“C” Is For Average


Metal was born of the fusion of heavy rock, horror music, progressive rock and the nascent proto-punk movement. The history of rock is the history of rebellion and rule-breaking: from Friedrich Liszt making his strings break live at key moments on purpose, to Jerry Lee Lewis lighting the piano on fire, to the Beatles with their hairstyles and jackets which were radical for the time, to the Doors being suggestive on the Ed Sullivan show, through Hendrix burning his guitar, to Kiss being super-sexual and painting their faces, to Black Sabbath who sang about Satan and magic, to Metallica who combined neoclassical with thrash and had a hard-partying image, to Slayer’s seemingly outright Satanism. Metal is about taking things one step further, breaking the rules and being unique. Not about following them.

Good music aims for a grade of “A” by experimenting and breaking the rules, but in doing so, takes the chance that it will get an “F.” Think of good music as Icarus: he flies toward the Heavens (or in the case of metal: towards hell) aware he is taking a big chance. He may well crash and burn to the ground in pursuit of his musical ideals. It’s a risk Icarus is willing to take.

Today we have way, way too many bands following all the rules of their genre, and not enough acts pressing ahead. When I look at my local scene it is clear that the bands who have stayed together a long while, while following the rules of their genre, are the bands who have been most successful. Most of these bands have decent music and are listenable. But its not stuff I want to listen to more than once, or see live more than once. This is the curse of local bands: competent, good at following trends, but not so good that they break out and become emblematic of those trends.

I do not blame these bands for being average. Its actually necessary to be average in order to succeed in the music industry these days. If you make an off the wall recording its not going to be a hit. If you rise above the herd, a confederacy of dunces will unite against you. Let us look at some examples of the C-level bands that are succeeding in various metal genres.

  • Gore metal. Exhumed: This band deserves respect for having been around forever. And for being a solid live band. But lack of catchy riffs and lack of musical innovation are the problem. Their old demos are way catchier and heavier than their major releases. And the album covers etc on their major releases are not very good. They should put out a low-fi recorded cassette and get back in touch with their roots. Some may be puzzled why I gave Decomposition a higher grade than Exhumed since they (too) follow the rules. It is because of exceptional tightness and exceptional brutality in live setting, plus their riffs preserve the pop-side of metal without selling out by being catchy but still virulent.
  • Funeral doom. Dispirit: This band deserves respect for its members having been around forever. And they are cool guys and put stuff out on tape, which rules. But this whole funeral genre is kind of stuck in a rut musically. I have a problem with the riffs being so good but at the same time, so seemingly purposely un-catchy. Funeral doom needs to break out of the mold of just singing about occultism/depression. These guys have the potential to guide funeral doom in the right direction. Their side project White Phosphorous heads in the right direction. Their grainy guitar and bass sound is pretty stellar. They are slightly above average funeral with much more potential than others. My main knock is just the riffs seem purposely meandering, as if purposely not catchy. That said, the world is a better place with them then without them. Hence, they get a B in a world of Cs.
  • Black metal. Black Fucking Cancer: Follows all the BM rules to a T. And is boring as sin as a result, both musically and imagery-wise. So of course this is the go-to band to open for touring international BM acts.
  • Stoner doom. Forgotten Gods: One of the bigger local stoner doom bands (currently disbanding). These guys have a good storyline to their lyrics and have a great sense of doom. But they stay entirely within the stoner doom genre. So unfortunately the music is predictable.

One thing these bands all have in common is that they lack catchy riffs; this is the pop side of metal. I can excuse homogeneity in a band if the riffs are catchy enough and give me something to hum in my head that day. There must be some form of movement against catchy riffs these days (in addition to all the other rules which have been implemented in these genres).

C is for average. Average is mediocre, meaning that if it is all you have for a few moments, like to listen to while you are snorting beers and huffing weed at a local dive bar, it will do. But you will not go back to it, or care about it, because it says nothing that strikes you as profound or interesting, even simply fun. It is just the result of more people imitating what others are doing in order to “succeed,” and so even if it is competent, it is irrelevant.

