Editorials

EATING PAINTS A HOUSE: THE AUSTERITY PROGRAM’S JUSTIN FOLEY TAKES ON RECORD LABELS’ WRITTEN PROMO MATERIALS

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justin foley op-ed

I was hanging out at a friend’s house a few weeks back and the conversation drifted to a favorite topic of mine – the ridiculous text that labels often use to sell bands.  I thought I’d seen it pretty bad on some Relapse topspines, but my friend started laughing as he strolled over to his bookshelf.

“I mean,” I said, “some people are apparently unaware that words have meanings and that language has conventions.  These are the basis of verbal communication.  Riffs don’t tear buildings down.  I’m sorry, but they don’t.”

“Ho ho, just you wait,” he said, flipping through pages and pages of the same promo photo that all metal bands take these days.  “Hold it… hold it… aha!  The Profound Lore ad.”  He started reading it aloud.  An hour later we had both burned through all copies of his four-year subscription. We were nearly hoarse from laughing and reading out in our lousy Vincent Price imitations.

Okay, before I get into this, I want to say that I am not picking on Profound Lore because I don’t like the label.  I’ve got a bunch of stuff from them and a lot of it — especially Krallice — is amazing.  Really – amazing stuff.  I also don’t think that they’re alone in writing abhorrent promo material; it’s worth talking about because almost every metal label tries to sell their bands with this approach.  In fact, if you follow the PL Twitter feed, you’ll find they consistently work a compelling message about what they’re up to in 140 characters.  And although I would murder everyone at Hydra Head if they tried this kind of shit with us, I don’t see it as a reflection of the band at all when someone at their label decides to start telling tall, tall tales.

But please allow me to introduce Exhibit A, the only exhibit we’ll need: ONE SENTENCE from a write-up for a Profound Lore release.

Ahem.

 

“From epic elongated black metal stretches, slow plodding doom ala Khanate/Burning Witch (speaking of doom, ex-GRAVES AT SEA vocalistNathan Misterek makes a guest appearance), minimalistic electronic/martial ambient/industrial vibes reminiscent of the Cold Meat catalog, along with the towering apocalyptic vibes of Old Man Gloom and early Isis (‘MosquitoControl/Celestia’ era) and the instrumental wonders of Mogwai and Red Sparowes, ‘White Tomb’ is a vicious uncompromising atmospheric pillage that serves as a soundtrack to collapsing cities becoming desolate wastelands.”

What?  What does that even say?  I don’t… what is this sentence supposed to be saying?  The words are all in English so Google Translate doesn’t help… Maybe if we take it in little nibbles it will become clearer.  Maybe.

“From epic elongated black metal stretches”

Let’s first note that there are no commas here.  This means that each adjective (and “black metal” is used as an adjective) modifies the following one.  Like, if I was to say “heroically overblown statement,” it’s a statement that is overblown in a heroic manner; the statement isn’t heroic.

So in this case, the stretches are black metal.  The black metal is what’s elongated.  And in what manner, you may ask, is the black metal elongated?  A: epically.  Like, as though Odin himself sat on his throne in Valhalla, picked up some black metal (using skulls of his enemies to hold it) and then, with bulging, veiny muscles, protracted out that black metal while singing Wagner.  That’s the kind of stretch that we’re talking about.

Okay, got that part. Next.

“slow plodding doom ala Khanate/Burning Witch (speaking of doom, ex-GRAVES AT SEA vocalist Nathan Misterek makes a guest appearance)”

I appreciate the clarification here; we are not talking about the kind of doom that is plodding (What kind of plodding? The slow kind.) that you might hear in Stephen O’Malley’s other pre-Sunn O))) bands, Thorr’s Hammer or Teeth of the Lions Rule the Divine.  Gives me a much better idea of what’s all going on.  Good thing we narrowed it down to just Khanate and Burning Witch.  Totally different kind of slow plodding doom.

“minimalistic electronic/martial ambient/industrial vibes reminiscent of the Cold Meat catalog”

Reader take note!  The description shifts from talking about parts of the record (black metal stretches) to types of music (doom) to musical vibes. So now we’re onto vibes.

I also guess that typing in “ex-GRAVES” in the previous clause broke the author’s hyphen key, as it’s AWOL for the rest of the sentence.  So let’s assume that the stuff separated by the forward-slash key is supposed to be distinct.  (As in – “minimalist electronic,” not “minimalist [mix of] electronic/martial…”.)

“along with”

Okay now, hold it.  Just hold on for a damn second. “Along with?”  What along with what? Shit, I haven’t even mentioned that this all started with a “From” and there’s no “to” that completes it.  You know, like “from here to eternity” or “from ass to mouth.”  So I let that slide, but now we’ve got an “along with?”  Weren’t we already talking about a list of things?  Or is this supposed to be something special about just the vibes?

Ach.

“the towering apocalyptic vibes of Old Man Gloom and early Isis (‘Mosquito Control/Celestial’ era)”

More vibes.  Not The Red Sea, though.  Thanks!

