Monday, November 14, 2011

Thirty Minutes or Less

GridLink can keep banging out 12 minute albums until the sun flames out as long as it means they keep things tight and ruthlessly eviscerate any fat. Perhaps the greatest thing I could say for the death of physical music is that artists are no longer chained to the limitations or expectations of the format. Albums are now free to be as long or as short as the music demands without being beholden to a delivery system.
Anybody who grew up during the great CD boom of the '80s and '90s will remember every artist suddenly felt pressured to make full use of a format that would allow them to inflict up to an hour of music on their fans. So we got Metallica songs that clocked in at a bloated eight minutes on average. Now, I have a huge doom collection, and I can appreciate excruciatingly long songs if done well, but you have to earn the right to put out 75 minute albums. It's not something just anybody should be doing. You are probably not Neurosis. Especially grindcore bands. However, some of my favorite artists and even my favorite albums, if I'm honest, are absolutely way too fricken long. With very few exceptions, no grindcore album should top half an hour.
Here are five good reasons why.

Anal Cunt
Everyone Should be Killed

Earache

1993

If no grindcore band should write more than 30 minute albums, that goes doubly for Anal Cunt. I'm gonna go ahead and establish a new iron clad grindcore rule: Seth Putnam should never have been allowed to record anything longer than the infamous 88 Song EP. Morbid Florist, tops. But in 1993 Putnam et al dropped the hefty 58-song, 58:40 behemoth Everyone Should Be Killed. Many of the songs were recycled from Morbid Florist and easily could have been axed in the name of economy. Nearly an hour of blurcore insanity that...ummm...blurs together is too much to ask of even the band's most dedicated fans.

Napalm Death
Time Waits for No Slave

Century Media

2009

Time Waits for No Slave was a respectable Barney-era Napalm Death album, but in no rational world should it have clocked 50:22. Especially for only 14 songs. (By comparison, predecessor Smear Campaign was a punchier album over all but still a gratuitous 45 minutes for 16 songs). Lopping a good 15 minutes off of Time Waits for No Slave could have made it a ferocious beast of an LP. The From Enslavement to Obliteration days are never coming back, but a pitiless editor could have checked the band's bloat and turned in a record that would have done the Napalm Death legacy proud, regardless of lineup and era.

Nasum
Inhale/Exhale

Relapse

1998

Before the flaming starts, I abso-fricken-lutely love this album. Inhale/Exhale was my first exposure to Nasum back in college and it holds fond memories for me. But it's just too damn long at 45:11. Shortly after Mieszko Talarczyk died, Decibel asked drummer Anders Jakobson to look back over the band's catalogue and something he said about Inhale/Exhale really struck me. After years of struggling, scrimping and saving up to record 7-inches that forced the band to keep things tight, he said Inhale/Exhale was Nasum's first chance to leave a little fat on a record. While Jakobson admitted the record is overly long, anyone who watches Food Network as much as I do will tell you fat=flavor. However, fat is also not always healthy. Judicious pruning would have made an excellent album doubly explosive.

Brutal Truth
Sounds of the Animal Kingdom

Relapse

1997

Shitty production aside, Songs of the Animal Kingdom remains my favorite Brutal Truth record because it's so weird and unexpected, even 15 years later. However, at a whopping 74:16, it's a hell of a slog to get through in one sitting. Yes, the infamous "Prey," which may be one of the most skipped tracks in metal history, comes in at just a skootch under 22 minutes, but even without it, that still leaves more than 50 minutes of grindcore to absorb. Serial long album offenders Brutal Truth packed up a whole Noah's Ark of animal insanity on their then-swansong record. Now, it just feels like a tad like the Marx Brothers' crowded stateroom.

