Why Music Critics Eat Brains

dawn_of_the_dead_-_1978_-_zombies_eating_flesh

Music critics eat brains for the same reason that zombies do, but are selective in what they eat. Zombies feast indiscriminately on central nervous systems out of pure need. But music critics eat brains by promoting the mindless and tearing down the good in order to promote themselves at the expense of the music.

Modern zombies — those you are likely to see in film and books from the last thirty years — are a metaphor for modern society. They are pathological and consume everything in their path, which compares to both capitalism which is a dog-eat-dog zero sum system, and egalitarianism, which creates a social order where all are equally unimportant and must pull others down in order to rise. The latter compares most accurately with what music critics do.

Where zombies show us the blind destruction caused by egalitarianism, critics obscure that point by enforcing equality through lowest common denominator standards and a focus on novelty. They praise what will be socially popular, which is either acknowledged classics or the trivial and unique band of the week, and attack or ignore that which is of quality but not established to the point that criticizing it is a faux pas. Unlike a zombie outbreak, which feasts on those too weak to defend themselves, a music critic outbreak kills off the strong.

Music critics — by the definition of their job — must cut some down while lifting some up. Their job is to find the next new thing, or if it is a new clone of an older style, then the review depends what is currently trending. Metal critics are like recipients of welfare in this regard. They have to toe the party line to get fed, and those who are most obedient rise to the top of the heap.

This reflects the tension in the job of writing about music: they must both seek out good music, and also reflect popular opinions back at their readership, or the readers will not come to them. For this reason, all of music reviewing is essentially a lengthy, “I agree, but let me add this.” This means that music critics must conform to the herd, and then inject something on top of that which makes the music critic appear distinctive and wise in ways that the audience already recognizes.

For this reason, music critics eat brains by overlooking exactly what they should seek out, which is material that does not follow the current trends but goes its own way and has something to offer in that regard. Instead, they beat the tin drum for the crowd favorites, and then propel and shower with encomium a host of novelty bands. These are the “critic’s favorites” that you see in all the magazines for a few months, but then disappear because they did not catch on with fans.

Novelty bands tend to have a sophistry about them that relies on a fake esoteric nature, meaning they are vague enough to avoid having to really take a stand on anything, which allows them to appear to be different from the tried and true formula while in fact clinging to it. Like music critics, they are repeating back to the crowd what it is familiar with, but have disguised it as something “different” and “unique” so the audience can maintain its pretense of being those same things as well.

In order to get away with this, music critics establish a standard for judging music based on surface traits alone: instrumentation, member biographies, technicality and production. Music critics love expensive production because it means the band has support and so reviewing it positively is a safe bet. Similarly, they cannot be criticized for praising technically-adept bands over more instinctual musicians, or for diving deep into the biography to talk about how ironic or trail-blazing the members are.

The end result of all this is serious brain-eating. The fan enters an echo chamber where he hears the same opinions he espouses repeated back to him in an authoritative-sounding voice. Awash in a new narcissism arising from this, he then goes to look for some music which will further make him seem to stand out in a crowd (different, unique, ironic). He buys it and it does not satisfy him, so next month he buys more, until at age twenty-eight on average he chucks in the towel and just listens to the radio like other adults.

Through this process, the music critics create a path around the music itself and focus on triviality. They do this because the actual product the music critics are selling is themselves as writers, and they only need to flatter the audience in unique ways to get away with this. That attitude creates a perverse incentive toward bad music and as surely as zombies eat brains, lobotomizes fans and musicians both in an industry which is bigoted against quality.

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32 thoughts on “Why Music Critics Eat Brains”

  1. Altarmoys of Bladness says:

    The author is Stephen Cefala a.k.a. this nigga? >>> http://www.deathmetal.org/meta/hate-mail-7-steve-cefala-comment-spam/

    If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!

