Last month we dove deep to explore the importance of cover artwork, namely through our analysis of two excellent pieces of artwork adorning the latest Caligula’s Horse records. This time we take a closer look at the covers of thrash titans Megadeth , starting with 1986’s iconic Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying? Given its political nature, context is crucial to understanding the artwork and it was created during the latter stages of the Cold War, amidst escalated tensions between the world’s two foremost superpowers of the time, the USA and the Soviet Union/USSR. The world in this period of history was, at times, on the brink of a nuclear third world war, and it was only knowledge that such a cataclysmic event would bring about the Mutually Assured Destruction of both sides which prevented such horrors from occurring. Unfortunately, in the world of Megadeth, that appears to be exactly what has eventuated. Their undead mascot, Vic Rattlehead, stands before a United Nations headquarters lying in ruins, the shades of red and blue depicting a sky ablaze, fires raging in the background. The scene is reminiscent of a nuclear holocaust as three military jets fly menacingly towards the foreground, seemingly scanning the area for any remaining targets, any last vestiges of life. Such themes are undeniably heavy and unsettling in nature, so it should come as no surprise that similarly unsettling motifs have been woven into the record’s music and lyrics as well. ? (Illustrator: Ed Repka) The obvious starting point to our analysis is the all-time classic ‘Peace Sells’. The track emphatically states that peace is nothing more than a commodity, an item which can be easily traded, bought or sold. It is not some idealistic notion to be strived for, but an easily attainable state of the world which the world’s powers manipulate for their own gains. The UN was created following World War II, to bring peace and prevent such atrocities from reoccurring, yet it was powerless to prevent the numerous proxy wars which occurred throughout the Cold War in Asia, the Middle East, South America and elsewhere. Ironically, rather than bringing about peace of any kind, the UN merely served as another theatre of war, this time a political one, in which the antagonistic forces of the US and USSR could engage with one another. The UN headquarters have been annihilated in the illustration, yet that doesn’t stop Vic, dressed as a real estate agent, from looking to sell what’s left of it. One might argue that this would be a tough sell, that Vic is as likely to find a buyer for the rubble as the UN was to find a buyer for world peace. Further still, the fact the UN is on the market at all suggests that, despite its ruined state, it will be just as (in)effective as ever, and thus it still constitutes a legitimate commodity. Looking more broadly at the themes prevalent within the artwork, there are a host of other comparisons to be made. In particular we can cast our minds to the numerous tracks dealing with the occult, beginning with the eerie fan favourite ‘The Conjuring’. Thematically, the war ravaged landscape and grim colour scheme can be seen to represent hell on earth, tying in nicely with the song’s descriptions of satanic rituals and black magic. The song’s portrayal of the devil’s salesman selling yet another abstract commodity, this time the human soul, is further embodied by the figure of Vic, an interesting allegory to his purported sale of a soulless, in every sense of the word, UN. Musically, with the help of the similarly occult ‘Bad Omen’, the homicidal ‘Good Mourning/Black Friday’, the torturous ‘Devil’s Island’ and others, the album as a whole does a fantastic job of providing the illustration with a suitably ominous, disconcerting and sinister soundtrack. Fast forward eight years and Megadeth had just released the polarising Youthanasia . Like its 1992 predecessor Countdown to Extinction , the album continued Megadeth’s transition from the lightning fast thrash which comprised their first four records, to a slower, more commercially viable sound. This radio-friendly approach, with Mustaine seeking that elusive No. 1 ranking on the charts, also saw a shift in the album artwork of the band. The undead Vic Rattlehead was no longer a permanent fixture, whilst this particular cover featured luscious, rolling green hills and cute, innocent babies, images generally associated with nature, peace and positivity. However, it’s crucial to point out that whilst their shift in sound had changed the method of their delivery, their message remained the same. Megadeth still wrote politically abrasive and, at times, downright aggressive songs, only now they were catchier, reaching a wider audience and allowing them to have a greater voice than ever before. This same duality applied to their artwork as well, the youth of their times, symbolised by the babies, being hung out to dry by the older generation, powerless to avoid the oncoming storm. (Illustrator: Hugh Syme) The result is arguably the most shocking Megadeth cover to date, as Mustaine issued a rallying cry, a call of arms for the youth of the ‘90s to take action and free themselves from the status quo. The dark, brooding clouds take up more than half of the image, highlighting the sheer scale of oppression to which the youth have been subjected. Furthermore, there is a seemingly endless line of babies being hung, yet there is only one elderly figure placing them there, suggesting that the oppressed far outnumber their oppressors, and that there is victory to be had in unity. Finally, the imminent storm is itself duplicitous: on the one hand, if nothing is done it will simply decimate the defenceless babies hanging limply from the clothesline; on the other hand, the revolution which Mustaine calls for will see a raging storm engulf society when the opposing factions collide. Thus, the cover of Youthanasia perfectly encapsulates the lyrics and music to be found within, just like the cover of Peace Sells… before it, as Megadeth and their collaborators prove to be yet another gift to artwork. -KD
Posts Tagged ‘band’
Protest The Hero want to cut out labels for good using Bandcamp’s new subscription service. But is it enough?
