On January 1st, 2014, Izedis, front man and lead conspirator of both Enbilulugugal and Dipsomaniac Records, published a 24-hour compilation/playlist meant to consume your new year and plunge you into a blackened, noisy hell within which there is no hope for resolution. Now, I’m no stranger to playlists, employing quite a few myself and aiding in the development for several here at the blog, but as I was plumbing the infernal depths of this day-long deluge of darkness (Izedis recently republished it on Facebook), I found myself contemplating the odd, seemingly counter-cultural (to metal, at least) idea of a curated playlist. To metalheads who consider themselves seasoned music connoisseurs, is there any value to allowing someone else to choose your jams for you? Therein lies my quandary.
Here’s my hypothesis: the role and value of playlists changes as you delve deeper into a particular genre of music. During the initial stages of genre exploration, the playlist plays a crucial role. Perhaps it is a mixed CD that sparks your interest. A few of the tracks on the compilation, especially Metallica and In Flames catch your attention, so you take to the internet to find more. You fire up Pandora and let its algorithms build a playlist for you. After a few months of rocking out in your cubicle, you start to desire heavier material, so you check out some metal blogs and look at published playlists, allowing the critics to guide you deeper into extremity as you dipp your toes into death metal and the non-sacrilegious black metal.
After some time of letting others suggest music, you finally get a sense of what you really like and don’t like within metal. You begin to see accumulated playlists as mere selections of tracks you may browse to find something of interest. While before you used playlists to actively tell you what to listen to, now you merely seek the new and novel; in many ways, you begin to dread being forced to listen to an entire playlist of someone else’s choosing. If you’re anything like I was in undergrad, you take any chance you can get to highjack the auxiliary cable at a party to cancel out the fun music and ruin everyone’s good time with your own expertly crafted, 3-hour long playlist of blastbeats and guttural growls. For the jaded metalhead, nothing trumps your own taste.
However, stumbling upon this compilation/playlist led me to reconsider some of my preconceived notions about music curation. Clearly there’s still a market for it. When Beats music was still around, its main draw was the curated playlist, a fan-oriented service that offered carefully chosen suggestions from musicians themselves rather than a soulless algorithm with potentially silly categories branching tenuous connections. In thinking through the appeal of this Dipsomaniac compilation, I came to a realization that I was actually excited to hear what horrors lurked in its depths. Why was this playlist different than the gutless promotional CDs mailed out with copies of Metal Hammer? The key difference, I believe, is in the expertise of the creator.
If you consider yourself an expert, one possessed of an epicurean taste in metal, you likely only really accept the suggestions of other would-be experts. Even if their tastes vary, you can trust that you will find something of value. In many ways, allowing an expert to guide you can take away some of the stress of belaboring over new material and putting in the effort to maintain your own interests. Many of us here feel burnt out on metal from time to time. Allowing an expert to guide you through an untapped sector of extremity seems a perfect way to rekindle passionate listening and to discover something new that comes with an almost guaranteed stamp of approval. In many ways, then, the issue lies not with the playlist format itself but with the source, and if expertise can be assured, many of us would happily return to where we started: allowing a knowledgeable guide to point out what we’re missing.
You may be thinking to yourself that is is all much ado about nothing. To me, however, the Dipsomaniac compilation was a good reminder of the raw joy that effortless listening can afford. Writing about music as a hobby and participating in an active music community can disenchant us and turn what should be a happy escape into a painful chore. If you feel that way, perhaps an expert playlist is just what you need to rekindle that flame.
Looking for a place to start? The Dipsomaniac playlist/compilation itself is pretty fantastic. Though I only recognized a handful of bands at the outset, after some period of poking around in the bloated gut of this rotting whale of a compilation, I found myself enamored by some predators lurking amid the viscera. From the furious, underhanded death metal of Eternal Oblivion to the apocalyptically riffy black metal of Fathomhell to the scum-sucking brutal death metal of Skeld to the paranoia-inducing noise of The Russian Exorcism, this compilation, assembled in 2013 with a number of songs constructed specifically for it (including a handful by our very own Christian Molenaar), covers a nausea-inducing panorama of extremity with every possible permutation of heavy music that your fetishist hearts could desire. There’s something here for everyone, and you rest assured that an experience of drifting through it will be at least an interesting one.
Need a change of pace, my friends? Start with the list above and let me know what treasures you find. Put on your headphones, close your eyes, and tune yourself out.