This leads to a domination by conformity. For example, in stoner metal, total stagnation exists because no one is willing to try any gambit other than what has worked for the big-name bands. It’s time to move beyond the Sleep/The Sword paradigm, because those bands, while decent, have been regressive. No stoner doom bands have been able to match Sabbath on a riff-by-riff catchy basis. And it’s been almost 50 years now. Plus, Sabbath offset their heavy stuff with some ballads like “Sleeping Village” and “Planet Caravan,” which modern bands can’t seem to pull off well. And no one wants to talk or emulate the other great Sabbath phases. The grungy, trashy punk-influenced album Mob Rules is hidden off in the corner. And so are TYR and Dehumanizer which were glammy, but awesome in their own right. And we have the slow lazy meandering Sleep-styled riffs everywhere across the nation. But none of them are very memorable. So let’s stop emulating Sleep already.

What no one wants to hear about this situation is that the solution begins with the little guys: the fans. Metal is strong when the fans are uncompromising about quality. We need a return of the “winner takes all” mentality, where a band that rises above the herd becomes a hero and everyone else loses out and quits. This type of intense Darwinistic pressure is what made metal bands of the past three generations so powerful. But when fans see that a C-grade band is average, and find average acceptable, we will see nothing but more average as we have created an incentive against rising above the herd.

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63 thoughts on ““C” Is For Average”

  1. Roger says:

    “Metal was born of the fusion of heavy rock, horror music, progressive rock and the nascent proto-punk movement. The “From Friedrich Liszt making his strings break live at key moments on purpose, to Jerry Lee Lewis lighting the piano on fire, to the Beatles with their hairstyles and jackets which were radical for the time, to the Doors being suggestive on the Ed Sullivan show, through Hendrix burning his guitar, to Kiss being super-sexual and painting their faces, to Black Sabbath who sang about Satan and magic, to Metallica who combined neoclassical with thrash and had a hard-partying image, to Slayer’s seemingly outright Satanism. Metal is about taking things one step further, breaking the rules and being unique. Not about following them.”

    Which it is not really correct to posit that metal is ‘traditionalist’.

    1. dude could you not says:

      Breaking and following rules aren’t absolutes. You break stupid rules and make new rules that make more sense and promote quality.

      1. Internatio reloaded says:

        But traditionnalism begins when you give added value to something just because it was there before, aka “in doubt stick to what worked”.

        1. C.M. says:

          Really? I think most people who call themselves traditionalists would not apply value to some institution or methodology simply because it’s been done before, or because it’s old. Rather, the point of tradition is that it is proven over time. Traditionalists would maintain that which is worth maintaining, even when most people forget about it or consider it outdated and unnecessary.

          We need traditionalist thinkers because we can’t live in a comfy industrial utopia forever.

          1. Roger says:

            My point wasn’t if we need traditionalist thinkers or not. It’s that metal is clearly more reflective of a spirit of faustian individualism than it is about traditionalism.

            1. C.M. says:

              Oh I understand better now.

              In one sense metal can be considered traditionalist, or maybe a better word is conservative or conservationist, is its insistence on purity of form to express perspectives and mindsets that exist well outside of the contemporary social climate.

              For example, the way metal musicians and fans condemn fusions of metal and jazz, metal and hard rock, metal and hip-hop, etc. The idea is that introducing these influences brings in all kinds of baggage that is attached to the non-metal styles of music due to the associations that the music has drawn naturally by being a part of the culture in which it evolved. For another example, the “get drunk, party, dance, have a good time” message of pop/country/rap/rock is totally incompatible with the perspective from which metal approaches life; that is, from above and beyond the egoistic neuroticism of the average Joe.

              By being opposed to this intermingling and dilution of metal’s purity, metal musicians and fans could be said to value tradition and a conservative outlook, at least in the sense that conservativism opposes experimentation for the sake of novelty.

              1. Mustafa says:

                You’ve never rocked out or partied to iron maiden? You sad little man. Stop trying to shape metal in to something it’s not, you pseudo intellectual bellend.

  2. Roger says:

    *is why it is not…

  3. fenrir says:

    That last paragraph says it all.
    I have little hope for “the fans”, though.

    1. C.M. says:

      Looking back at the history of the genre, it seems like the War Against Elitism (that started up around the same time as the Internet became widely available and convenient) has done more damage to metal than any other influence. All opinions are equal (meaning without value) therefore it becomes a social faux pas to champion one band at the cost of tearing down another. That might hurt someone’s feelings and that’s just not cool, dude.

