So You Want To Be An MS Reviewer? Mastering The Art Of The Craft

Written by: Apothecary
Published: 22.02.2014
Being a Metal Storm Staff member can tend to get you a varying frequency of messages to your inbox from people wanting you to edit the guest reviews they've submitted for the site. They want to know if everything's in order, if there wasn't too much fanboyism in their writing, and so forth. While I'm certainly not annoyed by these messages, I thought it would be a better idea to offer people suggestions on how to develop their own reviewing styles, rather than walking them through the process step by step according to a "right" way of how to do it. So grab your pen, paper, whatever else you need, and get ready to take some notes from a seasoned metal penman! Hard work isn't often unnoticed by us Staffers, so who knows: develop into a good writer, post some reviews, and we might just notice your devotion to the site and distinction of style, and want you on board with us. That's how it worked for me, and it's certainly how it could work for you!

*Please note: the references I make to my own reviews are more so examples of the techniques I discuss than anything else. I'm not looking for users to imitate my style of delivery as much as I'm looking to see it give inspiration through which you guys can develop your own distinct methods




THE WRITING ASPECT


Your typical Metal Storm reviewer.
This is perhaps the hardest step, but also the most important, which is why I'm starting with it first. No one can ever really tell you what makes "proper" writing, of course, and it's mostly up to you. But there are some guidelines you'll likely want to follow for success. All good reviews should start off with something that'll pull the reader in. I do, after all, think that most people are looking for feedback on them, so a sense of a hook is important if you want to receive some. When doing this, always try to think of it from the perspective of what attracts you. People aren't often that hard to please with writing, so it's likely that what would make you want to read something would be likely to follow suit with others as well. Insert a quote at the beginning of your review, some cheesy punch line, a description of how the album makes you feel, whatever you think is necessary to grab your audience's attention. I like to think of the beginning of my review of Dreadnought's Lifewoven as exemplifying this principle: it's a vastly multi-layered prog metal album, so I began by comparing it to a massive sandwich with an overwhelming number of ingredients on it. As you can see, by first introducing something familiar (who doesn't like a good sandwich?), it makes it easier for you to grab your reader's attention and make them more interested in getting to the heart of your review. The beginning of any writing piece is typically the most difficult, so things are more or less an easy process from here.

Now that we have that out of the way, let's focus on some dos and don'ts of reviewing. It's safe to say that there's always been a bit of a divide (especially in regards to this recent review of The Satanist that blew the fuck up) over whether a review should be objective or not. I'm here to tell you that top notch reviews should always strike a balance: describing the characteristics of the album from an objective view, while commenting with your own opinions on such characteristics. Tell us what the album's all about, tell us whether or not you like what it's all about, and then explain why or why not. If your opinion is either extremely positive or extremely negative, try to keep it in check. Very few albums are good to the point of deserving a 10, or bad to the point of deserving a 2 or a 1, and if you think otherwise, you better back it up with something more elaborative than "this album is probably the band's best and my favorite from any metal band," or "this album is a terrible disgrace of music and insulting to the metal genre." Yes, reviews are above all your own opinion, but it's still good to maintain an aura of professionalism as well, not just go off on a rant. I think my review of Atheist's Jupiter, which I found pretty disappointing, is a good case:

"Atheist weren't really dealing with the best sound possibilities for Jupiter from the beginning. For starters, there was the departure of Rand Burkey and Tony Choy for the recording, which dealt a critical blow to the maintenance of the band's classic sound. While newcomers Chris Baker and Jonathan Thompson (guitar and bass, respectively) are certainly interesting players, they aren't Rand or Tony, by a long shot, and the difference is blatantly noticeable. The bass is a lot less audible than on Atheist's previous releases, and at many times the bass lines simply follow the guitar rhythms. It's a lot like Metallica's shift from Master Of Puppets to …And Justice For All, and it's not a pretty transition"

So here, even though I didn't overly like the album, I was able to explain why by citing specific examples, without outright saying that the release sucks and going off on a tantrum. This is a very important factor for reviewing: not only does it gain you respect as a mature writer, but it also saves you a lot of shit you'd otherwise be stirring from users mad about you talking smack on their favorite band.

