There is a huge difference in printed music media during the years even within the same company / brand name / magazine. The reasons? Too many. A few of them will be mentioned in this article, but most importantly it is the change of seasons, the change of the audience, the change of people within the same publication, the change of music itself.
Written by Andreas Andreou
Personally, I've been dealt with the printed media for many years, as a writer-editor in magazines and newspapers writing about the art of film and (heavy metal) music. I think I have most of the magazines I wrote but definitely I don't have all those newspapers from my hometown. The more backwards we go, the better money a writer was taking (myself included), while now this looks like science fiction in the current music press where a huge part works for free.
I’ve been also writing for various online media in different countries. I don’t remember everything I have wrote and few of those online media are gone, deleted from the World Wide Web, reminding me that quote from the Blade Runner 2049 film: "Then ten days of darkness. Every machine stopped cold. When the lights came back, we were wiped clean. Photos, files, every bit of data. Gone. Bank records, too. Didn't mind that. Its funny only paper lasted. I mean, we had everything on drives. Everything, everything, everything".
That "only print is real" tag, sometimes is scary but that’s what will probably last. In an imaginary post-apocalyptic world, when everything might be lost, the story of the past will be based on hard copies that survived. Just like those old books and writings which the modern world has based its history upon.
I remember when I was writing for cinema, sometime like 15-20 years ago, where I had a column presenting one new film you must watch, one new film you must avoid and a classic film to revisit. There was a couple of money but from some point and on, it was, "Andreas, things are getting difficult and we already have many people coming from journalism schools that will work for free, they only want to see their name printed". Can you imagine? Did it all started like this? Who knows… I kept seeing my name printed for a while but there wasn't anything entering the pocket, until I stopped due to the lack of time and while I was also working for construction companies back then (before entering the music industry and become part of it), time was very limited for free things.
Someone might say that this is one reason why media in general (online mainly… probably) have such a low level sometimes. Writing, ideas, reviews, interviews look really mediocre and unimportant sometimes. It’s like everyone entered the field without any kind of filter. In the last issue of Iron Fist magazine there are like ten people in total, including publisher and graphic designer, while there are other magazines and online media of much less quality where you can find like thirty people or more. What are all these people doing? Publishers need to have as many people they can since there’s not a "job" for regulars and contributors who have entered a free-willing hobby-like status.
When you're writing for a long time, but most important when you’re reading for a long time, you can understand what’s not "good". Very clearly. Articles about older albums and bands that are just copying the main information from Wikipedia or older features. Interviews with the same boring questions, no depth, no interest in the art, or occasionally you see interviewers that ask a question expecting (and getting) the answer they want in order to satisfy a personal opinion. That's lame. In the end, most of those interviews are like watching Tony Iommi without moustache and the cross; they’re weird and incomplete.
Times are changing and the digital world is expanded to the point that anyone can create something online, just like this poor blog you're reading now where someone is writing a huge text that's against the present era's "reading-only-headlines" false mentality.
Those of you that are not tired reading yet and will continue, know that everywhere you can find good writers; in online and printed media. If you believe that this is not true and that every printed media that's been kept going for decades is crap, stop reading because there are 7000 more words here and you will lose your time. You probably have an opinion stuck in your head like a stubborn boy that doesn't like Marvel and DC superheroes or sugar or bacon. Who didn't like Batman or ice cream or pizza?
Back to the past.
Most likely, everything started with the impact of Billboard magazine that also introduced to the audience the Billboard Charts, the blueprint of "charts" tracking the best-selling records (note: the last many years they are not completely valid), leading to all those "top" and "best of" lists. Then it was publications (magazines and newspapers) like Melody Maker, NME (New Musical Express), Record Mirror, Record Collector, Rolling Stone, Hit Parader, Sounds, Circus, Creem and many more. Reaching the ‘80s, there were hard rock and heavy metal magazines worldwide like Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, Metal Forces, Rock Hard, Enfer and Aardschok among others. From the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s and on, while metal music was changing, there were more heavy metal magazines, extreme music magazines, plus publications focused in modern heavy and metal music. Among them: Terrorizer, Zero Tolerance, Revolver, Decibel, Iron Fist and Deaf Forever. Finally, all this time, there were also magazines focused in instruments and their musicians, like Guitar Player, Guitar World and Modern Drummer.
