A good grindcore album is the nexus of two parallel and occasionally competing characteristics. Great songs get you halfway there, but if they don’t have that energetic audio pop, you’re left with a mediocre experience. It’s that interaction between great songs and that abrasive, punky production that makes the greatest grind albums: think of that explosive jolt you get from Abuse, Horrified, or The Inalienable Dreamless.
I think more than any member of metal’s extended family, grindcore lives and dies by its production values (or deliberate lack thereof). Even more so than trve kvlk black metal’s refusal to cave in to niceties like listener’s enjoyment. Given that grind albums are often two or three dozen songs that barely crack a minute each, keeping that emotional energy coming is a must. An album of average songs with a great production is a perfectly acceptable guilty pleasure; an album full of good songs hampered by half-assed production just feels lacking.
In fact, I own a whole stack of albums that I enjoy despite their often wearying, enervated production job. Not surprisingly, Today is the Day’s Steve Austin gets production credit for a statistically significant portion of them. They range from simply being disappointing, The Parallax View’s thin, demo-worthy sound on Destruction of Property; the reedy, hollow guitars that mar Ablach’s Aon, through the outright unlistenable, Joe Pesci’s sonic abomination of At Our Expense! or Converge’s nigh unlistenable When Forever Comes Crashing. Each album sports perfectly acceptable, sometimes extremely enjoyable songs that are weighed down by their horrid production like a Lamborghini towing a horse trailer.
Sometimes I wonder what kind of power they would have conveyed had they sounded better (in Joe Pesci’s case, the band apparently will send you a better mix of At Our Expense! if you just ask). To a lot of bands’ thinking, the album only exists to put butts in the pit they next time they play Waukegan and then hopefully sell enough to pay for gas to Cheboygan. If that’s the case, then recorded music, particularly in this era of digital cornucopia and media overload, should be the best advertisement for your band possible. Chances are you’re not going to get a second chance to snare people’s attention.
Here’s a sampler of some of the unloved and weeded out articles in my collection that fell just short of sonic brilliance. Enjoy.
Where do you draw the line between intelligibility and enjoyability and can they be easily demarcated?
Ablach – “Obar Dheathain”
Kill the Slave Mater – “The Orchestration of Sodom”
Complete Failure – “Gross Negligence”
Converge – “Towing Jehova”
Flagitious Idiosyncrasy in the Dilapidation – “Tied Up”
The Parallax View – “Name: Last, First, MI”
Shapes of Misery – “Something to Believe”
Joe Pesci – “Plato Complex”
Torture Incident – “What’s That Mean of Capitalist”