Tuesday, April 19, 2011
If you buy from Razorback Records the terrorists have won
This post is probably a little dated now- I suppose it's been about a year or so now since Razorback Records was seemingly the only label in the world releasing death metal to the bulk of the scene. Really, there was a period of time where you couldn't trip over a metalhead half-passed out drunk in the street without him talking about how sick and oldschool Lord Gore was before vomiting on himself. It seriously got grating, and the fact that Razorback attained such prominence parallel to (and partly because of) the retro-death metal scene's sudden explosion didn't help my attitude much. Retro-thrash was awful enough (though that thankfully seems to be in its last few death throes right now), but retro-death? Is that truly necessary?
Razorback Records is a label with a pretty long history, stretching back to sometime around the paleolithic era (but well after the initial explosions of death metal and goregrind). They have in fits and starts released material that's actually good: Catasexual Urge Motivation, Gigantic Brain, Coffins, and a few others. For the most part, though, the label's fame rose on the backs of a substantial number of terrible Portland retro-death metal bands (which aren't actually retro, but I'll get to that later): Lord Gore, Blood Freak, Ghoul, etc. And now the day has come where the history of Razorback Records as a label that occasionally released neat stuff has been entirely forgotten in favor of more wacky '80s horror movie death/thrash composed and sold to homosexual drug addicts, who find the strains of Acid Witch soothing when they make out at the bathhouse.
There's a lot of bullshit flying around about Billy Nocera these days, which I can't really comment on: some people are claiming that he exercises too much control over his bands, has a bad tendency to manipulate his way into musical endeavors, and just isn't a particularly honest businessman. Then again, I've never actually heard any of this said by the bands themselves and in the very, very occasional contact I've had with Nocera over the years, he's seemed like a pretty genuine and friendly guy all around. That's why I'm not going to personally attack him in this writeup, just his label, which at this point is basically releasing the death metal equivalent of The Killers with half the taste and songwriting ability.
When you say retro-thrash or retro-death metal, you're probably thinking of something that attempts to recreate the oldschool, primordial sounds of early thrash or death metal. This is a legitimate idea but ultimately incorrect, as none of the retro thrash or death metal bands out there actually sound like oldschool thrash or death metal. What they sound like is an imitation of that era, and not just the music. Let's break apart the obvious elements of a Razorback band's image:
1. '80s horror movies: This is immediately regarded as an oldschool element because, well, it's from the '80s, but when's the last time you heard Morbid Angel or Deicide or Dismember or Suffocation or Carcass reference '80s horror movies? Of course not, back in the old days those bands would have laughed at the idea! All Razorback bands are trying to do is manipulate your perception into THINKING they're oldschool because of these inclusions: "Hey, remember this old horror movie? You hear how our blast beats aren't as fast as Brain Drill? Now just try and merge those ideas together in your mind..."
2. Cartoonish artwork and presentation: Is this an oldschool element? Most oldschool death metal records have artwork done in a realistic or wholly abstract/surreal style, and most of the time it was painted (see all the work of Seagrave). Ed Repka did cartoonish art, but he was doing it for goofy crossover bands, not for death metal ones. So while this element might be oldschool, it's not a part of the legacy of the death metal scene.
3. Tongue-in-cheek lyrical elements: I suppose this is wholly a matter of interpretation, but in oldschool death metal songs, despite how ridiculous the content of Autopsy or Cannibal Corpse might have been, it was never an obvious joke. In Razorback releases, there's puns and goofy wordplay in the lyrics. Possessed weren't big on puns.
Then, of course, we get to the music, which without fail sounds nothing like oldschool death metal. Similar to how The Sword combine trad, power, stoner, and doom, mixing them up together so that dumb 16 year olds won't notice the difference between it and actual oldschool metal, Razorback releases aren't so much death/grind as a really weird, dumb variety of death/thrash packed with obnoxious 'spooky' melodies and vague concessions towards the more extreme sides of the scene via gurgled vocals. I'd say Ghoul is really the snake's head at the top of the whole thing, single-handedly inventing the happythrash style that would later be co-opted by Razorback and legions of copycat acts who all wanted to make similarly shitty music.
The defense from Razorback fans (by and large some of the whiniest and most defensive I've ever seen): "Oldschool metal wasn't separated into these discrete genres! Thrash and death and black and grind were all vague approximations which hadn't yet separated into distinct scenes! FUCK YOU, DAD!" Typically before taking another bong rip and falling asleep on the couch while watching Dead Alive for the fourth time that night.
This is a perfectly valid thing to say. However, this still doesn't excuse the fact that Razorback bands STILL DON'T SOUND LIKE OLDSCHOOL METAL. This goofy, tongue-in-cheek polyglot style of death/thrash/grind is a wholly modern invention. Even if there were bands like Righteous Pigs, Terrorizer, Impetigo, Autopsy, and dozens of others who blended and blurred the lines of various genres, they still sound nothing like Lord Gore does today. The 'retro scene' is just a marketing gimmick, a scam that got sold to a scene full of credulous, dumb people who immediately brought out their wallets for it.
This, in short, is why if you buy from Razorback Records the terrorists have won. No matter how much Billy Nocera or his affiliated artists might think they're somehow bringing back oldschool death metal, they're simply not. It takes a copy of 'The Autophagous Orgy', a copy of 'Mental Funeral', and a spare half hour to compare the two to realize this yourself. Seriously: be a grown-up, realize that bands like this aren't bringing the early '90s back, and spend your money on something that's going to be interesting for more than a week.