For those that are still reading, let's continue with the changes. There are many known magazines over the years, so hypothetically, let's assume they’re all a heavy metal magazine that's called "Crystal Logic Heavy Metal" (C.L.H.M. in short) and started sometime in the early to mid '80s.
Back in the '80s, you could buy records of bands like Loudness but how many times had you seen how really Akira Takasaki or Minoru Niihara looked like besides that photo on the back of the vinyl cover? Magazines back then had a strong power on presenting the image. Sometimes, the images were stronger than texts themselves, even in major names like Iron Maiden, Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne and Mötley Crüe. In the context of that era, you didn't have the opportunity to read something like what you're reading just right now on your hi-tech mobile phone or computer. You couldn't see hundreds of Ozzy or Dio photos with the press of a button. You were just waiting for C.L.H.M. to hold it in your hands, see the photos and the posters, and put them on your wall. With the lack of the internet and the World Wide Web, anything you could see and read was "something".
In the context of that era, that was powerful, just like the events surrounding the artists. If you were reading that Ozzy had bitten the head of a bat, that looked insane and not stupid. If you were reading that Nikki Sixx broke his hotel room and fought with security under the drug influence, it looked dangerous and not stupid. If you were reading about Vince Neil's drunk driving accident after a party with drugs and women, and the manslaughter conviction for killing Hanoi Rocks' Razzle, that looked like an extreme part of the "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll" '80s subculture and not stupid. Incidents like those weren't "here today - gone tomorrow" news. They're still part of the hard and heavy music culture and history that were spread beyond the fans of the bands and music, all over the international press. It was the press that made those incidents part of the heavy metal subculture and today have reached the status of a legend.
Today, all those would look stupid but in the context of the '80s, they weren’t. They looked insane, dangerous, part of the hard an' heavy music subculture that was corrupting the youth according to the conservatism of that era. And part of that era, were all those magazines too. If someone will read an old article from a magazine of that era and bring it in the context of the present day, it might be funny or silly. Not just the write-up, but also an interview, the questions and the answers, even if the interviewee is someone well known. That was the context of the era. A completely different thing where music and attitude were hand in hand.
If we will see everything outside of their context, magazines and music press in the '80s might be silly and cheesy but then, so could be all the Ozzys and Crües and King Diamonds and Quorthons of the '80s. Were they? It doesn't matter. That was a different era where they could do all of these things, they could have said anything they wanted and press was following in the same manner, asking everything but music. It was a time where offending didn't offend everyone, just the people outside that subculture. In hindsight, you can understand that in the modern, digital world of the present day, people and ways change. Everyone is offended more easily and things are also more sensitive, so the press also changed and also did most of the artists in their interviews, too.
You still have Yngwie Malmsteen though, saying anything he wants without caring for everyone else but most of the artists are very careful. Sometimes, before interviewing a musician from a major band, press might be advised not to ask specific things or they want to check the questions before and they will chose what to answer.
It is said that heavy metal in the ‘80s used to be a dangerous music (just like rock in the ‘70s) but in the 2020s, that lack of danger and attitude has changed everything that can be presented to a wider audience in hard and heavy metal music. Nowadays, you can’t built a hype if you will do or say something extreme. Sometimes it won’t even bother the media while in the old days (up to the ‘90s that are already two decades ago…), they were looking for that. That’s a huge change in the current metal subculture, including artists and media since now it’s mostly about the music. Acts don’t really matter and they’re easily becoming old news. You still have extreme ideas and acts, especially in extreme subgenres of metal music but today, media are very careful of what they present unless a well-known musician will enter the radio station with his cock out banging the desk like Tommy Lee did sometime in 1987. Still though, Mötley Crüe's sexism would have a different impact nowadays. Can you imagine that act today? Everything changes. Sometimes, things need to change.
That "Crystal Logic Heavy Metal" magazine in the ‘80s had also reviews. There was Iron Maiden, Saxon, and the bands emerging from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, the bands that were getting heavier and more extreme leading to thrash metal and there were also a few other bands presenting something different. The "different" thing in the ‘80s didn’t always meet the acceptance of evolution or change, so when bands like Celtic Frost started adding different and out-of-the-box elements in their music, press was brutal. It was brutal when Black Sabbath firstly appeared in 1970, do you think Celtic Frost would have an easier treatment in 1987?
