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MaxFaust

Judging by the cover

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Releasing an album today is nothing like it was in "ye aulde days". Any fool with a home computer has access to what would amount to a million dollar studio back in the 80s ... so technically speaking, it's hard to get away with any excuses for poor production these days. It would have to be by choice ... as an aesthetic and artistic preference, because -- as many do -- they like that somewhat rotten, analog sound that you'll typically find on older records (before the music industry went digital). But sound is only one dimension of the release. There's also vision.

Those who can remember Carcass's debut album might also remembet the "debate". How far is too far? Many of us studied the cover art, listened to the album, and went ... hmmm ... I'm not sure what this package is about, but these guys definitely mean business. "Worth keeping an eye on" (although the production was awful) ... and they hit home with the next one. However, the cover art was still a bridge too far for many. As was indeed much of the rest that was being released in the budding new genre of death-black-grind-thrash-whatever that was manifesting at the time. Many could deal just fine with the music, but were freaked out by the lyrics and the cover art. I think they were missing the point.

Digitalisation started picking up pace by the mid 80s ... and ten years later it would be the norm. Nowadays I suppose there are "retro" studios out there, making a gimmick out of only having various vintage equipment ... but other than that, we are at a point in time when it has never been easier to record and release your own material, on account of the low prices on the technical side (although, to be fair, you can still get rid of quite a lot of money if you get into equipment fetishism). Amounting to a lot of people releasing a lot of stuff.

A thing that never changes is talent, though. Even among the more talented, there are levels. 

My opinion is that high level talent will show ... even in the cover art. Which means its opposite will also show. Which brings me to my point: By the year 1988 -- to stick with the Carcass example -- using various "autopsy shots" and whatnot was fairly common, at least along the edgier sides of music. Numerous hardcore bands had used the death motive to death, so to speak ... so it didn't really have the shock value it would have held ten years prior to its release date. What was new was that this sort of thing was seeping into the mainstream. As far as art goes, it's very very hard indeed to come up with anything that's genuinely new. It would have to be contingent on technology that's new.

More to the point: What seems shocking to people is highly relative. It's also a phenomenon that holds high interest in metal. There are certain "tropes" that keep repeating themselves. Often, you can tell what kind of metal this is going to be by looking at the band's name, the album title, the cover art, and so forth. Hammer Smashed Face by Cannibal Corpse isn't going to be symphonic prog metal, for instance. You can just tell. They are trying hard to warn you away if this sort of thing upsets you. (For the same reason, many should probably not watch horror movies, particularly not those on the sick edge.) I have no idea how many death metal albums there are with cover art orbiting various "horror" images of murder and mutilation, death and insanity. The short answer is, too many. So many that I've started to feel dismissive ... it seems too predictable ... not at all bad, that's not what I'm saying, but it comes with an aura of "been there, done that" so what have you got? Oh, another Morbid Death Obituary tribute band ... wonderful. 

Anyway, enough ranting.

I'm fishing for some thoughts about "judging an album by its cover" ... do you feel that you are mostly right if and when you do that? My experience is that sometimes I am wrong ... but more often than not, I'm right on the money about what to expect, musically, after examining what went into making the cover, artistically. Especially death and thrash bands seem to come in any number of clones that all sound pretty much the same ... which is also true in the stoner genre ... which makes it all a little tedious, even though most of these bands are very good at what they do. The problem with "discovering a new band every day" is that as you get older, there will have been a lot of days. Time may be infinite, but life isn't.

Have you developed an "ech" tendency to dismiss things yet ... judging by the cover ... or does the greater metal genre seem open and exciting to you?

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I definitely often judge music by the cover art.  It is usually easy to tell from the visuals, especially in black metal, what kind of music you will be getting into.  I think that when a particular band developed an identifiable sound that others would seek to replicate, that the sound automatically becomes closely tied with whatever visuals it was paired with.  It is also worth noting that the same can typically be said of band logos as well.

etching/drawing = atmospheric/ambient bm

digital art = contemporary "atmospheric" and clean bm

any cover with Kittelsen artwork = Burzum inspired

barbed wire circle = war metal

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and anything with a castle on is Dungeon Synth :) 

I used to buy a lot of vinyl judging by the cover, usually with not too many disappointments.  I guess I still do it now on youtube and have found some real gems. I will also check something out if it has particularly bad or unusual artwork though, I suppose, out of curiosity! Interesting subject.

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I admit to buying a record or CD just by looking at it, but in the majority of cases they have been second hand purchases: in around 80% of these purchases I have not regretted splashing a bit of money out. Liking the cover was after all how I discovered WASP,  Astarte, and Charta 77 (Swedish punk band). 

However I have never been well off financially speaking so when I have had the chance then I have prelistend to a band before buying any of their music, which is a lot easier today with YouTube. In the past most of my CD buying took place after gigs at band stores. 

 

 

 

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18 hours ago, Tortuga said:

in the majority of cases they have been second hand purchases

Like I mentioned somewhere else, you get a lot of good stuff for cheap these days. People seem to be dumping their CDs, so you can find some pretty rare material if you're lucky. I bought the entire Metallica catalogue for 1€ a piece, for example. They were just sitting there on the shelf in the Salvation Army shop one day. It took me 0.1 second to grab it all.

But there are many "unknowns". Obscure bands I've never heard of ... and TONS of power and hair metal.

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