If one were to pay attention to Gatekeepers like Finn McKenty, and other gatekeepers I’m not gonna mention, Stoner/Doom is repetitive, depressing and not worth paying attention to in any meaningful way.
I’ve written that metal should stop criticizing/ disparaging other genres, that we should all take a collective chill pill (or edible) and support each other. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t push back and give a counter argument.
The most recent episode I came across was from a guy I respect, even though he pisses me off quite often, Mr. Punk Rock MBA himself- Finn McKenty. Take a look at this episode of his popular Youtube Channel:
Now, to be absolutely fair, Finn admits that he doesn’t like to comment on things that he doesn’t like, and tries to avoid “shitting on music that other people like.” Fair enough, but it doesn’t really keep him from doing it. Other greatest hits of his include making fun of “dad rock” and a whole episode about Power Metal being cringe. He’s pretty passive/aggressive about these things.
In defense of him, or at least in defense of why I follow him, what choice does he have? By any standard, his channel is pretty big. He has over 90,000 followers, which isn’t too bad for how niche he is. It’s gotta be hard to keep putting out quality content, and since he tries to be genuine, he’s going to be putting stuff out there that ticks people off. I also think he’s genuinely conflicted about putting this kind of bullshit out there, and he’s self-aware enough to address his discomfort. And that’s where my defense ends.
Because he’s so obviously WRONG about so many things, starting with the title of the episode, “The Truth About Stoner Rock and Doom Metal!” I mean, c’mon man. You can’t write a title like that, then apologize or be self-deprecating, and then give such an obviously shallow overview based on the FIRST Sleep album, a botched pronunciation of Kyuss from Wikipedia, and then label Black Sabbath “dad rock.” Nothing in this addresses anything even in the neighborhood of truth about…anything.
Bloody hell, talk about cringe!
THE REAL TRUTH ABOUT STONER ROCK AND DOOM METAL
Yeah, I don’t have one, and there really isn’t one. The whole thing is just too wide, too varied, too eclectic to come up with any “truth” about it. For instance, Weedeater is about as far away from Messa as I can imagine, but I can seriously imagine a tour with Dixie Dave and the crew opening, followed by the mesmerizing Sara with Messa closing the show. Most fans I know wouldn’t see anything weird about that pairing, and would probably go nuts over the contrasting styles. Stoner/Doom simply can’t be stereotyped that easily.
“Originality” is usually optional and not required at all. Yes, for many (many) bands there is a template. And yes, to Finn’s point, that template is sometimes based on Master of Reality. But what i find fascinating are the subtle differences in tone, technique, rhythm, pace, vocals and production of music that, on the surface, seems to follow the same old, tired formula.
It’s a lot like jazz. Take Bebop for instance. It was a radical departure from the dance/pop structures of the 30’s and 40’s. For someone unfamiliar with it, Bebop can sound like a random collection of notes and syncopated rhythms that could be headache-inducing if you didn’t dig it. For a lot of people, “it all sounds the same.” The same criticism can be made of Blues music: it all sounds the same, based on an overused template of scales and rhythms and “downer” lyrics.
But to a fan of these genre’s, every note, song and album is a revelation! The difference in tone and style between Charlie Parker and Sonny Rollins is unmistakable. How we get from Robert Johnson to Muddy Waters is a journey of discovery and joy, to fans of the music. Dismissing it because of surface similarities and a lack of exposure is a real bummer, and one might be missing out on a whole lifetime of enjoyment. If you don’t like, no problem. But giving things a chance tends to pay off a lot of the time.
If there’s any “truth” to Stoner Rock and Doom Metal it’s that endless variations are possible with different combinations of fuzz pedals, effects, vocal style, drumming and production, to list just as a few. Is there anything as thrilling as hearing a band like Orchid bring a true Ozzy-era vocal sound to modern Doom? I think not! And for the record, no Sabbath fan would ever confuse this with the original band. The sound and vibe is very different, and Sabbath never wrote a song quite like this. Close? Sure. It’s an homage, a respectful re-imagining of the original template. At least that’s how I hear it. And it gets my blood pumping!
If you can take the time and immerse yourself in the genre, you can experience so much that goes beyond first impressions. At the risk of being repetitive, take tone for instance. Guitarists and bass players spend hours, years, and ungodly amounts of money seeking the perfect tone, that signature sound that is both distinctive and familiar. It takes a while to hear and appreciate the difference. And yes, a Rat sounds totally different than a Boss FZ-5, which is different than a Big Muff, which in turn has different variations (see below). Then you have various delays, overdrive, reverb…it’s almost endless. Oh yeah, then there are amps and cabs, and the guitar itself. The whole thing is an art form unto itself, and deserves at least a little respect.
While absolute originality is not always required, that’s not to say that there’s none at all. Finn’s lack of appreciation of the actual depth and diversity in Stoner/Doom/Sludge/Heavy Psych in general leads him to some questionable conclusions. For me, THE best example of the power and potential of Stoner/Doom is Elder, whose forays into the ether are nothing short of legendary. Born from the same brew concocted by Sabbath, they infuse it with almost Yes-like explorations and complex arrangements that go beyond any formula or trope.
Then you have King Buffalo, who take the same ingenuity in a totally different direction. Or Spaceslug, who I call the “Steely Dan” of the heavy underground. Heavy, mournful and endlessly psychedelic with a sense of pace and intensity unlike anything before or since: they are masters of the studio.
Finally, Messa is worth another mention. I mean, just listen! One of the best voices in Doom, or any other genre. And I can’t touch on originality without bringing up YOB, or Bell Witch, Windhand, Dreadnaught, Colour Haze…I could easily list hundreds of bands. All of them distinctive, relentlessly creative, and still drinking from the same well.
Stoner Rock and Doom don’t need the Punk Rock MBA’s approval. It’s the original form of Heavy Metal, and in 52 years hasn’t died but keeps getting stronger and more diverse. The “Rock Star” as we knew it might be dead, but Rock is very much alive and well, thank-you very much.
Punk Rock MBA is entitled to his opinion- he’s earned it. The dude has paid his dues, and his overall thoughts are sound. If more bands paid attention to his overall perspective they might make more money and a sustainable living. Take a look at this video he made, it’s brilliant! Watch it, pay attention, and take notes. Lots of notes!
But that’s what’s so exasperating about his constant slagging of Stoner, Progressive, Power Metal and anything he doesn’t instinctively ‘get’. All these genre’s could use his guidance, but his sneering at them just alienates us from his real message. And that’s a true shame, because if anyone niche could use some advice on how to maintain sustainable income, it’s this one…