Let’s remember an interesting story that speaks about the context of an existing heavy metal magazine in the ‘80s. Back then, a few editors and magazines believed they really had power and actually they really had because it was affecting the musicians, their albums and the readers that wanted to be part of it. Metal Forces' editor Bernard Doe had something like a personal war against Thomas Gabriel Fischer and ended with a rating of 0 out 100 for Celtic Frost's Into the Pandemonium (review at issue 24), mentioning among others, "I put the knife into the Frosties latest piece of shit", "If there was ever a case for Manowar's 'Death to False Metal' slogan to be slapped on a piece of vinyl, then this is it", and "The most talentless hyped garbage that the metal scene has ever had the misfortune to be associated with". That specific Metal Forces issue also carried a full-page advert of Celtic Frost's Into the Pandemonium, meaning that the magazines back then, didn’t really care if they will disappoint the labels which were advertised. That was power. Or arrogance because many of them couldn't foretold the changes of the future including the decline in physical sales in music and the press.
Metal Forces magazine, based in the UK, was presenting a huge part of the underground metal scene of that period, including bands like Cities, Jag Panzer, Pantera of Power Metal era (with a generous review of 95 out of 100), Attacker, even Syrus and Oliver Magnum. It was a magazine that offered huge support and cover stories to bands like King Diamond, Candlemass (rating both Abigail and Nightfall with 99 out of 100) and Bathory but they didn’t really followed what they considered "mainstream metal".
On the other hand, it was funny seeing a metal magazine where in the writers' top albums of 1988 you could see Operation: Mindcrime, ...And Justice for All, South of Heaven and Transcendence but there was nowhere in the Top-20 list an album like Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. It is said sometimes that the "true metal" tag was founded in the '90s but that's not the truth since it has been used in Metal Forces since the '80s. Manowar wanted to kill "false metal" since 1983, so there had to be that "true metal", right? Metal Forces was a magazine that wanted to present that "true metal" and keep distances from mainstream metal. And while Iron Maiden's Seventh Son of a Seventh Son didn't find its way in the writers and readers' top list for 1988, it was also the previous album of the British metal legend that was smashed by the magazine. In the issue 20, you will find a review of Somewhere in Time with a rating of 66 out of 100 with "synth-this" and "synth-that" comments, a "change of instrumentation" and a "temptation to slag off a major band's new album". That was written. You see, Iron Maiden had already a huge success touring worldwide, so keyboards and synths, was a "bad" thing for "true" metallers back in the '80s. And even if Seventh Son of a Seventh Son had a better acceptance from everyone, still it took a while for a few regressive fans to accept it and I can't even imagine how a few would feel when "Moonchild" started with the keyboards. That was enough for a few of them.
The readers of the magazine didn’t fail them and Iron Maiden of 1988 didn’t make it to the "top album" list of Metal Forces while Metallica was the big winner (number 1 in all main categories). Why did it happen? In their pre-Black Album era, Metallica always had the mentalism of an underground metal band, even after the 1986 tour with Ozzy Osbourne, even during the release of …And Justice for All when they started playing in huge venues. Those fans felt them closer to their mentality. And they didn’t have synths.
Metal Forces also took its revenge against Celtic Frost who after Cold Lake were voted by the readers as the second "biggest joke" (yes, that was a category in the annual poll). According to the readers, Glam was the "biggest joke", followed by Manowar, Anthrax, Bon Jovi, Poison, and… Posers. That was a typical annual result in a metal magazine in the '80s, where Steve Harris was always in the "best bassist" list, Doro and Lita Ford were most of the times the "best female singer", while Bon Jovi and Poison were the strongest candidates for the "worst band". Sometimes, you could also see Jon Bon Jovi in the "best female singer" category, and that was part of the context for heavy metal magazines and their readers in the ‘80s. It wasn’t just the magazines, it was the readers too. Worldwide. So, if a few people in Germany, England, Italy, Greece, or the United States of America believe that it was just the metal press in their country, they’re wrong. The magazines and the editors could influence the audience, could make angry the audience, in a few cases could even affect sales but there was a wider context and kind of thinking within the heavy metal press and fans during the ‘80s and early ‘90s.