Noisear
Subvert the Dominant Paradigm

Relapse

2011

Noisear turned in album that will surely dominate many top 10 lists in a couple of months with Subvert the Dominant Paradigm. But then they had to go fuck up a tidy 25 minute album by tacking on the 20 minute annoyance that is "Noisearuption" (for comparison, the whole of Pyroclastic Annhialation was less than 22 minutes despite a half dozen Discordance Axis covers). "Noisearuption" is an absolutely awful, grating noise kissoff that nearly obliterates any good will the band had accrued up to that point. It should serve as an object lesson on screwing up a perfectly good album with an uncharacteristic and unnecessary assault on listeners' expectations that doesn't really have any payoff other than pissing people off and making a great album too damn long.

Funny how so many of them are from Relapse, innit?

20 comments:

Perpetual Strife said...

astute and good examples. I follow your school of thought exactly, when a grindcore song pushes 2minutes you better be fucking churning out some heavy butter there.

Interesting about Inhales/Exhale; I feel exactly the same way.Both them and Misery Index seemed to delve into writing songs that were a bit too long (of course Misery Index ain't the band Nasum was, nor will they ever be).

The idea of almost an hour of Anal Cunt sounds excruciating. Have you ever sat through it in one listen?

p.s. Ken Hitchcock, y/n?

Ryan Page said...

I know we disagree about noisearuption, but I think it definitely would have played better on vinyl because then you could have you terrifyer/natasha combo where the long last track becomes its own thing, and accessible when you want it to be (which in your case would probably be never). Noisearuption reminds me a little of Lou Reed's "Metal Machine Music", and I think that's the mood I'm into when I am listening to that song. I think the issue with that track is that its so far removed from the rest of the album, and there's actually little connection between grindcore, and non thematic noise...

Anyway, I'm really interested in what does make your top ten list this year. I will be very surprised if my prediction for your number 1 album is wrong. I have absolutely no clue what mine would be.

Wet Nightmare said...

totally agree...i feel grind albums should be 15-20 mins long...30 only if there is another genre mixed in there. 2 min is also the longest it should. A perfect time would be 45 seconds to 1 minutes...I feel like assuck's misery index is one of those albums that is the perfect length. If you think an album is too short....just listen to it again.

Mosse said...

That's funny, I was listening to Inhale/Exhale the other day and it felt like it just kept on going for ages. At some point past the 25 minute-mark I completely lost interest.

I agree with you on Sounds of the Animal Kingdom 100%. Also, 20+ minute noise tracks need to fuck off and die.

Persona 101 said...

^^Except on noise albums.

Pascal Cretain said...

Good food for thought.

It feels like artists have ever-shrinking attention slots at their disposal these days, and need to make careful choices on how to use them; one misplaced 22-minute noise track in a grindcore album is more than enough to alienate the listener and the game is over.

Taking things a step further, I feel that this trend is not limited to us grinders or to grindcore albums for that matter, but touches on other areas of creativity. As a culture consumer, investing too much time on one single offering be it music or something else, feels almost like taking a risk. When you decide to do it, "it'd better be fucking important."

Has anyone actually read the entire "Ulysses" by James Joyce?

Andrew Childers said...

strife: hitch gets a big thumbs up for puck possession strategy and shutting out the hawks. if the blues crush detroit tonight he can have my firstborn child.

ryan: once again you concisely nail the point i was dancing around and couldn't articulate: disconnection. i just don't see how "noisearuption" in any way connects to the rest of the album. it's like that bizarre electronic thing at the end of we are the romans that even botch hates.

pascal: i read ulysses last year as a bloomsday bet with some friends. i was the only one to finish it. but i'm a total maximist literate whore. i've done infinite jest, gravity's rainbow and the brothers karamazov multiple times. i even made it through war and peace once (and once was probably enough of that one).

but i think you hit on something good with the idea of opportunity cost in art. is it wiser to invest nearly three hours in bela tarr's slow moving werckmeister hamornies (oh sweet christ yes!) or take in two werner herzog documentaries in the same span. everything in life is a tradeoff.

DesiccatedVeins said...