      1. Rainer Weikusat says:

        The traditionally asymmetric popular culture where people controlling the distribution channels decide what to feed to the consuming masses next is presently trying to sell this:


        [There’s a universe of darker horrors available via superficial research in case someone things that’s not awful enough]

        while the evil internet enables me to say that this is atrocious, tasteless and mind-deforming beyond my abilities to express it in words despite nobody ever authorized me to do so.

        1. C.M. says:

          “while the evil internet enables me to say that this is atrocious, tasteless and mind-deforming beyond my abilities to express it in words despite nobody ever authorized me to do so.”

          That’s the real bummer.

          1. Rainer Weikusat says:


            1. C.M. says:

              Your counter-argument still stands, though. Now that distribution of media is as decentralized as ever, anyone can present any type of art and expose it to whoever wants to see it. The pros and cons that come with this non-economic setup are obvious to you, I think.

              But this is why any and all self-respecting artists need networks and gatekeepers. There is no underground anymore but that doesn’t mean that everything is mainstream.

              1. Rainer Weikusat says:

                Intelligent, experienced people willing to share their knowledge are always very helpful. Eg, thanks to David Rosales (in a different universe, we share a dislike for Rush and Camel), I’ve discovered Darkthrone coming from a standpoint that black metal is something like


                instead of of the abovementioned or, something more in line with my primitive tastes,


                Sammath also seem promising (I’m not taking anyone’s word on face value but “I’ll see”).

                1. Rainer Weikusat says:

                  something more in line with my primitive tastes

                  I’ve actually broken my rule of not spending money on back-catalogue milking instead of investing in new recordings to buy that. Despite I could have downloaded it for free. The 2007 CD reissue instead of the expanded “record collector bullshit” edition. For no other reason, “either express or implied”, than this is obviously (my opinion) original music worthy of being listened to which hasn’t yet been contaminated by showmanship elements like the vocal ‘evilisms’ on the 1994 album or use of keyboards to create “beautiful atmosphere” (can be quite good if skillfully employed but will always sound like keyboards).

        2. Necronomeconomist says:

          Sons of Balaur sound like a really bad Sacramentum + ‘post-hardcore’ syncopated rasping. The ad copy truly states “Sons of Balaur are a trve kvlt black metal band…” Meanwhile, they look like Dethklok. I don’t like being SOLD to. Fvck this band, fucking worshipping a vampire. #nohomo

        3. pompous midget says:

          This is the fakest hypercrap I’ve seen since Velvet Cacoon. Thanks a lot, dickhead.

          1. Rainer Weikusat says:

            This is someone marketing a graphical dime novel containing a lot of recycled stuff[*] to an audience of (believed to be) dimwits.

            On a more ‘weltanschauung’ level, this involves hiding/ neutralizing some disturbing phenomenons of the past (as far as I could determine by now, composed of Burzum, Darkthrone and Enslaved but neither Gorgorth nor Emperor nor 1994 Mayhem) by superimposing a socially harmless caricature with superficial similarities but almost diametrically opposed underpinnings onto it (somehow, the Dissection pinhead creeps into this …). Burning down a church in the night is a fairly peaceful activity and it creates a powerful, symbolic image (similar to what Pound called an image in poetry). In contrast to this, setting of a torrent of bloody violence with barely camouflaged sexual undertones is trite, everyday stuff which has been the mainstay of “entertainment” for a long time.

            [*] The cast of characters is not only obviously RPG-influenced but even resorts to the oldest stereotypes of this kind of ‘entertaining fiction’, the ‘evil woman’ who is black-haired, usually of a pale complexion, sexually attractive and active and in a worldy position which doesn’t behove ‘proper’ women. And even Holdstock’s Ursumug has a cameo appearance.

            1. Necronomeconomist says:

              Oh wait… I had only skimmed the ‘article’ about Sons of Balaur. Did I miss something? A graphic novel? Is this all fictional?

              1. Rainer Weikusat says:

                It’s black metal dethklok. But the fictional band is made up (part of the sales pitch) ‘real, black metal musicians’.

  4. Matt says:

    Nice article, and the sentiments go understood. I spoke with Russ of Noothgrush on their tour over here in Japan recently about exactly the same thing, though with specific regards paid to Doom.