In the UK, you also had the Kerrang! magazine with Geoff Barton as its managing editor, often cited as "the heaviest of the heaviest in heavy metal" but that wasn't really the truth. You could locate obscure heavy metal bands like Apollo Ra within its pages but if you could see those '80s issues, with the crazy colours, pink covers, even adding Aerosmith with Run-DMC in one of them, you could clearly understand that it was a magazine that included rock, melodic rock, hard rock and glam among heavy metal but there, a mainstream metal band like Iron Maiden was a tour de force that even in 1985 was voted as best band without a studio album while there was also artists like Marillion, FM and Pat Benatar in the "top lists". It wasn't exactly the "heavy metal" magazine a few people expected, especially when there was even a full-page shampoo advertisement, a "shampoo kind to your hair, specially formulated to leave it soft, shiny and manageable", or advertisements about Lee, "the jeans that built America". No wonder why readers of other magazines like Metal Forces considered Kerrang! posers.
Sometimes, press was brutal in music that wasn’t so "metal" for the magazine that carried the "heavy metal" title and that continued all the way up to the early ‘90s. Editors back in the ‘80s (and ‘70s too) thought they really had the power and could write anything they want. A hypothetical magazine called "Crystal Logic Heavy Metal" is probably supposed to concentrate in all the genres of metal music. That’s its title after all. So, when sometimes there were a few bands from melodic rock or AOR presented, they didn’t have a proper review, if any, while sometimes glam bands had the treatment of lipstick boys more than their music. But is it something you can blame the C.L.H.M. magazine? Thinking in the context of that era, probably not. That was what a majority of the readers also believed back then.
So, besides the context of the era, there’s always the context of each magazine. And just like the "Crystal Logic Heavy Metal" magazine that didn’t present all the Journeys and Totos of this world, that’s similar with the "Pop and Rock" type of magazines that didn’t present all the Iron Maidens and Slayers of this world. Of course, these examples are major names, so they did write about them sometimes but they never really got the point. Just like all those "Pop and Rock" magazines that every less-known than the typical 5-6 major heavy metal bands they knew, was presented "like Iron Maiden but not that good" or "like Judas Priest but not that good". It was funny finding reviews talking about early Queensrÿche like a second-class-Maiden-clone that "won’t last" or "Pop and Rock" articles in 1989 writing "heavy metal is dead" features. But that was the context of all the Pop-and-Rock magazines, just like the Heavy Metal magazines. Different context in a different era.
The "failed" reviews of the past (just like Celtic Frost's Into the Pandemonium) made a new generation of fans acting like prophets while the prophecy was already completed. And while it was mostly the press that foretold about bands and albums that "made it", it is always the "failure of the press" that people will remember, either it is commercial, either artistic, either the acceptance just changed with the passing of time for both press and audience. It happens in many forms of art. And while Celtic Frost's Into the Pandemonium was praised by other printed media, if they had disbanded after Cold Lake and their influence (somehow) wouldn't cast a shadow over the '90s and beyond, that Metal Forces review would look prophetic. But it wasn't. Many others were though. So in the press over the years - printed and online - you will always have articles that will be remembered and also people (afterwards) acting like prophets while the prophecy was already completed. The only difference is that on online media you can "edit" or "erase" the failure and the mistake. Thomas Gabriel Fischer would wish to erase Cold Lake too but isn’t it like changing the history and the past? That’s what press is also about; a look in the past and what people thought and believed. That’s a view on the past through different eyes even if people of the future will change their minds and/or see things with a different view.
Forward to the present day for a while. There is this bold title in the latest Classic Rock magazine with the Judas Priest’s Screaming for Vengeance cover, that’s writing "Heavy Metal’s Unsung Heroes". Classic Rock is a huge brand name magazine, one of the biggest out there, one of the most important according to labels and bands, therefore one of the leading forces in rock music; a mainstream brand. Just like all those magazines that a few people are used to blame for everything that’s wrong without even reading them, but there’s a reason those magazines are out there for so long. They’re part of the scene, they’re part of the music industry, they have followers and friends, and they’re offering something to the audience. That’s why they’re still there. There are reasons for that, especially when they survive in the modern, digital era while others already gave up years before. There’s no luck in survival.
