Disclaimer: This is not an objective review. Not by a long shot.
In the first section of “The War of Art,” Steven Pressfield lays out his theory that any person engaged in a creative pursuit battles not so much the external world, but an invisible force that originates within. This force feeds on their fears and pursues its own goal: to prevent them from doing their work. He calls this force Resistance and over the course of a couple dozen short, breezy chapters describes its tactics, from distraction to addiction to illness to death.
In his chapter titled, “Resistance Plays for Keeps,” Pressfield writes:
Resistance’s goal is not to wound or disable. Resistance aims to kill. Its target is the epicenter of our being: our genius, our soul, the unique and priceless gift we were put on earth to give and that no one else has but us. Resistance means business. When we fight it, we are in a war to the death.
Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”
He’s more blunt in his following book, “Do the Work”:
It will kill you. It will kill you like cancer.
Steven Pressfield, “Do the Work”
This sounds dramatic, but Pressfield’s concept of Resistance grew out his own struggles as a writer. He blew up a marriage, gave up writing, and eventually found himself a broke, homeless, suicidal alcoholic because that was easier than facing the empty page every day.
Thankfully, the section ends with a promise that Resistance can be defeated. Pressfield turned his corner by locking himself away and writing every day. At the end, he had written something that in his own words wasn’t great, but it was done. He’d beaten Resistance.
The second section introduces the concepts of The Amateur, The Professional, and “going pro.” In Pressfield’s world, Amateurs are the wishers and daydreamers who get derailed by Resistance; the dogged Professionals who “do the work” do not. The remainder of this section shares various methods and processes for fighting Resistance. It’s practical, real-world stuff that doesn’t pack the same emotional gut punch as Book One, but if you buy into the premise of Resistance and see it in yourself, this is the most important part of the book.
The final section drifts through some heady musings on creativity, angels, and god that’s hit or miss depending on where you stand with those ideas, but closes with a paragraph that may be the most important bit of whole book:
Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.
Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”
Like most of the book, it’s simple on its face, but contains a profound and hugely empowering idea. Pressfield’s sparse text makes for a fast read but contains hard-won insight into the creative process and a deep empathy for those who pursue it.
It took me a long time to come around to how important good art is to a band. I’ve always taken design and layout seriously, but sourcing a great image for a tshirt was definitely more of nice-to-have than a we-shouldn’t-go-forward-without-this. That was then.
Of course we all say we want good art, but many of us falter when it comes time to put money on the table because good art is usually pretty expensive. Unless you have a talented friend willing to hook you up, you’re looking at around $300-500 for a piece of a cover art, closer to $750-1,000 for a painting or really detailed drawing, and more yet if the artist has their own following (Dan Seagrave, Eliran Kantor, Niklas Sundin etc.). When we’re trying to make records for $1,500-3,000, spending 10%-66% of your budget on art is a hard pill to swallow.
It’s really that simple. If you want to record another album or fund another tour without dipping into your own pocket, you better start selling some merch, which really means you better get some good art.
If the thought of saving and spending $500 for album art feels like a drag, think of it instead as $500 for all the places the art is going to turn up:
All your physical formats
All your digital formats
If the album does well, you’ll use it all over again for additional pressings, new formats, new territories, reissues, box sets, etc. etc.
And then there’s all the less obvious places it turns up:
Every online store carrying the album (Amazon, etc.)
Individual member’s websites
All your social media sites
Emails to your mailing list
All of your marketing for the album cycle
New album announcement
Pre-release track announcement
Release day promotion
Promotional emails after release day
Holiday sales, etc., etc, etc…
Any YouTube videos that you, your label or your fans post for it
Year end lists
…and on and on and on.
It also impacts a lot of people you may not think about:
Labels you ask to release the album
Journalists asked to review the album and write about your band
Record stores asked to carry your album
Venues asked to book your show or tour
Potential new fans who have never heard of you before
Everyone who interacts with your band during the album cycle is going to see that art multiple times, in multiple places. And if this is your first album, the cover doesn’t just represent your new album, it represents you. They don’t know you, they don’t know your music, they definitely haven’t seen you live — they only see that cover, and if it’s garbage, they’re never going to hear the extra $1,000 you spent on mix changes you made that only you’ll ever notice (and have probably already forgotten about).
The decision you make on art today will be felt over and over again for years to come. If you cheap out, it hurts you over and over again, forever. But if you make it good — really good — it helps you over and over again, forever.
So don’t cheap out. Save your money, take your time, and make it good.
This list is based entirely on my Apple Music Replay results, which shows the songs, albums and artists I actually listened to in 2019, for better or worse.
2019 was by all accounts a really great year for metal and the numbers show that I listened to almost none of it. This is all the stuff I thought was great but for whatever reason, didn’t listen to enough to make the main list.
All of my friends bands who released albums this year. I’m not gonna list them because god knows I’ll forget someone.
Amon Amarth, Bezerker — Every time Amon Amarth makes an album I don’t like, they come back with that one I do. It’s comfort food, but it’s really well cooked.
Cadaver, “Circle of Mobidity” single — Every few years, I realize what a brilliant piece of work Cadaver’s 1992 album, …in Pains is. This was such a year, and my rediscovery of that album was rewarded with the band’s first new material in ages.
Entombed A.D., Bowels of Earth — Any time LG Petrov wants to bellow over some beefy OSDM, I’ll listen.
Diamond Head, The Coffin Train — Very solid album from the old masters. Recommended.
Disillusion, The Liberation — Back after years of exile following their experimental album, Gloria, this sounds like the band that released Back to the Times of Splendor.
