Demos and a Forsaken Future

“Dude, their demos were so much better” is one of the most obnoxious cliches of underground metal.  Usually a sign of virtue signaling used to mask one’s insecurities about their knowledge or taste, many lost souls of a nostalgia-obsessed age will use this one as a pale attempt to one up their brethren.  However in many cases within metal’s sonic sphere, bands that were truly fantastic on their early demos left much to be desired and ultimately left listeners unfulfilled.  Whether it be a record company’s influence, a change in heart or band members, or a touch of genius quickly fumbled away, may bands throughout the history of metal have never quite been able to match the quality of their demo recordings.

With death metal built on an entire sub culture of tape trading, demos were more than a proverbial foot-in-the-door to a potential record deal.  For musicians of the genre’s early days, the demo was the equivalent to having your record in the store- it was being shipped all around the world to fans desperate for something they couldn’t find in shops and to musicians hungry for new ideas.  Furthermore, a band’s demo was untainted by the direction and input of record labels who, in those days, quite often suppressed what was deemed “too weird” or “too extreme” as death metal was often determined by the suits of those days.  Tape trading death metal demos was an underground of its own, and your band’s demo tape wasn’t just a pathway to commercialization or musical success- but a often the start of new friendships in a rapidly globalizing world.  Given all of these unique factors, it’s no surprise death metal was full of bands who could never quite capture the magic of their demos.

To offer a complete list would be a dishonor and disservice to the legions of quality works that fall under this umbrella.  Therefore in today’s editorial, I will briefly offer a handful of my personal favorite death metal demos from bands that could never quite capture the magic.  Though I pay little mind to what happens in our comment sections, this will mark a special occurrence where I’d be delighted to know what DMU’s readers would have on this list.

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My Dying Bride – Feel The Misery (2015)

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Regardless of how you might feel about My Dying Bride as a whole, you could make the point that their earlier, more death metal oriented works gave them more musical breadth to work with. Feel The Misery mostly tosses the ‘death’ part of the band’s legacy and doesn’t replace the holes with anything. To be honest, I found it quite depressing, but I don’t think it was really for the reasons that the band intended. By trying to stretch out a minimum of musical ideas to just over an hour, My Dying Bride has turned their latest studio album into an exercise in tedium and predictability.

Like many a doom band before them, MDB takes a style of metal (on this album, really basic traditional Black Sabbath type stuff) and plays it especially slowly. The emphasis is generally on the vocal performance of Aaron Stainthorpe, who on this album seems shackled by the sluggish pace and constant atmosphere of the recording. His combination of both proficient growls and a clean baritone register give him some versatility that would certainly come in handy on an album with enough diversity of musical language to accommodate his talents. The emphasis on the traditional, mainstream sorts of metal, though, come with a troublesome burden – permanent consonance and conventional pop music language mean that anything the band introduces often lasts for a very long time or is callously discarded without much in the way of elaboration. The songwriting here isn’t completely stagnant, but it certainly meanders, and the inability to properly develop on anything makes an already lengthy album feel even more drawn out than it already is.

The obvious point of comparison is not necessarily to death-doom or even more mainstream forms of doom metal as a whole, but to other drawn out, minimalist/ambient works. The best works of that sort (sparse as their construction often is) tend to trace out a sort of musical “journey” by building up a logical connection between every aspect of the music. Compared to more conventionally structured music, it’s simultaneously easier and harder – the former because there’s less elements to work with, and the latter because listeners would therefore have more opportunity to inspect and scrutinize what actually is there. It seems, however, that My Dying Bride doesn’t even attempt this on Feel the Misery, which is content to wallow in its own sorrow. If you want a miserable navel gazing experience, it would fit just fine, but as a work of metal, it is a dismal failure.

 

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