So, Classic Rock survived and rules part of the scene but many metal fans will laugh with the "Heavy Metal’s Unsung Heroes" headline on the cover of the August 2021 issue. Why? Simply because Judas Priest are "unsung" heroes only compared to Metallica, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne. You can’t really find many more heavy metal bands that are standing higher than Priest in terms of acceptance and popularity. If someone knows just 10-15 heavy metal bands, Judas Priest is one of them, so they’re not "unsung". An unsung heavy metal band is Riot.
Speaking of Riot, it was Classic Rock magazine that presented the reissue of Riot’s Thundersteel with a rating of 5 out of 10, mentioning that it "just sounds like a tinny, poor man’s Judas Priest" (issue 141, February 2010). Let’s stick to it for a while, not about blaming Classic Rock, but about the context, the writers and what a review is (really) about.
That specific review was written by Geoff Barton and I can’t really explain how important he is for the metal press so you can just "google" him. After all, that’s what many of the writers do nowadays: googling! Checking online to find the information, dates, everything, even copying texts from online sources, changing a few words and voila! You have your "article". Today, the information is very easy and that leads to less work and less thinking for the mediocre media. Looking back to history and what’s written in the press, sometimes, new-era writers are afraid to speak their mind and make the audience intrigued so we’re seeing countless reviews with ratings of 9 and 10 to 10, something that’s slightly insane. Looks like a few modern-age writers (in both printed and online media) can’t separate what’s really great from what’s just an average release and they just don’t want to be "remembered" as the ones that "failed" to "understand" a future classic album.
How does a proper, long and detailed review should normally look nowadays?
A. Informing the genre. The author should be clear about it and not just writing lines like "a dark vibe from hell coming straight from the heart of Satan reminding the Northern demons". He can just write, "This is black metal in the vein of Mayhem". Simple. Music writers should write about music and not trying to sound "poetic". If it is an already established band, it’s not a redundancy to write two more words (f.e. "black metal") and the scribe should mention if the band is faithful to their style or if there are musical changes.
B. Adding information about the album. Members, production, even cover art, everything that is part of the physical release but not just copying the EPK.
C. Where this album stands in the present day and where it really stands looking back in the past. For example, in 2021 Helloween released a new same-titled album reuniting past members Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen. The writer should add where the album stands in the present day and the present standards of the genre (it can be rated just for that) but for such an important brand name, he should also add where the album really stands in the discography of the band. If the scribe wants to rate that album with a 9 or 10 out of 10 without adding the above detail, Helloween will look like an equal or a better release than Walls of Jericho and Keeper of the Seven Keys. Is it? It's been already more than three decades from those classic Helloween albums, so do you believe that in three decades from now, Helloween will be equally remembered? That's the kind of questions that must be analyzed unless the scribe and the press will ignore completely the past and see music just as a present thing. Is this correct?
D. Writer’s personal taste and opinion. That’s when a writer can ignore "C". Music is also about the personal taste and analyzing an album through a personal view, sometimes is very interesting, even if it is against a rational flow and objective musical criteria, as long it is not leveling as far as the value and the past of the artist concerns. The text should always be more important than the rating and you can’t really blame the personal taste. There lies the true power of music: The music that makes you feel something is more important than any objectivity. And that’s personal. As for the one who writes it? If the scribe feels so, it should be written.
So, if you want to write a good review (an interesting text) the steps are easy: What’s the album, the information about it, trying to be objective, placing the album in the context of the present day and standards (analyzing the album’s value in the context of the present day is very interesting), seeing where it stands in the history of the band (or the genre), and adding a personal view. "C" and "D" might challenge each other but that might be intriguing if the write-up is interesting. Always remember, the text should be more important than the rating. The scribe can add any kind of rating but the text is the important thing, even if many of the readers are only looking to the rating. The text is the most important thing, how objective or personal or intriguing it is. To be honest, rating might not be needed but that’s something of a standard in music press.