Excruciation, [E]Met — Equal part grim, gothic death rock and 1st wave metal (think Venom, but smarter). Very odd band that’s been around forever.
Exhorder, Mourn the Southern Skies — Brutal and savage. Kyle’s on fire.
Manegarm, Fornaldarsagor — If you like anthemic Viking metal but Amon Amarth is too simplistic for you, try this. Similar musical & lyrical vein, but a more challenging listen.
Novembers Doom, Nephelim Grove — Massive, dark and memorable. Their finest hour. Well done.
Ragnarok, Non Debellicata — Great Marduk-ish black metal.
Runemagick, Into Desolate Realms — Doomy Swedish death metal.
Tronos, Celestial Mechanics — Shane Embury & co. make Godflesh music. The cover of “Johnny Blade” sealed the deal for me.
Vltimus, Something Wicked Marches In — David Vincent, Flo Mournier and Rune Eriksen (Blasphemer from Mayhem) make a death metal record. And it was good.
Apple Music says I listened to a lot of Overkill this year, but I didn’t play Wings of War enough to make my Top 10 albums. Probably because I added it to a playlist containing every album back to Ironbound and hit shuffle.
11. Flotsam & Jetsam, The End of Chaos
Proof positive that a band can release some of their best material 30 some years into their career. Excellent production, tight songwriting, killer riffs and Erik AK still has one of the best voices in metal. Don’t let the cover throw you.
10. Uriah Heep, Firefly
I’ve been a Uriah Heep nut for a while, but this was the year I really embraced the John Lawton era. Dude’s a powerhouse, he just had a bad perm.
9. Darkthrone, Old Star
I like my black metal like I like my coffee: cold and grim. The joke doesn’t work, but the album does, even when it goes all sideways.
8. Memoriam, Requiem for Mankind
If five WWII tanks started a band, it would sound like Memoriam. This one didn’t grab me as much as the first, but it’s a damn good pummeling and a step up from the second.
6 & 7. Edge of Sanity, Evolution & Lock Up, Hate Breeds Suffering
In August, I finally finished building out an office / studio space in the garage. I spent a week mudding, taping, and sanding drywall in a sweltering room well over 100° and for whatever reason played a lot of Edge of Sanity and Lock Up during those days. When in hell…
5. Brian Eno, Music for Installations
This was my go-to chill out album this year. It’s a moody five-and-a-half hour collection of pieces composed for — wait for it — installations. Press play, zone out.
4. Borknagar, True North
Few albums captured my attention this year quite like this one. Simen Hestnaes (aka ICS Vortex) and Lars Nedlund (Solefald) have long been two of my favorite clean singers in metal and they’re both on fire here. Hooks for days. But the dark horse killer of the record is the very last song, “Voices.” Lars sings an ethereal, spiritual sort of blues melody, and it becomes a huge prog-metal earworm when the band kicks in. It’s probably my favorite metal song of the year and I was so glad to see the band recognized it enough to make a video for it.
3. Little Big (entire catalog)
Little Big is a Russian punk/trash/art group who write irritatingly catchy pop/techno/EDM and make insanely great videos. Their whole catalog is worth digging into, and this year they delivered a really good single (“Arriba”), a nice little EP with at least one gem (“Bananas”), and best of all, the truly excellent single+video, “I’m OK”. They’ve been a constant presence throughout the year but this tune was my pick-me-up track pretty much since the day I heard it.
2. Warrior Soul, Rock ‘n’ Roll Disease
If there’s an overall album that dominated my stereo in 2019, this is it. Kory fucking Clarke, rock and roll casualty, finally knocks another one out of the park. The hyper-political alt-metal major label incarnation of Warrior Soul I fell for in the ’90s officially died around 2000, but Kory started using the name again in the late-2000s and has released four good-to-great albums since. Destroy the War Machine (2009) had a handful of absolute gems, Stiff Middle Finger (2012) wasn’t so hot, but five years later, we got the much stronger Back on the Lash (2017), which was marred only some dodgy production choices. Rock ‘n’ Roll Disease was released this summer and it finally has both the tunes and the sonics. To the haters, Kory’s voice is demolished by years of abuse, but to me it’s no more shot than Lemmy’s was and no one gave him shit for it. Hopefully Kory’s got a few more years in him because this feels like the start of something. “Oh, it burns!”
1. Lindemann, “Steh Auf” (video)
If I have to pick something as the high water mark for the year, I’m gonna go with this video. Not sure how much I love the album just yet (the first Lindemann album was fun in large part due to it’s completely over the top lyrics and this one’s entirely in German), but this song slays and that video is flat out amazing (wait for the horses). And who knew Peter Tagtren was such a great actor? If my obsession with Die Antewoord, Little Big and Lindemann this year taught me nothing else, it was how far a compelling video can lift a great song.
September 1st, 2019 at Come and Take It Live, Austin TX
Got to see a couple old friends this weekend. Ron Holzner (my ex-Earthen Grave bandmate) and Chad Walls (drummer in The Living Fields) were in Austin to tear it up with The Skull and Orange Goblin, respectively. Orange Goblin’s drummer was denied a visa days before the tour began, so Ron recommended Chad as a fill-in (Chad did the same for Earthen Grave in 2011 and has done a few tours with The Skull as well). Chad got the call while on vacation, 4 days before the tour started. He learned their 20-song headlining set without a drum kit, borrowed some clothes, flew to New York, had a single rehearsal and apparently killed it every night. He was certainly on when I saw them. Guy’s a machine. Both bands killed.