One final thing I'd like to note about the actual content of a review is that you should try to have a good format of structure with them. I won't stress this too much, because everyone's different, but I often proofread a lot of reviews on here that are just one giant block of text. It's a weird psychological thing, but if you separate your writing into paragraphs, it'll tend to make people feel like it's a lot easier to read (even though the number of words will remain unchanged). Try to make each paragraph the expansion upon a key idea. I usually stick to four: an intro, two about the album's style and my reaction to it, and an outro. This will inevitably be different for everyone, but the point remains: try to organize your thoughts, rather than just rambling on. A sense of cohesion is essential, in any form of writing. Check out my review of Ihsahn's Das Seelenbrechen if you're looking for a good idea. Also, do not do "track by track reviews," describing each track of the album individually. Not only does this not deliver the objective/subjective balance I mentioned before, but in many ways it can ruin the listening experience for those who haven't heard the album yet. Think of it like this: a lot of people don't like being told the ending of a good book by those who've already read it, so this rule can certainly carry over to music as well.




THE MUSICAL ASPECT: Here's where reviewing gets the most subjective, and decisions made in this area are mostly up to the individual. Still, I think there are a few good tips that'll help you out on your way.


Hmm, where to begin?
Start out with bands that you know the most about, and then branch out from there. Some of the best reviews I've seen, both on Metal Storm and elsewhere, make a habit of explaining how the album of the band in question compares to the rest of their discography as a whole, and this will only be easier for you if you're covering a band that you're already intimately familiar with. Likewise, if you're a reviewing virgin, don't go too far out of genres you don't frequently listen to, or you likely won't be able to articulate a good understanding of a band's lyrical and thematic intent with your writing. For instance, if you love stoner metal, and completely identify with its music and message, cover stoner bands. For beginner reviewers, I'd say this is the best place to start.

As you progress, however, you should try to challenge yourself and move more out of your comfort zone. It's a worthy test of your abilities, and can ultimately turn you onto some great music that you otherwise probably never would've thought you'd enjoy. Over a year ago, when I reviewed Horn Of The Rhino's Weight Of Coronation (shout out to Javier Galvez, amazing vocalist), I had barely cracked the surface of sludge. Today though, it's one of my favorite metal subgenres, with HOTR as one of my favorite bands within it, and that gate never would've been opened for me had I not taken that first step.

This last tip is more necessary if you're actually looking to become an Official Contributor or a Staff member, so if you're not, you can probably ignore it. Otherwise, this is pretty fundamental. You're going to want to try to strike a balance between reviewing lesser-known, underground bands, and more mainstream ones. Part of the beauty of Metal Storm lies in the fact that we focus on the metal scene as it is emerging, and give up-and-coming bands the attention they deserve. At the same time though, we are a media outlet, and sometimes more known bands will be looking to us for reviews from which they can use quotes to advertise for new albums, share on their social networking pages, etc. etc. If you really want to get into the art of reviewing metal albums, you're ultimately going to find yourself plunging head first into the community, so I think it's thus important to embrace the scene entirely, not just your own area of preference within it. Remember: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts




To offer a succinct version in case you didn't read all of the above…

1. Make sure your writing has a hook that will immediately grab readers' attentions and make them want to read your review.
2. Describe the album objectively, while commenting on it subjectively. Make sure your readers have a good idea of what the album's all about, and then tell them what you personally thought about it.
3. Organize your review according to main ideas, and avoid track-by-track reviewing at all costs.
4. When reviewing bands, start off with those within the styles most familiar to you, so you can talk about the music and the band with a greater sense of expertise. As you improve and finesse your style, try to mix things up a bit with bands and genres outside of your preferences.
5. If you want to be taken seriously as a reviewer, strike a balance between covering underground bands and covering mainstream ones, and embrace the metal scene for all it has to offer.

