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.
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