Diary of a Madman #7: Concept Albums Without Concepts
Dr. Hex laments the death of storytelling through music in an age where “attention spans are shorter than Tyrion Lannister”
In 2016, there’s a lot of things out there that I don’t like. Prisma, for example. Why one would want to look like he/she has been crafted out of molten lava is beyond me. People who say the record industry is stronger than it has ever been, also. You already read about that in my last piece. But of late, something that has traditionally always been close to my heart, has become a topic of discomfort to me. In the year 2016, I look the other way when I hear the term “concept album”.
When I’d just decided, in my formative years, that music meant more to me than my other hobbies such as Nintendo games, films and books; one of the first albums that changed my life forever was Tommy. This masterpiece by The Who told the story of a boy who was struck deaf, dumb and blind after he witnessed a murder; and eventually went on to become a pinball wizard, and thereafter a spiritual guru. The crescendo that the album built to, from its initial simplicity”¦ from its dark passages dealing with child abuse, to the 13-second long “Miracle Cure” track [that did more to advance the story than entire concept albums do these days] was nothing short of breath-taking. Even I, a very emotion-less person by nature, was moved as I heard the story of this deaf, dumb and blind boy, and traveled his journey.
Or even my favorite album of all time –Â Abigail by King Diamond. A love-struck couple, in the year 1845, is stopped during their journey to their new home, by 9 “Black Horsemen.” They are told to turn back and warned about consequences if they don’t heed this warning. The couple does not [heed their warning] and carry on to their newly purchased manse. Of course, the building is haunted by the spirit of Abigail, an unborn child who died in the womb of the woman who once lived there. This restless spirit possesses the being of the female protagonist, Miriam, and what follows is a story that sends shivers down my spine, every time I listen to it. Accompanied by a spine chilling soundtrack from the King and his countrymen, every note of this album corresponds to this daemonic tale, and advances the story masterfully.
Cut to the year 2016. The year of Instagram and Prisma. Where attention spans are shorter than Tyrion Lannister, and where everything that’s longer than three sentences is a TL;DR. Where if you’ve made it so far down this article, you’re probably smarter than most people you know. The year 2016. When every single band around the world is allegedly writing a “concept album”. One, which, more often than not, has no semblance of a concept.
Here’s a fun activity for you. Meet your local band that’s currently working on their latest concept album and ask them what it is about. You’ll certainly be rewarded with a smattering of the following words and phrases — “it’s about a struggle”, “it’s about discovery”, “it’s about spiritual awakening”, “it’s about inner demons”. If you have the time and patience, you can probably create an instant “concept album word generator” and write an album that’s at par with the mediocrity that comes out these days. Gone are the days of actual storytelling through music. Today, bands decide that they’re writing a concept album, before they have a concept in mind.Â And this is not just a local phenomenon. But, a worldwide epidemic.
And then, they have the gall to say, “Hey man, it’s metal”¦nobody cares about the lyrics anyway!” Ever wondered why it is so? Maybe because there’s so little emphasis given to the lyrical content that people have, over time, just stopped paying attention? Maybe because there’s so little synergy between lyrics and music these days that it’s probably painful to sit with the lyric-booklet open in front of you? Maybe because there’s probably more cohesiveness of thought in this article, even though I’m paid to write like I’m insane and incoherent, than most concept albums released these days? In fact, I’m aghast that in this era of technical wizardry, where people do things on their instruments that couldn’t be imagined in the classic era of “concept albums”; there’s such poverty of thought in the realm of storytelling.
Of course, there are exceptions. In our country alone, Bhayanak Maut, Heathen Beast and Gaia’s Throne [and some other bands too] masterfully tell stories through metal and ensure there’s a beautiful synergy between music and thought. I urge other bands across the world to follow in their footsteps, and if they decide to write a concept album; work just as hard on their storytelling as their music. I get paid to preach and so I will. It will not only enrich the experience of your fans, but also your own.
And if you cannot, just write a normal album goddamit!
Riju Dasgupta does not exist. The writer of this piece is an illusion created by mad scientist Dr. Hex, who makes it seem like he plays bass for Albatross and Primitiv. But because bass is inaudible, one truly knows that he doesn’t exist.