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Requiem

The Curse of Good Bands with a Poor Visual Presentation

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I think it's worth talking a little bit about the unintentional and perhaps ironic damage that some bands' image does for them. This has been something on my mind for a while now, and it's only crystalised into an idea worth posting with the recently released tracks from Rotting Christ. 

I'm a huge fan of fairly well produced melodic metal, but unfortunately a lot of the time these bands are targeting a younger audience with, frankly, foolish imagery and bally-hoo. I think it backfires in a lot of cases. 

Cradle of Filth is the most obvious example. As I've stated on this forum many times, they are one of my favourite bands. I consider four of five of their albums to be metal classics, whilst also accepting that another three or four are quite appalling. What bothers me most, however, is the ridiculous image Dani has created for the band. I love the puns and wordplay, and I love the generally dark/gothic artwork when it's done well (and mostly it's not), but gosh most of the time they look like tools dressed up like a bad Marilyn Manson cover band. A lot of the time they look so stupid and embarrassing that it completely undermines the complexity and intellectualism of the music and lyrics. They do get the image thing right some of the time. The band pictures from 'Cruelty and the Beast' and the last couple of albums are examples of them getting it right. But as a rule, when I avoid their videos/pictures and just listen to the music I find it so much more compelling and meaningful. 

The new Rotting Christ songs are a similar case in point. I watched the lyric videos for 'Heaven and Hell and Fire' and 'Fire, God and Fear' and for the first few times I saw them I was really unimpressed with the songs. I thought they sounded commercial and unexciting. Of course, I was watching them with the animated lyric videos. After hearing them a few more times I bought both tracks on itunes because I was heading out and wanted to give them a proper listen. Well, suddenly they bloomed into life as magnificent tracks, free from the corny imagery of a commercial black metal marketing exercise. 

Septicflesh are another band who have done this. Their song 'Prometheus' from the 'Titan' album is one of my all time favourite metal songs. It's about the rise, fall and rise again of the average man, and speaks to me on so many levels. But the video shows the band playing amongst pieces of meat hanging from the ceiling that have no relevance to anything. They look like cyber-goths and it feels foolish. Again, a sophisticated band that produces great art is reduced to an embarrassing S&M photoshoot. 

Dimmu Borgir are another band. Their 'Eonian' album is one of my favourites from last year, but those stupid sequined hoodies they're wearing in the promo shots are just lame. My lord. To their credit, the pictures in the 'Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia' and 'Death Cult Armageddon' sleeves are fantastic, as are the nature shots in 'Eonian'. But why the band feels the need to dress up like idiots is beyond me. Even when I picture them walking down the street on Halloween in those hoods I start laughing. There's NOTHING evil or cool about them. 

I don't want to over-egg the pudding here, but there are just so many examples of bands who are putting out great albums and then, in my jaded 39 year old eyes, undoing their good work with cheesy imagery. It's almost reached a point where I deliberately avoid videos so that I don't have the beauty of the music sullied. 

So the point of all this is: if you're a great band, please don't overdo the image thing. Be reserved, be classy, look cool and everything but let the music do the talking. Try some sophistication like Fleshgod Apocalypse in their promo shots (although even their videos are corny in the extreme). Pull it back about 40%. Because I've had enough of you fools looking like idiots. 

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I honestly feel a bit of a cringe when I see people trying too hard to create an image but on the other hand I can't help but think that people are more likely to remember and talk about someone who looks ridiculous that someone who doesn't.

Sometimes it seems to work like the musical equivalent of pea cocking. Think of a mediocre band with an over the top image that is ridiculously popular. Slipknot, Ghost, Mushroomhead, GWAR. Now think of a great underground band with a "let the music talk" attitude. I can't prove a causal link but it seems that sometimes the audience doesn't always put the music first.

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2 minutes ago, Will said:

I honestly feel a bit of a cringe when I see people trying too hard to create an image but on the other hand I can't help but think that people are more likely to remember and talk about someone who looks ridiculous that someone who doesn't.

Sometimes it seems to work like the musical equivalent of pea cocking. Think of a mediocre band with an over the top image that is ridiculously popular. Slipknot, Ghost, Mushroomhead, GWAR. Now think of a great underground band with a "let the music talk" attitude. I can't prove a causal link but it seems that sometimes the audience doesn't always put the music first.

Good call here. Your reference of Ghost is a classic example of what I'm talking about. 

Ghost are huge, as in nearly playing stadiums in the US. And like I've written elsewhere, despite being hot and cold with their output, their latest album 'Prequelle' is, to me, an amazing album of dark emotional rock. But if I have to look at that damn stupid mask worn by Papa whoeverthefuck, I'm going to do myself in. The new Ghost album is a genuinely amazing album, as I walked around Bordeaux with it on my headphones, getting tipsy, soaking history. But shit, the image is TERRIBLE. 