And one more I didn't mention before...

6. Above all, don't beat yourself up if your reviews aren't perfect from the get go, especially if you have no prior writing experience. Your first reviews will likely be a little faulty (mine certainly were), with you eventually coming into your own sense of distinction a little later on. As with anything worth doing, practice makes perfect.

Finally, I'd like to say thanks to all those users, both in the MS hierarchy and out of it, who read and enjoy my reviews regularly. You guys are all a sort of extended family, and the gas that keeps my writing going! But I know for sure that I'm not the only person on the site with talent, and I know that there are some users lurking around here and there who just need the proper spark to start writing some killer stuff themselves. I hope this article inspired you all to come out of hiding and get going with it!

Love and heavy metal, my comrades

-Che



"Heavy Fucking Metal"?



 



Written on 22.02.2014 by
Apothecary
"I don't know how y'all see it, but when it comes to the children, Wu Tang is for the children, we teach the children"
-ODB
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PocketMetal - 22.02.2014 at 22:47  
Didn't read all of it but those parts I read made enough sense , really good tips and covering all the basic stuff. I write many short reviews myself ( better not advertise them here ) and I'm glad I've followed most of what you said you here instinctively . I'm not very good with metaphors but at least I don't use obscure cultural references like some people do.

Also I'd like to point out that you should always put the music above the review , so don't try to write overlong masterpieces that take like an hour to read through the mass of metaphors .
Darth Revan - 22.02.2014 at 22:56  
I think something else that should be mentioned is that if you don't really have prior writing experience, then chances are that you're not going to write the most amazing review of all time on your first try, and more importantly, that that's perfectly fine. Much like any other skill, writing takes time to master.

also:

Written by PocketMetal on 22.02.2014 at 22:47

Also I'd like to point out that you should always put the music above the review , so don't try to write overlong masterpieces that take like an hour to read through the mass of metaphors .


I try to do that every time and come up with an average-length review with silly metaphors. So if I failed at failing, does that mean I win? XD
Apothecary - 22.02.2014 at 23:58  
Written by PocketMetal on 22.02.2014 at 22:47

Also I'd like to point out that you should always put the music above the review , so don't try to write overlong masterpieces that take like an hour to read through the mass of metaphors .

Yeah, like all the people over on Metal Archives who act like they're writing their college dissertations
It's good to know how to cover all the bases of an album without losing your reader's attention by going off on a tangent, and that's a skill that (as Revan mentioned) comes with time.
Apothecary - 23.02.2014 at 00:00  
Written by Darth Revan on 22.02.2014 at 22:56

I think something else that should be mentioned is that if you don't really have prior writing experience, then chances are that you're not going to write the most amazing review of all time on your first try, and more importantly, that that's perfectly fine. Much like any other skill, writing takes time to master.

I may slip something like that into the end of the article, because that is indeed important. I had a rich reading/writing background before even signing up on the site, so to me it's a bit of a natural passion. Of course though, not everyone comes from that, so for first-timers, it may not be as simple as following some of the tips that I laid out here.
Fearmeister - 23.02.2014 at 00:14  
Hmmm, might give another stab at my review of Below the Crevices. Deleted it last time because I thought it was bad.
R Lewis - 23.02.2014 at 00:27  
Well that's a good article, even if I found bits and pieces of self-glorification (jk )

However, I do not consider myself a good writer and, not being a native speaker, I try to stick to the useful. When I embark in metaphors and four-lines-paragraphs I often end up creating giant balls of dung. Or Super Colliders, depends on how you like to call 'em.
Apothecary - 23.02.2014 at 01:28  
Written by Fearmeister on 23.02.2014 at 00:14

Hmmm, might give another stab at my review of Below the Crevices. Deleted it last time because I thought it was bad.

