Metal in the Media

#TBT, 2003: The New York Times Praised Korn, Audioslave, and Otep as Part of “Exciting” California Rock Scene

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otep smashWith this week’s Otep brouhaha came an abrupt flashback: “Didn’t The New York Times do a piece about Otep and Audioslave and rap metal once upon a time?” my brain suddenly asked my fingers. My fingers, in turn, asked Google, who reported back that, yes, yes,  The New York Times did do a piece about Otep and Audioslave and rap metal once upon a time. It was by Kelefa Sanneh, and it was called “California Waves; A Collection Of West Coast Bands Are Re-energizing Hard Rock.”

And reading it now, it’s kind of hilarious.

Now, before you accuse me of Monday morning quarterbacking: I’ve never been a fan of of Mr. Sanneh’s work. I just can’t wrap my head around his opinions. I remember first reading this article when it was published, already knowing I generally disagreed with most of Sanneh’s opinions, and feeling that his track record probably wasn’t going to change as soon as I read this line:

“California’s rap-rock movement didn’t get much attention in 2002, yet Korn, the top-selling band that had pioneered rap-rock, released one of the year’s best albums, ‘Untouchables.'”

Which is a baffling-enough statement, but then, just to make it all the more confusing, Sanneh goes on to say how bands like Korn “challenge rock ‘n’ roll mythology” by being not DIY, but a “corporate-rock monolith” instead. “Bloated budgets,” Sanneh asserts, “have had a positive effect on Korn’s music.”

So either Sanneh was trolling or he was on some incredible drugs I myself have never come across.

Here’s another fun quote from the article:

“On Otep’s ferocious debut, ‘Sevas Tra” (Capitol) — read the title backward — the lead singer, Otep Shamayan, raps and whispers but mainly roars about sexual abuse; she dreams of a form of payback called ‘menocide.'”

To Sanneh’s credit, even if you don’t like Sevas Tra, everything he says is technically correct, including his use of the adjective “ferocious.”

Also to Sanneh’s credit: he praises at least one legitimately good band (Queens of the Stone Age), two legitimately not-terrible-if-not-great bands (Audioslave and The Apex Theory), and even admits that “the rap-metal movement seems to be waning, so there’s not much sense of momentum — these are bands without wagons.”

Still, it’s hard not to feel like Sanneh completely missed the boat on this one. There WAS some really exciting stuff happening in hard rock and metal in 2002/3… but for the most part, it wasn’t happening in California. As noted in Drew Zalucky’s recent retrospective for Metal Injection, “Reflecting on the New Wave of American Heavy Metal,” this was roughly the same time that bands like Lamb of God (Virginia), Mastodon (Georgia), Killswitch Engage, Shadows Fall, Unearth (all Massachusetts), God Forbid (New Jersey), and Chimaira (Ohio) were all hitting their stride. In other words: okay, so there was no rap-metal wagon to which a band could hitch, but that was a good thing.

I don’t think the metal scene has ever really looked to The New York Times to be on the cutting edge of what’s cool, and in that regard, it is unfair of me to pick on Sanneh and his article. On the other hand, it will always be fair to pick on an article that contains the line, “Korn makes the best rock ‘n’ roll money can buy.”

Read the entire piece here.

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