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3 hours ago, Requiem said:

It's almost reached a point where I deliberately avoid videos so that I don't have the beauty of the music sullied. 

 

I've been at that point for years. It's really rare that I think a video doesn't detract from the song. I don't really have a lot of time for watching people hop around pretending to play their instruments these days, and animated lyric videos can fuck right off.

I've always lazily identified Cradle Of Filth's image with their identity as a band, but now that you bring it up, I wonder how they'd come across if they'd kept it reserved. Black t-shirts and photos in the woods. Or some out of focus shots like old My Dying Bride or Type O.

One band that I think goes over the top in a good way is Rammstein. I haven't seen them in person, but I've seen plenty of concert footage and music videos, and it looks like they generally hit just the right combination of sincerity and goofiness. They take what they're doing seriously but they don't take themselves seriously. Something like that. I suppose it's easier to focus on stagecraft when the music is that dirt simple.

One other thing comes to mind for me, although it's not quite on the same topic, which is just the sense I get from watching any musician perform. Are they really "in the moment"? Do they believe in what they're doing? Or are they just striking a pose, trying to project confidence, passion, anger, etc etc? It's kind of subjective but I think we can all tell when someone is putting on too much of an act. The older I get, the more I realize that "putting on a good show" is really about being fully present and focused on what you're playing and what everyone else in the band is doing. If you're doing that, you can pull the audience into the moment with you. If you're not doing that, the right clothes and the cool moves don't mean a thing.

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Hello. Happy new year.

I think the word you might be looking for here is theatre. 

As in, whether or not the show has enough of whatever X-factor it is that makes people want to sit through it. Perhaps even discuss it among themselves after. As a performing artist, you're walking on a thin line. Your audience doesn't care about "the real you" ... they want the rock'n'roll. It can be every bit as embarrassing when people start going "profound" as when they go berzerk in the costume department. 

At the end of the day, it's probably a bit like dating. You put on something nice to show respect for the event, but you don't try to dress up like you're "off to see the wizard" (although I suppose people are into all kinds of weird shit in that department). This costume thing has been a problem since like forever. Or at least those parts of "forever" that seem familar to me. Remember Spinal Tap?

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19 hours ago, FatherAlabaster said:

I've been at that point for years. It's really rare that I think a video doesn't detract from the song. I don't really have a lot of time for watching people hop around pretending to play their instruments these days, and animated lyric videos can fuck right off.

I've always lazily identified Cradle Of Filth's image with their identity as a band, but now that you bring it up, I wonder how they'd come across if they'd kept it reserved. Black t-shirts and photos in the woods. Or some out of focus shots like old My Dying Bride or Type O.

One band that I think goes over the top in a good way is Rammstein. I haven't seen them in person, but I've seen plenty of concert footage and music videos, and it looks like they generally hit just the right combination of sincerity and goofiness. They take what they're doing seriously but they don't take themselves seriously. Something like that. I suppose it's easier to focus on stagecraft when the music is that dirt simple.

One other thing comes to mind for me, although it's not quite on the same topic, which is just the sense I get from watching any musician perform. Are they really "in the moment"? Do they believe in what they're doing? Or are they just striking a pose, trying to project confidence, passion, anger, etc etc? It's kind of subjective but I think we can all tell when someone is putting on too much of an act. The older I get, the more I realize that "putting on a good show" is really about being fully present and focused on what you're playing and what everyone else in the band is doing. If you're doing that, you can pull the audience into the moment with you. If you're not doing that, the right clothes and the cool moves don't mean a thing.

I agree with all of this. The idea of Cradle having an image based on old MDB and Type O would, for me if not anyone else, really give a sense of mystery and awe to the band. Unfortunately they go too far the other way and it ends up looking like (bad) dress-ups, and there is nothing left for the imagination.  

What you say about the performance aspect rings true when I think about the recent Mayhem show I saw, when they were playing 'De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas' in full.

The idea is brilliant and has so much potential, but what we ended up watching was a strange kind of pantomime replete with corny fake candles, velvet cloth on the table, foolish posturing. It was the complete antithesis of what Euronymous and Dead were about - although I accept that image was a huge part of their modus operandi too, but to a much more effective and authentic sense. At one point during the show, just before they brought out their fake candelabra, I could see one of the fake candles at the side of the stage actually fallen over and horizontal. Someone pulled it back up to vertical and then they brought it out. It was just ridiculous. It was like Harry Potter or something. 

I understand the importance of theatrical elements when putting on a good show, but bands that purport to seriousness need to be careful that they don't undermine their raison d'etre by becoming false metal. 

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