  2. John D. says:

    Well done, Steve! This is so good and insightful it could also be applied to other arts and what happens at the hands of unscrupulous and self-serving critics. It doesn’t only happen in the music biz. This is a very touchy and difficult subject because criticism still serves a vital function. But as I’ve expressed elsewhere at this site, I think to restore the balance of power artists need to hold critics more accountable, not by telling them what to write, but by making their presence known to them, reminding them that a real human being engaged in a complex creative process is behind the work, and that any singled out work is but a branch of a tree. The artist needs to help the critic see the whole tree, the soil it’s planted in, the conditions it was brought up in, the weather it withstood, in some sense helping to educate him. The critic begins with a fragmented vision, limited in what he sees and understands, and he needs to be helped finding pieces and fitting the whole picture together. A good critic not only should approach the artist and his work as more of the student, but also as an investigative journalist. It’s an uneasy, tension-filled collaboration, and probably will be so forever, but it’s a collaboration nonetheless. Call it a marriage made in hell.

    Ideally done by artists themselves, it would be something if there was a Sadistic Metal Reviews where everything is flipped around and the scribbled hackwork of certain critics is torn to shreds.

    1. I think to restore the balance of power artists need to hold critics more accountable, not by telling them what to write, but by making their presence known to them, reminding them that a real human being engaged in a complex creative process is behind the work, and that any singled out work is but a branch of a tree.

      Interesting idea and headed in the right direction, I think. The fundamental glitch is this: the entire industry is driven by consumers, so unless consumers demand something different, they will get the lowest common denominator plus quirky wit that is the norm these days in music writing.

      If there were an audience for more thoughtful reviews…

      1. John D. says:

        I see this all too clearly, Brett. You are right. The next best thing is for the artist to empower himself and fight back, like Stephen has demonstrated. An artist can take his cause up in his own hands, not just sit back voiceless and silent and take shit from lowbrow hacks. He can shovel the shit right back where it belongs. Swine will never stop feeding even if it’s shit shoveled back at them. That’s the funny thing. But an artist must take care to do this the right way. It’s never good to lose one’s cool. Reactionary dumbfucks, bloodsucking parasites that they are, are always trying to provoke to get their narcissistic supply. One good demonstration or intelligent statement by an artist can go a long way. It can invigorate and inspire other artists. It becomes clearer who is who. Stephen, I tip my hat to you.

    2. Rainer Weikusat says:

      This seems to call for understanding the work as part of the artist and to review it as such, even with ‘due consideration’ of the fragile sentiments of its creator. But it’s not. It’s something which stands or falls on its own and which will mean radically different things to different people, the person who created it being among them. Obsessing over the creator while ignoring the creation is the very essence of this strange phenomenon called fandom and that’s fundamentally unhealthy: Which self-respecting entity capable of creating something of value could want mindless worship of this kind? The work deserves better than that if it’s any good and the creator ought to value it enough allow it a life of its own. If he doesn’t, he might hit onto something by accident once but most of what he creates will remain colourful, narcissistic flim-flam.

      A musician is (for the given case) usually a guy with an electric guitar making sounds I like (or don’t like). That’s cool. But he’s hollow and filled with unpleasantly smelling stuff just like any other human.

      1. John D. says:

        You, Rainer, by how you’ve worded your response, I take it are not an artist yourself, but are a smartly critical and even quite demanding consumer of music, more discerning than most, with all your facts lined up and ready to go. A guy like you can take that fine discernment and apply writing skill either to do a lot of damage, by being too explicitly opinionated, even doing more damage by cluttering up the flow of discourse and conversation by being too pedantic, or, reversing that tendency, detaching yourself and even being scientific-minded about it, draw attention to aspects of certain pieces of music you select for consideration, to some extent educating the public. I can see you doing the latter very well. I’ve generally enjoyed reading your comments and observations.

      2. Billy Foss says:

        Hear, hear! If a critic desires any sort of creative context, they can find it on their own time. Likewise, on an emotional level an artist should meet all criticism with a staunch stoicism. If, however, they are able to glean some sort of constructive analysis presented in a reasonable manner? Then by all means go forth. Otherwise, you run the risk of thinly veiled commercials and servile pandering, respectively. Hardly the stuff of elitism. True art speaks for itself.