    Genre’s seem to be doing 2 things right now: cementing, and merging. Neither of these are, in my mind, “awful” developments, but they certainly don’t bode well for the acceptance of experimental/progressive developments in the aggressive scene… or do they? That these now-accepted forms of extreme music have solidified so much tells me, conversely, that there now should also be an accompanying chasm in that immortal mind space of “true” creativity, that we’re now entering a time where we should probably expect to see something new developing *somewhere* on the periphery.

    In this sense I think that I would be considered quite cutthroat: While I enjoy what I can while I can, I try to not let my comfort zones get too much in the way of progression. That works for me and probably doesn’t work for others, which is just fine – different strokes for different folks, after all. But one thing I do wonder without a concrete reply is, *where can the music go from here?* Maybe this is how its always worked, but it seems to me new musical styles might be difficult to come across given the plethora already in existence…

    But its with this mindset that I consider myself increasingly fortunate to be covering the Japanese (so part of the Asian) underground – there are countless bands here producing new takes on old staples (GUEVNNA, Self Deconstruction, Zothique, et al) as well as those that appear to be approaching new territory (Ameri BC, Omawarisan, ENDON, et al). I’m really starting to get the feeling that Japan/Asia are just starting to crank up the volume and are on track to continue doing so on stage and in the studio.

    Equally as important, however, is that extreme music here doesn’t function in the same paradigm as it was ostensibly born in – in a different container, a volatile liquid takes a different shape. No matter what, it produces metaphorical explosions, but currently I get the impression that extreme music is still being used as a tool of rebellion, it has purpose and direction, and so its quite intoxicating and powerful. Of course, that’s not to say that metal or punk isn’t purposeful or without direction in, say, the US, just that it’s kind of an accepted trope. Japan, as an example and being the country I live in, isn’t so well versed in this volatile creativity that extreme music is an outlet for, but there is nevertheless a thriving scene – its just, generally, very well removed from “proper” adult life.

    So, what I’m getting at is, I wonder if extreme music is shifting not just musically but geographically, towards regions where it is yet to be as accepted and still remains fringe?

    1. dude could you not says:

      > its just, generally, very well removed from “proper” adult life.

      Kind of the way it should be IMO. Sure, it’s more “free” and “nonconformist” here, but all that does is remove the value of not conforming. At the end of the day the standards just become lower for grown-ass adults as you see overly pierced, overly tatted mothers who haven’t grown out of their partygirl stage, and the metal/punk scene doesn’t benefit, it just gets saturated and develops a participation award culture.

      I can’t imagine the US nowadays having any bands with the sense of danger and subversion that GISM has. Maybe GG Allin, but that was 30 years ago, before the media started telling us to accept his type of degeneracy.

  5. BlackPhillip says:

    If the bands you have recently reviewed are examples of rule-breakers and worthy of more than a “C” grade, I’ll pass.
    Decomposition: “really solid.”
    Exhausted Prayer: “it rules.”
    Destructive Unit: “must listen.”
    Violent Opposition: “really obliterates.”

    Where am I?

    1. ANUS Heinous says:

      Yeah really. This is all trash.

  6. Agree_to_disagree says:

    Good article. I play in a doom band that often shares the stage with stoner acts – they’re all great guys, good players, but music is going nowhere beyond Vol 4 era Sabbath riffage. Also agree with the lack ‘pop-side of metal’ element. I’m also really fed up with the prog-for-its-own-sake, pretentious attitude of bands like Obscura, who seem to think ‘time signatures never heard in metal before’ are an album’s selling point. There needs to be something between this and “metalcore” (aka the 21st century pop-punk).

  7. BUTTERBEAN says:

    I’ve a question. When metal music turns out to be “catchy” does it mean it’s closer to a mainstream/entertainment paradigm rather than an intellectual/artistic one?

    1. Agree_to_disagree says:

      Creating catchy music is an art to often overlooked by virtuosos with a self-esteem problem. There’s examples aplenty of catchy classical music. A song or album can’t rely on a hook or gimmick alone, but it has to be there to make you want to come back. Then only through repeated listens you discover the underlying complexity. If I have to force myself to listen to an album 15 times before I can appreciate *anything* on it, it’s usually a worthless pile of shit.

      1. Agree_to_disagree says:

        Also I’d add that for an aspiring metal musician in 2016, a more vital question than “is my music intellectual enough” should be instead, “why should anyone listen to what I do”.

