Friday, November 16, 2018

Tagged under: , ,

RIP Metal Ireland

Music aficionado Christopher Owens mourns the death of Metal Ireland. 

The announcement on 13th November that Metal Ireland was no more, was an unpleasant one to wake up to this morning. Having written for the site since 2012 (and a forum user/viewer since 2007), it genuinely feels like the death of an old friend.

More importantly, it's also the end of an era for Irish music.

Beginning in 2000, under the name 'NI Metal Forum' (before switching to Metal Ireland not too long after), the site was a harbour for bands and fans of the heavier spectrum of music in this county (that was crucial, as it also took hardcore and neo-folk as seriously as it did black metal and grindcore). It covered bands from across the world, from major label darlings down to amateurs scraping up enough money for a demo tape run and didn't differentiate between them. Some hugely hyped albums got the slating they deserved, while Argentinean three track demos would be hailed as exciting propositions.

It was this ability to see the wood from the trees, so to speak, that gave the site its name and reputation. Each review was an honest opinion, even if the reviewer didn't know what to make of what they were reviewing. In an era where reviews in mainstream magazines/sites are nothing more than re-written press releases with maximum points awarded (because who wants to alienate labels advertising with you), this was sorely needed and is needed more now than ever.

What lay at the heart of the site was the Irish reviews. Chronicling the progression of bands like Gama Bomb, Primordial, Cruachan, Stormzone and Alter of Plagues from demo bands to international touring acts, the archive was a vested history of the Irish underground. The critiques were honest, never pulled punches and were (more often than not) completely right.

While this gave the site a certain veneer, national notoriety was gained due to it's forum.

While it was a haven to discovering new bands, it was also known, certainly in the early days, as a place which did not suffer fools gladly.

Time and time again, deluded users would detail their hare brained schemes to the forum, presumably expecting to be patted on the back for their services to Irish metal. All too often, reactions were often the opposite, and the user would often publicly melt down in spectacular fashion.

Over the years, there were so many classics they became hard to keep track of: Philfest ("it's not booked but it's definitely happening"), Mask Mantra (public masturbation and wrestling), Mean Bone ("Get our app for Android" says a band playing Christmas dinners), Creation's Tears ("for those oppressed by the female species") and Shoctopus (nuff said).

The cries of "elitist" and "cliquey" were often fostered upon the forum. Both of these were, and remain, ridiculous concepts for the following reasons:

➧you have access to the internet, so why not click on the link with the music being discussed and make up your own mind instead of being put off for some weird reason.

the term "clique" (to me anyway) suggests deliberately excluding others. Something the site did not do.

Unfortunately, as I have discovered over the years, some fans of metal/hardcore have a complex relationship with the Irish underground. Some don't know it exists at all, some are afraid to venture near it for some imagined reason, and some see it as "elitist"

As a result, and because of a number of other reasons (low population, conservative attitudes etc) the Irish underground is always in a state of becoming. It produces great bands and, every few years, a healthy scene develops before burning out, leaving the same 40-50 diehards flying the battered flag of metal. And those people are in their 40's. Doesn't bode well for the future.

But then, maybe that will be the future.

While there are plenty of young bands, budding reviewers and an overabundance of photographers, Ireland is a very different place than it was in 2000. Then, the novelty of forums and websites could be utilised by the tech savvy to build a fan base and tour the rest of the country and places like England.

Today, bands can utilise YouTube, Bandcamp, Spotify, Soundcloud, Twitter and Facebook to get their music out there. If they want to make money, they can go on Twitch and get sponsored to play video games. So maybe labels will be a thing of the past in the underground. Maybe criticism will be reduced to YouTube 'reaction' videos or snarky tweets.

Carrie Twomey very kindly pointed me to this article in The Times about the state of music blogs in 2018. I fear there is much to agree with.

The internet is constantly developing, the way people consume music is constantly changing, and it's very easy to become someone out of time with the rapid pace of the developing technology. Bear in mind, 2004 saw the popularity of the iPod. Today, it's virtually obsolete. Yet this device single handily defined popular music for the '00's!