        1. John D. says:

          Yes indeed. An artwork should speak for itself. The problem is that too often one can’t hear it because of all the voices raised over it.

          A “true” work of art can also easily be knocked down, hammered and damaged, and dragged through the mire. It would be great if more individuals quieted down and paid more attention, actually using their brains to think and consider. One might say that just as a society might be judged by how it treats its women, same could be said by how it treats its “true” art. I have my suspicion that if I brought a fine piece of poetry down here in this environment, containing sublime thought and emotion, there would be some clown who pulled out his sharpie and scribbled something stupid on it, of course ruining it for everyone else.

          1. Rainer Weikusat says:

            I’m a (Linux) software developer by profession which means I get (mostly) paid to create stuff which doesn’t exist yet. That’s pretty unglamorous and people breaking stuff someone else created tend to be regarded much higher despite relatively few people can actually create something new out of nothing while every idiot with a hammer can destroy something. Or rather because of this: The act of destruction frees ressentiment-driven people (somehow, bits of Ecce Homo keep popping up everywhere in here) from the annoying realization that someone did something they couldn’t have accomplished themselves, and The Destroyer[tm] thus becomes a popular hero. And “being ressentiment-driven” is the default modus operandi of people as it provides the warm, fuzzy feeling of being a full-fledged member of a powerful group united in mindless rejection (rejecting something is an exercise of power) without requiring undue mental exertion.

            This article is a nice example of that as it’s really just stating that everything sucks.

            1. John D. says:

              Eloquently put, Rainer, and unfortunately true. To keep to music and art, in my own personal experience I don’t agree that everything is shit. If one really believes that, then shit one will find. Being an older man, I wonder to what extent I have actually outgrown the metal genre. I still absolutely love it, but outside of it there are some incredible works of art and literature. NOT shit, but repositories of knowledge and wisdom. I’d love for Brett Stevens to chime in here. To me he seems to be a proponent of a more mature metal. It must grow up if it is to continue. It must purge all the reactionary elements out of itself. This touches on the resentment you’ve aptly brought into the discussion, Rainer. My short time commenting here I’ve noticed all too clearly forces working to undermine the maturing process and to keep things stuck in the mire. Maybe with the growing up, the last vestiges of adolescence falling away, it will be found that metal just doesn’t have in itself what it takes to survive and in hindsight will be considered only a curious moment in music history.

              Maybe this is too forward-thinking for many who visit this site. Their identities are still too wrapped up in the old days and how it used to be. They do not see their coffin yet as a cocoon.

              1. To me he seems to be a proponent of a more mature metal. It must grow up if it is to continue. It must purge all the reactionary elements out of itself.

                Good point. More mature on a musical level, certainly; I do not address content. If metal is to endure, it needs to escape the kiddie rock trap, which means shying away from easily-digested material, which then requires adding a certain amount of musical depth on top of it. I am thinking more of the second Therion album than the “technical” metal which is following jazz down a path of over-cerebrated senescence.

                Reactionary… or reactive? There is no way to purge metal’s reactionary nature, since it will always be Tolkien/Lovecraft inspired distrust of modernity because of its fundamentally historical and mythological view of existence. The word “reactive” however refers to entities which exist within certain assumptions, and respond to each other with ferocity, but never escape the mental ghetto of those assumptions.

                1. John D. says:

                  Thanks, Brett. Reactionary is too loaded a word. I accept your correction. Reactive as you described it is what I had more in mind. Self-undercutting to where there’s nothing more substantially human left but a being stuck in that hive mind you alluded to in your other comment. “Mental ghetto” indeed. Totally self-destructive. Not nobly so either. It’s what makes so many others outside of metal not take it seriously. Maybe my observation is broader to include not only the music but the community of participants. I can see how you’ve arrived to your thinking about quality control and a hierarchy of approval.