Since the closing of the Scurrilous tour cycle, it seems that Protest the Hero have reached an important decision: they are through with the middleman – by middleman, I of course mean the record label — and, after finding themselves in financial trouble after producing three top-tier albums, you can hardly blame them. It was for this reason, then, that the band made the executive decision to forego the middleman almost entirely for their fourth album. To mixed reactions, the band announced the fourth album would be crowdfunded. Of course, as we now know, this decision was an extremely smart one. Volition , which was funded through an IndieGogo campaign that accumulated approximately $350,000, proved that the DIY method can be wildly successful. Fast forward two years. Fans are itchin’ for some new tunes. Would it be entirely cliche to go the IndieGogo route once more? Maybe. Would it be as successful? That’s difficult to gauge. One thing is certain, however — Protest are much better off making music on their own terms. Enter Pacific Myth — the latest installment of ingenuity (and music!) from Protest the Hero. Taking the form of a six-song EP delivered track-by-track to subscribers over the course of six months, Protest are certainly, as they put it, “stirring the pot” with this idea. Before we launch into that, let’s break down what’s up for grabs: The plan is for the band to release six new songs on the 15th day of each month for the next six months. The subscription service is facilitated by BandCamp , and promises automatic delivery of the songs each month once the membership is purchased. For Pacific Myth , Protest have opted for a two-tier system. The first tier is $12, and the second $25. Just looking for tunes? $12 is it, my friend. That may sound to be a little on the steeper side for a six song EP, but every month you’ll receive both the original and instrumental version, as well as a hi-res download of each tracks’ unique cover art. So what will tier two, which totals in at $25, get ya? All of the above, plus you’ll get a documentary documenting the making of Volition. Sectioned into six 20-minute segments, the documentary will also come in monthly installments. The band also hints perks to come — available only to subscribers. Nothing solid has surfaced yet regarding the “when” and “how”s, but their website drops a few hints in terms of what they have in mind, including but not limited to: “limited edition screen prints, Pacific Myth related clothing, and even concerts / listening parties.” When you really think about it, it works out to between $2-$4 roughly per month – not bad at all! But is that besides the point? There have been plenty of stories in the past decade about new music purchasing models that were supposed to revolutionize how fans could access music and how bands could capitalize on it, many of which disappeared into the void of space and time due to their ultimate impracticality on either small or larger scales. Does this new kind of Bandcamp subscription model separate itself from the pack in that sense, or will it fall prey to many of the same trappings? We asked three of our staff writers, Elizabeth Wood, Spencer Snitil, and Scott Murphy for their thoughts on this whole concept, what they think it means for the band, the fans, and the independent and underground metal scene as a whole. POINT: Protest the Hero are releasing music in the most efficient way and are leading the charge to cut the financial cord between band and label. Spencer Snitil: I believe this is a great move for the band and the industry in two ways. Firstly, it marks a shift in the way the band releases their music. The band have stated that this is a sustainable way for them to work, as it cuts down studio time and enables them to get the music out super quick, as opposed to spending a year writing and recording all the material, and then waiting for it to come out. In the video update, the band said they were normally sick of the music by the time it came out, and this seems true for almost any recording band. I can imagine how it must feel to hear the same songs over and over again for weeks, and even months, on end. The band has also stated that if this goes well, they may just continue to release music in this way, and that it can possibly change their future and whether or not they ever release a “full album” again with all the music coming out at once. Secondly, this sets another precedent. Did anyone else notice the influx of Indiegogo campaigns for bands after Protest’s super successful attempt? The band was successful, and other bands sought to capitalize off of this, and with the band adopting this new method, it’s likely that we see others attempt to do the same, and will all likely have varying degrees of success with it. Will we see other bands launching subscription services like Protest? It’s entirely likely, especially given more and more bands are moving to the DIY side of the fence and recording their own music themselves. It also makes it easier if you’re a smaller band. It’s a lot less expensive to hit the studio for a couple of days here and there as opposed to a couple of weeks, and it’s even better if you produce yourself. It marks what could become the new paradigm in the independent music industry. In