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The Underground and the Axis of Evil

by Sargon the Terrible

No, I don’t mean the terrorist Axis of Evil, I mean the big record companies and their unholy union with the press, radio, and the staggering revenant called MTV. The furor these days over Kazaa and MP3s on the internet is more symptomatic of big record company interests than any concern for artists, and it’s part of the age of evil. You see, I’ve been thinking about the underground, and the Internet, and the AOR radio tyranny of mass-marketed pop music. I’ve been thinking and I’ve decided, being a self-important prick, to share my thoughts here.

The Axis is evil because of what it does, and I don’t mean exploiting artists, I mean foisting crappy music on us because it’s profitable. That’s really what the mp3 flap is all about – not about threatening record-company profits with bandited CDs, but exposing the abysmal quality of the product for all to see.

Record-company evil is a conspiracy of effect. Executives do not meet in solemn conclave in black robes and work out how to keep underground music underground, they simply do what they do. Acts are selected for various traits, with telegenic qualities and attractiveness as a performer high on the list. Songwriting skills or musical ability are not as important as how good they will look on the CD case. This is marketing, people, and image is more important than anything else. Performers are groomed and hyped and pushed on the general public through the omnipresent medium of radio. After all the effort and money invested, record companies could care less if the music sucks – too much has been put into it for that, it’s irrelevant. So they have a carefully selected single, written by a professional, to put out on the radio and sucker people into buying the CD.

And that’s the crux of the matter: they don’t want you to be able to hear the whole CD without paying for it because then you will know how bad it is! If I download mp3s from a band I like, even a whole album worth, I will still buy the CD in order to support the band because I am a metal fan, and we’re like that. Pop ‘musicians’ cannot rely on that kind of loyalty, because they can’t stand behind their product. The whole thing is a colossal bait and switch: one good song to get your wallet out, and an album that’s just filler tracks to take up space and create a CD as a marketing artifact, not really important as music. For instance, and I’ll come clean here: I like Madonna, and I have several of her albums. Now I can buy a Madonna CD and be pretty sure of quality, because she’s an artist who cares about her product and takes a hand in most of the music she records, which is more than can be said for the legions of soulless dancing muppets that fill our airwaves. How many pop ‘artists’ write their own material? Don’t make me laugh. That’s one of the reasons metalheads prize our music, and why we can buy albums we’ve never heard without fear: metal bands write their own music. If you like one song by a metal band, you’ll like the rest of the CD.

Which brings me to the much-hallowed Underground. In the old days the underground was small, and a real effort to get into and stay in touch with. It was fanzines and shows and tape-traders and word of mouth. It was really, really underground. When the big metal boom came in the late 80’s/early 90’s (followed by the big metal bust shortly thereafter) it almost killed the underground. Now it’s back, and it’s a lot different. Right here, right now, you are in the underground. Lots of old fogeys like me will sit around and insist that this isn’t an underground, we had a good underground in the old days and blah blah blah. Bullshit. Things are different, but I think they’re better, so I ain’t gonna be an old Moustache Pete here. Where is the vaunted Underground these days? It’s here, it’s online. It’s this site and the BNR metal pages and and the metal-observer and a dozen other websites. It’s band pages and mp3 downloads and online CD stores like The End and Dark Symphonies and even Century Media. It’s the mechanism that lets us find out about new bands, and hear their music, and buy it even though we would never be able to get the CDs we want at Best Buy.

This is the Underground, the metal nation. And we have to hang together, or we will be condemned to suckjob radio music. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and I hereby swear allegiance to Metal. I will support the underground, I will hunt for new bands to love and buy their CDs and write them good reviews. I will do everything I can to support good music, and by doing so I will piss on the marketing machine that floods us with mindless drivel and calls it music. We metalheads are often so caught up in our sectarian warfare we forget the real enemy is the Axis of Evil and their zombie children: J-Lo, Justin Timberlake, Avril, Britney, and Alicia Keys et al. Piss on them, piss on them all.

So always remember YOU are part of the Underground, you are a metal warrior. When I see on Michel’s poll that something like half of us get all our music through online shopping, I think to myself that there’s a statistic to whiten the hair of any record company exec. Here we are, a segment of the buying public they cannot sodomize into submission. They will keep us underground, not because they hate us, but because all the available space will be taken up by their media whore progeny, leaving no room for anything different or actually of quality. So we’ll stay underground, where we really belong. Metal went above ground once before, and it wasn’t pretty.

I like it here, and I say we stay underground, stay committed, stay dedicated and real. If we stay connected and plugged in, stay on top of things and keep supporting the acts we love and finding new ones, then we’ll be indestructible, and we’ll never have to fear another metal dark age. Never again.

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