The Crevices Below, eh? Actually never heard of them before you mentioned it, you should definitely give it a shot. Might pique my curiosity
Apothecary - 23.02.2014 at 01:31  
Written by R Lewis on 23.02.2014 at 00:27

I do not consider myself a good writer and, not being a native speaker, I try to stick to the useful. When I embark in metaphors and four-lines-paragraphs I often end up creating giant balls of dung. Or Super Colliders, depends on how you like to call 'em.

Well like I kinda suggested here, it's whatever works for you. I hope people reading this article take it with a grain of salt, no so much as a How To manual but rather as a way of me saying "I developed my style according to my background, now you can do the same." You say you stick to the useful, and that's very important in ANY art form: you shouldn't stress yourself out over what you're not good at, but instead focus on how to finesse the areas where your skills really shine.

Also, big @ Megadave reference
Rulatore - 23.02.2014 at 05:24  
I don't really know if comparing recent albums to the glory days of a band is a good idea (I've seen only few cases that the reviewer did it correctly). Most of these reviews that you find the reviewer comparing D.E.V.O.L.U.T.I.O.N and Eternal Devastation (or Infernal Overkill, it's up to you also, this comparison is just an example), you'ld find the guy saying things like "It isn't good as their debut... it hasn't the energy of their early ones... or this one sucks, you should go back to listen to their early catalog".

Then you might lose a chance to hear an good album (well, at least I like it), just because someone is butthurt
Apothecary - 23.02.2014 at 06:16  
Written by Rulatore on 23.02.2014 at 05:24

I don't really know if comparing recent albums to the glory days of a band is a good idea (I've seen only few cases that the reviewer did it correctly). Most of these reviews that you find the reviewer comparing D.E.V.O.L.U.T.I.O.N and Eternal Devastation (or Infernal Overkill, it's up to you also, this comparison is just an example), you'ld find the guy saying things like "It isn't good as their debut... it hasn't the energy of their early ones... or this one sucks, you should go back to listen to their early catalog".

Then you might lose a chance to hear an good album (well, at least I like it), just because someone is butthurt

And those are certainly elements that need to be balanced out as well. I think when comparing a current release against a band's discography, you shouldn't necessarily say it's better or worse, but how it relates in terms of sound, i.e. if the style is the same or a rapid departure from what they did in the past. Like (just throwing a random example out there) Cynic with Traced In Air. A good reviewer shouldn't spend time talking about why it sucks compared to Focus (even if they think so), but rather how it's a change of sound and why they personally didn't care for the change. If you get too much into that "their previous album is better" type of mentality, you could very well find yourself talking more about that previous album than the one you're actually reviewing, and that's not a good thing
ANGEL REAPER - 23.02.2014 at 23:14  
Let me just quote Snake :"Your rules are really beginning to annoy me."
Mad Arab666 - 24.02.2014 at 01:25  
I would love to write some reviews but I just don't have the confidence for it. That being said with article it helps me on how to approach it. Hopefully sometime soon I can possibly try and write something up. Anyway thanks for the article.
Monolithic - 24.02.2014 at 07:55  
I've always thought of it not only as a challenge for one's musical knowledge, but the ability to bend words, expressions and mesh it into a cohesive form and present it as a review and anticipate all kinds of feedback whether negative or positive. Not that I had the same attitude over my own reviews but, I think I've improved, at least when I look at a helpful article such as yours.
Mr. Doctor - 24.02.2014 at 13:35  
Nice article, can only agree as I tend to use a similar format (catchy intro with hook, music comentary, nice outro and spices in between depending on the album).
Also, people shouldn't be sad about their first review (even if it got submitted) I'm not a fan of my first review... It's all about learning what you did wrong.

Also...

Complementary* readings!

So, you want to write a Guest Review for Metal Storm?
The Stupidity Of Objective Reviews
Both by BitterCOld.

* = MANDATORY.
deadone - 24.02.2014 at 17:13  
Good stuff.

I just send the shit in and am chuffed you guys publish it.

