Critical Mass part 1: A century 9 years old going on 21

Posted in Indulgence, Petulance on July 14th, 2009 by Alex

There’s an old adage that states “everyone’s a critic”. I’ve no idea who originally said that (and the internet is doing a poor job of enlightening me) but in the current musical climate, it may be the most erudite thing that anyone ever said.

Some metal fans debate the merit of Metalsucks best albums of 21st century

Some metal fans debate the merit of Metalsucks best albums of 21st century

A few things in my little world have got me thinking about the nature of criticism (at least the musical kind) in the internet age and I think they bear a little more exploration. I’m going to break this one up into chunks as it’s going to be quite long.

Firstly we have the now infamous 21 best albums of the 21st Century compiled by caustic metal blog Metalsucks. These guys earnestly gathered a list of 500 or so metal albums released in the past 9 years and sent it to a bunch of metal fraternity notables and insiders. The list seems exhaustive and the panel quite balanced. The resulting tally was repetitive and for the most part predictable and in theory should have proved quite uncontroversial. However, the bitch-festival that ensued was nothing short of astounding. With a few exceptions, the choices, the order and the very integrity of the blog itself were fiercely contested. The abundance of Killswitch Engage and Lamb of God (bagging the #2 slot with As the Palaces Burn) polarized the readership and the altercations these triggered in the comments were epic.

For my part the list was a populist document of American metal’s stalwarts from the past decade. It was also very repetitive. It was great to see Opeth represented so well, and I’ve no issue with the likes of System of a Down and Deftones appearing, but overall the list was heavy on the stadium metal and light on the challenging, ground breaking or genre defining. Metalsucks themselves have subsequently published a list of albums they wished had made the cut (including Isis, Neurosis, Emperor, Strapping Young Lad, and perhaps most controversially, Andrew WK), which was much better received.

Why publish a list that so poorly represents the taste of your audience? I’m aware that this was a panel voted list, and perhaps this is the problem. I suppose that they thought that giving the vote to a bunch of industry types would give the list credence, but all it did was show up how blinkered the industry is to anything even vaguely challenging. They’d have been better off either a) giving it over to the readers to decide, and then they only have themselves to blame when Linkin Park get the top spot or b) thrash it out amongst the editorial team, and then it’s at least representative of what they actually believe.

It’s impossible to get this right, as no-one will ever agree. Music is so subjective, and context and zeitgeist have a huge role to play. Probably, the best approach to this endevour would have been to wait a decade, then asked the question again – I wonder what the list would look like then?

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