Back to the Classic Rock. Just like what we already mentioned, it’s a CLASSIC ROCK magazine after all, so they can have their mistakes (if you can call it so) outside their field. NEVER FORGET THE CONTEXT. Just like the mistakes and/or the ignorance of each "Crystal Logic Heavy Metal" magazine towards classic rock, you will have the same of each "Pop and Rock" magazine towards heavy metal. You can disagree with the "Heavy Metal’s Unsung Heroes" headline of Classic Rock, you can disagree with that 5 out of 10 rating for Riot’s Thundersteel but it might be just the writer’s personal taste and opinion. Is it always correct? That’s up to the reader. Can you blame a rock magazine that wrote something about heavy metal, even if it’s historically and practically wrong? That’s up to the reader. Can you blame a heavy metal magazine that will write sometime something invalid about pop and/or AOR, even if it’s wrong or slightly insulting? That’s up to the reader. Very few articles and interviews can have an impact in music and definitely not those outside the context of each magazine. You don’t have to buy a heavy metal magazine to read about classic rock or AOR, and you don’t have to buy a classic rock magazine to read about heavy and thrash metal.
But should a magazine like Classic Rock write only about "rock", and not about heavy metal or thrash metal? NO. They can just find people knowing and following the scene without sticking to the older established major bands. It’s simple. Problem (if you can call it so) is that a few brand name magazines look like they’re depending to "brand name" editors of the past, ending sometimes magazines of the past (under a mainstream umbrella). Of course, there’s no disrespect to any of all those GeoffBartons and MalcolmDomes and Paul Elliotts of this world but sometimes, that type of editors that have lived Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Def Leppard in their heights, will see almost everything else like "poor man’s Judas Priest" and "poor man’s Iron Maiden". That’s the writer’s personal taste and opinion, bringing the newer and/or less known artist in the context of the past comparing it with the older legends and their music but they’re missing the context of today and the present standards, ignoring also the future and the possible impact to it. Just like those who wrote that Queensrÿche sound like a second-class-Maiden-clone that "won’t last" in the early ‘80s.
Genre purists, boomers and mainstream media.
Just like a few editors that were in the front line in the ‘80s and early '90s, there is a very specific idea of what "classic rock", "hard rock" and "heavy metal" are, also accepting mainly bands that are having commercial success and historical value. But there, we’re entering another road of fans and how they view a few magazines and music in general.
It is very common in rock, punk, metal, many kinds of music that many fans are trying to degrade other genres and bands in order to incorrectly highlight what they prefer as a "better" genre. It's the "genre purists" who believe they know the "better music". In the "I-know-better-than-you" stubborn attitude, someone will say that black and death metal is just noise, someone will say that AOR is just soft butter and cheese music, someone will say that punk is just about social lyrics and the same noisy music, someone will say that neoclassical metal and shredding is guitar masturbation, someone will say that classic rock is dad-music, someone will say that traditional metal is music for teenagers or people who still live with their parents, and someone will say that grunge is a subculture of people who don’t know how to play. They’re all wrong and no one really knows everything, neither can cancel anything else. From the moment that there’s a subgenre or music style out there and it has the bands, the labels and its audience, it will have its airplay and will be also part of the press.
So, getting back to the music press, from the moment that there is an audience for a music genre, press will cover it. The bigger the audience, the bigger the coverage, and that’s why many times you’re seeing specific bands ruling the media. Because at that specific time, they had the bigger audience, and the magazines that keep the audience, keep their circulation over the years. Sounds like business? Yes, it is.
At the same time, brand name magazines that have a specific target of mainstream music fans, will just keep writing about those classic and commercial artists, and they also need all those GeoffBartons and MalcolmDomes and Paul Elliotts of this world who could just call Brian Johnson, Joe Elliott, Sammy Hagar or Tony Iommi, and have a new exclusive comment or a brief interview for a new feature about the past. They were there in that glorious past, they met a few of those legends, and they have their private phone or private email or their manager’s contact, so they’re important for the publishers and chief editors of the mainstream media. You can’t blame all those for keeping the past alive but you probably can blame them for not looking to the future.
There’s also the other side of the coin too and I will make it short. It’s those new editors and fans that don’t care for genres and the past. Those who believe that all the Scorpions and Iron Maidens of the world are dinosaurs and their fans are "boomers". The only difference is that there aren’t GeoffBartons and MalcolmDomes on this side of the coin because those boomers built their name over the years and no matter what we say, this isn’t something easy. Just like everything in this life, one can have a hundred successes and one failure, but most of the time, some people only remember the failure. Isn’t it funny remembering only the failure?