        1. C.M. says:

          Hear, hear. What is the name of your band?

          I bet most musicians don’t even get to the “is this intellectual enough” point. They’re stuck in the “how much pussy/brojobs can this get me” phase.

          1. Agree_to_disagree says:

            The band is someone else’s vision, my creative input is minimal, so it’d be unfair to my bandmates to make it public here. We have 2 distorted bass guitars and screechy vocals. If I’m totally honest what we do isn’t the catchiest either, but we do always stand out from the bands we share the bill with… for better or worse.

        2. Dave says:

          That’s also a terrible question and equates to pandering: “I’m aming something I enjoy, but why would others like it?” What a truly dumb stance to take.

      2. Dave says:

        That’s just bollocks, and in one useless sentence, you’ve just disregarded whole genres and great albums which don’t rely on anything ‘catchy’ to pull people in. I didn’t stick Heresy by Lustmord on and think “This is catchy, lovely stuff” – nah, sound is often enough, but I’m more than likely conversing with someone whose music taste and knowledge is as deep as a puddle. You more than likely get bored too quickly to appreciate anything with depth, because you’re not really a music fan truth be told, but you’re in good company here.

    2. dude could you not says:

      On the venn diagram, melodic music probably bleeds more into moron consumer music than “artistic” (whatever that means) music, but there’s nothing wrong with a nice melody. The problem is when a catchy melody becomes the end goal and you forsake every other dimension that gives music depth and replay value: harmonic creativity, dynamics, interesting structures, mixing/producing in a way that causes the band to feel alive + not flat…

      It’s one of those things where extremes should be avoided. On one hand you have trash like Schoenberg and Webern, music that only freshmen college kids fuck with (as a Show Of Intelligence or cultural currency signalling), and on the other extreme you have stuff like Beyonce, music that babies will bounce around to because it’s simple, obvious, rhythmic, and manufactured to be appealing to someone with the intelligence of a newborn infant.

      There’s more crossover between “mainstream paradigm” and “art/’realmusic’ paradigm” than a lot of people would like to believe, anyway. If David Bowie’s Low was written by Varg Vikernes in the 90s this site would praise it to high heavens…

      1. Roger says:

        “If David Bowie’s Low was written by Varg Vikernes in the 90s this site would praise it to high heavens…”

        HAHA! Agreed. (If you mean the second half).

      2. Dave says:

        “On one hand you have trash like Schoenberg and Webern, music that only freshmen college kids fuck with (as a Show Of Intelligence or cultural currency signalling)”

        I guess having pseudo highbrow views on the world, but not being able to appreciate truly highbrow music, is a cognitive dissonance which really bothers you. When you grow up, you’ll look back on this period and laugh, don’t worry.

    3. dude could you not says:

      Tortured analogy: to me metal is all about the movie Conan the Barbarian, especially the first half, where Ahhnuld is diving into tombs with mummifed corpses finding ancient artifacts, next thing you know he’s fucking some slut, then she grows demon teeth and he throws her into the fireplace, then he punches a camel for no reason… That movie is METAL. It breathes freedom, danger and adventure. Likewise metal should have a sense of mystery, there should be a feeling that you’re just as likely stumble upon something weird and horrible as you are to find treasure.

      I get that feeling from A Blaze in the Northern Sky, but not from Slaughter of the Soul. Both albums are “catchy,” but only one of them has that “something.”

      1. C.M. says:

        That is the most metal movie I’ve ever seen, closely followed by Taxi Driver.

      2. Bsking says:

        That’s like something you’d read on blabbermouth. Totally cringeworthy.

  8. Rainer Weikusat says:

    Icarus died because he became so carried away with flying that he didn’t heed his fathers advice to stay clear of the sun, hence, the wax which held together his wings melted and he then crashed to the ground.

  9. Dionysus says:

    “Friedrich Liszt making his strings break live at key moments on purpose”

    are you serious

    1. Necronomeconomist says:

      Yes I’m serious and then he smashed his viola over some nigga’s head at a crucial turning point.

  10. 2Pacalyptic Raids says:

    Just let go of the angst and accept that black metal and death metal are dead, and that no amount of pontificating or rumination could ever bring it back.

    1. C.M. says:

      Lol. Are you the same guy who is always coming up with awesome names? “Incessant Ballerism”?