                  To perceive the problem is at least a start. Goodness knows what the solution is. This is your experiment. One wonders how you more personally feel about it. I have this creeping sense that everything shall remain stuck exactly where it is, all the swarming petulant little nasty-mindedness and the occasional group who rises above and makes a solid contribution. Metal shall never gather momentum and become a revolutionary force. Part of it grinds away in futility, which is where it gathers its tremendous aggression and rage, and part of its nature is to fantasize about itself ala Tolkien/Lovecraft. Funny that I used “reactionary” before when now I can see it’s very essence is reactionary. To purge the reactionary out of itself would be to perform seppuku .

  3. Notice says:

    Comments are closed.

  4. Rainer Weikusat says:

    A zero sum game is one where a fixed number of somethings are available for distribution to competing players, hence, every distributed item reduces the total number of distributable item and thus, the possible gain of any other player: After the game is over, the sum of gains and losses will be zero. A simple example for this is Tic-tac-toe. There are two players and two possible outcomes. Representing a win as +1 and a loss as -1, the situation after one player wins is +1, -1 (one win, one loss), or the game ends in draw, no win and no loss. The sum is 0 both cases.

    The so-called economy is not a zero-sum game for the simple reason that it’s usually either growing (net gain) or shrinking (net loss). That’s already in the oldest texts about this (I know of), Marx: Das Kapital. A factory owner pays workers to create something which worth more than what he pays them. This so-called Mehrwert (added value) is the source of the factory owner’s profits. Even a cursory look at history will reveal the same (this is a translation of a part of Karl May: Mein Leben und Streben, the described situation occurred in eastern Germany at the end of the 1840s, the book was printed in 1910. The section title is No Youth)


    The times were very bad, especially for poor people from the area I came from. The current, general prosperity renders imagining exactly how miserable life was at then end of the 40s almost impossible. Unemployment, crop failures, inflation and revolution, these four words explained everything. We lacked almost everything necessary to feed and provide for the body. We begged for potato peels in the neigbouring pubic house »Zur Stadt Glauchau« to make soup for lunch. We walked over to the Red Mill for some handfuls of spelts and dust from the grain bags to process this into something edible. We collected saltbush (atriplex) growing on rubble heaps, picked bistort at meadow’s edges and wild lettuce below fences to cook them to put something in our stomachs. The saltbush leafs felt greasy and would produce in a few, small grease drops when cooked. How nourishing and delicious was this to us!

    Around the same time, a lot of people emigrated from Ireland to the USA to avoid starving at home (written words fall short of expressing the cynicism which would be appropriate here). No expensive, electric instruments to make purely entertaining noises available here and no people tossing around grandstanding terms like dog eat dog to describe their much less exciting conditions of mostly habitual existence.

    To end this on a somewhat positive note: Every person on this planet is equally important as it exists exactly once and only for a limited time. Unfortunately, most people are too anxious to conform to something force-fed to them with an ever-present, almost unoticably gentle insistence to ever make something of that. But the tripe that’s getting produced must be consumed, otherwise, the wheels of the machinery would stop turning and … but let’s rather not think about this! Buy some burgers instead.

  5. Cocketeer says:

    This article sucks balls, it’s even worse than Nothing Left.
    So when is this site going to review Dark Funeral & Ungod ?

    1. OliveFox says:

      They already did. Except instead of posting the review they just emailed it to every person in the world except for you it appears.

      They were surprisingly positive. A 3.5 gang-rapes out of 5 rating.

    2. Ludvig B.B (vOddy) says:

      I reviewed the Dark Funeral album, but the review wasn’t posted because it wasn’t good enough.

      Summary: It has some good moments but it’s not good overall

  6. C.M. says:

    This article is retarded. The accusations do not even apply to your typical MA or Amazon reviewer; they’re just people sharing opinions, trying to be honest but generally too dumb to have any worthwhile observations. This is pure distilled butthurt.

    The ironic spiral of criticizing music critics who criticized your music… like the orbital decay of a doomed spacecraft circling a star. Especially considering how the author’s initial argument was that critics have no grounds on which to judge art unless they, themselves, are artists. And none of you knobs realize that the whole point of posting this silly rant was to further humiliate Steve. God damn traumatizing. I’m gonna go watch some snuff porn to clear my head.