Times are changing and so does music and the audience.
You had a few genres in the ‘80s but in the ‘90s each one of those genres gave birth to subgenres, others became relevant, others irrelevant, and also many new things appeared or older music evolved and transformed. Bands changed too, just like Fates Warning which left the debut album’s IronMaiden-ism for the progressive power metal acrobatics of Awaken the Guardian before leaving completely the "power metal" element in the ‘90s. The ‘90s was the season of changes for everything in the music industry and press also tried to follow, so you had heavy metal magazines trying to be relevant adding material that sounded irrelevant for their older audience. Part of that audience left, but while the readers were also changing, a few of those magazines managed to keep another part of their audience while they also gain a new one.
The audience is also changing. From the stubborn regressive fan that believes knowing everything already, to the person that believes that can learn anything with the press of a button online, up to the fans that never stop reading and learning and listening to new music. Even if music will stop today, we will never reach a point knowing everything already. Anyone can be an expert in specific things and have a solid opinion and idea but one can’t really know everything.
In the end, everything changed so much, that a magazine like the hypothetical "Crystal Logic Heavy Metal" could have in the same issue features and interviews from Whitesnake, Atlantean Kodex, Tool, Saxon, Slipknot and Napalm Death. In hindsight, it is proved that in the present day, the strict context is forgotten and that’s a huge change and difference with the past. We never stop learning. We should never stop learning.
Still though, while the music industry also changes, underneath the current status there is a thrust to perpetuate the presence of all the classic bands; the brand names. Nostalgia and worship of the past is one of the main keys of how music industry is moving and the classic bands must stay with us forever, with one way or another. Older bands always get more attention when they are active and when a major act is touring or releasing new music, the music industry is moving around them: Record stores, concert promoters, and the press. Keeping the old will always be relevant.
Music press is not just the magazines you can see everywhere. Over the years and while there is a hardcore audience focused in specific genres looking for in-depth information dwelling in each genre’s underground scene, there will also be the fanzines. Independent (sometimes homemade) press focused in specific subgenres providing features and interviews for albums and artists that will rarely make it to the mainstream press. There are pros and cons for fanzines. While the information through interviews could be the highlight and the reader can really find out something he was missing, learning new bands and albums, many times the write-up is poor and/or completely out of any context, facts and objectivity. A good fanzine though, could be a great source of information adding a missing or obscure link in the history of music and many of those fanzines of the past are excellent in that field.
Where music press is standing today?
In the context of each magazine according to its basic music genre, there are the historical facts, brand names and leading musicians/bands/albums that shaped the story of its wider context, so there is a line to follow. In this line, there are all those subgenres, older bands and all the new acts and albums of all subgenres, modern, new, hyped and traditional. There’s a big part of all the present music magazines that regressive fans of each genre won’t like but music has become a wider thing where not all people agree with. Even within a magazine, there are always different opinions between the writers. Writers that are also changing over the years, leading music magazines to different faces. Just like the football teams that are keeping the same brand name, in magazines you’re having many "players" changing and the "coach" keeping the line.
The change of people within the same magazine, is also an element that can affect it even if the audience keeps referring to the publication’s name. It can be very different, it can completely change, just like the athletic teams and bands that continue with the same name but they can have huge differences with their past. So, having in mind what and how something was written in the ‘80s, or the ‘90s, or the ‘00s, even within the same magazine, it might be completely different with what’s written in the 2020s. It is not just the magazine and the brand name but also the editors and people writing there too, that matter in the wider image.
Brand name magazines like Metal Hammer (founded and based in the UK in 1983) were published in different countries too, just like Rock Hard that was founded and based in Germany, also in 1983. A few of the local language editions met an important success in their countries and are still in circulation after many years, established as important players in the music industry while others didn't make it locally. In the beginning, a few of the local editions of magazines like Metal Hammer had translated texts from the British version but over the years they changed to something independent with their own editorial team and exclusive features keeping just the brand name. In the end, what might have the same brand name in the UK, in Germany, in Greece, even in Japan, can be a separate entity with its own context and impact.
How the writing has changed over the years?