the future, will there be a platform for all new bands to do something like this? Will there be bands of larger nature that do something similar? Only time will tell, but for now I think what they’re doing is cool, and if they’re into it and see it working long term, then by all means they should go for it. COUNTERPOINT: This model is less practical and sustainable than the band and advocates think. Scott Murphy: I was not remotely surprised by all of the buzz generated by the announcement of Pacific Myth ; all of the Protest the Hero fans that I know have avid enthusiasm for the band’s work that far surpasses casual listening. And I get it: the chance to hear new music from any one of my personal favorite bands would cause me a great deal of excitement as well. But while this post is in no way intended to belittle PTH’s ambitions and their fans’ feelings about Pacific Myth , reading into the streaming services’ details — particularly regarding Tier 1 — has made me hesitant to join the chorus of praise. Tier 1’s perks are not worth $12. Granted, I should begin by admitting that I am an avid supporter of physical music, often times to the detriment of my wallet (I type this as I am spinning an original pressing of Swan ‘s Holy Money on vinyl). Even so, $12 seems too costly for what is provided in Tier 1’s subscription. Taking the $1 standard value of digital singles on Bandcamp and many other digital music platforms, the six singles in Pacific Myth ’s series should ultimately cost $6, not $12. PTH addressed this by pointing out that an instrumental version of each track accompanies each single, which technically fleshes the price out to $12. But there should be a great deal of stress placed on the “technically” in the band’s defense; after all, these are instrumental versions of existing songs, not additional instrumental songs themselves. It also seems strange that PTH would make the removal of Rody Walker’s vocals – arguably one of the most compelling features of their music – a selling point for these six additional tracks. Touting each track’s high-resolution artwork, lyrics and liner notes is also strange considering how innate this is for many digital and physical avenues of purchasing music, including albums that contain these things while also bearing a lower price tag. Admittedly, the final set of perks – including full music scores, video playthroughs, music videos, subscriber-only merch and “lots of other treats” – may be justifiable of the $12 subscription for some fans. However, this last piece brings me to my next issue with the service… Pacific Myth mimics Tidal in its exclusionary tactics. In anticipating the argument that “true fans” of the band should be willing to support them (something that I agree with as a general principle), let me point out that PTH uploaded a full stream of their latest album Volition prior to its reelase (via Metal Injection ): I make this point to help illustrate the fact that pre (and post) release streaming is a prevalent part of modern music consumption, and for good reason. This tool is not a product of our “entitlement culture,” but a sign of progress and empowerment of music consumers. I challenge anyone to make a convincing argument that the ability to sample music before purchasing is not an improvement from the ghosts of record stores past, with their blind buys based solely upon cover art, recommendations from friends & fan-zines and possibly – depending on the genre – singles played on MTV or the radio. While it may seem like heresy to treat music like a product…it is. I will never have the enough money to completely fulfill my album wish list; every trip to a record store involves me putting records back in the crates due to insufficient funds, not because of my lack of desire to support the artists. Streaming services like Bandcamp and Spotify allow me to legally sample the abundance of music that interests me so that I can determine which albums worth buying. By PTH making a subscription necessary to even listen to the Pacific Myth ’s six tracks, they are removing the democratization of sound that has become a crucial cultural norm. This is not a matter of weeding out the fans who want to free ride via streaming; as I alluded and link to above, PTH clearly realizes that the purpose of legal streaming stretches far beyond this. Well, maybe not entirely, as their comment that “unlike some other streaming platforms, we still believe that our music has value” misrepresents a key detail of modern streaming. Spotify (and other streaming services) are not truly as evil as some people (*cough* labels *cough*) would like you to believe. While I implore you to read the entirety of David Von Wiegandt’s excellent article detailing the legal nuances required of streaming services ( here ), I will attempt to summarize it as best as I can here: Legally speaking, streaming differs from digital downloads in that it constitutes a “performance” of a song, with further implications arising from the listener’s relation to that performance. Pandora, for example, is exempt from these complications because it offers an involuntary, randomized mode of access. But since Spotify’s users may access music voluntarily, the need for multiple, complex layers of copyright permissions are