To me, the issue here is quality control and the time and effort strong editing takes. If Gridlink would ever decide to spend the 10-15 years it would take them to write a sprawling, 45-minute grindcore Ulysses, I'd take notice, because they'd have put in the editing work to make the whole thing a compelling listen from the first drumstick click right through to the last scream. Jon Chang's comment about how most 'Link songs start out longer and shrink over time says something about the tough calls that should've been made on these records (for Noisear, it would've been, "Hey J. Randall, don't bother plugging in your synthesizers, we don't need that stupid noise song, we promise.")

Ryan Page said...

For the record, they approached Jay. And not to be anal, but I think that's a manipulated feedback system performed live, not a synth...

VII said...

i completely agree with everything said in this post. A grind full length should be about 18-25 minutes, half an hour tops.

DesiccatedVeins said...

Oh, I assumed they were handheld synths like you normally use to make noise pieces, that you use to create feedback (I didn't mean keyboards, for the record). Maybe we're talking about the same thing? I've only ever worked on one noise piece with a friend, and those were what we used, ran through a bevy of pedals.

Ryan Page said...

@desiccated Oh, I know what you mean (I go to school at the home of the very first buchla synth!). What I am saying is that I don't even think there was synthesized signal generation. Although I could be wrong, essentially the way it was described to me was that it was was a series of pedals hooked up together (I am assuming essentially the equation was: cable hum + massive amounts of gain, fed back onto itself, and various effects). There might be some cracklebox there too, but I don't know. Oftentimes EQ filters can make things sound synthy. That and delays. Its kind of a semantic point, so I probably shouldn't have even mentioned it. haha.

Dead Existence said...

I've got Brutal Truths' Prey as my ringtone. Really pisses people off.

Andrew Childers said...

hey hey hey. let's not make this educational or anything now.

DesiccatedVeins said...

Ah, that makes a lot of sense then, thanks dude. (And nice, Buchla synths are so sweet. I'd love to play with one some time.) I do kind of enjoy it as its own piece, but its lack of attack as compared to the band's songs has an unavoidable sore thumb effect on every listen.

amalgamated fishhooks said...

i'm in it for the music. if a band has 40 minutes of grind that is on point and fits the theme of the album, then make it so.

on topic: bonus tracks should not count in the digital age. it takes all of 5 seconds to make noisear's album "acceptable."

p.s. the irish odyssey is a good book.

Andrew Childers said...

fishooks, i completely disagree. "noisearuption" was presented as part of the album and it has to be evaluated in that context. the thing i like most about metal is it's one of the few musical style that still lives by albums rather than singles. i'd hate to see us slide into that.

if noisear don't want their album to be viewed through the prism of a really bad track that outshines the good, they shouldn't have included it. it's not treated as a bonus track. it's just another song and it's a near-fatal flaw on the album. they put it out, so they get to take the criticism for a really bad decision.

Ryan Page said...

@Dessicated Sorry to be so geeky, haha. Between the electronics I've been building lately, and my housemate's attempts at making a modular synth I'm a little too wrapped up in this stuff right now.

@Andrew I agree from a reviewers perspective, but I'm personally really bad about listening to full albums lately. So, there are probably only a few songs from most albums that I regularly listen to.

amalgamated fishhooks said...

near fatal flaw? delete the track; problem solved. you are coming across as an elitist. it's almost humorous as you are anything but.

you have over-looked shit last tracks for years - your initial silence regarding the closer on phantom limb for instance...

Andrew Childers said...

i guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on this, fishhooks. i actually think pxdx is the perfect counter example to noisear. ever since prowler they've used ambient elements, noise bits, samples and written narrative to develop central themes to their albums. it's all incorporated with a clear intention and purpose.

a full half of noisear's album is annoying noise with zero connection to the other half. i just can't overlook that. like everybody else, i cut off the last track when i ripped the cd, but they put it out there and they intended it to be part of the album (again, half the run time) and there's no escaping the fact it's just bad