By Thrash Hits standards, Tom Dare is fairly inadequate in the “miserable bastard” department. But he’s fed up with stupidly long records.
Can we have a complete moratorium on stupidly long albums, starting this very minute? It’s getting right on my tits. Granted that’s a sizeable platform, but I don’t like having uninvited guests on there, and in the last year there has been little that has plonked it’s irritation down on them more than this issue.
The new Sylosis album, Edge of The Earth, was the tipping point for this particular spleen vent. One of my favourite records of 2011 so far, from one of my favourite bands to emerge in recent years, and it was tiring me out. Despite the fact I thought the songs were brilliant and the musicianship fantastic, my mind was wandering and I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I should have. Why? It’s 78 fucking minutes long. Just to give you a few ideas of how long that is, Reign In Blood is 29 ½ minutes long, Slaughter Of The Soul is 34 minutes long, Crack The Skye is 50 minutes and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor is 74 minutes long. If Mastodon can wander through astral planes across space and time in half an hour less, chances are you’ve included too much music.
Amazing guitarist, ace band, but 78 minutes for an album? SRSLY?
Unless you are able to write a record as varied and grandiose in scope as a Beethoven symphony, you have absolutely no business turning in a piece of work longer than his largest masterpiece. Anything much over 45-50 minutes will challenge the attention span of even the most devoted listener, and if a listener’s focus is wandering, they won’t appreciate the end of your record as much as you want them to. It turns listening to music into a strain not a pleasure – it is far better to turn in less than 40 minutes of utter pleasure that people will come back to time and again, than a behemoth people will thing twice about before wrestling with again.
Now you could hold up my Top 10 of 2010 as a sign of hypocrisy for railing against long albums when most of my favourite albums from 2010 lasted an hour or more. There are a handful of worthy exemptions to the “brevity is the soul of wit” – those bands either doing something new and (for want of a less pretentious arse of a description) avant-garde, such as Triptykon, or something totally extravagant, over-the-top and generally unrestrained progressive bands, such as Myrath. Very occasionally a record can get away with being “too long” simply by virtue of being unbelievably good (e.g. Melechesh), but these are few and far between exceptions to the rule – but even these would benefit from a briefer duration in truth. Note the total absence of The Final Frontier from my Top 10 – do you think that’s because I don’t love Maiden? Or is it because an album that takes as much time to listen to as watching two whole episodes of QI on Dave is just a little too grueling?
Megadave only needed 36 minutes for Peace Sells…. Learn from him.
Furthermore there is one crucial difference between those longer albums on my list, and what turns out was the shortest – I already want a new album from Aeternam. Why? That record is just over 40 minutes long and I’ve ridden the saddle off that one through a ridiculous number of playsThe comparatively short length has left me hungry for more. Those other bands I can see myself waiting happily for a few years before needing new material, but Disciples Of The Unseen left me craving more, like a drug that only takes the edge of the need with each hit rather than totally fulfilling. The shorter playing time is a crucial factor in this.
More music does not equal a better album. Packing a record with filler, or over-writing songs till they are way past the point they should have been reined in does not make them more enjoyable. If you have a huge volume of music you want your fans to hear that you think it is all brilliant, release it as two albums, or one album and an EP. If you’re going to ask your fans to listen to a record as long as a feature film, make bloody sure it’s as capable of holding their attention. If you only include the best 45 minutes of the 70 you recorded and find the off-cuts do not hold up well enough to be released alone, this should give you a big clue they weren’t strong enough in the first place.