Music websites like The Quietus and Pitchfork will still exist for the time being, but their appeal will be even more niche than before. However, what they can offer is thoughtful coverage on albums and live shows so they'll attract the more devoted music fan. Bloggers, in my experience, had a tendency to chase after whatever was popular and bet heavily on acts that went nowhere, but had the right connections.

What makes it even more interesting is that a lot of younger bands have grown up in this era: where bloggers set trends, and there's no music press to speak of, so they have no concept of morals, ideology or even art in some cases. Even though the music press could be full of shit at times, I do genuinely believe that it kept bands on their toes.

Ultimately, the relationship between bands and critics is a complex one. Both are art forms in themselves, both (when done well) stay in the memory bank and both cannot exist without each other.

Critics are not meant to give you their opinions as FACT. They exist to challenge what you think yourself, and help inform your own opinion. And that, I think, is the prime factor for bands getting bent out of shape over reviews. That good critics can see beyond the bluster, and get to the heart of what works and what doesn't.

And this, ultimately, is why Metal Ireland will be missed. It's a loss not only to Irish metal, but to reviewing in general. I'm very sad to see it go, as I know the front page was getting higher views than ever, and the forum (while nowhere near as busy as previous years) still drew in views.

I suspect the malware attack that took place during the summer finished the owner's enthusiasm for the site. Can't blame him. As already stated, the web is constantly evolving and getting young people to interact with the site was beginning to be a challenge.

Still, 18 years isn't a bad run by any stretch of the imagination.

Metal Ireland, thank you for everything.


➽ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.
Follow Christopher Owens on Twitter @MrOwens212

13 comments :

AM said...

Christopher - your sense of sorrow comes through very strong in this piece. For what it is worth TPQ is very glad to have you writing for us.

frankie said...

Christopher, the feeling you had when you discovered that Metal Ireland was no longer...I had the same feeling when The Blanket closed shop.

Q..Have you (do you) ever step outside of your comfort zone (musically speaking) and write reviews on music that you wouldn't ordinarily listen to and review it....?

Christopher Owens said...

AM,

thank you very much for the compliment. Greatly appreciated. I think the sorrow is also linked to the realisation that I'm largely out of step with the way people listen to music these days. I still call into HMV on Friday to pick up new releases on CD and vinyl (or cassette if it's a demo) as well as reading magazines like Zero Tolerance and The Wire for recommendations. I crave new music, but I'm clearly advancing in years (despite being 32) and the point about feeling like a man out of time resonates with me.

There's an article by John Robb on Louder Than War about Stormzy headlining Glastonbury where he writes about this contradiction: "...there comes a point in time when most people retire from contemporary culture. Fair enough! Many over 27 people who follow this site are happy with the music they have and stay there – they are also happy to acknowledge that there is new music out there but don’t have time to chase it – that’s fair enough as well.

The ones that seem faintly ridiculous are the ones who get to 27 and then deny that all culture afterwards with endless missives about it being ‘rubbish’, ‘they can’t play’, ‘they don’t use real instruments’, ‘where are the guitars!’, ‘they don’t write proper songs’ – like they are some kind of expert in what a ‘proper’ song is! as if there is even such a thing or they stick up pictures of Lemmy with the made up quote ‘Stormzy – I’ve never heard of her’ stuck underneath celebrating their lack of contemporary culture knowledge like it’s a good thing!

Culture moves quickly. It always has. I’m old. I’m happy being old. But I still want to hear new things. I’m with John Peel on this one. I love my old punk records. I still listen to them. But I also love lots of new music of different styles. I remain fascinated by the invention. Entranced by new. Surely punk was like that as well – always impatient, always in a. fast forward just like on Jan 11th 1977 when he was the first person to quit punk rock with the pithy statement ‘What was once unhealthily fresh is now clean old hat.’"

frankie,

all the time on MI (as I would often have to review bands who would be based in styles of punk/metal I'm not overly familiar with such as djent, easycore etc) as well as for other sites. Here's a review I did of a documentary on the Belfast hip hop scene:

http://www.chordblossom.com/musicreviews/bombin-beats-and-b-boys-documentary

And here's another one on Dr. Feelgood:

http://www.chordblossom.com/livereviews/dr-feelgood-23rd-march-2013

frankie said...