A LOT. While am reading constantly, from the 2010s and on, the information is more important and correct, while texts are more focused in music than anything else, something that’s more than obvious in the interviews. Nowadays editors have more sources to check and communication is easier with labels and musicians, so most of the work is the text itself. Having the long past and what’s already written, editors and magazines learned from mistakes of the past, except from older writers that can’t change.
In all those magazines that are still circulating, besides a few authors whose name is expanded beyond each publication, chief editors can interfere in texts, sometimes changing or erasing or adding something. This kind of "writing filter" was very rare in the '80s and the '90s while from the '00s and on it is more common, especially within writers that are not paid or it's not their main job. As it is already previously written in this article, the ‘80s and the ‘90s was a time where offending didn't offend everyone, just the people outside that subculture. But in the modern, digital world and the present day, people and ways change. Everyone is offended more easily and things are also more sensitive, so the press also changed trying not to offend a few musicians and especially the audience.
Printed magazines still have to work with strict deadlines, without second thoughts and edits like most of the online media, so if nowadays articles and interviews are better written and more informative why some people claim they preferred magazines the way they were in the long past?
Well, if you would browse a magazine in 1986 or 1987, you would read about Iron Maiden’s Somewhere in Time, Helloween’s Keeper of the Seven Keys, Yngwie Malmsteen’s Trilogy, Ozzy Osbourne’s The Ultimate Sin, Running Wild’s Under Jolly Roger and Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet, while in 2020 or 2021 you would read about Iron Maiden’s Senjutsu, Helloween’s same-titled album, Yngwie Malmsteen’s Parabellum, Ozzy Osbourne’s Ordinary Man, Running Wild’s Blood on Blood and Bon Jovi’s 2020.
In 1986 and 1987 you also had Slayer’s Reign on Blood, Fates Warning’s Awaken the Guardian, Queensrÿche’s Rage for Order, Dokken’s Back for the Attack, countless more, and albums of multi-million sales up to today from bands like Whitesnake, Def Leppard and Metallica. "OK boomer", someone might think but that’s something really important for all the boomers of the world.
So, while in the metal press of today you can read about the present acts and albums of all subgenres, over the last years, many magazines use to revisit older years, albums and bands, offering a new review of them with the present eye and in-depth information, something that press didn’t have back in the day. On a personal note, it is very important reading how the press and audience view an album like King Diamond’s Abigail when it was released but if an article will be written for that album today, it will be definitely better, as long as the writer won’t forget to add how it was viewed when it was released. Reaching musicians and people involved themselves for their memories, is also something adding value to the articles.
The illusion of knowledge.
In this blog that a few people are reading all this time, you can find interviews dated 5 or 10 years ago, that the author would completely change in the present date. Everything changes, everything can change. And if you will ask me, "why don’t you change or update those old interviews and articles herein?" I will reply that I probably don’t really like all those edits of the modern, digital world. I don’t find wrong the mistakes of the past and it is a good opportunity to seeing how things change and evolve. It's not bad to have a few mistakes there as a reminder so you will be better in the future. We will never stop learning because as someone once said, "The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge."
The press, the writers, promoters and the artists, they all have done something wrong, something great, something unnecessary in the past. It’s up to each individual to keep what they want to remember but we should always keep in mind that sometimes the memory remains for what is and what’s printed but also everything can change with the passing of time.
There are so many bands out there and there are so many writers too but let’s not forget that you don’t have to be a musician so you can write about music, just like you don’t have to be a chef in order to say if you like a hamburger or not. It’s very simple. If there’s an objection, remember this: Just like anyone that can be a "writer" by writing something, everyone can be a "musician" by grabbing an instrument or just "singing". There will be just different results and impact. I remember trying to sing and play the guitar during my high-school years, even rehearsing with a few friends, but we weren’t that good. It’s very clear by looking back but in the early ‘90s we thought we were awesome and we were having fun. In hindsight you can understand that knowledge is something you’re gaining after many years and not something you’re born with. You might be smart or talented but that’s something different.
You might be a hard worker but you might lack of talent. You might be talented but you might be lazy. You might be smart but you could also be ignorant. Play the music you want, write the music you want, listen to the music you like, write about music if you wish. If there is an audience, you’re doing something good for them. Few or many, for a while or for a long time, forgotten or remembered.
In the end, it’s all about the music and the passion for music. That will remain.
All photos are from the author’s personal archive.