Sunday Sesh: Breaking Up with Great Albums
It’s not you, babe. It’s me. (Even though my friends all say it’s you.)
We are all metalbuttz. Some of us are in it just to party and that’s okay. Others are in it because we are fundamentally dark or damaged people and we need this music to cope. If you fall into the first camp, you have doubtless broken off an affair with beloved records of old because you’re just not that into them anymore. That is not the kind of breakup I wan’t to talk about today. I do not want to talk about the kind of relationships which drag on for years until indifference takes root; until you realize you’ve both “changed” and there is too little love left to bother with reconciliation.
I want to talk about the kind of breakup which results from trauma: you’ve been through some rough times, said some harsh things to one another which cannot be unsaid; your relationship was based on pain and despair and fueled by unhealthy levels of codependency and now that one or both of you are ready to heal you must part ways and sever all ties. I’m talking about those old albums you cannot bear to hear anymore because the only thing they ever meant to you was pain. To listen now would be to go scratching around at scars better left to fade.
Here are a couple of examples from my personal collection, both of which I should have sold long ago. (Only a masochist would keep these tainted artifacts lying around.)
There are casual fans and long-time devotees alike who view this album as a sort of “jumping of the shark” for Anathema. Granted, it is a rock album. And granted, as is usually the case with rock albums, the quality of the songs varies widely. For me, this is the last solid album Anathema was to record. I was not a huge fan of their Peaceville-style doom metal days, and only really came on board with The Silent Enigma. Before that, their music struck me as more whiny than authentically sad. The Silent Enigma may be a sad album, but its follow-up, Alternative 4, is altogether desolate. Judgement is also desolate–at times unbearably so–yet more colorful, more romantic in its tragedy. It boasts a much improved production and a more focused vision. Which does not make it a better album, per se. I was in my earliest twenties when I bought it: an emotionally volatile time for many people of my generation. Even to imagine listening to it today makes me feel physically ill. Same goes for Alternative 4, so I guess the matter of which is the better album is neither here nor there.
I came across Lilitu’s The Delores Lesion closer to my mid-twenties, when the volatility of earlier years had been augmented by shitty life events and shitty decisions and a pathological inability to get the fuck out of my own head. I meandered through life like a sleepwalker, and through the nightmare fog came this cutting slab of melodramatic grief. The album’s lyrics about suffering, failure and loss are stripped of the literate poeticism of, say, My Dying Bride, veering toward self-indulgent emo territory; but the music is top-notch melodic death metal, tinged with the orchestral predilections of goth. It came to me at the perfect time, seeming to lay bare all the uncertainty and defeat which hobbled my every waking (or dreaming) step. It’s probably a good thing Lilitu did not continue beyond The Delores Lesion: I definitely did not need more of this woeful shit in my ears.
Some albums come to define a distinct period of your life which shaped the person you are today but which you wish all the same had never happened. A period you did not expect to survive. A period you knew might never end. If it did end, odds are you’d rather purge all traces of it than indulge in precarious remembrance. Odds are revisiting those albums just isn’t worth it. So you break up.
If you do not know what I am talking about then either A) You are a lucky childofabitch or B) I am a melodramatic old fool. If it so happens that you do know what I am talking about, I invite you to share–or at least mention–those albums from your past which you hope, for your own safety, you never have to hear again. Not because they suck. Not because you’re older and more cultivated now. No, because to hear them today would conjure an abyss of toxic nostalgia from which you might never return.