I am curious as to what you lot think of my Speed Metal article that I sent in last week?
Apothecary - 24.02.2014 at 18:42  
Written by Mr. Doctor on 24.02.2014 at 13:35

Nice article, can only agree as I tend to use a similar format (catchy intro with hook, music comentary, nice outro and spices in between depending on the album).
Also, people shouldn't be sad about their first review (even if it got submitted) I'm not a fan of my first review... It's all about learning what you did wrong.

Also...

Complementary* readings!

So, you want to write a Guest Review for Metal Storm?
The Stupidity Of Objective Reviews
Both by BitterCOld.

* = MANDATORY.

My first review on here was nearly three years ago of Municipal Waste's Hazardous Mutation, and it wasn't ANYTHING like my writing style today, so yeah, it's all about time and refinement. Also, thanks for the appendices in Craig's work, reading that objective article now, funny stuff
Apothecary - 24.02.2014 at 18:47  
Written by deadone on 24.02.2014 at 17:13

I am curious as to what you lot think of my Speed Metal article that I sent in last week?

Are you still looking for it to be approved and published? If so I'll check the edits for it, sounds interesting
Apothecary - 24.02.2014 at 18:49  
Written by Monolithic on 24.02.2014 at 07:55

I've always thought of it not only as a challenge for one's musical knowledge, but the ability to bend words, expressions and mesh it into a cohesive form and present it as a review and anticipate all kinds of feedback whether negative or positive.

It's all about trial and error. Like Mr. Doctor here said, as you review more and more, you find out what does and doesn't work, both for yourself and for your readers.
deadone - 25.02.2014 at 02:17  
Written by Apothecary on 24.02.2014 at 18:47

Written by deadone on 24.02.2014 at 17:13

I am curious as to what you lot think of my Speed Metal article that I sent in last week?

Are you still looking for it to be approved and published? If so I'll check the edits for it, sounds interesting


Yes please!
Darth Revan - 26.02.2014 at 05:36  
Another tip here, don't concern yourself too much with getting people to read your reviews, review whatever you want. Writing is something that should be done because YOU'RE inspired to create it, and while recognition is always a good thing, it's important to remember that the first person you should be trying to appeal to with anything you create is yourself. Go ahead and review that obscure 1984 album from "Corpse Fuckers of the Apocalypse" if that's what you feel inspired to review. Speaking of, if I ever form a band, I should totally call it "Corpse Fuckers of the Apocalypse"...
Apothecary - 26.02.2014 at 05:45  
Written by Darth Revan on 26.02.2014 at 05:36

Another tip here, don't concern yourself too much with getting people to read your reviews, review whatever you want. Writing is something that should be done because YOU'RE inspired to create it, and while recognition is always a good thing, it's important to remember that the first person you should be trying to appeal to with anything you create is yourself. Go ahead and review that obscure 1984 album from "Corpse Fuckers of the Apocalypse" if that's what you feel inspired to review. Speaking of, if I ever form a band, I should totally call it "Corpse Fuckers of the Apocalypse"...

Agreed 1000%, and even though I'm sometimes pushed a little as a Staffer to review certain bands, I still more or less stick to my preferences
Art is definitely your own baby before anyone else's, this is why I've always been adverse to any form of it being exploited (key word, not necessarily just being used) for money. Just sucks the emotional love and beauty of creativity out of it in my opinion.

As far as the band naming is concerned, go for it! And see if anyone gets the reference. Whatever you do, if you're gonna name a band after an album, don't make it something blatantly obvious, like Bonded By Blood did
Darth Revan - 26.02.2014 at 05:57  
Written by Apothecary on 26.02.2014 at 05:45

Written by Darth Revan on 26.02.2014 at 05:36

Another tip here, don't concern yourself too much with getting people to read your reviews, review whatever you want. Writing is something that should be done because YOU'RE inspired to create it, and while recognition is always a good thing, it's important to remember that the first person you should be trying to appeal to with anything you create is yourself. Go ahead and review that obscure 1984 album from "Corpse Fuckers of the Apocalypse" if that's what you feel inspired to review. Speaking of, if I ever form a band, I should totally call it "Corpse Fuckers of the Apocalypse"...

