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Critique on Review Article of the books, "Extreme Metal" and "Damage Inc."

Critique on Review Article of the books, "Extreme Metal" and "Damage Inc."

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Published by Pranay Chand

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Published by: Pranay Chand on Oct 23, 2010
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The following critique analysis a review article published in the Journal of Popular MusicStudies volume 20, issue 2. The article is written by Steve Waksman (from the SmithCollege) on two fairly recent books on the Metal genre. The first book is DamageIncorporated: Metallica and the Production of Musical Identity (New York and London:Routledge, 2006) by Glenn T. Pillsbury and the second book is Extreme Metal: Musicand Culture on the Edge (Oxford and New York: Berg, 2007) by Keith Kahn-Harris akaThe Metal Jew. In the following critique I express my views on the things that could havebeen more elaborated and explained by Steve Waksman. Also I have argued on a fewpoints mentioned by Steve Waksman on these books.Ever since the commercial rise of Metal as a genre from the 80s to the early 90s therehave not been many scholarly works on the genre. Waksman starts out by naming twoof the better known scholarly books Deena Weinstein’s Heavy Metal: A CulturalSociology (also known as Heavy Metal: The Music and Its Culture 1991) and RobertWalser’s Running with the Devil: Power Gender and Madness in Heavy Metal Music(1993) and drawing parallels between the two former books and the two recent ones.The parallels drawn by Waksman were a bit far fetched as the two former books werewritten in an era where Metal was still a dominant force in the commercial music world.Waksman further talks about the genres that developed in Metal and claims the newersubgenres like death metal, black metal and grindcore which were more aggressive andfaster were the cause of the death of the more “melodic and pop–oriented” strains of thegenre. This claim is only partially correct as metal developed into almost innumerablesubgenres ranging from melodic and slower styles to ones that moved in the direction ofextremity both in sound and lyrical content. Since the early 90’s bands all across theworld had contributed to metals overall scene and given it a vast variety of subgenresex. Symphonic Metal, Shred Metal, Speed Metal, Doom Metal. As Waksman suggeststhat these few extreme subgenres had emerged towards the end of Metals rain ofdomain and possibly contributed to the downfall of commercial metal is not veryaccurate, as grindcore bands like Possessed (1983), Morbid Angel (1983), Death (1983)and Cannibal Corpse (1988) had been there from the same time as bands like Metallicaand were very successful in their circle. Waksman further stats that Pillsbury’s work hadlimitations as he chose to only focus on one band Metallica, but Pillsbury describes ingreat detail all the bands that influenced Metallica’s music. He also goes in the greatdepth about the origins of the bands and their music/lyrics overall Pillsbury covered mostmajor Metal bands that existed before the 90’s.Waksman posses the view that covering Metallica is a very small fraction of the Metalgenre, whereas Metallica is the most successful American band selling numerous multiplatinum albums (www.metallica.com). Metallica opened the gates to make Metal acommercial product and in ways made Metal the ‘popular music’ in the 80’s. Pillsburyand Waksman give emphasis on the Metallica “sell out” controversy and made it lookunintentional, whereas that could not have been unintentional and was a commercialstep forward for the band to be successful. Metallica would have never been immortal inthe way it is today, It would have just ‘Faded to Black’ like many other similar bands oftheir time. Waksman gives two factors that contributed to the “sell out” controversy, themultiplatinum success of the Album Metallica (The Black Album 1991) and the releaseof their two albums Load (1996) and Reload (1997) without mentioning the main or theforemost reason which was Metallica’s 1
music video for the hit single “One” (aired onMTV 20
January 1989). The music video was considered negative by fans as LarsUlrich stated that they would not go on MTV. Pillsbury has explained in detail 80’s Metal
community’s negative views on commercialization of music. Waksman has correctlyinformed the reader of the different styles in which Metallica has produced their songsand how that has expanded the boundaries of the genre, Waksman could haveembellished the fact that every Metallica album has been different from the precedingones not only in sound and image of the band but also the compositional style. Eachalbum of Metallica can be looked as an experiment some preferred by fans some not.Waksman critiques Pillsbury claiming that he does not mention the metal undergroundscene that was set in 1990’s, but Pillsbury was focusing on Metallica and the factors thataffected it. The metal underground scene and Metallica were two different points thenwith almost no relation between them, as ever since Metallica became commercial theywere catering the general masses with a sort of popular rock and the people that wereinvolved with the metal underground scene disliked the bands popularized music and itscommercial success. Further Waksman impeached Pillsbury for not mentioning theeffect of grunge on metal, as it is accepted that grunge overthrew metal as the popularcommercial music of the time. Pillsbury is correct in not taking grunge in account as themost successful multiplatinum album of Metallica (Metallica or The Black Album) wasreleased on August 13
1991 and the album supposed of have put an end to metalNirvana’s Nevermind was released on September 24
1991 and yet the Black Albumwas no.1 on Billboard 200, UK album chart and Australian ARIA Album chart going 15xPlatinum in US sales alone and won the band numerous Grammys and one MTV musicaward.Waksman continues to write on Khan-Harris’s book Extreme Metal. Extreme Metal dealswith the metal society and how it is self sustaining and has grown over the last 2decades since the end of the ‘Metal Reign’. Waksman notes an excellent observationmade in Khan-Harris’s book claiming metal scenes flourish in areas of the world that areclose to, but slightly removed from the centers of global power. A good example tofurther prove this point is the 2008 world tour of Iron Maiden called “ Flight 666” overSouth America had over 200,000 fans show up (Iron Maiden Flight 666 DVD),something that most of the metal world just had a nostalgia for. Waksman states Khan-Harris did not express how extreme metal is expressed and how that intensity isconveyed to the audience. Expression and Intensity are very subjective to the venue,the audience and most of all the band playing. It would be contrary to reason to try toput the intensity and expression of extreme metal in words as it would be bestunderstood when experienced in person. Extreme Metal is a vague term to describe awide range of heavy music and hence have many different sounds. The scenes Khan-Harris talks about in his book are more towards grindcore a subgenre especially forbass and drum players as it has scope for complex rhythm patterns and virtuosicexpression. Other subgenres like shred metal, symphonic metal have scope forkeyboard/piano and guitar expression. That’s perhaps the reason why Khan-Harriscould not get inside the workings of extreme metal as Pillsbury did in analyzing themusic of Metallica as this was spotted by Waksman.Overall Steve Waksman has shown both the books in a positive light and made themvery intriguing for the reader to read. Waksman makes a very valuable point towards theend of his review that both the books are a major contribution to the scholarly literatureon heavy metal and together the two books provide rich understanding of metal, andshould open the way for further studies in the diversity and complexity of heavy metal.Glenn T. Pillsbury received his Phd. In musicology from UCLA in 2003. In addition to thesubject of Metallica, he has lectured on issues of history and performance in barbershopmusic, technique and transcendence in the music of metal guitar virtuoso Steve Vai, aswell as the complexities of history and musical identity within the metal tribute band

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