Washington Think Tank: Does Artistic Intent Matter?


Greetings and welcome back to another edition of Washington Think Tank. 2015 is winding down. The flow of great releases is tapering into a tiny trickle. Half of you have had your top ten choices picked out since August. Therefore, in the spirit of reflection, let’s each take a look back at some of our favorite releases this year and ask ourselves some pressing questions.

Today’s Question: Does Artistic Intent Matter?

Several times this year I’ve found myself voicing more favorable reviews for albums than I initially expected after spending time with them and trying to decipher the intent behind their creations. The most recent example would be Dragged into Sunlight/Gnaw Their TonguesN. V. While I already quite enjoyed the music, it was eventually the entire artistic endeavor, the interpretation of an earlier work in a modern context, that really sold me. My belief that the band successfully fulfilled the conceit for which the album was created elevated its merit in my eyes.

It wasn’t N. V. that really brought this question to mind, though. Members of the Facebook group have likely seen Tyree post about the new album Typhonian Wormholes: Indecipherable Anti-Structural Formulae by Tetragrammacide. If you click play on this album, you’ll immediately see that the artists were aiming to achieve a very specific aesthetic.

Let’s be real here. This album sounds like hot garbage. The drumming is sloppy. The vocals are nearly inaudible. The riffs sound like they’re being strangled to death, and the entire thing was very likely recorded inside a cardboard box.

But that’s the point. It’s supposed to sound like a mess because it’s supposed to be an expression of utter chaos. Elements seem to drift in and out of range like extradimensional horrors temporarily phasing into the corporeal plane. The whole thing congeals and sublimates and cycles between forms in a way that constantly leaves you wondering what’s next. It’s challenging, but if we’re being honest, it’s also kind of terrible.

I like it though, as do Tyree and Stockhausen. I’m certain that part of my attachment to the music is because I see a realization of a very distinct vision; this isn’t the sort of sheepish necro-production common in extreme metal that’s often done simply to blend in with contemporaries. This is a deliberate exercise in anti-art.

But I get why someone would hate it. Musically, it’s a mess, and I totally understand why our brothers in blog Angry Metal Guy gave the album a 0/5 rating. Based purely on its merits and not its artistic intent, I can see why someone would find no value here.

But is that the way we should consume music? Should we consume in a vacuum, or should we strive to understood the context of a work? I’m not sure, but I do know that examining intent can be a double-edged sword. There are some albums that cannot be saved by their scope and vision because the music so widely missed the mark. St. Anger is probably the most famous example I can produce, but you likely have other contenders in mind. Just as realizing a vision can save a piece of music from its own flaws, failing to encompass that spirit can also damn it by those same flaws.

Admittedly, there’s probably a bit of ego-stroking going on with something like Typhonian Wormholes: Indecipherable Anti-Structural Formulae. Perhaps I only like it because I want to like it because I know it’s different. Perhaps my own desire to be challenged by music has outweighed my taste in this example. Perhaps I’m not alone, though.

What do you think? Does artistic intent matter for how you view an album? Sound off in the comments below.

P.S. Do you have an idea for Think Tank? Send it to toiletovhell@gmail.com! I’d love to collaborate.

Don’t know what the Washington Think Tank is? This is a periodic column where your former President poses a pressing question and allows the top minds at the Toilet ov Hell to investigate his query.

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