“and the instrumental wonders of Mogwai and Red Sparowes,”

The vibes that are apocalyptic in a towering way are derived from OMG, Isis and all of the good songs from Mogwai and Red Sparowes that don’t have any singing.  Three “ands” in that clause, just in case anyone’s charging for them and writing up a bill.

“‘White Tomb’ is a vicious uncompromising atmospheric pillage that”

It’s tough, but I won’t go into the comma thing again.

Here we finally have the main clause of the sentence.  The subject of the sentence – “White Tomb” – is a type of another thing.  X is a Y.  The phrasing is not exactly by-the-books – the equivalence is metaphorical, not literal – but it’s a common-enough poetic device that there’s no need to fret about it.  “Your press release is a trainwreck.”  That kind of stuff.

But since this is the key part of the sentence, we should pay attention: the record is being described as the act of pillaging.  (How the act of pillaging could be atmospheric is absolutely beyond me, but I haven’t listened to the record so maybe it is.)  Anything that follows from here is describing that act, not the record.  It’s a “… pillage that …”.  As in “Eduardo is a boy that secretly fondles.”  That’s the type of boy Eduardo is: the secretly fondling kind.  What a pervert.

So what about that act?

“serves as a soundtrack to”

Oof.  No.  NO!  The act of pillaging does not serve as a soundtrack to anything.  That’s like saying “eating paints a house.”  My four year old son knows better than that, even after I’ve gotten him all pumped up by doing a dinosaur march to the breakdown in “The Saddest Day.” Eating doesn’t paint houses and pillaging doesn’t make sounds that are primarily intended to accompany something else.

Fine – I guess we’re somehow magically back to talking about the record.  Hey, we’ve said an absolute “fuck you” to grammar so far, so let’s just keep going, eh?

“collapsing cities becoming desolate wastelands”

Say, where’s the verb there?  Oh, you couldn’t find it?  You couldn’t find it because there is no verb.  No, this is just about cities that are collapsing.  Collapsing cities that will become something.  Will become, in fact, wastelands.  The desolate kind of wasteland.  (Are you kidding me?)  No verb, just a description of a certain type of city.  Some cities are big, some are near water, and some are falling apart in a manner that can only lead to the eventual replacement of said city by a wasteland.  (The desolate kind.)

“.”

Oh sweet mercy, thank you.

Please don’t think that I’m insisting on perfect grammar, strict coherence, and literal phrasing.  Look at all the stuff I’ve just written; my HS Freshman-year English teacher would probably blow out a ventricle if he read it.  I’m quite happy that the language of the internet and heavy metal doesn’t need to be Emily Cocksucking Post.  (No offense, Estate of Ms. Post.)

But come the fuck on.  The fact that it’s a 79 word sentence actually makes it seem short when you consider all of the crazy shit that it does.  Rampant disregard for subject/verb agreement?  Check.  Reckless misuse of punctuation?  Check.  Incoherent use of modifiers?  Oh, check indeed.  I have spent a bit of time on some grammar sites (!) this afternoon to try to identify some of these transgressions and am still at a loss to pin down everything.  It’s all of these and so much more.

And the worst thing is that this doesn’t even seem unfamiliar to read.  Spectacularly bad, sure, but not really out of the ordinary.  Anyone who’s ever read batshit marketing stickers on a CD case or scanned the ads in Decibel has seen this type of language-torture before. “Fuck brevity.  Fuck coherence.  Fuck stupid motherfucking communication.  I’ve done a sweaty fistful of Dexedrine, got a browser window open to thesaurus.com, and have 45 minutes to finish this one-sheet or I’m fired from my internship and don’t get free sampler CDs anymore.  LET’S DO THIS.”

Actually, I was wrong.  The worst thing about it is that it’s a pack of lies.  If an ad guy tried the same degree of wrong information to sell a car he’d end up in jail.  “The 2012 Buick Century goes three thousand miles an hour, uses six drops of gas to do so, and can reanimate corpses.”  The only thing I’ve ever seen that rivals it is descriptions of power electronics and noise music, which will frequently talk about a Merzbow record making supernovas go in reverse or some crap.

So right now this little bit is my favorite example of terrible metal marketing copy.  How about you?  Do you have a favorite bit of utter nonsense used to sell a band? Were you ever crushingly disappointed when you played a Godflesh record and then went outside and saw that, contrary to what Earache had promised, all organic life on your cul de sac had not been annihilated?  Am I just missing the point that these one-sheets are really a budding new literary genre?  Or is so much of this music so generic that the people whose job it is to sell it must resort to descriptions that have nothing to do with reality?  And, most importantly, what grammar mistakes did I make in this article that you as a commenter will use as an example to demonstrate my hypocrisy?  Let’s have at it, friends.

-JF

Justin Foley plays guitar and sings for the Austerity Program.  Their record Backsliders and Apostates Will Burn is out now.  Visit them online at www.austerityprogram.com.  All messages about urban bike riding, vegetarian BBQ, and monetary policy will be answered first. You can also get a list of their upcoming tour dates here.

 

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