triggered, to the detriment of both Spotify and artists. Spotify had to pay heavy royalty fees when negotiating with the four major American record labels (to the tune of $300 million), and because of the power held by these labels in relation to their artists, artists receive roughly 1/10 th of a cent per stream instead of the 45% of total royalties that they would be entitled to if the Copyright Act were altered in a just manner. Stepping away from the legal jargon, the TL;DR point is this: Spotify has become an easy target of misguided anger from artists, causing artists to toughen up and send strongly worded Tweets which Spotify then responds to in a PR friendly tone, all while label executives use revenue profits as cum-rags. This is not to say that Spotify and other streaming services bear no responsibility to stand up for artists; they should, even if they are profit-driven businesses. But the efforts made to fix this problem by services like Tidal have been bogged down by a myriad of issues, with Pacific Myth sharing one of Tidal’s key failings/misunderstandings… “Exclusive” content does not exist on the internet. When one of my friends — who I knew had not subscribed to Pacific Myth — began commenting on the services first single “Ragged Tooth,” I quickly pulled up YouTube and had my suspicions confirmed. Two rips of the track had already been uploaded to YouTube, and while those tracks have since been taken down at the time of this post, the point made in this section’s header still remains. Once something has been posted online, there is absolutely nothing stopping someone from illegally redistributing it across numerous channels. This is no way an endorsement of these practices, and I do not believe whatsoever that the answer to my criticisms is for fans to unofficially stream or download Pacific Myth ‘s tracks. But at the same time, this is an unavoidable fact of the internet, and as long as bands continue uploading songs via subscription or for regular download, someone somewhere is going to create unofficial channels of access to them. I still hope that Pacific Myth works for PTH and their fans. My feelings towards subscription only services have not been changed by Pacific Myth ; they are restrictive and ineffective sources of music consumption that curb the democratization of music and are often more expensive than legal alternatives. However, despite the numerous reservations which I have covered above, I have no doubt that Pacific Myth was conceived by PTH with the best intentions in mind, and I genuinely hope that their fans who subscribe to the service enjoy the new tracks and continue supporting the band in whatever way(s) work best for their budgets. COUNTERPOINT 2: Protest the Hero should be commended for wanting to cut out the middleman, but this still might not be direct and immediate enough for some fans. Elizabeth Wood: I’ll admit it took a little bit of stewing to reach a verdict on how I feel about my favourite band utilizing a subscription system for their latest release. Typically, any announcement from Protest the Hero, no matter how minute, results in an influx of text messages and social media activity on my end, because I’m sort-of — uh, we’ll go with “outwardly overzealous” — about these dudes. I’ve found myself a nice little niche in which I’ve experienced a great sense of community, and for me, that’s a major selling point. I spent the later part of my night on stand-by for the big announcement, and when it finally happened, the inevitable exploding of phones occurred. From gushing with fellow super fans, to cocking my head in confusion at the nay-sayers voicing their disdain of the system in my inbox, to my own disbelief that I was actually hearing new Protest tunes, there was a lot to take in. Looking back, here are my thoughts: On one hand, I was a little disappointed. Yes, I was really feeling the instant gratification of getting to hear a song RIGHT FRIGGIN’ NOW, but I was also less than thrilled at the idea of having to wait six months to hear the release in its entirety (I’m a pretty serious front-to-back listener). I’m sure I’ll come to appreciate the suspense each month, but it will certainly take a little getting used to! Beyond my own impatience, though, I couldn’t help but feel a certain sense of divisiveness about it when I saw some peers missing out on the hype for no reason other than they couldn’t afford the twelve dollars at the time. It’s come to be expected that new music is typically available for at least previewing online, and there’s a certain element of inclusiveness in that that is eliminated by the use of a subscription service. Protest is a band that appeals primarily to young adults. Sometimes, spending money on music simply isn’t an option, especially for those who are just starting out on their own. Admittedly, it was a little bit disappointing to see fans every bit as enthusiastic missing out on the moment due to their financial situation. Of course, that’s the nature of the beast. I’m sure if I thought about it too much I’d feel for those unable to attend shows they’re itchin’ to go to due to lack of cash, as well. Same deal with ultra-rare one-night-only limited-run merch. Sometimes, it’s just the wrong ledger balance at the wrong time, and that’s life. The