Agreed 1900%, and even though I'm sometimes pushed a little as a Staffer to review certain bands, I still more or less stick to my preferences
Art is definitely your own baby before anyone else's, this is why I've always been adverse to any form of it being exploited (key word, not necessarily just being used) for money. Just sucks the emotional love and beauty of creativity out of it in my opinion.

As far as the band naming is concerned, go for it! And see if anyone gets the reference. Whatever you do, if you're gonna name a band after an album, don't make it something blatantly obvious, like Bonded By Blood did


You made a really important distinction there. There's definitely a difference between writing something and making money off of it and writing something TO make money off of it. People who don't get that usually out a band as selling out immediately after they get signed.

... Wait I was referencing something? I totally made up a name on the spot that sounded stereotypically Brutal Death in my head
Apothecary - 26.02.2014 at 06:04  
Written by Darth Revan on 26.02.2014 at 05:57

Wait I was referencing something? I totally made up a name on the spot that sounded stereotypically Brutal Death in my head

No lol but I thought you were, you just made that up? Sounds pretty funny.
Fearmeister - 26.02.2014 at 10:18  
Written by Apothecary on 23.02.2014 at 01:28

Written by Fearmeister on 23.02.2014 at 00:14

Hmmm, might give another stab at my review of Below the Crevices. Deleted it last time because I thought it was bad.

The Crevices Below, eh? Actually never heard of them before you mentioned it, you should definitely give it a shot. Might pique my curiosity


Annnnnnnnnnnnnd its written and submitted. Thanks man, wasn't satisfied with my first attempt several months ago but I'm glad with how this one turned out
Apothecary - 26.02.2014 at 16:57  
Written by Fearmeister on 26.02.2014 at 10:18

Annnnnnnnnnnnnd its written and submitted. Thanks man, wasn't satisfied with my first attempt several months ago but I'm glad with how this one turned out

Alrighty boss man, I'm pretty busy today, but I'll try to get around to giving it a proof for ya
Zadion - 26.02.2014 at 23:56  
I've been reviewing for awhile (not for MS though, I confess), and I still found some of this information helpful. Great article, man.
The Galactican - 27.02.2014 at 03:34  
This was an entertaining, well-written, extremely informative review from someone who is clearly seasoned. Well done, sir! I already dig this site a ton but this is the kind of thing that increases said digging. \m/
Reverend X - 27.02.2014 at 07:22  
Those were a very good point and advice. That was so helpful.
I really love to try to write a review. I'm just afraid that I might be derided for having bad review.
Apothecary - 27.02.2014 at 08:05  
Written by Reverend X on 27.02.2014 at 07:22

Those were a very good point and advice. That was so helpful.
I really love to try to write a review. I'm just afraid that I might be derided for having bad review.

Everyone needs a starting point, even if your very first review sucks, don't beat yourself up over it. It's all a learning process
And generally (unless you just blatantly don't follow some of the framework I talk about here) other users aren't that vehement about bashing you for reviews perceived as "bad." Especially if it's just simple, honest mistakes you're making. I'd say for the most part MS is a pretty supportive community whose review feedback helps people grow as better writers. Certainly the case with me.
Lokaeda - 01.03.2014 at 23:50  
+1 for the Heavy Metal picture at the end of the article
Apothecary - 02.03.2014 at 00:33  
Written by Lokaeda on 01.03.2014 at 23:50

+1 for the Heavy Metal picture at the end of the article

Great movie indeed, the B-17 and stoner alien scenes are just classic
Lokaeda - 02.03.2014 at 12:40  
Written by Apothecary on 02.03.2014 at 00:33

Great movie indeed, the B-17 and stoner alien scenes are just classic


True, though my fav remains the one with Captain Stern and Hanover Fist. I just love that song, "reach out" by Cheap Trick
Dr.Overkill26 - 04.06.2014 at 01:44  
Thanks for the advice dude, I hope to start reviewing soon... I am looking forward to it, I love a challenge.

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