Why are digipaks so popular?

December 10, 2014 –

digipak_format

Whenever I see a release will be in digipak format, I have mixed emotions. The digipak shows more of the art and does not have the spine of the CD case to break up the panels between front and back. It is more like the envelope in which vinyl records are packaged and arguably more attractive. But it also has a fatal flaw: it degrades rapidly, often randomly, and unlike the rigid CD case does a poor job of protecting the relatively fragile CD.

Records, while also fragile, have an advantage in that they are larger and so are harder to destroy and less likely to be combined with other items and crushed. What all of us love about records is the large format front and back covers which allow more visibility to the album art as if it were a two-panel painting. But this size of art will never exist on a CD because it is a quarter the size of a vinyl record, so it seems a bit silly to package CDs in a fragile format so that we can see the same small-size art. Perhaps by now the CD audience is accustomed to seeing smaller art, and will download a bigger scan if they need one, or buy the vinyl instead.

Among my years with the digipak format, I have seen multiple CDs become loosed by the failure of the CD tray to remain glued to the back wall of the paper foldout. Multiple times the spines have compressed or collapsed, leading to the abrasion of the artwork that is putatively the value in the digipak over a nice, sturdy and reliable plastic CD case. Trying to pack them together on a shelf, owing to the disuniformity of the format because of its multiple options for booklets and pockets, causes total chaos which inevitably results in digipaks slipping like North Sea sardines from among the mess onto the floor.

This blog post is not a persuasive writing. It does not seek to convince you of a point of view; it raises a few questions and then departs. Those questions might be: What is it that we like about digipaks, especially artists and labels but not (generally) fans and collectors? What are the downsides? Do those benefits outweigh the downsides, and what are the risks of the downsides occurring in the life of the average metal fan? Not all questions need answers but many produce answering response in us as we read them, which I hope has happened here.

The return of the old underground?

September 30, 2013 –

classic_death_metal_underground_flierChange is easy to spot from afar. You watch a whole continent break loose, or a planet change its orbit. The challenge is being able to spot it when you’re on that continent or planet. Is that rumble your home island floating away, or just too much Taco Bell?

Lately the underground has been changing again, as it has in the past. First, a number of people seem to be recognizing that for the last couple years, something has shifted. The quality of releases is better, and the nu-core/indie/alt-metal/shoe-gaze just doesn’t attract the throngs. I blame Beherit, War Master, Profanatica, Blaspherian, Imprecation, Birth A.D. and others for bringing back old styles with new voices.

Next, there’s renewed interest in older formats of music. Cynics will say this is just hipsters, but it’s too big for that. It’s almost like a generalized reaction to the impermanence of MP3s and the lack of control you have if Amazon or iTunes decides to delete your profile for blasphemy.

Finally, there’s renewed interest in zines. Not only are there promising new zines like Codex Obscurum, but there’s people writing about zines and the effect they can have on the underground. (Many of them are pointing toward our Classic Death Metal Zine Archive and The Heavy Metal FAQTM.)

Like vinyls, zines have an appeal. It’s not that they are somehow more effective than the internet at spreading information. Rather, like vinyl, their saving grace is that they’re less convenient. This creates a big pyramid between bands and fans where multiple people filter the thousands of possibilities down to fifty pages in a zine or 15 LP choices in a distro or record store. They reduce the amount of chaotic information and give you more options, ironically, as a result.

It might be this is all in my head (dead brain cells). But there’s something in the air. It’s not just fall, which we’ll get in Texas in another three months. It’s a sweeping change, what they call a “sea change” in the elite newspapers. After fifteen years of dormancy while the imitations swept in and appropriated what others had created, metal is bouncing back. And it’s bringing back the old ways.