianship is great, but its just not the same.” Which is the same thing I thought about Decapitated’s 2006 release Organic Hallucinosis! Essentially, just because I like Decapitated’s old albums so much, I couldn’t appreciate newer releases as much as they deserved. Which is entirely my own fault, and I am the only one who suffers as a result of it is myself. And I genuinely feel bad about this.

Next is the obvious one: Cryptopsy by Cryptopsy. Its a solid album. Its better than solid – its a good album. A GREAT album even. But, its by the band that released not only one, but TWO of my top 20 death metal albums (None So Vile and Once Was Not). My unforgiving memory is getting in the way of enjoying Cryptopsy to its fullest potential. But my question is, can this be avoided? It seems that every album after an amazing release will be judged by that key work. Inevitably.

However, there are other bands where their previous work does not interfere with the enjoyment of their most recent release. For example, Origin’s Entity, Atheist’s Jupiter (after a 15 year absence!), Dying Fetus’ Reign Supreme… the list goes on. So, why does the Curse of the Great not affect these bands?! Why is it that I can get on the right path and appreciate these new classics for what they are, while not others?

Feel free to help me answer this question in the comments. Or, I am also interested to hear of other metal listeners that have been affected by the Curse of the Great, and, if so, for which bands and albums.

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One thought on “Technical Tuesday – The Curse of the Great”

  1. “Is it possible to listen to a new album by a band that has a classic album and NOT be influenced by the band’s previous work?”

    To a certain extent, no but it is entirely possible to appreciate the new work on its own terms provided the change from classic to new makes some degree of sense.

    As a for instance, I love classic Devourment. ‘1.3.8’ and ‘Molesting The Decapitated’ are two of the greatest Death Metal albums of all time in my opinion. So when ‘Butcher The Weak’ and ‘Unleash The Carnivore’ come along with a new vocalist some reactions are particularly venomous.

    “Mike sucks, he inhales, the viciousness is gone, yadda yadda yadda.”

    While I definitely think that Mike is nowhere near as good as Ruben or Wayne was, ‘Butcher The Weak’ and ‘Unleash The Carnivore’ are still Slam Death Metal greats. There’s a reason Devourment’s been at the head of the new school slam pack for so long; they’ve always known how to write astoundingly brutal/compulsively headbangable tunes.

    Would I prefer Ruben on vocals and Mike on bass again? Absolutely…but that’s not likely to happen any time soon and in the meantime Devourment’s got a new album coming out next year I’m sure is gonna rule…so the people complaining in that instance are just fuckin’ loudmouths who probably never really liked Devourment that much to begin with.

    Disgorge had a similar progression; everything with Matti Way is untouchable, A.J. Magana was just about the greatest replacement the band could find but Levi on ‘Parallels Of Infinite Torture’ just couldn’t fill either A.J or Matti’s shoes. The version of ‘Atonement’ on that record is nowhere near the classic it was on ‘Cranial Impalement’…still, the production is good, the guitar, drumming and bass work is suitably vicious and hell, Levi does his best, even if he isn’t entirely up to snuff. There’s a huge difference between a band actually betraying its sound (which I’m getting to) and whiny fanboys who are just pissed that they aren’t talented enough to be in their own band.

    I’ve found that the difference between a band that moves forward and avoids ‘the curse of the great’ and one that doesn’t is in the nature of their progression. Disgorge, Devourment, Suffocation, Origin, Atheist, Dying Fetus; these are all bands whose progression makes/made sense within the larger context of their distinct sound and musical ambition. ‘War Of Attrition’ didn’t destroy Dying Fetus because the fans could understand and appreciate the genesis of the significantly increased technicality, even if it didn’t entirely work.

    Bands like Cryptopsy or Decapitated on the other hand progress with no regard for their previous sound/identity, which makes the change unwelcome and jarring. Most bands with an established sound don’t need to radically change on every album. Consistency is a very under appreciated musical trait and more often than not the most consistent bands are the ones who end up flourishing the most. Even if there are small changes here and there on each new release, the core of the band’s sound stays the same and as such fans can welcome the new while appreciating the old.

    The reason an album like ‘Carnival Is Forever’ falls flat on its face is because the band doesn’t care or respect the carefully laid foundation leading to this left field ‘experiment’ so why the hell should we as fans care about or respect it?

    For all of the technical missteps a band that tastes greatness could make on a follow-up there’s the other, even worse fate that befalls bands like Decapitated or Cryptopsy and that is completely disregarding their previous musical identity on an experimental whim. The bands that recorded ‘None So Vile’ and ‘Nihility’ have been dead for years but instead of moving forward with something entirely new, the current members of these bands think they can change everything except their name.

    It doesn’t work like that. If ‘Carnival Is Forever’ was the work of a band created in the ashes of the previous, I think that album could be appreciated quite a bit more than it is. It isn’t because in refusing to change *everything* (which is what has to happen when a band’s musical direction changes so radically) they’re insulting the memory of what once was which is not only disrespectful to established fans but clearly demonstrates the actual band’s wishy washy commitment to a new sound, which just adds insult to injury.

    To quote a line from the latest Batman picture,

    “You hung up your cape and your cowl but you never moved on.”

    (I’m a sucker for Batman references)

    Decapitated and Cryptopsy gave up the sound that allowed them to write and record their classics but they thought they could cling to the name their past greatness manifested under instead of setting out to record entirely new classics in a completely different direction.

    So ultimately, for a band to avoid ‘the curse of the great’, they have to understand not only their distinct sound but the best way in which to progress without entirely separating themselves from who they are and what they’re best at doing. Beyond that, there’s nothing wrong with musicians deciding to go a different way with their goals and sound but when they try to cling to the shell of their former outfit because that namesake is what they were known for, it will ALWAYS result in disaster.

    That’s my (longwinded) two cents anyway.

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