So You Want To Be An MS Reviewer? Mastering The Art Of The Craft
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
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.
Your typical Metal Storm reviewer.
Your typical Metal Storm reviewer.
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.
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.
Hmm, where to begin?
Hmm, where to begin?
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
"Heavy Fucking Metal"?
|Written on 22.02.2014 by Metal Storm’s own Babalao. Comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comfortable since 2013.
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