Friday, November 23, 2012

Is less really more?

The expression "less is more" is probably quite familiar to all. In this post I intend to reflect upon that expression in the context of music, specifically metal in album form.

This idea came to me today as I was taking a bus downtown to get me a copy of Anaal Nathrakh's latest effort, Vanitas. I used to be of the persuasion that more is more when I was younger, you see. I got to thinking about how I bought all the Metallica albums so far released when I was 15 – deciding which one to get next based on how many tracks it had. My justification for this was that I'd be getting more bang for the buck if I got an album with more tracks. And let's be honest here: if a Metallica album clocks over 70 minutes, it more or less sucks, though I didn't realize this until years after the fact.

Some years later as I got into heavier stuff, I decided to get something by Carcass. You know where this is going, don't you? Yes, of all their albums I chose Reek of Putrefaction with its 22 tracks. Unfamiliar with grindcore at the time it was a bit of a shock and it took years to understand that stuff, but I got all their other albums (with a lot less tracks) a bit later anyway, and they were a lot easier to stomach. This is roughly when I learned the unimportance of the number of tracks, but I will be returning to this point eventually.

Anyway, a sort of affinity for long albums persisted beyond that time until at some point I realized that the ideal length for an album is largely based on genre. For example, Nasum's Inhale/Exhale (38 tracks, 45 minutes) feels bloated, because who can listen to 45 minutes of grindcore at once? It's an arduous task if it's not live or if you don't at least change bands halfway through. Whereas (at least in my opinion) Reverend Bizarre's final album, III: So Long Suckers (7 tracks, 2 hours 10 minutes) flows through quite easily. Yes, groundbreaking notion here, amirite? Fast music is better suited for short songs whereas slow music can go on a lot longer.

And now, back to the point about long albums. You see, some bands just can't hold their horses and compile an album of a number of tracks that is both sufficiently big and sufficiently small. Take the aforementioned Metallica for example, specifically their sixth album, Load. 14 tracks and 79 minutes, sheesh (not to mention that they originally intended to release Load and Reload as a double album)! Say what you want about post-justice Metallica, but that album definitely has its moments. If only they'd shaved off something like 4 or 5 tracks and it would've been that much more palatable. And an even worse offender from the Metallica camp is the infamous St. Anger with 11 tracks and clocking in at 75 minutes. I mean, if your songs are almost 9 minutes long, you don't need so many of them. That none of the songs were any good is beside the point. While at the other end of the spectrum, the aforementioned Reek of Putrefaction by Carcass is just about the perfect length at 39 minutes, despite the 22 tracks.

Going down to the level of individual songs, as what I have said so far really only matters when you're listening to albums as a whole, context is equally important nevertheless. For example, making a fast grindcore track of 9 minutes is, as a rule, a mistake (I do not know if such a track exists, this is hyperbole), whereas Sleep did a mighty fine job of writing an hour long track with Dopesmoker. And, because I haven't ranted enough about St. Anger, let's take its title track under inspection. It's been a while since I've last heard it and I don't necessarily want to hear it again, but if I recall correctly it's got 3 different parts, the structure is something like ABCABCABC (dunno, there might've been a D somewhere as well) and the tracks clocks in at 7:21. In order to make a track this simple and this long listenable, basically all the riffs should be fucking class A kings of riffs. And they aren't, not by a long shot. Similarly, some of Napalm Death's 4+ minutes grind tracks may sound a bit overlong, though hardly to the same degree.

I'll conclude by asking you (and myself): did I write too much here? Would less have been more? I don't know, I've never been that verbose and everything I write seems to come out shorter than intended. But am I just rambling incoherently here? Or is that the point?

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1 comment:

Otto said...

A tad long-ish, but it's hard to both say all necessary things and make it seem your own text, not just a list of facts.

So, actually, not really that long after all. You got to the point quickly, elaborated on it and concluded nicely. Also the paragraphing made it quick and easy to read. Great post that you can agree with.