      1. Incest & Peppermints says:

        We are all one, my son.

      2. Necronomeconomist says:

        Whoa, C.M.! That’s actually ME, truly. I can’t believe you remember Incessant Ballerism! lol. My more recent hit titles were ‘Altarboys of Madness’ and ‘Slowly We Frot’. Come to think of it… I shoulda done Altarboyz ‘N the Hood of Madness for a discursive triple entendre.

        1. Necronomeconomist says:

          And don’t forget that ‘Incessant Ballerism’ was a riff on ‘Intestine Baalism’… or whatever the fuck that Japanese band was called.

          1. Necronomeconomist says:

            2Pacalyptic Raids is pretty dope, though!

            *2Pacalyptic rAIDS
            *Apopleptic Panty Raids

            1. pompous midget says:

              That last one inspired some amusing visuals

              1. morbideathscream says:

                White panty desecration hahaha

    2. morbideathscream says:

      There’s still some quality black and death metal bands out there, but yeah nothing compared to the late 80’s early 90’s. There’s bands carrying the torch of the old masters, but not talking it to any place new. This generation does not have a like an everflowing stream or an altars of madness and the scene will never return to it’s glory days or glorious times hahaha. I guess it’s however you want to look at it. Funny username btw. MC hellhammer? Haha

      1. Jan Kruitwagen’s Sammath is A-list. There are also a few bands easily capable of hanging with the b-listers from back in the day like Desecresy and Dead Congregation. Of course none of these guys are under 30 though.

    3. Rainer Weikusat says:

      One of the traits of the decadent is translating the fact “I’m going under” into the imperative “Everything must go under!”.
      (poor Ecce Home paraphrase)

  11. Goat-Lord says:

    Did you change your mind about Myrkur or something, Stephen?

  12. Egledhron says:

    Stick to these kinds of articles instead of attempting to review albums.

  13. OliveFox says:

    As undeniable as Sabbath’s genius is, their best stuff comes as a reaction to an un-re-creatable time period. So, as “easy” as they are to rip off, they are nearly impossible to mimic.

    I dunno, maybe I am wrong, but the majority of Stoner and Doom type of metal just seem like slowed down KISS with some production non-sense going on to make it feel darker. Barely scratching what Sabbath created.

    1. C.M. says:

      “… they are nearly impossible to mimic.”

      Rather than mimicking Sabbath’s musical aesthetic, bands would do better to indulge in their attitude; rejection of norms. That means making uncomfortable, unclassifiable, unpopular music, though. Not many do this: Goatcraft, Cóndor, to name a couple off the top of my head, neither of which are popular, and probably never will be. You almost have to be a martyr to create anything meaningful in this artistically impotent social climate.

      1. A.N. says:

        Martyr? Metal already has martyrs you poser, they are Dimebag Darrel and Chuck Schuldiner, they gave their life for Metal and we should be grateful to them for all of eternity.

        P.S. Do you even check your email dude?

  14. OliveFox says:

    Wait. Icarus gets an F? Then what the fuck does Bruegel get?

  15. Can you survive the blitzkrieg says:

    I feel this article in the cajones, the lack of adventurism beyond mashing up shit in a blender is disheartening ( but honestly, do you not see humanity as pile of shit, are you surprised?). As a guitar player I want to attempt better, I think good music is mostly spontaneous and sometimes accidnental. There are no formulas for predicting greatness.

  16. Dave says:

    The hilarious irony of this site, of all places, talking about ‘rule breaking’, when this place is about as codified as it gets.

    “Metal should be…”

    The mantra of this site, and you are all too dumb to realise the stupidity inherent in that.

    1. “Metal should be…”

      Metal should be free and feral. Rather than mimic what led to black metal, or death metal, or heavy metal, or speed metal,
      composers should have the spirit which lead to it. Why do you think that there is so much diversity in black metal?

      Burzum sounds different from Enslaved which sounds different from Immortal which sounds different from Mayhem.

      It’s because there are many valid ways to express (variations of) the underlying spirit. Today, people think that black metal is 16th note melodies or chords in minor keys and blast beats and heavy repetition. But it’s not. That’s only one expression of the spirit.

      So it could succintly be said, that metal should be rule breaking.
      If the spirit is there, good and diverse results will follow.

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