As anyone who is reading this knows, the Dark Legions Archive sets itself apart by being one of the very few websites that offers interpretive criticism (criticism of the meaning of a work) as well as aesthetic criticism of heavy metal albums. However, it seems that many recent posts are confusing the concept of interpretive criticism with subjective emotional reactions to art. The latter is not an interesting topic of discussion, and posts that pretend like it is are making this forum look stupid. As such, an extremely basic guide to artistic criticism is required.
There are three main parts to artistic criticism. These are aesthetic criticism, interpretive criticism, and evaluative criticism. It is important to note that these are sequential- that is, that we determine the meaning based on the aesthetics, and we determine the quality based on aesthetics and meaning.
Now that these three parts have been introduced, it is time to define them more precisely, starting with the ones that most people have no difficulties with- aesthetic criticism and evaluative criticism. Aesthetic criticism is criticism of the physical aspect of a work. In the case of music, the aesthetic elements are melody, rhythm, harmony, structure, dynamics, tempo, and timbre. Evaluative criticism seeks to answer the question "is it good?" It follows from both the interpretive criticism (are these ideas interesting or important?) and the aesthetic criticism (is it executed well?).
Interpretive criticism is the part that many people, whether posting on internet forums or sitting in introductory art lectures at a college, have difficulties with. Interpretive criticism deals with the question "what ideas are expressed by this piece? What does it mean?" It follows from the aesthetics. Just as if you were writing about a piece of literature and ascribed to it a theme in no way expressed in the original text, if you ascribe a meaning to piece of art without being able to point to the aesthetic elements that communicate this meaning, then you are not engaging in interpretive criticism, but rather are engaging merely with your own subjective emotions.
A brief example of interpretive criticism done correctly: "The Gate of Nanna by Beherit starts with two simple riffs with melody limited to a jump to demarcate the end of the phrase, and a rhythm that is little more than a repetitive pulse. At about half-way through the song, it changes to a third, slower, theme, also limited to only three chords, but in a higher register, and with a consonant minor-key melody that runs throughout the riff, as opposed to a simple note change at the boundary of the riff. For the first time in the song, the pulse beats are dropped, with beats 1, 3, and 4 having prominence over beat 2. As the song ends, it reverts to a gentle droning riff in the lower registers, with whispered vocals and swirling synths, playing oscillations more than notes, lending a presence more significant for sound than for musicality.
The beginning of the song is clearly ritualistic, with the even beat and repetition of the basic riffs, combined with the intentional monotony of said riffs acting to hypnotize the listener into a meditative state, aided by the choice of the minor third and major seventh for the notes that demarcate the end of a measure- the former to keep a somber atmosphere, and the latter to keep the song from falling into a simple minor key and giving the listener an obvious emotional reference. The effect is further enhanced by the timbre choice of the vocals, alternating between whispering and a mechanical chant. After some repetitions of the two ritualistic riffs- the faster one indicating an intensifying of the ritual- this part of the song fades out into the more melodic middle section. This section, by staying strictly within minor key, but by avoiding the sixth note and descending to the seventh instead of ascending to it, is able to give the listener a more human emotional reference- the trance now broken, the listener is confronted with a triumph, still utterly somber- this feeling is enhanced by the move to the upper registers, where the guitar's tone is more clear. The vocals take a dramatic shift from the understated to a bestial roar of "Ave Satan! Ave Lucifer!", making the song's implication more obvious- the ritual has succeeded, and now the forces of the occult are palpable, looming over mankind, glorified by their disciples. Finally, as the song fades out, it returns to the ritualism, but this time given an unsettling tone, from the solely-descending riff, swirling tones of the synth, and a voice whispering "sleep... sleep, my friend...". The de-emphasis of the guitar, being the most rigid piece of instrumentation, acts to cut the listener away from the physical, as though a portal to the beyond has been opened, and the listener has been swept inside."
While it's obvious that not every post will go to the length of the above, more due to the casual nature of internet forums rather than the depth of analysis of the above (it's the minimum that would be expected in any college freshman art class), it should make it clear what most posts around here are missing- namely, discussion about the meaning of the work itself, as can be backed up by the physical form of the work.
Here's an example of what one is more likely to see around here: "Being 'artistic' means listening to music and associating colors with sequences or production like a trained painter. Certain strong colors produces stirrings or tinglings in the heart, and the imagination is taken away on an aesthetic voyage.
With Filosofem it was the faded greens of Norways countryside, In the Nightside Eclipse was dense white woods, with sharp blue moonlight cutting in, nighttime aureoles - a jaded coldness turning your heart into stone. Battles in the North.. a completely northern landscape, pure white, colder than glaciers."
Notice how no connection to the outward form of the pieces in question is made; rather, all we see here is what one listener sees in his own mind as he listens to these. The fact that in each case he's simply describing the album cover, combined with his unsubstantiated assertion that "being artistic" (whatever that means) involves associating colors with an sounds shows that he's simply regurgitating his own uninteresting subjective emotions (oh, but they are interesting! look at me! I'm unique!), like any well trained hipster.
There are no more excuses for poor posts like MachinalHeidegger's. It would be appreciated if those who do not want to learn to post correctly find somewhere else to share their neurotic ego drama.