good news is that Pacific Myth will still be available for those willing to save up! On the other hand, I was equally disappointed to see that the video had been uploaded to YouTube (though it has since been removed, as far as I can tell), as I felt it undermined the entire purpose of the subscription service, and so soon after its announcement. I chalk my conflicting opinions up to the current state of the industry. We have come to expect that new music will be instantly available to us the moment it makes its debut, and at no cost to us, the listener. While I wouldn’t necessarily say that comes from a place of entitlement, it certainly doesn’t help the artist make a living, especially when you factor in the many middlemen that play a role in the industry. What Protest are doing is removing the middleman in order to simplify the relationship between the listener and the musician. “Hey, you like us so much that you’ll throw us a few bucks and we’ll throw you a few tracks? Let’s do business.” By creating a subscription system, this band is creating a direct money/service market that allows interested parties to fork over a little dough in exchange for the opportunity to follow a band through an endeavour. It’s no more simple or complicated than that. While I wouldn’t say it’s revolutionary, I think it’s very admirable, especially in an industry in desperate need of reform. -EW, SS, & SM
Finnish melodeath superstars Children of Bodom have gone through several identity crises. Starting off as neoclassical melodic death metal, they had a lot of success. Their album Hatebreeder is indisputably a classic of the genre. But over time, they turned their sound into a more groove-oriented version of themselves with shred sections. This sound still had a lot of acclaim, as their fourth album Hate Crew Deathroll was also received very positively, even though some lamented the loss of their older influences. With their next few albums, they kept slightly changing their sound to be more accessible while simultaneously trying to capture their spark from their earlier days, but it never clicked, even though slog the way they had some great songs. After several disappointing albums, and the loss of famed guitarist Roope Latvala, Bodom are faced with their deciding moment. They could either pick themselves back up and make a comeback, or risk forever being written off. Thankfully, their ninth album, I Worship Chaos , is more the former than the latter. What really makes a Bodom album tick? If we’re talking post- Hate Crew, it’s basically solid grooves, chantable choruses, angry one-liners from Laiho and cheesy lead sections. Well, I Worship Chaos has got all of those covered. Each song is full of memorable little licks, be it some aggressively-nod-inducing riffs, earworm melodies or just proclamations screamed by Alexi (who sounds angrier than he has in a while). But what’s really important isn’t just that these elements are thrown in to tick boxes, it’s that they all come together in a way that makes for an enjoyable listening experience. And that’s definitely the case here. Roope Latvala’s departure was definitely concerning as his lead playing was thought to be a big part of the band’s sound, but Alexi seems to be managing just fine without him. Perhaps the solos are a bit less intense, but there isn’t a noticeable drop in songwriting quality overall. In fact, the album feels better written than several of its predecessors. Everything is in lockstep, riffs carry tension and resolution very well between each other, and they don’t feel tired. This is an especially impressive feat if one considers the fact that melodic death metal has been around for quite a while and the template has been “figured out” long ago. Even Bodom have contributed to that process in the past, and nine albums deep into their career, it would be easy for them to feel like there’s not much left to say (in fact many though that was the case even seven albums deep into their career, so in some ways I Worship Chaos is a resurgence of quality). Sure, Alexi doesn’t sound like he feels as rife with angry creativity as he did fifteen years ago, but he sounds a lot more invigorated than he did five years ago. The benchmark for success in melodeath isn’t necessarily innovation anyway, it’s polish. And polish is in abundance on this album. It’s hard to underline in words the specific tightness that makes this album tick. This isn’t something that one can identify on paper. It’s the feeling of genuineness and effort conveyed by the tone of the writing. To the careful listener, that the songs were put together not by haphazard cobbling of ideas that were left on the drawing board after a writing session but were carefully put together to ensure every cog clicks properly with everything else, is obvious, and that is when the heart put into the album is apparent. Overall, I Worship Chaos is a polished, heartfelt album that makes it sound like Children of Bodom are enjoying their own music again; and fans should join in on that as well. The band are better than they have been for several albums, and new life has been breathed into their music. In a way, they’re back from the dead, telling us that we were wrong to write them off. ? Children of Bodom- I Worship Chaos gets… 4/5 -NT