    1. Rainer Weikusat says:

      It’s just a zombie trying to eat some brains.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dNjyej1GXcc

    2. John D. says:

      C.M. I’m probably placing my arguments in the wrong arena. What you’ve written here I see clearly and understand. The humiliation intended was unmistakable. It brings one to the question how seriously should one take metal as an art form. If it’s not to be taken seriously at all, then all bets are off, and you yourself have here hammered home the truth.

      1. Rainer Weikusat says:

        Do you want to take something like this seriously?

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CiPaqIW_DPs

        The last guy I shared this with went into “Haha, I know that kind already and – sorry – I’m not into black metal”(?!?) within less than a minute (as far as I can tell).

        1. Vampire are more Destruction gone symphonic power metal than black metal.

    3. OliveFox says:

      These last few articles from and about this guy HAVE been pretty damn bizarre.

    4. John D. says:

      This all might boil down to brains vs brawn. In metal, brawn cannot be ignored. It’s fundamental to the metal spirit. It’s its guts and grit, its Bloody Fucking Hell. It keeps coming and swinging the machete even when its head is chopped off. Brawn just does not back down. There’s a certain contempt for overfine thinkers, more respect for the man who can stand up for himself and fight. The world is comprised of irrational forces and overwhelming destructive power, and it’s dog eat dog, every man for himself. Hunt or be hunted. Kill or be killed. One must do what one can to survive. If one is a nihilist, then there are no rules. Everything is permitted. The aesthete becomes laughable under such conditions. Boil it all down, and we’re all just primates. Peel the banana and what do we find? The alpha male.

      1. John D. says:

        OliveFox, I got nothing against Steve. I have respect for him. What’s bizarre to me is the sort of lynch-mob mentality which gains traction and momentum. It’s interesting how some smear aimed to humiliate by some perceived authority, or a big hairy ape, is rallied around, and then, no questions asked, how quick so many so-called individuals are to pull the hoods over their heads and grab their torches.

        1. I consider this question — how does a hive-mind form? — and civilization collapse to be two of the most interesting and terrifying questions regarding humanity.

          As far as its origins, however, a visit to the monkey house at your local zoo (Warning: Stinky) will provide that.

      2. Rainer Weikusat says:

        Try turning this around: Peel the »alpha male&laquo and what do we find — a banana!

        1. John D. says:

          Mere cleverness, Rainer. Take care not to slip on the banana peel.

          1. Rainer Weikusat says:

            The brawny but secretly biodegradable braggart is a mainstream mainstay: As people don’t usually have to fight for anything anymore nowadays, that’s all idle posturing of would-be promiscuous peacocks designed to distract decoratively dressed dolls bored with their own lack of aliveness. Best staged on cocaine as that lends itself to talking fastly while the “it turns your brain into a sponge” effect makes the buffoonery appear more authentic.

            1. John D. says:

              Wrap your head around that one, folks.

  7. ay lmao ;D says:

    Critique – like the rest of art nowadays – mostly sucks balls. Doesn’t mean the medium lacks all meaning besides recommending X and bashing Y. As someone who writes essays, you probably believe in the essay form. But what’s a critique if not a special case of essay? So the problem with current-era criticism isn’t that it’s criticism, but that it’s badly written.

    Also, do you know of a recent album that could have inspired the critical masses to write something decent? Besides the beyond astonishing masterpiece that is Nothing Left, of course.

  8. Degtyarov says:

    Solid article. For metal whorenalism to become relevant again, it needs to be separated from the detrimental promo culture and its related cronyism. The darlings of critics arise because they have good PR behind them, or they’re personal buddies with a lot of metal writers. The sudden explosion of coverage for Vattnet Viskar last year was largely based on the ties of one of its members to the metal writing community.

    You will even have hacks writing for sites such as Noisey, Metalsucks and Metal Injection who will give coverage to bands based purely currently hot political stances. There is no reason why anyone would give a shit about a terrible band like Vile Creature (check them on Bandcamp for a few laughs) if its two members weren’t part of so-called ‘oppressed groups’ (in their case transsexuals).

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