So you’ve found a new band you enjoy. Turns out they have a decent amount of released material already. Awesome! Where is the best place to commence your exploration into their discography? Today, we’re going to oppose and possibly dispel some commonly held beliefs about discography diving.
A while back, some of us simple bowl-folk were offering advice to someone questioning which album they should approach next, after getting hooked on an album from a band who were new to them. The typical answer was, as you might have expected, to “Start from the beginning”. Duh! It makes sense, it is no coincidence that the word chronological is derived from the latin words chronos, meaning “time,” and logical, meaning “not stoopid.” However, while I’d agree with that answer in the majority of cases, I don’t think it should be a blanket ruling, to be held equally applicable to all bands in all instances. You see, there’s a rumour among academics that each person is an individual. Crazy, huh? Likewise, a great number of bands happen to have unique characteristics. The plot thickens! Sometimes these traits manifest themselves in different manners throughout a band’s career, and what works for one person, may not for another. In case you haven’t already deduced from my waffling, I’m going to play a sort of devil’s advocate role here and try and dissuade you from asserting that “Go back to the start” should be the knee-jerk response to the question “Where to next?” Throughout the short piece I’ll be using very broad examples so as to make sure I give myself the best chance at convincing even the most obstinate of sticklers otherwise.
Instances where I’m going to suggest that automatically going back to the beginning might not be the optimal method for commencing a musical journey are –
1. When the first release(s) are raw.
This covers a great number of bands. So many bands start out with crude recordings, and often this isn’t through choice. With the exception of lo-fi black metal, it mostly seems to occur as a function of lack of funding. Getting into the mindset required to even bother trying to pierce through several layers of reverb-laden tape-hiss is not an innate desire of some, believe it or not. So when your younger cousin says they’re really digging that Arise album they borrowed some years back and finally grew into, maybe saying “Try Morbid Visions next” is not the preferred method of maintaining their flourishing interest in metal.
2. When the band has gone through drastic changes.
When a band reaches a certain age and have released enough music to cover a large tract of sonic territory, they’ve undoubtedly gone through some stylistic changes. Sure, there are some notable exceptions to the rule, where bands have remained static and simply rehashed similar ideas throughout their careers (think AC/DC), but without some form of innovation between albums/periods, contemporary bands tend to taper out or die completely. If someone’s entry to a band happens to be near the end of the group’s career, during the seemingly inevitable and often infamous “prog-phase,” maybe sending them back to the doldrums of the first 6 “pure” records is not going to facilitate their developing taste for the band.
3. When the band’s early material is their most celebrated.
This one seems counter-intuitive. Well, that’s because it is. Everyone knows that those first few albums were solid fucking gold. Nobody is arguing that. But your friend is raving about Divine Intervention/Koloss/Heretic/Prometheus/Carnival Is Forever/etc. and you know damn well that if you offer up the band’s early material as the next stepping stone, all else will pale in comparison. In hindsight, there are a veritable shitload of times that I would have preferred to have checked out the adjacent albums to the one I was enjoying, rather than attempt the “logical” linear listening pattern. For instance, had I have not heard all the post-1991 material first, there’s no way I could take it seriously after hearing Power Metal. Ok, Randall Thor rustlin’ beside, I did sincerely mean the rest of this point. Sometimes, a band’s killer early material ends up irrecoverably spoiling the rest of the ride due to its enormous impact.
So what say you? Did I manage to at least make you think twice about the recommendations you will make in the future? Maybe my poorly conceived case only strengthened your belief that you were right all along/the lizard is a fool? Let’s hear about it in the comments section.