Christoper,

I enjoyed that..The interview with the Outcasts, enjoyed that more. They bring back good memories of Belfast in the 1980's when I first heard them.

Now it is time for Dr Feelgood...

Niall said...

Fuck no one mention Terri Hooley for fucks sake! Only for Terri Punk would never have seen the light of day in the North even though as having lived through the Punk period I never ever heard his name mentioned once!!!!!!...There are actually people out there who compare him to Malcolm McLaren!!!!!!!
As for the punk era....lived through it and from what I can recall it lasted about a year to a year and half and then as is the case in music people moved on although many punk bands came and went very quickly...bands like U2 and the Police took over, then Ska two tone and then the new romantics and then for some reason American rock became very popular...

frankie said...

Niall,

Terri and Good Vibrations was similar in a lot of ways to Kens in Smithfield (personally as a rockabilly Kens shop always had the better wax, including Punk records)...

I have a copy of the 1st seven chapters (draft form) of a book called "The Punk Trilogy" (The tale of the third city) by Dee Wilson, had it for almost a year. First two chapters talk how young protestants from the East of Belfast dodged the Tartan Armies that Gareth Mulvenna wrote about. And how they met up with young Catholics to listen to Punk when it exploded arcoss the world in the mid 70's.

I hope Dee gets around to finishing the book..

Christopher Owens said...

Niall,

Terri amazes me, as he has managed to gain so much mileage out of having one eye for fifty odd years! In terms of your recollection of the punk era, the really important stuff came after the period you're referring to. 1978 onwards saw important acts like Killing Joke, Discharge, Crass, GBH, Subhumans, Amebix etc form and release records. And that was just in Britain! The American scene was something else as well, something completely different and amazing.

frankie,

did Bear hang about Ken's?

frankie said...

The Bear is a bigger legend than Elvis. He drinks coffee in the Voodoo most week days, First met the Bear in the Bailey Bar in the 1986, upstairs the place rocked on a Saturday night, BTC on the Dublin Road was good too. Then in 1989 I done a Joe Strummer.

Steve R said...

Great memories of Good Vibrations, even talked to a German punk once who knew of Terri. Always loved going in for bootlegs and if you were after something he could usually get it in for you!

AM said...

Christopher - I remember shortly after going on the blanket, Martin Livingstone telling me that two things everybody loved and which we would never see nor hear until the protest ended was music and chocolate. The thought struck me because it seemed so grounded in common sense. The one thin he got wrong was the music. In 1979 the screw in charge of the wing used to play an album or allow it to be played by the orderlies, from the canteen over the evening lock up period which was from about 4.30 to 7pm. A regular was ELO - Strange Magic, Living thing, Evil Woman - used to love it. When the hunger strike ended and the blanket quickly followed suit, watching TOTP for the first time in years was an amazing experience.

AM said...

Christopher - I listen to music a bit still. But I am much older than you and much more conservative so don't venture too far from base camp. I still listen to ELO - Zeppelin, from the 70s. In the jail in the 80s a guy called Rab Kerr got me listening to The The and the Cowboy Junkies so I have them on the MP3. Rab had an adventurous taste in music compared to the rest of us so I ended up getting much pleasure from the fact that he lent me Trinity Session and Mind Bomb. I still listen to both albums as there is not a bad number on either.

Christopher Owens said...

AM,

I love hearing stories like that. I remember going on a guided tour of Long Kesh around 2006, and it was little tales like the ones you've recited that made it more than just a piece of history (according to the tour guide, Republicans favoured TOTP and Loyalists were avid Emmerdale Farm viewers). It's a shame you missed the 1976-1981 TOTP's, as those were arguably the most exciting due to the arrival of punk and post punk on the charts.

I went to see The The in Belfast during the summer. Brilliant. Must get round to reading the biography. Cowboy Junkies had their moments, particularly their cover of 'Sweet Jane'.

AM said...

Unknown - your comment will be emailed to Chris. The blog no longer takes comments from the unknown moniker given that so many use it and it is not possible to differentiate.