Thanks to the internet, anyone can be a metal journalist. But just because they can, it doesn’t mean they should. Just as the metal scene is clogged with a deluge of ineptitude in the band department (thanks for fucking nothing, MySpace), so too is it clogged with so-called journalists and reviewers who should be barred from coming within 100 feet of a keyboard… or have their hands cut off, whichever is easier.
The most galling problem is an overall lack of standards. In the world of metal, the basic fundamentals of journalism, such as copy editing, proofreading and fact checking are completely optional. Certain “prominent” (I use the term loosely) writers crank out reviews like a fucking assembly line cranking out widgets, but without anything even remotely resembling quality control. Since when does being able to crank out 15 reviews a week that are rife with spelling errors, incorrect punctuation, awkward sentence structure and factual errors equal talent? I can’t believe how many websites allow reviews to be posted with incorrect information and poor writing. Where the hell are the editors? If you can’t even be bothered to correctly determine what state the band you’re reviewing hails from, properly spell the album title or break up a run-on sentence, you shouldn’t be writing, period.
Second is an over-reliance on profanity and “shock journalism”. Yes, this is extreme music that we’re writing about and to an extent I agree that the writing should be extreme to match. But too many “fucks” and “shits” doesn’t make your writing extreme or edgy, it makes you sound like an ignoramus. Using too much profanity in a review is like a band using too many blast beats. At first it is brutal, but after a while it completely loses any sort of impact. The same goes for relying on shock value in your descriptions of the music. Saying things like “the guitars sound like nuns being tied up and ass-raped in a cum-encrusted sex dungeon” is not only absurd, it also shows you have nothing smart or insightful to say about the album and therefore shouldn’t bother writing about it. Again, a little of this sort of writing is okay, but a little goes a very, very long way. It should be used sparingly.
Lastly is the belief among writers/reviewers that every single sentence they write is pure gold. When I was talking with Invisible Oranges mainman Cosmo Lee over e-mail, he gave me a great piece of advice: “If something can be cut, it should be cut.” This is probably the most common issue with the bulk of the metal websites out there. Everyone seems to think that others have nothing better to do than read their 1,000 word dissertation on the merits of a single album. Sorry fellas, but anything more than 500 words is pushing it. At about 400 words is probably where the average reader starts to lose interest in what you have to say. If you’re writing a column/editorial/feature you’ve got a little more leeway, but a review should never be competing with War & Peace in the word count department. Writing long-winded reviews isn’t being “in-depth”, it is being self-indulgent and shows a real lack of interest in serving your readership with thoughtful and concise writing. Cut the shit and get to the point, your readers will thank you for it.
I’m not saying my writing is perfect, in fact far from it. I’m guilty at one time or another of just about every single flaw I’ve brought up here. Hell, some of my early reviews for my college newspaper were downright atrocious, go look them up for yourself. Have a laugh at my expense. I still to this day have trouble with self-editing. I think my interviewing skills leave a lot to be desired. I’m never 100% satisfied with anything I write. But I’m constantly learning from my shortcomings and striving to improve as a writer with each and every piece I publish. I’d rather write five excellent reviews or interviews than fifteen mediocre or subpar ones.
I guess this all boils down to the real issue I have. I see a hell of a lot of love for metal across the internet, but not a whole lot of love for the craft of writing or good, solid journalism. There is a lot to be said for enthusiasm and having your heart in the right place, but you should also have a desire to improve and learn from others. Just because you aren’t getting paid to do something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to be the best there is at what you’re doing.
People who followed me during my Sonic Frontiers days know that I’m not a big fan of negativity, but some things are just starting to rub me the wrong way. Something has to be said. I love metal and I love writing in equal measure, and when I read poorly written reviews or see shit like ex-porn stars with half a brain cell interviewing a legend like Cronos or David Vincent, man it breaks my fucking heart. It shows that the people behind these sites have zero regard for their audience and have no problem with insulting their readers’ intelligence. They should be ashamed of themselves.
It isn’t all bad though, not by a long shot. If you sift through the mire for a while you’ll find some great sites like Invisible Oranges (and I’m not just saying that because I write for them occasionally), Deaf Sparrow, Erebus Magazine, Spinal Tapdance and Metal Inquisition (all of these and others can be found on the links section of this site), just to name a few. Just like sifting through a million crappy bands in order to find the one amazing one that strikes a chord with you, there are a million two-bit blogs and review sites out there on the way to finding the great ones. There is some downright brilliant writing going on out there, you just have to know where to look.